From the Tiber to the Clyde: Defying Space-Time on a March Day, 2018-2019

Rome, March 2018

It’s a Saturday morning. Temperatures are close to twenty degrees. The two pomegranate trees around my house are in bloom, and the fields around the neighbourhood are constellated with wildflowers. I am sipping tea near the kitchen window, waiting for my sister and her family to show up so that we can all go to the park as we had agreed. Their arrival is not a subtle affair: my niece and nephew announce it by intermittently ringing the bell in intervals of ten seconds while merrily shouting variations of: ‘Come down, zia Emanuela! Come, zia!’ I greet them from the window, quickly finish drinking my tea and rush down the stairs. After a few minutes of chaotic salutations, which somehow end up turning into an improvised meetup of some of the street’s most iconic elderly residents, we get in the car and leave. The park is bright and animated, and we spend a few lovely hours playing and running around. On our way back, my niece puts her head on my shoulder and asks me why is it that I had to go and study in Scotland when there are so many schools in Rome: ‘they’re good, I promise, I go to one of them! No need to go to Scotland. They speak English there, don’t they? I have been learning some, zia, listen! One, two, three, four, five, six, eleven, eight…’ She then stops and tells me she doesn’t want me to go away. Not knowing how to reply, I resort to blabbering and bring her a little closer. My nephew, who is not even two years old, is eating chocolate and playing with his little toy car on the other side of the backseat. My flight to Glasgow is in less than ten days, and I feel a bit sick.

All the Subaugusta subway station clocks announce it’s 4.03 pm. I have just got off the train to meet my best friend, whom I haven’t seen in months. I head to the nearby Meo Pinelli café and there I find her, sporting mismatched socks and a bold oversized jacket she has probably borrowed from her grandma. She notices I’m here and messily finishes rolling her cigarette so that we can hug. Today is evidently a boisterous-public-greeting sort of day: we make a few heads turn with our loudness and then we head off, chatting the afternoon away while we wander around busy Via Tuscolana like we used to do many times a week throughout our teenage years. Being together feels extremely natural, and it is easy enough to trick myself into thinking nothing in our lives has changed much since high school. Via Tuscolana is always the same: all the shops are there, as well as the stands selling cheap books and jewellery, the unnerving traffic and the constant human flow.  We are delighted to notice that a very out-of-place seagull is still guarding Marcello’s corner fish shop. We wonder how many of them have succeeded one another in the task and she tells me that, now that she lives in Aberdeen and has had her breakfast stolen by seagulls many times, she will never be able to see them as unharmful creatures ever again. I start rambling about Glasgow’s pigeons, but I am actually thinking about the fact we used to know each other by heart like parts of The Waste Land we used to jokingly recite out loud at the most random moments, but now there are areas of undecipherability between us. The familiar background and the fact I could still write all of Eliot’s lines down but I don’t recognise her language and gestures anymore makes the realisation of this loss deeply strange.

Glasgow, March 2019

Caught in its orchestration of spring, the city, cold, windy, and yet increasingly luminous, appears to me like a vision of October and March combined. Though surrounded by brown-leaved bushes, some trees facing my flat are now tinted with pink, and highly symmetrical beds of flowers have been planted overnight all over campus: winter is over, we seem to have all decided. In an attempt to embody the collective conviction, I decide to wear a bright red coat to see my friend at the Botanic Gardens. It is sunny, so we sit on a bench near the herb garden. The last time we were here together was at the very beginning of term, and I take a moment to silently appreciate the casual symmetry inherent in our return to the place at its very end. As we converse about all sorts of things, she casually informs me of the fact she is going to spend the next academic year in Adelaide. The news is wonderful, but it also sends me into an uncomfortable state of hyper-awareness about the constant passing of time and evolving of circumstances. I tell her, and we start reminiscing about the not-so-old Murano days and fantasising about the future until we feel raindrops on our face and decide to eventually part. I should go to the library, but I end up collapsing on the couch in my flatmate’s room. He is not here. Surrounded by his posters and books and scattered clothes but on my own, I find myself thinking of our absolute ease around each other, and of how we will be living in different places next year and probably never going to be in such close coexistence again.  

It’s 7 pm and I am making dinner. My phone screen lights up with a notification: it’s my daily goodnight message from one of my aunts, consisting in a religious image with cheesy associated text. On this day of over-sensitiveness, the message, which I usually don’t pay much attention to, has the effect of sending me right back to Catania, the city where I was born and where she lives with other relatives of mine. I have not been to Sicily nor have seen her in more than three years, but both her and the place are very dear to me. I don’t know how spring looks like in Catania, but I can imagine it must not be that different from one of its average June days, just milder, softer. As I take my slightly burnt potato wedges out of the oven, my mind is taken over by images of the island the way it appeared to me in my summer-long vacations as a child: the persistent sunshine over our pink-walled family house; the towering, more-benevolent-than-threatening presence of Mount Etna as a constant background; the smell of my grandma’s roses, severed and meticulously arranged to adorn her small outdoors altar to the Virgin Mary; the sound of someone singing an obscene popular song or a melancholic ballad while they work in the garden. I then try to visualise my aunt taking her phone out after her evening prayers to wish me good night, and reflect on how the message triggered the vision in the first place, the vision itself gold-coated with nostalgia but ultimately grounding, reminding me of the fact there is somewhere beyond the geographical coordinates of Rome, Aberdeen, Adelaide, Catania, or Glasgow I can always go to, a mental place standing between my memories and my imagination in which all the people who left and are going to leave and whom I left and am going to leave can find their way back to me.


next column

previous column

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s