Not by design but by circumstance I found myself in Rome for the anniversary of "9/11"
with my New York friends, Jack and Linda. The first two weeks of September were the
only ones free for the three of us. We hastily agreed that such indelible memories of
that atrocious time as the necessity to close their windows in their 107th Street
apartment because of the smell of decay and the dust which wafted from downtown miles
away, and of my own of the discordant image of heavily armed men, strikingly set
against gleaming white marble and a peaceful and cloudless azure sky, walking
back and forth on the roof of the Supreme Court made it unnecessary for us to be
in the United States to mark it. We would remember wherever we were.
Rome, the city which had known since its legendary founding sometime in the eighth
or seventh centuries BC invasion, partial to near-complete destruction through war,
civil strife, terrorism, starvation, and plague yet stood and magnificently survived.
Everywhere you look in Rome buildings rise above the foundations of those even more
ancient. Walk down the smallest of streets and without much trouble you notice an
assortment of columns, sculptural reliefs, and other fragments of bygone days reused
in the construction of more recent walls. Wherever you go, ancient, Mediaeval,
Renaissance, and modern architectural elements coexist, sometimes awkwardly, more
often majestically, and always as witnesses to the adaptability of the city and
the survival instincts of its citizenry.
||The Castel Sant'Angelo, originally constructed as the tomb for
the 2nd century AD emperor, Hadrian, and his family, has
undergone steady renovation and reconstruction and has served
as a fortress and papal residence.
The Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill displaying modern upon
Renaissance, Renaissance upon Mediaeval, Mediaeval upon ancient
architectural and artistic layers.
The church of S. Nicola in Carcere with one of its many surviving,
reused classical columns.
Perhaps nowhere can the spirit of eternal rebuilding be
demonstrated more clearly than in this modern office and
apartment complex built above the classical Theater of Marcellus.
Classical architectural elements reworked into walls of apartment houses in the old Jewish quarter.
More and more as I walked the streets of Rome I found myself bemoaning the removal of the
jagged eight-story remnant of the facade of that icon of present day terrorism, the
World Trade Center. The impact and symbolism of their appearance interwoven as an
architectural motif into any new construction built on the site would have been equal
to that of many multi-layered and richly textured buildings in Rome. New York, the
Eternal City, rival to the city of the Caesars and the Popes!
As September 11 approached there were signs everywhere that Rome felt the event keenly
and was itself changed by it. I had expected CNN and BBC to start unending reportage
days beforehand; they did, of course. Some of it I wanted to see. Most was analogous
to saying the same word or name over and over again: nonsense results and legitimate
meaning was stripped of its power. None of the little I did allow myself to watch,
moreover, had as strong an impact on me as the surprising sight of the various posters
and graffiti pasted everywhere in the city.
Lest you feel that our lives alone have been fundamentally altered for "security
reasons," one illustration: September 16th was the anniversary of the onset of the
illness which would eventually claim the life of my partner, James MacLeod. Jim
died a Catholic and, although I am not, I decided to take part in one of the most
ancient of rituals by lighting a candle in his memory in the pre-eminent symbol of
Roman Catholicism, the St. Peter's basilica. Off I went early that morning to
accomplish the task. I found myself walking through that consciously imposing
building, but I saw no candles to light. I approached one of the many young
men dressed in dark blue Armani suits with listening devices in their ears.
"Scusi, Signore, Inglese?" I asked in my best bookish Italian. After learning
he did, indeed, know English, I explained that I had not seen any area in the
basilica where I could light a candle in someone's memory. "I am sorry, signore,"
he responded rather acidly. "For security reasons, we no longer permit candles to
be lit in St. Peter's." One of the oldest traditions in any religion felled by the
now universal fear engendered by terrorism!
The irony, then, was that the anniversary became even more meaningful than had I
stayed in Washington. We were not alone, at least not in this magnificent city,
and the impact of 9/11, indeed, had been felt. Although Rome had numerous times
over the millennia lost many more lives daily than we had on that fateful day,
This was a gift which I pass on to you with only minimal explanation of images.
They speak for themselves. I end with the one sign I found of popular as
opposed to public recognition -- an ambiguous graffito whose import I cannot
satisfactorily explain but which seems ominous in terms of the future when
juxtaposed with these relics of remembrance.
The influential Roman newspaper, Il Messagero:
"Today a special 12 page insert.
a Year Later.
To Record the events which Changed the World"
Pasted on a backing topped with the eloquent ancient and modern
description of Roman politics and life, SPQR ("Senatus Populusque
Romanus," [The Roman Senate and People]):
"Everyone Stand Up
The only poster which showed signs of vandalism was posted
by the beautiful Piazza Navona, popular with both tourists and
the Roman public was an announcement for a conference set to take
place on September 11th in the European Parliament:
The Possible Dialog"
Go to the title page.
Go to the next piece.
Scrawled on the wall in Testaccio overlooking the Tiber River
and toward the equally graffiti-laden wall in Trastevere:
"God Missing Ossama."