Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Space, measure, and markings

I  THINK OF space, measure, marks, and accent. Why? Partly because I live in this landscape: except when traveling, it is my everyday context. The lineaments and proportions of ridgeline, gradients, swales and hillocks; and the markings of windrows of cut grass, of cypresses and grapevines, mold and reinforce the way I see. And for that reason, perhaps, partly because that is how I seem to respond to what I read and hear. The other night, for example, we went to a production of an adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s Cinna. I don’t know Corneille well, that’s for sure; of his thirty-odd plays I think I’ve only seen L’Illusion comique, in an adaptation by Tony Kushner. (That was at the Pasadena company A Noise Within, which I support because it mounts productions of French repertory. Five years ago! I wrote about it here.)

I think you could refer to Corneille's plays as examples of French baroque, along with those of Jean Racine. When through with my summertime reading agenda I must turn to those two: as they pivot from the baroque toward Romanticism, reading them should nicely accompany the autumnal season.

I wanted to attend this production chiefly because it was accompanied by Lou Harrison's incidental music, composed in the late 1950s, when he too was thinking about the baroque, and had definitively left New York, and modernism, for a near-rural life in Aptos, California. I remember visiting him there in his cabin and seeing and hearing the tack-piano for which he scored Cinna, an upright piano with ordinary metal thumbtacks pushed into the hammer-felts, producing a sound reminiscent of the grand harpsichords on which Rameau's and Couperin's music is so glorious.

The piano was tuned in just intonation, based on today's concert "G," with, I think, an eleven-limit, meaning it was faithful to the acoustical overtone series up to the eleventh partial. Somewhere I have a recording of Lou playing one of the intermezzi of his Cinna on this instrument, and for a long time I thought that was all there was to it, three or four minutes of remarkably spacious animation, decorative, supple, sweet, and strong, like so much of Lou's music, and measured, like the sound of the narration at the opening of the Alan Resnais film Last Year at Marienbad, also a favorite of mine.

Corneille's Cinna is in the requisite five acts, respecting the classical unities of time and location, and Lou (I knew him well enough that it feels unnatural to refer to him in any other way) wrote in fact five pieces, each, I feel sure, intended as a prelude to the following act. But last week's production was an adaptation, in English, boiled down to about forty minutes, read by its adapter Larry Reed, who modified his voice slightly to distinguish the major characters. (Each of the five acts, presented without intermission, was preceded by its opening lines in the original French, a marvelously evocative way to mark off the dramatic structure.)

The "actors" were shadow-puppets — wire representations of faces, in profile, of those principles (Octavius Caesar Augustus, Livia, Cinna, Maximus, Emilia, and the lesser roles Fulvia, Evander, and Euphorbus), manipulated behind a scrim. Lou, I think, would have approved this; it recalls his later opera Young Caesar, originally intended for large-scale puppets; and somehow it reveals the subconscious affinity of the baroque, and especially I think the French baroque, with certain Asian theater.

Linda Burman-Hall played the tack piano, and gave a little talk before the performance, explaining the instrument and suggesting that the music was intended to be descriptive of the characters in the play. This could be, but I'm not so sure. I think Lou was primarily an abstractionist, and that his music is descriptive of qualities, not personalities, though perhaps this is what Burman-Hall meant. In any case she played splendidly. (Her recording of the music can be bought online at the inevitable Amazon.)

WHAT APPEALS TO ME in Cinna is its measure. The play is about a conspiracy to assassinate Caesar, its discovery, and his forgiveness of the plotters who have proven their sincere remorse. As ever-helpful Wikipedia writes, "Corneille addresses the question of clemency and advocates an end to spiraling vengeance. His response is apologetic towards absolute power." He wrote, after all, largely with the indulgence of Louis XIV, during a time when social stability, if it were to be achieved, would depend on a stable structure itself dependent on a sustainable system of unequal social orders: Emperor or King, lesser nobles, clerics, merchants, peasants.

The social structure collapsed under the weight it built up at the top, through greed and the insistence on gloire, that majestic splendor which illuminates and radiates from absolute power, justifying it to the lower orders. In the mid-17th century France may have succeeded, for a few years, in maintaining the equilibrium; a century later of course it was crumbling toward the Bastille. (I wonder how all this will look a century hence.)

Lou's music itself is technically what is called "unmeasured," as I believe. (I haven't seen the score.) That's to say, it isn't barred off into regularly repeating "measures" of equal lengths, based on regular beats proceeding at a steady pace. This has always seemed a misleading terminology to me: the measure of the resulting music is felt by the performer, and expressed to the listener, in some other way than by the motor rhythms common to the music we mostly have in our consciousness (and even below that), whether it's "classical" concert music or commercial entertainment music.

Lou and his friend John Cage — they worked together for years — were greatly interested in this quality, which perhaps had something to do with the parallel historical development of abstraction in the visual arts. (And, to an extent, the literary ones: Gertrude Stein was the pioneer here, though I think perhaps even Proust is best read with measure in mind, more than narration.)

Their friend Virgil Thomson, the composer and critic of the New York Herald Tribune (where he hired Lou and John to turn in occasional concert reviews, always informative and entertaining), said that there were two kinds of (European-tradition) music, that based on song, which is vocal and strophic, and that based on dance, which is pedal and repetitive. Then came the 19th century and Romanticism and a third type, which he called spasmic, based on the movements of internal organs of one kind or another, mostly one in particular.

It's a cute summary and a useful one, but one result was the determination, by John and Lou, that it was high time for another approach to music, one that renders the listener tranquil — that is, in a non-self-absorbed state — and receptive to divine influences. And it's thence, I think, grows the concept of measureless music, music that requires the suspension of regular markings and events. Lou turned to the baroque — he'd earlier been much interested in early 18th-century Spanish music as known in the California missions — and John turned to purposeless abstraction reliant on chance procedures.

Of the historical events and processes I've known over the last sixty years and more I regret most, perhaps, the institutional neglect and contempt toward the procedures of the mid-20th-century avant garde. I lack John Cage's serenity in the face of that monumental social failure, and I have misgivings about Lou's apparent evasion, his withdrawal into gamelan. Apparent, I say, because I am certain within himself this was a perfectly successful adjustment to his position: but it is perhaps wrongly interpreted as an acceptance of and adaptive use of that quintessentially social and performative music, where I believe it was a recognition of a quality too easily unnoticed by the listener and even the performer: the spatial, long-measured structure enveloping the incessant (and to me distracting) motor-element of the beats.

Maybe it’s just the feeble complaint of an old man, but it seems to me we mostly lack an awareness of scale, an understanding of spaciousness, an appreciation of the long view, the big field. As societies and as individuals we lose ourselves in incessant nervous activity: we fidget. Of course fewer and fewer of us live among hills like mine; most of us are indoors most of the time, and the view out the window, when there is one, is likely to be the confining grids of rectilinear buildings across the straight and busy streets. John enjoyed it, serenely busy in his spare rooms above the noisy West Side. Virgil, that utterly urban francophile, seemed to take it for granted, basking in gloire.I can’t take it for long; it drives me nuts, as it did Lou.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sixes and tens for Lindsey on our anniversary

Lindsey at the Erickson Gallery, Healdsburg
Sixes and tens for Lindsey on our anniversary

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made…

— Robert Browning: “Rabbi Ben Ezra”

We are the best: I mean
we have the best, the best that we can have.
Just now it’s difficult,
but it’s been a hell of a ride, you know,
asking for more at this point amounts to
greediness — or folly.

After those rainy months
there’s a hot time ahead;
let’s make the best of it right now and here.
Our long parallel lives
converge in the reward
of this endless family around us

and the work that we’ve done —
whether or not anyone not yet born
knows or cares about it
at least it has kept us
from tearing at one another’s throats, all
these full and pleasant years.

Calm times and turbulence,
it all comes down to that:
anger, lust, passion, long silent moments,
love is using the other to make sense
of what can have meaning
but doesn’t, otherwise.

That’s just how I see it.
I can have no idea
what you make of love, marriage, life and death.
There never was any alternative.
Now, contemplation is
about all I can give —

Before too long, I think,
one or another of us, maybe both,
takes that walk over the ridge, just to see
what it’s like over there.
Our selves will just dissolve,
We know, like long marriage,
The possibilities are endless now.

— Healdsburg, May 11, 2017

*The first half of the first of 32 stanzas and by far the most memorable. I recall my mother quoting them, often, for some reason, when I was still just a kid, who knows why. I think about them now on my 60th wedding anniversary.)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Approaching Africa

Eastside Road, May 7, 2017—
Ilja Leonardo Pfeijffer: La Superba
  (tr. Michele Hutchison)
Albert Camus: L'Etranger
Kamel Daoud:
  The Meursault Investigation
  (tr. John Cullen)
MY WORLD HAS SUDDENLY and necessarily grown considerably larger by the introduction into the family of a fine man born and brought to maturity in Algeria, of all places. That is what happens when a beautiful and intelligent girl spends a year abroad, in Italy; and then you take her for a month to Venice; and then she decides to go to college in Rome. International Relations! a course of study; then a prescription.

I'm not complaining: her betrothed is an excellent man, a journalist and a translator; as a writer myself I can forgive his being an editor. The wedding is set for — well, as soon as our government allows him a visa: if not this year in this country, then I would bet in Italy, whose view of immigration, troubled as it is, is officially more generous than that of our present administration.

Recently, then, my reading has gravitated toward the question of African emigration to Europe. Thank Zeus Xenios for our extended (though in truth mostly European) family! Tom was visiting here three months ago from Netherlands, and told me I had to read Pfeijffer's novel La Superba, not only was it all the rage in the author's native Netherlands, not only was it truly a good read, but it was a description, as well, of the very city we'd visited with Tom's parents only a few months ago, Genoa, "La Superba," a city we'd long wanted to become familiar with.

Well, we didn't become familiars, goes without saying; Genoa turns out to be a historical and social complexity rivalling Venice, Naples, and Palermo. Which is one of the things La Superba is "about." Pfeijffer is apparently an expatriate there, having left a small country grown too familiar and too internationalized-thus-boring to satisfy his authorial needs. You can't tell whether his novel is a novel; it's clearly part memoir; he weaves his authorial presence into and out of the book in that manner, troubling to many of us elderly readers, that erases the distinction — to me it was always a false one — between fiction and non-fiction.

(The proof of the falsity of the distinction: there's no better word for the supposed antithesis of "fiction" than "non-fiction.")

I was put off, at first, elderly and prudish as I am, by much of the language and imagery in La Superba, which opens with the narrator's discovery of a human leg and the quick attachment he develops to it — not physical, not truly fetishistic, but certainly erotic in an intellectual way. Quickly, though, the narrative reaches out into those mysterious Genovese streets and piazzas ranging up the hill behind the waterfront, and a populace, unseen by day and largely even at night by a casual tourist, is convincingly revealed, a populace of drifters, expats, barmen, transvestites, and immigrants.

The writing is very beautiful even though continuously vernacular. (I read the book in English, of course; Hutchison's translation seems to me effortless.) Pfeijffer has been compared to Calvino, and his book to Dante's Inferno; but the book made me think also of narrative cartoons. It's very visual, and would make a lovely film if handled by, say, the people who made Les triplettes de Belleville. Structurally it's broken into three big, roughly equal-size chapters, divided by two shorter interludes.

One of these is the harrowing and completely persuasive, hence plausible accounts of one refugee's escape from his native Senegal to his eventual place in Genova. The parallel with refugees from Central America coming here is inescapable to an American reader, I think.

Pfeijffer is himself — or his narrator is; hard to tell the extent to which they're identical — an immigrant, though a legal one, given the Schenken agreement within the European Union. But one of the subtexts here is: is any immigration truly "legal"? Or, perhaps, isn't all emigration legal, since ours is a wandering species, and all Europeans are ultimately descended from Africans?

Beyond the moral issue of migration, of course, or rather this side of it, there's the economic issue. How are these people to make a living? Tom, the Netherlander who recommended the book to me, is an economist by profession, specializing in entrepreneurship: he must have enjoyed this layer of La Superba. They make a living, "these people," by selling roses to diners in restaurants, or themselves to tourists of a certain sort (or to one another), or occasionally by cadging a spare coin or two. Pfeijffer befriends a couple of "these people" enough to get their stories, sharing café tables with them, ultimately becoming one of them — this is perhaps where the book becomes fiction — in his quest for the most beautiful girl in Genoa.

What you do not get, in reading this superb novel, is a sense of the locals, the Genovese, of Italians in general — they keep off these streets and piazzas. In Pfeijffer's world one's an immigrant, a tourist, or else part of the unseen normality that seems to have quite vanished.

La Superba is completely successful novel/journalism on many levels: a page-turner of a narrative, a fragrant evocation of place, a provocative query into overwhelming social and economic problems at the beginning of the 21st century, a statement of language and narrative structure perfectly at home with its antecedents (Joyce, Calvino, Swift).

The Meursault Investigation is none of those things. Its premise is fascinating: an account of the narrative central to Camus's L'Etranger from the point of view of "the Arab," told by a much younger brother of the man Camus's hero-antihero Meusault fatally shoots in his own novel. I was curious to read The Meursault Investigation, hoping it would give me some insight into the mentality of a people released from colonialism only to be hounded by a return to the authoritarianism of the ancient tradition European colonialism had worked so hard to erase.

I knew, though, that it would be useless to tackle The Meursault Investigation without having Camus fresh in mind. I'm embarrassed to admit I'd never read L'Etranger. I attempted it, sixty years ago and more, but my French was not up to it: and what I could understand, in the opening pages, was eclipsed buy the brittle brilliance of Camus's style.

But I downloaded a French-language edition of the book — its cover curiously giving the title as "L'Estranger" — and had at it, and discovered the book is so compellingly written, in such clear, limpid French, that with the useful help e-book reading offers in terms of glossing unknown words the story at least, and the profound moral and philosophical questions the story raises, were perfectly clear. Camus writes with Hemingway's pen, but Dostoevsky's soul and brain.

His book is straightforward: Meursault, a young single pied-noir (French ethnically born in France-colonized Algeria), bored with a mediocre life, falls into dubious company, allows himself out of boredom and inertia to pledge his honor to an act of revenge, kills an unnamed young Algerian who has pulled a knife on him (true enough: in an apparently unthreatening gesture), is imprisoned, tried, and sentenced.

Behind this narrative the book is "about" the equivalence of socially normal and heinous behavior given a colonialist context depending on social stratification, compounded by relentless heat, perhaps engendered by failed domestic life (the father is mysteriously absent, the mother inert), and not at all relieved by a religion whose basic assumptions are irrelevant.

Meursault's existential quandary cannot be resolved, which has led many to question the morality of Camus's book. His outlook reminds me of Wittgenstein's dictum: Of what we cannot know, of that we should not speak. But Chekhov isn't far away; you can imagine Meursault, if Russian, then Treplyov. But of course L'Etranger is French: rational, objective, phenomenological, it's well within a trajectory of literature more connected to Flaubert or Francis Ponge or the George Perec of Les Choses than it is to Dante or Dostoevsky.

Which brings me finally to The Meursault Investigation, a first novel significant for its place within post-novelistic literature and its introduction of a North African voice to its European audience. Alas, I could not get hold of a copy in French, but John Cullen's translation seems perfectly satisfactory; you can't think the prose style and the book's architecture depends on an essentially untranslatable linguistic style.

I had hoped Daoud would be using his novel to state an "Arab" view of Meursault's existential quandary, either refuting it thanks to some intellectual instrumentality foreign to the western European mentality or (perhaps more satisfyingly) reinforcing it through parallels or resonances resting on a Moslem sensibility. But this is not Daoud's intention.

Instead he focusses on the least interesting aspect of Camus's profound book: its top layer, its straightforward narrative of objectively verifiable details of plot and character. He gives us a counter-L'Etranger, told by the much younger brother of Meursault's nameless victim, resting on a similarly compromised relationship with his maman, punctuated by a similar acte gratuite whose philosophical usefulness is damaged by its undoubted political motivation.

Like L'Etranger, The Meursault Investigation is short and quickly read; unlike Camus, Daoud takes some time to hit his stride in the book. Through his narrator he admits he lacks the magical, precise evocation Camus is so famous for. (I seem to remember he blames this problem partly on the French language, native to Camus, learned, specifically in order to read L'Etranger, by Daoud's narrator.)

What is most fascinating about The Meursault Investigation is what it says about our present literary and political moment, so different from that of Camus. Daoud's book is materialistic, narrative (when it finally gets under way), filmic, and specific because bound to unchangeable injustices in the colonialistic past, where Camus's is meditative, evocative, theatrical, and — I think — universal in its implications. It's too bad, I suppose, to fault the new book for not having the older one's virtues; but the comparison is ultimately the point of The Meursault Investigation. I'm glad I read it, and I recommend it (though not without a recent reading of L'Etranger in mind); but it does not expand this reader's mind to further understanding of that of the postcolonial African. Maybe that's the point.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rome, 14: The controllers of destiny

Eastside Road, April 30, 2017—
TESTACCIO IS A QUARTER of Rome across the river from Trastevere and south of the Aventine hill, a quarter that always makes me think of the San Salvatario quarter in Torino because unlike every other quarter of the old city it is laid out on a grid. (I don’t include Prati among the old city; I don’t know why; it may be that it’s just as old as Testaccio.

Testaccio is the belly of Rome. It used to harbor the slaughterhouses, and continues to house its share of good restaurants often featuring that subspecialty of Roman cuisine that is founded on meat, and more specifically on offal. Many of us do not often eat offal, of course, or find it not to our liking — unattractive and off-putting. I like quadruped liver as much as anyone, and never pass up a chance at fegato Veneziano when in Venice, and I’ve managed lamb hearts, which were featured, oddly I think, one Mother’s Day at Chez Panisse; but I’m one of those who is made uneasy at the thought of brains, or tripe, or kidneys, or various other things. Perhaps it’s because I spent time as a child on a farm where we butchered our own animals, and I saw these items as they were removed from the carcass — and, thanks I suppose to my mother’s fastidiousness, thrown to the dogs.

I have friends and very good ones who choose not to eat meat, I think often for the same principle that led me not to eat at all on Tuesdays — to acknowledge that our lives depend on the deaths of other organisms. (Well, we do have toast and coffee on Tuesday mornings, and tea and nuts in the evening.) I find it enchanting, I think the word not too strong, that the Protestant Cemetery and Cestius’s memorial pyramid are on the edge of Testaccio, that carnivorous quarter, and that Monte Testaccio is too, the biggest of Rome’s garbage heaps, a pile of broken pots half a mile round and over one hundred feet high.

The pots were mostly from Spain, and carried olive oil. (Some were from North Africa.) Nearly all commodities were shipped in terra cotta jars in those days; they were the smaller versions of today’s containers, with a capacity of twenty gallons or so. Wheat and wine were shipped in them, and when their jars were no longer useful they were broken up to be used as landfill or in the production of concrete.

These olive-oil jars, though, were too oily for such use, and about the time the early Christians were or were not being persecuted, these jars were stacked up in terraces, whole ones making the walls to hold back shards carefully laid behind. So Imperial Rome, like the contemporary “developed” world, depended on the importation of oil, and on the conquest and administration of such lands as Iberia and North Africa to supply it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Of the restaurants in present-day Testaccio we like Perilli: but in this month in Rome we did not visit any restaurant in the quarter, though we did have delicious sandwiches at a counter in the oddly new open-air market at the edge of the Monte. We often rode along the edge of Testaccio, though, on the number 3 tram, which takes us out the Via Marmorata, its northern boundary, as far as the Pyramid, before turning north for the delightful ride over a shoulder of the Aventine and an always impressive sighting of the Colosseum. So Testaccio, and its reminder of the persistence of daily life across centuries of human history, was often on my mind.

That pile of broken jars is a testament to civic engineering and design; someone had the idea, made the drawings, did the surveying, organized the slaves and donkeys. Ditto the planning for the layout of olive groves in what we now know as Libya, Tunisia, and Andalusia. Ditto, a few centuries later, the organization of the books of the Bible, the development of the narratives and iconography of the saints, the political structure of the evolving Christian church. What I want to know is: what is the force that transcends individuals and individual lifetimes to create and animate these social movements? I know my body is host to perhaps three bacteria for each of my perhaps forty trillion human cells, and that they all have their individual lives, no doubt with as much meaning and importance to them, to the extent of their awareness, as mine as to me: is this an analogy of the zoology of the Roman Empire, or the Catholic Church, or NATO?

Belief, faith, knowledge : I began this month’s musings planning to contemplate my feelings about religion: past and permanence, decay and defiance, self and society, faith and belief, fact and facticity, life and death. Maladjustment of my own cells has made me more than normally aware of mortality. And what have the trams and ruins of Rome brought me to contemplate? Cats and garbage heaps on which grain had taken root over the years. Gardens and palazzi ; conversations with strangers; public behavior; the embrace of family; a toy boat; a pile of broken pots. The events and detritus of everyday life, in short. Nothing special, but constant reminders that there are things we see and so believe we know, transactions we share and so know we feel, concepts (and constructs) we hear or read about and so strive to understand. And I keep coming back to Montaigne: Que sais-je, What do I know?

In an attempt to understand Algeria from an Algerian point of view — or, rather, in preparing the attempt — on getting home from Rome, four days ago, I read Albert Camus’s L’Etranger. High time. I’d attempted it years ago, probably more than sixty, when my French was not up to it, and its reputation as philosophy was daunting, and I was mesmerized by the chiseled beauty of its prose, blinded, you might say, as Meursault is by the Algerian sun.

I may write about my reading of it here, later on, after I’ve read Kamel Daoud’s Meursault, contre-enquête, the recent re-telling (that word’s not quite right) of Camus’s novel from the point of view of the brother of the man Camus’s central character kills — for which he goes to the guillotine. (It maddens me that I cannot buy an e-book of Meursault, contre-enquête except in translation: I read the Camus in that form, very useful for its enabling of instant definition of words one’s not sure about.) I think Daoud’s book probably minimizes Camus’s, making of it a political affair centered on colonialism. One of my points in these last sixteen thousand words is that all human activity is colonialism in one form or another; even the malignant cells in one’s body are colonialists; even the refugees from Africa to Rome, or to Ilja Pfeijffer’s Genova (see La Superba ), are reverse colonizers, you see their colonies in European countries and cities everywhere, it’s that that animates the rejection of immigration by the Right, here and abroad. I was struck by this passage, late in L’Etranger :

Dans le fond, je n’ignorais pas que mourir à trente ans ou à soixante-dix ans importe peu puisque, naturellement, dans les deux cas, d’autres hommes et d’autres femmes vivront, et cela pendant des milliers d’années. Rien n’était plus clair, en somme. (Ultimately, I wasn’t unaware that whether to die at thirty or at seventy matters little since, naturally, in either case, other men and women live on, and that’s been going on for thousands of years. Nothing clearer, in fact.)
That’s my translation, and it’s quick and literal, and fails, I know, in the last two words, which brings me back, en somme, to “fact” and facticity. Meursaults’s clearly stated position on this — he’s the central intelligence, the “hero” (some say “anti-hero” of Camus’s novel, I should have said before — is that it’s a question that doesn’t interest him: which brings the whole thing down to the relationship of Self to Externality. I suppose that’s been my dilemma.

I believe our destiny is death, and I think the observable facts bear me out. Others have other ideas about this, but they require various elaborate constructs that don’t interest me. I’m sorry, a little, that I suggested, with the title above, that there might be some Controller of this destiny: I think it’s a matter beyond control, too complex in its numbers and its turbulence to be controlled by any demonstrable agent. The meaning of life? Meursault:

les plus pauvres et les plus tenaces de mes joies : des odeurs d’été, le quartier que j’aimais, un certain ciel du soir, le rire et les robes de Marie.

(the poorest and most tenacious of my pleasures: the scents of summer, the quarter that I loved, a certain evening sky, Marie’s laughter and her dresses.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rome, 13: The toy boat

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 26, 2017—
Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, April 25, 2017— PROPRIETY AND THE APPROPRIATE pace of intended decay-repair-replacement-and-ultimate-concession of Self, too. I arrived here three weeks ago, weak and unwell and out of sorts, intending to contemplate my feelings about religion: past and permanence, decay and defiance, self and society, faith and belief, fact and facticity, life and death.

The other day, strolling through the Pamphilj garden, we stopped to watch a grandfather (one assumes) winding up the screw on a home-made boat he’d made (one further assumes) for his little grandson. The boat was cobbled together out of scraps of wood: a slab whittled to a point at the bow, some kind of lattice-work set on the stern, a couple of blocks for the cabin. The screw was four oversize blades snipped out of an olive-oil can, I imagine; it was driven by a rubber band, the other end hooked over a bent nail under the bow.

The little boy stood by patiently while the old man slowly and methodically wound the blades. When the rubber band was tightly wound, holding the blades lest they turn too soon, he put the boat in the pool of the fountain. Was it the Fountain of Venus? I think so. The boat powered away a meter or so, then drifted to a stop; the little boy pulled it to him with a string that had been attached with forethought to the prow. The entire performance was carried on in silent concentration. Perhaps this was the boat’s maiden voyage. Neither of the actors showed any emotion at the proceedings. I might have been disappointed, as either grandfather or little boy, with the apparent failure — the word’s too strong — of the voyage. They seemed completely untroubled. The boat seemed to be a third actor, with power and flaws of its own. I think in its pathos, in its ingenuity and enterprise, and in its care for symbolic representation of the parts of a real ship — a tugboat, say — the little boat was a work of art.

Grandfather knew this, and little boy knew this. The boat was a transaction between them; its performance a loving dance of entropy warning both, no doubt without their conscious awareness, of the running down of things, but also the optimism of the making of things. And then simply physically, and to the eye, the little boat made me think, as so much does, of the painters Gordon Cook and Philip Guston, whose view of — or, some would say, interpretations of — external reality are so individual, so clearly charged with deeply known meaning which can only be represented, realistically, as unknowable by anyone else. The things other people make, whether physical objects like toy boats or paintings or fugitive things like songs and dances, if they have any significance at all, are full of meaning to the people who make them, aware of it or not, but rarely the same meaning to us, even if we think we know much of the history or tradition behind them. So a toy boat in its pathos and its physicality brings me closer, in contemplation, to a Mozart piano concerto.

What does grandfather know? What does he believe, in what does he have faith? To what extent does he want this little boy to share any of this? I ask this because, after all, I’ve been here with fourteen-year-old, hardly a little boy, a boy wide-eyed and fiercely observant most of the time on this first trip to Europe, a boy still to young to appreciate the stronf flavors of anchovies (think of the sea, his ten-year-older cousin wisely says), a boy caught, unknowingly I think, in the sadness of the farewell to childhood.

I stroll and catch the random observation and dwell on it at absurd length and, if I’m not too lazy, write about it at even more ridiculous length, in order to find out what I know, what I believe, whether I have any faith. On the way to this of course I sometimes talk; each day seems to have its focus.

Yesterday, for example, it was units of measurement, begun with a discussion about the metric system, the paucity of hecto- given the frequency of centi-, the way the French determined the length of the meter with their straight line from Normandy, I think it was, to Barcelona; and from there to the unit of measurement of dogs (a wire-haired terrier equals six, possibly eight chihuahuas), of trams and buses, of waits for trams and buses.

Always, apparently, contemplations of turbulence: You’re obsessed with Tahiti and turbulence, he observes, though I’m not aware of having spoken more than once, and that just now, about Polynesia. The toy boat brought Turbulence to mind, of course, but not Tahiti; so he must be wrong about obsession. Yet this observation of his, to him, is an observation of fact, whereas I think of it only as a mistaken impression. The mistaken impression of a grandfather’s interests is less eventful than the erroneous interpretation of the course of history. I’ve taken some care not to discuss, with him, the perhaps deliberate and certainly tireless attribution, by Christians, of their willful destruction by the early Roman empire, and I’ve certainly not gone into the symbology of those innocent lambs in church facades and frescos. (This must already have been the fruit of urbanization: no one involved in the actual husbandry of sheep would think of them as symbols of innocence and purity.)

The facts of Rome are the ruins of its past, the turbulence of what Gertrude Stein would call its continuous present, the uncertainty of its future. These are facts to me and I believe I know them. I infer from their evidence motivation and futility on the part of Roman actors: emperors and popes, gardeners and stonecutters, poets and architects. I believe I’m often right about that, too, though I can’t give you any tangible proof. I think, and some will find this sad, which I’ll dismiss as sentimentality, that I lack faith. Faith seems to me to be allegiance to a concept denied by every present evidence. I think it wrong to insist on it, and certainly wrong to insist on others accepting ours, if we have any.

I believe in Beauty, generosity and gratitude, and the ineffable love of family, and I’m grateful to our nature that those beliefs seem to be built in to the human sensibility. I don’t see any reason to strive for more, or to listen to anyone arguing a moral position that requires more.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rome, 12: Parva. sed apta mihi

In the Coppedè
Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 25, 2017—
ON THE OTHER HAND, if you are going to build palaces, why not build them with taste and thoughtfulness?

The Italian word for "apartment house" or "apartment building" is, amusingly I think, palazzo: we have been occupying a palace of our own these last three weeks. I've described it and its environs and won't repeat here, other than to note that for the most part these palazzi, built within the last fifty years, are handsome in a plain way: internally for their ease of maintenance and care for light and silence; outside for their uniformity, relieved by their siting on curved streets, or straight but short ones, and, again, their openness to light and sky.

Yesterday, though, we strolled through a part of town I particularly like to show new visitors to Rome, the Coppedé district. Done only a little less successfully this quarter might be annoying, little more than Hollywood stage-set. But the architectural detail, the scale, the siting, the play among styles, shapes, and sizes, and the landscaping — all this makes a splendid example of comfortable, tasteful, bourgeois communal residence.

You take the tram to the piazza Buenos Aires, either the number 19 from the Piazza Risorgimento, near the Vatican, or the tram 3 from Trastevere. At the Piazza you'll find Santa Maria Addolorata, a remarkable church built between 1910 and 1930 in a fanciful, part historicist and part modern style that foretells the pleasures to come in the Coppedé district beyond. You're attracted to the church first for its siting: it's set at a forty-five degree angle to the Viale Regina Margherita, between its sober yet pleasing bell-tower and a cluster of trees.

The facade is decorated with a truly beautiful mosaic in gold and blue, responding to the one (just now undergoing restoration, so unfortunately behind veiling) so many miles away across the Tiber on Santa Maria di Trastevere. If you know the two churches you can almost see and hear them conversing about Byzantine mosaicists, sheep, and faith, as if the bustle of the Via Veneto and the Spanish Steps were utterly inconsequential. I supposer it's politically incorrect, in art-history terms, to equate the two mosaics, but I'll set them side by side anyway. Maybe art critics shook their heads at the Byzantine artists when they were working in Trastevere, finding their work garish and modern and not at all appropriate let alone to their taste.

Santa Maria Addolorata: facade

For all the drama and exuberant color of this mosaic there's something domestic and modest about the building itself. It was constructed by the Argentine community in Rome (hence the Piazza Buenos Aires, and perhaps hence the delay in its completion, for financial reasons), and — perhaps only because one knows this — the architectural style seems to have something modified-Iberian about it. Inside, though, historicism takes over: there are nods to the early style of San Giorgio in Velabro.

The baldacchino is neoclassical, reminiscent of Greek temples, supported on granite columns, but behind it a striking mosaic in the apse portrays the Deposition beneath a cross whose curved arms, following the curve of the wall, seem ready to embrace the viewer. And an even more striking mosaic of Mary in her glory, at a side chapel, is nearly blinding in its use of gold: Salvador Dali would have been envious in the way this depiction seems to translate Mary into pure light and energy.

Walk from the church up the Via Tagliamento a short block to come to a monumental gate formed by fantastic buildings arching to one another across the Via Dora (Hello there, Piemonte!), and you enter the magic world of Coppedè. Ahead is an enormous fountain clearly thinking of the Fountain of the Rivers in the Piazza Navona. It's clearly temporary; no one will ever steal its statues to put in a museum, or burn for lime, because they're concrete with plaster skin, peeling here and there. That's what historicism is all about: accelerated ruination. In his fascinating book The Memory of the Modern Matt Matsuda writes about this:

As History accelerates, the "lieux de mémoire" are designated sites which defy time's destroyer, the places of commemoration where memory anchors the past… my subjects are… histories of accelerated memory, subjected to the dramatic rhythms of an age.
(Elsewhere he writes, I think, something like "cultures accelerate themselves to death".)

In the Coppedè
Now there's no denying there's some wishfulness and some nostalgia going on here, particularly when you consider Coppedè began designing this district just before the outbreak of the First World War, and built it through that war and the buildup of Italian fascism. But it seems to me his vision has the redeeming qualities of optimism and pleasure. I look at these buildings, designed as residences in the first place, with, I'm sure, servants' quarters, and I think of Moravia's novel Gli indiffernti, which portrays the nature of a private and social life made too complacent by excess money and a paucity of things-to-do-with-one's-self.

On the other hand, as I keep saying. On the other hand, there's a relatively smaller building bearing the delightful inscription

which turns out, with a little Googling, to bave been the device Ariosto inscribed on his own "last house" in Ferrara:
Small, but suits me, and no one can
and here it gets difficult:
take advantage of it, [since] it's decorous, and bought with my own money.
(The part beginning with [since] may continue around the corner of the building: I wasn't able to tell, from the street.)

Ariosto! Who would have thought he'd turn up here — but why not? These buildings now house foundation offices and embassies, many of the latter representing African nations. So Coppedè, in his architectural and city-planning design, links the emerging African nationalism of our time to the sprezzatura of the Florentine renaissance.

I think, given the maddening increase in world population, and its increasing urbanization, and the need to achieve a sustainable and equable economy, not to mention the need to address climate change and to eliminate warfare, the only hope for the future is a kind of socialized technocracy. If it comes, I hope there are places for Coppedès, and for tramlines too, and for the possibility of pleasurable strolls, on foot or with slow wheeled assistance. Propriety and the appropriate pace of intended decay-repair-and-replacement is what should be foremost in civic agendas.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rome, 11: Palaces and storerooms

Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, April 22, 2017—
I THINK IT BETTER to plant gardens than build palaces, as I’ve written here before, because the ruins of gardens regrow, whereas the ruins of palaces continue to crumble away. And gardens are, as I’ve also tried to suggest, a collaboration with nature, while palaces seem to be testaments to short-term victories over her.

So after strolling the Roseto and the Orange-Tree Park we returned to the Forum. The previous day we’d strolled above it, on the Capitoline, where four hundred years ago the Farnese family had built a palace and a garden, the bones of which remain. It is now by and large an empty plateau atop the hill, if indeed it is a hill and not a pile of layers of ruined palaces. But it is pleasant, even on a cold and windy day, to stroll the site, and look out over the domes and rooftops of Rome, which thankfully has not allowed any high-rise building within view. Thanks to the wind blowing down from the Alps we could easily see the hills to the north, a number of miles distant. Miles are like decades and add up to centuries.

That afternoon we looked down on the Forum, which is much more cluttered than I recall it from a dozen years ago. I’m not sure why I think this. It seems to me short squared column-bases made of brick have been set about to show the outlines of long-vanished buildings. This afternoon we strolled the Forum itself — after the Roseto and Santa Sabina my feet. and knees protested further climbs up stairsteps; by the end of the day we’d covered seven miles on foot. And yes, on closer inspection, the Forum is more cluttered, but with helpful panels telling you in Italian and English what it is you think you’re looking at. Or, in the case of many visitors, photographing with your telephone and selfie-stick.

By the time we got to the Forum it was late in the afternoon, approaching that magic hour when the sun begins to accentuate the reds and the strong contrast of longer shadows accentuate the architecture, bringing the flutings of columns and the edges of reliefs into greater — well, relief. And, miracle of miracles, there are few visitors. You can take a photograph of this ruined temple or that without a single visitor in the frame.

After our first visit to Europe, over forty years ago, on showing slides we’t taken to a visitor (one did that in those days), he asked But are there no people in Europe? Only buildings and landscapes? And I explained that I didn’t like to photograph people, it seemed intrusive, a violation of selfhood. Now of course there’s no such compunction: everyone is photographing everybody, deliberately or per caso, accidentally. Now my reason for avoiding people in settings like this is that they too strongly temporize the picture: costume, hairstyle, telephone, backpack all scream PRESENT, when what I want to record, for my own later contemplation, is CONTINUITY.

For to me the value of the ruins of temples and palaces is their testimony to the process of time. I wrote at the outset of these letters that I was here to contemplate my feelings about religion, and to see friends and relations, and to eat and drink and walk and think. I arrived a bit of a ruin myself, thanks to the helpfulness of modern medicine, but I’m pretty well recovered from that: still, I contemplate the inevitable ruination.

One fellow after another has built here a palace, or an arch, or a fancy column, or a temple, dedicated largely to his own glory, and another fellow has come along and used the result as a quarry to build something bigger or better or more glorious. Some of these fellows of course were geniuses and I am glad for their work: Hadrian, Michelangelo. Some had the public good in mind as well as their own gloire : Trajan. The result is all the same.

Today we went out to Ostia Antica, the archaeological preserve preserving, archaeologically, what’s left of old Ostia, the seaport supplying Rome, whose own port was of course a river port on the Tiber. Ostia Antica is quite an amazing place. You can rent a little recorded tourguidee who discusses numbered stops, or you can ignore him. You can climb to the top tier of seats of a four-thousand seat theater, sit, and wonder what the backdrop must have been when it was there, with its statues of gods and, probably, donors.

You wander freely the narrow streets between residences, taverns, and storerooms. This was a working city, not a fashionable weekend retreat like Herculaneum; most of the rooms are small. You can only wonder what it may have looked like when its superstructure was still in place, for it was mostly made of wood, and all of it is long since gone.

You can kneel down and brush sand away from the edge of a patch of mosaic floor, laid down two thousand years ago, and expose more of it; and when you stand back up again, and walk on, you notice the ground is strewn with little cubes of white stone which must once have been parts of similar mosaic or terrazzo floors.

Poor Italy! Preserving, interpreting, ignoring these ruins, these and many others — Italic, Etruscan, Greek, Roman, even medieval — must be a constant headache. The archaeologists have to decide where to dig, and how far down. The government, I suppose, has to decide when to protect, when to recognize the futility of any thought of perfect control. And of course these historical records are an important tourist attraction; Christian or not, one goes to Rome to savor and contemplate all this history.

These days there are useful virtual reconstructions, guidebooks whose illustrations are overlays in which photographs of the present, with automobiles and backpacks, lift up to reveal artists’ imaginings of Rome As It Was, pristine and white-marbled. (Some of these concede that the statues were painted when they were new.) One day perhaps archaeology, marketing, and software engineering will be able to make virtual reality of what is now fields of fragments numbered, gathered in tubs, laid out on shelves or on fields, method and order promising the possibility of finally knowing what must have been, perhaps in order to be able to suggest what might one day be.

Many years ago I was asked what I wanted to accomplish before dying. The question was asked seriously, in the context of a conversation meant to ease, somehow, some of the vexing problems that seemed so overwhelming at the moment, and so inconsequential as I look back. I want to have an idea of what it all means, I answered, aware of the insolence of the ambition but incapable of denying it. I think that is what energizes all the sciences, but particularly that of archaeology.

I think the palaces, let alone the humble warehouses in the port, will never be rebuilt in actuality. Much of the marble was stripped to decorate the great building spree of the Italian Renaissance and the Baroque period following. Heads were broken off statues for some reason, I’ve never quite understood why, perhaps because the entire statue would have been too heavy to carry off quickly. Headless statues were often consigned to the lime-kilns to be reduced to cement.

My point in this rambling meditation is that palaces seem to me to be conceived and built beyond the angle of repose, the point of sustainability, far beyond. Their construction and maintenance employ many people who might otherwise have nothing to do, but at the expense of resources, including previous palaces. And I wonder if the Christian church, and perhaps governmental administration, don’t court the same folly as ultimately destroys palaces.

Gardens seem to me to represent the same urge, but within the angle of repose, the point of sustainability. I would rather clip hedges than chip stones.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rome, 10: Gardens

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 22, 2017—
I THINK IT BETTER to build gardens than palaces. Especially public gardens, or at least gardens accessible to the public. As the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, parks and gardens stand as the last link between humanity and nature, and you can’t escape the fact that nature is what governs much of human activity.

Gardens are controlled, as much human activity must be: but one of the pleasures of strolling in a garden is contemplating the degree to which that control is achieved, how the site chosen, the architecture of the garden, the selection of its plants, and the continuing maintenance influence its state. Not its success: it seems to me all gardens are successful, even ruined ones, on their terms; because it seems to me necessary to grant nature her terms and “values” equally to those of ours. Perhaps more.

Yesterday was opening day of Rome’s Roseto Comunale, the rose garden above the Circo Massimo, at its western end. We’d walked by it a few days earlier, to find the gates closed and workers busy inside: yesterday the iron gates stood open, at least to the larger garden, and there were no workers to be seen other than those still busy in the smaller one, on the north side of the Via di Valle Murcia.

The southern, larger garden is on a gentle hillside, not terraced, divided into large symmetrical beds, separating the roses by type: shrub, hybrid tea, David Austin, my favorite old roses pre-hybridization. Around the garden on the uphill side an arbor draws the semicircular border of this quite large garden, for climbing roses. The paths are paved under the arbor and on the stairs leading down from it into the beds; otherwise they’re gravel.

A day after this visit I read that the paths were deliberately laid out in a shape representing the menorah, because this hillside was once the Jewish cemetery, when Jews were confined to the Roman ghetto. I don’t remember where they moved the bodies to, or why; it was a long time ago, and a long time before the making of the Roseto, in 1950, I think. I suppose if I’d known this, and if I were Jewish, my contemplation of the garden would have taken a different course. I like it that the symbolization is subtle, there for those who want it, not at all obvious for those to whom it makes no difference.

Even before discovering the garden plan, and before approaching individual rosebushes — easy to do, as they’re set widely apart and still small in this early Roman spring — I was interested in the lawn the bushes are set on. “Lawn” is perhaps not quite the word. The hillside is essentially a grassy field which was apparently mown quite recently, and long grasses lie on the beds — clearly not all the mown grass; much of it must have been removed; but enough remains to show how tall the grass had been allowed to grow.

I suppose it’s there as a partial mulch. If I lived in this city I’d be back here every couple of weeks to see not only the evolution of the bloom but also the management of the grass. There are recessed sprinkler heads here and there, and my companion noticed some mildew already present here and there: but this north-facing, very open site is exposed to wind, and I imagine discreet sprinkling works well, the water quickly evaporating from the leaves.

The roses! Already most of the bushes are in bloom; you can smell this garden a city block away, downwind. (Not that there really are city blocks in this part of town.) I didn’t make any noes, and I’m not about to tell you what’s included specifically: but there are hundreds of varieties here, set out , as grows apparent only slowly, in straight lines within the curve-boundaried beds.

As you can tell I like roses but not enough to memorize names and pedigrees — though the history of rose culture is an interesting one, and intersects, of course, with most other branches of human history. I don’t even carry in my mind the names of the roses Lindsey has planted on Eastside Road: there must be over thirty of them by now. Like her, I tend to favor the scented roses, and for years roses were bred not for scent but for showiness, sacrificing, it seems to me, their essential quality in favor of brash color, size, and length of bloom. There’s a metaphor here; I needn’t belabor it.

Not far from the Roseto, still on the Aventine hill, stands the church (or is it a basilica? I’m always confused about this) of Santa Sabina, a fine, austere, serious building just overhauled, and successfully so, for last year’s Catholic Jubilee Year. And next to it is the Giardino degli Aranci, as the Romans call their Parco Savello — the garden of the orange trees. Like the Roseto it’s a fine place to get away from the hum of the city: a flat half-acre, more or less, very symmetrical, of clipped weeds, I would say, and bitter-orange trees, with high walls on three sides and a marvelous viewing platform on the north.

A folding chair, a guitar-stand, and an amplifier and loudspeaker stood near the center of the park when we visited. Mercifully they were unattended. I think music, especially amplified music, is out of place in these gardens, unless a concert has specifically been planned. I prefer the sounds of the breeze in the trees and the occasional bird, though the gulls and magpies populating these gardens rarely sing, and that’s good too, you can hardly call their vocalisms song.

Many years ago I was present at the premiere of Douglas Leedy’s Exhibition Music, written specifically to be performed in a garden, on the occasion f the twentieth anniversary, I think it was, of the founding of the United Nations. Instrumentalists and singers were stationed at various places within a fairly extensive garden looking out over San Francisco Bay toward the site of the Charter’s signing. They played and sang quietly, each for himself, not coordinated in any but the most basic way, each expressing an individual musical comment within a context of mutual harmony. Guests strolled the garden, discovering this detail or that, lingering at moments of their own pleasure or interest, in a musical and horticultural metaphor of international cooperation.

That’s the kind of music I’d like in my garden, but only on occasion.

The formal symmetry of this Orange-Tree Garden, and the scent of the orange blossoms, inescapably brought the orange groves in the Andalucian mezquitas, but this park owes its origin, apparently, to St. Boniface — though he is said to have brought the original tree, true enough, from Spain; the first orange tree to grow in Rome. And the tree was of course reputedly miraculous and never-dying; and in truth when work was done recently a 15th-century coin (or was it 14th?) was found in its roots. That doesn’t prove anything, of course, for the right price I could buy an imperial Roman coin to plant with the next fruit tree I plant at home, and maybe I should, just to confound someone decades hence, as I’ve already buried a valuable hand-forged Sardinian knife from Pattadà in concrete poured into a fencepost hole, though that was not intentional.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rome, 9: The Colosseum

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 20, 2017——
I AM HAPPY to report that the Colosseum is much changed. Well, not the building itself, of course, though every time I see it I think more brickwork and reinforcing new concrete has been added. Nor do I recall those huge blocks of white stone stacked up on what you might call its rim, on the north side, which look as if they’d be easily dislodged in a serious earthquake.

What’s changed, beyond the thorough cleaning it’s been given — it gleams as white as Cestius’s Pyramid now, as white as, well, a toilet — what’s changed is the whole experience of visiting it. I guess I was last there ten years or so ago. In those days, as I recall, you wandered around in the Forum and the Colosseum freely, without paying; you shared the Forum with a few other tourists and some archaeology and history buffs, but it wasn’t terribly crowded. But of course that was in November, I think, or maybe January.

Now it’s all being marketed, and successfully, and I must say rather well. Although there are a few people offering you tours, the phony gladiators who used to strut around waiting to be photographed with your kids or wife in funny poses are all gone. A couple of military vehicles are parked on the road leading downhill from the Piazza del Colosseo, and you are screened (and so are your bags, and the contents of your pockets) on entering, there’s not a lot of obvious security presence.

But there are nice new bookstores, and an elevator, and fairly extensive panels in Italian and English describing this thing and that. I had the feeling the place is less romantic, less a ruin even, and more an archaeological and historical artifact. We were there early in the day, a little bast opening time (8:30), and had bought tickets online: I showed the e-mailed receipt on my iPhone, and we were whisked through security scan and on our way.

It was biting cold. Windy, too. The wind’s been blowing down from the Alps these last couple of days, bringing dust and headaches. We toughed it out, though, strolling the available levels, never making a complete circuit, stopping in a bookstore to warm ourselves up.

At one point on the second level, I think, there’s a fine installation of “Images of the Colosseum” — perhaps a changing exhibit, I don’t know, certainly one well worth seeing, even studying. There are early depictions on coins, architectural analyses from the Renaissance, romantic paintings and drawings from the 18th and 19th centuries, even 20th-century drawings and photographs offering revisions of the building. One envisions a huge cubical hotel rising from within the Colosseum — a project not likely to be achieved, but who knows, these days.

There is an amazing three-dimensional model of the Colosseum, scaled at 1:60, made of wood, bone, and lead, several hundred years ago, made not ass it was now, or at the time the model was made, but as it must have been when it was new in 833 — excuse me: that’s the Roman calendar: 80 CE we call it. (Now: I’m still more familiar with 80 A.D.) The detail on this scale model is unbelievable; it makes one ache to see a full restoration of the building.

That would be impossible, of course. Virtually all the travertine and marble once sheathing the building are long gone, stripped not only for the stone but also for the bronze fittings that held the veneer to the (let’s face it) rather crude Roman concrete and tufa blocks making up the thing. The Colosseum is made of concrete and sand, I read somewhere: brick and rubble, too. It took nearly ten years to build, and much of the material must have come from Nero’s vast palace which had overlooked the lake he’d had built on the site, formerly an unhealthy swampy area infested, he must have felt, with the wretched hovels and shops of commoners.

Leafing through the Internet I happened on a fascinating description of the behind-the-scenes operations of the Colosseum in Smithsonian Magazine , and looking down into the exposed sub-floor archaeological digs it was fairly easy to imagine the operation of elevators, cages, and ramps necessary to the elaborate productions for which this monumental thing was built. It’s often been said the purpose was civic (therefore national) pride, reinforcement of militaristic and stoic values, celebration of the new lands continually being brought under Roman subjugation. Wild animals were brought from North Africa, Dacia, and elsewhere.

Criminals were made to fight one another to the death, as is well known, but there were lapses in the general cruelty. One emperor, having caught a jeweler passing off inferior stuff to his wife, sentenced him to one of these hunts: but when the caged animal was released in front of the quivering cheat, instead of a lion or leopard he was confronted with an angry chicken. The crowds laughed; the emperor let the poor fellow off, with a warning.

We spent a couple of hours in the Colosseum, then strolled over to the Forum. Surprise: the line at the entrance was a good fifty yards long and not moving at all. I remembered another entrance, down the Via di San Gregorio, that leads up into the Palatine hill, and there was no line at all. We spent another couple of hours there, strolling, looking down on the Colosseum and the Forum, now quite full of tourists with their guidebooks and acoustical guides and even, I think, iPhone apps explaining things.

We were content to read the many panels, always in both Italian and English, and to stumble on the Farnese gardens, the roses coming into full bloom and scenting the air, and to sit on benches in the sun and ouot of the biting wind. It’s a melancholy business, of course, wandering among these testaments to impermanence, but the resurgence of weeds, and the beauty of gardens and pines, helps to put everything in perspective.

On the way down the Via de San Gregorio toward the Circus Maximus — and in truth toward a refreshing spritz at a sidewalk table — fourteen-year-old was accosted by a con man from Africa. I’m black, you’re white, he said, here’s a gift, and gave him some sort of bracelet. I was a little ahead of them and didn’t realize what was going on for a minute. He turned out to want ten euros for it, of course. I told the boy to leave it on a handy wall, knowing the guy was watching. Oh, you don’t want it, he said, Not good. We walked on, ignoring him. I hope he’s sentenced to a chicken.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rome, 8: Cleaning lady

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 19, 2017—
THE CLEANING LADY arrived today. I thought she looked familiar somehow: about five foot four, sturdy, dark straight bobbed hair, a pleasant smile. She rang the doorbell at two o’clock, as we’d expected, stepped in introducing herself (Maria), stepped to the coat closet and extricated a house-dress smock I hadn’t noticed before, and set to.

I took a nap, so am not absolutely sure what she did. I slept on the living room couch until Lindsey woke me, then moved to our bedroom. For the first time in days the steel roll-down shutter was fully open, ditto the two leaves of the window. Sun streamed into the room; the air was fresh.

Of course we’d prepared for her. My backpack, which has lain open at the foot of the bed on my side, against the wall, was in the closet; my slippers ditto; my travel painting and photo and bandana on my pillow. I lay down on the bed to finish my map and was pleased to find the spot where I lie was warm. I thought for a moment that there must be an electric blanket, but I knew that wasn’t the case — we sleep on a sheet and under a duvet, like most Europeans these days. (Or nights, I suppose I should write.) It was simply that the sun had warmed that spot on the bed. Delightful.

After a bit I was fully awake and moved back into the liviing room, where she was finishing up. In two hours she had cleaned both bathrooms, the kitchen, mopped and swept the floors, and polished all the windows. She was still smiling.

We had a little conversation, in the course of which I learned that our palazzo (apartment building) is fifty or sixty years old; the ones across the street are new and have replaced a block of palazzi similar to ours; the apartments within our building differ considerably from one another; ours was substantially remodelled when the current owners moved in (interior walls done away with, new wood floor, new built-ins in the bedroom, new kitchen appliances); she cleans many of the apartments in this building.

She asked politely where we were from and we told her and I reciprocated. Sono da Romania, she said, I’m from Romania, not from Bucharest, from the mountains, and I saw why she looked familiar, she looked like so many of the women I’d seen in Brasov and Cluj and thereabouts when I was in Romania nearly thirty-five years ago. I told her I’d traveled in her country and that I thought it was very beautiful. Yes, she said, Italy is beautiful, but Romania is more beautiful, especially the mountains. I don’t like antiquities, she said, the Pantheon, the Colisseum. The Vatican is beautiful of course, it is the home of the Pope, but the rest, you see it once, you don’t have to see it again. But the mountains, and the forests…

I told her I’d always wanted to walk in her mountains and forests. You should, she said, the people will like you to come. Are there still bears and wolves, I wondered. Oh yes, more than ever, we used to kill them but we don’t do that any more so there are more and more of them. Horses, sheep, many sheep… she smiled, partly I think at her immodesty in sharing her nostalgia, partly in simple friendliness.

After she left I went down with fourteen-year-old to do some shopping and found another reason she’d looked familiar: she’s the concierge. As I think I’ve said before, this palazzo, like most, has a little office in the lobby for a concierge. There’s an outer glass door, a big one, which is always locked; there’s an inner one which is never locked; then you come to the lobby, and on your left is the concierge’s office. Perhaps she lives here: I don’t know.

I’ve only met one other Italian residential concierge, in Verona. He too was an immigrant, but from Nepal I think, or some such south central Asian country. Maria is Romanian, descended from the Dacians who were conquered by Emperor Trajan about 100 CE. Things were not so good when I was in Romania, a few years before the end of the Ceaucescu regime; poverty was extreme, and governmental spying and suppression quite extreme.

I suppose it’s better now. I met a Romanian a few years ago in Sicily; he walked into an apparently empty bar in which I was sitting, waiting while Lindsey did the laundry, and mistook me for the bartender, and ordered a coffee. He was very apologetic when I explained I was just resting while the bartender was off doing whatever he was doing, and we fell into a conversation. It’s terribly hard in Romania now, he said, that’s why I’m here in Sicily, looking for work, there’s no work in Romania. But it is so beautiful there…

Rome, 7: Man in the street

Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, April 19—
OSTENSIBLY THE PURPOSE of this trip is to introduce fourteen-year-old to Rome, its history and its wonders, but in fact he has primarily been exposed to the important skill of flåner, that elegant French word we use when we don’t want to admit to loafing. We seem to have intentions: getting a special loaf of bread, finding more English peas at the greengrocer. But we wind up strolling through the Non-Catholic Cemetery, or paying hommage once again to Fatamorgana.

The other day in front of the Spanish Steps — I wonder if fourteen-year-old has any visual memory of the place, overcrowded as usual with tourists — we were approached by a well-dressed man, in his sixties I would say, who wondered if he could be any help to us. Oh no, I said, I’m just looking for an interesting walking route to the Governo Vecchio. (We were planning to stop at the excellent Caffè Novecento.)

Oh, simple enough, he said in very good English with only a slight accent, but you can’t go straight there, you follow this street to the end, then turn to the left and look for it.

He was relatively tall for a Roman his age and quite slender.. I thought he was from the north. But you’re not a Roman, are you, I asked, pretending his knowledge of the streets suggested he was. No, he said, I’m from the Veneto; I work in glass, plates and that sort of thing. You’re from the States? My product is in Magnin, Nordstrom…

We confirmed that we were Californians, and, on his asking, that we were staying in Monteverde, near the Piazzale Dunant. Oh then you must try a restaurant there, he said, very local, the tourists don’t know about it, a very Roman place called C’Era Una Volta. We thanked him and went on our way, straight down the long street toward the Tiber, then left and eventually to the Caffè.

After we’d left him, though, and gone on a few meters, I turned to see what he might be doing. Standing on the corner, smiling gently, waiting for another conversation I suppose. Human street furniture. In Sicily a few years ago we found there are still those modest functionaries ready to carry a bag, or advise directions, or (most importantly) watch your parked car, for a coin or two. Of course we hadn’t offered our Spanish Steps guide anything, nor, I think, did he expect us to; he was simply a retired salesman enjoying the sun and looking for the kind of human contact that his career had offered him.

Yesterday on the Ponte Sisto we walked past a four-man band: standup bass, drummer, clarinet, vocalist. They were playing 1930s jazz, and they were pretty good. They were from Sabbioneta, the bass player said with a smile, as he plucked away, tonic and dominant. I dropped a euro in the cap lying on the pavement; there weren’t many others in it. At the other end of the bridge a more traditional musician, an old man with his accordion playing some Italian folksong, probably a commercial one from the 19th century, not Neapolitan I’m pretty sure. Another euro.

I’m struck by the general lack of panhandling and homelessness in the quarters we inhabit. Maybe it’s not yet warm enough; maybe the government has cracked down; I don’t know. There is a degree of incivility — youngsters will not give up seats on the trams and buses, for example; only a rare visitor will do that. The other day it was a couple of fortyish Bangadeshi men on the crowded train up to Pisa: we’d stood an hour on the train, glaring at youngsters sprawling in the seats, playing cards, listening to their music, applying make-up, studiously avoicing looking up at us. The Bangladesh were down at the other end of the car and had apparently been trying to catch our eye; finally we noticed; they smiled and stood and beckoned to us to come sit down.

Other Bangladeshi sell things: garlic, in the street markets, for example. I think the vendors at more or less permanent stalls on the sidewalk, selling cheap underwear, electrical accessories, shoes and socks, umbrellas and the like — I think they are more or less permanent residents. No doubt other more peripatetic street vendors — of sunglasses when it’s sunny, umbrellas when it rains (and how are they so quickly supplied the correct item?) — are refugees trying to make a few bucks to feed themselves and perhaps family back home. (I get this insight from a remarkable novel I read last month, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba, about African emigrants to Genoa.)

There’s an African refugee who stands at the gate to the supermarket across the street, politely waiting. Sometimes I drop a fifty-cent piece into his cap; mostly I don’t. He unfailingly smiles at me. I’ve noticed other people, presumably locals, follow exactly the same procedure. The other day we were at the famouos bakery Bonci to buy an Easter cake: it was crowded, and I waited outside. I struck up a conversation with a refugee who was from Senegal. He’d arrived in Lampedusa five years ago, he said, and had a wife and two kids. It was very difficult, he said.

When I finally got inside I bought a jar of white beans for him, but when we left the shop he was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know if I’d queered his operation by opening a conversation with him, whether he’d taken a break for lunch, whether he’d been driven away — I’ll never know.

Yesterday we stepped into the cloister at San Giovanni Battista dei Genovesi, on via Anicia in Trastevere. I wasn’t sure about it; there’s only an ordinary wooden door in the wall next to a brass plate of push-buttons like you see on every apartment building. You must ring for the porter, a DHL delivery man said — he happened to be there at the same time. The porter appeared, a very small man, rather serious, not particularly well dressed but not shabby.

May we see the cloister, I asked, and he silently waved us through the small doorway into one of the most tranquil spots we’ve found, a complete surprise. A small, square cloister surrounded by two-storey walls, with graceful, slender double columns; the garden rather lush and green, with palms — they say the first palm planted in Rome was planted here — and flowering trees, and a wellhead at the center which we were unfortunately not allowed to visit, as the garden was chained off, and could be admired only from the colonnades.

Nor were we allowed to photograph. The moment my companion lifted her iPhone the little man appeared: No foto. I don’t know where he’d been lurking. He appeared as if by magic a couple of times later; we were taking our time here, and he wanted to be sure we weren’t sneaking photos, I think. (The photo on this page is from Wikipedia.) I asked about the wellhead as we left, and slipped a euro into his palm: he had made no gesture to ask for it, but was quick to understand my intention.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rome, 6: Three tombs

Cestius's pyramid seen from the Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome
Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 18, 2017—
WELL, AS I WAS SAYING, after 392 CE, when Theodosius passed legislation prohibiting all pagan worship in the Roman Empire, Christianity began to have its way. In 529 Justinian I closed the Neoplatonic Academy; effectively ending classical paganism and closing the era of Late Antiquity. Most scholars left Rome for the more tolerant Persia.

Lay Christians took to destroying and plundering the temples, and theologians and ecclesiastics soon followed. The bishop of Milan, for example, later St. Ambrose, talked his student Gratian, who became emperor in 375, into confiscating the property of the pagan temples and removing the statue of the Goddess of Victory from the Senate. Churches began to be elevated on the rubble of plundered temples.

And houses, among them Cecilia's. And not all this plundering and architectural one-upmanship was mistaken: though much was lost, some things were preserve — the beautiful old circular Vestal temple, for example, and the Pantheon, both of which had Christian churches installed within. (As had the great Mezquita in Córdoba: but that's another story.)

We skip to the time of Charlemagne, who is recorded as having massacred 4500 rebel Saxon prisoners who had refused to convert to Christianity. Olaf I, who reigned from 995 to 1000, tried to convert Norway during the Viking age, torturing and executing those who refused to convert, but his conversion didn’t hold. The Balts, Slavs, and Finns were converted during the 12th and 13sth centuries,

in a series of uncoordinated military campaigns by various German and Scandinavian kingdoms, and later by the Teutonic Knights and other orders of warrior-monks. It involved the destruction of pagan polities, their subjection to their Christian conquerors, and frequently the wholesale resettlement of conquered areas and replacement of the original populations with German settlers, as in Old Prussia. Elsewhere, the local populations were subjected to an imported German overclass. Although revolts were frequent and pagan resistance often locally successful, the general technological superiority of the Crusaders, and their support by the Church and rulers throughout Christendom, eventually resulted in their victory in most cases - although Lithuania resisted successfully and only converted voluntarily in the 14th century.
The forced conversion of the Jews, and the defeat of Muslims, in late medieval Spain, is well known; and of course the conversion of all the inhabitants of the Americas. All this was done by the Catholic cult, but after Reformation various Protestant cults took their turn at resisting the social status quo and converting neighbors where they could.

My favorite example of all this is the Pilgrim Fathers of the 17th century, English “Dissenters” who left England where their own religious intolerance got them into trouble and settled in the more tolerant Holland, then left there because they wanted to continue to be separatists, did not want to become Dutch, so found backers who would fund a colony in the New World for them, where they could more readily continue to practice their religious intolerance. And so it continues, down to our own day, when the only use for religion seems to be to delineate nations and reduce populations.

I thought about all these things the other day while walking in the Protestant Cemetery, also called the English Cemetery, officially the Non-Catholic Cemetery, out by Cestius’s Pyramid. Gaius Cestius was a magistrate during the early days of the Roman Empire, before the birth of Christ, rich enough to have this pyramid built to serve as his tomb. It was not the only pyramid in Rome: the Egyptian motif was all the rage in the years following the defeat of Cleopatra. But it is the only one to survive:

a larger one—the "pyramid of Romulus" — of similar form but unknown origins stood between the Vatican and the Mausoleum of Hadrian but was dismantled in the 16th century by Pope Alexander VI and the marble was used for the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.
There are few more captivating places in Rome than the relatively tombstone-free northern part of the Protestant Cemetery, where the lawns spread underneath stone pines and you look out onto the Pyramid and the Ostiense gate in the old Roman wall.

Here is John Keats’s grave, but his name is not on his stone, which instead reads

This grave
contains all that was Mortal,
of a

on his Death Bed,
in the Bitterness of his Heart,
at the Malicious Power of his Enemies,
these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone

Here lies One
Whose Name was writ in Water.

Feb 24th 1821.
Poor Keats: he had had a number of recent bad reviews, and died in sadness. For decades his grave was the object of pilgrimages by readers besotted by romantic lyric poetry, as ballet fans still hang shoes on the grave of Diaghilev, in Venice, but when we were there the other day it seemed rather neglected; Gramsci's grave is perhaps more to the present taste.

Cestius's pyramid-tomb survived not because Christianity claimed it but for more practical reasons: it was at the corner of the city wall, and its triangular shape made a fine defensive fortification. It has recently been cleaned and restored, thanks to funding from a Japanese businessman, and it looks great: I can't help thinking Caius Cestius would be pleased.

St. Cecilia: sculpture by Stefano Maderno, 1599
Photographed at the church of St. Cecilia, Trastevere,
by Richard Stracke
As for Cecilia, her body was laid in a tomb in the catacombs of St. Callistus, also outside the Roman walls — for centuries it was illegal for anyone to be buried within. At some time during the ninth century Pope Paschal I had the remains removed and reburied in her church, then undergoing reconstruction. Seven hundred years later, in 1599, Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati had the remains exhumed for some reason, taking care to have a group of witnesses with him.

Among them was the young sculptor Stefano Maderno, who swore, with all the others, that the body was absolutely uncorrupted. He made drawings and no doubt took measurements, and — commissioned by the Cardinal — made the very beautiful, very moving sculpture, life-size, said to depict her body as it was found.

A stay in Rome always brings thoughts of fleeting permanence to mind, and of the only human attempts to memorialize. Sometimes, as in these three cases, it works, perhaps in spite of the original motivation. Mostly, I think, it does not. If not, as Gertrude Stein might have said, too bad.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Margery Wolf 1933-2017

Margery Wolf
Via Damaso Cerquetti, Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017—
WHILE THE CHRISTIAN world rejoices in the resurrection of its redeemer this Easter morning, word comes in the e-mail of the death of yet another friend. It was no surprise; we'd seen it coming, Lindsey and I, for a few months. But it is saddening; we cherished this woman, and we extend our sympathy to the husband, friend and lover she leaves behind, a man I know pretty well from having spent a month with him on the trail in the French Alps.

During that month he telephoned Margery every day, missing the call only when there was no Internet. His conversations were long and private. I'm sure they were exchanging their news of the day: after many years together they were still in many ways like newlyweds.

Margery has an Internet presence, because she early in her careeer wrote a book that seems to be immortal, The House of Lim: a Study of a Chinese Farm Family (1968). I haven't re-read the book for a few years now, but I recall it as being, like all good books, a succinct portrait of its author as well as of its subject: clear, orderly, direct, not humorless, at times just a little arch. (I'll reread it first time I get a chance.)

Margery and I loved to tease one another. On Chinese opera, for example, which she was not fond of and I was, when in the mood. What do you know about China, she would ask pointedly: and what do you know of opera, I'd reply, with equal justification. And there we would let it lie, as we knew and respected one another's boundaries.

In her last years Margery was plagued by shortness of breath, and I think one of the last great efforts she made against this was the walking trip she and Mac, Lindsey and I took on various walking routes in the Netherlands. She was contemptuous of sheep, having spent too many years among them in her rural youth, and we were walking delicately through sheep pastures. Sheep, like many other apparently uncritical beings, amused her, but annoyed her too. She was a woman who knew there were facts, and despised those who twisted them, or hid them.

I find, just now, writing this, online, the fascinating Who’s Afraid of Margery Wolf: Tributes and Perspectives on Anthropology, Feminism and Writing Ethnography, a series of papers delivered in her honor on the occasion of her retirement from teaching, concluded by her own graceful response to them. Among her responses is an anecdote about having been given false history by a Chinese peasant she was interviewing:

…she told me that her brigade didn’t have very good stories to tell foreigners but the government had sent an exhibit around the year before explaining all about landlords and how mean they were, so they used those stories. Her comment was apt. “What does it matter whether it happened to me or to some other woman just like me? It happened somewhere and it was wrong.”
I knew Margery as a woman who enjoyed herself, who bantered, who dined and drank well, but who also always looked for the way to get things right, because in the end it does matter. And in her last years, like many of us, she was struggling with the concept of metafiction, of narrative — and especially historical or even biographical narrative — that necessarily, in order to be written, has to turn its back on dogmatic loyalty to the separation of fiction from "non-fiction."

Alas, this kept her from leaving us with a memoir — at least as far as I know. Perhaps there's one, or the notes toward one, squirreled away somewhere on a hard drive. As usual, a friend leaves forever, and leaves me pondering the questions I might have asked.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rome, 5: St. Cecilia

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 15, 2017—
SHE IS OF COURSE the patron saint of music and I’ve always been fond of that idea. I’m not sure I’d have acted as she did: it took courage, she must have known the dangers involved, and anyway I myself feel it both a little bit immoral and in general quite useless to try to convince other people to change their religions. I certainly think it wrong for a government, or a society, to do that, let alone to punish recalcitrance in the matter. Religion may be a social attitude, as I wrote the other day, but it must be motivated by individual devotion.

She’s the patron saint of music, as I recall — I’m writing from memory — because she sang and played the organ. Of course the organ was quite different in those days. For one thing, it was powered by water: which, when it runs through a pipe, sucks air in its wake, the more air pressure the greater the water speed. Cecilia’s house was close to the Tiber and pretty well-equipped for that sort of thing. It had a steam room, too.

Unclear to me: was it originally her house, or her husband’s? Maybe they were cousins? Okay: now I resort to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Cecilia) to help memory. In any case she was a member of the Christian cult, but her parents wanted her to marry a non-Christian nobleman, Valerian. She sang to herself during the ceremony, and told him on the wedding bed that she had vowed virginity: an angel watching over her would punish him if he violated her, but would love him if he respected her.

He asked to see the angel, perhaps a little skeptical, and she told him to go out to the third milestone on the Via Appia where the Pope would baptize him, and then he’d see the angel. (I get this version from Wikipedia.

It all proved true, but someone complained about this forced conversion of Valerian (and his brother Tiburtius, and a soldier named Maximus who was apparently part of Valerian’s menage), and the authorities showed up at Cecilia's Trastevere home to seize them all. Cecilia was apparently saved for last and executed in her house. Some say she was struck on the neck three times with a sword but lived on for three days, steaming to death in her own sauna, singing on.

She was buried in a vault in a catacomb out on the Via Appia -- I’ve been in it. The tourist guide pointed out the ledge where here sarcophagus had lain — of course it's empty now, but the setting is dramatic in the extreme. A teen-aged girl in the crowd fainted dead away and had to be carried out into the fresh air.

It's thought that Cecilia and the rest of her household died about 230 CE, under the Emperor Alexander Severus. (Others say she died about fifty years earlier in Sicily, which ruins the whole story. Christianity was of course famously repressed in the Roman Empire of the time, along with Judaism. I wonder if it wasn't considered an aberrant version of Judaism. Their were many other influences on the new religion: Mithraism particularly. What set followers of Judaism and Christianity apart was the followers themselves; they deliberately went against the tides, and even — the Christians at least — made every attempt to convert others to their beliefs. (There will be a disquisition, later, on the words belief, faith, knowledge. You can't do everything in one blog post.)

I can't quite get hold of the institutionalized idea of "pagan" religion in Rome. (Greece either, for that matter.) I can understand the idea of cults — Pythagoreans, say, who liked to gather at sunrise to greet the rising sun; worshippers of Mithra who gathered on the contrary underground to practise their elaborate rituals (rather like the Masonic business portrayed in Mozart and Schikeneder's Zauberflöte), These groups were social, but small, quasi-private clubs.

It’s my impression Christianity was disapproved to the point of persecution because of its own refusal to countenance the existence of other religions. It seems to me the “pagan” cults centered on the various gods were largely a matter of personal negotiations (for good weather, easy childbirth, plentiful crops, military victory, whatever), with occasional larger public celebrations at temples devoted to the major gods. I don’t think the idea of their intervention for a happy afterlife had occurred to many.

These various pagan cults and concepts, as I believe, were mutually tolerant: what was not tolerated was any cult threatening the State — or its youth. Hence the trial of Socrates, centuries before. Hence the persecution of Christianity, which displaced loyalty to the State and its established norms — in spite of the famous injunction to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s — with something else, perhaps not fully comprehended at the time, but allied, I think, with the evolving fact of Self within Society.

Christians had a hard time of it three hundred years, give or take. Wikipedia again:

This persecution lasted until Constantine I, along with Licinius, legalized Christianity in 313. It was not until Theodosius I in the later 4th century that Christianity would become the State church of the Roman Empire. Between these two events Julian II temporarily restored the traditional Roman religion and established broad religious tolerance renewing Pagan and Christian hostilities.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that "Ancient, medieval and early modern hagiographers were inclined to exaggerate the number of martyrs. Since the title of martyr is the highest title to which a Christian can aspire, this tendency is natural". Estimates of Christians killed for religious reasons before the year 313 vary greatly, depending on the scholar quoted, from a high of almost 1,000,000 to a low of 100,000.

(These numbers might be set against current casualty reports concerning the Syrian war, and refugees from there and Africa, in a considerably shorter length of time.)

After Constantine legalized Christianity (and more or less criminalized other religions) a church was built on top of Ceclia's house, or the ruins of her house, or the site of her house. I am always interested in the general rise of ground level in cities over the centuries. Rome at the time of the Empire seemed to have been about six feet lower than it is now. We visited a church yesterday, Santa Maria in Monticelli: the monticelli, “little mountains,” were apparently garbage heaps on which grain had taken root over the years.

Once permitted, the Christian church evolved its own administration, with chief executive popes succeeding Saint Peter, and occasional Councils arguing and estabishing theological procedure and texts and their interpretations. And through the next few centuries Christianity gradually took on the role of persecutor:

The Edict of Milan of 313 finally legalized Christianity, with it gaining governmental privileges and a degree of official approval under Constantine, who granted privileges such as tax exemptions to Christian clergy. In the period of 313 to 391, both paganism and Christianity were legal religions, with their respective adherents vying for power in the Roman Empire. This period of transition is also known as the Constantinian shift. In 380, Theodosius I made Nicene Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire. Paganism was tolerated for another 12 years, until 392, when Theodosius passed legislation prohibiting all pagan worship. Pagan religions from this point were increasingly persecuted, a process which lasted throughout the 5th century. The closing of the Neoplatonic Academy by decree of Justinian I in 529 marks a conventional end point of both classical paganism and Late Antiquity, after which most of its scholars fled to more tolerant Sassanid Persia.

Lay Christians took advantage of these new anti-pagan laws by destroying and plundering the temples [14] Theologians and prominent ecclesiastics soon followed. One such example is St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. When Gratian became Roman emperor in 375, Ambrose, who was one of his closest educators, persuaded him to further suppress paganism. The emperor, on Ambrose's advice, confiscated the property of the pagan temples; seized the properties of the Vestal Virgins and pagan priests, and removed the statue of the Goddess of Victory from the Roman Senate.[15]

When Gratian delegated the government of the eastern half of the Roman Empire to Theodosius the Great in 379, the situation became worse for the Pagans. Theodosius prohibited all forms of Pagan worship and allowed the temples to be robbed, plundered, and ruthlessly destroyed by monks and other enterprising Christians and participated in actions by Christians against major pagan sites. Pagans openly voiced their resentment in historical works, such as the writings of Eunapius and Olympiodorus; some writers blamed the Christian hegemony for the 410 Sack of Rome. Christians destroyed almost all such political literature and threatened to cut off the hands of any copyist who dared to make new copies of the offending writings.

In the year 416, under Theodosius II, a law was passed to ban Pagans from public employment.[citation needed] All this was done to coerce Pagans to convert to Christianity.

Let’s stop here for the present; I’m out of breath. I’ll post later on Cecilia and her marvelous likeness.