“But did thee feel the earth move?” –Earnest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
I must admit, I enjoy haphazardly finding the Florentine cobble stones that shift under my weight. This is because, if only for a moment, I have made the earth move. I have made an impression in the soil on which thousands of years of history have been laid. It’s mind-boggling to think that’s how history even happens at all…one person making the earth move; another responding to its quake; a group of peoples generating seismic activity someplace far; and another group feeling those effects someplace else.
Last weekend, we, as a USF-FUA collective, ventured to Rome, the life source of one of the most enduring empires in the world. I stepped off the train and onto a page of my seventh grade history textbook. Honestly, the mere thought of Rome exhausted me and I wanted more than anything to starfish on a hotel bed. But when in Rome, I thought to myself, there is no such thing as swollen feet and tired eyes. (There is such a thing as sunburn, however—maybe more about my transformation into a prized Roma tomato later.)
Now, I won’t bore you with the details of our guided tours and staff-led treks, but I will invite you to revisit the bucket list I compiled at the beginning of my travels. After the weekend, I have successfully completed items 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 (well, maybe not in their purest, original forms but completed nonetheless). So, let’s talk about item 4, shall we? As a refresher, it reads, “Attach my heart’s desire to a shiny coin, turn around, and toss it backward into the Trevi Fountain…and then have that desire be realized as a pop star named Paolo approaches me, falls madly in love with me, and asks me to impersonate his female counterpart and my unlikely doppelganger, Isabella.” Welp, the fountain is closed for renovation. What dreams are made of, this was not. Heartbreak. (I know, you feel it too.) Anyway, I was not about to toss the emblem of all my hopes and dreams into the depths of a murky construction-site pond so I opted out of seeing this monument and visited its neighbor, the Fountain of Four Rivers—beautiful and significant in its own right and fully operational. But in skipping the fountain, I also had to skip the whole being courted by an Italian pop star and proceed straight to performing at the Colosseum (as evidenced by photo below).
Moreover, I made the bold move of omitting a trip to the Spanish Steps for a hole in the wall. No, really. The Knights of Malta Keyhole is a small, round hollow in a behemoth door in a parking lot at the top of a hill. Peering through the cavity, I was arrested by a microscopically sovereign nation and a breathtaking view. They say this is the place where three countries collide: Italy, Malta, and Vatican City. Perfectly framed by a long and narrow arch of ivory sat the stately dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. I tried to snap a picture of the simple and altogether genius landscape but unfortunately, iPhones don’t like keyholes. I was granted this less-spectacular representation instead.
Speaking of St. Peter’s Basilica and The Vatican, let’s talk about item 6. Again, it reads, “Reach up and touch the hand of God, so delicately placed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by the hand of Michelangelo.” What it really should have read was, “Kick the shins of a nearby tourist, so carelessly corralled into a dark and steamy rectangle, as I futilely attempt to look up at one of Michelangelo’s most revered works of art.” Don’t get me wrong, I was instantly humbled by the chapel and its decorated walls but it presented me with the most perplexing thought. I’m an artist and inherently love experiencing art. I want to appreciate it, soak it up like a sponge, and let it whet my enthusiasm…on my own time. However, in foreseeable tourism forums, “on my own time” isn’t really feasible. So what do I do to make an ephemeral experience, often times regulated by the rate of tourism, a more enduring one? Take a picture, of course. Except, what do I do when everyone else is trying to seize the scenery as well? Do I A, allow my picture product to include the cameras, smart phones, and selfie sticks of my fellow foreigners; or B, put my picture-procuring device down and pray that my perceptual processing is on point that day? Lately, I’ve settled for the latter. My experience in some of the world’s most bewitching locales will exist only in the bores of my mind—and I’m okay with that.
Rather, it’s in these liminal spaces that I feel the earth move the most—and where I feel most parts of me being moved. Being a dancer, I’m aware of dance’s draw on the masses (particularly commercial dance in the United States). It’s the wow factor; the stretched limbs and the fierce turns. But the thing that separates ordinary dance from extraordinary dance is the transition. To me, transition is one of the most necessary mechanisms imparted on life. Transition metals, transition states, transitional phrases, Transitions optical lenses…they all suggest something different in life but they’re all united in that they’re essential to life. Transition is a process, a continual reworking of the self, a composition of trails, terminuses, and tenacities, disparate and many. A cell cycle, a water cycle, a life cycle…
One night back “home” in Florence, it was getting a little hot in our apartment, as would any apartment cluttered with bodies, a hot stove, and limited cooling apparatuses, so my roommate and I decided to take a stroll and enjoy the mild Florentine breeze. We planted ourselves on the steps of the Basilica of Santa Croce and there we grew roots for over two hours. We were not convinced on “transitioning” from our position at any time because we were intent on beholding a different sort of transition—the one from day to night. This was another instance in which I left my cell-phone-camera-crossbreed behind but trust me when I say; those steps face the west for a divine reason. Over the rooftops of the adjacent buildings, as orange bled into magenta, magenta into periwinkle, and periwinkle into indigo, two violinists stood in the square and serenaded its small but captivated audience with renditions of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins. A young Asian couple encouraged their toddler to dance around in circles as the violinists bowed a joyous melody. In an attempt to frame her face like a ballerina, she pinned her ears back to her head and disregarded any further directive. My roommate and I were amused by her candid defiance.
A great white egret soared past the basilica as one of the violinists pierced a high C. The street lamps flickered on as the other plucked rapid riffs with his fingertips. In the background, little kids shot up LED contraptions into the air and then skittered to catch them before they plummeted to the ground. They looked like vibrant fireflies in my periphery. I reclined back and let my eyes adjust to the stars. I remained there until I was overcome with the urge to run, skip, and cartwheel throughout the piazza. I refrained. The duo started in Pachelbel’s Canon in D and I got visions of starting a life with someone—a special someone to witness my life and all its seasons. I thought about the transience of life and of seasons. I pondered the human construct of time. I watched as the audience transitioned from children and elder adults to adolescents and young adults with dogs; as the air began to transport more cigarette smoke than LED contraptions. I heard the clang of coins in a violin case. I felt chills.
How blissful it was to just exist in a place—to let thoughts amble in the mind without having to worry about doing something, but rather, just being someone. And not just any place, but Florence, where so many people existed previously. And not just Florence, but Santa Croce, WHERE MICHAELANGELO IS LAID TO REST. In that moment, it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t get to fully “appreciate” the creation only a few days prior; I was seated next to the creator.
At some point, we decided to amble back to our apartment. We were greeted by the same dark hallway and leaning coat rack and lack of fans, but it was colder. I looked down at my freckled skin and noted a new breed of spots: goosebumps. Finally, I understood how Italians can thrive without central AC. Certainly they, too, are chilled by the potency of their past and yet the promise of their future.