As Anthony Doerr and his wife Shauna explore their new neighborhood in Rome, he wraps their discoveries in words of color and light as they “glide through sun and shadow,” and see “hundreds of balconies crammed with geraniums, pygmy palms, tomatoes.”
Living in Rome on a one-year writing fellowship, Doerr is astounded by Italian pines, “trees both unruly and composed at once, like princes who sleep stock-still but dream swarming dreams.” He never expected them or for Rome “a city of 3 million people to be a living garden, moss in the sidewalk cracks, streamers of ivy sashaying in archways, ancient walls wearing a haze of capers, thyme sprouting from church steeples.”
In the studio where he is trying to write a novel he has a lot of moments as he orients himself to the massive history of the city. “When the night sky above the Janiculum was as awash with stars as any sky anywhere, Galileo Galilei assembled his new telescope at a banquet in this very garden, just beneath my window, and showed guests the heavens.” Of nearby Trastevere he realizes, “Julius Caesar lived in this neighborhood. So did Cleopatra.” I am thrilled that our study abroad group will be there too.
On the terrace of their apartment one night, the city shows its dusky side. “The air is warm and sweet. Stars burn here and there. In the distance, little strands of glitter climb the hills.”
More exploring. They find a glorious fountain and then a view of the entire city.
“Beneath us, for as far as we can see, drifts a bluish haze – it is as if the city were submerged beneath a lake, and a wind were ruffling its surface.” A few pages later another view and, “everything is radiant.”
They begin to grasp their taxi driver’s words the day they arrived: “There is no city more beautiful than Rome.” From the book Four Seasons in Rome.