When I came back from Rome, my sleep was unsettled for weeks. I actually had a dream about Pope Innocent X. I had seen the Velazquez rendering of him from the 17th century, the one in which the Pope is painted in all his glowering power. It quite literally haunted my dreams.
The whole place is so riddled with ghosts, juxtaposed against tourists (which are legion, of which I am one) eating gelato. So strange. I have several photos that I took of the same couple – I am sure they are American – walking through St. Peter’s Square and beyond. The couple was walking along, hand-in-hand, wearing matching black capri pants, baby blue t-shirts, white sneakers with white ankle socks, and tiny little backpacks, adhered to their backs in the heat of the sweltering sun. The man and the woman were clutching each other in such a way that it was clear they had made a pact even before getting off the plane. They were to never, ever lose sight of one another. It seemed to me that they had decided that their best bet would be to place their sweaty palms together for the duration of the trip, the only exception being those times when they were forced to loosen their hold long enough to purchase and consume ice cream and pizza.
There is a lot of pizza in Rome. I have no idea if pizza is an authentic Roman dish – an obsession of a certain kind of traveler, to experience the authentic – but there is a lot of it sold in tiny little shops. It is all good, cut and weighed in the same way as flesh is weighed at a butcher’s, or cheese at a deli counter. Pizza by the pound – it was practically my favorite experience of the entire trip. Not quite as American as wearing matching t-shirts and capris, but my ongoing consumption of pizza did mark me as a citizen of the United States.
In the end, what did me in about Rome – why I could hardly sleep when I returned home – was the casual approach to the past, the casual approach to beauty. There is just so much of both: crumbling sculptures and aqueducts overgrown with weeds, churches upon churches, ritual and excess piled up every which way. It is no wonder, then, that eating pizza became a sort of expiation. The only act that made sense, that seemed scaled to being human. I especially liked the eggplant pizza. It provided just enough exoticism, and had no religious connotations at all. I doubt that Pope Innocent X ever ate pizza, a thought which is, in its way, a sort of relief.