Ok one more shout out to The New York Times Style Magazine Letter to the Editor…for now at least! “Present Tense” by Hanya Yanagihara spoke to me because in it she discusses how different the sense of history is in the U.S. versus other parts of the world. She mentions Rome specifically and its deep history that is literally alive all around you. Growing up in Rome I had the unbelievable fortune of experiencing this everyday, without realizing the magnitude of it at the time.
Any first-time (or hundredth-time, for that matter) traveler to Rome can’t help but marvel at how lightly, and with what matter-of-factness, the Italians live among antiquities: A walk down the street is a stroll across thousands of years; the 2,000-plus-year-old Largo di Torre Argentina, excavated in the late 1920s, was where Caesar died, but it is also where the city’s cats congregate for a sun-drunk loll. Other cities would have placed such a monument in a museum, behind walls and off-limits — here, though, there is so much history that such an approach is impossible. Instead, the Italians have learned that every building, every structure, is a palimpsest, and that their lives within it, superannuated or brief, contribute another layer to its long narrative.
It’s true that Romans walk around their city with ease and a nonchalantness about their surroundings. I mean how lucky are they to have been plopped there by birth and can call that parcel of this world their home. How lucky was I?? And as Yanagihara points out, Romans contribute to their long, ancient history, in whatever finite way possible.
The oldness of a place like Rome, and the newness of the U.S. is apparent in the way that we, as Americans, approach our daily life, versus the Romans. The impatience and instant gratification of American culture is a testament to this. We don’t have a long history to look back on, and therefore looking forward, with a sense of restlessness, is the only way we know. Romans, on the other hand, take life as a stroll, literally and figuratively. They have such an extensive history to look back on and to reflect on how they got to where they are now, that they are not in a hurry to go anywhere. I think this is true in the larger scheme of things, but it is also apparent to anyone who visits Rome and has to slow down their pace to match that of the Romans. While this may be frustrating for Americans, I think slowing down is only a positive practice.