On the north flank of the Circus Maximus, where Roman emperors presided over breakneck chariot races, there is a small and unassuming message affixed low on a brick wall. It doesn’t commemorate a historic event or a work of art. It bears just three short Italian words and a date: “Mi sono perso. XVII-IX-MMX”: “I am lost. September 17, 2010.”
The plaque is easy to overlook, but it has attracted the attention of many who are surprised, perplexed, and touched by it. One individual was moved to contribute the less enigmatic “PU” in green paint.
In its Italian context, the object recalls countless ex votos, engraved plaques dedicated by Catholics in gratitude for answered prayers. These are usually found in churches or shrines, but can show up on streets, sidewalks, and walls. Here though, there is no message of gratitude to God or invocation of the Virgin Mary, only the brief and inexplicable message.
In truth, the plaque was installed by artist Ruth Baettig, who left a series of 15 “Mi Sono Persos” between Sicily and Rome with the date of their installation. Baettig did not behind leave her name, or make much fanfare about the pieces. In her artist’s statement, she remarked that when one is lost they lose the sense of the future predicted, but they gain the sense of the here and now—the “pulp of life.”
Those who encounter the plaques are left with a feeling of displacement themselves, not unlike the confusion of losing one’s way. As one writer concluded in la Repubblica, whoever installed it “preferred to live in the unknown, and I who read the plaque feel dismay and a bit of envy.”
Know Before You Go
Formerly mounted on the brick wall beside the sidewalk on the northeast side of Via dei Cerchi, by early 2018 the plaque had fulfilled its own prophecy, and is now lost.