I loved living somewhere old. I loved knowing that there was more life behind me than ahead of me. The history of Rome was so perfectly captured in the beads I was selling. They were glass, blue and green in color, foggy and rough-edged, they were recovered from a Roman glass-makers trash heap outside of Kabul and had been brought to Rome by Pilgrims on their way to or from Mecca a literal thousand years ago.
I guess if you’re walking (for religious, or any purpose) thousands of miles, keeping your eyes out for interesting rubbish helps pass the time. These glass pieces had served many purposes in their time on earth, currently though they were beads for people to wear as accessories.
Just as the sea waves soften shells and seaglass, glass trash was softened by being buried in Earth for centuries. In downtime at the stand, I would sometimes just run my dry little fingertips along the strands of jagged beads and imagine the stories they’d been through. The glass trade has seen Mesopotamia, the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean, Roman Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, India, etc. There was no part of the world, seemingly, that hadn’t traded glass and suddenly here it was, my livelihood spread out on a small stand in the back of a market in Rome while I quickly died from kidney cancer. It felt beautiful to me. I would always be wearing the pieces that wouldn’t sell, I wanted to demonstrate the power of the glass beads.
Look at me, I thought, or shouted, to every shopper who made it back to my little corner, the entire purpose for these pieces is to make the wearer feel and look beautiful. It worked! Nobody thought I looked beautiful – I didn’t – but they saw that I felt beautiful and they wanted that.
If you can be dying, it’s best to do it in Rome while reminding strangers that feeling like a thing of beauty is more important than looking like one.