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Amber Paulen

In Rome, In November

In November, twilight vanishes into the rain clouds which all day seem in a desperate hurry to exchange places with the sun. The morning may begin blue and bright, though in the course of a shortening day, the sky fluctuates with as many transformations as there are hours. This show of indecision is exasperating: is it a pleasant day or isn’t it?

I don’t remember such finicky weather while living in Bracciano, but then, the portion of sky I saw while writing was limited to the width of my hand. To guess the weather by that sliver was like judging a person based on a clump of their scalp. While here I watch the sky spill onto an ancient apse in one direction and the sky spill on San Clemente in the other. Then it stops. The sky opens. It’s sunny again.

I also watch the artful bird clouds from these windows, running from one to the next as the black flapping murmurations make amazing morphing shapes. The starling clouds are a phenomena of the season. They roost in the sycamores along the Lungotevere, shitting like rain drops. One can always pick out a car parked too long under a favorite tree: white-washed with bird drops.

Last week, when I went for a stroll through Villa Celimontana, a million birds had chosen an umbrella pine for the moment. Their chatter was deafening, as if they were all scrambling to the tree top to be declared the most vociferous. Smallish battalions would break off on whims, mesmerizing in their numbers and synchronicity, crossing and recrossing in amoebic flexible loops. What drives these birds to this expression?

More astonishing was when every last bird down to the final millionth decided on impulse to part. They rose from that pine, and other pines near-by, in a single simultaneous cloud. The boughs shook, the needles clattered as the immense mass minimized in the distance. And then the park was silent; but for the vibrant greenery shattering the overcast day.

The saturation of green, the grass, the moss, the trees, takes my breath away; especially against the backdrop of the Palatino and the Tempio di Venere e Roma. The universe vibrates within me at these moments and my only wish is to remain still enough to settle this knowing on the bottom of my being.

A congregation of seagulls has gathered on the apse, sky-roads floating by above them. Via San Giovanni in Laterano has been hung with blinking Christmas stars. I have only an hour before a brief and mystical twilight will vanish into the city’s bristling darkness.


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