I step from the aeroplane at Ciampino and find that the bus company from whom I have pre-bought my transfer into town is not running its service that day. After a brief queue for a ticket from a rival company, I find myself smoking outside the airport.
An Italian man and a French woman are discussing where to buy cigarettes and so I offer them my last two. We get to talking. I am in town to show my first film, En Attendant Godard, at the CinemAvvenire, I say. The man replies that Rome is abuzz with anticipation because James Bond is in town as they shoot some sequences for the forthcoming Spectre.
The woman, meanwhile, whose hazel eyes beneath peroxide, cropped hair upon encounter demand thoughts of the potential for union, almost uniquely as a result of the fact that our eyes meet. Looking at someone and being looked at by someone; how simple a thing to make us feel the possibility for love, to fall deliciously in love a wee bit, love being maybe little more than the curiosity to look at and to be seen by the other’s eyes. The woman tells me that she does some film work herself and that she knows the organisers of a festival for independent cinema in her native Bordeaux.
We three continue to discuss various things until the bus comes, at which point we separate, them to the front and me to the back of the bus for the ride into town. And upon arrival at Termini, I hear the Italian man saying to what looks like his mother that that was a French girl he met at the airport, thus undermining my belief that they are a couple, and I see her looking back at the bus as she walks off. Dreaming that it might even be me that she is looking for, I call after her – to tell her where my screening is. And, if I can confess, also with a fantasy of lightning love, of continuing to look at each other in the eye, and of turning our lips into eyes that also gaze into each other.
Perhaps this is the hardest thing that I have ever confessed. My brain, my body often soon following suit, is more or less permanently adrift in thoughts of realising an as-of-yet imagined spiritual communion. It renders me sad, because I know that the fantasy of spiritual communion has such control over me that I cannot exist in the present; the fantasy is a veil of illusion that prevents me from engaging with reality. But this is also a nomadic desire that brings to me joy. For in knowing that this love, which on occasion I believe I have felt, though always in the most impossible and self-destructive of ways, gives to me a future. In the language of society’s majority, I have up until this point in life been afraid of commitment. Or I have not found that which I seek. In another language still, however, we might say that I am committed to prolonging for the length of my existence the belief that there is always more, that it is not finding that is important, but the process of seeking itself, and that learning – the process of seeking – thus never ends, with the experience of joy inherently tied to learning and the experience of the new, that amorphous thing that exists in the land of the as-yet-undiscovered future. In other words, this love is impossible, or if possible it exists as a series of more micro-loves, since one cannot but wonder that there are so many more eyes to look into and to be seen by, and one should fear no eyes and ignore none either. To keep looking, then, drives me always to become other, hopefully to improve myself without end, by learning without rest, and perhaps this also inspires me even to leave behind the minor monuments that are my films, and which will themselves continue to breathe beyond the moment of my last sigh.
I find this confession hard because my fantasies are cheap. Not in the sense that, since I have desires that are as sordid as anyone’s, they feature prosaic sexual encounters with idiotic and pneumatic women – though I can have such fantasies (fantasies that, so far in my life, have not turned into reality). Compared to cheap sexual fantasies, the ones I wish to describe are not cheap, since the feelings they engender are linked as much to the sexuality of my eyes, my mouth, and even my chest, as they are to the supposedly cheap sexuality of my genitalia. No, what is cheap about these fantasies is their heteronormative nature, together with the fact that I have these imagined micro-affairs with more or less any or every woman who pays me any attention and who conforms in some way to the images of women that circulate and which are validated by our male-dominated society from sunrise to sunset. In short, I know in advance the disappointment I could cause to the people who care about me as they see how stereotypical I can be in terms of my tastes in women – even if the main driver for me is women’s curiosity to know more about me (meaning that she is not a self-absorbed idiot) in combination with stereotypical, media-defined ‘good’ looks. Indeed, a woman who looks and who looks good are the combination of things which always set my heart aflutter, with looking being always the source of friendship, and people who do not look – at me, of course, since I am as narcissistic as anyone, but also people who do not look in general, but who walk around with glazed, closed eyes… These are people for whom I tend to have little time.
(Shades look cool, I confess. But people who wear shades tend to me not to be people who look and who hide that look, but people who do not look. People who look should never hide their look behind shades, because it is absolutely vital that you show to the world that you are looking, in search of encounters with other people who look.)
Anyway, as it is, the woman does not hear my call – and after following her for fifteen metres or so, calling twice more without response, I decide to stop, because otherwise she will just take me for a stalker. I go to my hotel, a shitty little dive on the via Principe Amedeo, right around from Rome’s central Termini train station and, after checking in, I drink one and a half beers and go to sleep.
I have come to Rome on a Thursday night rather than on a Friday since it is cheaper for me to travel before the weekend. However, I have not booked a day off work for the Friday, and so I do boring admin shit for my day-job from about 7am until 2pm – driven mainly by a feeling of guilt that I ought to be working, a feeling that invades more or less every moment of my waking existence.
But at about 2pm, I decide that I cannot just work all day when in Rome for the first time, and must instead see some of the city. And so, dressed in a winter overcoat and carrying my laptop bag, off I wander into Rome.
Seeing the Coliseum for the first time evokes a mixture of feelings. Joy is one of them, but where the joy of the exchanged glance is one about the promise of a future, this joy, that of looking at an historical monument, is associated heavily with the past. And yet, as per the love that is born when a person looks back at you as you look at them, this joy is also brought about by the monument looking back at you as you look at it. And it brings with its look – its look being what you can see – an overwhelm of history.
Let me explain. I first see the Coliseum walking up the Via San Giovanni in Laterano. It is a street lined with thirty or forty foot high walls that lower as the road climbs up to a view over the Coliseum from a similar height. The effect of the walls is to channel one’s gaze at the Coliseum as one climbs the Via, the Coliseum carrying out some sort of strip tease as it reveals more and more of its lower reaches.
By the time one has a view of the Coliseum not all the way round, but at least from top to bottom, one is in awe of just how tall it is. And as one walks around its base, this sense of awe is redoubled. The joy comes about, however, from looking up at the Coliseum from below, and imagining how those stones got there, at the top of the building, some 2,000 years ago.
This is not just about the human lives that must have been expended during and likely unwillingly for the creation of this monument. Nor is it about the human lives expended in this monument, to which I shall return shortly. It is simply that 2,000 years ago, someone managed to get a stone from somewhere else to 120 feet up into the air from here.
What do you need to do this? Firstly, exploited human and animal strength, of course. But also to do this one needs a crane of sorts. This I think I could design. But in order to have a crane, one must have wood at the very least. In order to have wood shaped to fit the crane, one must have something with which to chop the wood. In order to have something with which to chop the wood, one likely has to have an axe. In order to have an axe, one has to have metal. In order to have metal, one has to have worked out how to extract it from the ground and how then to melt it down into a mold that likely itself has been carved out of stone. Now that we have our wood, we now need rope. I imagine I can get some rope by cutting tails off horses. But to do this I must find and domesticate horses, then cut their tales, and then bind them in such a way that it stretches 120 unbreakable feet or so when wrapped around a stone that weighs the equivalent of several horses. In other words, I come to realize that I do not have a hope in hell of constructing something like the Coliseum, and yet my human counterparts 2,000 years ago managed this, and without Google.
This is a feeling of joy, because I marvel at the genius of humanity and I realize that I am nothing in comparison to humans who lived in an age without electricity, let alone computers. Nonetheless, this joy is tempered. For as I look at the Coliseum, especially walking around its western side, I somehow can hear the roar of the crowd inside the Coliseum from 2,000 years ago. And what they are cheering on is the slaughter of man and animal by man and animal. The height of civilization, then, is accompanied by inordinate monstrosity. We can build the Coliseum as humans, and yet in it we revel in the ripping of flesh and the dashing of blood on sand.
The mixture of horror and joy almost brings me to tears, but these feelings, and perhaps to feel more generally, are based upon the necessary fact that as I look at the world, so it looks back at me, and as I shall never be the same again after this exchange of looks, so has it too become a new and different world.
I look up at the balcony that Toni Servillo’s character spends some time on in La Grande Bellezza: what a beautiful view down to the Coliseum that place must have. Hundreds of people are taking selfies before the Coliseum. Surely the selfie is an attempt to throw oneself into history, to show that torture and time can do nothing to the life of the human spirit. And yet, almost by definition the selfie involves no looking, but a turning of one’s back to the monument and the looking not at the monument, but at the screen on which the self appears. And surely one is concerned more with the look of the self than with the look of the Coliseum. This ability not to look, it is the desire not to be part of this, material world, but to be part of the light and shadow world of images, the world of media, the world of putting media between us and the world, including the medium of money, whereby we ask how much a thing is worth rather than what it is.
As I wander from the Coliseum and along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, featuring Trajan and Augustus’ fora, among others, the sense of history continues to haunt me, and yet now it becomes mixed with another sensation. Namely, the feeling that I never understood what a/the circus really was until I came to Rome.
For, along this Via we have the places where centuries ago humans came in search of justice from the praetors and where politicians plotted and played, rubbing shoulders now with Asian vendors hawking selfie sticks, souvenir pushers blasting music from various boomboxes, further Asian street performers pretending to be enlightened Brahmin hovering in their orange robes three feet above the ground as they finger a rosary, barefoot beggars in grime-covered coats asking for money, Italian men dressed as Roman legionaries, and of course the population of the travelling world here as tourists, myself included. The impression is not how the world has changed since the age of the praetors, but more how exactly here, at the centre of the world 2,000 years ago, everything must have been the same. We dream of a past of quiet and contemplation, as senators whispered pre-Machiavellian plots while walking through the forum – and yet this place must have been chaotic then as it is now. The Romans invented the circus, not as a break from their society, but as a reflection of it. The circus is still in town today.
Continuing down the Via dei Fori Imperiali, I notice that the manhole covers that lead down to Rome’s invisible sewers each bear the legend SPQR: senatus populusque romanus. The Senate and the People of Rome. I spend time thinking about the importance of a system that is about the people as much as it is about the rulers, or senators. But that they even have to be identified as separate types of people suggests that they are not really the same, that the senators somehow see themselves not as people, but as something else (senators and people).
And as I arrive at the Vittoriano, the enormous marble monument erected to celebrate the union of Italy, and which, while impressive, has a whiff of the fascist about it, I find that this circus is political in some respects, because there waiting are a hundred or so police officers, in town to make sure that nothing untoward happens, I shall learn later on, during protests that I believe were in favour of the de-unification of Italy – as well as the desire to have foreigners removed. As if even in ancient Rome there were not already praetors in place to listen specifically to the legal requests of foreigners, and who already, 2,000 years ago, were visiting the city on holiday, on business and surely as immigrants of both the cultural and economic variety.
It will become clearer to me that, as I remark the hundreds and hundreds of police officers of various different types who stand around Rome on this Friday afternoon, perhaps they are here more for today’s senators than for today’s people. When later I reach the Piazza di Spagna, I see a guard in front of another building, official-looking, next to a van that proclaims to be about Operazione Strade Sicure – Operation Secure Streets. As I look at his military uniform and his carbine, I wonder that he would leave his post to chase after a pickpocket were one discovered. I suspect, perhaps unfairly, that he would not. He is not here to make the streets secure at all, but to make sure that today’s senators are safe – precisely from the people.
At this point, I am in touch with my old friend Hannah, who played the female lead in precisely the film, En Attendant Godard, that the good people at the Associazione Kilab are screening at the CinemAvvenire on Saturday. She is here because she is promoting another film, The Repairman, in which she also has the lead, and which by total coincidence is having its Rome premiere in a second cinema, the Nuova Aquila, about a twenty minute walk from the CinemAvvenire down in the south-east corner of the city. The film was directed by Hannah’s then-husband-to-be (and now-husband), Paolo Mitton.
Hannah has a meeting near Flaminio Metro station at 4pm, and so I suggest that we meet shortly afterwards at the Piazza del Popolo. As mentioned, I wander through the Piazza di Spagna, before meandering about, refusing to look at my map more than sparingly so as not to reveal myself too clearly as a tourist. Among other things, I pass the Pantheon, again marveling at the age of this building, the Palazzo Monteciforio, which like the Vittoriano is also heavily guarded, and the Piazza Colonna, where there is the Column of Marcus Aurelius.
Rome is a city full of obelisks, many adopting a kind of Egyptian hieroglyphic style. The Column of Marcus Aurelius has a similar hieroglyph on it, winding from bottom to top, depicting scenes from ancient Roman life. It strikes me that this is an early form of cinema, with the constant human figures in the mural being the equivalent of figures repeated frame after frame in a strip of film. I dream of a film camera which records on a sideways strip, such that it could be wound around an obelisk such as this one.
I undertake a cursory but obligatory pass of the Fontana di Trevi. It seems somewhat sorrowful at the moment, its water empty, its façade behind transparent but scarred plastic walls. One can walk along a pier to get closer to it, but I hang back and watch from afar. Tourists are taking photos and I try to refrain from reaching for my phone. But I do note that the horses that emerge from the marble seem like desperate beasts scrambling into life from the lifeless rock that previously held them prisoner. It is a powerful sculpture, and while we remember it for La Dolce Vita (what always impressed me more was the smallness of the square as Mastroianni looks on), it speaks more desperately of life’s refusal to bow to death, its teeth-bared determination to whinny its name into the night of lifelessness.
I pass the Spanish Steps without realizing what I am looking at, trying to find the Keats-Shelley House at least to contemplate its exterior, but it seems somewhat unimpressive to me – another house that I feel the need to look at because Coogan and Brydon do so in The Trip to Italy, and if these people (Coogan and Brydon) are cultured enough to take an interest, then I must force myself to, too.
And then to the Piazza del Popolo, where I am refused entry by another cohort of policemen. My Italian is not good enough to know if he explains to me why, but the square is closed until the next day. And so I text Hannah and move round the Piazza via the river and to the Piazzale Flaminio.
The Piazzale Flaminio is just outside Rome’s old city walls – and immediately it feels like a different city. For while there are elements of the people in the circus of the centre, the Piazzale Flaminio is characterized by different races and poorer clothes, a down-market selling granny shopping trolleys and the like, and the obligatory fast food outlets. The cops stand across the street protecting the Piazza del Popolo, and I notice some nettles growing up around the stone of a street-side bollard. Nature has a habit of creeping into the smallest cracks – and no one seems to care too much here to trim it back.
I enter a supermarket and buy the toothpaste that I had forgotten to bring with me the day before, as well as two tangerines that I conscientiously buy instead of a Bounty in order to better myself and in order not to succumb to the same lazy buying that I do in the UK. Fruit must surely taste better here.
And I wait under a lowering sun, bringing my laptop bag close to me at times, generally as people begin to stand too close to me, and I see if I can join a wifi network with my phone. I cannot, but I notice that there are two networks that are local if password-protected: one says Art Department and the other says Publicity Department, or some such. This must be Spectre, and at this point I wonder that it is for the filming of Bond that the Piazza del Popolo is closed, because cinema’s senators, too, take precedence over the populace.
Hannah arrives in a layer of telly make-up: a remnant from an interview she did earlier that day under bright studio lights (‘your skin is too fair for our lights,’ she tells me the make-up artist said to her), and which will be broadcast at 1.45am that night. Apparently the show is the best for reviews and information about cinema in Italy. We discuss her life: this morning’s was the latest in a long-ish and ongoing series of press interviews for The Repairman and she has just met an agent who, we discover later on, is about as big an agent as there is in Rome. ‘Just say you are about 30,’ he has advised her. ‘And don’t say that you are 5’8”. Take two inches off. Italians are small and don’t like tall women.’
Hannah and I wander into the Galoppatoio, a parkland space that is full of stone pines, the canopy roofs of which stand surreally out against the blue sky as a result of the magic hour lighting of the setting sun. The moon hovers half-nail in the sky.
We spot a sign for the Casa del Cinema, and so walk towards it, passing a band of 30 or 40-something Segway angels as we wander. Many are wearing helmets, and, in an Italian accent that often verges on the Russian, we joke about how they probably all live at home with their parents and that they promised their mammas that they would be careful going out on the Segway, never surpassing 10 miles per hour.
We have tea in the Caffè del Cinema, a kino that is about as unglamorous as any cinémathèque that I have visited, a ripped screen in an outdoor projection area typifying the slight disrepair into which the place seems to have fallen. Still, they are showing some interesting films from the posters that are on display – some stuff from Cannes 2014 that I definitely want to watch when I get the chance. (I checked all Rome cinema listings prior to coming and only found one kino that shows films not dubbed into Italian; I decided that there would be no kino visits this weekend.)
And we discuss the importance of continuing our work, Hannah as an actor, writer and comedienne, and me as whatever it is that I want to be and not the academic that I have become. Continuing in spite of small audiences; we are, I say, door-to-door salesmen picking up one customer at a time – and that is fine. We just need to keep going. Indeed, some people seem to think that making independent films somehow gets you closer to the film industry ‘proper’ where people can make money and not work teaching jobs around their filmmaking, as Hannah, her husband Paolo and myself all do. And I explain that making independent films gets you no closer to the film industry proper. The only difference is that you have made a film, rather than just sitting around talking about one. My films have never opened any doors to opportunities that might yield me economic reward, and I suspect that they never will. But then, as my friend Rhodri pointed out the weekend before Rome in Oxford, James Joyce was just doing the 1930s TEFL equivalent when he was writing in Trieste. And I wonder, of course, that this is what I should do with my life.
We joke that Italians cannot pronounce Hannah’s name and that they refer to her as Anna Kroff as we walk past the cool-looking Harry’s Bar at the city gates, and I set off on foot to San Lorenzo, where I am going to meet the Kilab organisers of my film screening to give them a digital copy for the projection. By the time I get there, I can feel that I have blisters on my soles; my suit shoes were not the things that I should have brought for so much walking.
The Kilab and CinemAvvenire meeting goes smoothly and my hosts make generous banter about getting me back for screenings of more films at a later point in time. I join Jole and Paola, who are the Kilab organisers, for a drink at a nearby restaurant, where briefly we discuss Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’éclisse. Jole, who has bohemian short hair and a left-leaning look that I’d not associate with the civil service, used to work in Eritrea and I ask after the relationship between Eritrea and Italy in the light of Italy’s colonization of Ethiopia in the past and Eritrea’s subsequent independence from Ethiopia. It is, of course, complex, but Eritreans are nicer toward Italians than are Ethiopians, she says. And à propos of Africa, I mention the scene in L’éclisse where Monica Vitti blacks up and dances along to the African music that her English friend has brought back from Kenya.
Jole and Paola will spend the evening hanging out with friends who also work for, among other places, the foreign office. And included among them is a guy who worked on the promotion of/for La Grande Bellezza. I tell him about the balcony that I spotted above the Coliseum. He smiles like I am a stupid tourist.
I head to the Cinema Nuova Aquila in order to watch Hannah and Paolo’s Repairman premiere. I hope that these dear friends will forgive me for saying that the film is something of an anachronism, in that it is in praise of slow and has a Tati-esque quality of not quite being of its time. As per seeing Tati’s Playtime today, it is easy to see some 45 years after its making that it shows a man out of sync with his world – because the world with which he is out of sync itself now seems so dated. Maybe it will take a similar amount of time for us to realize that the world with which The Repairman’s male lead, Scanio, played by Daniele Savoca, is also out of sync. I worry, however, that audiences today will not understand Scanio, because they do not feel out of sync with today’s world and therefore won’t get his sense of dislocation. More people will have to be dislocated from the present time to share his feelings.
My worries appear to be ill-founded, though. For after watching Hannah, director Paolo and Daniele pose for numerous photographs with journalists, they go up to a welcoming audience, which includes Giovanni Anzaldo, whom I recognize from Paolo Virzì’s last film, Il Capitale Umano/Human Capital, and then conduct a Q&A that suggests a vibrant and enthusiastic response. The film seems to be tapping into zeitgeist themes of recycling, since Scanio repairs seemingly obsolete objects, and slowness, since he wants a quieter life and not the bustle of the modern day. And the screening is a full house that engenders a second, late-night screening afterwards.
We go for a drink and read over Paolo’s shoulder a review of his film that has come in. It quotes Edmond de Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Paolo thinks, but none of us know the quotation and Hannah’s internet cannot place it. Either way, it is positive, and Paolo is happy because it is in what he describes as the best and only truly independent newspaper in Italy. Paolo mentions the name of one of the founding journalists behind the publication, and then in an off-hand manner, says that he’ll surely be killed some time for saying what he believes in. The casual nature of this imagined death makes me feel that Italy is indeed a foreign country.
I begin to flag at about 2am as Hannah and Paolo realize that they forgot to plug my film during their Q&A, which does not bother me, except for the fact that for Hannah it is a good coincidence to have two films premiering in Rome on the same weekend, and a plug might thus have helped to raise her profile here. Their distributor drives me to a long road that apparently leads up to my hotel. And after another 40 minutes of walking, I go to bed.
Saturday morning passes quickly, because I sleep until about 10am, and then mark essays until noon. I get angry with the Roman Metro system when they do not sell tickets in the underground station itself, but force travellers to head up to the main Termini train station itself to buy tickets from newsagents. And I head to Ottaviano on the Red line, where I emerge to go in search of the Vatican.
Needless to say, I am too late in the day to queue and get into the Vatican Museums; the Sistine Chapel and the inside of St Peter’s Basilica will have to wait for another time. But after sitting in the courtyard of the Basilica for about ten minutes, imagining how as many non-believers must come to see the Pope speak as do believers, simply because it’s a great spectacle like any other major sporting event, I decide to walk down to San Lorenzo once again. I pass the Castel Sant’ Angelo, and dip down to walk along the west Tiber-side pathway between the Ponte Sant’ Angelo and the Ponte Principe Amedeo di Savoia. I continue along the river to the Ponte Mazzini, at which point I cut across from west to east and into town. I get angry again because in the Campo dè Fiori, I eat at a restaurant where I get talked into buying a bottle of still water and some focaccia that I do not really want, unable to resist the exploitative gab of the waitress because I feel that my Italian is not good enough to say no. A meal that I had wanted to cost me less than 20 euros ends up costing 26.
I am glad that I am on my own, because this is the stuff of which holiday couple arguments are made. There is always, when you live life at my level, a budget, and one has to stick to it relatively closely. That is, one wants to be able to say fuck it and just spend without concern during holidays, but my experience tells me that one can get stung. One gets angry because, so this imaginary scenario goes, I wanted to have a really nice 100 euro meal at some point in the vacation, and yet over a week, the extra five euros at lunch and dinner quickly mount up, meaning that one has only another mediocre meal instead of the lovely treat that you wanted to offer to demonstrate your affection for your travelling companion. You’ve probably already booked the expensive place, or at least spoken about it, and so going back on that booking will be next to impossible without losing face, and so your irritation shows through and the argument begins – basically because you are spending too much money and cannot just enjoy yourself and not care. This isn’t about materialistic partners and frugal little me; it is my own obsession with money and a decision not to use credit and to try to operate with no debt that is at stake. Either way, the scene isn’t pretty.
After lunch, I return to the Pantheon, simply to stand inside it because I recently have seen a photo from the inside and felt that I missed out the day before when I walked cursorily past. I marvel at the marble and at the intricacy of the squares within squares that characterize the dome’s interior, and am filled again with something like joy. I walk down to the Isola, where back on the west side of the Tiber I contemplate and then film blue plastic bottles and large tree trunks tumbling in the undertow of a weir. It reminds me of Abbas Kiarostami’s film, Five, with its opening 10+ minute section of a piece of driftwood floating on the sea.
I then walk up into the Parco San Alessio, whence I take a look out over the city, St Peter’s Basilica and the Vittoriano standing out most conspicuously on the Roman skyline. I sit for a few minutes and look at the oranges growing on the trees, and wonder that I cannot take one – while also querying that they are not good, as many oranges are discarded. People seem nonsensically to be queuing not to enter the Knights of Malta institution that stands alongside the Parco San Alessio (if they were queuing to enter, some of them would). Instead, they seem to be waiting to hear some secret whispered in their ear at its otherwise closed front door. I go through Santo Anselmo, pondering how expensive the houses must be, while admiring a beautiful young Labrador that a woman walks. She looks at me uncomfortably, like on a quiet street I might mug her.
And I come out near the Pyramid, where a woman lies, lifeless, next to a bench, one of her gloves and her handbag on the stone bench, as if she had recently fallen off. There is a plastic cup next to her hand, so maybe she has been drinking and has passed out. But the stillness about her, together with the slightness of her body, make me think her dead. The slightness of her body speaks of a soul that has left. And I wonder how it happened, keeled over in broad daylight, a crumpled mass on the spot like that.
Others are looking at her. Surely they will take action if action needs taking, and so I continue to walk – across the street and past a film crew that is shooting something surely comic since it involves a car turned into a dog along the lines of the mutt mobile from Dumb and Dumber. I get lost, wandering long walls of the city, past Rome’s rather remote Casa del Jazz, and along to the Terme di Caracalla, the immense baths also constructed by the Romans. Another film crew is at work there – looks like B roll. I imagine the engineering involved in their baths, as well as the intrigues that must have happened as senators do their real business during pleasure in a back room reserved only for those wearing broad purple stripes on their toga. And I get lost and soon find myself back where the body of the woman is/was. I dare not look to see if she is still there, and turn back up towards the Circo Massimo, from where I get as soon as I can to San Lorenzo and the CinemAvvenire. On the way, in a small park, I remember a group of dogs running around barking, and I think again of L’éclisse, and the moment that Vittoria and her female friends must find the performing poodle out on the streets. I realize that I am disappointed only to have seen one cat in Rome, a cat that I was too afraid to approach since another woman was talking to it, and I did not want to muscle in on her moment.
And about three hundred metres from my destination, and after about five hours of walking, whom should I bump into but the French girl from the day before, together with a French guy, her boyfriend (although at one point he describes her and his girlfriend as lovers, a term I find curious). He is also a filmmaker. They are, coincidentally enough, on their way to see my film, and so we walk together to CinemAvvenire and have a beer before the film.
We discuss work – and he seems to be doing well, making short films that get accepted into film festivals and things for television. They play the card of young penniless lovers, and I imagine that there is truth to it, and so feel a bit jealous in several ways. But mainly I think that he’ll consider En Attendant Godard not to be a real film when he sees it.
He asks me a question after the screening – about the role of quotation in the film – and then goes off to a party with a producer friend. So I do not know his thoughts on the film, but wonder that my hunch stands, not least because we became Facebook friends soon afterwards, never to message each other.
The screening otherwise goes well enough. The film runs and the people at Kilab have not only produced a wonderful poster, but have also subtitled the whole film. What generosity, I feel, as they screen a nothing budget nothing film. My personal viewing experience is a good one. Sometimes I watch my films and hate them, and sometimes I feel that I am ‘with’, with them looking back at me as I look at them. This is more or less what happens at this screening.
People are polite afterwards, some a little drunk, since Kilab has the great idea of doing aperitivo – a drink and some food – with the film, and all for 8 euros. They really have a wonderful venue, seating about 30, and with a small library of film studies books and monographs on film theory. In London, it has an equivalent perhaps in Close Up off Sclater Street, by Brick Lane and Shoreditch High Street. Not that Close Up has shown any of my films…
I text Hannah, but my phone dies, and so I walk home and have an early night. When I get to my hotel, I see she has invited me out, but instead I buy a beer from a street vendor and sit in my hotel room. The next morning I grade some more essays and then go for a final walk, even though my feet hurt with almost very step. I check out the Via dei Fori Imperiali again, and am amazed at how the marble floor that lies below the Via for passersby to contemplate has been brought there from Tunisia. Stones carried from Tunisia to Rome. Thousands of years ago. And along cobbled streets, above the Coliseum, I again think about how each stone was hand crafted, and then put down to provide paving in Rome. Looking at the cobbles makes me wonder whether the ideal road imagined by the engineers would have been to hew a massive slab that would act as a smooth road surface, with no need for individual cobbles. Instead of a single, smooth and unbroken road surface, though, the opposite development seems to have happened – and asphalt has emerged from making smaller and smaller cobbles and then sticking them together in much the same way that blood no doubt congealed together the sand inside the Coliseum.
The Via is clogged by dancing Bolivians who follows behind cars loaded with boomboxes. They wear traditional Aymara dress – polleras and the like – and the procession seems odd to me, but typically of the circus. ‘Bloque Chuquiago-Rome, Italy’ says one banner, the only to appear in the slightest political or politicized. Chuquiago – gold river in Aymara – and the place that is now known as La Paz. Of course Chuquiago is also the name of a film, one of the few to have emerged from Bolivia during the 1960s, and a searing critique of social inequality.
An hour before I must leave for the airport and I have a gelato – not the three scoops of vanilla that I always promise myself, but a mix of non-vanilla flavours because even though vanilla is my favourite flavor, I always feel that I should order something else. I walk up again to the Via Veneto, where Harry’s Bar is. I see a placard in honour of Notte di Cabiria, and I think about Giulietta Masina not for the first time this trip and how Fellini’s close ups on her felt like the first close ups that I had seen that really meant something, especially as Cabiria walks back into Rome after discovering how yet another man has let her down, only to be cheered by the boys on the Vespas.
And back I am at the Casa del Cinema, where in a park a photography class is practicing taking photos of subjects jumping up as a group in mid-air. I wonder that the British pop group Busted will one day feel pangs of disappointment that their most enduring legacy was not any of their music but the fact that all three of them, like trained poodles, managed to jump into the air at the same time during their performances and videos.
And the rush comes on. I know that I am going to have to get to my hotel for my bags and then to the bus station and then to the airport. I have had such a rush of thoughts, my writing is supremely disappointing in relation to it. But the weekend has been full of joy. Not because I have been doing joyful things, but because I have been seeing new things, or better put old things for the first time, and I have been enjoying them looking back at me.
And I realize that I never want this to stop. I have enough money, I rationalize, to last me a month in this city. During that time, picking up some teaching work should not be too difficult, and then I could just begin the life that I once promised to myself and did not undertake: a life of travelling and learning, staying in places for good lengths of time, but in effect becoming a nomad, and in becoming nomadic creating for myself hope for a future.
Money is a medium, but capital is about stasis. Not in the sense of a Gold Standard or some such in which its value is forever fixed. Rather, capital is dependent on the verb to have, and to have possessions. To possess is stasis: this thing is mine and it can only go away if it breaks or if it is stolen. (Of course things are made to break before too long, and many things also go obsolescent, thereby revealing that nomadism of a sort – transience, impermanence – is an inherent and inescapable quality even of capital.)
And stasis is about states: achieving the state of happiness by having a home, which is more or less fixed. Our possessions do truly own us, because they weigh us down and keep us fixed to the spot where we are. There is no doubt much to learn in repetition; stasis no doubt has value to many people. But I am not sure that I can cope with stasis.
The world moves me too much, and, being moved, I must myself in turn move, as looking and love are two-way processes as well. In being moved, I feel compelled to create, even to create something as banal as this piece of writing. In creating, I change the world and am myself changed. And in changing, in learning via the movement not just of moving myself but of being moved, then I come to experience joy.
It is as if the brain gets used to certain pathways that they become concrete, and then something new comes along and rips up the concrete and says that you can cross the world both of thought and the world of flesh in whatever direction you like. New mental connections are made, and in learning you find out more of what your brain and your body can do. This is learning, and I never want it to stop, and I know that daring to reject the world of stasis and to embrace the life nomadic more fully even than I have until now is what will enable me to live, to love, to be moved, and also to move people and the world more generally as a human being in turn.
A romantic thought, I confess, but no wonder Roma, those other Roma that receive nothing like the attention of Rome and the Romans, care little for possession as a concept, because leading the life nomadic, possessions and the stasis of capital have little to do with them.
Today I did not stay and Joyce-like pick up the teaching work, but instead I came back and already rue my cowardice. But soon I shall go, and when I go I shall be gone. And while suffering and death, that final stasis, await us all, then I shall prepare my spirit to go soaring beyond the bounds of my body by teaching it to fly while my flesh can still move with the motions of this world.