from my experience, is filled with the soft sounds of silence and
soft voices, often melodic because of the beautiful language.
Tuesday morning, my first full day here, I had to meet Tina and
Steve McPherson who were staying
at the D’Angleterra two blocks away. I took the Spanish Steps to get to
them. It was a beautiful day, a bit overcast, and Via Condotti, with its famous
shops, was already busy with tourists and natives beginning their day. People
walk in the narrow streets, moving out of the way for the cars which move along
slowly enough for the pedestrians to stay clear. It’s an amazingly quiet
city, to these ears, nothing jarring or blaring – even the sirens of the
cabanieri – like so many places that we (especially us New Yorkers) are
used to enduring.
A friend of the
McPhersons had provided them with a car and driver, a
very hospitable and charming man named Giorgio, to take us out to Tivoli
to visit the ruins of Emperor Hadrian’s villa. The car was a Buick (its
owner – an Italian businessman – loves Buicks and even, indeed, has
a collection of several dating back to the early 1930s).
Giorgio, a man in his middle-age, speaks English very well, thankfully, and
is also brilliantly well-versed in the history of this beautiful city – from
the ancients to the Church to the Euro (which seems to be wreaking havoc with
the average Roman’s, and Italian’s, financial security. Along and
on our way out to Tivoli, about forty-five minutes outside of Rome, he
told us many anecdotes about the buildings, the families, the popes and the emperors
who’ve come and gone, living big, rich, complex and powerful lives, all
of which are eventually reduced in the present moment, to the passing parade.
I knew of Hadrian and had heard of his famous villa. I knew nothing much other
than those slim facts. The villa, which was constructed around 120 AD covers
about a hundred or two hundred acres, and it is a wonder that provoked much thought
and offered little information. Because it is entirely a ruin. You might think
as you pass through that you know what you’re looking at. But you are consistently
confronted with your lack of knowledge and even imagination. It is so vast. There
was a maquette of the estate in one of the tourist buildings, and there was a
voice-guide and a numbered map to take along on the tour – all of which
add to the fascination.
the ruins offer up only a healthy, rich mystery about the place,
the people (thousands were often there at various
times) and the man who is best known to the modern world by the fictionalized
study called The Memoirs of Hadrian.
on the Spanish Steps
I was reminded of the first time I visited Hearst Castle at San Simeon and was
struck by the thought that Man will always build monuments to himself and his
vanity. There is little to compare with Hearst Castle, however, although I wouldn’t
be surprised if old W.R. Hearst wasn’t a profoundly fascinated visitor
to these walls. Maybe Louis XIV too. Along with Peter the Great.
The three of us spent about three hours moving with map and audio-guide through
the remnants of the emperor’s incredible estate, awestruck and growing
hungrier to know more about the architectural, cultural, historical and political
ghosts we were surrounded by. Hadrian evidently was not a popular emperor and
he built this villa for a variety of reasons, the primary probably being its
distance from Rome and the Senate with whom he had rocky relations.