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August 4, 2020 | Rome, Italy


By | 2018-03-21T18:59:57+01:00 April 6th, 2014|Area 51|
Elsa Peretti by Helmut Newton, 1975.

idway down a busy street a vagrant forages through a green dumpster topped with discarded books. He seems surprised to find the books and examines the titles individually. Finished with one batch, he puts some in one of his many plastic bags, digging deeper for more. He examines a handful of Shakespeare tragedies, doesn’t like them and tosses them back.

Midway down the same street, a woman walks toward the man after turning the corner from a wider boulevard. She’s a twenty-something brunette, lanky, with bobbed hair towering above a tiny skirt that ends at her waist. The rest is black tights. Her stiletto heels make her look like a leggy missile pulled along by a conveyor belt beneath the pavement. She is beautiful but unsmiling. The men and women at the bus stop across the street gape.

The dumpster man does not. He’s too busy filling his bags. He pauses to dust off his shirt and pants, then scratching at his hand, as if the books themselves were prickly. But they’re not. Instead, he’s picking himself clean. He’s found something that looks like a sweater, or maybe a vest. It is woolen-like. He sets aside the books and examines the soiled vest, shaking hard so that it makes a snapping sound. He buries his head into it.

At this moment, the leggy brunette sashays by him, her tall sex outlined against his rodent energy. For a few seconds they seem like a parallel universe couple poised for a masquerade ball. But she doesn’t look at him, or he at her. The vagrant has managed to fit himself into the torn woolen concoction and is visibly pleased.

The overlap lasts only an instant. She continues down the street, poised, saying nothing and not slowing down. He ignores her and presses ahead into a second dumpster.

In a few minutes he will finally have settled on a large quantity of paperbacks, which he will cram into the brimming bags and carry away, a swollen bag in each hand. She strides to the next corner, fully aware she’s being watched from across the street, moving past a bar with outdoor tables where the looking intensifies, male and female eyes tracking her until she reaches the traffic light, at which point she turns left and disappears. Not once has she glanced to the side. She’s merely been and done, an unblinking cameo.

Minutes later, it’s as if the scene never happened. Buses arrive and the crowds at the stop disappear into their squeaky heave. Bar patrons return to their early spring mid-afternoon banter. I push ahead to the broken-lidded dumpsters; my destination before the scene unfolded and I paused to watch it.

Rome streets are installations in progress, some of them under construction, some in the process of being dismantled, occasionally making and unmaking occurring at once with neither getting the upper hand. Cities always do art’s work, though Rome probably does so with greater flair than most, fusing perfume and refuse as if to insist on the fact that all humans have the same squatting rights regardless of scent or station, lace or lice. Models and vagrants occupy the story into which they’ve been cast in passing, seeming like fiction — until the chapter runs out of words, and its characters go their separate ways.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner
Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.

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