Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Four Seasons in Rome"

Anthony Doerr is the author of three books, The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World.

He applied the "Page 69 Test" to Four Seasons in Rome and reported the following:
Page 69 of Four Seasons starts with the words, “St. Peter’s altar” and ends with “Caligula.” In between, I puzzle over eighteen-hundred-year-old columns, the fourth-century Baths of Diocletian (a 32-acre bathing complex that included libraries, gyms, theaters, and, of course, plunge baths of every temperature), the color of ancient statuaries, and the Palazzo Farnese, a high Renaissance palace that took 74 years to build. Here are three paragraphs:

This city swirls with stories — the deeper into the library stacks you go, the more stories pile up around you. One pope’s nephew beats another pope’s nephew at cards in 1485 and the winnings finance the construction of the Cancelleria, a 3-story palace just off the Campo dei Fiori that is the size of a city block. Can this possibly be true? Does it matter?

Here’s something you can spend a day considering: At least 220 plaster flowers the size of patio tables hang from the underside of Michelangelo’s cornice of the Palazzo Farnese, staring down at whoever cares to look up. Not one of these flowers is the same as any other. How long would something like that take?

Here’s something else: most of the ancient temples, monuments, and statues were originally painted. The color of classical Rome was not chalky white but electric blue, strawberry blond, sunshine yellow: a seven-year-old’s coloring book, magenta temples, violet skies.

Is page 69 representative of the entire book? In one sense, it is. It’s certainly representative of Rome; the way, in a single block, whole centuries are heaped atop one another, apocrypha swirling invisibly in every doorway. On page 69, we move from St. Peter to Caligula in the space of 13 sentences, and that’s precisely how I’d feel when I’d walk down a street in Rome: I was constantly tripping backwards through time. What I try to suggest on this page, and elsewhere in the book, is that the more you learn about Italy’s capital city, the more bewildering and fascinating it becomes.
Read an excerpt from Four Seasons in Rome, and learn more about the book at Doerr's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue