Rome is not concerned exclusively with tourism. Other things go on there.
But on the other hand this is the city which offers you a choice of Caravaggio’s ‘Judith and Holofernes’ (at left, possibly my favourite painting), the Pantheon, the view from steps of the Tempietto, a range of ice creams, the Piazza Navona at night, the staggering foundations and lower orders of the Palace of Justice — you have never seen stonework like this — the clothes shops on the Via del Babuino and the Cola di Rienzo, the track from the Trevi fountain to the Via della Rotonda, the upwards climb inside the cupola of St Peter’s and the relief when you get out into the air, more Berninis and Bellinis than you can poke a stick at with a special mention for ‘Triton’ in the Piazza Barberini, the outcroppings of places to eat in unlikely corners, a chance to look at the actual chains which bound St Peter, buildings which have a layer or a section from each of the last 20 centuries and before, the Laocoon, legitimate confirmation that Brutus looked just like a Deputy Principal/Rotarian, the Pièta, and oh well the Sistine Chapel I suppose, the church of St Louis of the French, the Borghese Gardens, the cats in the Largo Argentina. I like the Spanish steps for functional reasons in their clusters of 16 and their generous treads but they are always covered in people. There’s the Forum, the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, Michelangelo’s designs on the top of the Capitoline Hill, the ‘typewriter’, the Vittoriano with its crazy flying chariots, I love it, gigantism incarnate, a glorious sort of madness.
That’s the beginnings of a list. Henrik Ibsen who probably had no business being there in the first place suggested that it would take him three lifetimes to scratch its surface. It ticks every box in the way no other ‘great’ city does. It has history; it has form.
Yet it’s a snake’s belly of a place. Myrna will disagree. She is a resolved fan without a cell of doubt in her body. Maybe a cell of doubt, in fact maybe a small organ of doubt just below the pancreas. There was, for example, the issue of actually getting the cakes from the display case to the table at D’Agnino, and engaging the attention of the waiter at the same venue was one of the designated labours of Hercules.
The issue is the Romans. If they’d all nick off and let the rest of us just get on with it, it would probably be fine. If Graham and Barbara had been there too, as arranged, to whinge to/with instead of being sequestered in a six and half star hotel in Hong Kong defeated by the ash cloud, catharsis would have been available.
As it was, and without ignoring the possibility that I was better man for it, I left after a week feeling like I’d had a good rub down with 24 grit sandpaper.
Our new accommodation was in the slightly jaded glories of the Veneto at the Hotel Savoy, as it turned out an excellent spot. The Savoy is an easy walk from Termini through the corner of Repubblica down Bissolati and up the hill of the Via Veneto. You’ve seen it in the films. The cabanas outside the grand hotels full of people noodling around, looking for someone famous. We walked past and they didn’t even notice. Extraordinary.
We walked extensively. The day we arrived we appeared at the bottom of the Spanish Steps as though magnetized — there really is nothing very attractive about them except the clusters of 16 — and looked down the Via Condotti. Saturday afternoon shopping and, for me, a vision of hell.
How many shoppers? Thousands, tens of thousands, stupendous, puzzling, tiring. Despite the lure of every name fashion outlet in the world, we veered sideways a block and had a cup of coffee to stock up. I was wearing a sign, quite visible to anyone engaged in commerce, saying: ‘Mug. Make the most of him.’ And they did. I provided the title to our house to some Eastern European Italians for coffee, a piece of cake and some biscotti and we moved on, because if you don’t you’d lose all self respect and have to kill yourself.
And then almost immediately we stumbled into the Church of St Louis of the French and stared open-mouthed at the three Caravaggios there detailing seminal moments of the life of St Matthew. I was more than happy to pay the one euro to keep the light on so we could see them. They are just there on the Corso, like in Swanston Street, except just like they wouldn’t be in Swanston St; and of course they have been there a while — a neat 410 years. Caravaggio’s work is always so strikingly modern. His contemporary relatives are the photo realists except he has insight and a narrative purpose that places his work in a very definite time and place. A bunch of older men were playing Piazzola outside in the Corso — sax, accordian, double bass, violin — with so much joy I rushed to give them what little money I had left.
From there we lurched round a corner into the Collegium with its huge dramatic columns, and around another corner to the piazza in front of the Pantheon looking resplendent at evening, not looking a day over 2000 years old, as comfortable, unique and multitheistic as ever, and thronging with people taking photos. What a building, truly!
The structural coffering in its ceiling is one of the world’s great engineering masterpieces. It is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and it was 1500 years before anyone approached the same perfection in developing massive curved architectural spaces, and even then it was the Italians — especially Bramante, but Alberti and Palladio with his enormous impact on neo classical building as well, and Michelangelo if only for the cupola of St Peter’s.
Its inscription has the same stark directness as the building: ‘Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius having been consul three times made it’. It is of no concern that it was really Hadrian (if a politician can be truly said to be a builder).
From the Piazza Navona we went and found where we‘d stayed last time near the Campo de’ Fiore and it all looked very much the same. It was dinner time so we sat down at one of the few ristorantes that wasn’t overwhelmed with customers and the waiter questioned our bona fides. Did we really want to eat or just to drink and cause him trouble? It was hot and I wanted a beer. We couldn’t take up space if we just wanted to drink … and so on and possibly on, but we didn’t stay to find out. It’s the big city, any big city. You need stamina. The way home necessitated passing the Trevi fountain.
The next day was hotter, a Sunday, and the schedule was to find shops to buy expensive clothes for a song, visit St Peters &c. Suffice it to say we walked to or past almost everything in the first paragraph. St Peter’s was swarming with queues hundreds of metres long, the particular clothes shop was shut, went the wrong way over the Ponte Palatino and found ourselves in the Circus Maximus … look, just another day.
Our guide book to Rome offered seven walks. Reading through it that night I discovered we had done five and a half of them and walked 22 kilometres.
We had had lunch in Trastevere with ‘The Officiant Guy’ and his family. We didn’t have to; we just did.
‘Chris Robinson is the Officiant Guy in Los Angeles, California. He is a non-denominational wedding minister, an attorney and a notary. He also has other wedding ministers on call to help couples in need of an officiant. The combination makes him a very reliable wedding professional. He officiates wedding ceremonies [not ‘at’ just ‘officiates’, you know, like ‘impacts’] in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Chris is specially authorized by Los Angeles county to issue confidential marriage licenses, which is the kind of marriage license that protects your personal information from the general public. Since he can issue the license on the spot, he helps many people to elope and get married easily. Chris is a calm influence on a hectic wedding which makes him very popular. He is a frequent TV guest because his manner is very smooth and sophisticated. Many people have come up to Chris and asked, “Was that you on TV?” Yes, it was. Chris is a popular choice for celebrity weddings because he is discreet, eloquent and makes everyone at ease.’
His wife wrote that. My wife wouldn’t write that about me.
But not only did she write it, she said it, a lot, and without embarrassment. A process of chopping out space for your identity to fill perhaps, but our interaction was a marketing opportunity. Chris himself is discreet, eloquent and makes everyone at ease; and their kids, who they are home schooling because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cuts to education, are calming influences on otherwise hectic experiences, the older one buried in video games and the twins silently respectful. (When will they break out I wonder and become celebrities?)
Scott Baio, who some but perhaps not many readers will know of, wanted Chris to be in a television series about Chris’s radical and amazing experiences, but when it turned out that these would be scripted he said no. Nice guy. When next you want to be officianted you know where to go.
Sticking with the religious theme, it was clear that we would have to get up early in the morning if we wanted a good run at St Peter’s. And we did. There aren’t too many St Peterses in the world.
It is the church transcendent or the church affluencial or Mammonical or something. But what a good job they’ve done of whatever it was they were trying to do. Once you’ve made it through the metal detectors, actually for some time before, it is instantly and overwhelmingly impressive. When you enter you’re inevitably looking up at the roof of the nave with its rounded shoulders 50 metres above the floor, the very definition of Romanesque style which somehow manages to be both molte grande and personal at the same time. It is this combination of daunting spectacle and warming comfort that makes it so unusual. More of this below. Maybe you can live with, even thrive on, paradoxes of this nature, choose them, shape them, create them even.
I glanced to the right and found myself looking at the Pièta. I’d forgotten it was there. It doesn’t announce itself hidden as it is behind a bullet proof plastic shield in the gloom. It’s not of grandiloquent scale, in fact it is a modest statement of great peace and calm. Nothing is overplayed including the folds in the marble clothing which conventionally provided the sculptors of the day with an opportunity to display their virtuosity. Proportionately the bodies are all out of whack but perfectly internally coherent; and Mary is a 15 year-old girl of very great beauty. When Michelangelo was asked about her age, he told his biographer: ‘Do you not know that chaste women stay fresh much more than those who are not chaste? How much more so in the case of the Virgin, who had never experienced the least lascivious desire that might change her body?’
The closest statue to the Pièta is of one of the Pope Gregorys, leaning forward over you, black bronze arm raised in either blessing or threat and no amount of fudging can adjust the severity of his features and demeanour. Close to terrifying.
There are literally hundreds of other things over which to ooo and ahh, not least ‘a substantial fragment [in some versions ‘representative’] of the True Cross’ and the spear which pierced Christ’s side which only come out on special occasions. The head of St Andrew which was also there for some centuries has now been restored to the Greek Orthodox clergy at their request. But on the other side of the nave past Bernini’s six storey high baldacchino is Bernini’s last sculpture, the monument to Pope Alexander VII. It has the usual, the man himself in a pose of supplication in the centre flanked by adoring women one of whom is Truth and has her foot on a globe and more precisely on Britain which had at the time been playing up. And it has the unusual. A gilded skeleton is forcing up the folds in a cloth of red marble, hour glass in one hand, so that we have access to a working door, the gates of death, perhaps hell. It’s all a bit literal somehow.
But here we have the beginnings of two ideas of interest: the preoccupation of Christianity with suffering, and the complex relationship of the Catholic church with sex.
Rebecca West writes at length about the former and wonders why, at the same time casting round for alternatives which seem to appear quite readily.
Christianity is distinctive because of its preoccupation with suffering of course. Christ’s suffering provides it with its motive force. Paul’s consequent exegesis and evangelism veered towards the austere, especially for women. For example: ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent.’ This is from his letter to Timothy which, if read from a political point of view instead of a religious one, you could place much more effectively. In fact much of Paul’s writing reads like instruction to party branches, which of course is just what it was.
But why so bleak? Why not delight in the world’s possibilities rather than wallow in its depredations? It might be that that was the natural state of the vast majority of the people the Christian church wanted as its adherents for 1500 to 1800 years of its existence. It could be convincing that Christ shared the pain of a peasant’s life, the struggle, the imminence of death, the need for and promise of a better afterlife.
The religious of the Catholic church were expected to join in this process through their vows of celibacy and obedience and in some cases poverty.
We were back in the globalised world of course, so at the bottom of the Veneto hill I could buy today’s ‘Times’ or yesterday’s ‘Guardian’ and I did. If I was in the mood for blabby articulate Englishmen with a deep concern for the environment, political correctness and their own standing in the world I went for the ‘Guardian’. If I wanted some news I read ‘The Times’. So, mostly the Guardian.
One of the first articles I read was a piece of meta-news we’d have to call it, an interview with one of the Boston Globe journalists who had pursued the cases of child sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese in the early years of this century. The seven who were subsequently charged by police and sentenced had been steered around parishes by the Archbishop, Cardinal Law, with warnings but also with deep forgiveness. But there wasn’t just those seven the journalist claimed. He said that he had evidence that 190 priests were implicated in sexual abuse, one in three of all the priests in the archdiocese.
Most of the many churches we went into had their share of putti, naked male children with their willies waggling in the air. One of the features of St Peter’s where just about everyone has their photo taken is at the matching holy water fonts just inside the door. The fonts are flanked by very large putti. The Romanesque curves of the architecture could not be described as anything other than sensual, and this applies to a great deal of the decoration as well.
Sometimes this sensuality is profoundly overt. After several tries we eventually found Santa Maria della Vittoria, the base of the ‘Barefoot Carmelites’, open and had a long look at Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St Theresa’. We also had a look at what was written under it. In St Theresa’s own words —
Our Lord was pleased that I should sometimes have the following vision.
I saw an angel very near me, on my left side, in a corporeal form which is not usual with me; for though angels are often represented to me yet it is without my seeing them, except by that kind of vision of which I have already spoken. But in this vision, our Lord was pleased that I should see an angel in this form. He was not tall but rather little, and very beautiful; his face was so inflamed, that he seemed to be one of those glorious spirits who appear to be all on fire (with divine love).
I saw that he had a long golden dart in his hand, and at the point it seemed to me to be a little fire: I thought he pierced my heart with this dart several times, and in such a manner that it went through my very bowels; and when he drew it out it seemed as though my bowels came with it, and I remained wholly inflamed with a great love of God. The pain thereof was so intense, that it forced deep groans from me; but the sweetness which this extreme pain caused me was so excessive that there was no desiring to be free from it; nor is the soul then content with anything less than God.
This is not a corporeal but a spiritual pain, though the body does not fail to participate a little in it, yea, a great deal. It is so delightful an intercourse between the soul and God that I beseech His goodness to give some taste of it to him who may imagine I do not tell the truth. (Life of St Teresa, Chapter XXIX. St Theresa is the author.)
This is St Theresa of Avila, a Spaniard, founder of the Carmelites who had as one of her watchwords: ‘Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.’ Bernini has taken her at her word. She is lying back in a pool of petit mort. He’s done too much with the folds of cloth, a master artisan run amok, but he doesn’t have the least trouble following her directions.
Here’s an idea, not about religion, but about the early Christian church; and not about a considered plan but about inspired intuition.
Religion must be to some degree an ideology, a system of ideas. If I want to interest people in a new system of ideas, by definition, I can’t offer normality — snugness in front of a fire with enough to eat, a happy family, good friends, work that challenges and interests. I have to reorganise those blocks of convention. If I am ambitious I will do this in the most dramatic form I can. I will need to construct an edifice which turns most of the fundamentals resoundingly on their head.
Celebrate discomfort, redescribe the nature of ecstasy, exalt the renunciation of conventional sexuality, find virtue in pain. Mortify the flesh. Shift the focus from now to tomorrow, in another world.
And these ideas must have enough resonance to make sense as an ideal, if one which is out of reach. And when failure comes as it must, you can try harder or you can develop your own tortured response to living within the wild paradoxes and, probably, enormous confusion generated by these incongruous ideas.
Putti will have begun I imagine as versions of Jesus the child, innocence and purity incarnate, shortly to be joined by an infant John the Baptist. But, after that, joined by anyone or no one in particular until Cupid came along, neither innocent nor pure, and much more recognizable in this role than either of the first two options. Artists would not have been disappointed with these developments. But who was looking at and okaying their formative sketches? Some at least would have been men of the church who were thinking more than just: Ah, putti. Cute.
Cerveteri. A pause for air.
I had an idea about some excursions from Rome. We decided that mid week we would go to Cerveteri about 70 kilometres north west. Signora at the Informazione on the Corso said in short order: not in town, never heard of it, don’t know how to get there, why would you?
However there was digital recourse. According to the instructions posted helpfully on the internet, here’s how you get there. ‘To get to Cerveteri from Rome by public transport, you can take either the train (to Cerveteri-Ladispoli station, then take a local bus) or a COTRAL bus (journey time approximately one hour). The COTRAL buses are probably handier, as they stop right in the centre of town. Buses leave from Lepanto Metro station (Linea A); the bus stops are just above the underground station, and there is a ticket desk below ground. A tip: on the way into and out of Rome, the bus may be stuck for a long time in traffic. If you can avoid this by using metro stations further along the bus route, do.’ Easy. Anyone could do that.
Bright and early we boarded the Metro to Lepanto and scoured the station looking for someone who had any idea of how to get to Cerveteri. Someone could and did sell us tickets which would get us there, but no one was quite sure how.
We searched high and low but no COTRAL buses left from Lepanto. Another ticket lady said Italian for go to the end of the line, the Metro line that is, and try there. I would have probably given up about then but Myrna has steely resolve in such matters. We got on the Metro again and went to the end of the line. I note that there is no difficulty in getting a Metro train to the end of the line even if we did have to buy more tickets. So, we got off at Cornelia and, hoorah, there was an Avviso clientele. Fantastico. Signor, how do we get to Cerveteri? We’re a bit out of town by now and the locals don’t even have to pretend not to understand English. ‘Can’t get there. Never heard of it. This is not a place for leaving by bus.’ ‘Signor, mate, have a look at this mappo here on the wall next to you. That symbol next to Cornelia means ‘bus’ and right there it says COTRAL to Cerveteri. Where’s the stop?’ ‘Ah, Cerveteri. That’s interesting. Didn’t know about that.’ It is clear by now that this was not a well-beaten path and also that we had exhausted the confines of his knowledge.
So we climbed up out of the hole in the ground and looked around, a meerkat accompanied by an old and tired wombat. And there was a bus, a few of them, but they were ACTAF buses, and after the meerkat tried to talk one into taking us to Cerveteri, the driver waved his arm towards down the street saying, azure azure. At this stage the wombat wanted to return to the burrow, but the meerkat scampered down the street and there was a new and different bus station. We engaged an elderly couple in discussion about where they thought they were going and when and how they thought they were going to get there, and they thought a bus might come. It did, and it did go to Ladispoli but may also have gone on to Cerveteri. Half an hour later we boarded a blue bus and it did both, an intriguing route with a wide range of opportunities to look at everything that was in between Rome and Ladispoli.
Where were we going which merited such effort?
We were going to look at a necropolis, an Etruscan city of death. We walked the few kilometres from town to the site, another World Heritage site and were in need of sustenance by the time we got near, although it was a bit hard to tell just where we were. Signage is variable in Italy, and it wasn’t clear that there was any desperation to get pedestrians there. I’d seen these signs to La Tulchulcha, a very odd piece of Italian, and we turned off the narrow main road down a track to see if they provided coffee.
There was shaded terrace which looked like it could have been a restaurant (now signed as ‘Tukulka’, we had entered Etruria) and found Mamma, a real one this time. Mamma didn’t speak English and went to get Pappa who did, a bit. We discussed food. I wanted something piccolo; Myrna wanted some coffee. He threw his arms in the air. What for you want something piccolo, and coffee before a meal. Are you savages? So … what can you do? What can you do? He told us what was on today: a pasta with mushrooms and herbs from the garden beyond the terrace where we were sitting, pork from his pigs (he worked at the airport but ran this mini farm as well. Very hard work!), and wine from his vineyard. The pasta was a bit gluggy, the wine sensational but very heavy, but the pork, the pork … 
The necropolis covers 200 hectares which contains nearly 2000 houses for the dead I will have to say because they are certainly not tombs. I thought for a start that they really were houses they were so well set up. ‘Dwellings’ have been carved out of hundreds of volcanic tumuli, symmetrical bubbles of tuff and lava, mostly 30 or 40 metres across. There are also ‘cubes’ running along roads for the same purpose. These date from 900 to about 300 BC and their contents — carvings, painted decorations, household items — provide much of what is known about the Etruscan civilisation. Many of them are plain with a corridor and chambers with platforms for the dead, but several had been left relatively pristine and the richness of the information they contained was obvious. We were there virtually alone. The necropolis of Cerveteri is not on the beaten path. It was worth the trip, and that’s saying something.
That night we were eating in a bar back in Rome. (As per the internet instructions there had been a traffic jam of sorts on the way home in our blue bus.)
I was interested in watching the European Cup semi-final in company, Internazionale Milan versus Barcelona, or Inter (Italy) vs. Barca (Spain) to the fans. This would be the best game of the tournament. Inter’s Matto got sent off in the fifth minute for next to nothing but then snotted a bloke on his way off which more or less drove a nail into his dismissal from the game. After this Inter put up a wall with nine men and the goalie behind the ball as they say in soccer and it became a shooting gallery but with no targets in sight. An amazing match.
We fell to talking with a German who lived in LA for some of the time now. He’d been a business man, retired 15 years too early he said. When working he had travelled 200 days a year selling medical equipment and now he just went where he wanted, but was clearly bored. He had families in Hanover and LA and made a great fuss over the need for proximity of parent-child relationships during the teenage years. He had recently shipped his 16 year-old daughter from America to Hanover for treatment for some blood disorder. He was in Italy because his 81 year-old mother had breast cancer and she had heard that the best man who you couldn’t see unless you knew someone was in Rome. He had made it his business to know someone and his mother was being treated.
Borders are for the poor, or for those who don’t have them. The rich have never really been interested. They can make their own as they choose. Globalisation is at least a function of increased wealth as much as it is improved technological capacity. Our friend moaned about the fish that he had scoffed just as Inter’s Piqué got a clever goal in the 88th minute to give the game to the Italians who cheered. Another border had been successfully defended.
Rome giveth and Rome taketh away.
There was a Caravaggio exhibition on, a huge collection on a rare scale. ‘Judith and Holofernes’ had been brought in from the Barberini. We thought we got to the queue early. But so did the hundreds of people in front of us and after a motionless couple of hours we gave it away.
Sat in the Borghese gardens, me reading the Guardian and Myrna doing the crossword. Lovely. Sauntered on to the Museo Borghese. You can’t get in these days unless you’ve booked a ticket and a time (! two hours max.) on the internet. Bummer. They had nice coffee which they allowed us to buy. Good. Proceeded to the Galerie Nationale d’Art Moderne which had lots of wonderful things including the sculptures by Mestrovic I’ve mentioned before but also an exhibition of US and European feminist art from the 1970s.
It wasn’t all interesting, but some of it was. The contribution of an American called Martha Wilson was a series of photos of the artist in costume, called ‘A Portfolio of Models’ with text underneath them.
These are the models society holds out to me: Goddess, Housewife, Working Girl, Professional, Earth Mother, Lesbian. At one time or another I have tried them all on for size, and none has fit. All that’s left to do is be an artist and point the finger at my own predicament. The artist operates out of the vacuum left when all other values are rejected.
A tram went past out the front andwe climbed aboard to see where it would take us. The Risorgimento near the Vatican. Good. Had some lunch. Good. Very expensive. Bad. Bought a Roma C’é, Rome’s ‘Time Out’, to see what was on. Not one version origionale film on in the whole city! What is this joint? Got on a tram again for the same reason as before, and the ride provided a rich slice of Rome — in order: shops, palazzos, elegant houses, six storey older housing, industry, tower blocks, graffiti.
The mix of faces also went from predominantly white to a widely varying mixture. That’s the way it goes. Another tram brought us back to where I thought it might. Tried to get to Trastevere on a different tram to see another of Bernini’s ecstasia. The schedule is wrong, doesn’t go any more. You’re in the wrong place. Bad. A mixed experience eating at D’Agnino. Mixed. Walked past the National Museum and walked in for a rest. And in here were remarkable things in profusion. I will mention only two.
There were a lot of life masks, portraits of people made while they were living by a complex reverse casting process but the result is that you get a precise likeness, not a likeness actually because it is exact. Madame Tussaud’s, but better. That’s the person. All sorts of famous people were in there, but Brutus caught my eye. I swear he looked just like a Deputy Principal who is active in Rotary, a very capable organiser, well meaning but strict, very clean, excellent personal hygiene, upright. That explains a lot.
Even more remarkable was ‘The Boxer’. I was transfixed. After probably having been buried deliberately and carefully for safety several hundreds of years ago, this sculpture was found in 1885 during an excavation of the Quirinal hill just a few hundred metres from where it is on display now. It dates from the first century BC and is a masterpiece of realism suggesting that its maker or makers may have been Greek. He is sitting there, naked, forearms on his knees, looking up and over his shoulder at another invisible presence. His nose is savagely smashed, but this is history, not from this bout. In the same way his ears have been cauliflowered. From the bout just concluded he has deep cuts on his forehead, cheeks and shoulder. There have been copper inlays in these wounds to suggest blood.
He is wearing only hand and forearm protection, leather sleeves from knuckles to elbow tied on with thongs and finished with a collar of fur. Across his knuckles are cæstuses, cases of lead to inflict damage on his opponent. Beyond the injuries, his body is lithe and magnificently muscled, a sort of perfection, but it is his eyeless expression which is so remarkable. It is a combination of exhaustion and the inarticulate sportsman’s non verbal questions: Okay? Everything go all right? How was I?
He has been in a state removed from anything but the contest, and even after its completion he is still somewhere else. This might be qualified with a suggestion of the sublime if short-lived confidence of an experienced winner, a professional. This statue is more than 2000 years old. Some things never change.
The drive to Ciampino airport out the Via Appia Nuova (the ‘new Appian Way’) was interesting, almost Portugese, with high stone walls on either side of a two lane road, glimpses of mansions and country houses through the gates and peeping over the top, and I thought how much I’d like a closer look. We went past and through golf courses, and green areas; it was very early in the morning with little traffic about, the air was sweet, and it looked almost rural.
But I wasn’t sad to be leaving. Rome takes stamina, and while Myrna had got another wind every time she bought a dress, I was still considering how to locate the premises of Rome Sweet Home and raze them. I was also thinking about how on earth we were going to get from Tain L’Hermitage to Lamastre on a Sunday which was also a public holiday, two bags of French cement which would ensure nothing moved.
- dolce e ruvido = sweet and harsh
-  Sunday arvo. What would you expect?
-  ‘She is the greatest website designer. She just picked it up herself and we get more hits than any other officiant in the US.’ The Officiant Guy.
-  It does occur to me consistently that the objets in any room any single room of the Vatican museum — any room up to the advent first World War; things went bad after that; people lost their faith, and religious art went to the dogs — would be enough to provide for the nourishment of the population of a small third world country for at least 12-18 months. Almost literally.
-  Capacity 60,000. Along the floor of the nave starting from the entrance are markers with the comparative lengths of other large world churches, all smaller of course. What did the Ecclesiast say: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’? And here is an interesting case of understatement: ‘The construction of St. Peter’s, in so far as the church itself is concerned, was concluded within a period of 176 years (1450-1626).’
-  Canopy over the altar.
-  Which is very hard to take a photo of as evidenced by a long trawl through the net. The best I found has now been taken down.
-  I have provided a photographic offering but there are dozens of better ones on the net. I am not alone in my prurience. This is clearly a popular subject. Just google ‘Ecstatsy of St Theresa’ and you’ll find them.
-  There are too many examples. Just one. St Dominic had iron rings fastened very tightly round his torso and legs and self-flagellated, a word which is only used in this context, so violently, that he looked like ‘barley in a mortar’ (as in combined with ‘pestle’). However, after this experience he developed stigmata which could be used for healing.
-  After this we went over the road to look at a Hopper exhibition which was a bit of fizzer, lots of filler, and then went to one of the three version originale films in English on in Rome. The rest are dubbed for legal reasons protecting the status of the native language. It was ‘Agora’, starring Rachel Weisz as Hypatia and Christians in blue burlap doing wicked wicked things. Fear not. You’ll never see it. Some kind soul will ensure it is buried deep in an out of the way place. The other v.o. film that was on was Roman Polanski’s new film ‘The Ghost Writer’. An unconvincing story in the end and Pierce Brosnan and Kim Cattrall are in it; but so is Euan McGregor and the photography is worth the price of a ticket. Three stars.
-  There are two bus systems in Rome. COTRAL buses service regional areas. They’re blue.
-  This also happened to us in France while we were walking. A Sunday midday, small town, Désaignes actually, tout le monde est à repas, it had been raining solidly for several hours, we had walked about 15 k.s and we wanted a cup of coffee. And a cup of coffee and a baguette were absolutely not on the menu du jour at the Café des Fontaines. But m’sieur did not throw up his hands in horreur. His face started to rigidify but he quietly suggested he would prepare us a salade of spécialités Ardéchoises which took forever but was edible, and to preserve the niceties of civilisation the coffee came after we had eaten. France. Italy. They differ.
-  Some Americans turned up and Graham will be glad to know mine host had got sick of speaking English and at several points asked me to translate for him. Okay? Good. Right.
-  Standing out from the crowd, I didn’t take my camera into the museum. Our photo of ‘The Boxer’ was taken with Myrna’s camera and only slightly suggests what I’m talking about. A Dutch (I think) blogger did take his in and went berko. Try: http://willyorwonthe.blogspot.com/2008/08/favorite-boxer.html