A Kind of Urban Love Song

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When I was about 4, we moved to Italy. We moved to Rome; our new house was across the street from Villa Borghese, a huge park, the former country house of the Prince of Rome... The scale, compared to the size of the city, is that of GoldenGate Park, or Central Park.

We moved  to Rome in February, from London. It had just snowed that winter, in London, the first time in 20 years. Miners were marching, every morning, in protest of Mrs.Thatcher’s reforms. In London it got dark at 3 pm, and I ate chicken potpie for supper in our cold, damp kitchen.

That year Ash Wednesday was in February, and so when we got there, it was Carnival season. No single Fat Tuesday for Italians, Carnival lasted several days-- even weeks, depending on the region. Masked balls, and gambling, in Venice; orange fights in Peimonte (no snow balls for them! ). In Rome the weekend family passegiatta was converted into impromptu child parades: girls and boys dressed like something out of Calvino’s fairy tales, throwing confetti, blowing party horns. Like Halloween, only no tricks, or fear,or darkness. Little girls wore hoop skirts, and embroidered over-skirts; the little boys dressed up as princes and captains.

My mother had begun reading King Arthur and the Round Table to me, at bedtime, back in London, and it was my one continuity there in this land of longer warmer days, and oranges and pasta for supper, and hugs from kind filipina ladies. When we went for our first weekend walk in the park across the street, I saw the princesses and knights and ladies and kings and thought I had fallen into the book. I thought little children dressed this way always, and I fell in love with Rome right there and then. It was like living in a fairy tale, only one where it was always warm, and there were always good things to eat, someone there with a hug. No witches, unless you counted the lady who brought presents at Christmas. A very Italian fairy tale, I suppose. Suffused with positive magic.

As an adult, I’ve come to realize that almost any environment or landscape holds it’s own magic: we just have to be alive to it. And as a parent I’ve come to realize that it is so much easier for kids to be alive to that magic: it is real and constant for them. They don’t need trips to Rome-- or Disneyland--the magic is here and now.

It is a blessing to be a parent in this city and have a little guide to remind me of the wonders of cable cars, fire engines, towers, wide open fields, butterfly hunting.

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