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Amber Paulen


14 December 2009


I haven’t written about Formello yet because I don’t really like Formello. Formello has a sour tinge to it, almost like a lemon rind that will never go down. The town itself, even on a sunny winter day, is dismal and uninviting; tenuous at best, a Roman suburb where cars pass through.

Though one may suppose that all quaint Italian medieval towns are like other quaint Italian medieval towns, this is hardly the case once one gets below the surface. For Simon’s parents’ house is in the centro storico — as we lived in the centro storico of Bracciano — picturesque, until you leave the ancient grey stone walls. There is some hidden element in Formello, some opacity which releases the sour tinge that I can’t find to put my finger on.

I have a bad tendency to compare Formello to Bracciano. Yet even when the former stood without comparison—I have lived here at other times—still my feelings could not surpass into an enjoyment of the town alone. Simon says there are more fascists here, more Lazio soccer fans, more shaved heads. There is not much that invites me here, I stay writing inside the house where the cold wind blows under old window frames and we light a fire against it.

In many ways this house is Formello. Simon lived here when I first met him and to that time I tightly tie it, or at least his bed. This house is Simon’s mom’s house, a bold and semi-eccentric woman who is spending the winter on a hot shore in Rio de Janeiro. This house, as I’ve begun to see it, is her museum. I’ve not studied this house as I’ve been studying it now, its nooks and crannies stuffed full of clay chickens and candlesticks without candles. This house is weighted with stuff.

I’m not a collector. I’m a thrower-awayer. I love the feeling of pitching out stuff that has lost its use. Oh how I long to walk through these rooms with a waste basket: first I would dispose of every empty bottle then a third of all the chickens. It’s not that I need the physical space but that I get claustrophobic. I like my thoughts when they travel, not caught on a ceramic beak.

The psychology of a fervent collector is a mystery to me. It’s not like I haven’t carried things over long distance moves, but I can hardly call these things stuff: books, typewriter, an unpartable pillow, clothes, shoes, you get the idea. But stuff? Shelves of stuff, decorative stuff, dusty stuff, I don’t get it. I am reminded of Lou Maytree who stopped purchasing anything that in “themselves needed care.”

And that must be the difference between a collector and me. To have all this stuff one must enjoy taking care of stuff, have an admiration for things in themselves, have a home, a trusty pedestal for display. Because why have it and not get anything from it? My burden is someone else’s light load. I want to keep my youthful agility.

Anyway, Formello. From here, to here I often come and go. One surprise atop surprise that the town has unveiled is a real working recycling program, far more complicated and needful of commitment than anything I have ever seen in Italy so far. An endeavor for which Formello deserves kudos. The Formellese are making compost and if that can happen there is room in this world for miracles. Yes, I’ll make it through my time here, I always do.



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