Streets bustling with tourists who walk slowly, looking up, right and left, mouths half open, stopping abruptly to take a photo, holding up the locals, those whose footsteps have a specific destination, who no longer look at the sights because they carry them within them.
Italian, French, Japanese, German, as well as Old and New World varieties of Spanish and English bounce off the terracotta walls and escape towards the sky. Waiters outside restaurants displaying tourist menus catch your eye and gesture invitations to sit at outdoor tables covered with crisp, white tablecloths.
Standing or sitting against the walls are sellers from ethnic groups as varied as their merchandise. Wreaths of plastic and fabric flowers to be worn by girls and young women over their straight, long hair, like Mediaeval maidens. Silver rings, bangles, bracelets and earrings arranged on brown or black velveteen. The sellers have Native American features. An Italian with fine brushes and a large magnifying glass is offering to write your name on a grain of rice. A South-East Asian is selling a large variety of embossed, leather wrist straps. A large-bosomed, wide-hipped Central African woman in a brightly-patterned dress and headscarf sits on a low camping stool. There’s a wooden bowl full of seashells at her feet, and a square of grey cardboard that says, You can see everything in the shells. She makes me think of the character of Minerva in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Rolls of colourful scarves stacked on foldable stalls, jewellery made of wood, paper butterflies you can stick on the wall, towers of straw hats. A bearded, long-haired man, pale eyes glowing from his suntanned face, is reading tarots on a makeshift table, a candle flame inside a glass jar casting the shadow of its ritual fire dance on the card spread.
In Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere an artist is trying to create a painting in a set amount of time. He’s practically juggling with cans of spray paint, like a histrionic cocktail barman. The acrid, chemical smell of the paint pierces through the inviting aroma of pizza, olive oil and rosemary that fills the air.
A slim young man who could be from the Indian subcontinent is shining a peculiar kind of torch which casts a multitude of bright green dots on the sampietrini and the arches of the Basilica, where the regulation beggar blesses passers-by and reaches out, palm upwards. I think what fun it would be to shine one of these on the façade of Norwich Cathedral or Castle, but the seller is asking sixteen euros for it. “Two years’ guarantee,” he keeps assuring me as I walk away.
Santa Maria in Trastevere is lit in a soft golden glow, gently illuminating the 13th-century mosaics. High up on the campanile, protected in her niche, the Byzantine face of Saint Mary, severe yet oddly accepting, watches over the piazza.