By Liesa Malik
Recently, my family and I had a chance to go to Rome. Rome! Can you believe it?
We were excited beyond belief, and made plans for months in advance. We even took a few Italian lessons and yes, bought the Pimsleur tapes with all good intentions of some fluency (personal note—a couple of months of practice doesn’t prepare you at all, but you give the natives a good chuckle before they kindly help you out, in English).
At last the great time came. We stepped off the plane and into a world of history, and history, and history. Two thousand years of lives and deaths were displayed everywhere we went. We walked and walked, through weather that was hot, and places that had ruin after ruin.
By the end of our first day, we’d walked close to five miles and most of us were ready with all sorts of complaints about our feet, the lack of places to sit, and anything else we could think of (except, of course, the gelato).
And those cobblestones! Okay, so they looked very nice, these black four-inch squares that pave almost all of downtown old Rome, called Centro Storico. But my goodness, they hurt American feet strapped into lightweight sandals.
By day two and a wander past the Spanish steps, the Piazza Navona, and even the great Pantheon, we had cobblestones indelibly etched into our consciousness and toes.
Day three and the cobblestones became something of a curiosity point. “Wonder what they’re made of?” “Do you think they’ve been here as long as the ruins in that Largo Arenula Argentina—that place where Ceasar was killed?”
It was right about then that my daughter met up with like-minded acro-yoga fans (long story). One of the people who gave her a lift to the meeting (a total stranger but for the Internet), told Nicola that the stones are indeed throughout Rome, and are called San Pietrini or Little Saint Peters.
The cobbles were originally made from the volcanic rock (black basalt) that surrounds Rome, and chiseled into their classic square shape. I have read on the Internet (so it must be true) that the cobbles are now sometimes imported from the Far East.
The stones were apparently originally used to pave St. Peter’s square by order of Pope Sixtus V in the 1500s so while not as old as the Roman Empires, there’s still quite a bit of history to these modest landmarks of a great city.
One story I heard was that each cobblestone, or San Pietrini, represents a soul that St. Peter has saved. This doesn’t sound like so much until you look across the vast spaces of the piazzas and realize just how many stones are there.
The most compelling glimpse of these stones took me completely by surprise. I like to photograph the quirky but beautiful small things I see on trips. You won’t view a lot of family-in-front-of-monument snaps from me. But you will see doorknobs, windows, bugs, and other small items.
So, one morning on my first walk of the day, when the streets were quiet and the merchants were still busy setting up their tents in Campo De’ Fiori, I wandered down a street I hadn’t walked before.
After about ten minutes of walking and taking my quirky snaps, I looked down to see two cobblestones that weren’t black at all, but were made of brass. Of course I snapped a photo, and then did my best to interpret what I saw. Angelo Tagliocozzo was the name carved into the first stone and Angelo Limontani’s life story was on the second.
Angelo Tagliocozzo was born in 1916 and died in 1944.
Angelo Limontani was born in 1920. He was “arrestado” May 8th 1944 and “deportato” to Auschwitz where, at age 24, he was “assinato.” I had accidentally wandered into the Jewish section of old Rome. I’m sure St. Peter saved those young souls, but for me, the cobbles I walked on for the rest of my trip meant something much more than an unsteady walk for me.
Can you write the story of a cobblestone? Whose name would you carve? What part of history would they have played? Is your life one that will find its way to the streets of Rome?
Wishing you a creative week.