One year, when I’d made more money than I thought possible at the time and life was good, my wife and I decided to take our toddler
for six weeks. We stayed with the in-laws--who didn’t mind tending the boy--and discovered the Eternal City
slowly, the way new lovers do, in spite of the fact that we’d been married for years.
You either hate or love Rome. James Joyce loathed it; said it reminded him of a man who made his living exhibiting the corpse of his grandmother. But I fell profoundly in love, with both the city and, again, my girl.
Women and Rome, it seems to me, may both be defined as palimpsests--manuscripts immortal that are created and erased, one upon the other, time and again, each time revealing something new, replacing something true.
Every artist has a favorite work built upon the armature, or the embryo (or the corpse) of an earlier one. Each of us here on E2, noding frequently, has known the feeling of finally getting it right. Michelangelo overpainted. So did Leonardo. Writing is re-writing. Ask any author.
Rome is a city of layers, of idea built upon idea, going back all the way to the idea of history. And like a woman who understands the way of things, Rome reveals her treasures slowly. I stopped by a hole in the ground, maybe three stories deep, enormous, city-blocks across, all sorts of architecture partially uncovered. I asked the policeman standing next to it: “What’s this?” He shrugged and said “We don’t know yet.”
And that is, I suppose, the way of the Roman: all things in good time. Relax. Enjoy your meal.
The toddler said his first words in Rome--rather late for his worried mom and pop, I might add--on Easter Sunday, watching a television broadcast from Saint Peter’s:
“Pope!” he said, “Big Hat! Sharp!”
He was into hats, motorcycles, and crucifixes in a big way by the mid-point of our stay. He would tear across any place of worship to stand, transfixed, pointing excitedly at what must have been for him, certainly, something miraculous.
Renaissance art seemed to have had as profound an effect on my little guy as it did on his parents. For at least a couple of years he was fascinated by stained-glass windows as well. He was given a copy of Gustav Doré’s Bible engravings. He loved the weapons. The beasts. The boy David holding up Goliath’s severed head.
There wasn’t a lot of television in his life.
And then he got the chicken pox. I was unemployed, and it fell to me to entertain him during his confinement.
Let’s see, I remember thinking. What can I do with him? Where can I take him that he won’t freak people out with that face?
I hit upon a novel idea: Churches! It was the middle of the week. They’d be totally empty. We’d do a church-art tour (heavy on the crucifixes) and maybe throw in a little religion and morality along the way.
And we had a grand old time. All his familiar buddies, the shepherds, and the baby Jesus, and His Mother, Mary, always dressed in blue. (I was amazed he had noted that, but new parents are like that with their kids.)
And the men of God we bumped into! One priest told us all about the roses in his garden. The rabbi told us about little boys in his home town who never cut their hair. My little guy seemed fascinated by it all. The experience was holographic, each part of it contained pieces of the other parts. One could argue as well that, for the boy, it too was a palimpsest.
Finally, as he and I both began to tire, the boy talked me into ice cream at the beach, and we found ourselves down in Hermosa, which as you know is Spanish for beautiful.
I was feeling pretty smug about the whole day. Mom would be home from work soon and being mom, tired or not, she’d relieve me. She’s a saint. My little guy would tell her all about his day and the art and the boys who never cut their hair.
But I was not prepared for the depth of his perception.
We were breezing along the walk, and off in the distance I could see a silky-thighed roller skater approaching. The nearer she got, the better she looked. We were, after all, at the beach in L.A. Beautiful women have been making babies with beautiful men here for a hundred years. The babies have become impossibly beautiful themselves. My God this one was gorgeous!
“Dad! Dad!” said my little guy, squeezing my hand excitedly, pointing with his ice cream cone:
God did good work on her, didn’t he?”