The convent sat on the Aventine Hill, close to the Garden of Oranges. Behind its high yellow walls grew pear trees, peach trees, apricots and grapes. Every morning a sister came out into the early gray light and worked the black soil of a vegetable garden. Artichokes, trellises of climbing beans, tomatoes turning reddish purple as the sun came up. The sister was built like a German, big-boned and stout. She wore a work apron over her habit. Her face never showed—only a slice of it between the wings of her wimple. She seemed a strange gardener but she dug and mulched and weeded between the rows with confidence.
I slept in that garden behind those walls for several nights before I was discovered and sent away. From the Garden of Oranges—il Giardino delle Arance—next door I could watch the dome of Saint Peter’s turn colors—gray to pale to stark white to rose to pale to gray—as the day progressed. The oranges were ornamental, bitter and inedible. The sounds of the city, the Eternal City, rose from below the Aventino in long coils like braided rope.