Ron Smith

Rome/Glasgow: Early March
February 25, 2022 Smith Ron

Rome/Glasgow: Early March


Our favorite time to visit—cool air for all-day walking, in
the twisting vicoli or mile after mile along Via Appia Antica,
parrots in the pines—majestic umbrella pines—puntarelle with
anchovy sauce, fried artichokes, gusts of garlic on every street,
the nearly painful excitement of escaping winter, sidewalk
saxophones, the jazz and noise and energy and tangles of
tongues and vibrant confusion of it all—this time, we found our
(yes, our) eternally crowded Eternal City bloated with beefy men
in kilts, roaring red-faced over mugs of beer with their substantial
companions in the ristoranti in Campo de’ Fiori, the tables in front
of the Pantheon, above, below, all over the Spanish Steps, blocking
the entrance to Keats’s final flat, from Trastevere and Testaccio
to Prati and Parioli, happy, boisterous, large-calved stereotypes
from a hundred movies, wannabe Bravehearts, clouds
of costumed clichés floating like Macy’s Day Parade balloons
through the cobbled streets . . .
Finally, in Piazza Navona,
I strolled up to a guy planting a beefy butt on the edge
of the Neptune Fountain. I was thinking of breaking the ice
by telling the pink behemoth they used to call it Fontana dei
Calderari, because it was so close to the blacksmith shops,
pots and pans pounded by brawny men of yesteryear in heat
like that I saw beginning to bloom in his considerable cheeks.
I tried to sound casual and friendly: “Where you from?”
Over the foaming mug in his fist he took me in. “Where
do ya think I’m from?” “Well,” I said, suave as David Niven,
“I live in Virginia, you can see a lot of kilts in Richmond.” He
looked me up and down. “Glasgow,” he growled. Not missing
a beat, I praised Rennie MacKintosh and the lovely country walks
all round his populous city, babbling about White Cart “Water”
and the Rotten Calder River and hollow dingles and such. I
mentioned Saint Mungo. I even used the word linn for waterfall
and the word gushet for a road junction—which allowed me to
segue to the glorious howling traffic madness that was Rome. I
used a word our landlady on the Isle of Skye taught me:
The whole time this jumbo joke in a kilt and sporran
and a tam-o-can-you-believe it-shanter stared at me as if I—in my
blue blazer and button-down shirt—were some kind of skeevy varmit.
“Why so many Glaswegians in Rome? You guys are everywhere.”
A swollen infestation, I might have said. “Football,” he said—then,
as if speaking to a half-witted child: “Rugby.” Really? Consequently,
flashed upon my inner eye another stereotype: A supercilious
gigolo dangling an insouciant cigarette, mesmerizing
a soccer ball with an expensive pointed shoe, his haughty,
head-tossing inamorata coolly appraising him—the last guy
you’re likely to see in the messy mayhem of a manly scrum.
“Italy has a rugby team?” “Oh, yeah, and they’re very good,”
he said with a frown. “You gallus boys won’t have any trouble,”
I said, like a goddamn fool. “You can handle these wine-sippers
like a wheely bin.”
His mouth fell open, but he had the presence
of mind to lift his mug to me. I envisioned a contest in Foro Italico’s
Stadio dei Marmi, a bloody maelstrom of Malkies that spattered
gore and fine Italian brains all over Mussolini’s effete marble
musclemen. Of course they’d be playing farther upstream
in the Stadio Flaminio, not far from the Milvian Bridge,
where Constantine conjured that dead wizard Jesus to rout
Maxentius and steal the empire’s throne. The Tiber was choked
with valiant bodies. But those were real Romans.
I didn’t think
about the match once that night as we lounged in Giggetto’s
with a crock of transcendent eggplant parmigiana, linguine
con vongole, and a liter of house white—after, of course,
our puntarelle and procuitto e formaggio. Finally, espresso
and Limoncello then weaving home, not a kilt or tartan plaid
in sight, just slim locals and a few drunk Germans.
Next night,
cafès and trattorias and osterias congested with muted,
morose Scotsmen and their somewhat less muted wives. Some
licked or spooned gelato without much pleasure or swallowed
absent-mindedly supplì or porchetta. One couple sat brooding
over cacio e pepe and carbonara that was getting cold. A few
of the old ones were simply stupefied, eyes wide. I remember
in particular in Piazza della Rotonda four corpulent Celts
gulping whiskey, gazing round with a wild surmise, silent,
flabbergasted, high and not at all dry upon what might
just as well have been a peak in Darien.

Ron Smith’s book That Beauty in the Trees was published in 2023 by Louisiana State University Press. His The Humility of the Brutes, Its Ghostly Workshop, and Moon Road were also published by LSU. Smith’s poems have appeared in many periodicals, including The Nation, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Five Points, and Arts of War & Peace (Université Paris Diderot). He is currently Consultant in Poetry and Prose at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia, and Poetry Editor for Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature. In recent years he has partnered with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to present poems associated with Man Ray’s Paris years and its “The Horse in Ancient Greek Art” exhibit. From 2014 to 2016 Smith was the Poet Laureate of Virginia.