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A terrace on the sky

By Catherine ENJOLET Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese

We never know what surprises the past has in store.
We meet our destiny along the roads we take to avoid it. Clamors arise in the night. My thoughts scatter. Bells resound, tolling the 12 strokes of midnight. The sky sparkles. Fireworks over the city. The horizon is ablaze. Rome seen from above. January 1 on the
terrace of my hotel room. Handfuls of multicolored confetti swirl to the ground. Rome. Why choose to spend the New Year here, alone? Fires crackle. The hilltops glow. Laughter, voices animate the night in bursts. From the Villa Medicis park, scents of the earth rise. Rome as a way to forget Paris? To take stock? To mark a change for my 40th birthday? My gaze seeks to seize, to hold on to everything. Instant unlike any other. My heart soars above the rooftops.

Flashes of light illuminate the high facades, casting strange glimmers. Theatrical. A celestial production… I hardly feel the night’s biting cold. The first hours of the year ring with lilting cries from surrounding neighborhoods and squares. The city applauds everywhere. Songs, foreign tongues of tourists calling to one another resound here and there. Wishes rush through my mind. Be the moment without end. Live in the present. Echoes from churches reverberate. Enjoy just what is at hand… Could the pealing bells be a promise ? Happiness strikes. The horizon blazes, deepens, limitless. The city is teeming at my feet. I am seeing with God’s eyes. I wish to hold this instant. Here and now. Flowers and fruit bowls decorate the room, which opens onto the terrace. On the table sits an ice bucket and a greeting card from the management: Felice anno Nuevo de la Direction. “Year new.”

That’s exactly it! The wish for a different year. Let go. Free of pressure, be myself. Find myself. “You must belong to yourself in order to give yourself,” my friend had told me. “Offer yourself a break.” A new year, yes, as unexpected as this night. Sparkling like the glass of Champagne that I bring to my lips. An invitation to tomorrow. To the coming dawn. To days of exploring the city. Let myself be surprised at every turn. Eternal labyrinth.
Night of January 1 like a dream. A room of one’s own. An enchanting encounter with myself. On my balcony. A terrace on the sky. I hold my breath. Emotion swells. My heart beats wildly as if in anticipation. Flashes of light accelerate, altering the city.
Why Rome?
An accident?
Unbeknownst to us, chance often takes us where we need to go.
Beautiful Italian women wear long fur coats and sunglasses under an intensely blue sky. Broad daylight. In the early morning calm, I follow cobblestone streets down from the hills toward the Piazza di Spagna. I declined the map and directions kindly offered by the concierge. I want to wander as I please through the streets, freely follow my whims. Gracie mille. Take a right? Straight ahead? Neither decide nor control a thing. Let myself be guided by myself. Like this. I walk with the sure step of one who knows where she is going. I am surprised by my reflection in the shop windows. Where am I going “like this”? My footsteps resonate. Which will it be, shadows or the sunny side? In the silence of empty alleys, I hear myself advance, step by step. Toward what?
On the cobblestones, my shadow accompanies me, followed by pigeons cooing here and there. Laundry snaps in the windows above, veil-like sheets. I look up at the facades. I like to catch people at their windows. I observe everything around me as if seeking a sign.
A sign?
“Rome suits you, ochre and burnt sienna are your blonde Venetian colors,” my friend had said, envying me my journey. I choose streets like we choose memories. Past and present blend together, indistinguishable. Millenniums are joined. Street like a mirage. Each passer-by sees what he sees. The morning hour sends my steps toward the market. Without seeking them, I always come upon places full of life. Piazza Navona… Bellissima! Just follow the ladies with baskets, listen for the din, the cries. This way…here it is! The Campo dei Fiori market stalls extend to the café terraces all around. Tourists snap photographs, shoots frenetically, seize light. Around fountains, musicians invite a pause. Smiles are exchanged, gestures, bravos, words, fragment of every language. Side by side, different nationalities, all ages, meet. Lightly, the fountain underlines the silence. Bells punctuate the moment. I hold my breath. I don’t know why.
Colors of the fruit stands. Music. Fragrance of the flower stalls. Voices of merchants offering “prosciutto,” “parmigiano,” everything is mixed together. Every touch is enchanting. I could stay still, let myself be carried away by the flow of life. The light, the movement
intensify, make me giddy. I want to see and feel everything. Inexhaustible Rome. I feel like walking toward the forum, where the city spreads wide and opens its memory. There is no one near the ruins. Silence. No horn or engine; the tumult is distant. All around, cats reign on the visible layers of ruins. Open-air excavations, immense bowels, intimate and immodest. Figures slide by, from time to time, like the guardians of stone. Time beats. Palpable. Here and elsewhere. Steady. Floors, walls, cracks, columns talk. Endlessly. Thousand-year-old tales. Universal. I distance myself from the belated first groups of tourists. I follow my own steps, moving along the streets again as if I were going somewhere.

I avoid guides, the audio-guided masses densely crowding the cobbled streets. The calm of back alleys is never far off. Glistening gulls circle, drawing me toward the river. At some point in every city, I find the waterfront and instinctively follow the riverbanks, sitting for a moment, pausing as if at home, naturally. I let myself be led by the call of gulls along the Tiber. Near the Ponte Vittorio, I hear nothing but their deafening cries. Cross? I hesitate. “You’re going alone?” wondered my friends and family as I was preparing to leave. “With myself,” I heard myself reply, without thinking. A few days, yes. “Like this.” For nothing. Without knowing. Without a plan. Only for the pleasure. Without a schedule. According to whims, my own. With chance as my escort. Nearing the Vatican, I turn away from the hordes of tourists, the buses that clog the streets, blocking the horizon, masking the facades. I laugh to myself, feeling free. No matter the hour, I forgot my watch. Smiling, I move on to the rhythm of my desires, of “what tempts me.” I want to leave behind every “I must,” “I should.” Constraints, full schedules, and stress… finished! The only captain on board is me: I am the compass.

Sounds from artisans’ workshops remind me that here I am, in a neighborhood that I like, although I had not sought it out. A neighborhood where people really live, where merchants make their homes above their shops or in the backrooms, where neighbors call to one another, where antique dealers and artists animate the streets and locals walk their dogs. Ciao! I breathe, straighten up as if arriving somewhere unexpectedly… I am startled. Suddenly I shiver. I am captivated by a silhouette that passes. I am frozen, my mind goes blank. I am paralyzed. Passers-by jostle me. I no longer know where I am. I sense that I must go back and catch up with the figure. Quick ! Act. Run… Follow that unreal perfume, that uncertain walk. My head hurts. It’s her! My face is burning. My sight blurs. The street darkens. I don’t want to lose sight of her, I recognized her hair, red like no one else’s. I am suffocating. I am afraid of falling. I need to find again the gulls, but the narrow streets are hiding the sky. I want to hear my footsteps. It’s really me who is walking. Who is following the silhouette. I move sideways. It’s her! My mother.

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