How do you fall in love with a city? I've fallen in love with a few of them: London, Venice, Istanbul. I fell in love with London before I ever got there, so when I did get there, I don't think I even saw the London of today. It seemed as if I already knew it like the back of my hand. Everywhere I went, familiar names called out to me. Baker Street, Bloomsbury, Tower Bridge. The Clink. The Clink!? Well, that explains that. Istanbul. I'd built the Hagia Sofia right along with Guy Gavriel Kay as he was writing The Sarantine Mosaic, but it was also redolent with the magic of the crossroads, of ancient ways and closed courtyards. There wasn't a cobblestone in Istanbul that didn't remember more than I'll ever be able to forget. Venice. I knew little to nothing of Venice. I was there for less than 24 hours. At least a third of that time asleep. The rest of the time it was raining. But I fell in love the way one does with a fleeting smile from a stranger you will never see again.
For a time in my adolescence - not knowing Rome in any but the sketchiest way - I longed to be a Roman expatriate ... I was nuts about the idea of Rome ...
Most of all - and this is something that Rome has in quantities that my particular loves can only dream of - he fell in love with art:
[An elderly Jesuit from his school in Australia, who traveled to Rome from time to time] would bring back postcards, sedulously and with obvious pleasure gleaned from their racks in various museums and churches ... : Caravaggios, Bellinis, Michaelangelos.
It was art that brought him, eventually, to Rome where, before laying eyes on so much as one Rafael, he realized that right there in front of him was the most important work of art in the entire city. The city itself.
Nothing exceeds the delight of one's first immersion in Rome on a fine spring morning ... The enveloping light can be of an incomparable clarity, throwing into gentle vividness every detail presented to the eye. First, the color, which was not like the color of other cities I had been in. Not concrete color, not cold glass color, not the color of overburned brick or harshly pigmented paint. Rather, the worn organic colors of the ancient earth and stone of which the city is composed, the colors of limestone, the ruddy gray of tufa, the warm discoloration of once-white marble and the speckled, rich surface of the marble known as pavonazzo, dappled with white spots and inclusions like the fat in a slice of mortadella.
I remember those colors, and if I'd had Hughes' critical eye I might have seen them so. I might have fallen in love with Rome the way I fell in love with Venice. With the color of the stones and the quality of the light on a rainy day.
is all of that. Hughes gives us his personal history of Rome, from the fables of Romulus, Remus, and Aeneas to the fabulous Berlusconi, skimming swiftly over politics and personalities in order to settle down every few pages with a building, a fountain, a painting, a statue. With the stuff that matters. With the stuff that remains.