To me, Rome has always been synonymous with romance and sex. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there and have gone there for several anniversary trips since, and this year’s trip was another reminder of the erotic romantic nature of the city. A week amid the ruins and the busy Christmas hubbub was another reminder that there’s nothing new under the sun. Our first night in Rome we walked beneath the wonderful rainbow wave of Christmas lights strung from one end of the Via del Corso to the other. All through our trip, we caught plenty of glimpses of couples embracing and caressing and sneaking kisses in wonderfully public places. The atmosphere was perfect for love.
With the overwhelming glut of virgin and billionaire novels out there at the moment, it’s interesting to take virgin power back a couple thousand years. One of the highlights of the Roman Forum was the time we spent in the quiet ruins of the House of the Vestal Virgins. We were there early and even though the sun was bright, the shadowy reflecting ponds had the thinnest skin of ice across their mirrored surfaces. The commitment of a Vestal Virgin was thirty years in return for money, power and position. Afterward she was free to marry or not. It was a pretty damn good proposition for a woman back in Roman times.
With the Christmas season in full swing, there were crèches and images of the Madonna and Child everywhere. It’s hardly possible to overstate the importance of fertility and the birthing of the next generation. The need to see ourselves and our world reborn, the need to feel that sense of continuity is as old as humanity. We were never more reminded of that than when we stood in the gardens at the Villa d’Este in front of the powerful image of the fountain of Ephesian Airtimes with her many breasts and her cloak providing shelter for birds and beasts.
In the Vatican Museums it was interesting to note that all of the male Roman and Greek sculptures either had penises broken off or hastily covered up with plaster of Paris fig leaves. You can imagine how refreshing it was to find ourselves at the Temple of Hercules in the ruins of Ostia Antica gazing upon a very ancient, very manly statue which no longer had head nor hands but had all of his bits still proudly displayed in a lovely sculpted nest of marble pubes. I have to admit I felt a bit naughty taking lots of pics of marble genitalia, and yet I felt the power of the temple ruins was right there in the muscular torso proudly sporting maleness. At the risk of sounding either pervy or flakey, it did something to me. The power of the human body, the power of human sexuality captured in stone several thousand years ago still moves me, maybe even more so because that power is still the same, no matter how many fig leaf coverings are hastily plastered.
Near the Temple of Hercules is the Domus of Amour and Psyche. This truly was Mecca for the erotic romantic in me. Psyche and Eros has long been my very favourite story from Greek Mythology. How could I not be drawn to this testament to the power of love – a mortal woman fighting her way to godhood to be with the man she loves. Yup, I think that’s a powerful metaphor for romantic love – at least it is in my head. But Psyche (soul, mind, spirit) is joined to Eros. Nope! This is NOT platonic love! This is throw-you-down-on-the-bed, ride-‘em-cowboy erotic love. It always excites me to think of what happens when the erotic meets the spiritual, so it’s not surprising that I found this place the goose bump raising highlight of my week in Rome. We were lucky to nab a very kind Australian tourist to take a picture of us paying homage to Psyche and Eros. I took dozens of pictures of Hercules and of Psyche and Eros because the places, in their quiet off the main path site are powerful reminders of what I do as a writer and why.
Now, sitting home in my living room, looking back to that sunny week in Rome, I can’t help thinking that while there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s everything always new under the sun. There’s newness in the inspiration, the penetration, the conception, the birthing, the nurturing, the seeing ourselves reborn again and again, not only in the next generation, but in the places we create inside our heads, the stories we, as writers birth into
the world. There’s comfort in the continuity of thousands of years while there’s excitement in bringing it all around again fresh and new and re-envisioned.
May the old and comforting be infused with the new and exciting in 2014. And may your journey be full of love and joy.