Chapter I.i: It’s 8am and the bells are ringing.


It’s 8am and the bells are ringing.  The bells are always ringing in this city.  They ring from the seven low summits and the shallow valleys between; they count time and call the faithful and otherwise remind a man of his own mortality.

There’s an empy bottle of cheap chianti on the nightstand, and next to that a Bible, and on top of that a pack of cigarettes, and next to all of this is a bed, and in the bed a young man stirred.  The young man sat up, and looked around the room.  Barren, cool, stoic.  He blinked the sleep away and banished his hangover with a wince and got to his feet.  The stone floor chilled him as he walked to the window, and the crucifix on the wall hung heavily as he passed.   His room was littered with books and empty wine bottles, mostly philosophy and mostly red.  A new day, a new bottle, the same book.

The young man pushed open the wooden shutters, and he was filled with Rome.  He’d been here nearly three months and could feel the novelty fading away.  Still, the view of the ancient and eternal cityscape was something to behold.  Terracotta roof tiles undulated on top of pale buildings as far as he could see, and in the distance was dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, at once both ominous and beautiful.

Get up, shave, get dressed.  Go through the motions.  Even in this paradise, the motions are the same.  The motions are always the same, and the banality used to irked the man but now he mused at the ubiquity of it.  A part of the human condition!  All men go through the motions.   But there was the faintest pang of anticipation today, because today there was something new:  a job deep underground.

Bongiorno Tomasso!” bellowed the plump priest as the young man descended the staircase and entered the kitchen.  Like his room, the kitchen is spartan, old, charming.  The mason work is medieval, and the morning sun pours into the tall room through the highly mounted windows, giving the room a warm, cavernous glow which matched the demeanor of the priest within.

Bongiorno Padre,” said Thomas, “how are you?”

In Italiano, Tomasso, in Italiano!” he replied.

Thomas nodded and offered a weak smile.  “Come stai?”

Bene, bene! I have made you breakfast, Tomasso.  Please, sit, sit.”

Thomas took at seat at the long, wooden table in the center of the kitchen.   He thought it was oaken, but thought it might also be poplar.  He was no carpenter, and the monastery reminded him of this regularly.  It is smooth and worn and beautiful, like everything in this city.  The priest waddled toward the young man, an affable grin on his face. And Thomas wondered, as he often had before, Why is this guy always so happy? And Thomas was jealous of it.

“Here you go Tomasso,” said the priest, “eggs and toast and black coffee, just like you told me.  Just like in America, yes?”

Thomas smiled and said, “Si, Padre, just like in America, just like home.  Grazie.”

Prego!” said the priest with a ivory grin, “You Americans, Tomasso, your breakfasts…They are big, like a lunch!  Why are they this way?”

Thomas put down his mug and jabbed at his eggs.  “I’m not sure, Padre.  I guess we just need the energy to get through the day.”

Si, you Americans, you love to work,” said the priest, and shook his head and clucked his tongue.  Thomas ignored this is an knowingly sort of way.

“Speaking of,” said the young man as he finished his coffee and stood up, “I need to get going.  I don’t want to be late.”

Thomas walked through the central courtyard and exited the monastery though the heavy, bronze plated doors.  The springtime air on the Aventine Hill is crisp and lingering and abuzz with the life of the city below.  Thomas liked this, and it reminded him a bit of central California, where he grew up.  He lit a cigarette and walked along the Clivo dei Publicci, down the hill to the bus stop, where he would catch a ride to the catacombs.

Thomas did not like work, at least not in the traditional sense, and the crowded bus reminded him of this.  More people going through the motions.


1 Response to “Chapter I.i: It’s 8am and the bells are ringing.”

  1. 1 tom October 16, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    i went to europe first in 1972. your photos and commentary brings it all back. i wish i had had the the same chance to share my trip. this is a terrific blog – thanks for reminding me what it was like that first time. be well.

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