When you travel, how many cameras do you pack and how many pictures do you take? Do you enjoy your trips more when take photos? Once you’ve returned home, how many photos do you share with friends and family? And how often, in the following years, do you return to your photos to enjoy anew your earlier trip?
Questions like these yield a wide range of different answers because people have differing ideas of how best to take their pleasures. Does eating one chocolate per day from the box yield more pleasure than gobbling them all down in a single frenzied session? Some would say yes, but …
These questions were triggered by the unexpected arrival of the photo you see at the right. It was taken by a friend when we were both “junior year abroad” students in Rome (Rome Center for the Liberal Arts, Loyola University Chicago). “Too bad”, she observed”, “that we didn’t have digital cameras back then.”
I am not sure if she was referring to the quality of the photo, which was a bit grainy, or to the fact that developing photos back then was prohibitively expensive for most student budgets, meaning that few photos were printed. I was delighted, of course, to have gotten a digital copy of the photo, which was taken in the winter of 1969-1970. When it arrived, I asked myself why I hadn’t taken my own photos during that year. This triggered the first of several recollections. I remembered myself expressing the opinion that it is better to travel without than with a camera.
Huh!? What was I thinking? My reasoning, as best I can now reconstruct it now, went like this. People who know they won’t have photos to rely on in the distant future will dedicate more attention during a trip to what they are actually seeing, looking longer and deeper in order to “burn into” their memory what they hope to remember later on.
I’m not sure if this approach really does result in the creation of richer and more durable memories. At least that seems to have been the explanation I gave myself for not taking pictures during my junior year abroad. The real reason, however, was probably that I didn’t have enough money to afford a camera or develop the pictures I might have taken.
Most people who take pictures on a trip will on occasion ask themselves “Where was this photo taken?” (The question has, of course, provoked many a marital battle.) I wasn’t sure initially where the photo of me as a 19-year-old had been taken, but gradually I began to recall bits and pieces of information. With these fragmentary recollections and information I garnered on the internet I reconstructed the context in which the photo had been taken.
Here’s what I think happened. Those present feel free to correct my recollections.
We took a commuter train from Stazione Termini in Rome to Frascati. The purpose of the trip, as I recall, was to visit Cicero’s villa on the “Tusculum Hill”. I don’t remember who suggested this destination but I’m sure I was enthusiastic because I had studied Latin in high school and spent a lot of time translating Cicero.
Once we arrived in Frascati, I’m sure we had a brief look at the Villa Aldobrandini from the outside. It is unlikely we entered because our general strategy was to avoid doing anything that involved spending money. We then followed a curving road that passed to the left of the Villa Aldobrandini, walking in a westerly direction for 4.5 km until we reached what is now an archaeological park (Parco Archeologico Culturale di Tuscolo – La Via Latina) but was then simply pastureland. There we saw an amphitheater built in the second century A.D. with room for 3,000 spectators.
Nearly all of this is conjecture, inasmuch as I have few specific recollections. The lack of specific information seems to belie the claim I made as a youth, namely that the absence of a camera promotes the creation of rich memories. I now agree with my friend that it would indeed have been nice to have had a digital camera back then. If I had gone to Frascati with my present smart phone, I’d now have access to the exact GPS coordinates of all the photos I took and could even listen to notes I recorded as I took them.
However, as I continued to ponder the photo, additional memories began to emerge. I retrieved several images of our walk: a yellow sign with brown letters that pointed us towards our destination, and a section of the road we walked, curving upward and to the right, thick vegetation on either side. I have no recollection of actually seeing the amphitheater, but I do remember how crisp and clear the day was, and I remember the sounds of shotguns as local “sportsmen” blasted away at small black birds.
Now, 42 years after the fact, I know that we did not actually visit Cicero’s villa in the Castelli Romani. Historians are quite certain that the Cicero’s beloved villa was located within the limits of the modern day cities of Grottaferrata, Frascati and Monte Porzio Catone but its exact location remains uncertain. One local writer suggests that the most likely of three competing hypotheses is a site on the Colle delle Ginestre outside Grottaferrata, where it is said that “not so many years ago it was possible to see the ruins of an important Roman construction.”
Those vestiges are gone, probably having been sold by dealers in illegal antiquities or else incorporated into the gardens of the modern houses built over the Roman ruins. What does remain, however, are the political, social, and philosophical writings of Cicero.
What remains of my school outing four decades ago are the memories I managed to conjure up, a single photo, and a question of how best to immortalize trips in memory.