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Amber Paulen

I Don't Know Anything

Via di San Gregorio by Simon Griffee

Via San Gregorio, or Tourists in Rome, by Simon Griffee

“I don’t know anything about modern Rome!” a girl beneath my window cried during the afternoon sometime last week. The heat or the people she was with must have gotten to her. Maybe she knew less about ancient Rome than she thought, so she took out her ignorance on the chaos and confusion of modern Rome. I imagined she had flourished her schoolbook knowledge through the passages in the Forum and once out of the ruins, she was at a loss.

The girl’s cry got me thinking about the separation between ancient and modern and if it exists in this city where ancient columns have been braided into seventeenth-century palazzi, where the tufa has been shuffled from one building to the next throughout its hundreds of years. By saying you don’t know anything about modern Rome is saying you don’t know anything about Rome because the ancient is cusped by the modern. It’s saying that you are a tourist.

The tourist exists in a showcase of city fauna; they bobble among the glass display cases of this city that have often been built for show. The tourist is bleary eyed. They often wear fishing caps to block the sun. Right now Rome is full of tourists and vacant of Romans. It’s Sunday and the church bells continue to resound over the empty city that smells like the dusty aftermath of an apocalypse where the only creatures hardy enough to survive are, oddly enough, fishing-cap-wearing tourists.

By the way: I have a book review up at Uncustomary Book Review: Angela Carter’s vivid Nights at the Circus.


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