The Waters of Rome: 4 Days in the Eternal City

Tripoto
Photo of by Unshod Rover

Disorder, noise, chaotic traffic, daze, huge monuments... The tourist who arrives in Rome for the first time usually feels a sense of being lost. Formed at the center of a mountainous group of volcanic origin, the city seems to have gathered in itself the fire and the burning lava of its volcanoes. – from “Roma in quattro giorni” (1975)

Rome, Day 1: Heart, be a lake

(Part 1 of 4)

It was past dinner on a Thursday when we entered the Eternal City. That explains perhaps why it was not quite the Rome as some would have warned us to stumble into. Not much noise, nor heavy traffic, not the expected chaotic welcome of a bustling city, not even a certain sense of being lost. It was as if we were really supposed to be in this place at exactly the right time.

No longer a stranger to this part of the world, I did not come to Rome in search of some sort of fire of city life that any capital could offer. This was not to take away the fact that it was once “Caput Mundi” and still is, in one way or the other, very much alive and full of marvel and surprises through the years, or centuries. It is ever evolving, eternal, to mention the obvious. I came to Rome to be with new friends, looking forward to seeing the glow in their eyes and their jaws dropping when they experience one monument after the other for the first time.

Photo of Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Unshod Rover

For four days or so, we stayed at a palazzo built on the ruins of what used to be one of Emperor Domiziano's residences, as hearsay would have it. It enjoys a view of the lake Albano, the same as that of the Pope's as he, too, was in “vacation” at Castelgandolfo for the summer. And so, at almost midnight, on our first day in Rome, I found myself sitting on top of a wall, watching over the lake like it was the most natural thing to do. It was calm and collected, mirroring the half-dark of both the city with its sleepy lights and the sky bedazzled only by a few serene stars.

Photo of Castel Gandolfo, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Unshod Rover

We actually started our journey with a sidetrip down by the lake Bolsena, where a church was witness to a Eucharistic miracle and in Viterbo, site of the first ever papal conclave. We arrived early enough to have caught both the sun and the moon watching us over like two eager eyes anticipating each of our careful step as we try to befriend the lake. The water was not that hot, not that cold, either. And it was not clear as to who conquered who, but after a short while, I was already freestyling comfortably, oblivious to the absence of salt and waves. It was an easy, necessary introduction.

Photo of Lake Bolsena, VT, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Bolsena, VT, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Bolsena, VT, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Bolsena, VT, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Viterbo, VT, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Viterbo, VT, Italy by Unshod Rover
Photo of Viterbo, VT, Italy by Unshod Rover

A lake. How much sky, how many suns and moons and stars can it contain in its mysterious, almost haunting tranquility? How much of my worries and dreams and thoughts can it mirror? I wasn't sure if the Pope was staring at lake Albano at that same ungodly hour, nor was I entertaining the idea that he could also be fishing for answers to the very same questions as mine.

Photo of The Waters of Rome: 4 Days in the Eternal City by Unshod Rover

A lake. Right until that day, I have never been fond of lakes, being the island freak, archipelagic that I am. It's too dark, menacing in its secrecy and silence, self-possession. I have always been a child of the sea, out there, exploring, reaching out to shores and pulling back when it gets too familiar, always changing wave after wave.

But a lake is also about gathering, keeping. It's about containment. It's not about possession nor self-centeredness. It's about recognizing the things that we need to hold in and hold onto, before we offer ourselves back in total abandon and sheer vulnerability to the call of the sea. These were the very thoughts I was telling myself those days as I carried in one hand a map and in the other, my heart. And I would have had loved for those thoughts to linger like keeping water in the mouth for as long as it takes. At least, for the next few days that we had there in the Eternal City. (To be continued...) //