Did the aerobics. Veronica has agreed to change the schedule of the aerobics class from 7:30 to 8:15. She agreed with Michele and me that it might get more people. I’ll like it because there isn’t really enough time to read the paper and do my puzzles before 7:30.
At 9am it was time for the 3rd and final lecture by Stephanie Trick and her husband, this one on blues and boogie-woogie. It was excellent, and at the end when Stephanie ripped into a couple of boogie numbers, and then finished doing four-hands with Paolo, I was almost crying it was so good.
Next up at 11am was the writers’ group, and I read the the thing I’d put together in some haste last night. It got rave reviews. People really liked it. A couple people took the trouble to compliment me on it later in the day, one in email asking for a copy, and one who passed me in the hall. So I’m going to put it in here.
Remember, the assignment was: a conversation with Janus, the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and endings. From the Wikipedia entry I got the lovely story that Janus was never built a real temple like the other gods. He only had an open courtyard whose gates were always open when Rome was at war (most of the time) and closed when there was peace. And today, nobody knows where the Janus courtyard was. That gave me material for the first few paragraphs, setting the scene. Then I had the problem of, what would an old two-faced god want to talk about? That required more deep research in Wikipedia.
A scene based on several Wikipedia entries
The narrow Roman alley ran in deep shadow between plastered walls, the gloom partly lit by afternoon sun reflecting from the white stone of the upper tier of the Colosseum where it peeped over one tiled rooftop. I had completely lost sight of my group and the cheerful umbrella of our tour leader. I decided to cross the cobbled way to the better lit side, but one step from the curb and I heard the annoyed squawk of a Vespa horn from the left and a yell of “Fouri dai piedi” from the right. I jumped back, tripped, stumbled, staggered, and fetched up against a wooden wall. I leaned on it to regain my balance and the wall began to rotate inward. It was a gate, not a wall, turning on primitive hinge-posts, yet smoothly opening to… what? Well, none of my business. I looked for a handle, a latch; I scrabbled on the heavy timbers to pull the gate closed again; but it continue to swing until it fetched up against an inner wall of smooth stone with a thump.
I was facing a narrow courtyard perhaps 20 meters deep and only a little wider than the gate. The walls and floor were of finely shaped stone blocks. It was open to the sky, and I could see that the stucco walls of apartment houses on each side were blank; no windows looked down into it. The opposite end was closed by… was it another gate? The air was cool and the sounds of the city were muted. I took a few steps into the place, wondering briefly if there might be a bench where I could sit and collect myself.
“Is it war again?” asked a baritone voice.
I jumped and looked around.
“I see no war in Italy tomorrow,” replied a tenor voice.
Both voices seemed to come from the same direction, somewhere near a deep niche in the wall to my right. I came closer and saw the head, well, heads of Janus sculpted in … I drew closer … quite amazing detail. The artfully curled hair; the elaborate beard of the left-looking visage; the beauty of the beardless face on the right. In the blue shadows it was impossible to tell; was that only stone? Hesitantly I reached out to touch the sculpture when the voices spoke again.
“If there is no war…” said the baritone,
“The gate should be closed,” said the tenor.
“It is the law,” they said in chorus.
Both voices had definitely come from the niche before me. I wasn’t quite certain whether stone lips had moved in the shadow.
“I’ll close it, but, forgive me,” I said, “Only when I leave. I’m afraid of being shut in; there’s no handle on the gate.”
“Have no fear,” said the tenor; “I see you leaving soon.”
“You are dressed poorly for a rex sacrorium,” said the baritone, censoriously.
“I am not he; I am only here by accident. I’ll restore your peace in a moment.”
“I prefer the wartime,” said the baritone; “with both gates open and all Rome passing by.”
“You can like war because you only see the fallen bodies,” said the tenor, “I have to see the blows about to fall.”
“It’s all fresh in front of you,” said the other; “All possibilities. You don’t have to watch the decay, the funerals, the grief.”
“This is interesting, but do you never…” I began.
“I see the cruelty, the bad choices, the mistakes as they form,” said the tenor. “I scream ‘Noooo’, and then they are past me, and new ones are growing.”
“So delicate you are,” sniffed the baritone. “I dwell in the aftermath, the damage, the scars, the regret, which stretches forever.”
“But can you never see the moment?” I asked.
“The what?” said the tenor.
“The what?” Said the baritone.
“I understand your real significance,” I said. “You are perfect exemplars of what the Buddha taught.”
“Who?” The voices asked in chorus.
“Well, the Emperor Aurelius, then. He said much the same.”
“I remember Aurelius. The gates were open for most of his time. Parthian war, ah…” rumbled the baritone.
“The point is, the future doesn’t exist…”
“I see it,” snapped the tenor.
“And that makes you a god. But does it make you happier? I think you already said not.”
“The never-ending stupidity, like a cold drizzle in the face…” muttered the tenor.
“It’s worse for mortals,” I said, “We see nothing, and if we hope, we suffer disappointment.”
“The past is reliable,” said the baritone.
“The past cannot be changed.”
“It can be regretted. That is what I do.”
“So, Aurelius (and that other chap you wouldn’t have met) came to the conclusion that to be emotionally attached to either the future or the past, was to be enslaved to a heartless master.”
“Then all are slaves! I see it!” Said the tenor voice.
“Perhaps a few escaped…” said the baritone, uncertainly.
“There is a thing you, god that you are, cannot see, called the present. To live in that, they say, is freedom.”
“You describe a space where what I see coming,” said the tenor, “changes, becomes…”
“Becomes what I see fading,” said the baritone.
I began to walk toward the gate.
“The moment of true action…” said one voice,
“The moment when probabilities resolve to fact…” said the other.
I pulled the gate away from the wall; it came smoothly on its ancient pins.
“We cannot see it!” Said both voices.
I stepped around the gate, pulling it toward its jamb. As it settled into place I might have heard a crack of stone breaking.