Rome in My Mind

On this rainy April day in Northern California, I'm enjoying my own novel's first page, set on a sunny April day in Rome. For now, I'm going to Italy in my mind.

Chapter One. Rome, Day One.

Norman Wesley had walked the city for only two days, but already the sumptuous face of Rome had changed him from community college dean with a blank wall life to a man riding a time machine into the world of Medicis, Michelangelo, dynastic popes, and levitating saints. He had just three weeks to figure out how not to go back.

Norman and his wife and daughter picked their way through the piazza above the Spanish Steps. Norman steered his girls past painters capturing views of the Eternal City to sell to the tourists, each small canvas a different window on jewel-like Rome. At each vista, Norman, the son of a Methodist church organist, let go a little more of the idea that plainness is a virtue. The Renaissance domes, stone gods, and lion fountains put him into a kind of trance, seducing him, making him want to spend his life in this capitol of beauty and passion.

As if approving of his wish, the wind gently lifted his carefully combed-over hair. He smoothed and held it, snagging a few hairs in his college ring. A few more hairs bald, he felt that the more Italy changed him, the happier he was. Rome had already taken his preconceptions about the Renaissance. Even after the year of studying it, he felt he had traveled to a distant planet full of unexpected sights. And Rome made him feel distant from his family in a way he could not explain, but which was strangely delightful.

He looked down the side street at a larger-than-life-size nude statue on a plinth. The figure suddenly turned its head, combed its curly beard with his fingers, and gave back a challenging stare. It must be one of those street performers, Norman thought, like the ones at Fisherman’s Wharf who paint themselves silver and stand still as statues, then move and surprise the tourists for tips.

“Just look at that,” he said to his wife. “So lifelike. You could swear he’s alive but he stands as still as if he were stone. Did you see him move?”