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Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

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Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Italy looms. We make checklists — diapers, crib bedding, a book light. Baby formula. Two dozen Nutri-Grain bars. We have never eaten Nutri-Grain bars in our lives, but now, suddenly, it seems important to have some.

I stare at our new Italian-to-English pocket dictionary and worry. Is "Here is my passport" in there? Is "Where for God's sake can I buy some baby wipes?"

We pretend to be calm. Neither of us is willing to consider that tomorrow we'll pile onto an Airbus with six-month-old twins and climb to thirty-seven thousand feet and stay there for fourteen hours. Instead we zip and unzip our duffels, take the wheels off the stroller, and study small, grainy photos of St. Peter's on ricksteves.com.

Rain in Boise; wind in Denver. The airplane hurtles through the troposphere at six hundred miles per hour. Owen sleeps in a mound of blankets between our feet. Henry sleeps in my arms. All the way across the Atlantic, there is turbulence; bulkheads shake, glasses tinkle, galley latches open and close.

We are moving from Boise, Idaho, to Rome, Italy, a place I've never been. When I think of Italy, I imagine decadence, dark brown oil paintings, emperors in sandals. I see a cross-section of a school-project Colosseum, fashioned from glue and sugar cubes; I see a navy-blue-and-white soap dish, bought in Florence, chipped on one corner, that my mother kept beside her bathroom sink for thirty years.

More clearly than anything else, I see a coloring book I once got for Christmas entitled Ancient Rome. Two babies slurped milk from the udders of a wolf. A Caesar grinned in his leafy crown. A slinky, big-pupiled maiden posed with a jug beside a fountain. Whatever Rome was to me then — seven years old, Christmas night, snowflakes dashing against the windows, a lighted spruce blinking on and off downstairs, crayons strewn across the carpet — it's hardly clearer now: outlines of elephants and gladiators, cartoonish palaces in the backgrounds, a sense that I had chosen all the wrong colors, aquamarine for chariots, goldenrod for skies.

On the television screen planted in the seat-back in front of me, our little airplane icon streaks past Marseilles, Nice. A bottle of baby formula, lying sideways in the seat pocket, soaks through the fabric and drips onto my carry-on, but I don't reach down to straighten it for fear I will wake Henry. We have crossed from North America to Europe in the time it takes to show a Lindsay Lohan movie and two episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. The outside temperature is minus sixty degrees Fahrenheit.

A taxi drops us in front of a palace: stucco and travertine, a five-bay façade, a staircase framed by topiaries. The gatekeeper stubs his cigarette on a shoe sole and says, in English, "You're the ones with the twins?" He shakes our hands, gives us a set of keys.

Our apartment is in a building next to the palace. The front gate is nine feet tall and iron and scratched in a thousand places; it looks as if wild dogs have been trying to break into the courtyard. A key unlocks it; we find the entrance around the side. The boys stare up from their car seats with huge eyes. We load them into a cage elevator with wooden doors that swing inward. Two floors rattle past. I hear finches, truck brakes. Neighbors clomp through the stairwell; a door slams. There are the voices of children. The gate, three stories down, clangs hugely.

Our door opens into a narrow hallway. I fill it slowly with bags. Shauna, my wife, carries the babies inside. The apartment is larger than we could have hoped: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, new cabinets, twelve-foot ceilings, tile floors that carry noise. There's an old desk, a navy blue couch. The refrigerator is hidden inside a cupboard. There's a single piece of art: a poster of seven or eight gondolas crossing a harbor, a hazy piazza in the background.

The apartment's jewel is a terrace, which we reach through a narrow door in the corner of the kitchen, as if the architect recognized the need for a doorway only at the last moment. It squats over the building's entrance, thirty feet across, fifty feet up. From it we can look between treetops at jigsaw pieces of Rome: terra-cotta roofs, three or four domes, a double-decker campanile, the scattered green of terrace gardens, everything hazed and strange and impossible.

The air is moist and warm. If anything, it smells vaguely of cabbage.

"This is ours?" Shauna asks. "The whole terrace?" It is. Except for our door, there is no other entrance onto it.

We lower the babies into mismatched cribs that don't look especially safe. A mosquito floats through the kitchen. We share a Nutri-Grain bar. We eat five packages of saltines. We have moved to Italy.

Copyright © 2007 by Anthony Doerr

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paul sorenson, July 3, 2007 (view all comments by paul sorenson)
While not as arresting as his fiction (e.g., About Grace) - this memoir of a year in Rome by Anthony Doerr is full of clear, beautiful writing. He explores the small cobbled backways of Rome's neighborhoods near the Vatican with his new twin sons, ruminates on birth, death, gratitude and anticipation while surviving days with out sleep (two babies, remember?) and being struck dumb and mute through not knowing Italian. He has written a touching and insightful and gently provocative book about Rome and being alive. Definately worth a read.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781416540014
Subtitle:
On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World
Publisher:
Scribner
Author:
Doerr, Anthony
Subject:
Description and travel
Subject:
Europe - Italy
Subject:
Essays & Travelogues
Subject:
Authors, American
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Rome (Italy) Description and travel.
Subject:
Authors, American - 21st century
Publication Date:
20070612
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
224
Dimensions:
8 x 5.12 in 10.325 oz

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Travel » Travel Writing » Europe
Travel » Travel Writing » General
Travel » Travel Writing » Italy

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 224 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9781416540014 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Doerr turns out a well-observed chronicle of his family's year in Rome, when he was a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Doerr is a precise, lyrical writer who, dividing his book into seasons, captures in equal measures the wonder of the Italian countryside, the mind-boggling history of the Eternal City and the measured joys and trials of parenting twin baby boys. Upon their autumn arrival, it is the boys who most connect Doerr and his wife to their new city: 'Grown men in suits stop and crouch over the stroller and croon. Older men in particular. Che carini. Che belli. What cuties. What beauties.' In Spring, Doerr captures well the color and emotionof the vigil for the dying Pope John Paul II, providing insight into the man and his death: 'More than three miles of artwork hang in the Vatican Museum and the pope could have any of it brought in front of him...Instead, he wants only to hear something read from the Bible in Polish.' The memoir is full of other such rewarding passages, and anyone with fond memories of Rome will want to savor it slowly. Illustrations." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Anthony Doerr is dazzling in this book, in the way he celebrates the joys as well as the pain of being a parent and in love, being a writer and being in Rome, reminding us that certain experiences never grow stale when they are expressed through the fresh eyes of a real writer."
"Review" by , "Doerr's journal is a love letter written with the ear of a musician, the sensibility of a Buddha, the heart of an inamorato. Rome is the chosen beloved, but Doerr's true subject is writing."
"Review" by , "I loved this book which, in turn, made me laugh and weep at the relentless twins, Owen and Henry, who never sleep, the descriptions of Rome, the clouds, the light — especially the light — the people Doerr meets on the street, again the light, Pliny, Jonah's feet dangling from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Shauna's steadfastness, Doerr's generous and intelligent spirit, his discerning eye and his perfect prose. Complimenti!"
"Review" by , "Anthony Doerr found himself in the perfect Eternal City with the eternal Paternal Problem: how to care for two beautiful newborn twins while still doing his work as a writer and student and observer. The result is a funny, precise, touching account of cultural barricades crossed and fatherly exhaustions overcome; a story of the universalities of parenting and the specificities of Roman life that will lift the heart of every parent and delight the mind of every lover of Italy."
"Synopsis" by , From the award-winning author of The Shell Collector and About Grace comes an evocative memoir of the timeless beauty of Rome and the day-to-day wonderment of living, writing, and raising twin boys in a foreign city.
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