excerptsThe 18th of March.Depressing weather in Berlin, yet I'm not depressed, only sleepy, in spite of a coffee and a lot of bitter chocolate. Coming back from Italy is like waking up from a Paradise dream or from a heroin trip and finding again those four walls of naked brick. Even this humorless German sky, from which some sort of a drizzle is leaking, can only remind me of a cell ceiling, the ceiling of a horrible prison. Here, there are no false, golden ceilings, nor ceilings covered with thousands of grotesque figures or decorated with statues and stars. It's just the right time for drinking, for conceiving or beating up children or, if you've got humid wings on your back and some kind of a robe wrinkled on your body, it's time to sit, head in your palms, in an absurd workshop, next to a bell, a sheep, a compass and a magical square. Italy is different and Tonio Kroger knew that very well.I didn't like Rome much at first. From the car that was driving me from the airport I saw anonymous suburbs at first, where only palm trees and pines were saying something about what it should have been like. Then there were huge villas, yellow and scarlet ones, their backyards full of the same palm trees, their windows shut. Hundreds and thousands of hard, powerful cubes, occupying an entire "island," decorated and personalized by a baroque roof, a round window or a sculptured gate. The first time I went out was at night, when reality was yellow-black, the enormous sculptures from Fontana di Trevi or from Navona Piazza were showing their big, pale paws, the curls looking like some stone snakes and a quarter of a tormented face glowing in the light, while the rest was closing in the darkness in the same strong and silent way. The tunnel-like, narrow streets, the over-massive houses, buildings and churches like some giant miniatures, as if children's wooden palaces had become real. Curbs and volutes, somewhat too geometrical and therefore spreading all around them something morbid and, above all, generating silence and solitude, like some engines of a foreign technology. New buildings over old ones, toothless columns integrated into a thousand-years' newer facades, baroque churches between two ugly houses, the fronts' marble stuck on each other… In the morning, crossing the Tiber, another perspective, a much larger space, skies full of light, pines mastering every horizon, San Angelo castle far away. The modern city, swarthy guys with black sunglasses, short and olive-colored, thick lipped women, scooters everywhere, shouting and crossing over you, through you, shops with obscene lingerie. And leaning against the Vatican wall, wearing sunglasses as well, I was standing in line, behind a group of small Chinese women, next to 1000 people. And the Vatican Museum: rooms after rooms and then more rooms, acres of fine or bad and stunning painting, a whirl of fantasies and futileness and mythological precious things, of allegories, neurosis, breasts and bodies and virgins and babies, and landscapes with the same cypresses and pines, with the same marble ruins invaded by grass. Nations of magicians crawling at a baby's feet, herds of oxen staring from the stable, flocks of angels offering lilies and announcing the good news. Then, paintings that you have seen so many times before in albums that finding them there and there only seems legitimate; how can you see with your own eyes the paintings of messer Raffaello: the philosophers' dispute, Apollo and the muses, the blinding angel who frees Saint Peter from behind bars… The fire in which the dame with the pitcher has the arms of a circus fighter. On the corridors, maps and impossibly big and shriveled tapestry, statues that nobody is looking at (guys and girls made of stone, stone testicles and some cheap, short, stone dick, buttocks with no anus – just like you knew, Poldy), very ugly modern sculpture and painting – yet there is an excellent Buffet on a golden base – and, by the time you already see the leg's bones through your shoes and trousers (all the bones made of marble, of course, for we all have our inner statue), the last challenge, the essential and inevitable Sistine Chapel, with the souls' judgment on a wall (heavy bodies ascending to the skies, Neanderthal people in a cave, tornados of flesh and scarves around the Holy Son, much lower – someone with a ladder, and someone with a freshly removed human skin on the right, bodies falling as heavily and somewhat hideous devils. Souls' circuit in nature. And a lot of flesh on souls. And above – very beautiful colors, a genius from which there's so little left: spots of color on a ceiling. Adam, Eve, the serpent, God, the ark… the same story that's been told a thousand times, the same grotesque mistakes dressed in beauty. OK. Guys in uniforms, with badges and belts (diagonal?), ironically looking at crowds staring at the walls, going "sssssh!" strangely loud, in order for a group of American kids to settle down. And outside, in the intense spring, full of orange trees and pizza restaurants. And getting lost, again, through the town of shriveled plasters. Streets with antiques shops filled with statues and chests of drawers, ice cream shops, enigmatic backyards, some brick gates and a small ladder with flowerpots wilting in the shadow. Then conferences, book launchings, rubbish. My poor Travesti.Then, Firenze. Almost total flop out. Toscana didn't impress me from the train. Worn houses and small sordid factories, styled houses, pretty much like home. Hills. Plains. In the compartment, two illiterate, boorish men from Naples, talking in their dialect. They were looking for a job some place else. Doggy weather, gloomy sky. A few steps from the railway station – the Dome. Measureless, almost ridiculously big. Motley marble, some sort of a purple and pistachio slices on the huge walls. Flocks of tourists, like some small ants all around it. Black people selling anything: lighters, sunglasses, art reproductions, are hunted by policemen from one place to another. I'm staying at a miserable, yet expensive boarding house, in a small room worthy of Raskolnikov. I'm walking through the drizzle, on Ponte Maggiore. I see the SignoriaPalace with a copy of David in front, then, like a wasp in a honeycomb, I enter the Uffizi, where I hide for three hours in a world filled as well with Florentines, virgins and angels, thanking an omnipresent God for having given me my eyes. I see the biggest painting in the world, which etc., etc. There are flowers flowing from Chloe's mouth. The next day, a conference, of course, then wandering on the streets, stepping inside enormous churches, solitude and oppressive sadness. I eat, like the last mortal (what the hell, it appeared in front of me just when I was starving), at McDonald's. It's getting dark, it's raining, I march back home with a dropping ice cream cornet. The 19th of March.Horrible rain, big drops suck on windows, back ache, confuse fear: I won't be able to finish Blinding. Today is my first official working day and I've got 11 months ahead of me. I'm sipping my coffee and going ahead with my poor empty pages about Italy, relevant for my present craziness. I mustn't forget to write that my lover is Botticelli's Venus (and Flora and the Truth from The Slander), and that we had the most fantastic and passionate days together. And that I see in all my dreams huge halls entirely painted. You see, these repetitions and mannerisms are in fact the proof of my quite (inexistent) nullity. Hadn't I used, like statues and columns of skirts, underpants and bras, completely colorless trousers.The streets are narrow canals between buildings. The people are from ultra-esthetized movies, each corner is a photography: small old ladies who watch you from behind windows, craftsmen who sculpt the wood right there on the street, girls who call for their boyfriends from the balcony. Families sitting at the table in the ground floor apartments facing the street. Scooters barging into such tight streets that the motorcyclist is rubbing his shoulders against the walls. Commercial streets with stands on which lie soft and wet octopuses like some excited vaginas. Bakery shops where craftsmen dressed in white are clotting in dough and take showers in flour. Butcher shops where some kind of rolled meat dressed with authentic pig heads is being exhibited. Jewelry made of millions of golden pieces, sprinkled with sugar. Piazzas where you can see the most unexpected buildings: a palace transformed into a church, some sort of blue-orange faience paradise for the use of nuns, with columns covered with the same three centuries old faience and with orange trees in which cats are crawling. A cable way (funiculi-funicula) leads to the town's storey, with big, fresh houses, from which you can see the crowds and the swarming below as a big, motley mosaic, and above – the enormous roof of the intensely blue sky on which the double hunched Vesuvius can hardly be seen. The Gulf, unfortunately now full of ships and cranes, isn't like in the old stamps anymore. You have to get back to town in order to feel its beauty again and to go back a few centuries ago. Which I did. After the inevitable "introduction" at a book-shop (which was also a cafeteria), announced by an article in the local newspaper heading "Travesti, una piccola Biblia gay," after the predictable dinner at midnight, I sleep, all crouched, holding The History of The Ten Thousand in my hand; until the morning of my return to Rome, Naples remained the most surrealistic experience of the entire Italian wandering.Since the coffee's effect is almost gone and this scum of weather doesn't push me into writing, only this about the new Rome: I set off early in the morning, in July weather, through the middle of Borgia park, not believing my eyes when I saw just how many flowers were blooming, I reached Piazza del Popolo with its two obelisks and twin churches (one of them sheltering, under automatic light, two ultra-mediated Caravaggios: you put the coin in, and for a minute the paintings, otherwise hidden in the velvety darkness, lightens. Big crap.) and I turned to via del Corso, miles of shops interrupted by church facades, to the Forum. There, between ruins, I meditated, of course, on the vanity of human ambitions. I reached the Coliseum. On the way there, Roman soldiers wearing impressive purple mantles were making publicity for ice-cream. They would manage to trick you for a moment and they would transport you there, body and soul. In this incomprehensible, unbreathable world, I had a terrible craving for reading Satyricon.

by Mircea Cărtărescu (b. 1956)