Servi climbed up the steps of the Metro, turned down the street, past the last apartments, and was soon on the Via Appia Antica, the tourist section of the road, lined with long, low tombs, and punctuated, here and there, by lovely villas in the Roman country style, with sprays of bougainvillea cascading from their second floor balconies and pots of tumbling flowers surrounded by reproductions of ancient Roman statuary.
But like all neighborhoods in Rome, this section quickly changed, and after pressing through a stand of tall cypress trees leaning conspiratorially together over the remains of a crumbled pile of stone, the ruins of a nymphaneum, he was in the open span of the campagna, Rome's fabled open countryside; Rome’s Arcadian suburb and border zone, whose sylvan charms attracted painters, artists, poets, lovers.
On Servi’s Penguin Edition of Goethe’s Italian Journey, Germany’s most celebrated bard lays recumbent in a white peasant blouse and drooping tan hat, the hazy ruins of the campagna his graceful backdrop. There is little left of Goethe’s campagna. Now, it was a marginal land adjacent to the city, studded with abandoned cars, dump heaps, derelict farmhouses burned and gutted by squatter’s accidental fires, decaying classical aqueducts, and in the distance, the low crouching giants of Rome’s urban housing developments, lumbering into the campagna in loose and chaotic formations, like a unit in the Italian army, creeping uncertainly into possible danger.
As he approached the broken line of aqueducts, their hazy and irregular contours took on a more definitive shape. The arches, some standing, and some fallen, were surrounded by weeds as tall as Servi, and in some places, whole trees had sprouted between the crumbling columns, their heavy boughs drooping toward an earth strewn with urban rubbish.
In the near distance, Servi could see in the blue tinted darkness small moving shapes, whitely luminous. From the yapping dog he realized that they were sheep. As he walked beside the sheep, along a pitted track strewn with broken glass, the arches of the aqueduct were little more than slender columns, like the stumps of burned candles. In some of the holes along the solid stretches of wall, Rome’s poor made homes for themselves, often supplementing the space with whatever they could find: a piece of corrugated metal, a packing crate, some torn canvas.
Then, in the distance, Servi saw the beat up cars. Some of the prostitutes had their own cars – while some belonged to their customers. As he walked by , Servi was propositioned by African women from former Italian colonies and women from the former Yugoslavia and Albania: this too was part of the history of the campagna, Servi thought. It was the area of decay, of malarial swamps and tombs, a zone apart, a place where men came to participate in carnal rites as old as Romulus and Remus. Here, erotic and artistic license walked hand in hand with decay and its close cousin death.
After walking for five minutes, Servi noticed Francesca’s blue Fiat. It was not difficult to spot: next to the beat up hulks it shone sliver against the overcast sky and brown aqueduct walls. No one was around, so Servi tapped on the tinted window, which cautiously lowered. When Francesca saw that it was Servi, she sprang out of the door. She was heavily made up, and wore pendulous earrings and, in conscious imitation of the Slavic women, wore sultrily out of date 80’s clothes: a tight halter top, a pair of pastel short-shorts, so tight that Servi could see, even in the dim light, the outline of her labia. She eyed Servi cautiously.
“What do you want?” she asked in heavy dialect, gravely, in order to simulate the mock sensuality of a professional.
“I want to get out of here. Come on Francesca, let’s go.”
“You can fuck me in my cunt, my mouth, my ass…”
“Francesca, come on, it’s dangerous here. This isn’t funny. This time you’ve gone too far. Let’s drive home. You’ll get out of that stuff, and we can drink some wine on your balcony,” and Servi lightly grasped her arm to bring her toward the car.
“Hey, no rough stuff. I’ll scream and the others girls will hit you over the head with bottles. Five-hundred thousand lire for a fuck. Seven-hundred thousand for my ass. Ninety-hundred thousand for a blow job.”
“Why is it more for a blowjob, of all things?”
“Its more work for me.”
“Its more work for me.”
“How the hell do you know that?”
“I’m a whore,” Francesca looked at Servi mockingly, as if he still did not get the joke. “I know my business!”
“Come on, enough of this shit,” and Servi grasped Francesca’s shoulders roughly, trying to force her into the car. She started to scream, shrilly, as if Servi was going to kill her; her voice came from some confined spot deep within her throat, as if Servi was trying to take her life during the act of sex, and her passion for live was far stronger than his will to crush the life from her.
Servi Something was dripping down his face. Rain? He looked up at the sky to check, but another voice roused him before he could decide. It was Francesca, screaming again, but this time with a note of desperation --- and Servi did not know why. All of this human drama simply fell around him as if sucked in a hole in the ground.
Just before he passed out, he rolled to the ground gazing up at the humid campagna sky, and he realized that the vault of the heavens was brighter than the dull, sodden campagna. These were the electric lights from Rome, of course, but as the world funneled down a long, winding, increasingly narrow tube, Servi felt that he was watching some divine cosmic drama. There was a battle being enacted between creatures of light descending from this liquid sky, and the forces of dark, enmeshed in this ground and struggling to be free of it and to take up arms against their brethren of light, and Servi had a ring side seat.