I’m currently living a secret life, walking the virtual streets of Venice and Rome as I lose myself in Italian Days by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison. Last night I came across her description of a green door in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, where it is said if you look through the keyhole, you will see, “at the end of a long avenue of mingling branches, the dome of St. Peter’s.”
Where have I read of this door before? In a Rick Steves’ book, perhaps? Somehow, this being the second time I’ve run across this tiny piece of information, I feel compelled to add a peek through that keyhole to my bucket list. If or when I return to Rome – which I find myself loving more with each visit – I will find the green door.
Which leads me to two thoughts . . . first, about travel. To step out of our every day lives and experience firsthand a place that is renowned can be a profound and even life-changing experience. Whether it is clasping the railing, face damp and slack-jawed at the roaring majesty of Niagara Falls, or turning the corner of a busy street in Rome and catching your first glimpse of the Colosseum, for a brief period of time it is as if you have been taken out of your own skin. You are not hot or tired; you don’t notice the pebble in your shoe. You aren’t overweight and the gutters aren’t in need of repair back home.
You are so completely in and of the moment, and it is exhilarating. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, travel almost feels like worship to me. I wonder if others feel a similar experience in church, or at prayer, or while meditating. Maybe any step away from the mundane to light up in appreciation of something bigger than ourselves offers a whisper of divinity.
The other thing about looking through the keyhole of the green door is the pleasure found in an unexpected view. I’m thinking of the sort of benign voyeurism of seeing a family at the dinner table, bathed in a golden light as your car glides past their home in the dark. You sit in the passenger seat, idly looking out the window and are presented with these tableaux of people’s lives. Someone in an easy chair, most likely facing a television you can’t see. A still life of furniture, pictures and a patterned wallpaper in an empty room. See the grandfather clock near the door? Don’t you love how the color scheme of yellow and cream and blue conjures up a Dutch Renaissance painting in the amber light?
Nighttime snapshots of people’s lives. Visions of the world, whether from the precipice of the Grand Canyon or through a car window in Madison, Ohio, or through a keyhole – anywhere. I am humbled when seeing feels like praying.