I have always wondered if it would ever happen to me and yesterday it did. Just for a moment, but it did.
Yesterday I walked right past the Pantheon without looking at it. Well, almost. Just as I was getting to the other side of the Piazza della Rotonda I realized what was happening and stopped. I realized that I was rushing to get to a meeting and wasn’t aware of where I was. I wasn’t present. The Pantheon! My favorite of all of the monuments. How could I just walk by and not notice? I stopped, looked up and marvelled. I allowed the Pantheon’s perfection to wash over me and I rested in that beauty.
I’ve always wondered if regular Romans become desensitized to their surroundings, if they develop an immunity to beauty, if they become numb to the sensory stimulation that is walking around Rome. I don’t see Romans fainting in awe or gasping in wonder as they walk around their city. What is mesmerizing to one person can be ordinary to another. If you grow up in a seaside village then seeing the ocean is ordinary. It is an every day thing; the ocean is there in front of you everyday. That’s not to say that the view isn’t extraordinary but because it is constant, a backdrop to the place, it becomes part of the environment. It is the environment and the context that inform the people who live there. It is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
I grew up with a view to the Andes Mountains. While they are, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful mountains in the world, I didn’t spend my days entranced by their beauty. Of course they informed my outlook, I am both prone to insular thinking and also motivated by what may lie beyond any barriers. Also, having soaring, jagged mountains that turn purple at sunset is a spectacular palette that colors my vision. I miss seeing the Andes every evening. But because they were constant, immovable, and alway there I didn’t notice them much as I went about my days.
I am not suggesting that Romans don’t recognize their city to be the gioello that it is, a jewel that is a world heritage site, but maybe they are so used to the beauty, because it has been here practically for eternity, that they don’t notice it as much on a daily basis. My Roman osteopath hasn’t been downtown in years. Can’t be bothered by the crowds and the traffic she says. So I wonder if maybe when Romans are rushing to get to an appointment they forget to look up and notice the Pantheon.
I did make it to my appointment on time and I arrived feeling centered thanks to that moment that I gave myself to stop and notice my surroundings.
On my way back home I popped in to the Pantheon to say a quick hello. The line to get in wasn’t too long. Now that Covid safety protocols have changed and temperature checks and proof of vaccination are no longer required the line moves fairly quickly early in the morning. My heart flutters each time I walk under the portico and through the doors into the rotunda. I’ve stopped counting the times I’ve gone inside the Pantheon. I feel deep love each time I walk in.
I’ve always wondered if living among ruins in Rome might one day become normal, so normal that I would forget to notice them. I hope not. I hope I am forever in wonder.