If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went—
Then you may count that day well spent.
But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay—
If, through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought sunshine to one face—
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost—
then count that day as worst than lost.
—George Eliot, Count That Day Lost
look here, along via giulia, where aristocrats lived, as well as famous artists who created great works for some of rome's palaces and cathedrals—men like raphael, cellini and borromini—for a close-up view of renaissance urban planning. what mankind accomplishes! the year 1508: this street would be the longest (1 km) and straightest rome had ever seen.
look up. michelangelo's arco dei farnese. the arch was supposed to connect the palazzo farnese with the villa farnesina directly opposite across the tiber river, but that feat of grandeur never happened. maybe the money ran out. who knows. now there is only this lovely, ivy-covered section of michelangelo's impressive design spanning the street above our heads.
further along via giulia, a stone face mounted on a wall, also from the renaissance—as is so much in old rome—the interesting fontana del mascheroni, fountain of the mask. the chin and lower lip are stained a sick green like a verdant vomitus from the mouth where water spews out. they say the fountain flowed with wine in the old days when via giulia was known for its street parties.
see that heap of clothes on the park bench in the piazza benedetto cairoli on via arenula (benedetto was once prime minister of italy)? in front of another burbling fountain? it's a man. men sometimes sleep here during the day, sometimes at night. when it rains they disappear. the unmistakable odor of urine permeates the exterior of a shed in the corner of the park.
on the ponte sant' angelo, be sure to notice a head-to-toe bronze metallic statue man sitting with a bronze umbrella over his head. another guy with a large brimmed hat is spray painted entirely black. unmoving. they really look like real statues. human statues in this city of statues. i saw them yesterday near the forum on the via dei fori imperiali.
don't miss the man—it's always men, never women—who plays "drums" on many various-sized plastic pots and buckets. he's quite good. the sign beside his money jar reads donations for a real set of drums.
in the campo de' fiori square, location of rome's oldest outdoor produce market (since 1869—it was previously used for public executions), observe a talented musician who strolls among the market vendors and serenades the tourists with his guitar. after a few songs he walks toward the ristorante tables and around the scurrying waiters to where tourists sit with their cups of espresso and glasses of wine. he smiles and holds out a cup of his own. i offer a few coins—grazie, grazie—and smile right back at him.
humanity in a foreign city. foreign, but the same. linked points of humankind—everybody, anybody, me, you, him, her, them—connected to one another under the same setting sun.