Wednesday, November 14, 2012


it wasn't until the next day, after jet lag had subsided and i could properly take in the neighborhood where we were staying, that i noticed dense stucco-like patterns spattered on objects in very specific areas around the ponte sisto, along lungotevere dei vallati, up via arenula and into the park near our hotel.

i like to think of what i saw as organic graffiti, but these graffiti artists didn't arrive stealthily in the middle of the night armed with spray paint. they arrived promptly at 4:45 in the afternoon and their work was brazen and bold and loud, loud because there were so many of them.

what were they called? where did they come from? why were they here?

i should have noticed the clue—a foretelling right there on the wall—when i opened my eyes after that first delicious sleep. a previously unnoticed golden hued print of a flock of black birds (no artist's name given) hung near the left side of the bed.

after a day of gorging on seeds and bugs, anything in the fields outside the city, tens of thousands of starlings could be seen, and heard—this is called murmuration, the indistinguishable blending of all those bird wings and voices which, the first time i heard it, i thought was rain—heading back to rome to roost in the large plane trees that lined the tiber river and the park outside our door.

the birds swirled and glided, swooped and dropped over the rooftops like sooty snowflakes, each movement in their ever expanding and contracting ballet fascinating and mysterious to those for whom it was a novelty. to the locals, the birds were merely messy pests.

truly wise people opened their umbrellas when walking for more than a minute under a canopy of trees vibrating—yes, and i mean vibrating—with starlings. the birds' bellies were, after all, full from a day of feasting.

unless, that is, they didn't mind becoming stuccoed like the sidewalks and cars, and the occasional head or handbag.

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