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Amber Paulen

Valerie Walks the Streets of Rome

Valerie walks the streets of Rome. A myriad of images abduct her, though separate she remains. What she wants she can have, but first she must learn articulation. Two miniature dogs cross her path, the leashes the owner holds creates an ‘X.’ “Excusa,” the woman finely rolls as she sweeps away the dogs and the leashes in the passing of an instant. The woman and the dogs continue in the opposite direction as Valerie swings her head around to catch again the fading image; for the dogs stumble over their eight small legs as the woman towers above them in her modest antiquated dress, pulling them along in a force of direction. Valerie wonders, as individuals, we are given a destiny to unwind,, what is theirs? All three are connected of one thread, is it the same as mine?

Before her looms a church of Baroque proportions. Ornamentations flourish symmetrically outward in a stone slide curled over. Valerie keeps her eyes focused on the top, where latin letters, have inscribed with precise actions, one outdated declaration or another. A motorino whizzes past on her left. The letters vanish. The street appears. She must learn to split her attention. To her left a fragment of the Colosseum lingers between the outstretched buildings, she notes it, she walks on.

Rome has the ability to flood her as no other city she has known. Stimulants arrest her. The restaurants smell of sizzling garlic fried in olive oil dumped from the vat. The people walk with an array of life, tourists and residents, immigrants and descendants of the old-line. They walk with suit and cigarette, gelato in hand, straddling the motorino giving it an obnoxious rev. The women who swing their hips keep their painted eyes focused on their destination. The men in tailored suits talk with rapidity into the mobile phone that dangles from their ear, they talk with their hands as if the words streamed from their fingers. The shop owner sits with contemplation, staring out into the street, for there is the action and the life, the multi-colored presence always sifting by. The tourist holds the tour book under one arm, the map in the other and stares wide-eyed at every wonder incurred, for here there seems to be one every one-hundred meters. It is a fountain in perpetual gurgle. It is a man astride a chariot, guided by horses with wings. It is visibility of ancient footsteps. Here one is never alone. Here one is alone and it is the alone of thousands of centuries and it weighs of every piece of marble and of every piece of stone. Here is a heaviness rarely known. Here is the lightness of time not held seriously.

Valerie returns time and again to her perch. She alights to it as if her body were covered in feathers, though she pants from accumulated height. She sits cross-legged on the flat stone wall. Rome spreads before her with its capricious orange roofs. Interspersed are the rounded domes of the basilicas, the green leaves of the trees which flank the river, that errant snake of preformed bends. Jagged and awry the city spreads before her. From this height there lies evident the layers of passing years; the graceful curve of the Pantheon to contrast with the gigantic white of that entity so dubbed Vittorio Emanuele II, a towering colossus, a monstrous monument. Obelisks and steeples rise out of disguised spaces. The hour strikes and the city rises in an echo of bells, their responses collide, one into another.

Valerie believes herself to be bestowed with the ability to grasp the whole of the city in the palm of her hand. She imagines it is the river Tevere tucked into the creases of her palm and it is the winding and cobbled streets which balance precariously on her fingers. Valerie cups her hand so that it gently closes; there is a tickle coming from within, as if she has captured every vanguard ant and they are struggling to be freed. Every now and again she takes a peak, parting her fingers with all the care and gentleness were she handling an injured or fallen bird. Valerie is making sure that all is there.

It is in her apartment where Valerie lies flat her palm. She is sitting at her desk shoved close to the window, which is opened to more windows. From here her view is not as splendid, but she has brought with her Rome. Valerie is sitting in front of her typewriter, her fingers begin to move with the rhythm of her emanating visions, a steady click, clunk, click. “I have just walked the whole of Rome,” she writes. “I have taken it into my hand so that I could bring it here. I am at the epicenter. Rome is now mine.” Valerie pulls at every thread, she rearranges every sound and smell, every voice and every palace. Through her typewriter she takes ownership of that which deftly eludes her, through her writing she creates an imitation of reality. Just as I am doing and Oh! how peaceful I find it to be.

Rome, Italy
May 2007


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