Nathaniel Hawthorne, on Rome
Rome ever get you down? You are not alone! It's not easy to live (or even be a tourist in, sometimes) this city. I hear my fellow expatriates (myself included) complain often about any number of frustrating things about this crazy city, from the bureaucracy nightmares to the dishonest cab drivers and everything in between. But for so many of us, something connects us with this city, often something we can't describe. Many long-time expats will leave the city, exasperated beyond remedy and--not all--but many cannot help returning eventually. Apparently this love/hate relationship so many of us have with Rome is nothing new. In fact, Nathaniel Hawthorne (a distant relation on my father's side) wrote what I consider possibly the greatest quotation on Rome ever written. Make sure you read to the end! (It's only one sentence, after all.)
"When we have once known Rome, and left her where she lies, like a long-decaying corpse, retaining a trace of the noble shape it was, but with accumulated dust and a fungous growth overspreading all its more admirable features--left her, in utter weariness, no doubt, of her narrow, crooked, intricate streets, so uncomfortably paved with little squares of lava that to tread over them is a penitential pilgrimage; so indescribably ugly, moreover so cold, so alley-like, into which the sun never falls, and where a chill wind forces its deadly breath into our lungs--left her, tired of the sight of those immense seven-storied, yellow-washed hovels, or call them palaces, where all that is dreary in domestic life seems magnified and multiplied, and weary of climbing those staircases, which ascend from a ground floor of cook-shops, cobblers' stalls, stables and regiments of cavalry, to a middle region of princes, cardinals, and ambassadors, and an upper tier of artists, just beneath the unattainable sky--left her, worn out with shivering at the cheerless and smoky fireside by day, and feasting with our own substance the ravenous population of a Roman bed at night--left her, sick at heart of Italian trickery, which has uprooted whatever faith in man's integrity had endured till now, and sick at stomach of sour bread, sour wine, rancid butter and bad cookery, needlessly bestowed on evil meats--left her, disgusted with the pretense of holiness and the reality of nastiness, each equally omnipresent--left her, half lifeless from the languid atmosphere, the vital principle of which has been used up long ago or corrupted by myriads of slaughters--left her, crushed down in spirit by the desolation of her ruin, and the hopelessness of her future--left herein short, hating her with all our might, and adding our individual curse to the infinite anathema which her old crimes have unmistakably brought down--when we have left Rome in such a mood as this we are astonished by the discovery, by and by, that our heartstrings have mysteriously attached themselves to the Eternal City, and are drawing us thitherward again, as if it were more familiar, more intimately our home, than even the spot where we were born."
Excerpt from The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1860.