“the city of always”

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“It’s a feast every damned week. It’s maddening retail hours. It’s a city about to become half old-people’s home/half tourist museum. It’s like America before coffee was “to go,” when a playground was a patch of gravel, some cigarette butts, and an uninspected swing set; when everybody smoked; when businesses in your neighborhood were owned by people who lived in your neighborhood; when children still stood on the front seats of moving cars and spread their fingers across the dash. It’s a public health-care service that ensures assistance to both Italians and foreigners in an equal manner and allows a doctor to make a decision such as keeping Shauna overnight without having to worry about costing her several thousand dollars. It’s our friend Cristiano Urbani, who is the first male in his family in at least four generations not to become a fishmonger. “You know,” he says, “they get up so early in the morning. And they always smell like fish!” It’s an economy in recession, the lowest birthrate in Europe (1.3 children per woman), 40 percent of thirty- to thirty-four-year-olds still living with their parents. It’s a place where stoplights are open to interpretation, lattes should never be ordered after lunch, and a man is not considered a failure if he’s forty years old and still spinning dough in a pizzeria. It’s a country were parents let their kids play soccer in the streets and walk home from school unaccompanied, where your first thought when you see an adult man talking to a child in the street is not necessarily Child molester.

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One block I feel as thought I’m unraveling the hyphae of some elemental memory, ivy swinging from Michelangelo’s unfinished bridge behind the Palazzo Farnese, water pouring from a satyr’s mouth into an upturned scallop shell – meaning is reverberating through the stones, a key is slipping into a keyhole, and the largest gate between me and this city is finally going to open.

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The next block I see two men in zippered leather with rings through their lips dropping rocks off the Ponte Sisto at passing joggers, and I thin, There is nothing here I’ll ever understand.”

–Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons In Rome

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