Tag Archives: night walks

Letter to my Archivist

24 Jun

Dear Memory,

I know you are cluttered and stuffed to the brim with all sorts of knick-knacks – puns and conquests and the smell of my Grampa’s French toast – but I would like to file a request.

Please clear out a corner, preferably on a high shelf that won’t need to be disturbed for a while (and where those pesky short-term reminders can’t reach), and open a file entitled:


In this file, with utmost precision, I would like you to record every moment of last night between the hours of midnight and 4am. I want pictures, audio, press clippings if you can find them. This ought to be a veritable archive.

I know you are already overworked processing the Colosseum and that you have a backlog of Bernini statues. But trust me, this is a memory that I will want to come back to for the rest of my life. Push it to the front of the line, would ya?

And just because I’m so grateful for your hard work, I’ll start you off with a collection of the best moments of the evening. You take it from there.

Ashley and I were washing dishes and singing. This was not unusual in itself; however, this time it went on for a long time because we were doing dishes from both the group dinner and the wine tasting. I had already started making a mental map of the rest of my evening like I always do when I am stressed out, weighing the different possible combinations of study and sleep and realizing that sleep would yet again come up short. I had a presentation the next morning on Byron and wanted to knock the socks off of my teacher (I had been talking to her since arriving in Rome about my love of poetry) and so I knew that after dinner, I would hunker down with the eighteen open tabs on my web browser to read more and more about this crazy, violent, passionate, supremely talented man.

Until, that is, Nick, Hannah’s friend who was visiting and who did the program last year, walked into the kitchen. “I’m taking a walk tonight,” he announced. “Anyone else in?”

Hannah nearly choked on her laughter: “Seriously? I am going to SLEEP.” But Ashley and I made eye contact once, twice, shook our heads, rolled our eyes at each other knowing the futility of our situation, and answered together, “We’re coming.” Completely cuckoo or not (not to mention academically irresponsible), we would never say no to a night walk in Rome.

We left the apartment at 1am. It was Nick’s last night in Rome, but Ashley and I had class the next morning at eight thirty, and I still had my presentation to plan. Feeling a sudden pang of worry on my way out the door, I grabbed my Byron printout from the table and told them, “I’m still coming. But I’m going to read Byron from wherever we stop.” They shrugged their shoulders and we walked out into the piazza, still packed with 20-somethings laughing and leaning inwards in flirtation. The cobblestones echoed with Italian.

Before leaving Trastevere, Nick grabbed a cappuccino from S. Calisto despite the fact that everyone else at the bar was ordering a harder beverage. “Ciao!” I announced into the night air when we entered, as usual. “Ciao,” the older man at the cashier nodded back to me as he handed Nick his change with one hand and cleared Peroni bottles off the top of the glass case of pastries with the other.

Newly caffeinated, Nick decided on our destination: Piazza del Popolo. In Italian, this means “Piazza of the People”; in the language of night walks, this means “Hold on to your sandals, kiddos, this is going to be one heck of a journey.” But we went anyways, along the Tiber (dark with no sun to filter through its trees), through Piazza Navona (bodies mixed with bodies in the blackness in front of me. I could only see those closest to the fountains clearly), across the broken glass bottles of Campo de’ Fiori, and into alleyways that confused the compass that I always keep at the top of my mind. I don’t know how long it took for us to reach the piazza, just that it was long enough to weave in and out of narratives of Rome, everything from our independent project topics to the story of deceit behind one of Michelangelo’s window trimmings.

When we did find Piazza del Popolo, it was deserted. Beyond deserted. Echoing and dusky and much vaster than I had realized back when I saw it clothed in hundreds of sneakers, it met us with its central fountain with four lions shooting water down through their jaws.

“I’m reading Byron,” I said. Then, pausing, “Is it okay if I read Byron?”

“We’re listening,” Nick said, and leaned into the bottom curve of the fountain. I took the folded paper out of my purse, looked up at the top of the fountain, and began to climb. One narrow step at a time. My sandals were not made to grip marble against water but I pleaded with them to succeed, and within a minute, I was straddling a lion, facing a deserted piazza, holding Byron in an 8.5 x 11″ message on my palm.

“Then farewell, Horace; whom I hated so,

Not for thy faults, but mine; it is a curse

To understand, not feel thy lyric flow.

To comprehend, but never love thy verse…”

I trailed off. I had chills. I had two people with closed eyes listening to me read Byron into the marble ruins around me. I was getting wild and romantic, and Lord B. himself would have been proud. On to later stanzas, and,

“Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul!

The orphans of the heart must turn to thee…”

Without acknowledgment I stopped mid-poem and passed the paper off to Nick, who also said nothing but clambered up the adjacent lion. And I stood on the center staircase, listening to words written in that place two hundred years ago. Then Ashley, who had initially shied away from our declamations, pulled herself up onto the central platform, and from above us, looking out, she finished the piece.

“Wow.” Nick said after a few moments. “I think that’s one of the coolest things I have ever done here.” “Wow,” I responded, quietly. “Wow.”

Piazza del Popolo at night. The four lions can be seen, barely, surrounding the base of the obelisk.

By the time we left the piazza, Ashley and I had red roses on our laps from a wandering vendor (“No grazie!” we told him. “No pay — you beautiful,” he argued back, and thrust them onto our laps.) We held them awkwardly in one hand as we followed Nick to our next destination, a “surprise,” we were told.

The surprise was at the top of a hill climb and past scattered Roman couples making out. It was first, a fountain, hidden behind stairs and walls, and second, a view through the Borghese gardens, one that looked out over all of Rome in its quiet repose. “We should recite something else,” we thought. And so, because it was the most firm text in his memory, Nick began the Gettysburg Address from this ledge in Rome in Italy in Europe across an ocean from its initial composition. At the end, we moved on. Each moment of the night cleared the paths of more people until, almost spookily, we were alone on most of our sidestreets. We were deep in the city by this point, and far from home.

"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. "

So far that our next stop was a climb down – down the Spanish steps. Here, we shared from memory the opening few pages of the Canterbury Tales (yes, Ms. Haag, I still do remember those, Old English emphases and all) and snippets of Shakespeare. By the end, we were sharing every poetic line that had ever stuck to the walls of our minds. We shook them free of their cobwebs and loosed them into the night.

The Spanish Steps

The walk back could be described as uneventful, except that we were walking in the footsteps of emperors and popes. We got lost, used churches as landmarks, and finally stumbled up the stairs more than three hours after our departure. Everyone in the apartment was sleeping, and so we put on pajamas, too; brushing my teeth felt strange after all of those mouthfuls of remembered words.

In the morning, we were tired, but not enough. We had already forgotten moments, but not too many. And we will remember, just for this long.

A rose (and a view) (and a city at rest)

( Now go work your neuron magic, mind. I want – no, I need – this file done right.)




Things That Are Great

23 Jun

Tonight –

wine-tasting, Sicilian grapes

night soccer on one of the hills of rome

the boys making us all an incredible dinner as I type this – sausages, garlic bread, mushroom and olive sauce, strawberry dessert, MMMM (i can say it here even if its not sophisticated enough for the wine tasting)

studying byron extra hard for my class presentation tomorrow

reading byron aloud, playing “she walks in beauty” over and over on youtube

meeting someone new

drinking straight from a fountain after soccer and getting water from Roman aqueducts accidentally sprayed across my face

seeing some of the most famous Bernini statues (and the most famous statues, period) in person during class today

Bananagrams in pajamas (like the show “Bananas in Pajamas,” but better!)

two yellow roses on our dinner table

City By Night

22 Jun

Just returned from another night walk after an evening of dressing up and eating out. I can’t speak for it in the daytime, but tonight was my first time ever seeing the Trevi Fountain, and when it is lit up against the depth of the sky, it is beautiful. Someone carved that, someone carved each stone, and now it means so much to so many people (each of us with our stolen moments in its presence; each of us with our custom memories)…one visit a postcard can’t quite capture.

Tossing our coins in. Now we have to come back to Rome. (I like superstition when it means more travel!)

Climbing the edges of the fountain, moments before a guard told us to get down. That's one small step for us, one giant potential Trevi belly-flop for mankind!

And, because I am already talking about art, I’ll end with a quote from artist Tullio Pericoli’s personal statement in an exhibit at the Ara Pacis museum:

Our face is a page we always carry with us, a page that we write and rewrite day after day. Faces are individual stories, landscapes are collective stories. Hidden in each of these stories is an accumulation of past events, ideas and cataclysms. I feel all this very intensely, and like so many other people I often wonder what’s inside us, what’s below us. I like to think of the earth’s surface as if it were a page in a story, the continuation of a story that began on earlier pages, and I imagine that the future pages will depend on the one I’m reading now. What we see around us today is the result of what happened a million years ago, or a hundred years ago, or yesterday: ground broken by the plow, woods cut down, a drought, a flood, a road laid out, a geologic cataclysm. The same kind of thing happens on the canvas. The surface we see speaks to us of the layers it conceals, of the history of that canvas, of the layers of paint over it, but it also speaks of the history of painting, which has settled intangibly on the work and in our minds.

Until tomorrow —



Caesar’s Notes: Tuesday, June 1 – “You are 2000 years old. I am 20.”

6 Jun

Belated and abbreviated post for Tuesday – since I have more time this afternoon, I’m going to try and include a few of these in rapid succession to finish recording the week!

On Tuesday, Ashley and I woke up and decided to go for a run. To the Colosseum.

Living in Trastevere, this is not nearly as epic as it sounds. We lace up our sneakers, change into running clothes (our professor would hate this — we were told not to wear shorts or white sneakers in the city to avoid pegging ourselves as tourists!), cross Ponte Garibaldi, run through a few streets, sprint across the Circus Maximus (which isn’t a big deal in itself, or anything), and look around until we spot a big hulking ruin on the horizon. Excusing the fact that Rome is filled with big hulking ruins, we spot this one pretty quickly – and bam. All of those hours of History Channel watching are condensed into one building right in front of me.

We don’t have a camera, so instead of pausing for pictures, we jog closer. And closer. And closer, until I can reach out my hand and touch the wall. “You are 2000 years old.” I say to it (I’m starting to get into this weird habit of talking to ancient structures.) “I’m 20. Excuse my language, but holy shit.”

Dodging tourists, we run the entire perimeter of the Colosseum, silent the whole time. I am a bit out of shape, the Euros tucked into my sock are itching me, and I am getting an awful sunburn on my right shoulder, but I can’t pay attention to any of that. I am too busy seeing the Colosseum on my morning run.

An hour and a stop-start shower later (to conserve hot water, we all have to wash our hair, stop the water, soap up, start the water, stop the water, shave, start the water…rinse and repeat as necessary), I am on the #3 tram on my way to the Capitoline Hill, the Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. These sites are our class for the day. I am in dork urban history heaven.

And that’s before I meet Jan Gadeyne, our guide for the day (and for one of our classes next week, too.) His reputation far precedes him – so much so that we heard about him for nearly a half hour from last year’s students during a pre-departure mingle in New Haven. Why, you might ask? Because he’s a beast. First of all, he was featured in the History Channel’s “Rome: Engineering an Empire” and PBS’s “Did Rome Really Fall?” Second of all, he has not one but TWO Facebook fan pages and a YouTube impersonator. And third of all, he walks SO. ABSURDLY. FAST.

Jan sketching out the four quadrants of the hill. At one point he turned and snapped at us: "Do not sit down! This is not an ElderHostel tour!"

So I came prepared, having stretched from my run and tapped into my Yale tour guide/New Hampshire cul-de-sac walker mentality. If you are unfamiliar, both the Palatine and the Capitoline Hills are famous in the history of Rome because they are two of the Seven Hills of Rome that surround and cut through the city. The Palatine Hill in particular is the site of the homes of Rome’s most ancient settlers, including (legend has it) the hut of Romulus, one of the twin brothers who founded the city (remember that story? suckled by wolves, Romulus kills Remus? ahh, now you’re with me). Archaeologists have found traces here of civilization going all the way back to the 9th century B.C. Because of its legendary importance, many emperors built their palaces here (Augustus literally built his to encompass the traces of Romulus’s hut), and we get our word “palace” from the name “Palatine.”

Me on the Palatine. It's not so bad to be "over the hill" when you're around buildings that are several millennia older!

Taken together, Jan Gadeyne’s guidance and my epic surroundings meant that I saw a lot of superbly-explained, stunningly-old sites over the course of three hours and was out of breath the entire time. Though I am proud to say that I KEPT UP, even when the entire rest of the group got lost behind us. Jan gave me a grudging, “You’re a little better than the rest of them…but I’m still not impressed,” at the end of the tour. We’ll see how I do next time we meet.

Ruins from the Palace of Domitian. At its (literal) height, the palace had walls that were 100 ft. high.

The best part of the outing (besides the scenery and Jan’s continuous griping about the flowers that had been planted on the hill “to please the tourists”) was the Roman Forum. The forum first became a proper Forum in around 625 B.C., so it beats even the Colosseum by a long shot. Heck, even Cicero had his digs here for a while. Among the ruins: the Temple of Julius Caesar (and the site where much of “Julius Caesar,” the Shakespeare play which we had to read during our spring term semester, takes place!); a few bricks left over from the Imperial Rostra, a platform from which ordinary citizens could get up and make speeches to the crowd; a handful of temples, each with a few marble pillars or ceiling blocks remaining; and my favorite, the Curia Senatus, or the former senate house which has been carefully reconstructed around its foundations to the point where I stood still, closed my eyes, and just imagined all of the debates that had raged there and famous orators who had spoken. Throughout the day, I felt as though I could hear the ruins echo.

Sections of the Forum; also, HELLO, pillars.

Talk about a walk back in time...

We made our way back to our apartment after class and did a little shopping for dinner, including a short stop into this delicious cheese, bread, and wine shop whose owners speak absolutely no English. We communicated with sign language and baby Italian.

Don't worry, I won't insert another cheesy pun here...oops.

Before cooking dinner (spaghetti with a sauce of meat, zucchinis, eggplant, etc; salad; bruschetta; wine and cheese), Jonah (one of the guys in the program) and I made one more field trip. We went to John Cabot University, a nearby English-language college, and we attended a poetry workshop by Mark Strand, former Poet Laureate of the United States and current Writer in Residence at John Cabot. Sitting in the audience with my notebook open, I couldn’t believe that I was hearing this American poet read poems translated into Italian while sitting in Italy. A cross cultural triumph.

When dinner ended, the girls and guys split up again, and while the guys were off exploring the local pub scene, we went for our first night walk around Rome.

Setting off on our night walk.

Rome is an AMAZING city at night. Everything is walkable, populated, safe, noisy, and full of couples making out (and I mean seriously making out, leaving no room for the Holy Ghost) until at least 3am, often later. We didn’t have a destination in mind at first, but we ended up at the Pantheon. Kind of like how we had “ended up” at the Vatican and the Colosseum. What can I say? Rome is a good place to wander.

My, Pantheon, what big columns you have!

The whole city changes in vibrancy after sunset, and while not everything is enhanced, many of the statues and buildings have an ethereal glow (okay, okay, or just an added glow from strategically-placed tea lights) when set against the night sky.

Just another bridge statue looking epic.

The buildings rise out of the darkness, and I am left feeling awfully small, and completely awed.

After almost two hours of walking, we make our way to the Vatican to see St. Peter’s after hours. The crowds are gone, no cars are whizzing down the street in front of us; in fact, were it not for our footsteps, it would be just the cathedral and our breath. And my thoughts quiet down, and I stop in the center of the street, and I think there is a whole world waiting for me in this silence.