My first morning in Rome began with rain, as the days so often do begin in November in Italy, and the rain reminded me of nothing other than the rain before me here in Rome.
I woke to hear and see the rain falling in the inner courtyard outside my window at the American Academy in Rome, and for the first time in over thirty years I wasn’t reminded of all the other memories I had of rain: My mother in the rain throwing her wedding ring into the river as I, a child of five, watched her do the strangest thing I’ve ever seen her do as the rain pounded my hair and wet my eyes; or the night I asked a young woman to marry me in the rain as our infant daughter watched through the car window her mother reject her father; or the storm I refused to take shelter from when I was a young, dumb university kid swimming farther out into the lake that could’ve swallowed me whole right then and there. Back then beneath the waves would’ve been fine.
No. The rain in Rome did not haunt me as it’s done in countless other places: The days I’d wake as a young man in my late twenties to the steadfast rain in Daegu, South Korea and I’d drink my coffee thinking how I didn’t have a friend in the world or a clue to what I’d do with my life, other than to write as I’ve always done alone; or the long swollen afternoons I’d stand on my balcony drinking a beer and look out over Ho Chi Minh City that once upon a time had been called Saigon (how things do change—even if it takes time); or how the rain would fall over Tiger’s Head Mountain on Lantau Island in Hong Kong and I’d stand in the living room facing the great mountain against the bay windows that in fact looked down upon Discovery Bay while the boats ferried passengers off to Central as my infant son would sleep and dream in his bed just a few feet from me. No. The rain in Rome did not call me back to those places around the globe I’ve called home.
On November 7th, I woke as a man in his late thirties who’s seen too much of himself in too much of the world around him and found Rome calmly quiet in the early morning hours—as families must’ve been readying for school and work—and the old building which had been there long before I was born and will be there long after I’m gone into ashes and memory also lay quiet in the rain. The halls, the paintings, the stillness of the old building held a pleasing weight against my senses as I watched and listened to the rain in Rome, and I thought of how orderly and sensible it would all feel to a Roman emperor who needed a palace around him to keep him dry from the rain, or the scholars and artists who stood where I stood decades past and looked across Rome in its glory, even in the rain, and reflected less on the intellect and the emotions but considered more the future that stretches far ahead of every woman and man and how the world will have changed when you have gone from it, or the slave and gladiator in the Colosseum who bravely stared into the rain falling over them and felt the hope of being one day free to look at the rain from the comfort and safety of one’s balcony as one’s wife and child lay sleeping nearby. All at once Rome felt to me immense and small—a thing as an idea, like a mustard seed moving a mountain.
It’s funny, really, to think that rain can be different in different places. From the scientist’s point-of-view rain is water, a combination of two hydrogens and one oxygen, and, therefore, rain is rain no matter where it happens to fall. Still, people were inherently (as in organically and biologically) the same—a human being is a human being—but one can assuredly attest to the blatant and most obvious notion that culture does, in fact and in some ways regrettably, differentiate one human being from another; I’ve lived with the Koreans, the Vietnamese, and the Chinese, and I am not, in many ways regrettably, like them. Place imparts and imprints itself onto its people, and vice versa. The cold truth on that November day was that people were different from one another and as dissimilar as the rain in China from the rain in Texas—both places I’ve experienced and grown fond of in the years allotted to me on this small world of ours.
The rain in Rome compelled me on that day to be in the present, to allow my thoughts to float above me to the high ceilings—unlike the confined rooms and low ceilings so often experienced in New York and Hong Kong—and to let the architecture move me in the same ways a special song moves me, or the way the rain moves me forward and not backward into the past. The rain in Rome freed me from myself (especially from all those limitations found in memory, race, creed, identity, sexual orientation, and all the rest) and the quest of one’s self could rise above all the noise society and culture make to hold one in place—to become consumed by what’s in the mirror in front of you instead of what’s hidden in the beauty of a rainy day filled with limitless possibilities—and to imagine the journey you find yourself on was not accidental but an instrument of a purposeful design that wants the very best for you—like taking a kid from a small town in Texas all across the countries and the peoples of the world to one day hear Italian being spoken in the rain outside the Vatican. There’s a center to things, even if it’s taken me thirty-eight years to see it for myself.
From inside my study, outside the window and across the drenched street, there’s a large tree covered in a dome of autumn gold, and I thought to myself how Rome shines a bit brighter after a good morning rain and how Italy is waiting once again, maybe, for you to come and see for yourself.
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of Club Med & a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.