Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hello from Rome, where Emily and I are wrapping up a five-day stay. What can I say about it that hasn't been said? It's dirty and magnificent and I'm typing this just a stone's throw from the Colosseum, which is as staggering as you've heard. Il mio italiano has proceeded from nonexistent to very bad, but I enjoy trying. Tonight we're off to a little village called Calcata and the next day we'll explore Umbria. Assuming our somewhat shady car rental guy doesn't let us down--we're waiting for him to return with our little hatchback.

Just finished Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, a book about artists, murder, and Hawthorne's great subject, guilt, that made for a peculiar introduction to the Eternal City. His Puritan severity toward Rome and the Catholic Church at times approaches the comical, but he's obviously deeply impressed in spite of himself--the splendid pageantry and sheer historical weight of Rome pose a problem that's not particularly easy for him to solve. I am thinking now that I might give the theme of innocents abroad to the nineteenth-century American lit class that I'll be teaching this fall, because there's something endlessly fascinating about the American confrontation with Europe and the failure or near-success of anything like actual sympathy between citizens of the new and older worlds. Of course as tourists we notice that most pungently when in the presence of other Americans (i.e., constantly), who suddenly seem so large and loud and clueless that you must inure yourself to the embarrassment. The unwillingness of some people to learn even the simplest words of courtesy--per favore, grazie--is astonishing. For their part the Italians we've met are unfailingly generous and graceful, but seem to lack a certain straightforwardness that I take for granted in my fellow Americans. Maybe that's just my own "innocence" being made visible.

I'll write again most likely in a few days from Siena. Andiamo!

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