11 – Rome with a View

Continued from All Roads…

Eine Welt zwar bist du, o Rom; doch ohne die Liebe
Wäre die Welt nicht die Welt, wäre denn Rom auch nicht Rom.”

Rome, thou art a whole world, it is true, and yet without love
This World would not be the World, Rome would cease to be Rome.

“Roman Elegies I,” Erotica Romana, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

*******

Merci beaucoup, mille grazie — no matter how you say it, much thanks to KB for humoring all my dreadful mistakes in French and now Italian. You have of course my apologies…

And thanks to A for giving me the perfect way to first experience Rome.

*******

Wow.

There was no other word for it.

Just wow.

So however inarticulate the expression might be, that was what Sara murmured, overwhelmed as she was to the point of having to sink onto one of the cold stone benches just to be able to take it all in.

Working Grave as long as she had, Sara had seen her share of sunrises, but this was something else entirely.

Beneath the paling indigo sky tinged lavender and mauve with a day just beginning to blush rose, la città eterna was awaking.

Though much of the other six of Rome’s famous hills were, like the sun at their backs, from their perch along the balcony of il Giardino degli Aranci much of the city still lay before them. Nearly near enough to touch, the once diluvial Tiber sedately snaked, both of its banks punctuated by innumerable terra cotta rooftops. Bell towers rose. Spires stretched into the sky. Off in the distance, the imposing Baroque dome of St. Peter’s Basilica loomed gilt gold in the half-light.

The raw awe of the spectacle certainly made the journey worth it.

*******

Earlier that morning, Sara had begun to have her doubts.

A few days before as they’d sat in a small cafe in Riez trying to recover from their misadventure rife road trip, Sara had merely given her husband an almost disbelieving weary shake of the head once he’d finished explaining in that almost maddeningly placid way of his that one should actually expect travel to be laborious, problematic, even painful. It was after all, inherent to the very meaning of the word. Travel sharing as it did the same Latin etymological root and meaning as travail tripalium, an ancient three-staked instrument of Roman torture.

By the time they’d disembarked at la Stazione di Roma Termini into the great cavernous expanse which i romani had affectionately nicknamed il dinosauro, Sara was certain the ancients had it right.

For the night before they’d arrived late into Genova’s Piazza Principe station. The train from Ventimiglia running uncharacteristically — at least to their admittedly limited experience with European train travel — particularly behind schedule. By the time they’d deciphered the departures board, located the proper platform, validated their tickets, and retired to their compartment, they were vexed and breathless though genuinely relieved at not having missed the night train to Rome, particularly as the next one wasn’t scheduled to leave for another six hours and neither was interested in trying to find a hotel in the middle of the night.

That mad midnight rush had led them both to rather ruefully agree with Ruskin’s more than century old view that “modern traveling is not traveling at all, it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel.”

As it was still dark when they arrived in Rome and they were both still more than a little sleepy, they stopped in one of the station’s many coffee bars to fortify themselves with the traditional Italian morning beverage of choice: un cappuccino. The tiny, rich fragrant cups of espresso naturally sweetened with the airy light crema proved nothing like the Starbucks variety of the same name back home. Even the strong café parisien they’d frequently indulged in the cafés along the Boulevard Saint-Michel paled by comparison.

With the hiss and spit of the espresso machine in the background, the two of them took their places standing at the bar and as the locals did, gulped not sipped their tazze di caffè.

Thus fortified, Grissom tugged her towards the exit with what Sara thought to be undue urgency, unable as she was to imagine what all the hurry was for. It wasn’t even light out yet. Everything was closed. They’d been lucky to get coffee at the station.

Her husband however didn’t seem to be all that keen on enlightening her, despite the fact that apparently not only had he a very particular destination in mind, but a very particular time to get there.

Not that Sara could rightly protest or complain. Not really. Not after all the wait and sees she’d sprung on him this week. Besides, it wasn’t as if she hadn’t trailed after Grissom with little or no explanation on numerous occasions before.

All he asked her as they’d stepped out into the street was, “Not adverse to walking are you?”

To which she had shaken her head. After the nearly twelve hours on the train, Sara knew how good it would feel to stretch her legs and it wasn’t as if they were exactly burdened with luggage. She routinely carted around heavier kits to crime scenes.

Outside in the Piazza dei Cinquecento, they paused only long enough for Grissom to retrieve Sara’s iPhone from his coat pocket, him having in the wee hours of the morning earlier commandeered the device. He took his bearings, checked his directions one last time and they set off on foot through the maze of mostly dark narrow streets.

At that hour, they had the city pretty much to themselves. Apparently only tourists and those who catered to them did early mornings, and then seldom this early. But then like Vegas, Rome’s biggest business was tourism. More than 100,000 visitors a day descended on the city to partake of the art and architecture, ruins and monuments. They came for the history and the passion, to worship — of the retail as well as religious varieties. And for the food.

Frequently, Grissom checked the phone, ostensibly or so Sara gathered, to make sure they were going the right way. At least it proved easier to navigate via GPS here than it had been in the rain forests of Costa Rica. There were a few more signposts in any case.

The long line of hotels and shops eventually gave way to locales far less moderno as they followed the natural rise and falls of the sette colli di Roma. The iconic grand arcades of il Colosseo burned bright ochre in the emerging light. As the grounds were still closed, they skirted the periphery of the once great Roman Forum where la civiltà was born and Julius Caesar crowned dictator perpetuus — dictator for eternity– before he was assassinated a mere month later. Sadly, little remained of the Circus Maximus’ ancient chariot racing stadium apart from the grass-covered tracks.

Not that Sara saw much more than hurried glimpses of any of it. For whatever reason they rushed past. Although having seemingly sensed his wife’s baffled disappointment, Grissom did promise that they’d return later for a better look.

Up the Aventine Hill, along the tranquil Via di Santa Sabina, they followed the long stretch of graffitied mortar and brick wall until Grissom stopped short at a small opening in a rusted iron gate. Where exactly they were or how he’d even known how to find it, Sara had no clue. But through it proved to be their destination: the lush green haven of Parco Savello.

The gravel crackling noisily beneath their feet, they strolled a great deal more sedately now beneath the shelter and shade of the towering umbrella pines’ crooked parasols.

“I thought,” said Grissom by way of eventual explanation as they climbing the last couple of steps of an expansive terrace, arrived just in time to catch the sun begin to bathe all of Rome in gold, “you might like to see where we’re going.”

There were times when Gil Grissom could be quite the showman.

*******

Far more leisurely, the two of them explored the rest of the small oasis of oleander, pine, and orange trees that gave the garden its name.

Legend had it that it was here that St. Dominic planted Rome’s first orange tree, a sapling he’d brought from his Spanish homeland which had continued to inexplicably flourish for centuries.

Pausing to linger under the heavily flowered and fragrant boughs of an especially fine specimen of Citrus aurantium, Grissom let out a long, appreciative whisper of, “Paradise.”

Sara hummed in incomprehension.

“It’s paradise. Literally,” he said gesturing to their surroundings, rich as they were in mid spring’s blush and blossom. “From the French paradis and the Greek paradeisos, both from the Iranian or Avestan word pairi-daeza, an enclosed or walled garden. Just like this one. Hence paradise.”

Sara only smiled.  Not all that into exercises of futility, she had long ago stopped trying to come up with a subject her husband knew nothing about. And although she was not above teasing him about this fact, he was already fast intent on something else.

The better to breathe in deep the sweet, almost intoxicating fragrance, Grissom drew a low hanging branch nearer. He fondly fingered the fleshy white petals before burrowing his nose in them.

Like most scents, it defied easy description, for smell went beyond thought. Orange wasn’t exactly right, although he could almost feel the spritz of the fruit being peeled; taste the sticky sweetness. But the blossoms were a scent something else entirely: heady, luxuriant, dizzily intoxicating. This close, he could practically feel the scent on his skin.

Awash and overcome, he closed his eyes and was momentarily transported beyond time and space. The clear, white Roman morning light suddenly burned brighter, warmer. The crash and retreat of ocean waves replaced the distant whir of traffic. And in his mind’s eye, he saw her: Sara, the hint of blue shimmer to her dress flashing like the iridescence of a butterfly’s wing. Her one hand shielding her eyes from the glare of the setting sun dropping to take his outstretched one as she descended the stairs. How the warmth in her voice matched the light in her eyes and the brightness of her smile, radiant as she was. And in her hair, streaked honey from all the sun, she’d humored him and tucked a cluster of orange blossoms in the curls behind each ear so that when he’d leaned in to kiss her for the first time as husband and wife, their bouquet had wafted over him.

Then later, in the faint flicker of lamplight, the petal’s softness had caressed his fingertips as he eased them from her hair. The brush of her lips on his, the hot taste of her mouth. The breath of a sigh that became a moan. And accidentally crushing the flowers beneath them as they made love that night, the redolence only heightened in the air, mingled with the musk and sweat and sensation of skin on skin.

The remembrance had taken all of the five second span of a single inhale and exhale of breath, though it had felt far longer and shorter all at once. Back in the present, the heart thundering breathlessness gave way to a measure of hope and joy and peace.

Grissom motioned for Sara to come closer to smell for herself. Which she did, leaning over his shoulder, her body close to his, so close, he could feel the rise and fall of her chest, the tickle of her in and expiration. The act itself both simultaneously utterly innocent and intimate.

Real and alive and present in the here and now as she was, Sara proved altogether far more overpowering than any memory. The contact caused an explosion of sensations Grissom had only relatively recently become au fait with.

Often, perhaps too often, she’d done that, affected him just by being near. Had, truth be told, ever since they’d first met. Grissom would have thought that a decade of proximity would have tempered the sensation; it never had.

He turned to watch the pleasure play about her face, wondered for a moment if she was remembering much the same as he had done.

When her eyes reopened, he whispered, “You’re still mi media naranja.”

The other half of my orange. My other half. Better half.

And Sara’s earlier affectionate grin turned tender at this simple, unadorned, unlooked for declaration of love that was frequently of the sort her husband tended to favor and which never failed to stop her heart and make her smile. Although it wasn’t as if these days Gil Grissom didn’t say or do six seemingly inexplicable things even before breakfast.

She touched his cheek, her thumb tracing its familiar route there before replacing her hand with a light, yet long, lingering kiss.

Then for only him to hear, she murmured, “I love you,” into his ear.

When she drew back, they were both beaming.

“See,” he said, “paradise.”

*******

To be continued in Another Paradise and a Stairway to Heaven

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