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Louis Couperus

From white cities below blue sky: Ostia

April 1911


When the poetic scholar, that Gaston Boissier was, has written, some time ago, a very complete article about Ostia, in his new PROMENADES ARCHÉOLOGIQUES, this should not stop me, who is not a scholar and not an archaeologist, but is only aware inside of a great love, a deep intimate feeling for the ruins of antiquity, in my turn in words to recount what I saw and felt during a day of rambling through the remains of streets, palaces and temples of this formerly famous, ancient port city of Rome. Not just, that anyone, who is receptive to the poetry, which lies in ruins, which hovers over ruins, which vibrates in the blue sky surrounding ruins, in HIS turn may receive a personal impression of the moving beauty of those crumbling walls and columns and of those cracked mosaic floors - also the latest excavations, the latest findings always justify a younger writer to give in words the impression that the newest and latest made on him, also after thorough study of the great scholar, whom death has denied seeing Ostia again after the discovery of the sublime mosaic of the Baths and the Winged Victory, at the gate!

And if the story of my day at Ostia does not have the pretention to be the archaeological study of an ÉRUDIT, it will fascinate the reader a bit for a short while, being the grateful remembrance of a delightful day, that I with my reader would now so readily like to relive in mind ...

***

Ostia is not easy to reach - at least relatively. Because there is a small train to Fiumicino, but there it is hard to get an apposite vehicle and the distance to Ostia along a dusty naked road can perhaps be overcome by a brave pedestrian, but is not enticing the lazy dreamer, who I am and always will be. So if there is not a car in front of the door, then - I repeat - Ostia is not easy to reach, because, even with a good horse, a Roman VETTURINO would need more than four hours - to get there and back - to bring you to Ostia. This is a lot: this is long, tedious, tiresome. However, if there is an automobile in front of the door, when the nice little chauffeur of an absent friend comes to offer you the car in the name of his master to carry you to wherever you will - but with this draconian condition, that thou itself mayest not contribute a soldo to the costs, that the trip will bring with it - then Ostia is ... oh, so easy to get to! Then the distance to Ostia is ... no distance: the little more than twenty kilometers to be devoured in just half an hour!

So it happened, my absent friend had already informed me with a letter and ... half an hour after his letter, the little chauffeur, also informed by a letter of his master, stood for me, and the car was at my service ...

And at once it cheered up in me:
- Let us go to Ostia!
- Vico, said my wife, always a little afraid of the 'king of the roads': you will be very careful driving? Just as careful as the SIGNORE does it himself?
- Yes ma'am , yes ma'am, Vico reassured; you really do not have to be afraid with me ...
- Will you watch out for the cows, the horses, the old women and terrified chickens?
- Yes really ma'am, yes really ma'am! the little chauffeur reassured; I'll drive just as calmly as the signore does ...

Unfortunately, I myself know NOTHING of the secret of automobiles! I myself have a holy ignorance of everything that is 'machine'. Even a locomotive, - known to you reader for years and years, is it not -, even the sewing machine of my wife, even my own watch ... are incomprehensible mysteries for me and have always been ... How much more so, such a miraculous automobile! There is something mystical for me in an automobile, something to kneel down for and to worship ... An engine? I do not know what it is ... what I know about a car is, that the thing moves by itself, if there is someone at the wheel, who is familiar with the sacred science of steering ... and that it then happens very quickly, amazingly quickly, stupefyingly quickly. I do not know more about 'the car', but that knowledge is enough for me ...

***

It was April and it was the golden spring. The cloud of dust, which we left behind us, was like a golden cloud of gods, and around us the wide landscape floated in a finely sieved rain of powdery gold that kept filtering between warring white and gray clouds. Between the gray and white cloud masses the azure sky-swirls bored their way and always that sky was one as of a transfiguration: each time it seemed that angels would loom out of those swirls, that an elevated figure of god would glorify itself between those clouds ... The sky of the great, mystical paintings of the Renaissance: Raphael, Titian paint the sky in that way - warring clouds over blueing swirls - when they want to depict the sky of the ecstasy of Ascensions and how often, this spring, did we see - in front of us! - the sky in that way ...

That was the distant, heavenly vision ... When our gaze dropped, then that radiant ecstasy gave way to the sweet softness of springteeming earth ... because it was like a teeming of light, of young green, of spring, over the landscape wide ... The green meadows stretched out and they were gold dotted with buttercups ... Between the buttercups grazed the great herds of wide-out horned buffalos and their shepherds, around them, mounted the whinnying horses. Behind that mighty upholstering of the landscape the mountains faded in lines of light - when I turned and stared through our gold-powdery cloud of gods ... in front of us the road became smoother, and its white ribbon became tender green due to the light, that sieved among the young chestnut and oak trees: golden yellow the still half closed or very tender leaves against the increasingly blueing azure-sky. There the yellow blonde, broad flood of the Tiber, the sacred river, next to us ... And all that gold and blue beauty was like a dream, a wide dream, a dream, just to continue, to keep continuing ...

***

Suddenly ...
Furious shouting by a peasant on horseback ...
Vico, impressed, now fearing especially for the life of the SIGNORA, who is always so anxious, slows down his delirious speed, smooth as a ray of glass, which would continue to shoot through the unobstructedness of the azure sky itself ...
- Slowly! Slowly! yells the farmer on horseback. Do you not see, damned devil ... that I have the colt on a rope???
And he shows with a disgusted gesture the yet rugged, happy hopping colt, that he pulls behind him, on a rope ...
Rage of Vico ... Deluge of Roman ARGOT to and fro between Vico at wheel and farmer on horseback ... Then the contempt of the boasting LITTLE CHAUFFEUR for such a dumb farmer, who wanted, that WE would slow down ... for his newly born and perhaps skittish colt ... the gesture, with which he pulls his shoulders, looking back at us with all the irony that he feels for his absolutely useless 'delay', a jerk, a nip of my wife in my leg, and ...
Again we shoot forth as the ray of glass would shoot forth, rushing quickly through the unobstructedness of the azure sky itself ...

***

A nice, gracefully reinforced castle, suddenly, with the arms of Pope Julius II, suddenly looms in front of us, as the backdrop of a great opera, crenellated battlements and towers ... and after a few minutes Vico stops in front of the INGRESSO DEGLI SCAVI.

We step out and Vico at the inn will surely eat a plate of macaroni, while we, armed with white paper parcels cold lunch, enter the old city.

It is the desolation. We walk on an antique street, paved with large, everywhere cracked antique paving stones and there is no one but we ... It is deadly quiet around us and our sensation is very strange: on these same large, cracked paving stones has once moved the colorful, noisy bustle of the ancient population of Ostia: seafarers, sailors, ship-owners and masters of ships, rich grain merchants and priests of Mithras, corporations of artisans, girls of Alexandria and street boys of the neighborhood: carts on four wheels, carts on two wheels, trucks and sedans, in which important merchants, preceded by ink black slaves ... All this has here teemed against and alongside each other and shouldered: the whole TRAFIC of a busy port and trading place: yes, the port and the grain emporium of Rome itself: Rome, which without grain from Egypt, threatened to die of starvation ...

And now ... the desolation, the deadly quiet around us, whose steps just momentarily resound over that, once having borne all that TRAFIC -, pavement, while aside the remains - walls and foundation - of the excavated houses are ghosting up it seems in the sun ... For centuries this city, decayed slowly, neglected, abandoned because of the fevers, roaming along the Tiber as evil spirits - remained buried under a high accumulation of debris, under a mountain of earth and sand and dust: hardly, here and there, a higher temple wall was sticking out, and recalled Ostia ... The Tiber itself seemed to have left Ostia; his blond waters of god, that along the once thriving port carried out to sea, were deviated, changed in the course of centuries their course, hugged closely the Holy Island, where once had risen the temples, ordained to the beneficent gods, and even flowed over, where once houses and warehouses had lined up ...

The resurgent love for antiquity has finally wanted to know in the last years of the last century what might have been left of Rome's beautiful harbor town under that mountain of earth and sand and dust and now, before our eyes, a large part of the city lies exposed. And they continue working and they keep digging up, and I see, with one look, on the map of Boissiers so very nice study, that the WHOLE of this part of town, where we are now wandering, had not been unearthed when Boissier wrote his study ...

We sit down on a fallen pillar: we try to orient us in our guide books ... It is in vain ... On the map of Boissier ... NIENTE! Suddenly, between two pillars rising into the ether, apparently left of a square-going portico, appears a custode, taps militarily on his cap, and then moves away discreetly, as if not to bother the studying FORESTIERI ...

- If you want to you can help us, I call out to him; because I cannot work it out without you, you know ... I do not know where I am, what I see ...
He is approaching , kind and clever.
- I'd like to believe it, sir, the military custode replies; this whole area - he swings his hand - is not yet described in any guide book whatsoever - these excavations were done not even two years ago, some even date back to three months ago ...
- And can you show us around, dear friend?
- Very pleased, sir ... A few days ago I guided our king here and he did not recognize the lot anymore as well: so much has changed, everywhere so many new things have been discovered ...
- Then let us begin ... Where are we?
- This square piazza was the palestra, which belonged to the great Baths ... to do gymnastics, after the bath ...
Widely the square piazza bakes in the sunshine, which has prevailed over the warring clouds ... Some columns melancholize softly against the sky.
- And here, whispers my guide discreetly in the ear, are the public latrines ...
- Can I again not join you? calls my wife, already accustomed, that when a CUSTODE whispers like that, there is something to see ... just 'for gentlemen' - as it is always the case in Pompeii ...
- I do believe that you can join us, I call back.
And we enter the public latrines ... Is it not quite curious now to go on this floor of these ancient, public latrines? A square area, around a deep gutter, above that still the long masonry of the 'thrones'; in front, the narrower channel, for what the custode timidly describes as the PICCOLI BISOGNI; out there still very clearly the fountain, with the ducts of the running water ...
- Now everything is purer ... in our time ... explains the custode; formerly that just flowed away ...
Really, there are no bad smells anymore ... Above our heads, in the victorious blue, the swallows are circling and chirping ...

***

- And here, says the CUSTODE, are the Baths, which barely a few months ago have been unearthed ...

Scarcely more than the outline of the old structure, but what is this much for whom in imagination is able to raise the arcades, the arches, the columns ... until suddenly, no imagination, but reality, the Triumph of Neptune expands to our eyes, our feet, precisely clear white and black: a large, square mosaic, completely unscathed: Neptune with the trident, among numerous fantastic sea monsters, and then, in that smaller room - I think: in that smaller structure - the Triumph of Amphitrite, the sea goddess riding her seahorse, among many Nereids, tritons, dolphins ... These two mosaics, over which the feet of the bathers of Ostia have dragged their sandals, now lie before our eyes bare, black and white, with the clear portrayal of water deities honoring mythology, and they are of that harmonious, calm, clear beauty, that almost always characterizes the art of the ancients ...

Art? Was such a floor mosaic considered 'art' in those old days of great taste and throughout penetrated, almost unconscious artistry? Or were these triumphs of Neptune and Amphitrite perhaps nothing more than a simple floor decoration, and were they not found in other Baths as well, in Pompeii, in Baiae, in Antium ...? Were they meant as something more than tasteful decoration? I do not believe it. They were hardly intended as 'art'. They were no more than ornamentation of the floor in the main halls of the public Baths. The architects of the Baths, assisted by their clever workmen, gave probably no more than general guidance, sketchy drawings how Neptune, how Amphitrite was to be portrayed ... But to our modern eyes these mosaics are wonderfully beautiful 'art' and they became that, without the architects and workmen thinking of 'art' for a moment. They did not want to give more than a fitting, tasteful floor, over which the sandals would be dragged of the Ostian loungers, or the hurried pace of a, for a moment avoiding his business and quickly wanting to bathe, grain merchant or wine salesman made the soles crack with more energy ...

These remains of walls are of the ancient Barracks of the Firemen: clues were found in the marble and on the lead of the water pipes ... Altars have been unearthed there, dedicated to various emperors, and because we are hungry, we very disrespectfully open our white paper packets and set out our cold lunch on the altar dedicated to the young Gordian ... I hoist myself up on a piece of wall, leaving my wife the comfort of a Corinthian capital, and so we eat, while our CUSTODE, at some distance, smokes a philosophic little pipe. Above us the swallows fly in more nervous circles ... suddenly the sky darkens ... a cold wind starts to blow ... now what: will our day in Ostia be spoiled by merciless elements ...

But it is nice, those heavy shadows, those sudden glooms over the ruins, those threats as of a Fate over a stricken city ... Especially because, soon after, the sun breaks through, the good, golden sun triumphs and drives back the clouds, resembling the fleeing Eumenides. Between the clouds drill again deep blue swirls, the heavenly abysses full of azure, and in the now streaming sunlight rises better again, softly white like a dream, like a white shadow, the vision in front of us, of the city, SUCH AS SHE WAS ...

Before she became a ruin ... In this sudden sunlight stretch out the streets, rise on either side houses and temples up ... Here lived the distinguished merchants, the rich grain traders, the wealthy shipowners of merchant ships ... We enter one of their homes ... A graceful little TRICLINIUM still rises around us with red walls, where on tender fresco ... Centuries ago among these same walls the shipowner or grain trader dined with wife, with a couple of children ... His family was small ... His dining room was elegant, but without much room ... In this other house are no more frescoes on red walls, but beautiful mosaic floors were found: a Medusa head; a Europa, seducing the Bull ...

We wander from house to house ... A small temple of Venus is not more than an outline of foundation, a piece of wall, and then, moving, in the center, an altar, on which very clearly: VENERI SACRUM ... Who knows, how sacred and wanted this little Venus temple was, by the navigators and sailors ... it was perhaps served by two, three priestesses, who were busy receiving the offerings of the, every day in Ostia's harbor arrived, sailors. They received a lot of love and a lot of gifts, exotic, from over the sea, in honor of the goddess ... The small temple chambers were always busy, because there was always a new ship ... And the first walk of the seafarer, of the sailor, was to the small temple, where love was worship; his first piety, ashore, was dedicated to Venus and her two, three priestesses; only then did he visit the HETAIRAI, the other beautiful, cheerful girls, but who were not priestesses and satisfied with less precious gift, than he had left in the temple ...

It was a very small temple: VENERI SACRUM ... But I imagine it like this: very beautiful, very rich, attended ... It was in the shadow of the larger Mithraeum, where we now enter ... To this ruin walls were added, it was covered, in order to preserve the antique of it ... The pigeons of Venus also fluttered about the strange, Persian, mysterious Mithras temple ... Here the bull was sacrificed and its blood flowed away, in that groove . .. Here also human sacrifices, but only as a symbol, were accomplished . A narrow passage between masonry seats, for the initiated ... On the seats the signs of the Zodiac, in mosaic ... Strange, exotic, symbolic piety, from over the sea, for the much travelling, pious sailor, who had gotten to know Mithras and wanted to honor him also at home, at Ostia, near Rome ... But the temple is not large, seems more appropriate for intimate devotion than for large services of a dense crowd ...

Outside the sun blinds us. We now approach a large, square piazza, and suddenly I see it rise, before me, AS IT WAS: yonder theater, semi-circular amphitheater, and behold, still reality, we see the tragic and comic masks, sculpted, grinning at what is left of the masonry; in the middle of the piazza, the temple of Ceres, a square colonnade around it; under the colonnade, the guild houses of various corporations, through the floor mosaics clearly recognizable: that of the grain buyers, indicated by the mosaic of their grain measures; that of the wine and oil traders ... And here too is the EMPORIUM of those wine and oil merchants: oh see, the great storage jars, half buried in the ground, are still preserved for us and visible ... and tangible: they are now either empty - excavated those giant barrels - or filled with debris and left that way, because the excavating of some led to bursting ...

The EMPORIUM is clearly, clearly visible ... The slaves fill the storage jars with the purple and blonde oils and wines; the slaves, with long pipes, fill the amphorae, which are lying there in sherds, and the merchants, weighty, calculate their profit and the buyers shake the heads and say, that the times are expensive ...

Here we are near the Market ... Before we go to market, the CUSTODE leads us for a minute inside a little inn ... Reader, I speak of temples, houses, EMPORIA , market and little inn: do not forget, that what the dry, arid reality is ... is nothing more than a piece of wall, a square structure, a cracked mosaic, sometimes preserved under a little roof or a plate of zinc ... But in the magic of the sunshine vibrates up the ancient vision ... In the magic of the sunshine we have seen the temples of Venus, Mithras and Ceres, the EMPORIUM ... and now this small, nice little inn: behold, there is a floor mosaic and it says BI-BE, flanking a cup.

But now we are on the Market, a large, square area: there were shops of edibles around it, sails were stretched over the market itself ... They are digging: there is continuous work ... we are approaching, very curious:

- Aren't you finding anything? I ask the workers.
They shake their heads laughing and one says:
- We do not find a VITTORIA ALATA every day ... as we found three months ago ...
- Where is she anyway? I ask curiously.
But the CUSTODE, reassuring:
- You will see her, sir, you will see her ...
- And, says the nice workman: if the FORESTIERI themselves want to search for antiquities ... then they most certainly will find a few things ... there in that debris, which we throw out ...
- Verily true? we both ask.

And a fever, an agitation animates us, maniacal FORESTIERI ... For a moment I think, that the workers are fooling us a bit ... And laugh back kindly, to give myself a posture ... But my wife, very keen to FIND SOMETHING ... has already knelt down at the rubble ... Her fingers, her parasol are scurrying cautiously between debris, sherds, sand and dust, but dust, sand, sherds and debris, centuries old, CENTURIES old ...

- Look! she suddenly cries out jubilantly.
And she lifts, red of pleasure ... a broken earthen little lamp ... a real, ancient, broken, earthen little lamp!!!
- Truly?? I say. Did you find something?
- A little lamp! A little lamp! she cheers.
And she asks the workers:
- Can I keep it?
- Yes, SIGNORA, they answer; you can keep it!
- Didn't you lay down the little lamp ... I ask sceptically, there quietly ... for the FORESTIERI??
They laugh.
- No, really, sir, says the CUSTODE; such lamps the excavators find in the dozens among the ruins ... And now should you not find something, as the SIGNORA has done ... often between the rubble are nice pieces of glass ...
I kneel in my turn and search, carefully, among the rubble ...
And ...
- Look, I say; What is THAT?? Is it an unknown gem ... what I have found?
I show a glass shard, but a shard of glass, which is overpowdered with azure dust and gold dust; glass, that sparkles and iridescences like a strange gem: in the sunshine it tingles as sapphire and topaz, which pounded together would have changed there into a new treasure, enchanting and not for sale in the shops of the jewelers ...
- It is antique glass, says the CUSTODE; and look ... here I have also found a shard ...
He offers me a second shard, but this one is green and brown, like emerald and beryl and fierce chrysolite ...
- That is so beautiful! That is so beautiful! we both exclaim. You also see shards like that in museums, behind glass ...
- Yes, sir, says the CUSTODE, because ... you see ... that oxidation, which gives all those pretty colors ... powders by just watching ...
It is true ... I look at my fingers: they shine as if I have played with butterflies; azure dust and gold dust, emerald powder and grit of beryl and chrysolite nebulize off my clothes ... and the glass shards themselves are already less magic matter, have already become more weathered glass ...
- Quickly! I say to my wife ... A piece of paper, a handkerchief ... careful!!!
As if they were priceless jewels, pearls resulting from rainbow and sea foam, we pack into a piece of paper - left over from our lunch - the glass shards, then pack them in a handkerchief, then store the handkerchief in my wife's bag ...
Reader, while I write now ... I had a short look at my magic gems ... They were lying on cotton, in a little box ... And they sparkled, blurred, shimmered, powdered still of gold dust, azure dust and little opal butterflywing atoms ... But, unfortunately, much less than when we found them in the rubbish at Ostia, on the market: from poplar admiral wings they had become the wings of a dragonfly, so that they are still very pretty and I will just keep my shards ...
Like my wife, proudly, keeps her antique little lamp.

***

We rested on the steps of the Temple of Jupiter - or of Vulcan: the god who was honored here, cannot be identified with certainty: a high temple, seen everywhere from Ostia's ruins rising itself: reddish, brown walls, with a high staircase, from the treads of which we dream out over the landscape, and now our guide leads us back and along the Tiber. And it is an idyllic walk, that going over the grass along the blonde waters of the holy river, on whose other side the Isola Sacra expands ... Boissier received of this landscape a melancholic impression, but I rather see a soft sweet idyll than some tragic melancholy. Such an impression depends on light, air, on autumn or spring, especially on one's own mood. Now it is spring and over the Isola Sacra glisten large golden surfaces of buttercup exuberancies: the grass is fresh, green and swaying tall; the river is fresh, yellow and streaming wide; the light is sifted soft sunny from the sky, in which keeps going on the battle between cloud and azure. The air alternates again and again and the light alternates again and again and over the Isola Sacra alternate the great shadows and the great light fields, where thousands of golden flowers shine. Beautiful buffalos graze there and they give Old Testamentic solemnness to the idyll of the lovely landscape, that sometimes we see only glimmering through the long haulms that abound in the river ...

And the yellow waters, that changed their course over the centuries, the yellow waters now stream here and along there, yes through the ruins of the houses of the ancient grain traders. These ruins on and in the water, they indicate, in the soft blond colored idyll, the melancholic seriousness, as if the waters of the stream were the waves of Time itself, which we see overflowing the Past ... Yes, this simple, wide, soft blonde landscape is full of mood, full of devotion, full of thought on what has been. The Legend too walks in front of us here, with light, white feet through the high grass and blue forget-me-not ... The Legend, she hums for us on her double flute about the Vestal Claudia, who pulled forth with her veil the ship, on which the sacred image of the Mother of the Gods from Pessinonte was brought to Rome; ship, which for mysterious reasons got stuck at the mouth of the Tiber, until Claudia with her veil lightly dragged the heavy vessel along the waters and so did prove her maligned innocence ...
She has walked here, Claudia; her veil dragged along such haulms; the ship glided there, those yellow waters up ...

- Where is the sea? I ask.
Our guide has a vague hand sweep. The sea has far, far retired ... From here we do not even see the sea.
- But these ruins we call the Palazzo Imperiale ... says my guide.
Two, three columns rise; then walls, crumbled; then, clearly, a long gallery with beautiful mosaic, graceful arabesques and meanders ... Did the emperors have a retreat in Ostia? It is not quite certain. These ruins are only dubbed Palazzo Imperiale, because they are apparently the remains of a very distinguished housing. Perhaps lived here, if not the emperor, then still a wealthy merchant ... This merchant even had an own Mithraeum: an own temple of Mithras; worship, that he got to know in the East and by which he had become enamored. This merchant had his own Baths. And ... he lived near the sea. The sea has in former times foamed up to his palace: the sea, which WE can not see now anymore ... For behold, this is a berth; these are the old docks; here is another EMPORIUM with, buried in the ground, storage jars, and here, these heavy, odd shaped blocks of stone ... didn't they serve to moore ships? My guide says it: I do not want to doubt ... I do not want to tell him that in Hadrian's Villa at Tibur - where no ships were moored - I was struck in the Basilica by similar odd shaped masses of stone ... I am not an archaeologist ... And if my guide assures me here today, that the sea frothed up to the palace of the fable wealthy merchant, and that his ships were moored to the enigmatic masses of stone with truly sharp protrusions, suited to swing around chord, chain or rope ... then I will accept it, and do NOT want to think about Hadrian's Villa ... because I suddenly see the vision for me ... and because it is complete ... and beautiful ... I even see the lovely daughters of the merchant there, between their black female slaves, on a terrace, under a VELUM, gazing, the hand for the eyes, to the mooring and unloading of father's ships ... and it is more charming to see something of the Past in vision ... then to doubt some archaeological detail ...

It is so lonely here ... Around us flicker the lizards, like fierce little bolts of lightning and they even approach our feet ... But there also shuffles a viper, which scares us for a moment ...
- Do not kill him! I ask my guide, who already picks up a stone; he does no harm: there is nobody here but us, who have seen him ...
The guide smiles and throws his stone away; the viper slips away between leaves of acanthus; where he startled us, now two little butterflies flutter, wanting love with fragile wing-flapping ...

***

- Do you know, sir, tells me our guide, that we wander through the ruins consecutively for FIVE HOURS?
- Five hours? I say startled. It is not true, because neither the SIGNORA nor I are big walkers and I never walk FIVE HOURS on end ...
- And still! says the guide.
And the poor man sinks down exhausted in the grass, farcically laughing up to the indefatigable, Antiquity loving FORESTIERI.
Five hours?! I did not want to believe it and yet it is so and we have wandered for five hours.
- Are you tired? I ask my wife.
- No? she says, fresh and surprised. I am not tired ... but we can sit down for a moment if our poor custode is tired ...

And we sit down, on a capital, in the grass. An indescribably soft honey blonde tint of late light flows over the wide sky, which has become solid; a softly waning clearness, over which a blonde reflection, but the blond Tiber goldens up, has golden spots and golden watercourses and the Isola Sacra becomes like the meadow in a dream ... Gently floating up and on are the tender mists, the soft vapors, as with the pale robes of ghosts ... It is very pretty, those dreamvague, closer dragging mousselines, those ethereal veils of fairies, but they may not hover around us with their pennants, because these fairies are the evil ones, bringing fever - as beautiful and lovely airy tender they may seem in her silent hovering above the Isola Sacra.

We rise; our guide is rested a bit and I ask:
- But now I have still not seen the Via dei Sepolcri ... and the VITTORIA ALATA, you know ...
The guide smiles and guides us ... We go through the dead city again: she now resembles, in the late light, an open, wide tomb, from which the dead already have risen, after the trumpet call of the Last Judgment ... An equally shivery spookiness already chills in the atmosphere, which purples with the fall of nocturnal shadow ... In this soft mourning hue we see the Road of the Graves, which ran parallel to the Via Ostiensis, and was connected to that with a gate: the one road led into the city, the other road led out of the city into Death ... And again like deserted open graves, the sepulchres lie bare, some richly decorated with mosaics, we see the niches, some ashvases, some urns ...

Suddenly SHE rises in front of me and I am startled by the white, giant phantom, which she is. She is the VITTORIA ALATA, found here on this spot, left here on this spot, according to the so praiseworthy, new method to leave on the spot all that has been found there and not to bring it to a museum. She rises in front of me, severe, impressive; her very large wings, closed, drag the longest pins over the ground; she is not the floating Nike: she is the quiet, standing Goddess of certain Victory: the broad shield rests against her leg and once she offered the marble palm-branch.

She stands there lonely, white, calm giantess and stares ahead, almost wistfully. Around her weaves closer and closer the amethyst atmosphere of the night. Of the visions, that the worship of the Past around us evoked on this day, only she remains, but tangible, but marble, and living: a soulful goddess, the soul itself of Antiquity, the soul of the Past. She fills my whole look, she fills the air, she fills the night, which falls ...
There is NOTHING more than her impressive calm melancholy, since she lost the palm-branch ... There is nothing more than her look, which stares, since her gesture of reaching the honorary twig to whom overcame ... disappeared into the thin nothingness.

I have softly let the worship of my admiration go up to her: the Winged Victory ...
And suddenly a soft bleating calls me back to reality ... And I see our guide, caressing a beautiful, long-haired, snow-white goat, a little goat on her side ...
- Bianca! Bianca! flatters the guide. Are you there, my beautiful Bianca, are you there, my dear goat! Did you enjoy a meal of fresh grass and little flowers with your little goat! Now let's quickly go home together and to stall, oh my beautiful, sweet Bianca ...
The goat hugs him, tame, and bleating tenderly ... Her silky hair falls like snowy flaking down her back and her motherly swollen udders. She has soft, languorous eyes, and stares at her boss as in love with his and she bleats as if in love, moaning softly.
- Oh, my beautiful Bianca! the guide repeats joyfully. We meet again! We have not seen each other all day, because the FORESTIERI came! We are now back together and together we go home and rest!!
Finally Bianca has stopped bleating ... She is in front now, with her hopping gait, clean and white like an ancient goat; it is truly, as if she means:
- Five hours long, o FORESTIERI, you kept my poor boss walking, and I have not seen him. More than five hours ... It is time, that he goes home and eats his soup and it is time that you go back to your car, which rolls forth by itself, and whose bright lights have already been turned on ...
Yes, she looks back, she urges us, she rushes us: she is also right, the beautiful, white Bianca, and we warmly shake hands with our brave guide and step into our self-rolling car ...
The amethyst night has completely sunk on the Winged Victory, on the dead city, on us ... The bright rays of the automobile sweep like a road in front of us ... Behind me, very far already, I hear Bianca bleating for a moment, glad, that she goes home with her boss and to stall ...


[jthb - 31-May-2014]