We bought it to build a dream on, to propagate. He wanted to plant fruit trees and dig a pond; I imagined a center for healing, where women would come to believe again in possibility. We would build writing sheds, one for each of us, and a ring of rustic cabins for the women. In the mornings, we would come together, then go our separate ways. We’d meet up for dinner, to watch the shadows grow.
Richard Wilbur first visited Rome with the American Fifth Army that liberated the city, just behind the fleeing Germans, on 5 June 1944. By 10:00 p.m., his division, the 36th Texans, in trucks, in jeeps, and on mobile artillery, followed the tanks of the First Armored Division into the southern outskirts of Rome, where it paused, expecting to camp and rest within Cinecittà—then, as now, the sprawling center of Italy’s movie industry. Ever the explorer, Wilbur wandered into an abandoned viewing room and found, already loaded into an editing machine, a costume drama set in the Roman Empire. He turned the hand crank and watched a Fascist version of ancient history until his disgust overcame his curiosity. Around midnight, the 36th received an order to cross the city, mount the Gianicolo (Rome’s westernmost hill), and be ready to chase the Germans into Tuscany. But Wilbur’s signal company interpreted the order loosely, slept in, and didn’t cross Rome until the next day, setting up their Message Center inside the Vatican gardens.