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Is Rome beautiful or is it in ruins?

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Is Rome beautiful or is it in ruins? DonÕt look at me; IÕm hardly a likely candidate for an answer. Go ask the president of my schoolÕs Latin club, who labeled her trip there both staggering and awe-inspiringÓ. Who could compete with that assessment? We all had to write back-to-school essays about our summer – hers wound logically around that central point, describing the myriad ways she was changed as a person by the architecture, language, and history of Roma. I do think it would serve me better to discuss cathedrals and gladiators, but I wonÕt lie: I scarcely remember those things. I went to Rome and took back only my own thoughts – I suppose I lost the rest of it across the Atlantic.

To be frank, I donÕt even remember what Rome looked like. Oh, I know it must have been gigantic, all stone and ages, and IÕm sure I must have been impressed by many a tourist attraction; itÕs just, whenever I think of Rome, none of that comes to mind. I can only remember small details and overall emotions. For example, in the Piazza del Popolo I had gelato – pistachio, I believe – and it was absolutely delicious. As the cool sweetness hit my tongue I became immersed in one of those rare, perfect moments that happen so infrequently we only recognize them in hindsight. I was sitting on the railing around a small fountain when this tall man rushed by me forcefully enough that my cone flew from my hand and landed with a light plop into the water beside me. I laughed for the next ten minutes and threw two euro in the same fountain, believing it to be good luck. Do you want another example? My teacher once asked me to write an essay on my time as a foreign exchange student in Italy, and I related to her the way my two host sisters, seven-year-old twins, would put ‘DonÕt Stop BelievingÕ by Journey on repeat and create elaborate dance routines that differed a little with each performance – I received an A for effort but was labeled ‘the weirdoÕ ever after. I donÕt ask to remember these kinds of things, but my brain doesnÕt want to keep the fact that the Colosseum was built in 80 AD or that Naples has 448 historical churches. It would much rather remember that Caligula once ordered war on Poseidon, and had his soldiers throw their spears into the water at random; or the legend of NapoliÕs egg castle: how Virgil put a magical ovo in its foundations and on it a curse, spelling certain doom for the castle should the egg ever crack.


So I ask you, is Rome beautiful or is it in ruins? Again, I wonÕt try to answer. I will say this, though: maybe Rome is beautiful, or maybe itÕs just falling apart. Maybe itÕs overrated, overlooked or over the moon with recognized importance. I wouldnÕt judge that; I will only tell you that the people of Rome were beautiful, from the man who broke my perfect moment to the Journey-loving twins. I once saw a girl my age get kissed on a candied moped by some ragazzo in a beret, and felt such a strong attachment to them that my eyes burned with tears. An elderly Neapolitan woman bought me a golden owl keychain at a small store because she liked my blonde hair, and in return I gave her a deck of American playing cards. My host grandmother died of cancer the day after I met her, and I remember she smelled of basil leaves and cigarette smoke. For me, these are the foundations of Italy more surely than the cobblestones or the tourist attractions. I would try to tell you about the architecture, the language or even the history, but saying those things mattered most to me would be a lie. This is what I got from Rome, and the rest was either left or lost - but what I have is no less beautiful, I think. Does that answer the question?





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