Nano and I took the train to Rome to meet a colleague for lunch, and after we explored the old city. I have been through Rome a number of times, making my way to and from Calabria, but this was my first time really seeing the city. Nano was a fantastic tour guide. He was born in Florence but moved to Rome as a kid in the 1950s. He lived next to the Roman Forum before his family moved to Lanuvio.
By chance we discovered a fabulous museum–just three years old but built on the ruins of the Imperial forums, the Roman Empire’s political, economic and religious center. We walked through the same halls and archways that the Romans used while shopping for cloth and meat 2,000 years ago. The ruins and artifacts were beautiful on their own. However, the most fantastic thing about this museum was an exhibit unrelated to the ancient artifacts.
In the 1950s, film director Federico Fellini invited New York photograper William Klein to capture the Italy depicted in his films and these are the pictures we saw on display.
In one room, we encountered five photographs interspersed among limestone pillars, statues of Caesar, and pieces of the Temple of Venus. It was a setup I have never seen before, but somehow both exhibits became more powerful because of this juxtaposition.
This mixing is what strikes me most about Italian life. I noticed it in Caccuri, when I saw great great-grandmothers gossiping with great great-granddaughters on the street. Americans aren’t as proficient at fluidly mixing generations. I noticed it in Placanica, in southern Calabria, when Nano and I went to a town festival of the patron saint, Saint Antonio. Here, there were people of all ages sitting in the church, praying and leaving offerings. Outside the church, the scene resembled a dance club with loud music, dancing, yelling and laughter.
The juxtaposition was strange, yet wonderfully beautiful. In Rome I saw it again in the mixing between massive, ancient buildings and daily life. In pictures, those Roman landmarks, the Forum and Colosseum, look isolated and rural. But in real life they are integrated with modern street life. You turn your head to check for traffic, and see an ancient wall looming over modern buildings.
The most memorable sight came at the end of my trip. I was riding the train through the outskirts at Rome, staring at the farms just starting to appear on the landscape. The sun was setting over the Tyrrhenian Sea and casting long, orange rays across the fields. At just the right moment, I noticed a man seated on a bale of hay, his back to the setting sun. Just 200 meters in front of him, an enormous Roman aquaduct passed overhead–a blend of past and future.
How do we connect the two? How do we prevent ourselves from repeating our mistakes? Perhaps we need to do as the Romans do and intertwine the generations a little bit more.