Sunday, 3 November 2013

Roman Holiday

The clocks were turned back last weekend, so the days have been suddenly and thinly compressed. The light starts to fail at around three o’clock, the yellow trees dimming as the grey deepens. By five o’clock, we are sunk in darkness: the wet ground duplicates the office windows, the streetlights shoulder their sodium haloes and the shy moon begins her slow climb through the earth’s turn.

Invariably, people complain about the changes – the altered clocks, the rain that slants in sheets, the nights that stretch like black elastic – but I love the suddenness of it all. Summer has dwindled gradually into Autumn, Autumn has heretofore dawdled along…and then comes the end of October, and with it, a switch is flipped. The line between before and after is clean and cold, punctuated with darkness and stars, and from now on, we are on the descent into Winter, down, and down, like Persephone into her long half-calendar of blue subterranean rooms.

Two weeks today, I will be flying to Rome. It is strange, at least to me, that it is still sunny there, the cobblestones still baking with heat, the blonde ruins still simmering in hours and hours of light. I’ve never travelled out of my season before. Always, at this time of year, I have gone to places that are as cold, if not colder, than home. Paris last year was bitter. New York before that was frozen over, glittering with frost like a disco ball. I know, of course, that seasons on other continents are different to those I’m used to at home, but still it feels otherworldly to be able to fly from one season to another on a whim - like a magic spell, or a wish granted in a flash of sparks.

This will also be my first ever romantic break, which amplifies the magic factor exponentially. The thought of four whole days in Rome together fills me with lovely drifts of butterflies. I can’t wait to explore the city - the opulence of the Vatican, the elaborate ceilings of the Sistine Chapel, the crumbling grandeur of the Colosseum - but one of the things I'm most excited about is to do so as one half of a couple, and take part in all those little coupley things that I've seen and sighed over for so many years but never experienced for myself. Holding hands in the street. Stopping to kiss by one of the many fountains. Taking arms-length photographs with our beaming faces cheek to cheek.

Don't get me wrong. I will never be one of those girls who needs a man to be happy (thirty two years of being single has put paid to that)  or who defines the crux of her existence by whether she has a head on the pillow next to her at night. But right now, I am all a-flutter with first love, and treasuring the honeymoon period, which I know won't last indefinitely.  I am old enough and wise enough to know that - if I am lucky - the whirling dizziness of these early days will settle into a calmer and more companionable sort of love, and if it does, I want to remember every phase, every layer, every moment of how we got to where we are, like counting the rings on a tree to determine its age: this is our first date, this is when we said I love you, this is when we realised it was for real and for good….
And if it isn't meant to be, then I will deal with that, too. It's just a pleasure to be participating, for once. To feel like part of the game, and not a faceless presence on the sidelines. It's still a  bit terrifying, if I'm completely honest, the whole falling in love thing - it's not all roses and goodness and pleasure. Openness can be completely unnerving. Letting someone have access to all those parts of yourself that you normally brush under the rug is nail-bitingly worrying. I suspect I will never be comfortable with being vulnerable, but then who is?
There is a quote I love by Kurt Vonnegut: "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down". That is just about perfect for where I am now - somewhere between the sky and the sea, my skin thin but rippling with feathers.