What’s Hiding in The Woods of Rome?

The sun was out and had already warmed the air by the time we woke up. We made mimosas and ate breakfast together in the garden. Our Airbnb host, Francesco, let us pick lemons from his trees and shared some of his homemade limoncello with us, handing it down to Jared from his balcony. It was quite strong and sugary. It was a wonderfully slow morning without trains, or trams or buses. We talked and ate breakfast, admired a tiny orange tree and found a lizard.

After breakfast we decided to explore more of our neighborhood. Soon, we’re walking through what seemed like a standard-issue city park with lots of old trees when suddenly, a giant flower is staring me in the face and grinning.

Close up shot of a giant plastic flower with red and yellow petals, a blue nose and eyes and a big smile

Somehow his yellow petals and big blue eyes are sinister, yet inviting at the same time. As we get closer, we can see there are a dozen more flowers, all smiling ominously along a fence outside a tiny amusement park.

Plastic flower with red face and blue petals smiling along a green fence

“Papa Don’t Preach” is emanating from invisible speakers as we step through an opening in the fence. There’s a man sitting in a booth in the corner but he seems content to ignore us. As we walk around, it’s clear (aside from the man in the booth) we’re the only people here. The rides shined as if someone had polished them and put them in storage. The clown is smiling, the teacup is ready to spin screaming children, but no one is there.  You can feel the stillness of the rides on your skin – “something wicked this way comes.”

Where are all the screaming children? Where are the people clutching elephant ears and eating taffy?Where are the children holding balloons on strings? Where are the carnival workers who should be barking at boyfriends to win stuffed bears? We stayed for a while and took a few photos.

As far as I could tell, the place didn’t have a name and there were no tickets and apparently no rules. I’ve seen those photos of abandoned amusements parks where nature is beginning to take back the landscape as weeds grow through rusted rides. But this was neither abandoned nor bustling. Was it even real? It felt as though it only existed because we were looking at it, like it might dissolve into a million multi-colored fragments as soon as we took our eyes off it.

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