Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hidden Moments: Roman Holiday

Occasionally, I go back into the archives of my blog and repost something, usually in a slightly different form, that I have previously published, given that the readership of my blog has substantially changed since the early days.  Today’s post was originally published in November of last year.  I am reposting it because I have been thinking of Rome lately …

Shortly after graduating from university, but before I was introduced to the LDS Church, I went to Europe to see a good friend of mine from college who was in a study-abroad program in France. 

“Todd” was a Humanities major, with an emphasis in architecture.  He had been a fraternity brother of mine in college, but we had formed a special relationship during my last two years at university.  He became to me the younger brother that I never had, the only guy with whom I had ever or have ever formed such a relationship.  I think that I saw in him things that I wished for myself:  he was authentic, comfortable in his own skin, alive to life.  The main difference between us was that he actually lived who he was, whereas I only dreamed about it, never reaching for the brass ring – bound even then by the strictures of the closet. 

I had never experienced any romantic or physical attraction to Todd, because I regarded him as my brother; but he was definitely not unattractive and had a lean developed body, honed through his favorite activities of mountain climbing, hiking, skiing and tennis.  I had enjoyed being around him in college, visiting him at his family’s home and going on skiing trips with him and others of my fraternity brothers.

So when the opportunity arose for me to spend a week traveling with him in Europe, I jumped at the chance.  It was early spring; I flew into Paris, and after spending a few days there, we boarded an overnight train to Rome. 

By the time the sun was coming up, we were in Italy.  I will never forget how enchanted I was with the views of the Mediterranean as our train snaked down the west coast of Italy.  The villas and towns we passed were picturesque beyond anything I had imagined back in the States.  I knew instinctively that I was going to love – already loved – Italy.

Then we arrived in the Eternal City – Rome.  It was April and it was beautiful, sun-basked, aromatic, sensual.  Everything Paris wasn’t.  You always hear about April in Paris.  I’ve been in Paris in April; it’s no big deal.  May is much better.  But April in Rome was enchanting.

Upon arrival at the train station, Todd and I grabbed our bags and headed toward the quarter of the city near the Spanish Steps.  He had been in favor of staying in a less expensive area of the city, but I had been intrigued by what I had read of this area and wanted to stay there, and I won out.  We found a reasonably-priced pensione – a sort of cross between a small hotel and a bed-and-breakfast – where we were provided with a private room containing, as I recall, only one large bed, a private bathroom and a continental breakfast in the morning.

Not wanting to waste any time, as soon as we showered and stowed our gear, we headed out.   That first day, we walked to the Vatican and looked around St. Peter’s Square and inside the basilica.  It was breathtaking. Michaelangelo’s Pieta, masterpieces everywhere we turned, the church itself a work of art.

And then, of course, the Sistine Chapel.

I could hardly believe I was actually in that chapel, that legendary place of art, beauty and history. 

And being there with Todd was a bonus, like having my own private tour guide.  He had studied many of the things that we were seeing and provided background, insight and context that I otherwise would not have had. 

And speaking of the Sistine Chapel, I heard this past Sunday on KBYU-FM what has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written:  Allegri’s Miserere Mei.  Eric Glissmeyer, in his silken voice, recounted the story of this work, how for many years it was performed only in the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week; how, on pain of excommunication, it was forbidden to publish this music anywhere else; how Mozart, when a child, had attended mass and had heard the work and had written it down from memory and had shared it with the rest of the world.  (Rather than excommunicate him, however, the pope congratulated him.)  Here’s a performance by the BBC Singers:

Meanwhile, back to Todd.  He was able, for example, when we visited the Pantheon, to explain to me that this was the last domed building to be built for hundreds of years, the knowledge of how to build a dome having been lost for a thousand years until the Italian Renaissance. 

As we walked through the Piazza Navona, he provided insight into Bernini’s magnificent sculptures that adorn the fountains there.

As we visited the Campidoglio and Roman Forum, he enriched my experience of seeing these sights by providing rich background that I would otherwise not have had.

But beyond all of this, I enjoyed being in this vibrant, wonderful city with my best friend and brother.  Eating lunch outside the Pantheon.  Buying gelato.  Feeling the pulse of the city.  People watching.  Enjoying a wonderful moonlit dinner at a restaurant near the Trevi fountain.  Breathing in the life of what to me was a magical place.

But my time in Rome was magical to me in another way.

Though, as I’ve said, I had never experienced a romantic or physical attraction to Todd, there were several moments in our room back at the pensione that remain clear in my memory to this day. 

On that first night, for example, when we returned to our room after spending the afternoon and evening at the Vatican.  By the time we got back, it was dark.  Todd and I each undressed and climbed into bed – he on one side and me on the other.  My recollection is that there was only one bed; it may have been two twin beds pushed together; I just recall there being one bed and the two of us on opposite sides of it. 

I have a photographic memory of the scene, lying there in bed, knowing that Todd was only a few feet away from me.  On that night, as we lay there in a pensione in Rome near the Spanish Steps, I found myself yearning to reach over and hug him, trying to will him to do the same to me.  To snuggle and take our friendship to a deeper level.  That didn’t happen, however.  I wasn’t willing to risk our friendship in the middle of a European trip, and my will was apparently not strong enough to get him to do anything.  So, I lay there, yearning, unfulfilled.

Same thing, next morning.  We had a small bathroom in the corner of our room.  As Todd took his shower, I yearned to go in with him.  But I sat on the bed, my wishes unfulfilled.

The thing was, Todd was not gay; I later served as a groomsman at his wedding.  But I was – gay, that is.  And it was existential gay moments like these in our pensione near the Spanish Steps that reminded me what I already knew; moments in which my nature was revealed to me, but which also showed me that I wasn’t alive enough to myself, confident enough in myself, to act upon them. 

And so I continued on, hidden away.  Seeing and feeling one reality, but living another.

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