Five o’clock in Rome


It is five o’clock in Rome and we are boarded on a train – our suitcases and backpacks scattered about the second-class train carriage in the hopes of warding off potential cabin mates. It didn’t work. So now we are three in a cabin: my friend, me and a dapper Italian woman who, I must assume, chose our cabin because we were so spread out and thus unlikely to attract any other passengers. Better sit with two haggard-looking American girls than five unknowns, I suppose.

It is five-oh-five in Rome and I am thinking about the time I have spent in this magical city. No, magical is not quite the correct word for such a place – majestic, perhaps, or grand or extravagant – but not magical. Magic implies simplicity, a slight of hand, a kind of hidden wonder and Rome is truthfully none of these things. It is big, it is towering, it is a peacock strutting proudly in front of any visitor who happens to find themselves on her marbled streets. Our party of three has now blossomed to a crowded six, our luggage now stowed uncomfortably in our cramped space, the woman seems to have been joined by her posse, who seem to not particularly enjoy the fact that two haggard-looking American girls are crashing their commute home.

It is five twelve in Rome and the train is now pulling away from the station. The streets ripple by, walls covered in graffiti and people walking in that slow Italian way that had me letting out a steady flow of curses when I was unlucky enough to be caught behind them. Rome was, again, a strange mix of wonders for me: it was mostly grand and loud and majestic but it was also, at times, confusing and overwhelming and in-my-face.

I am finding that this is how I have been experiencing the places that I’ve been so far on my grand tour:

I love them, I hate them, I am indifferent to them, I come to peace with their reality, I love them again.

A cycle, I think, that seems to be true for most things that I encounter in my life. Whether it be a class, a person, a book, a film, a song – my way of navigating what I like and dislike in this world are rooted in initial extremes and an eventual middling out as I find the compromises and justifications, the excuses and rationalisations that are so necessary to make as one navigates their way through the diverse situations that life often throws their way.

It is strange that I say that I settle on love in my cycle. I read it back to myself and wonder if I should change it – I certainly do not love every place that I’ve been, book that I’ve read, film that I’ve watched, person that I’ve met. But something keeps me from hitting


and erasing the statement from the white blinking page and, soon, from my own memory.

I think there is something beautiful about examining a thing, understanding it, accepting it and still disliking it. It brings more meaning to the things that are fully examined, understood, accepted and then are loved. That balance brings beauty – the fact that opposites exist at all is beautiful and the knowledge that they also happen to be perceived slightly differently by every human is even more amazing.

If opposites did not exist, if there were not things to be loved and disliked in equal measure, how boring life would be – how meaningless our sentiments would become! When we tell somebody that we love them, it only bears meaning with the mutual knowledge that we also harbour hatred and dissention and conflict and that amid all of that, we feel this love and passion and zeal and we choose to spend our time and effort tending to those things.

So when I notice that I go to these far-off places and feel everything that I’ve felt – these strange and confusing mixes of love and hate and indifference and bewilderment and passion and beauty and pain and struggle and accomplishment and contentment – I no longer am worried that I am not experiencing my travels as I am meant be. I know that without the uncomfortable feelings, the ones that wrap me up in a warm embrace would not feel quite so comforting.

It is five fifty six in Rome and I am

happy and sad and tired and lethargic and energetic and wilful and in pain and strong and beautiful and worn out and passionate and sleepy and bumbling and in love and in love and in love

the jumble is what makes me human – what makes the happiness so wide, the sadness so deep and the love so lovely. The jumble means that I’m learning, that I’m feeling, that I’m seeing, that I’m doing.

The jumble means I’m alive.

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