Memory works in peculiar ways, doesn’t it? I mean, I know that when we were traveling in Italy a few weeks ago, I was tempted to leave my bickering children at the top of Vesuvius as an offering for the gods but now, weeks later, what remains in my mind is a blur of ancient beauty, tiny streets, motor scooters, and meals comprised exclusively of variations on cheese, tomatoes, and bread (which is, I think, what gets eaten in heaven, if there is such a place).
But in trying to write about this trip, as was the case when we went to India, I find myself frustrated. If I talk about laundry hanging off balconies, sheets flapping against the bricks, it’s as if I’m describing the opening shot of an old Sophia Loren movie.
If I tell you about the Mediterranean light splashing across peeling pastel buildings, I’m channeling every bad romance-in-Italy movie ever made.
Should I tell you instead about walking out of our lovely little hotel in the Piazza Decumani in Naples, on a Sunday morning with bells ringing across the city to call the faithful to Mass? And that further down the narrow cobblestone street (awash in garbage, it being Naples), we heard glorious opera pouring from an open window, a secular celebration of the morning? By the late afternoon, however, the morning music had been replaced with the scents of cooking garlic and onions, so fragrant that we were stumbling with hunger.
Maybe instead I should describe a narrow street in Rome, where cars bump alongside pedestrians shopping for vegetables and people sit at cafe tables sipping wine, a barely functional chaos?
See what I mean? Italy has been a subject for millenia, long enough to make me glad I’m not Italian: I’d be paralyzed by all that history, all that beauty, all that language. (Frank Bruni offers a somewhat bleaker view of history’s weight in a recent op-ed piece, here).
Instead I’ll go with these pictures taken inside a church, San Giovanni Decollato, in Rome. It’s a private church and gaining access can be complicated, unless you know someone with a key, and keys are only given to those in the brotherhood or descendants of those who were in the brotherhood of the church. It’s straight out of Dan Brown, isn’t it? And unbelievably, our friend G., whose family belonged to the order, and his wonderful wife, unlocked the church with a satisfyingly big key, and let us walk around inside. There was a lot of decollato; I couldn’t decide if going to a church with decorations like these would hold my interest during dull sermons or terrify me into leaving the church completely. Probably the latter, given my heathenish proclivities.
The church was beautiful, a tiny gem tucked into a corner of Rome we never would have found on our own.
I don’t know. I’m beginning to think that Rick and Ilsa may have had it wrong: maybe everything would’ve been different for them if instead of having Paris, they’d had Rome.