21 ROME SILENT BEAUTY Didn’t what we lived through during the lockdown perhaps generate a similar effect of estrangement? At the time when the cities had emptied out and the forms appeared to be complete in their absolute presence, wasn’t it the city’s monuments, streets, piazzas that were looking at us? No noise, no sounds, no fireworks, no curious gazes, no chattering; nothing at all. The beauty of the city rediscovered its stone roots. For a whole springtime we lived the unimaginable experience of an emptying out and desertification of the city that can only happen in dreams or nightmares. Dissipatio H.G.: only traces of our passing remained. Yet, it is as if these traces told the story of a dead person. A city without human beings is indeed a lifeless city. And yet beauty is not completely excluded. On the contrary, perhaps it had found its purest and most ancestral form. We aren’t the ones looking at the city, rather, it’s the city looking at us. We are shut inside our homes, sheltered from the monster. But the city cannot be attacked, it cannot be infected. It emerges from the mortal wave of the pandemic like some extraordinary shipwreck. Now, finally, every trace of the past, every monument, but every site in the city as well, will have the care that it deserves. It will not be violated by the mindless incivility of mass tourism. Ultimately, we’ ll have absolute respect for the works that can only take the form of absolute silence. Unsurprisingly, Freud paired beauty with death. In both of these experiences something prevails over us, decentering our Ego. Both beauty and death bring with them an undecipherable mystery that we cannot be the masters of. We must retreat, take a step back. Let our traces survive us. Dissipatio H.G.: the city built by humans regains its formal mythology with the disappearance of humans. After all, the human being is not needed for its beauty. The same would indeed be true for death. It is the human being who dies each time, not death. Death’s indifference to humans, the superhuman indifference of beauty toward its beholder. I love the sunrise in my city because there is no one around. No human being to spoil the city’s landscape of absolute beauty. Just composed forms, traces, fragments, spaces, volumes. No psychology, no human measure, just the absolute beauty of the form that nourishes itself. We were excluded, distanced, from the landscape, left to watch the austere and heartbreaking spectacle of beauty still descend upon the streets, roads, piazzas that used to be ours. You can no longer touch the stones of the churches, just as you can no longer touch the water where the fish live. A glass box isolated us from the world in those days. We inhabited the enclosed spaces of our homes, excluded from the open space of the city. We were still a part of the city, but the city was outside of us, impossible either to touch or to inhabit. We watched the city change, suddenly reaquiring its absolute beauty. Were we, then, just the stain on the picture? The insolent presence of those who offend the silent perfection of great beauty? Didn’t we learn that we are not indispensable? Didn’t we learn that beauty, like death, goes beyond us? But what would a city be like without human beings? Doesn’t a city perhaps always speak of us, of what we were and what we are? And yet, when we look at the images in this book that describe a deserted Rome, we cannot help but think about our superfluousness. The stones, churches, monuments, piazzas, streets, roads that humans have used to build their cities are revealed to be independent of our actions. The lockdown separated the work from its author. And now it lies before us like a distant and unattainable presence. We are no longer the ones looking at it. It looks at us.