After a sleepless night, the moon was still there in the sky, a pale simulacrum of itself in the light of a rising sun. I lift my head and look towards a still-closed window. I walk close to the old wet bricks that form a geometric, high relief on the facade of an old building while the tears of a thin rain flow between the cracks. Blind windows closed by wrought iron look at me. Unaware, I perceive only the sweetish smell of mold encrusted by time in hidden compartments. Now my step slips on the shiny black of the uneven cobblestones of the street. The early morning silence still recalls the night lapsed to the uncertain sound of a fountain. Where had I spent the night? The city was then still unknown to me. My proverbial curiosity had prompted me to wander through the streets and squares of a nocturnal and silent Rome, crawling away from the lights of the hundreds of restaurants, sandwich shops, pizzerias, bars, and ice cream parlors that make the city of the Caesars a place for the world’s hungry.
It all started early one morning when a sudden gust of wind, typical of the changeable days of March, punished my curiosity by closing the front door behind me. I had found the door ajar. Strange for the hour of the morning. Had someone from the family already gone out and closed it badly? A noise on the landing attracted my attention. A current of air did the rest. Now I was outside, with the empty house behind me, one landing, and two flights of stairs separating me from the city. Chance forced me to face the outside world for the very first time. A world that I had been able to observe only through a window, the only one in our tiny apartment that overlooked the external facade. The rest of the house took its light, so to speak, from one of those internal courtyards typical of the old palaces of Umbertine Rome, where ocher-colored walls enclose asphyxiated gardens with incredulous tropical essences that coexist with lanky pines that miraculously survived the building owners of the Republic.
I often stayed on the only balcony of the apartment that overlooked the courtyard. It was very tiny. Almost a French door closed in the lower part by a wrought iron grate, so much so that I generally had to contend for space with the garbage can that breathed its seasoned scents at me.
Those glass diaphragms calmed me down from the risk of direct contact with the rest of the world while at the same time allowing me to observe the passing of the seasons on the glass. Time passed slowly, deformed by the reflections on the raindrops that ran rapidly on the misted windows on which an uncertain finger had left an ephemeral scribble. Now things look different down here. The perspective of the buildings hangs over the street. I push my gaze upwards. My window blends into the others. Further up, wedges of gray sky prevent the roofs from merging into a single geometry.
I set off with a step uncertain. I walk close to the walls to avoid attacks of agoraphobia that have always been feared by all those who live in confinement. While taking a slow step and heading down the alley a few meters to the right of the door, I am struck by whips of smells I don’t seem to remember. They are the smells of the city in the early morning.
The dampness of the night spread on the walls, the roofs, and the black and shiny basalt of the streets. The smog of the past day mixes with the pungent air of a new day where the first aromas of life float. The smell of fresh bread melds with something old and stale that slips out between the iron grates that hide the dark eyes of an old building. The scent of time encrusted on the walls of the cellars adds up to the acidic smell that oozes from the wet waste bins due to the night frost. I stop, staggered and excited by those smells that mix and separate in the light pulsating breeze of early spring. For me, the scent is remembrance. Current perceptions dig into memories by bringing back the tastes of the outside world that came home brought by clothes. Thus I followed the seasons, distinguishing the city journeys made by the various members of my family.
The hooting of the pigeons breaks the silence of my reflections while my gaze lingers lazily on the traces of daily life imprisoned in the disconnected cobblestones that cover the alley. A colored cap of a beer bottle, a rusty hairpin, and a pen cap emerge from these small spaces of temporal memory.
Suddenly the narrow space of the alley expands, the buildings move away, forming a frame of walls with vague colors, and the void of the square is filled with the ruins of eternal Rome. An indistinct call awakens my feline nature.
Author: Freddy Coalman, avid traveler, skilled photographer and nature lover.