Travel Journal

Forever Rome

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

New York is gray, a whaling gray, a steely slate studded with the whispers of lemon taxis and butterscotch street lights. Paris, oh now Paris is blue, a kaleidoscope of cobalts from Citroens to café chairs, from Gauloises cigarettes to headstones in Père Lachaise. It is the periwinkle and azure of patisseries outlining dashes of sultry pink. Pink on plump lips and on blushed cheeks, on the painted nudes of the Impressionists. 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 must have a palette of mustard, olive oil, straw, and egg yolk in various states of cooked. In Rome, 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, a narcissist, 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 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, an 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 arrival of the dark. It comes after a struggle. We watch while death approaches, fixating on it as it appears like a pinprick, a trapdoor, swallowing us. The Colosseum is an ocular temple made of tuff — solidified volcanic magma, the once-glowing guts of the earth. It mixes with blood. The building is a monstrous observation deck from which we watch the moment all things fade to black. And it is necessary, essential, for us all to see this denouement together at the same time, an eternal embrace in the light, creating a kind of giant, open-air cinema of the great question of civilization — What exists in my absence? And the sun says in Rome: remember, nothing does.