A sketch on the Gianicolo

(Bit of a different format today. Poem-ish as opposed to prose-rant.)


What are the mountains to the east of Rome?
I need a name, for everything.
For all these domes and rusted trees,
relaxing into cold under the autumnal
sun of a Roman December.

Is that the Chiesa Nuova? Or that?
And what is that uccello, bobbing its head
and moving closer in fluttering leaps,
until its tiny mind diverts it from
dubious predator to comforting waste bin.

The Pantheon, of course, ever ironic.
The Synagogue, standing in modest
diagonal polarity to the drums of St Peter’s,
through the trees over my left shoulder,
just beyond Anita.

Brave Anita, whose parenting
falls far short – by modern standards.
Galloping side-saddle, pistol in one hand,
baby – falling, flying, giggling at war,
at the birth of the Republic – in the other.

And a wall, a new wall,
slicing the picturesque, traffic-throbbed
rubble of the Eternal City.
A wall for a nation, 1861 to 2011,
but in those one-hundred and fifty years,
who believed what?


All the marble men, here on the Gianicolo –
what did they believe?
Petko Voyvoda, who shares my reverie.
All the way from Bulgaria,
immortalised here as a sombre
Garibaldino, real man’s moustache,
and flamboyant brocade.

I’ll be leaving, but he’s stuck,
fixed gazing east, at those mountains.
What are they called?
The Sabines? Are they Appenines?
Whatever. They’re splendid today,
beneath the sun,
adorned with snow.

Daniel Etherington, 23 December 2011



Edit 3 Jan 2012:

Kinda been feeling this needs footnotes.

It’s not really a poem, it’s just a sketch, but with references that won’t make much sense unless you know Rome, and you know the exact same bench on the Gianicolo, or can be bothered to spend some time with Google.

So anyway:
Gianicolo – Italian name for the Janiculum, the hill to the west of the city of Rome. It’s on the west side of the Tiber, and provides a wonderful view. A cannon is fired from here every day at midday.
Chiesa Nuova – “New Church”… built 1575–1599. The address is technically via del Governo Vecchio, but more logically it’s found if you wander along the main drag of corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
Uccello – Italian for bird. I just like the word. And it makes me think of the Renaissance artist Paolo Uccello.
Pantheon – the ancient place of worship in Rome. Now, of course, an Monotheon.
Synagogue – the Great Synagogue of Rome, alongside the Tiber in the Ghetto, built in the 1870s.
St Peters – the great Renaissance Bascilica, built over many decades, and consecrated in 1623. The dome was inspired by the Pantheon, and the Duomo of Florence, and have design input, successively, from the likes of Bramante and Michelangelo.
Anita – Anita Garibaldi, aka Ana Maria de Jesus Ribeiro di Garibald, 1821-1849, wife of Guiseppe Garibaldi. Her “gaucho” heritage comes through in the statue on the Gianicolo.
“wall for a nation” – there’s a wall commemorating 150 years of the Republic.
Petko Voyvoda – one of the many busts of men who fought for the Republic on the Gianicolo is this Bulgarian chap, 1844-1900.
Garibaldino – a soldier of Garibaldi’s campaign.
Sabines – Sabine Hills in the province of Lazio, around Rome.
Apennines – Apennine Mountains, which run down much of the centre of Italy.

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