The Mysterious Treasure Of Rome

Dr. Juan Moisés De La Serna
The Mysterious Treasure Of Rome

The Mysterious
Treasure of Rome
Juan Moisés de la Serna
Translated by Eduardo Jiménez López
Editorial Tektime
2020

“The Mysterious Treasure of Rome”

Written by Juan Moisés De la Serna

Translated by Eduardo Jiménez López

1st Edition: May 2020

© Juan Moisés De la Serna, 2020

© Tektime Editions, 2020

All rights reserved

Distributed by Tektime

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Prologue

If somebody had told me, I would not have believed it. Who could have told me that a last-minute trip could end up becoming my greatest adventure, and that thanks to that trip I would be able to save the life of the person who later on would be my wife for thirty happy years? Sometimes my memory plays tricks on me, and I find it difficult to remember places or dates. That is why I am going to tell the facts as accurately as possible, so that this text serves me as a diary.

In my life, as I suppose in everybody’s, I have had many good and happy moments and also difficult and sad ones, but none as important as what happened to me that week, that shaped so much my way of thinking, and my future.

Dedicated to my parents


CHAPTER 1. THE DESIRED JOURNEY

If somebody had told me, I would not have believed it. Who could have told me that a last-minute trip could end up becoming my greatest adventure, and that thanks to that trip I would be able to save the life of the person who later on would be my wife for thirty happy years? Sometimes my memory plays tricks on me, and I find it difficult to remember places or dates. That is why I am going to tell the facts as accurately as possible, so that this text serves me as a diary.

In my life, as I suppose in everybody’s, I have had many good and happy moments and also difficult and sad ones, but none as important as what happened to me that week, that shaped so much my way of thinking and my future.

Long time ago a friend of mine convinced me to leave my memoirs in writing, but it is not until these last days that I have decided to do so. Maybe I had not done it before out of laziness, or maybe because I believed that I still had many years ahead of me, but now it is different…

No one has told me how to do it and I am not sure everything will work out well. I may even fail to include many details. I could also confuse the names, but my mind is clear about the events that happened to me.

Since I just turned eighty, I now realize that much of the emotions lived those days were probably and largely the result of my inexperience and ignorance, which is something I have gradually learned and understood after my subsequent explorations and travels.

My room, full of photos and souvenirs such as statues and miniature monuments, and carpets embroidered with local themes, always brings me back to some of the many places where I have lived.

If you were to ask me where I come from, I would not be able to answer precisely. Looking at my passport I see the place and day when I saw the light for the first time, but then… I have lived in so many cities and continents, sometimes staying for three months, sometimes for years. Everywhere I have done my best to team up and help, as much as I had been able to.

That is why along all those years I have been found worthy of a couple of medals and some other recognitions, although for me the best thanks for my work is what I have seen day after day in the faces of my students, in the happiness in their faces that equally reflected illusion, desires and hope.

My dear students…!, they have always been my great source of inspiration, although on several occasions, as I have told you, I think they have not totally believed what I was telling them, but from them I have learned more than what they may have been able to get out of me.

Well, I am deviating, everything at its time, because I do not intend to tell my whole life, but only to record, almost as a manifesto, what undoubtedly was the most intense and important period of all the years that I have lived.

It was early morning, on a summer day…no, perhaps it was spring!, now I remember that one of my fellow travelers was still affected, not to say intoxicated, after the recent celebration of what they now call the Spring Break, that gathered so many young people on campus.

Although not all of us were students, we certainly knew how to party, with music and dances, sharing and partaking with friends a moment of recreation, away from the pressure of the studies and the restriction of the classes.

There was even someone who had brought something to snack on, prepared by his mother, lucky him!, he could still enjoy the delicacies of the family kitchen and not like most of us who were forced to eat on campus those flavorless dishes, which tasted like hospital food.

Campus food, despite being well cooked or stewed, was always tasteless and every day it tasted the same, even though they changed the menu to feed us well, with a proper nutritional balance suited for our constant physical and intellectual activity. However, no matter how much variety they tried, they cooked it without that shred of love and affection that our mothers added, which is the secret seasonings of any great cook.

However, not everyone had the same fun. The crazier fellows downed their beers as if they were drinking water from the fountain, beer they had brought in those barrels, even knowing that was forbidden.

The rest of us, a little more aware that we had classes in the afternoon, limited ourselves to enjoy the moment, without indulging in excesses.

At the end, I had to take to his room one of our companions who had drank too much. All of them had a strong stench of beer. They would not have been able to make it to their rooms, since their legs could not even stand their own weight.

Even more, when they tried to walk on their own, they would stagger for a few short steps until they suddenly fell down. Then, they sat on the floor, as babies learning to walk, without being able to advance more than a couple of feet.

That while they repeatedly babbled, once and again, saying they had to return to their rooms. It was as if the guilt had taken hold of their minds, and they could not see that they could not walk any further. It was impossible to reason with them, to convince them to remain seated until the dizziness was over, and they could undertake the almost impossible mission to return by themselves to their rooms.

A disgraceful view for some great athletes, which some of them were, to see how they now were unable to stand up for more than a few minutes.

Some of us had to help taking them to their rooms to rest what was left of the night, knowing that the next day they were going to find themselves sick and with a severe headache, but it was their share for their excesses.

The morning had dawned radiant. I do not remember such a sunny one and it was barely six. However, I was so excited that I needed to get up and start to do something, but I already had it all set up.

The many years of discipline in this academy had made me a very responsible man, righteous in my thoughts, tidy and foresighted, so much so that my suitcase had been already prepared for almost a week.

As far as the clothes I was going to wear, some boys had suggested we all go dressed the same way, perhaps the same type of clothing or wearing something of the same color. Most of us disliked the idea, already tired of wearing daily uniforms, and now having to wear another uniform on this trip.

I took only a pair of trousers, a few shirts, a vest, socks and underwear, which filled most of my suitcase, along with the country’s travel guide and a notebook to write down the most important events of each day.

This is precisely the notebook I am now looking at, to remind me of the most outstanding events of the trip. This because for a long time now I do not trust my memory any more, from the day when I happened to be in the middle of a street calmly walking, and I stopped and found myself standing still for a moment with a blank mind.

That day I tried to remember where I was going, what I was going to do, and the most worrying thing was that I did not know where I was coming from. I did not know where I lived, everything around me seemed strange and new, and if I had ever been before on that street, it did not look familiar to me at all.

I was very nervous looking all over the place. I saw people passing by with no worries, like a mother running while she pushed a stroller with her baby inside, who was peacefully resting, dressed in pink with a large lace of the same color on his head.

Then there was this man walking a dog on a leash, carrying a rolled-up newspaper under his arm. Maybe he had gone out precisely to do that! To buy a newspaper. But, where would the store be, and what was the newspaper he normally read?

 

My breathing went faster as time passed by with no answer, looking all over, trying to stop people that quietly passed by, to ask them if they knew me of anything, or if they could help me get home.

Cars came and went on the nearby road until one of them stopped and without leaving the car, the man on the passenger’s seat asked me in the kindest of tones,

─ Do you have a problem?

I did not know what to answer, I did not even know why they had stopped, probably they knew me from somewhere, maybe they were my neighbors, my friends or my family… maybe they even were my own children, and I just could not remember.

I moved around to turn my back on him, embarrassed by the situation. I felt so useless and bewildered that I began to tremble with despair, looking everywhere, knowing that they had asked me a direct question, but I did not know the answer, I did not know… not even what my name was.

─ Don’t worry, sir, let us help you, the first thing we have to know is your name and if you live nearby, ─ the man insisted as he got out of the car and made his way towards me. I saw he had a round shape, and he was sporting a striking blue shirt with trousers of the same color.

I still was suspicious of him, because although in a reassuring tone, he was coming closer and closer with too much assurance, and I did not remember him from anywhere or anything. For me it was like the first time I had seen him, and that even though I tried to remember him, but…with no success.

─ Don’t worry, I am a cop, ─ he said as he put on that peculiar hat that I quickly recognized, ─ Do you carry on some ID with you? Maybe in your wallet!

Although I was pleased I had recognized his profession, I was unable to utter any sound. I felt like I had a carrot stuck in my throat, with extreme dryness in my mouth, and I could not say a single word.

However, even if I had not had these difficulties in expressing myself, I would not have known what to say, because I could not focus. While my breathing sped up by the confusion of the moment. I could barely hear what was happening around me. I listened to him as if he were far away, as if he were not close to me at all.

─ Look in your back pocket, ─ the little man insisted in an almost fatherly way. He had a short neck barely separating his head from the rest of his body, while he gently put a hand on my shoulder.

─ Back pocket? ─ I answered through my teeth with almost no sound, while I started to recover thanks to that little pat on my shoulder, which I took as a great show of affection. It was just like what I felt when first my children hugged me, or later on did so my grandchildren.

Deeply breathing and somehow distressed by the situation, I put my still trembling hand in my back pocket and, to my surprise, I felt something hard. I took it out and there was what the police officer had said, a wallet with a photo ID of someone. I assumed it was me, and that was probably the reason why I was carrying it.

Those were hard days for me. Doctors ordered me to rest and eat lots of nuts, a few hundred grams a day. Every time I could I changed to hazelnuts that I liked more. Good thing there were nurses that took good care of me every day, until I could take care of myself again. Only that it was never as it was before.

After that, both when at home or on the street I wore a pendant that had a button. I pressed it when I had some trouble, or simply when I did not know where I was or how to get back home. When I pressed it, if on the street I only had to wait a few minutes for someone to come over to help me.

If I was at home, the TV would turn on and a nice young lady would ask me what I needed. Although those cares seemed unnecessary to me, it is true that they saved me out of more than one tight corner.

Unlike the way I felt when I was younger, waking up every day was for me a source of joy, knowing that I could still do something good for other people, because although I have been retired for a long time, I had not stopped doing what I think I was born for, which is to do well to others.

I already fulfilled my ambitious dreams to search for a social position, for the respect of others and for the possession of enough money to spend a comfortable old age. However, now I only have vague and banal memory of all this.

So much time wasted in these trivial details, so much life without living, worrying and preparing for the future. And when the future arrived it turned out it had no sense. It was an empty existence I could only fill out little by little. That I did thanks to what was my great love, that started in my teens and I had it until it was over. If I had pursued a real estate career, I would now have many properties. If I had been a banker, I would now have lots of money, but even though I was only dedicated to helping others… I felt tremendously fortunate for it.

Well, I continue with my story…, let’s see…, I was talking about the Spring Break party…. No, I already told that. It was… the next day.

At about seven o’clock we all went down to have breakfast. Well, those of us who could wake up, because there were some who, after going to bed drunk, they were still sleeping it off.

At ten, we were on the bus to the airport. There were about forty of us, from all the faculties, that had decided to go on this trip.

To do that we had to raise the money we needed, selling blouses or newspapers, and all kinds of desserts to go with the food, and of course we held a copycat charade party, where all of us going on this trip were supposed to sing like a different fashionable singer, whether individually or in groups.

The idea was not to do it flawlessly. It was only to amuse ourselves and entertain this dedicated audience, which sang along all the songs, so our performances were much easier.

The costumes we used were not too good. We did not spend much time preparing them, as our exams were close, but that did not prevent us from having a great time for a couple of hours. There was even a fellow from the audience, who took the stage between two performances, and he improvised a song with equal success as the rest.

That day they talked of nothing else in the faculty. Everybody down the halls congratulated us as heroes heading to a glorious epic that would remain in the annals of history.

Some joked about our being irresponsible, going on a trip just before the final exams, not even knowing if we would finish our studies that year or not. However, none of us cared, hoping that, as we expected, it would be a memorable adventure, which it was so, at least in my case.

Once on the bus we discussed what we thought we were going to find. We talked from a more cultural and historical point of view, describing the places that only had touristic interest. Finally, we arrived to the most frivolous subject that finally was the central one for the rest of the way to the airport: the girls.

We all had an idealized image of those precious creatures, but one’s opinion differed from that of another. There were as many opinions as people in the bus, and even if we had asked the driver, for sure he would have illustrated us with another entirely new view.

The only one who seemed to have a precise idea of the reality of our destination was the head of the trip’s organization. He had spent several summers in that country, although in the south, on the beaches, and now we were heading to the center of the country. In that very long country there were numerous places to visit, each one having its own features.

From the southern vineyards, with its beaches and that smoky mountain always about to burst, to the fashion city of the north with one of the most recognized soccer teams in the world. One could pass through many towns and cities that had centuries-old traditions, some of them that had marked the course of the country’s history. In the case of others, they had their own architecture or an exceptionally beautiful landscape.

Rome, our final destination. For this, we had set aside Paris, Amsterdam or Madrid as candidate cities that also stood out for having one of the following two characteristics, a certain outstanding tradition and culture, and a friendly and youthful atmosphere.

Although they could have included many other cities in the list, the truth was that there were only these four possible choices, and among them Rome was chosen. None of us but one had been in the city, while for the others there were several who had been in one or another.

Back then we did not know very well what we were going to face. They had arranged everything as a group trip, the transfers, the stay, and even the food, and we only had to bring along a few lire, the local currency, to buy some souvenirs.

For that, before leaving we exchanged a small amount in the bank, although we preferred to do so at the arrival airport, because we thought the currency exchange would be more favorable in the destination country.

It was one of those things that we young people thought, that making a little money, saving the most on a few little things we could tomorrow start a large company.

Now that I remember, some of my fellow students later on became senior executives of major companies, even one of them was director of the I.M.F. (International Monetary Fund), a position that none of us dreamed of reaching, despite the influence, power, and money of some of our parents. However, of those rash and ambitious young people, what is left now?

From time to time some of us fellow graduates would meet to remember the number of decades since we graduated, but there is not a single one left of those with whom I had more contact.

The years have got all of them, despite the great fortunes that some of them managed to amass, or the many surgeries more than one had, to change a spleen, the liver or even the heart, trying to remedy the excesses of their youth, trying to cheat death. However, death eventually comes to all of us, I do not know why it has not come to me, perhaps I still have something to do, but I do not know what.

Well, now that I remember, I had a friend who after spending his fortune on donations to research centers, asking them to find for him a cure for that terrible disease that is old age, all he got was a lonely and cold six-by-two foot coffin, in an experimental center, where they keep his cryogenized body.

There he is, inert as if in a deep sleep, hoping that after a number of years, perhaps a few decades, technology advances so much that they would manage to bring him back to a much-desired very long life.

Personally, and after having survived so many and so many, I now understand that only a few years would have been enough… if I only had realized what was really important.

So much time wasted searching and desiring, not knowing the true value of every moment. I have often thought that if I had a second chance, I would change a lot of what I have done. Not that I regret something, because I have a clear conscience, but I would do it differently and even in a different sequence.

So many memories, so many experiences, and now all is left is a bunch of photos in an old album dumped in some drawer, or some of them framed and hanging on the wall, waiting for someone to come and ask me about them.

I have never been very good telling stories, because my hurry always advised me to get to the point, forgetting the details. Now, however, even if I wanted, those details no longer exist, only the photos and some notes. The rest is as if behind a thick morning mist, which conceals the landscape.

That gives me a strange feeling, sometimes of admiration and others of helplessness, knowing there are treasures behind this mist. One is certain they are there, but unreachable to me.

My wife, she was indeed exceptional remembering even the smallest details of any trip, meeting or conversation. It was amazing how clearly she could tell them. It was as if she had them in front of her to describe them.

I am still amazed remembering how she was able to recognize people she had not seen for years, and how just by seeing them she knew exactly who they were, and what she was talking with them the last time they had met.

A prodigious memory that allowed her to learn about any subject by just looking at it once.

She said that was because she had a photographic memory. I laughed telling her there was no camera, not even the more modern ones, that could record as many images as she did.

Ah, my wife! I do not think there was on the face of earth somebody as special as her. It is a shame she had to leave so soon, when we still had so much to share, so many trips to take… it seems that it was yesterday when I first met her, and instead now…

 

How strange memory is! It remembers everything when it wants to and some time after that only the void remains. If I only could keep my memories for a moment…! What is the point of all that I have lived if I cannot remember anything? At least my legacy will remain in my students.

Thanks to them and to their children, everything I ever knew will be available for future generations. I would be truly satisfied if at least one of them could apply what I have taught them, and that this could improve his life.

Well, again I digress…; fortunately I have here in front of me the diary of my trip, to remind me where I was. Let´s see, what did I write in my diary for that day?

“April 23rd, 1953. Today we left at ten, and went to Paris to change planes to Rome. Upon arrival a bus took us to the hotel. A charming establishment of small rooms and somewhat hard beds, but with incredible views and an exceptional location in the tourist area. First day of the adventure, sharing a room with Arthur, who snores so much that I could not sleep.”

That is what I wrote down in my notes, along with a drawing of the sign on the hotel’s doorstep, the coat of arms of the owner’s family.

Well, I do not remember too well what happened, but what is clear is that none of us spent the night at the hotel, because we wanted to tour the city and see what was not in the books.

At the end, after much walking, we had to return to the hotel discouraged and extremely tired after a boring and fruitless night. We spent the night wandering through those dark and dimly lit alleys, with a constant dimness broken only every now and then by some small streetlamp which seemed about to turn off.

And all that walking for nothing. We could not find our intended spot, where we were assured we could find a party ambiance any time of the year.

Maybe we took the wrong street, we turned at the wrong corner, or we went in the wrong direction at some plaza, and that took us away from our destination. No matter what it was, none of us was too upset, because in any event it was a real experience to be able to see the city with other colors, favored by a beautiful and bright full moon, reflecting on the walls the crooked shadows of the statues and ornaments of these medieval houses.

Our broken dreams of that night did not discourage us to take the next morning a tour of the city center, for which we had the help of a guide provided by the embassy.

He was an older man, of strong build and with a certain bohemian air, in the way he behaved and in the colorful handkerchief he carried on his neck, bent outwards.

As far as I could remember it was the first time I saw a man wearing a handkerchief as a piece of clothing. I had only seen girls using one to cover their heads when it was too windy, so that their hair did not get too unruly.

This man was at the same time our tourist guide and he kept an eye on us. He was told to take good care of us, to prevent us from getting in trouble while we were at the city.

I think, however, that was not entirely necessary because we were all conscious of the political situation of the moment, how delicate our presence in the city was, due to its international consequence. So, we all tried to stick to the approved plan, but unfortunately everything got out of hand when we had the first serious incident of the trip.

Despite many warnings saying our presence in that place might raise mistrusts and suspicions among the people, we had not seen a single offensive gesture toward us. In addition to that, we did not expect that to affect us too much, because we were only coming for a few days to see everything, and we were following a plan. However, an incident with one our classmates, who was robbed of the little money he was carrying, caused the group to disorganize and fall apart.

Some of our classmates, including the one affected by theft, began to chase the robber, not so much because of the amount of money stolen, but because of the rage of what had happened. In addition to this, after the thief stole the money he turned towards us and started to laugh meters away, showing with scorn the money he had taken. However, no matter how we tried to catch him, all attempts were in vain.

It was not that he ran too fast, only that he knew every corner and all the ins and outs of those alleys. Also, out of nowhere a couple of his accomplices came out and got in the way, making it difficult to our classmates to run after the thief, becoming then impossible to catch him.

On the other hand, I think that those that were running after the thief had no clear idea what they would do once they caught him and had the money back. They were just reacting as a bloodhound instinctively searching its prey.

That caused an unpleasant sensation in the group, breaking the harmony we had had until then.

Some decided to go back to the hotel to call the embassy, tell them what had happened so far, and ask them for further instructions of what to do. A few pressed our guide to call the police, the carabinieri. He refused, moving his head. It seemed that what had happened was more normal than what they had told us.

The few of us that had nothing to do with the situation decided to continue with the tour, knowing that we did not have too many days before the end of our stay, and that the loss affected more the pride of that young man, who had seen his privacy violated with that theft. We then thought there was no reason for us to stop our cultural activities to tour the most interesting sights of the city.

When he saw all this confusion, the guide showed those of us who wanted to continue the tour which way to go, and at what time we should be back for lunch. He then went back to the hotel with those who wanted to report the case to the embassy.

Some of our classmates changed their minds. Although quite upset by why the guide had not called the local authorities, they decided to continue the tour with the rest of us.

Those of us that stayed were less than half of the original group. Some of us waited for those who had ran after the thief, to tell them where we were supposed to meet the rest of our classmates, and so be together before going back for lunch.

Then for us it was a real adventure. We were in a country where we ignored the language, and everywhere we looked the local culture was totally unknown to us.

Since we had already toured with the guide the most important sights, the Colosseum and the Forum, now we were heading to haphazardly see some of the many downtown churches that are throughout, like dewdrops in a countryside, waiting to be discovered by the visitors.

Those visits of a religious nature did not make much sense to me, since long time ago I had abandoned my beliefs. For that reason I found no real meaning to enter to every single church to look at altarpieces painted centuries ago, or to admire a statue or an icon, no matter how remarkable, how ancient or how very well-made it was.

However, to my surprise, the churches not only had architecture and religious relics. They also had many other elements, archaeological remains or items belonging to popular culture no matter their origin, since they had become places of refuge for artistic pieces, even with no religious significance.

An example was the visit to the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Outside the church there is this a great archaeological marble piece of a carved wheel with the image of an old man with scrambled hairs and a tangled beard. The image has an unsettling look and a big open mouth.

First we were kind of puzzled looking at those that were in line before us, until to our bewilderment one of us dared to put his hand inside the mouth and nothing happened. After that, we all did it likewise with equal result, not fully understanding the meaning of that, or its purpose.

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