A bittersweet goodbye to my time in Rome

The moon sat high behind the cut-out blocks of Italian apartment buildings that looked like colored paper against the light. Luminosity from the dusk dusted the crevasses of the terracotta tiled roofs, the lamplights plastic color strengthening the aura. I inhaled deeply and blew smoke out into the night breeze, the whiff of tobacco crowding the air around me.

“I’m blissful, but don’t you feel like your happiness here is tainted in the slightest because of how temporary all of it is,” uttered a friend as she struck a match and watched the flame push against the tender wind. “This experience will inevitably end, and the only people who will know how formative it was to our being will only be us.”

Generally speaking, humans find trouble with grasping things that are finite. We attempt to escape the inescapable reality that permanence is a myth and that the only certainty in life is death. But even then, religion allows for the ultimate ending to become infinite.

My way of managing transience has always come through compartmentalization. Oftentimes, I’ve found it easier to separate the experiences I stumble into in the same way one compartmentalizes different parts of one’s life. Perhaps that’s been my way of coping with the uprootedness I’ve felt at so many points, as it easily veils my drifting sense of cultural identity that permeates and trickles into my self.

Rather than confronting an ending or permanent change in my life, I simply pretend that my present is the only reality I know. But as I sat on a half-balanced ashen plastic chair on the balcony of my hole-in-the-wall Roman apartment, my eyes exploring the streets that surrounded me, I made the promise to myself that I would refuse to compartmentalize this experience and the lessons learned from it.

There’s a term in Japanese — mono no aware — that has no direct translation into English. In so many words, it can be described as the “bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty.”

A sense of wistfulness accompanies one’s time abroad. It’s so glaringly finite that you almost feel a nostalgia toward the possibility of your present becoming your past. But that’s the reality of life, I suppose.

I fell head over heels in love with a city, with Rome. I fell deeply in love with it’s askew, cobbled-stoned streets, it’s mafia-run taxi system, it’s mozzarella di buffalo di campagna. I fell in love with the way that the light bronzes the beiged buildings, its swear words, the passion that flows through its people.

My love affair was deep and full, passionate and invigorating. But it was an unsustainable sort of love, a first love. It was an all-I-want-to-do-is-rip-your-clothes-off kind of love.

And like most first loves, or at least mine, I knew that it would inevitably end. That’s the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty. But then again, it simply reaffirms that impermanence is what has to drive you to grasp each moment and memory to make it your own. If things didn’t end, they would lose their power to move us. Rome taught me many things but mainly that.

Italian’s have this phrase, dolce far niente delicious idleness. The chairs in every cafe face toward the street so customers can take pleasure in watching the world pass them by. They relish in the sweetness of doing nothing.
I drunkenly brushed the packet of cigarettes aside and grabbed the bottle of vino rosso that had rouged my slightly-too-loose tongue. A friend and I gazed at the stars as the wind blew whistles through the sheets of grass that surrounded us. Our experience was on the brink of forever ending, so we might as well relish in the sweetness of nothing — or everything.

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