CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Romernby Andrei NavrozovrnWhere All BelongrnIn my letter last month I tried to describernthe noble seriousness of Italian life,rnunique in that it has given the modernrnworld a middle class with a human face.rnEven on a simple physical level such asrnthat of the naked eye or of the camerarnlens, one can observe this seriousnessrnlike a uniform glaze all over Rome; sornuniform, in fact, that looking at a certainrntangible space, say a corner of a marketrnsquare or a street intersection, one cannotrneasily distinguish between the veryrnold, the old, and the newer patinations.rnA Russian photographer friend whornlives in London came to visit for a fewrndays. Generally I hate photography andrnphotographers, and it is quite likely that Irnlove Gusov all the more for being an exceptionrnto the rule: so one may delight inrnhaving a pimp, a fence, an editor of thernNew York Times, or a circus wrestlerrnamong the names in one’s address book,rnand congratulate oneself for being a wellrounded,rnsocially complete person. ButrnGusov isn’t like that, really. Famous inrnEngland for his portraits of actors, artists,rnand musicians, since the death ofrnPrincess Diana he has insisted on callingrnhimself a paparazzo.rnHe also collects combat and huntingrnknives. During the first day of his stay herntrudged dutifully along to all the rightrnplaces, such as the Colosseum, wherernthe meaning of the phrase “butchered tornmake a Roman holiday” is usually expectedrnto be revealed, but I could see hernen in Rockford,rnEat atrnLee’s Chinese Restaurantrn3443 N. Main Streetrnwas coming unstuck. On the second dayrnhe announced he had a terrible stomachache,rnangrily waved away a beautifullyrnpresented plate of trippa alia romanarnat luncheon, and come evening was fryingrnpotatoes in sunflower oil (“No dill,”rnhe moaned, “they don’t even have dillrnhere!”) and drinking warm vodka in thernkitchen. I desperately needed to awakenrnhim to the splendor that was Rome, andrnon the third day we took him to the Pantheon.rnOpposite, almost directly beneathrnthe inscription that reads like eternity’srne-mail address, M.AGRIPPA.rnL.F.COS.TERTIVM FECIT, therernnestles a small shop with all sorts of junkrnin the window. A moment later Gusovrnwas singing an animated duet with thernproprietor in assassin Esperanto whereinrnthe relative merits of the Spvderco andrnthe Applegate where expounded andrncompared. He emerged cured, and Irnsaw that what saved him was the proprietor’srnmanifest seriousness, his honestrnand openlv held belief that his knifernshop—not the rotunda opposite, not thernEgyptian granite of the columns, not therngiallo antico and pavonazzeto, not therntomb of Raphael—was the main attractionrnin the Piazza delle Rotonda. And,rnhaving emerged thus cured, my savagernfriend was finally able to tra’erse the majesticrnpronaos and even nose around insidernAugustus’ marvel without feelingrnalienated. He now felt he belonged.rnMark Twain, who swore that hernwould never repeat the phrase about thernRoman holiday in his travel notes, livedrnin an age when the essence of banalityrnwas didacticism. In our own age it is incongruity,rnand one trope the 20th-centuryrnwriter might swear to avoid is the cityrnof contrasts. Contrasts, you see? Contrastsrnare wonderful, from the modernrnplatitude-monger’s point of view, becausernat the end of the day there is, as itrnwere, no moral.rnIt is hardly a coincidence that the 20thrncentury has raised photography to thernlevel of art, so that the very word “contrast”rnnow seems to belong to the darkroom.rnPhotographers thrive on whatrnthey flatter themselves is Chekhovianrnethical neutralitv, and what they aim at isrnpopularizing the incongruous at streetrnlevel. Here is a small man with a bigrnnose, they all like to say, standing nextrnto a big woman practically without one,rnand behind them is a shiny Cadillac.rn”So what?” demands an audience ofrnold fuddy-duddies. “So what?! Oh,rnphilistines!” spit back the voung artists.rn”Don’t vou understand anything? Thisrnis life in the raw, this is chance, this is naturernbursting out of a bookish straitjacket!rnThere are no plots anymore, don’trnyou know, there is only situationalrnchiaroscurol Look, it’s a city of contrasts!”rnBut as I said, Gusov isn’t like that, perhapsrnbecause the Russians of my generationrnstill have a sense of intellectualrnshame. We feel we must wash our handsrnafter picking up somebody else’s point ofrnview, even if this means going withoutrndinner. Which is why, having adapted tornthe city as man and thug, at this momentrnin his Roman sojourn he came to face arnnew and even more terrible dilemma,rnhow to adapt to it as man and artist.rnWe are back to the noble seriousnessrnof Italian life. Rome is not a city of contrasts.rnPerhaps no citv is, but if one’s objectivernis some sort of living truth, not tornsee contrasts here is far more vital thanrnnot seeing them in New York or Calcutta.rnGusov is artist enough to have understoodrnthat; and for the second time inrnthose three days I watched him comingrnunstuck, this time as a photographer. Irnwould like to be able to report that whenrnhe first pointed his Nikon at a street corner.rnBaroque and mildewed and crumblingrnand covered with communist graffiti,rnto photograph a young woman,rnimmaculately elegant, gliding past, hisrnviewfinder melted like pagan bronze inrnthe hands of Bernini; but this did notrnhappen. He looked, and then he lookedrnall around, and then he put the lens caprnback on. Like him, the woman belonged.rnIt was a sentimental, Stalinist moment,rnrather like something out of arnmovie about the civil war when a Whiternofficer refuses to shoot a Bolshevik commissarrnbecause he too is Russian, or becausernhe too has a soul, or because he toornis part of the empire which will somedayrnrule the world for the good of mankind.rnThose better acquainted with Hollywoodrndepictions of the American CivilrnWar, the civil rights movement, or, for allrn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn