After You Called
by D."Darteo" Sommese
After you called, Rome was more beautiful than ever. God bless the
magic that brings your voice to my ear in these ancient places. I realized our
friendship after all these years has become familial. Your people and my people
are intertwined. I enjoy hearing your news, your triumphs, your failures. How do
I love thee..Let me count the ways.....
It is the middle of November and
the weather is still absolutely balmy. It rained sand, like it does here
sometimes. The sand and the weather front coming up from Africa. Tiny particles
of sand become mixed with water vapor and fall on Southern Italy. Cars, streets
and people, get a patina of chalky tan, the color of the Sahara desert. It
really is a small world after all.
I walked through the crooked streets
of Trastevere coming from the bridge called Ponte Sisto, where I picked up your
call on my cell phone. Ponte means bridge and Sisto somehow is a form of Sixtus,
who was actually Pope Sixtus V, who built the bridge some time in the late
1500's. It is made of white travertine marble. Three graceful arches are
reflected in the ever murky Tiber. The reflection completes circles, the top
half steadfast, while the reflected bit shimmers like things do in a dream. The
bridge looks oriental sometimes, other times like a cake, good enough to eat.
Warm gusty winds, blow the leaves around. It is a song of Autumn, played
by the rustling leaves. The wind, moist and warm, plays with every person's hair
and clothing. No one shivers or is hunched over from the cold on this night.
People are happy, there are smiles all around. Languid lovers stroll hand in
hand, caught up in each other and afternoon turning into evening. All is right
with the world. The streets are never empty here.
Sunday is church
night. The place where sinners go to get an hour of peace, that somehow lasts
for the entire week. I make my way to the ancient church, built many times over
with bits and pieces of ancient Rome. There are columns from the glory years,
which once held up other rooftops. Saints Peter and Paul surely walked here.
They never saw the 16th century gold leaf ceiling, or the 13th century mosaics
shimmering with tiles of gold and Lapis. It was a tavern then, where travelers
and locals met to drink and exchange news of the Roman world. Drunken sailors
and disciples, meet drunken sailors who became disciples.
The church is
Roman Catholic, but the mass is Byzantine Rite. The choir sings like angels, the
congregation does also. There doesn't seem to be a moment when they are not
singing. The harmonies are strange and other-worldly. Two priests preside
in robes that shimmer and reflect the light, so much so they seem to
twinkle. The priests are in constant motion...procession. The church is
bathed in incense and candle glow. The priests move around the alter like
figures on a Swiss clock. The motion is so smooth they seem to be floating. The
mass becomes music and dance. No one in the congregations seems to be detached,
they all seemed to be connected to the service in some way. I never see them
kneel, but they bow slightly from the waist as the procession passes. The
incense is administered from a golden incense burner. With a flick of the wrist,
the golden chain it is attached to, is pushed away from the body and the silk
robe, which creates the breeze the incense floats on. The singing, the incense,
and the motion are hypnotic. I am carried away with them. It all leads up to the
grand finale, Communion. The air is so alive with the Spirit it crackles. I
arrived the first time by accident, the second time by chance, the third was by
choice. "You know there is something happening, but you don't know what it
is?.... Do you Mister Jones?"
Every bum has a dog. They play with an
orange, under the portico added to the church in the 1600's. Drunks hide from
the rain and smile a toothless grin, as their furry children frolic. The unruly
dogs chase the orange over the medieval graves that lie under the marble floor,
no one seems to mind. A gypsy and one of the wino's compete for Lira (Italian
money) as the parishioners exit the mass. The wino uses a smile, the Gypsy her
best sad face, both have their hand out and expertly work the crowd.
night air is still warm, wet and wonderful. The fountain in the middle of the
piazza communes with the drizzling rain. The bells peel in the 12th century
tower. They sing about another hour passing. How many hours have passed since
the 1100's? I wonder? It is 8PM, the dinner hour. There is always a friend to
meet and say 'hi' to here. Hello is said with a kiss on each cheek. Some faces
smooth and feminine, some rough with a days growth of beard. I am so different
from the ghost I was in Los Angeles. I am alive and well here. Be well there. I
love you, and all the world this night... after you called.