Time Waits for No One

Yes, star crossed in pleasure the stream flows on by
Yes, as we’re sated in leisure, we watch it fly
And time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me
And time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me
Time can tear down a building or destroy a woman’s face
Hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste
Time waits for no one, no favours has he
Time waits for no one, and he won’t wait for me
Men, they build towers to their passing yes, to their fame everlasting
Here he comes chopping and reaping, hear him laugh at their cheating
And time waits for no man, and it won’t wait for me
Yes, time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me
Drink in your summer, gather your corn
The dreams of the night time will vanish by dawn
And time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me
And time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me
No no no, not for me….

The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

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Yesterday I wandered somewhat aimlessly after taking a bus to some Catacombs off the ancient Via Appia Antica.  Starting at the Baths of Caracalla, then on to the Lateran Basilica, up and over the Aventine Hill, moving along the streets, getting lost finding my way, stopping to watch a bike race in front of the Coliseum amongst fans wearing pink t-shirts, standing in a long line because a bunch of people were waiting to look through a peep hole — not knowing why but figuring it was worth it (St. Peter’s Dome was visible through arcing hedges way off in the distance, a perspectival miracle), drawing a church interior, paying to enter a sacred cloister, sketching a cityscape with dome upon dome.  After all that, I SUDDENLY STOOD STILL, and my heart ached, literally hurt, I felt this strange pang — maybe melancholy, maybe a strain of the sublime.  As I gazed at the view above of the Palatine across a trash strewn park, near a homeless man asleep with a bottle in hand on a bench I felt something having to do with time.

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I had just passed this wall of ruin and rebirth. Upon noticing it, I felt a tingling joy and my mouth involuntarily stretched and rose into a smile!  I recognized the purple passion flowers, past their peak but still blooming, reaching like little sun bursts towards the sky.  This wall is a thing of textural grit and grace, slathered with plaster, crackling in parts, encrusted with some concrete like substance and piled with wonderful round and rectangular rocks, reminders of a time before humans could ponder the meaning of time’s relentless passage.

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The day before I had visited the Vatican Museums with my students and mother.  We were led like cattle through the vast and packed space, encountering statues like the one above, ravaged to varying degrees by time.  The sheer number of statues that were brought from sites such as the Roman Forum was staggering, arcades stretched as far as the eye could see with statues lining the walls, in no apparent order, an archive of pride, plunder, and attempts at preservation.

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At the Roman Forum, nearly two weeks ago, near the beginning of our quick and concentrated trip, one of my students spoke of the sense of brutality that she felt during her encounter with this place that marks Rome’s origins.  The Forum was reduced to a cow pasture and the monuments were knee deep in dirt when archeologists began to excavate the site in the early 1800’s, the major excavation process took well over a century.  This site was heedlessly plundered, materials and structures such as columns used to build churches and other structures.

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There is a brutality inherent to the ruins of Rome, a sense of time’s negligence and that time waits for no one.  There is beauty as well, a blending of the present and the past.  And there is an aching form of awe to be found in the many rough, varied textures of walls gradually eroding into ragged cavities and stark formations of dissolution, testaments to human ambition and the impermanence of all things.