Wednesday, June 1, 2016

From ‘four seasons in rome. On twins, insomnia and the biggest funeral in the history of the world’ by Anthony Doerr

…a headline from the newspaper: Marriage and Children Kill Creativity in Men? ……Here’s Einstein himself: “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so.”

…I ….read…..Pliny’s Natural History. He is half-genius, half-lunatic….The more pages I turn, the more I find an endearing sweetness in Pliny; he is so curious, so ardent. The elephant’s “natural gentleness toward those not so strong as itself,” he writes, “is so great that if it gets among a flock of sheep it will remove with its trunk those that come in its way, so as not unwittingly to crush one.”

Near the vegetable market we pass a man holding hands with a little girl. She gazes at the boys [twin boys of the author] with a bright, impersonal wonder. Her father whispers something to her as they pull even with us; she laughs; it is as if skeins of love are passing invisibly between them. And suddenly the gulf between me and the Italians of the neighborhood seems navigable ….

….a Tom Andrews poem… “The dead drag a grappling hook for the living. The hook is enormous”

“Habitualization,” a Russian army-commissar-turned-literary-critic named Viktor Shklovsky wrote in 1917, “devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war.” What he argued is that, over time, we stop perceiving familiar things – words, friends, apartments – as they truly are.

The oldest building in Rome with its original roof still intact is the Pantheon, rebuilt atop an older, fire-damaged temple by the emperor Hadrian around AD 125….Its doors are twenty-one feet high and weigh eight tons each. The sixteen columns on its porch are thirty-nine feet high and weigh about sixty tons each, roughly the weight of two fully loaded eighteen-wheelers, crushed and compacted into a cylinder five feet across. The columns…were quarried in eastern Egypt, dragged on sledges to the Nile, rowed across the Mediterranean, barged up the Tiber, and carted through the streets of Rome. They are ocean gray, flecked with mica, glassy and cold….The vault of the Pantheon is made of concrete and has a diameter of 143 feet…..For thirteen centuries, it was the largest dome in the world. For nineteen centuries, it has resisted lightning strikes and earthquakes and barbarians.

Neither [of the twins] seems very interested in food. Both want to be held all the time. Is this what it means to be a parent – to constantly fail to be in control of anything?

In 1890, in New York City, a drug manufacturer named Eugene Schieffelin, who wanted to make sure that every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays was introduced to America, released eighty starlings in Central Park. A hundred and fifteen years later the United States alone has 200 million – and angry wheat farmers and flocks sucked into jet engines and histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease that originates in starling feces.

….Christmas ….gifts …The Italian ones are easy to find: wrapped gloriously. The Italians could wrap a used textbook and make it look like gold and frankincense.

…..mushrooms, how the stems and caps we eat are only fractions of the real organism. The vast percentage of any mushroom, it turns out, lives underground, in a network of extremely fine fibers, or hyphae, that prowl the soil gathering nutrients. A single cubic centimeter of dirt might contain as much as two thousand meters of hyphae.
Rome is like that, I think. The bulk of it lies underground, its history ramified so densely under there, ten centuries in every thimbleful, that no one will ever unravel it all.

… are fifty times more likely to die on the roads in Rome than you are in Los Angeles or London.

Out here in Umbria, perhaps even more so than in Rome, you begin to get a sense of how long Italy has been home to humans. Everywhere we walk there are centuries-old groves and sleep-soaked farmhouses and ruins of walls.

Watching teething babies is like watching over a thermonuclear reactor – it is best done in shifts, by well-rested people.

A line from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead comes back to me. “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”

Olive oil was the muscle, hair tonic, soap, and lamp fuel of the Empire, the flavor of its meals, the illumination of its dramas…. Soothe a toothache, alleviate stretch marks, grease a chariot axle, cool your scalp, anoint a dead Christian…..

“Italians,” our friend…says “will stop anything for pleasure.” And the longer we’re here, the more we feel he’s right. Expresso, silk pajamas, a five-minute kiss; the sleekest, thinnest cell phone; extremely smooth leather. Truffles. Yachts. Four-hour dinners.

Romans discuss death over dinner; they wait in line to examine the corpses of their dead heroes; they take the arms of revered old parents and escort them through the parks on Sundays. Six or seven times, since coming to Italy, I’ve seen young people on park benches reading novels to grandmothers. I’ve seen hundred-year-old women picking stolidly through eggplants at the market…..

What is Rome? …..Its a feast every damned week. Its maddenly retail hours. It’s a city about to become half old-people’s home/half tourist museum. Its like America was before coffee was “to go,” when a playground was a patch of gravel, some cigarette butts, and an uninspected swing set; when everybody smoked; when businesses in your neighborhood were owned by people who lived in your neighborhood; when children still stood on the front seats of moving cars and spread their fingers across the dash. It’s a public health-care service that ensures assistance to both Italians and foreigners in an equal manner ……Its an economy in recession, the lowest birthrate in Europe (1.3 children per woman), 40 per cent of thirty-to thirty-four-year-olds still living with their parents. It’s a place where stoplights are open to interpretation, lattes should never be ordered after lunch, and a man is not considered a failure if he’s forty years old and still spinning dough in a pizzeria. It’s a country where parents let their kids play soccer in the streets and walk home from school unaccompanied, where your first thought when you see an adult man talking to a child in the street is not necessarily Child molester.

….from the poet Belli: “I’m not myself when I exert myself.”

Roma, they say, non basta una vita. One life is not enough.

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