Friday, 9 November 2012

Work starts today

Just on our way down through Rome towards the conference centre. Stopped for a delicious coffee at a v stylish place called 2Periodico, where they have wifi, hence this quick post. Sunny morning. We are in light clothing, most of the locals are in thick autumnal jackets etc.
A man on the bus this morning was very OCD, polishing his mobile phone over and over again.
Andrew courteously gave his seat up for a tiny nun who beamed at him, really beamed.
It's been a great week, even counting the terrible toothache and nausea which afflicted me. With the help of the nice Dr Rivabella, my gums are nearly back to normal and no pain.
We emptied the flat ok - took the rubbish out, packed everything up.  It was a pretty good place to stay apart from having no wifi and no hairdryer, but in a nice district surrounded by DENTISTS!!!!!
In an hour or so, we'll be immersed in the world of JuicePlus+

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Exterior excitement, inner calm

Another fantastic day of sunshine in this amazing city. We went by bus to the Coliseum area, stopping to peer over the imperial fori (not very well labelled, as that would take away trade from the tour-companies). We saw a couple of real archaeologists scrabbling down by the stones.
The Coliseum itself is now distanced from the terrifying swirl of traffic which used to brush around its feet... we had a leisurely stroll around, and stopped to peer inside, but were led away towards the greenery nearby. This will sound very ignorant to real lovers of Roman antiquity - but the building, financed by the sack of Judea and a monument to the public and purposeful spilling of blood for so long, is not really a very attractive place in my opinion. The slaves and failures, Christians and prisoners, wild beasts and forced gladiators were whipped into the arean with weighted thongs while the crowd, separated into their appropriate classes bayed for their death. The sawdust was mixed with ground coloured rock to mask the blood. Perfume was sprayed to deflect the stench of blood (and shit and fear)..... horrible.
We had a coffee nearby and then into one of the most wondrous, most memorable places I have ever been. This is the church of San Clemente, a little 12th C basilica church now run by Dominicans - and where for some reason in the mid 19thC, someone decided to dig underneath.  They found a whole 4th  C church almost intact, complete with wondrous frescoes and an altar piece.  Then, a few years later, someone else decided to go down even futher, and found two houses - one a kind of public space with little alcoves (shops?) and a pair of water sources.... the other a complete little Mithraic temple. Amazing.
How much more interesting and uplifting than the bloody old Coliseum.
Then a tram ride, so Andrew was v pleased.
More wandering - around the Palatine Hill,back to the Piazza Venezia and a poor choice on my part for lunch - just a bit bland and watery and an aggressive waiter pointing out that service was not included in the bill. Sigh.
On we went, the the Trevi Fountain - ah, wonders of wonders..... really a fun place to sit.
Then along to the Spanish Steps, which I saw as a child...
And along the Via dei Babuin, past all the luxy shops and boutiques, and found the amazing English Anglican Church, built in 1883 in the English Gothic style, red brick and dark inside.  In fact, as you get used to it, it gradually lightens.  It was SO peaceful in there. Very English. We might have been in Enfield!  What made it English? Dunno.  The hymn numbers up on the chancel arch. A polite notice asking people to put the chairs back where they came from. Memorials to various old colonial bishops. 
I suddenly realised, this was the most serene, peaceful place we have been during the whole week.
And when we finally left and headed home for a quiet afternoon reading on our sunny balcony, I was looking at all the buildings with their rugged stonework and massive rustications and quoins and window surrounds - everything you see here is EXTERNAL. It's all to do with a show. Like the ridiculously decorative policemen and officials everwhere, the sirens, the shouting, the gesticulations, etc.  Even the beggars are highly theatrical. They pray. They mutter. They put on a show.
Tonight is the end of our holiday. We are going to EUR tomorrow, for the big JuicePlus conference. Off for a quiet supper now and then home to pack.
I hope we have wifi in the hotel! Then I don't have to seek out these cafes to send you my further bulletins.

Fortress, popes, English walkers

The Castel Sant'Angelo could present a thoroughly brooding venue beside the Tiber, but because the day was so sunny and bright, we wandered around it feeling  quite light-hearted. The bridge beside it, adorned with Bernini's ten statues is sublime, especially when you have two beautiful grey police horses in attendance, their great hooves slithering  on the black cobbles as they quietly paced to and fro.  On either side, street vendors offer interminable shawls, wooden alphabet trains, dancing plastic Minnie Mouse things, and the chance to have your photo taken holding three budgerigars.

The great Castel', built originally as a mausoleum for Hadrian, was subsequently transformed into a fortress, palace, prison and now tourist opportunity. The huge internal ramp which must have allowed the Romans to get horses up inside it, is still intact and the whole thing quite a structure to explore. Slightly Gormenghasty. The views from the top are  fantastic, especially under a clear blue sky.  A true panorama. Various  popes embellished it over the centuries and it has marvellous internal decor in the grand rooms. They still have a safe walkway from the Vatican all the way into the castle, though perhaps in the days of helicopters not so necssary.

We walked across the bridge into the old city, found a trat for lunch, and were joined by a party of eight English men, all from a walking group in Farnham. Their gauleiter, Maurice, had made them go twenty miles that morning, they said.  Very jolly. Our lunch was delicious - mussels for Andrew and spinach risotto for me.

Then more walking through the antique-shop district, very pretty, getting an ice-cream for A at the Gelateria dei Teatro.... Then up to the gardens of the Villa Borghese, which I think is the prettiest park I have ever visited. Huge, undulating, filled with people doing various things - not just walking  or playing, but riding wonderful jalopy-shaped cycling cars, like the 'Surrey with a fringe on top', bowling along at top speed. Or golf cars. Or those things whose name escapes me a this precise moment which you stand on and  they roll along electrically.....   or horse and cart, or bike, or moped.  And parakeets tweeting about in the trees, and  with lakes, fountains, vistas, bridges, cafes, view-points, avenues, shrubberies - absolutely delightful. It proved impossible to get entry to the gallery as it's all booked in advance but we can do that another time.   It's a long  way back to the noise of the outside world. We waited for ages  for bus, in the company of a mad man who capered about like an early 16th century dancing master, clicking and puffing, and growling  at us.  Very odd.
It was especially nice that in the park you could not  hear the bloody sirens which are otherwise incessant in the city - wherever you go, nee-naw, nee-naw, nee-naw..... Horrible.

Home on a bus to our apartment to crash out and make supper.  I am still filled with gratitude at the pain receding from my teeth - in fact they still feel  like a row of mews cottages  inside my mouth, but not so exquisitely tender.  And I am filled with gratitude that Obama was re-elected. I do not often allow politics to intrude on my works, but Romney's victory would have been bad news for all of us, especially those not in America....

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Great morning

After waking at 5 am (mosquito alert) and taking an ibuprofen for this horrendous toothache, I find this is the first mornin g  I have not  had excruciating pain  and I feel like  a real person again. Also VERY cheered up by text from my friend Val to say Mitt Romney conceded to Obama at 6am, so he has been reelected.  Our access to news  in the apartment is very limited - there are hundreds of channels mostly devoted to quizshows (with huge supporting casts of scantily clad young people) plus on Discovery Channel showing How It's Made (juke boxes, Canadian ice-hockey helmets, glass bottles and  sparking plugs). We cand find no news channels or weather  info.  There is one rather nice radio channel playing  classical music, each item topped and  tailed with a sober announcement of what the music is and  who the performers are.  Very  nice.

Thinking of sounds - the streets here are filled with the clamour of sirens almost constantly. Occasionally  you get peals of church bells too. But this obession with sirens is extraordinary. Here's another one - ee-ah, ee-ah. ee-ah, ee-ah.....  And then another one, a loud droning waaaaaahhhhhhh with accompanying nee-nee, nee-nee, nee-nee...    It's deafening.

They have another malice. Apparently to make it easier for wheelchair users to get  along, they've created numerous ramps on the kerbsides but these are very narrow and surrounded by uplifted slopes and crevices, so that to line up properly requires everyone else nearby to move away, and then a huge manoeuvring up and down for the poor wheelchair-pusher.  Not  good design.

Talking of which, just before I left, I did a free numerology  test online and it was surprisingly accurate,  including saying I would be fascinated by design all my life - which I am.  Not what I expected at all.  Hmmn.

Yesterday, after a second visit to the nice dentist to pick up a prescription for antibiotics, we went  to that  part of Rome called Trastevere - 'the other side of the Tiber' and wandered around... it's a bit  Soho-ey, or arty. Very gentle  day. Lunch provided a little extra treat - a local cod speciality - salted, soaked for 3 days, then coated in a very light batter and deep fried. Delicious.   later in the  Campo dei Fiori I had a mocha chocolate - divine.  But the Farnese Palace was closed.   We went home early, because I was feeling so bloody washed out.  I went to bed and shivered, and then we had  another of our  home-made suppers - packet soup and a Ryvita - poor me, poor me.  I have been feeling so nauseous I can't face any more than that.     We have not seen 'puttanesca' sauce anywhere in Rome, maybe the restauranteurs fear censorious churchy people - anyway, I can tell  you, it's not  promoted anywhere.

So - this report is a bit  flat - as we had  such a quiet day  yesterday....   Today more walking and  a cheery heart  due to Mr Obama's victory.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Root canal

Rome is quite a hard city - no compromises for the halt and lame. Beggars outside every church and dotted along the pavements. Some adopt pious attitudes - as if in silent prayer all day. Some just rattle a tin at you. Some hobble about on crutches, with their palsy or staggering or shaking as their main proposal. There are masses and masses and masses of Indian umbrella-sellers, who appear as if by magic at the first spot of rain.

The traffic is nothing like a scary as we had been led to expect - in fact, if you try to cross somewhere, the cars will mostly make way for you. The parking is hilarious - higgledy-piggledy does not describe it.  The River Tiber, deep in its ancient channel, is garlanded with lovely plane trees - not the London plane, I think - but something with a small bark-patterning. Most of the leaves are still on.

The universal tourist map does have bus numbers and routes on it, but the typography is very old fashioned and difficult to identify. Still, we are getting to grips with metro and bus (despite Andrew's mugging).

Where do you start in such a place. We got to the Pantheon - and OMIGOD!!!!!!!  Thank you, universe, just for letting me see this one remarkable building.   it survives from the days of Hadian because someone said the Christians could have it as a church - so it was not ransacked like most of the other antiquities which were mosly (let's face it) quarries for later generations.   It was actually raining while we were there, so we could observe the drifts of raindrops falling in from the great oculus in the ceiling. That is the only light and ventilation in the temple. The walls are 20' thick so windows would have been useless..... They say, it could not now be built using the original materials, as the skills have been lost. A marvel.

We walked and walked, had lunch in an ok place, walked and walked, found the S Maria sopra Minerva to see the Fre Filippino Lippi altarpiece (so beautful and a nice little earner as you have to keep putting a euro in the meter to turn the lighting on).   We escaped the rain by going into the Galleria Doria Pamphilij - swoon, swoon...... how lovely, still in private ownership, stuffed to the ceiling with treasures - Titian, Caravaggion, Breughel, Lippi, Berenini, on and on - the portrait by Velasquez of the family Pope I did once see in London - and here it sits next to the Bernini portrait bust - at home, as it were.... astonishing.  Oh I loved it.

Back to the flat - via a dentist!!!! He recommended I have the root canal taken out - was going to charge me nothing but we paid anyway - a nice man, anglophile and fluent in English, and just 100m from our apartment. Today I have called in to see him again for a prescription for antibiotics, as the inflammation and pain have not really diminished overnight. Itàs a sunny morning, we have come to Trasvetere to mooch. I am in a teeshirt (all the locals in thick jackets). These postings will be short as I have to write while online....

Monday, 5 November 2012

No wifi in the flat

Adventure! The minute we got on the metro in Rome, Andrew was pickpocketed and lost one of his wallets. He went after the suspect, but of course the man pointed elsewhere and said 'Zingaro!' meaning 'Gypsy'..... It was so fast. Really slick. Luckily it was just cards, and no cash. I spent 20 mins on the phone when we got  to our rendezvous with  the landlord - cancelling all the cards, and hereby give PROFOUND thanks to our super-efficient son who rang all the banks and done the biz.

We waited ages for the landlord  to arrive, watching the black  handbag sellers, deafened by the police sirens which seem to start  up every 5 minutes  (all  those pickpockets to chase after, I expect). The  police love to run processions through the  streets  at top speed, with motorbike outriders and buses full  of smartly-dressed men being hustled through the traffic. Who are they? Footballers? Politicians? Pimps?

Our flat is on the 7th floor, not far from the Vatican, balconies back and front, and charmingly meagrely furnished. Clean and comfortable.  No hairdryer, no cheese-grater, no kettle, otherwise very good.  We walked to St Peter's and stood amazed in the  rain, and  we went to a local supermercado and bought pasta  and stuff, and made supper when we got back.

I have got toothache - broken tooth - aaagh - I rang the insurance just now and I'm covered for treatment but now I have to find a dentist. Oil of cloves is not bad as a temporary pain-killer.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


Tonight in Faversham it's crispy dark with stars faintly speckling the sky. They may be magnificent but they are distant and veiled. Their glory tonight is outshone by the rockets which swoosh up from moment to moment, from bonfire parties around the town.
The profound pagan meanings of these few nights - the end of the old year with it's pain and fear - and the welcome of the new - whether expressed in moderne alternative poetry or Catholic liturgy - all this is mostly squandered and lost.  People just want a traditional fire and fireworks.
We have been for a glass of wine with friends along the road - Tony and Deborah. Their lives are dedicated to music and painting and their house is exquisitely furnished with Georgian things appropriate to the style of the house.
We are going to Rome tomorrow and went to ask them what places they recommended we should see - as they are both quite expert in the ways of the City.
They recommended the Borghese Palace, the Castello Angelo, the Villa Giulia, the Palatine Hill, the Museum of Modern (ie 19thC) Art, and a few other places.
Tony says how dark Rome is, the undertones.
We also spoke about the Mani - their friends who have a tower house there, and the influence of Patrick Leigh Fermor - regular readers of this travel blog will know how much I revere PLF.  Apparently, last year, Tony happened to meet up with a German Naval commander in a back street cafe in Chania - this chap knew nothing of PLF and the capture of General Kreipe (Ill Met By Moonlight) - said it was all rubbish!
Well, tomorrow night at this time we should be in Rome. I will have a second writing obligation on this trip as I have entered the 'Write a Novel in November' competition, and have to complete 50,000 words by 29th.  I think the novel will suddenly now have to be set partly in Rome as I find travel so inspiring, but it may mean having to curtail the blog to get the novel written.