What surprised me most about the 7th Annual Rome Science Festival, devoted this year to the theme of Time, was the attendance. I had heard that Festival events sold out quickly, but I still found myself amazed to see hundreds of Romans of all ages milling about the Parco della Musica and crowding into its spacious lecture halls at every opportunity. I had spent two weeks preparing my talk, "How Time Put the World in its Place" -- or, as it appeared in the Festival program, "Come Il Tempo É Riuscito a Mettere il Mondo al suo Posto." That left me free to sample the other offerings, which the organizers had scheduled without overlap. In theory, one could take in the entirety of the Festival's lectures, concerts, and panel discussions, beginning with the inaugural address by cosmologist Jean-Pierre Luminet of the Paris Observatory. Luminet spoke in French. I queued up for the simultaneous-translation headphones being distributed in the lobby, but found French-to-Italian the only available option.
Although my command of Italian suffers from disuse, I accepted the Festival challenge of "when in Rome." I especially loved listening to author Stefano Benni read aloud some short pieces he'd written under the rubric "Che Ore Sono?" ("What Time Is It?"). One of these sketched a weather-perfect, happy day at the beach, interrupted all of a sudden by a cry from a mother who realizes her son has strayed too far from shore. She screams his name, and the other bathers rush to help the boy. In that instant, the narrator sees the distraught parent divide into two women: One gives way to grief over the tragedy of the drowning, while the other embraces the child who is returned to her. The narrator closes his eyes for just a moment, but when he opens them, he finds the beach deserted, with no sign to tell him which of the alternate worlds he now inhabits.
The Festival coincided with the Italian publication of A More Perfect Heaven by Rizzoli, as Il Segreto di Copernico. In celebration, my astronomer friend Ettore Perozzi and his colleagues at the science bookshop Libreria Assaggi arranged a partial play reading in the store. Perozzi is pictured below, setting the scene for Retico (Fabio Condemi) and Copernico (Stefano Onofri). Thanks to the actors' perfect diction and enthusiasm for their roles (and further aided by knowing what they were supposed to be saying) I understood every word.