Saturday, December 29, 2007

Borgo Nights

The first time Laurent and I came to Rome we stayed on the other side of the Tiber in the Borgo near St. Peter's. The area takes its name from the German Burg and was an area of hostels and hospices for pilgrims as far back as AD 725. Given the events of the day we were at a bit of a loss on Thursday evening - comfort food was in order but neither one of us felt like cooking. So a trip to the Borgo and that trattoria that I can never remember the name of for spaghetti alla carbonara seemed the solution. And since we would be in the area we thought we'd have a look-in at the (mildly?) controversial Presepe in Piazza San Pietro.

Presepe in Piazza San PietroTaverna panelSt Joseph and Holy InfantThe Holy FamilyLeft panel
It was only 2000 but there were very few people in the Piazza and most were crowded around the Presepe by a rather phallic looking Christmas tree. Many were, like ourselves, snapping pictures. I wasn't disturbed that the Nativity had been relocated to Nazareth nor the placement of St Joseph at the centre of the scene. But I found that many of the carved figures - some Baroque pieces from the Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle - are badly placed and the three room structure put a restricting box around the tableaux. Unfortunately the night setting on both our cameras was not working properly so many of the photos didn't turn out.

There's a slightly sinister atmosphere in the Borgo at night - particularly on the pedestrian streets where the cobblestones echo in the chilly air. And the flocks of black-suited and soutaned clergy scurrying through to winings, dinings and lodgings give it an almost conspiratorial atmosphere. Our trattoria was closed so we looked for one with clergy in it - always a good recommendation. The one we choose had a cosy interior, a pleasant waiter and respectable food - we had our carbonara, a few glasses of house white, almond tart and coffee and the world seemed a little warmer if not brighter.

We boarded a number 62 that takes us across the River, through town and almost home. The only other passenger on the idling bus was an elderly lady carting a backpack and two shopping bags. She spotted Laurent and immediately started talking to him. In the five or ten minutes before departure she told him all about her family - her mother was French, they were evacuated from Rome during the war, her sister went to America and after the war when her parents died they didn't have the money for proper headstones. She wasn't rambling she was reminiscing and here was a nice young man who was willing to listen. I've always marvelled at Laurent's ability to talk with strangers - I feel uncomfortable and awkward in those situations, its one of the reasons I hate diplomatic functions. She repeated the story of the headstones but it didn't seem like a plea of poverty, more a repeated regret for something not done right. Then at the first stop she gathered up her bags, waved arrivederci and got off. She seemed too well dressed to be a street person, she spoke Italian beautifully and she did not seem disturbed in any way. Just an old lady on her way home who had found someone to listen to her.

Or at least I hope she was on her way home; it had become colder and damper and so many people are homeless in this city. As we went through Centro I saw several people bundled up in blankets bedded down for the night in doorways. One couple were having a last cigarette, wrapped in their blankets in the doorway of a Ferrari dealership - he leaned down and whispered something to her and she laughed.

I don't pray often but Thursday night I mumbled a few words to who ever listens: a few words about Reesie, a few words for that old lady, those people sleeping in the doorways, that laughing couple and a few words of thanks for what I've had and have.

29 decembre - San Tommaso Beckett


Elizabeth said...

I felt I was there with you, walking through the Italian night. Lovely writing, kind thoughts. Thanks to you also.

BigAssBelle said...

this is lovely writing, so evocative of the place and time. beautiful.

and i too pray for these things: a few words for that old lady, those people sleeping in the doorways, that laughing couple and a few words of thanks for what I've had and have.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post.