Travel Journal

Forever Rome

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“Cities are times of day. Once Rome was noon.” — James Wright

New York is a gunmetal gray, a whaling gray, a steely slate studded with whispers of lemon taxis and butterscotch street lights. Paris, oh now Paris is blue, a kaleidoscope of cobalts from Citroens to scarves, from café chairs and Gauloises cigarettes to the headstones of Père Lachaise at twilight. There is the periwinkle and azure of patisseries, inside entryways — all engulfing dashes of sultry pink. Pink on plump lips and on blushed cheeks, on the painted nudes of the Impressionists, and on napkins. But Rome, forever Rome, is the splendid yellow of the sun smeared across space. As if the star only wants to contemplate itself. A painter set up in the streets of Rome has a palette of mustard, olive oil, straw, and egg yolk in various states of cooked. There, golds and saffrons terminate in rivers of cream —which is just white in a yellow chemise. In Rome, the color is prime, the state of noon, as if the sun looks at itself there in a hot tub surrounded by infinity mirrors. The sun is a narcissist in Rome, inescapable, bare, overbearing. “I created all color,” it says, “and here is light itself.” The pantheon of the gods collapses to reveal only one: Helios, Apollo. The rooftops and alleyways, the piazzas and the domes all only speak his name. It’s as if from this warm tone the Renaissance was bound to happen — we just needed to love our own form as much as the sun loves his. It is in Rome that we were shown the way. “What you build will reflect me,” it says, “I am why there is something rather than void.” The Colosseum becomes, then, the great theater of light, the amplifier of glow. It is not so much an architecture of entertainment as a building of eyes — where everyone can see, where all can worship light, where the line of sight is open to all at the same time. And what is seen is the drama of the sun. We observe death from the Colosseum’s warm seats, the disc in the sky beating down on us relentlessly while we witness the dark arriving. It comes after a struggle, as in life. We watch while death approaches, fixated on it as it appears like a pinprick, a trapdoor, swallowing us in horror. The Colosseum is an ocular temple made out of tuff — solidified volcanic magma, the once-glowing guts of the earth — mixing with blood. It is a monstrous observation deck from which to watch the moment all things fade to black. And it is necessary for us to see this denouement at the same time, together, an eternal embrace in the light, a giant open-air cinema of the great question of civilization — What exists in my absence? And the sun says in Rome: remember, nothing does.