At Home in Rome.
Her arms were those of a power lifter. The intensity on her face matched the execution of her bow. Mind you, this was no Pablo Casals protégé. But, her love of music, passion for her cello and perhaps the need to earn a few extra € placed her in Piazza Farnese during the golden light hours.
This beautiful surprise of a square is just south of the famous Campo de’ Fiore in Rome. Farnese is mostly a surprise because most visitors to the area never experience it, even though it is visible from the prestigious market and just a few steps away.
At 18:00 hours, 6 PM, the sun is bathing the eastern walls of Piazza Farnese, turning the pasted structures into colorful mirrors of their solar source. Our cellist, of course, has found a central location just inside the shade and barely out of the unmarked access lane of diplomat limos and taxis that are (supposedly) the only permitted motor vehicles in this otherwise peaceful, pedestrian piazza. I say supposedly only because there is always a lost tourist in a rental car or a Roman lunatic who thinks driving and anarchy are synonymous.
I Think, “This should provide perfect ingredients for audio ecstasy”. Acoustic cello, babbling fountains, an occasional clip-clop of horse and carriage, and the buzz of visitors who almost instinctively reduce their voices to a hum in homage to the soundtrack make this is the ideal setting. Then a force penetrates the meditation like a firecracker.
A brood of pre-teen boys has converted a section of the piazza into their soccer field. Bikes have become goal boundaries. Beyond that, there are no restrictions as the where the ball and boys will go.
Military guards, who probably played here once or twice in their youth, observe with subtle smiles as they dangle their machine guns in front of the French Embassy. The magnificent palazzo has the mark of Michelangelo, Carracci and a host of others. And the Fleur-de-lis symbols on the façade enhance the assumed pride this Mission-Francais must have. Headquarters in Palazzo Farnese, Rome.
As is to be expected, the ball knows nothing about classical music and chooses to interrupt an arpeggio on with a bounce and bop on the face of our performance artist. She grabs the ball. The boys come over to retrieve it. The die is cast for a verbal bloodbath. I am almost ready to intercede in what I know will be an ugly scene. Heaven knows the guards aren’t going to do anything. Too many pretty tourist girls are swaying through at the moment.
To my astonishment and utter joy, she smiles and explains she, like they, “plays” in the piazza. An elderly woman in a restaurant apron strolls in to contribute, probably on her smoking break before she begins preparing the evening repast for customers.
In a matter of moments, the boys pick up the gear. Chair, tip bucket, bags, charts, and music stand. She holds on to her axe (cello), of course). Quietly and quickly, she is transported to a relatively out-of-bounds location. “Grazie” all around. Happy musician, polite boys and everyone can get back to “playing”.
I was prepared for, “Damn kids don’t respect nuttin’”. Or, “Stupid old bat can’t’ play that fiddle no how”. Instead, there is music, running, laughter, groans at misses, celebration at success and, in almost intended composition, musical crescendos accompanying each goal.
I muse at this, chalking it up to chance. Then the boys loose the ball in one of the large fountains. It takes them easily five to ten minutes to paddle the ball to the perimeter so they can fetch it. All this while “Ave Maria” is bathing the ears of a now appreciative and attentive audience (even the guards).
The piece ends. Amen. The boys, completely oblivious to any of this, fish their toy out seven seconds after the applause. The tip jar clinks. Bouncing, yelling, kicking and laughter continues. The cellist flips the page and delves into Bach.
Here is a symphony of humanity phenomenon, the true purpose of the piazza. The notes placed in negotiated stanzas of culture, sport, entertainment, and, in my case, inspiration. It is a quiet movement moment for me as I stroll through the madness and miracle that is Rome.