PERSONAL RELATIONS WITH THE PAST
I was myself part of the antiquity with which I have been trying to be honest; and, though my date was no earlier than the seventh decade of the nineteenth century, still so many and such cataclysmal changes had passed over Rome since my time that I was, as far as concerned my own consciousness, practically of the period of the Pantheon, say. The Pantheon, in fact, was among my first associations with Rome. I lodged very near it, in the next piazza, so that, if we were not contemporaries, we were companions, and I could not go out of my hotel to look up a more permanent sojourn without passing by it. Perhaps I wished to pass by it, and might really have found my way to the Corso without the Pantheon's help.
I have no longer a definite idea why I should have made my sojourn in the very simple and modest little street called Via del Gambero, which runs along behind the Corso apparently till it gets tired and then stops. But very possibly it was because the Via del Gambero was so simple and modest that I chose it as the measure of my means; or possibly I may have heard of the apartment I took in it from wayfarers passing through Venice, where I then lived, and able to commend it from their own experience of it; people in that kind day used to do such things. However it was, I took the apartment, and found it, though small, apt for me, as Ariosto said of his house, and I dwelt in it with my family a month or more in great comfort and content. In fact, it seemed to us the pleasantest apartment in Rome, where the apartments of passing strangers were not so proud under Pius IX. as they are under Victor Emmanuel III. I do not know why it should have been called the Street of the Lobster, but it may have been in an obscure play of the fancy with the notion of a backward gait in it that I came to believe that, in the many improvements which had befallen Rome, Via del Gambero had disappeared. Destroyed, some traveller from antique lands had told me, I dare say; obliterated, wiped out by the march of municipal progress. At any rate, I had so long resigned the hope of revisiting the quiet scene that when I revisited Rome last winter, after the flight of ages, and one day found myself in a shop on the Corso, it was from something like a hardy irony that I asked the shopman if a street called Via del Gambero still existed in that neighborhood. I said that I had once lodged in it forty-odd years before; but I believed it had been demolished. Not at all, the shopman said; it was just behind his place; and what was the number of the house? I told him, and he laughed for joy in being able to do me a pleasure; me, a stranger from the strange land of sky-scratchers (grattacieli), as the Italians not inadequately translate sky-scrapers. If I would favor him through his back shop he would show me how close I was upon it; and from his threshold he pointed to the corner twenty yards off, which, when I had turned it, left me almost at my own door.