When traveling, it is important to have moments alone, to navigate through the newness unaffected. To appreciate things only your eye would notice. To meet people. You’re more than likely to be approached if you’re alone. Somehow, you appear more experienced a traveler. More experienced a human. One who might have a watch or know the direction to the Vatican or understand Spanish. I was no experienced traveler but we had been in Rome for three days and I pretty much knew how to point people in the direction of someone who might be able to point them in the right one.
We were staying in a cute little one bedroom on Via di San Vincenzo right in the middle of ancient Rome. A narrow terracotta building with a black door marked 12 above it, sandwiched between two very busy souvenir shops. If you stand on the bottom step, facing the street, La Fontaine de Trevi will be to your right. Tourists flock with coins and wishes and the belief that magic exists. To be honest, there’s something about the Roman air in summer that makes you believe in magic. Makes you believe in love. Makes you want to kiss a stranger in the dimly lit corners of overcrowded bars. Makes you want to promise tomorrow. Summer is the planting of the seed and Rome is prolific in more ways than one. It is hopeful and full of potential. It swirls around you like the cool breeze that lifts the autumn leaves into flight, only, you are the autumn leaf and the breeze is a stranger at a pizzeria singing Dean Martin and leaving impressions.
I was in somewhat of a trance. A haze. Partially elated that I had shared a brief moment with a handsome stranger, partially upset that I hadn’t done anything to prolong it. I stood on the step for a good five and a half minutes contemplating my next move. I could have gone upstairs and taken a nap, which was probably the reasonable thing to do considering I had been on my feet since 6am doing touristy things. I could have just sat on the step until bedtime. People are fascinating to watch. Somehow, curiosity, hope, and the summer air in Rome got a hold of me and I don’t know if it was all the magic and the wishing and the falling in love but I did what any normal person would do.
I turned left and I walked.
Getting lost in Rome is near impossible because you cannot really get lost in Rome. All side streets lead to main streets, which at some point lead to a familiar landmark that will ultimately lead you back to wherever you began. My plan was to wander in an effort to get lost. Really lost. Lost enough to bump into someone who wasn’t, but who might be in need of the time. Someone who was wearing linen pants and suede shoes maybe.
I meandered through the prehistoric buildings like time didn’t exist, like it was merely an idea put in place to give humans anxiety about the inevitability of an end. If I had my way, that night would have lasted forever. Me, and the melting sky and the resting buildings. I take back what I said about getting lost in Rome. It is positively possible. You lose yourself in the hieroglyphics and the curves and lines of the sculptures and the stories behind the walls and the dusty ruins and the magnificent churches and the lemon ice and the people who are trying so desperately to do as the Roman’s do, which I suppose is eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we will have to do it again.
So, there I was. Standing in front of the Alter of the Fatherland, lost. I studied the sculptures’ faces and their body language and the direction of the wind and I forgot about every single thing I knew to be true. Nothing was important. I was both inside and outside of my mind watching and existing and it was marvelous to feel so completely free. So unbelievably light. Without fear of judgement or disappointment or heartache. I was a tiny little human in front of this grand piece of history. I was insignificant. It was like the feeling you get when you’re standing in front of violent seas or vast canyons or majestic mountains. Everything around me grew quiet and slow.
“Altare Della Patria, the largest national monument in Italy. You are standing right in the middle of Rome.”
A rich, deep voice broke the silence. Gently. Like it was just stating a fact for no one and for anyone. I turned around, amused at the audacity and I know this is going to sound completely ludicrous but just like in the movies and in romance novels and in midnight dreams and in daytime fantasies, there he was, standing on ancient stone right beside me looking up at the Altare Della Patria; suede shoes and linen pants.