Rome – the eternally empty city

I have taken myself off and out for a date with my city – it’s been awhile and I am desperate to fit one in before my privileges are revoked again and we all have to stay at home.

“Where are you going?”, my husband asks.

“I don’t know, that’s the point of an Artists date*, you have no itinerary, no plans; the point is to spend time in the unknown”.

“Well just call me if you need a lift back”.

It’s been decades since I have been able to get lost in Rome.  When I first arrived in the early 1990’s it was my favourite thing to do – wander, get lost, discover new things and places.  Rome seemed an unending labyrinth of possibilities and new experiences, full of new discoveries to be stored up for revisiting and taking others to later. Hidden corners, quaint nooks, undiscovered restaurants and cafes, quiet streets of artisans, grand public buildings, impromptu exhibitions, tranquil shady piazzas, serene vistas over the river, flower ridden parks, newly excavated ruins, newly restored churches and museums, views of the sunset…….but now I know them all and part of me is sad that I do.  I miss the excitement and amazement, the wonder and the thrill of the unknown, of losing oneself and discovering that you are not lost after all, but just in a different place with lots of new possibilities.

But today the city did it for me, for old time’s sake.  I managed to not know where I was for a good half hour or so until I spilled out, from a new direction, into a well traversed piazza.  Today the city gave me what I needed as it always does. Whatever my need Rome fulfils it.  If I am hungry or thirsty it feeds and waters me, if I am bored it delights me, if I am tired it restores me, if I am stressed and overworked it calms and refreshes me, if I am frightened it comforts me, if I have lost my perspective on life it brings it back, if I am broke it entertains me for free, if I am flush it offers me luxurious treats, if I am sad it cheers me, if I need to celebrate and am happy it brings me ways to prolong and satisfy this. All I need to do is get out and into it which I have been prevented from doing for large parts of the year and which is in danger of happening again so I need my dose. And I also need to wander into the unknown; after months of precise assessment, structured processes, analytical decisions and having to care about things I don’t (like how many millimetres a margin in a book should be), I need to be released into the unknown for a bit of a break.

So I do my best to listen to my inner artist, see the unseen, take paths less well trodden and let the day unfold, like it is the first day I have ever been here. It means I have to abandon myself to my senses and watch for the signs that direct me to my unknown destination.  Like the movie production vans (Mission Impossible, again) that block my entrance to quiet street I want to duck down and instead put me on another path, or the gypsy standing on the corner obscured in shade, that attracts me to turn down that street, or the view of a walled in bridge up high connecting two ancient palaces that catches my attention and pulls me down towards it.  And then I am lost.  Lost inside my well known world, enabling me to see it differently, to learn to be at peace with not knowing, to notice the small details of where I currently am, and to appreciate that.

I stumble into a sunny regal renaissance piazza, completely empty, quiet, and in repose.  Plants in marble pots and wrought-iron lampposts border it. Elaborate lace-iron balconies offset the neatly painted white and light orange buildings, all with matching shutters. The small windy street is bereft of cars and motorini, there are no tourists wandering, no one is sitting on the rails edging the small space reading a map, checking their phone, or eating a sandwich.  No one is standing in front of the small church doorway taking a selfie, or posing for someone else. I listen to the wind and notice the empty rubbish bin. I self-consciously take photos of the building that is shaped like a triangle. An older man in an impeccable suit exits a government ministry building, eyes me hungrily, but walks on, looking back at me once or twice as he ambles deliberately slowly across the piazza; but I show no signs of catching up to him or noticing him, the communication is accepted and he moves on.

I amble along the thin curvy street, hemmed in by the walls of the buildings and too soon find myself in a well-known destination, Piazza della Rotunda.  The piazza that houses the 2000 year old Pantheon, one of the best preserved Roman temples dedicated to ‘all the Gods’.  It has been in continuous use throughout its history as a temple to receive sacrifices, as a Catholic church and now one of Rome’s most visited monuments.  Today for the first time in 2,000 years entry is prohibited. The Pantheon is shut. I wander into the piazza, one of my favourite and where I always come when I need to spend time in a special place, either celebrating or commiserating – when my dad came to Rome, when my best friend visited, when my Nan died, they have all been marked here in this piazza at a table with some Prosecco.  Today I am celebrating the finishing of my second book, but it also feels a bit like a commiseration.

 At lunch time, a table in the winter sunshine, without being a politician, movie star or having sat there since mid-morning, would be impossible.  But today as soon as I round the corner I am pounced on by the liveried waiter and there is no need to ask if there is a table in the sunshine available, they all are.  I order a glass of Prosecco knowing it will come with ample snacks (today it is peanuts, olives and chips) and settle down to watch people in the piazza.  Gangs of politicians come strolling through on a lunch break from the Parliament houses close by, groups of tradesmen in uniform amble by, and a couple of pigeons. That’s it. Usually this piazza is packed and worth hours of people watching, while waiters hover as soon as you have finished your drink and others hopeful of your table start to move towards it. Usually there are so many people sitting around the fountain that the steps are obscured and the entrance to the Pantheon obliterated by the snaking line of tourists queuing, the horses and carts waiting, police strolling, gypsies begging, sellers selling, and photographers flashing. Today the waiter doggedly stays inside so I can’t ask for my bill and have to sit there for as long as possible, hopefully enticing others to sit as well.  I slowly munch through my peanuts, chips and olives relishing the December sunlight.

The place I usually go for lunch is closed. There is a sign on the door explaining that as long as the Covid restrictions are partly in force they can no longer afford to open. Glad I ate all my peanuts, I head to my favourite café for a hot chocolate.  It’s in via Condotti, Rome’s busiest and most exclusive shopping street that leads up to the Spanish steps.  Café Greco usually has a queue to get in, service is slow and erratic, and it has been continually open since 1760.  Today the formal suited waiter opens the door for me and ushers me to a table.  I am the only person in here.  It is so quiet I can hear the coffee machine steaming. 

I order my hot chocolate which comes with separate whipped cream and is the kind of thing that is akin to enlightenment – the world looks and feels entirely different after one of these.  I snuggle in to the plush red cushions at my back and take my fill of the glorious paintings and etchings that surround me, knowing I can take as long as I like. About five minutes later the overpowering silence and lack of activity begins to feel eerie.  This is not a place that should be bereft of people, of the clinks of china, the swish of tray bearing waiters, exclamations of consternation from people as they realise there are no spare seats, the squeals of children that usually run up and down between the aisles of tables, murmured conversations, delighted laughter, selfies and group photos, customers trying to get the attention of waiters, heated conversations mid-passageway between staff, and the muted shouts from them behind the counter to their mobile counterparts.

This is the unknown.  An empty Rome, and none of us feels comfortable, and we are all sick of it.  The last time Rome was this empty was after the final conquering of it, more than 1,600 years ago, when everyone that was still alive fled, and sheep grazed amongst the rubble in the Forum for the next 1,000 years. After years of wishing that Rome was less full of tourists and having given up even frequenting some parts of the city, I find myself hoping that they would all come back, hoping that you all come back, hoping that we all come back.

If you enjoy these blogs you might also enjoy my books Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons and Ticket for One. Available in paperback and kindle on Amazon, Book depository and book stores. https://www.amazon.com/Bronte-Dee-Jackson/e/B00I5BH68K

*If you are not familiar with this term see Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists Way.

Missed the Australian book launch of Ticket for One?

Or just want to watch it/experience it again? No problems. Click on the below.

Ticket for One book launch via zoom – Australia

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It starts about five minutes into the introduction of my book, Ticket for One. We then dive into a Q & A about why I wrote the book, how I handled the tricky themes of vulnerability and bravery, as well as the struggle about keeping the ‘voice’ of the young woman I was when I took the journey. There are a couple of readings from the book, which while not giving anything away, give a flavour of what there is to enjoy about the book. And then we launch it! The whole thing takes about 45 minutes so sit down with a glass of wine and a Greek salad, some Turkish mezze or Italian antipasto and enjoy the show!

If you would like to listen to a podcast of the book launch rather than watch it, just click here.

Ticket for One has now reached no. 16 on the Amazon global best sellers list for Italian travel but is not only about Italy. Here’s what Amazon reviewers are saying:

“A great read of an adventurous young women as she finds her place in the world”. UK reviewer

“Bronté Jackson is a gifted storyteller with a talent for evoking the colours and sensations of the places she visits”. Italian reviewer

“A beautifully descriptive and emotional account of backpacking adventures in far away places while reconsidering the direction of one’s life”. Australian reviewer

I say the book is about three things:

  1. How you can be on the brink of things, with everything falling apart around you, and come back from that to a whole new version of yourself.
  2. Travel. The wonder, the hardship, the joy of travel; travel as a journey to learn about yourself and others, getting the widest possible input into your world view, understanding ‘the other’, realizing that we are all much more like each other than we are not; friendship, those made on and off the road, and sustained.
  3. The beauty of the Mediterranean. The power of that beauty to heal and restore, to reach right down into your soul and find you, the power of history, of past civilisations and their human experiences that teach and help us in our struggles today.

And apparently you will laugh a lot, and need to eat Greek, Turkish and/or Italian food!

Thirty eight people zoomed in from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, NSW Central coast, north coast of Victoria, and Rome to attend the Australian based launch. You will not be able to see all the participants as the recording done on zoom only catches the first screen of people. You will also not be able to see the slideshow so I have inserted it below. You will have to play the soundtrack yourselves of the songs that went with it and captured the moment and moods of summer 1993………..

(Madonna, Like a Prayer; REM, Loosing my religion; Pet shop boys, Its a sin, Go West; Black, It’s a wonderful life; D:Ream, Things can only get better; U2, In the name of love)

The northern hemisphere book launch will be posted soon, along with a podcast of this one. Thanks a million to all who attended both launches and have supported me in this book. Please keep spreading the word in your networks and leaving me reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Word of mouth and reviews are the best way to publicise a book. Both books are available in paperback and e-book from Amazon, Beaumaris Books, Melbourne, FAO bookshop and Otherwise bookshop, Rome.

Amazon.com: Ticket for one: One woman’s transformative, inspirational and humorous trek through Greece, Turkey and Italy eBook: Jackson, Bronté Dee: Kindle Store

https://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Dolce-Seasons-English-ebook/dp/B07N2FB9CL

 

Book release!

Dear friends, I am so excited to let you know that my new book is ready! Click below for sneak preview and to order! Kindle version is ready now and paperback version any day now. And Rome-based residents can purchase directly from me. It is available in all Amazon markets. Stand by for an invite to the book launch.  Please help me by spreading the word and sharing this in your feed or group of friends, and leave me a review when you have finished it!  Happy reading everyone!

Sometimes you have to let go of everything to find what you really want.

Greek islands, Summer 1993……

Bronté finds herself backpacking through the Mediterranean, but it’s not all paradise.

Reeling from the end of her marriage, the loss of her job, and with no place to call home Bronté hadn’t hesitated to pack her bags when she unexpectedly won an airline ticket to her dream destination, with spending money included!

With nothing left to lose, she had set off into the unknown with no itinerary, no experience, and a hastily filled backpack. After losing access to her money on her first day, being poisoned on her second day, and finding herself sleeping on a beach next to travellers on the run from organised crime, her adventure takes her on an hilarious tour through the underworld of backpacking.

This is a story about transformation from helplessness to power, hopelessness to faith, and anguish to joy. Set against the backdrop of breathtaking Mediterranean islands, vibrant Rome, enchanting Tuscany, and captivating Turkey, Bronte connects with the beauty of nature to restore her shattered heart and confidence. 

But how will she be able to go back to normal life after this journey? Should she stay in the arms of her belly dancing boyfriend? And is the amount of byzantine icons in a city a good indication of whether she should settle there?

“I listened, I let myself go where my heart took me and it never took me ‘back home’.  It took me to a new one.”

“From a dark, gaping hole of plans that had fallen through, and a life that had never worked out the way I wanted I had trodden step by step, carrying nothing with me except what was required, staying constantly in the present. Somehow I moved forward just by being, just by stepping, just by continuing to look at the sky, talking to the people around me, and being out on the road each minute, each hour, each day. Although I had wanted to stay still, crying on a Greek beach waiting for someone to rescue me, I found that moving into the unknown was so much more interesting and, in the long term, truly fulfilling.”

A compelling and candid story. An odyssey of self-discovery that fundamentally questions how to live and find happiness.

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https://www.amazon.com/author/brontejackson

 

New book!

Sometimes you have to let go of everything to find what you really want.

Greek islands, Summer…

Bronté finds herself backpacking through the Mediterranean, but it’s not all paradise.

Reeling from the end of her marriage, the loss of her job, and with no place to call home Bronté hadn’t hesitated to pack her bags when she unexpectedly won an airline ticket to her dream destination, with spending money included!

With nothing left to lose, she had set off into the unknown with no itinerary, no experience, and a hastily filled backpack. After losing access to her money on her first day, being poisoned on her second day, and finding herself sleeping on a beach next to travellers on the run from organised crime, her adventure takes her on an hilarious tour through the underworld of backpacking.

This is a story about transformation from helplessness to power, hopelessness to faith, and anguish to joy. Set against the backdrop of breathtaking Mediterranean islands, vibrant Rome, enchanting Tuscany, and captivating Turkey, Bronte connects with the beauty of nature to restore her shattered heart and confidence. 

But how will she be able to go back to normal life after this journey? Should she stay in the arms of her belly dancing boyfriend? And is the amount of byzantine icons in a city a good indication of whether she should settle there?

“I listened, I let myself go where my heart took me and it never took me ‘back home’.  It took me to a new one.”

“From a dark, gaping hole of plans that had fallen through, and a life that had never worked out the way I wanted I had trodden step by step, carrying nothing with me except what was required, staying constantly in the present. Somehow I moved forward just by being, just by stepping, just by continuing to look at the sky, talking to the people around me, and being out on the road each minute, each hour, each day. Although I had wanted to stay still, crying on a Greek beach waiting for someone to rescue me, I found that moving into the unknown was so much more interesting and, in the long term, truly fulfilling.”

A compelling and candid story. An odyssey of self-discovery that fundamentally questions how to live and find happiness.

Ready for release mid-November on Amazon in paper back and e-book (kindle)

https://www.amazon.com/Bronte-Dee-Jackson/e/B00I5BH68K