milky way

Each morning from sun-up Monday to Saturday a square in Rome’s historic heart fills with a bustling market. Memories stir here. The gentler ones recall a 1943 film about the bittersweet wartime love story of fish monger Peppino and fruit seller Elide, played by Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani. Other memories are not so gentle. In the market’s centre, casting gaunt shade across colourful flower stalls and shoppers intent only on the best bargains to be found in swordfish, tortellini and sunflowers, looms a larger-than-lifesized bronze of Giordano Bruno, a medieval martyr burnt at stake for heresy. His sin: to believe in cosmology and an infinite universe.

campo de’ fiori
faggots of dried pasta
leaning on a tent pole

That evening, along with my daughter I return to the square for dinner at a nearby restaurant. At the next table sits a slender, black-haired woman with the tormented face of a beautiful Antigone. She is smartly dressed, a soft wool wrap draped around her head and shoulders. Lighting cigarette after cigarette with trembling fingers, she takes a deep draw of each and stubs it out. Begins talking to herself, arguing. Wheedling, cajoling, almost weeping. Voice loud, then suddenly soft. Gesturing wildly at her face reflected in the unseeing glass. After each monologue, she falls silent. A waiter sets down food, which goes uneaten.

civil war
a woman's heart
above the law

I order saltimbocca, my daughter chooses pasta with ragù. We eat, to the muttered soundtrack. The waiter leans over to whisper that she lives nearby. She comes alone to the café most nights and is always the same. 

ancient stones . . .
only the gods know
what lies buried


Footnote: Giordano Bruno was an Italian Dominican friar who was burned alive in Rome in February 1600. A philosophical thinker, mathematician and poet, he believed the universe has no centre, that there are many worlds, and stars are suns surrounded by planets and moons. Thus, remarkably for his time, Bruno outlined large-scale aspects of modern cosmology, including foreshadowing the existence of exoplanets. Ref: Alberto Martinez, ‛Scientific American’.