SEEING ROME AS ROMANS SEE US
Shortly after our settlement in the Eternal City, which has so much more time to be seen than the so-journer has to see it, I pleased myself with the notion of surprising it by visiting in a studied succession the many different piazzas. This, I thought, would acquaint me with the different churches, and on the way to them I should make friends with the various quarters. Everything, old or new, would have the charm of the unexpected; no lurking ruin would escape me; no monument, whether column or obelisk, statue, "storied urn or animated bust" or mere tablet, would be safe from my indirect research. Before I knew it, I should know Rome by heart, and this would be something to boast of long after I had forgotten it.
I could not say what suggested so admirable a notion, but it may have been coining by chance one day on the statue of Giordano Bruno, and realizing that it stood in the Campo di Fieri, on the spot where he was burned three hundred years ago for abetting Copernicus in his sacrilegious system of astronomy, and for divers other heresies, as well as the violation of his monastic vows. I saw it with the thrill which the solemn figure, heavily draped, deeply hooded, must impart as mere mystery, and I made haste to come again in the knowledge of what it was that had moved me so. Naturally I was not moved in the same measure a second time. It was not that the environment was, to my mind, unworthy the martyr, though I found the market at the foot of the statue given over, not to flowers, as the name of the place might imply, but to such homely fruits of the earth as potatoes, carrots, cabbages, and, above all, onions. There was a placidity in the simple scene that pleased me: I liked the quiet gossiping of the old market-women over their baskets of vegetables; the confidential fashion in which a gentle crone came to my elbow and begged of me in undertone, as if she meant the matter to go no further, was even nattering. But the solemnity of the face that looked down on the scene was spoiled by the ribbon drawn across it to fasten a wreath on the head, in the effort of some mistaken zealot of free thought to enhance its majesty by decoration. It was the moment when the society calling itself by Giordano Bruno's name was making an effort for the suppression of ecclesiastical instruction in the public schools; and on the anniversary of his martyrdom his effigy had suffered this unmeant hurt. In all the churches there had been printed appeals to parents against the agnostic attack on the altar and the home, and there had been some of the open tumults which seem in Rome to express every social emotion. But the clericals had triumphed, and an observer more anxious than I to give a mystical meaning to accident might have interpreted the disfiguring ribbon over Bruno's bronze lips as a new silencing of the heretic.
I certainly did not construe it so, and, if my notion of serially visiting the piazzas of Rome was not prompted by my chance glimpse of the Campo di Fiori, it was certainly not relinquished because of any mischance in my meditated vision of it. I had merely reflected that I could not hope to carry out my scheme without greater expense both in time and money than I could well afford, for, though cabs in Rome are swift and cheap, yet the piazzas are many and widely distributed; and I finally decided to indulge myself in a novelty of adventure verging close upon originality. It had always seemed to me that the happy strangers mounted on the tiers of seats that rise from front to back on the motor-chariots for seeing New York and looking down, even from the lowest place, on the life of our streets had a peculiar, almost a bird's-eye view of it which I might well find the means of a fresh impression. But I never had the courage, for reasons which I have not the courage to give, though the reader can perhaps imagine them. In Rome I did not feel that the like reasons held; of all the unknown, I was one of the most unknown; by me nobody would be put to the shame of recognizing an acquaintance on the benches of the like chariot, or forced to the cruelty of cutting him in my person. When once I had fully realized this, it was only a question of the time when I should yield to the temptation which renewed itself as often as I saw the stately automobile passing through the storied streets, with its English legend of "Touring Rome" inscribed on the back of the rear seat. There remained the question whether I should go alone or whether I should ask the countenance of friends in so bold an enterprise. When I suggested it to some persons of the more courageous sex, they did not wait to be asked to go with me; they instantly entreated to be allowed to go; they said they had always wished to see Rome in that way; and we only waited to be chosen by the raw and blustery afternoon which made us its own for the occasion.