Four years ago, in 2009, I spent four days in the Eternal City with the family I had lived with in the US for a year when I was 16. It was simply an amazing city trip. My host father had organized tours of all the major sights, we had all the delicious food (oh! the gelato!!) and the weather was perfect. What meant by far the most to me, however, was having time with my second family. Even though I only spent a fraction of my life with them, they do feel like my dad, my mom, and my little sisters. I am blessed to have not one, but two families in this world who I love and who support me so much.
In the light of this, I was soaking up the company of the people I love and don’t nearly see often enough so much that my heart couldn’t even take in all of Rome. On my last day, my host family left around 6 am to catch their plane. I got up with them and decided to re-visit the places we had been to during the last few days, but this time in the early morning hours – without the masses of tourists and the burning August heat of the day.
The light of dawn slowly turning into day accompanied me on my walk from Vatican City, via Piazza Navona with its beautiful renaissance fountains, to the Piazza della Rotonda with the Pantheon. The colours were simultaneously intense and almost muted – a weird twilight state, hard to describe. I took many opportunities to just sit down anywhere – on the pavement, if need be – and just note down my thoughts in my journal. I will quote from it below.
I have a thing for inscriptions, or any kind of writing on the wall (pun absolutely intended). I call them word sights. This one is a quote from the Bible in the Vatican City wall. How could religion not be omnipresent where Vatican City is? I was thrilled to remember my Latin well enough to understand it right away. This is Psalm 91, 11 – „For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.“ I was grateful that this inscription made me feel protected in this moment, because just a second earlier I had felt a tiny pang of loneliness after the last few days that had been spent in constant company. Vatican City was incredible at 7 in the morning. I remember sitting and looking at the ginormous basilica for a very long time, marvelling in the light effects the sun created. My journal says:
I am sitting in St Peter’s Square, the place that impressed me so deeply when I set foot in it for the first time on Saturday. It still reverberates in me – the presence of an unearthly power. Is it Love? Is it Beauty? Is it God? Does it really matter what we call it?
I pondered deeply on religion sitting there, and the difference between faith, religion and the church. I won’t bore you with all my babble on it. But I do think that no matter if you believe or not, no matter if you even care about religion, no matter your confession – having seen Vatican City will make you see things about it that you haven’t seen before.
On I went through the sometimes small and narrow, sometimes broader streets. One thing I regret is not having taken any pictures of bridges across the Tiber river – but I wasn’t the Bridgekeeper back then. All the more reason for me to go back, I am sure. I reached Piazza Navona still deeply in thoughts.
The beauty of the Renaissance fountains was so perfect, so aesthetically impeccable that it was hard for me to believe it was not some kind of trick. The enormous dimensions of everything in this city extended to the beauty. It was unreal. Next to me street musicians played jazz classics in a group of a cello, a guitar, an accordion and a saxophone. Their style turned everything slightly latino-pop, and it added greatly to the relaxed morning atmosphere. My last stop before I had to make my way to the airport to fly back to Germany was Piazza della Rotonda where I took a look at the Pantheon. I loved the deep orange and red colours of the houses in the square. They contrasted harshly with the white marble of the Pantheon – The temple for all the Gods, as the name tells us. An ancient Roman temple converted into a church.
Beautiful and horrible: How vehemently Christianity takes possession of everything. Beautiful, because it creates an impressive case of interculturality. Horrible, because the Christian church thus makes a claim for power that might be deeply un-Christian.
Such were the ways that Rome inspired me to think. How is it that philosophising seems to come to me more easily when I am surrounded by beauty? In that sense, Rome made it very easy for me. I think I shall return, sleep during the day, and roam the streets between midnight and early morning every day.