One afternoon, I came home on the 492, the bus line that crosses Rome like an undecided serpent. I caught it at Piazza Cavour, in front of a purse store for ladies who arrive with drivers and an old café with chauvinist jokes hanging on the wall. The 492 crosses Rome at its center, almost like a cheap tourist bus. If one looks out the windows, there are glimpses of the fountains of Piazza Navona, the long stairs of Piazza di Spagna, and the Egyptian obelisk brought by Caesar Augustus at Piazza del Popolo. More discrete treasures also catch the eye, like the long line of trees by the river, and an internal garden surrounded with arches, if one is lucky to catch the door to the street open for a moment.
But what allured me that afternoon came before those treats, and also before the house where Stendhal sojourned in Rome and the café where Goethe hanged out. There was a bus stop at a narrow street, and in front of it there was a bookstore. There was no sign above it or on the glass, nor any wall visible, just a pure view of books covering everything from top to bottom. Old books, bound collections. The floor was of wood and the lightning was warm, and there was a passage from the first room to the second through the books – no door, just a passage with books to the left, to the right, and above one’s head. For the glimpse of a second, that image seemed to me like a portal to another world, the closest resemblance to an entrance into the endless stories of old that sprang if one only opened one of those brown hardcovers, smelled its age, and dived into its yellowed pages.
I left the bus by impulse, and entered the bookstore. I began running my fingers through the covers, feeling the texture of leather jackets and imprints in gold, while the floor cracked as I walked around. The editions were luxurious, and some of the books seemed to be a few centuries old. I opened a few and absorbed their smell: yellowed paper, finger imprints, the dust from the street, the humid air coming from the river nearby. The whole place felt like a time capsule, going ever backwards – there were the complete works of Freud, the campaigns of Napoleon, the drama of Shakespeare, an illustrated edition of the Bible in Latin, histories of ancient peoples.
An older gentleman asked me what I was looking for. I picked a book at random from the shelf – I didn’t have the courage to admit that I wanted just to savor the place – and asked how much it was. He showed me one of the back pages, and there were numbers written in delicate pencil: eight, zero, zero.
“Eight euros, then,” asked I.
“Oh, I see…” I thanked his attention, stole a last glimpse of the walls of books, and stepped outside, laughing at myself.
The 492 takes me home, and I start writing an article for Wondering Fair. It celebrates one year of life this week – thank you everyone! – and for me WF has been a bit like that visit to the bookstore. A surprise. A time capsule. A crossing of space. An atmosphere of community and dialogue. A side stop which enriches the rest of the journey. Our posts may not come in brown covers, nor cost 800 euros, but hey, we’re savoring life, and engaging with it, and stealing glimpses of beauty, and showing how the news of Christ relates to all of reality. We’re having a good time, and let’s keep on enjoying these little moments before the bus takes us home.