creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica is immense, overgrown, like a greener Pompeii.  The vast shipping complex at the mouth of the Tiber, silted over and excavated.  Wildflowers are everywhere, now, and the lovely cross-hatched patterns of brick.  In the Forum of the Corporations, astonishingly extensive black and white mosaics pave the open court—elaborate constellations of mythological beasts and swimmers, sinuous sea creatures.  Neptune in his chariot, horses with sea serpent tails, and then more ordinary ships and dolphins, and even an elephant or two.  The mosaic images were the equivalent of signboards advertising the shipping companies doing business there, carrying their cargoes between Ostia and the far ports of the Empire.  Constantinople, Alexandria, Carthage—and up the river into the voracious mouth of the imperial city itself.
     It’s not a holy place, though it is hushed and redolent of other worlds:  here were bars and restaurants, shoulder to shoulder with the temple of Isis.  A working port.  There are stone mills, and rounded clay ovens that look like the adobe hornos of the New Mexico pueblos.  (I heard once too that the Navajos glaze their pottery with piñon sap, as the ancient Greeks did their amphoras—there are always these connections, these reverberations.)  Not empty beauty, but a feeling of significance beneath it all.  That’s what charms me, I think.  The charged fascination of the ruined places (lime kiln, baths, shops, laundry), the poignant traces of lives (fragments of frescoes, inscriptions).  I follow happily the narrow cobbled passageways running between still-standing walls and under gentle arches, their foot-polished stone rippled and glistening as lapping water, as wet to the eye as if the ancient shopkeepers had that morning again sluiced off their doorsteps.
         There is a grassy space that seems to be planted with the broken mouths of storage jars, stone rings with grass and myriad tiny white daisies growing up through, the jars themselves buried or decomposed below, their contents spilled or sprouting.
         And then the broken columns, the umbrella pines.  The hush of the silt over all—until a bevy of Italian schoolboys comes, shattering the trance.


No comments:

Post a Comment