A Fragment From Rome

A Fragment From Rome
A Fragment From Rome

I am going to tell you a story of a young man who found love. (Or the other way around). Enchanted by Beauty, sponsored by a ‘Valued’ group of people who once pointed at the villa of history… (this is too dramatic, but I can see you falling for a love story…). Let me try it another way…

…Thinking back on my decision to come to Rome I am somewhat able to discern my infatuation with going south. Being an almost-Mediterranean myself, I was longing for something exotic, maybe something irrational and fantastic which always comes along with the idea of heat. Back then, the cloudiness of my thoughts was aided by my ECLA companions who, on a continual basis, would nourish in me the ideals of beauty engendered in the Italian soil. It was much more the magnitude of beauty – the dizzying, euphoric enchantment – shoved right into my face during our annual trips to Florence and Rome. It was not any concept or idea (I still do not know what Beauty means, and I guess that’s what  makes me an ECLA student)…

… As it is proper to euphoria to be ephemeral, so it was with my enchantment (euphoria-ephemeral-enchantment!). I do not mean to say that my love for Art is gone; that would make me lifeless. It is just that this enchantment is bound to acquire form once the monsters creep in: history and values.

(longing for beauty – a degree in ‘Value studies’ – a city where history lives on triumphantly)

‘Western civilization could have not been possible without Rome’. A friend of mine remarks that the sentence is too big and pretentious. Fine, but I remind him of the Roman law which most of us still abide to to this day (I couldn’t help but think of Monty Python’s hilarious scene from The Life of Brian when the leader of an anti-Roman revolutionary group in trying to incite them asks the fatal question “what have the Romans ever given to us?” Unfortunately for him, the group can come up with too many concrete positive examples ).

Then, I go into a fury of fragmented arguments from popular knowledge in order to prove my point. I remind him of the concrete out of which all our cities will be built; a ‘clientele system’ – a kind of a ‘primitive lobbying’. And then I ask, ‘What about the Roman domus, isn’t that like your father’s villa in Ostia? Conscious of my friend’s love for Shakespeare I ask: ‘Could you imagine a Western civilization without Shakespeare? You know that he based five of his plays in ancient Rome?’ (It is another matter that we wait for the tram every morning in Largo Argentina with an anonymous crowd, totally oblivious that we arere standing at the same spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed twenty-four times.)

To further diminish pretentiousness from my statement, I challenge his Grecophilia with my uprising Romophilia. We go for a stroll by the Tiber river. The spell of the pictoresque landscape lets fall on my friend  the rushed sentence that ‘Rome was too militaristic to acquire the subtleties and refinements of Greek art’.

I am excited and I feel determined to pursue my crusade further. I decide to seduce my friend, utilizing my impeccable freshly-acquired culinary expertise of pasta, olives, vegetables and Parmigiano cheese. My friend is struggling between the given intellectual arrogance and an increasing love for humanity sponsored by that which Hemingway called ‘the most civilized thing that ever existed on Earth’.

Now I am tempted to use another weapon: the joy of walking without destination in Rome. The fresh memory of having found myself amidst many hidden mysteries fueled my desire. I take my friend along partly driven by a malicious desire to persuade him and partly from a Kantian imperative to prove the universality of my taste.

The Medieval bridge of Ponte Sisto brings us to fancy Trastevere; we climb up the Gianicolo hill and pass some ugly fascist monuments to arrive at a beautiful Spanish church. In the courtyard we gaze at this ideal temple built by Bramante: the embodiment of Renaissance. My friend is disturbed  a little bit, as if something has dissolved. I sympathize wholehearedly.

We walk through Campo de Fiori – one of the oldest markets in Rome. The smell of basilico does not allow him to see the big bronze statue in the centre of the square. A gloomy figure of Giordano Bruno stands erect in the liveliest square of Rome. His looming presence remains since being burned in stacks at the same spot some centuries ago. We move on towards Piazza Navona and on to the Jewish Ghetto where we stop at the Church of Saint’ Luis de Francois. A mass of people crowded in one corner of church is a sign that ‘something important’ is there: the chapel of St Matthew painted by Caravaggio.

Our next stop is Chiesa Sant’ Antonio dei Portoghesi. The sounds of a Bach fugue clear our ears filled with the noise of motorinos. It is like traveling in a time-machine back in the days when music had a home; my friend however thought it was a pity that it was the preacher’s home… Being overwhelmed by all these churches, it was the perfect timing to put forward another point: ‘Do you know, my friend, that many saints came to die here, in Rome?’

As if carried in clouds we rush towards Villa Borghese where I thought it would be appropriate for my friend to speak to ducks, swans or have a conversation with the statues of Goethe, Pushkin, Byron or Raphael. We do not have time, but I remind my friend that fifteen museums  surround us in Villa Borghese.

Finally, I wanted to give my friend a sense of that which did not make it into history. I knew we had to go across the walls of Rome. We pass the huge wall built by Marcus Aurelius towards San Lorenzo and we join a public reading in the square. It is the famous ‘What is to be done?’ by Lenin and -befitting the idea of the book- we sit in a circle with Bolivians, Marochans, Bangladeshi, Russians and Italians. And to top it all off, the reading is given by a Canadian woman.

My friend is overwhelmed and I do not wish to bug him with any more arguments. We go home, and I remember preparing a playlist: Donizzeti, Puccini, and Rossini. Before saying good night my friend asks me what day it is tomorrow, and I myself cannot really decide whether today had been a long or a short day.

by Bardhi Bakija (3rd year BA, Kosovo)

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