From the deft pen of New Yorker writer Murray (Janet, My Mother, and Me, 2000, etc.), an amiable, unhurried, and character-driven walking tour of Rome.
The author has lived in the Eternal City on and off throughout his life: as a child, as a student after WWII, as a correspondent for Time-Life and the New Yorker, more recently for a visit in the spring every year with his wife. Though Murray delights in watching the contemporary world pass by from a café table with a coffee at his elbow, “the great fact of life in Rome is residence among the ruins,” he writes, taking pains to familiarize readers with his favorite wrecks and relics. Naturally, he brings to life the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Circus Maximus, and other famed monuments. But in this “city that makes demands upon your attention, that requires a commitment to leisurely exploration” (which Murray is happy to oblige), he is at his best coaxing evocations from a few personal favorites: a statue of that old reprobate Silenus lying in a bathtub and holding a small bagpipe; an open-air market where he buys a small print from a dealer who “seemed to blend into his merchandise”; the wondrous elliptical space of Piazza Navona; the ancient houses and narrow alleys of the Jewish ghetto; the “talking statues,” the most famous being Pasquino, upon which Romans once affixed epigrams expressing their contempt for the papal government. And then there are the people: “cheerful, energetic, cynical, self-absorbed, shrewd, suspicious, profoundly human,” who have the knack for getting by. One feels instantly comfortable in Murray’s hands; his sense of Rome and Romans is broad, deep, and idiosyncratic, with a sure instinct for the good stuff.
As a young man, newly returned to Rome and insufficiently hungry to learn its fabulous history, Murray was upbraided by an aunt for his ignorance: “You cannot live in Rome like a barbarian.” He took her advice to heart and learned his lessons well.