Why I Brought a Film Camera to Rome

One of my deepest fears is that I’ll rush through my life without seeing anything. Without actually taking in that which is around me–the moments, the people, the ordinary, the extraordinary, the Golden Gate Bridge or the gull passing by. During a sunset of apricot and periwinkle, I could be patting my pockets to make sure my keys are still there. I can drive to the store and home with no visual recall. Maybe you know exactly what I mean. Or maybe you remember the particular angle the light fell on the face of your child that one day in a long ago June.

And so in the high-stakes packing choices that included shearing off a third of a paperback guidebook and leaving it at home with everything else not imperative for joy or survival, I packed an aged Pentax with a heft of approximately 1.5 pounds to lug up ancient staircases. I did this not because I believed the film photographs would be superior to those I could take with my phone. I did this so I wouldn’t go all the way to Rome and miss it. I carried this camera so I would do what one would hope would be natural and automatic: To see.

I brought three 36-shot rolls of black and white film, which signified potentially 108 times I’d likely take in what I’d anticipated months to see: The Roman Forum.

The Forum has a specific meaning in my history of not truly seeing. I hold dear a couple memories from my youth of times when something unexpected streaked before me and I not only saw it, it held me in awe. One such beholding occurred on an August night in Vancouver, B.C. when I was eleven. My friend Melissa’s family was adding a top floor to their home perched high on the city’s mountainside and let us have a sleepover up there on the unfinished floor with only beams between us and the sky above. Deep in the night, I woke up to witness burning balls tearing across the black, black sky followed by snail trails of shimmering white. Melissa and I watched this together with no real words other than the inadequate phrase “falling star” for what I’d later find out had a name: The Perseids. I not only saw this meteor shower, I was enraptured by it.

Another experience of youthful unexpected rapture came when I stumbled across the Roman Forum. I may have been the least knowledgable of ancient history 20 year old to ever have visited Rome. I’m not proud of this, but that lack of prior knowledge created the conditions for the awe I felt when after viewing the Colosseum (at least I think I “saw” it?), I wandered across the street and came across…what on earth? A pathway wandering through a magical kingdom of majestic arches, broken columns, fading Latin on chunks of marble, all cast against the modern cityscape of Rome. How could such a thing exist? I didn’t know what I was seeing, but I was truly seeing it.

And now decades later, I was returning to the Forum! And this time, I spent months before the trip reading Roman history and poring over maps of the Forum, hoping my knowledge would help me to really take it in. I knew I’d never be able to recapture the feeling of stumbling across an unexpected universe, but maybe now I’d experience the Forum in a new way, profound because it was worked for rather than a gift of unearned grace.

The first planned Forum day went nothing as planned. I arrived late as the day was winding down and the light was soft.The crowds had thinned and the sky was clear and a darkening blue. Everything I’d read back in Seattle about Ancient Rome had mostly flown from my head. With my camera slung around my neck, I hiked past the heady wisteria and elegant cypress up the Palatine, ready to assess the possibilities, line up pictures, and feel the metallic finality of the shutter click. I was ready to see all of it and decide just what I’d capture in the limited shots I held, my precious chances to behold.

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Enrolling Now: July 7th Memoir Intensive

Let’s spend a day devoted to memoir together on Friday July 7th! In the morning we’ll focus on brainstorming activities designed to get to the heart of your work as a writer, shorter prompts, and craft lessons on scene writing and strategies for moving between timeframes and narrative modes. Then over a block of time that will include our lunch break, you’ll have a choice of longer prompts to work on. At the end of the is time, you’ll have the option to submit this writing to me for written comments. The last afternoon block will be devoted to lecture and discussion on topics ranging from inviting the reader into the work, narrative arc, thematic drive, collage techniques, the publication process, and how to make the most of your writing time.

Instructor: Theo Nestor

Cost: $295

Date and Time: July 7th, 10am to 4pm Pacific Time

Class size: 16 max.

Where: Zoom

Questions? Email me at theo@theonestor.com

About Theo Pauline Nestor

Author of Writing Is My Drink (Simon & Schuster) and How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. Learn more about my courses, editing, and coaching at TheoNestor.com.
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1 Response to Why I Brought a Film Camera to Rome

  1. Meg Mahoney says:

    This is great! I didn’t know real cameras & real film could still be found!
    Thanks for the insights…

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