His words are the sounds of love. That is what I jotted in my notes about Robert Hughes’ prologue in his book Rome. This is a man smitten. In just these first few pages, he presents a sensory smorgasbord as he describes his first visit to the Eternal City.
The enveloping light
The worn, organic colors of the ancient earth and stone
The very trees were springing, tender green
The vegetables were burgeoning in the markets … their sellers did not want to constrain them
Even the potato … took on a sort of tuberous grandeur in this Mediterranean light
This vegetable glory, this tide of many-colored life
He contrasts all of this life with the often-grisly history of Rome. So much talent and intellect, so much ignorance and intolerance, so much living and dying down through the flowing centuries. Hughes says that “in a sense all of Rome is a museum inside out.” I am so curious to see this city that stunned and seduced a young Australian.
“In Rome … I felt surrounded by speaking water.” What a lovely description of fountains. “It seems they are there to be breathed, not just seen.” I am thrilled to see them before I ever do. Ruskin would be pleased.
A nearly 2,000-year-old bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his horse sets Hughes way back on his heels. I am set way back in my easy chair, absorbing his description. “This is no rocking horse.” “Marcus Aurelius’ hair stands energetically up, a nimbus of corkscrewing locks.” I can already feel it. I want to see it.
I hope that, as Hughes says, Rome will be my guide backward as well as forward. Even perhaps my muse.