Recently, I wrote about how I’d managed to spend a whole four nights in Rome, and written nothing more than a list of what we’d seen and done during the trip. Now I’ve been back in the real world for three weeks, I’m realising just how inspiring the visit was after all.
The other night, I sat and watched a documentary about the first games to be held at the Colosseum, about the animal fights, the executions and of course, the gladiator battles. Oddly, of all the places we visited, the Colosseum was the place I felt least connected to the magnificent history Rome has in spades. Has that ever happened to you? You visit somewhere you expect to be amazed at and then, well, aren’t? I think it was the sheer volume of the crowds; far too many people, in such a small space, isn’t all that conducive to soaking in the atmosphere.
For Roman history, the Forum was where it struck me. Wandering along the paths and avenues, thinking about who had walked there before me, and not being run-down by tour groups, that was real ancient history to me.
It was more than just the Roman history in there though. Back in 2014, I was lucky enough to win a place on a writing retreat at Ozu, Fara Sabine, around an hour outside Rome. We visited the city for the day, but my favourite day of the trip was following a two-hour drive to Caprarola, a beautiful hill-top village, at the centre of which was the stunning Villa Farnese, the country seat of the powerful Farnese family. Inside, the frescos were wonderful, and learning the history of the family was fascinating – I adored it. So, imagine my delight when, wandering through the Forum, my parents pointed out that the central, ‘modern’ (relatively) area of the Forum, looking over the majority of the Roman remains, was created by the same family, the Farnese! The Farnese Gardens, created in the 1550s, were simply amazing, and reminded me so strongly of the gardens in Caprarola.
There was even a grotto, something which had really stayed with me from my visit to Caprarola. This one, being in the heart of Rome, was obviously more impressive, especially the way it’s currently being presented, with a gorgeous display thanks to projectors set into the ceiling, telling some of the story of the Farnese, and covering the place in leaves and flowers.
It inspired me to dig out my old notebook from that trip, and find the poem I could remember writing about the grotto, inspired by the unknown mother of three of Pope Alexander VI’s children. One of this pope’s favourite mistresses was Giulia Farnese, from the Farnese family, although, later research suggests that my timelines are slightly out.
I still like the poem though, even if I never did manage to come up with a title…
If I hold my breath, will I vanish?
If I press deep into inky-green shadows, will he walk straight past?
I wonder, should I take my chance, with Diana, in the grotto,
or run, hide my tale, pretend this isn’t happening?
As his footsteps approach, my hand moves instinctively
covers my loosened stomacher –
this child deserves better, more, than rumour and scandal.
And yes, this is its chance, his or hers,
to grasp what can never be mine.
I take a breath for courage, hold it,
and step into the light.
Which places have most inspired you? Have they brought back memories like this one? I have a feeling this isn’t the last of my Italian literary adventures – being in Rome just served to remind me how much I love that country, after all…