In 2005 I spent three months in Rome. In some ways I have never left. Perhaps it sounds like a commonplace to say that I “left part of myself” in the Eternal City. But the fact is, I did. I returned to Rome once more, in the spring of 2007, when I proposed to my now-wife in Assisi, and I have not been back since. And yet, to this day there is hardly a week that goes by when I do not dream about Rome, and often these dreams recur far more frequently than that.
There is very little to tell about these dreams: usually I am alone, or with another person or group of friends, wandering through the cobblestone streets and alleyways of the city. It is not so much the events, but rather the mood of these dreams that so disturbs my sleep, and then my waking hours, so that I often feel the influence of their haunting beauty long after I have awoken.
Very often, in the curious manner of dreams, “Rome” looks nothing at all like the real Rome, and yet when I awake I am absolutely certain that I was dreaming about the Eternal City. This makes sense because Rome has become so much more to me than a city, even a very beautiful one: it has become an archetype, a symbol, an abstraction of beauty, both man-made and divine. And whenever I encounter such beauty in my dreams, whether it bears any resemblance at all to anything actually in Rome, it is categorized simply as “Rome.”
Our sleeping subconscious minds are far more skilled creators than our waking selves, and if I could show you the churches and basilicas and cafes and boulevards and parks and vistas that my imagination has cooked up in the small hours of the morning, you should see why I feel as if I am haunted by the Eternal City. And yet, for all of their ethereal beauty, I doubt that anything my sleeping imagination has concocted comes anywhere close to what the real Rome has to offer.
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