Mostly books, sometimes other bits.

Thanksgiving & further guest stupidity

So, blog update time.

I have so far failed to make a carrot cake with Bea, which is not entirely surprising, as I am too scared to even attempt it. I’m thinking about burnt fish fingers, porridge splattered on top of the microwave, and not knowing that I was supposed to put water in condensed soup. These are just some of my previous culinary triumphs, and suitably explain why I spent most of my evenings at Lancaster eating out.

So. There will be no carrot cake.

Instead, I’ve spent the last few days finishing the Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves book, reading about the history of Rome, making headway with my Italian (it’s still poor), and co-ordinating the Katha buddy scheme. I’ve also found a hotel room for the trip I’m taking to Florence at the beginning of December, when the Bellomos are going north to visit friends. HELLO, productivity.

On Saturday evening I experience my first ever Thanksgiving, which is hosted by Agape, an NGO that Ashley has links with. We are first required to make turkeys by drawing round our hands and then adding legs and sagging neck, before sticking them on a display of turkey hands on the wall. Amazing. The Thanksgiving meal itself is a lot like a traditional Christmas dinner, but the highlight of it is the pumpkin pie – just indescribable. Afterwards we head out to the Macro Museum –all the major museums in Rome are open for free, for one night only, with live music playing. We arrive at half past twelve, and find that The Macro has electro blasting out near the terrace. Have a quick look around the museum and go up to the roof before heading to the bar. It is so, so good to be out.

In other news, we have a new housekeeper. Anna, it transpires, is going back to Georgia to potentially get married, although details of whether she actually is or not remain hazy. The new housekeeper is Filipino, and she has her first day of work on Tuesday whilst I am out getting spectacularly rained on at lunch with Ashley. Thus, I don’t meet her until the evening.

In the car on the way to pick up B&B from school, I ask Alberto whether her first day has gone well. ‘I think,’ he says, ‘she may be too small.’

I feel that something has been lost in translation here. Considering that Lidia told me she was only twenty one, I ask, ‘What, she’s too young?’

‘Yes,’ Alberto says. ‘But also too small. She can’t reach the salt.’


Tuesday evening presents this week’s Stupid American in the form of a middle aged man who is finding the hotel unsuitable due to its lack of Wi-Fi.

Like every other person who just cannot possibly be separated from their email for more than two days, he asks me how I’m on the internet. I tell him that Wi-Fi is unavailable for guests because of Italian law and owner culpability and that I can only access it because I work here,  before pointing out the Mac in the corner (which costs nothing to use, I might add).

This is not sufficient, clearly, because after listening thoughtfully he walks up to Miguel behind the desk and says, ‘I wouldn’t mind if there was no phone in the room – I wouldn’t even notice. But not having the internet is like not having a bathroom.’


‘It’s like saying, sorry, no bathroom this week,’ he says.

Well... no. It isn’t really, is it?

He isn’t finished, though. ‘I’m going to ring my travel agent and ask to move to a different hotel,’ he blathers. ‘They didn’t tell me that there wouldn’t be Wi-Fi.’

In the midst of this conversation, on the other side of reception, the people with the Wakefield accents start talking very loudly about penis piercings.

Good lord.


Faaaacking birds!

On Sunday I meet Laura and we go to the market in Porta Portese. The market itself isn’t overly impressive – it’s the kind where you really have to hunt of you want to dig out the bargains amongst the crap, a lot like a British car boot sale. But Lidia has already told me that she hasn’t visited the market for ten years because it is now ‘dirty’, so I am prepared , and I do manage to track down a few things – a couple of bracelets, a red dress printed with elephants, and a used leather satchel bag that I barter down from twenty euros (a good price in the first place –leather!) to just eleven. It is my favourite purchase so far in Rome, and in the week that I’ve owned it it has hardly left my arm. It is beaut. I never thought I could develop such a strong attachment to a handbag so quickly, but there you are.

We find a cute arty cafe afterwards (love, love, love Transtevere) and have an espresso, before heading back over the river. Laura has been perfecting her British accent and she tests it out on me now – unfortunately it still sounds very much like an American being ‘British’. Sorry mate!

After she leaves I go into Feltrinelli and leave with a book called Rome Tales, which includes stories from the days of the Roman Empire and leads right up to the present day. The amount of reading I’m doing here is ridiculous. When Diane leaves after her visit next week she’s going to be laden down with books to take home. I’m currently on Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves, a study of the lives of women in classical antiquity. I picked it up last year at the Roman Baths (in Bath) when I was on the BBC placement, and I’m actually glad it has taken me a year to get round to reading it. If I read it before last year’s women’s writing module or even before I was in Rome I don’t think I would have appreciated it half as much.

Afterwards I sit in a cafe near Piazza Venezia and read the GWWS book over a Panini – and then my card gets rejected by the chip and pin machine. Aargh! I swear that was a substantial amount of money in it when I left England, and I’ve only used it in Hollister and for the Rome Tales book – so I’m fairly confused about what is going on. A slight dilemma presents itself in that I now have three euros in my purse and two weeks until payday. Eeek.

I walk home via the Colloseum and stop to read again in the park by the Domus Aurea. I feel that a lot of walking/ reading in parks will be done over the next few days.


I realise on Monday that I am rediscovering the glorious joy of wasting time whilst I’m in Rome. After three years of deadline/ exams/ lectures, by the end of my time at Lancaster I was finding it difficult, unless I was actually out and socialising, to actually relax. I was starting to think that I had forgotten how. This week, though, I am recapturing the art of the long, lazy lie-in. It is beautiful, and it means I have more energy for the twins when my working day starts at 4pm. Weirdly, my eyes look healthier.

On Monday after school we make rice crispy cakes. B&B are very excited about this, and despite half the chocolate getting consumed before it even reaches the pan the cakes come out fairly successfully. They are extremely gooey. ‘Three kilos of fat,’ Lidia says as we eat them later. I think this is a fairly accurate assessment.

I am performing the nightly battle to get B&B to brush their teeth when Alberto comes into the bathroom. ‘A fucking bird has shit on my head and on my coat,’ he says. ‘Fucking bird!’

And this is Monday.


Tuesday doesn’t start well for the Bellomos (as if being shat on by a bird wasn’t bad luck enough). At lunch I find out that Bea accidentally slammed the car door on Bene’s head as they were getting out for school. When we pick them up the lump is obvious and Bene is in a subdued mood. I don’t know what to do – I hate seeing them sad.

Since yesterday’s baking was a success, over dinner I ask whether they would like to do it again next week, and if so what different things they’d like to put in the cakes. Bene would like fragole– strawberries. Yes, excellent, strawberries we can do. White chocolate and fragola rice crispy cakes, perhaps?

And what would Bea like to put in?

She thinks for a few seconds: ‘Carrot.’

Carrot. CARROT. Whilst I applaud her healthy outlook, I don’t exactly feel that carrot goes with strawberries and chocolate, or with rice crispies.

‘A carrot cake?’ I ask, against my better judgement, because, and it may come as a shock since I am quite clearly such a domestic goddess when it comes to rice crispy cakes, I have never made a cake of the traditional variety –with butter, flour, eggs, etc.

Disgusting, I know. But I’ve never felt the overwhelming urge to domesticate myself, and if I want a cake I’ll buy one, thanks. Most of the time, this is sufficient.

Not in this case, however.

‘Yes,’ Bea says. ‘Carrot cake.’



I actually do run into Dominic Cooper... probably.

Friday 11th November, of course, is Remembrance Day. Italy does not honour this tradition and thus I have no poppy, which because I am out of England makes me feel especially guilty.

(I am so, so behind with my blogs. Apologies).

I spend a while reading the poetry that has been posted all over Facebook. I really think some of the most beautiful poems of the English language came out of the trenches; my favourite is Rupert Brooke – ‘If I should die, think only this of me:/ That there is a corner of some foreign field/ that is forever England.’

It brings a lump to my throat every time.

After rendering myself sufficiently melancholy I have a wander down to Via Merulana, where I purchase a badge pin and a piece of red cardboard –this year’s poppy will have to be a DIY job.

Later, the twins are fascinated and we make poppies together – I try to explain, in the simplest way possible, that the poppies are worn to remember the dead men from the war. I think they understand. They say they do anyway, which is a good sign.

Before the poppy making, however, I am walking back to the hotel via Viale Manzoni when I am alarmed to see a man walking down the hill towards me who bears a striking resemblance to Dominic Cooper.

(It has since come to my attention that some of you cretins are UNAWARE of the hallowed beauty of Dominic Cooper, and this saddens me. So I will just remind you of The History Boys, The Duchess, and the 2008 TV adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, as well as Mamma Mia! and The Devil’s Double, neither of which I have seen. Especially as Earl Grey in The Duchess, Cooper is a fully fledged BEAUT. He has even edged out Gerard as my Brit actor-obsession of the moment).

So. This man is walking towards me with a gym bag and he looks so much like Dominic Cooper that I stare and stare and stare. He sees me staring. He smiles slightly, and walks past. I consider texting Wench – ‘I’ve just seen a man who looks like Dominic Cooper, NOM, nice bit of Earl Grey in the afternoon’ – but resist, because really, this is hardly news.

Later on Facebook Chat, however: ‘Wench, I almost texted you today to tell you a saw a man who looked like Dominic Cooper... but when I realised it was just an Italian letch I decided it wasn’t really worth it.’

Melissa then does a small amount of Google research, in the process of which she discovers that Doms Cooper was in fact HERE in Rome last week for the premier of My Week With Marilyn, which was showing at the Film Festival. We thus surmise that he is STILL HERE, and that it was in fact him walking down the road, and BLOODY HELL did I literally just walk past Dominic Cooper on his way back from the gym?

Well. This makes my week.

Twitter tells me that yes, Wench’s facts are correct, he was in Rome recently. I don’t delve too far into the Twitter archives though, out of fear that it wasn’t him at all and in fact really was just an Italian letch.

It would be a sad thing to destroy this feeling of having just walked past Dominic Cooper with the truth, so I choose to believe it.

Here, for aesthetic purposes, is a picture of Earl Grey.

18th November: Why Brit actors trounce the competition... always.

People Magazine, that purveyor of gossip to the good citizens of the US of A, has just named Bradley Cooper as its sexiest man alive.

I feel conflicted about this. Whilst I can’t disagree with the aesthetics (the man is quite clearly a cut above most other specimens of the human race) I don’t feel that I would place him this highly on my own mental list. Yes, he has a pleasing face to gaze upon whilst attempting to sit through The Hangover (again) – but the single sexiest man on the planet? I’m not so sure.

But then, I’m far too into our very own British actors to give an unbiased opinion.

I reject the stereotype of Hollywood as a land of Adonises that exist purely to make our humble island-dwelling knees wobble. Here is my justification.

British culture is built upon self-effacing humour. Mockery, sarcasm – it is what we have all grown up with. What actor, other than a British one, would take the piss out of himself by donning a reindeer jumper and then staging a ridiculous fight in a fountain over a slightly overweight and blathery thirty something woman whose culinary skill extends only to blue soup? (I’m looking at you Colin Firth, you babe). Can you imagine this level of self-deprecation coming from an American? No, thought not. They just want to be taken seriously. Yawn.

My next reason is that I don’t like them polished. Every man needs a bit of stubble. Gerard Butler is my favourite example of this. Hollywood types are far too groomed, and honestly, it just ain’t appealing to a girl from Yorkshire. I don’t spend that much time in front of the mirror myself, so really, if you’re going to be there longer than me then it isn’t going to work between us, Mr Hollywood. You and your manscara can go on your merry way. I’m sorry to say it.

Our current crop of top Brit actors (James McAvoy, Andrew Garfield) also sort of look like they might have been in your class at school. This is nice, because it means they look like men you could date without feeling too intimidated. Also, the two mentioned here (from Scotland and Essex respectively) tend to look just a little bit scared by the position on the outer fringes of the Hollywood big league, which quite frankly is just adorable. It makes me want to buy them a cup of tea and crack open the therapeutic Hobnobs.

Also, Britain is cold, and I have a weakness for a man in a good winter coat. Don’t ask me why. Leading the Brit actor pack with his exceptional coat wearing skills is Orlando Bloom, who seems to have been hanging around in his sexy coat with its upturned collar for my entire life. Here he is in 2010. See what I mean? Something about a man who understands the importance of spending money on a coat suggests to me maturity and intelligence. A good coat will last a long time. The man in it will be a keeper, too.

Finally, a large part of my Brit actor obsession is that, unlike the Hollywood stars, the sheer proximity of our Brit boys means they are so, so much more real. When I move back to England I’m unlikely to run into Bradley Cooper in my local pub in Wimbledon; running into Dominic Cooper, however, is a strong possibility.

With that in mind, I’ll be in a cosy British pub within a few hours of getting off the plane. Call it patriotism. 

Caligula, Audrey Hepburn & an autumnal blush

On Monday, I plan to visit the Audrey a Roma exhibition at the Ara Pacis.

The exhibition has over 150 photographs, mostly candid, of Audrey Hepburn’s life in Rome, as well as some of her clothes – including the pink wedding dress from her second marriage, to Andrea Dotti. I’m fairly excited about getting my Audrey fix. (Yes, I was one of those teenage girls who was obsessed with her, yes I watched Holly Golightly flitter repeatedly through New York, over and over again, and yes, I did have that depressingly common pink poster of her with the cat up on my wall for my entire three years at Lancaster).

But I haven’t counted on the weather today, and in a similar vein as yesterday it decides to gloriously piss it down whilst I am having breakfast. And then, because fate clearly just needs me to stay inside today, I find that there is a metro and bus strike going on until 5pm anyway.

So. No Audrey/ 1960s fashion/ 00s teenage nostalgia for me.

Instead I wait an incredibly long time for the Mac so I can check Facebook and my emails (there is a man who looks far too old to be doing so playing a game called Farmerama and intermittently farting and then congratulating himself – WHY are there so many freaks in this hotel?) and then go back to my room and write the Beyond Africa exhibition article instead.


On Tuesday rain threatens, but I risk the Audrey exhibition anyway. I head down Via dei Condotti pretending that I’m not even slightly awed by Prada, Chanel, Bulgari, Fendi, Dior, Gucci, etc. It’s a fairly intimidating street, but I walk with my head held high in the hope that this will mean no one notices my slightly worn tights and Topshop skirt (circa 2007).

The Ara Pacis is primarily a museo of Roman history, as well as currently housing the Audrey a Roma exhibition. The first thing I am greeted with is a huge Caesar family tree – its most famous patriarch Julius (c. 101 – 44 BC) is at the top; at the bottom is everyone favourite sexually depraved Emperor Caius Caligula (12 – 41 AD), who in my opinion is not depicted most accurately in one thousand year old busts, but in the hallowed words of Steven Patrick Morrisey, i.e. the impossibility of making Caligula blushhhhh.

Further inspection of the family tree reveals that Caligula was the father of Nero, which might explain why the latter was so bloody mental.

The Ara Pacis was erected in 13 BC to celebrate the return of the Emperor Augustus from the western provinces – Spain and Gaul. Priests, magistrates and vestal virgins were ordered to make sacrifices upon it, which seems fairly out of order to me. The place itself consisted of ‘campus’, where the Republic’s heroes were buried, the youth did athletics, the army trained and chariot races took place.

The Audrey a Roma exhibition is amazing. Partly curated by her son Luca Dotti, it shows photographs that are alarmingly personal – Audrey walking her dogs, picking up flowers and browsing at a bakery, even walking with her mother in Monti. There is a video of her wedding to Andrea Dotti playing alongside family holiday clips, as well as the tiny pink wedding dress. Seeing these things is bizarre, but even more so is her original script from Roman Holiday, complete with annotated scribbling – in one scene  she reminds herself that Princess Anna should be having ‘the happiest day of her life’. Her passport is also on display, as is the vesper from Roman Holiday, which has its own guard watching over it. Surreal.

Afterwards I spend a bit more time browsing through the Ara Pacis antiquities, before catching the metro at Flamino and heading homewards.


In reception later, I am bowled over by the demands of two female (American) guests. They tramp up the stairs (only one flight), loudly, before enquiring as to whether there is anyone who can carry their luggage. The receptionist says there isn’t, sorry – the hotel doesn’t provide a porter service. (This is because it is two star and wonderfully cheap, which he doesn’t point out, but really should).

The elder woman says, ‘We’ve just had the worst day of our lives. We missed our plane in Paris because the taxi took us to the wrong airport, and then we lost our luggage.’

A number of things occur to me when she says this. Firstly, clearly the luggage is here, because I can hear her companion groaning loudly as she drags it up the stairs. Nice. Secondly, I bet you didn’t realise there were two airports in Paris and thus didn’t give the poor taxi driver the correct details, you fool. Thirdly, shut up.

I’m thinking about my pink Roxy suitcase and the time I dragged it, stuffed with a week’s worth of clothes, about ten books, and a laptop, with a sleeping bag strapped to the handle, from Chessington Travelodge to Waterloo during the London commute, and then the half mile to the TNS office in torrential rain. My Roxy suitcase has been on many wonderful adventures, but this was not one of them, and the fact that these women are moaning because they have to ascend one flight of stairs is beyond me.

‘Oh,’ the receptionist says. ‘I’m sorry about that. Give me a minute and let me just create a porter from thin air; I can perform miracle acts such as this on days when guests are stressed out by their own stupidity.’

The woman says, ‘It’s really not good. People will come with luggage.’

Argh. Two stars! 


On Wednesday I have a browse in Feltrinelli, whilst waiting for lunch, and think about all the things I miss about England.

A few days ago Katy told me that during her year in Madrid she missed carpet. I didn’t fully understand how one could miss carpet, but now I do. Aside from people, obviously, absolutely everything I miss is ridiculous. I’ll give you some examples. Costa Gingerbread Lattes. Ridiculous! I’m in the coffee capital of the world! Scrambled eggs (cooked by Diane, of course). Despite deriding it every year, the X Factor. Grimy British pubs/ cider and black. Most ridiculous of all -the train, specifically, the train journey between Manchester Piccadilly and Huddersfield and vice versa. Melissa believes this is metaphorical, and something to do with homecoming. I think it is because, in whichever direction the train is going, I know there will be people I love waiting for me at the end of it. And probably wine.

I also miss music, specifically the radio, which I have obviously never valued highly enough before. I’d never realised until I came here how much it is on at home. In the morning when I come downstairs, in the car – it is constant. I abandoned my IPod two years ago after spending too long fighting with ITunes and I haven’t missed it, but now without internet in my room I can’t even listen to YouTube unless I set up camp with my headphones in reception. Last week in Transtevere, I found myself hovering outside a cafe for close to five minutes just because it was playing Adele. So today, at the back of Feltrinelli, I am exceptionally pleased to find sample albums playing on headphones. I am happy that I will be able to spend a few minutes getting my English music fix, until no sound comes out of the headphones and I realise that they are broken.

I am gutted. Boo Italy.

I meet Ashley and Laura and we pick up paninis and smoothies and eat lunch by the Pantheon. My peach smoothie is delish, and my faith in Italy is somewhat restored. After Ashley has gone back to work Laura and I wander down to Campo dei Fiori, stopping in a few shops on the way. At the market Laura searches for ingredients for her Thanksgiving feast for thirty family members (so, so brave) and I take in the beauty of the stalls, which are so swathed in autumnal colours that they don’t even look real. I love autumn, and it is out in full force in Campo dei Fiori today.

Despite this, however, I still think that the best place to be in this season is Yorkshire, with cable-knit tights and crumpets and a proper quilt to snuggle in when it gets cold – sorry Rome! 

Muses, Hellenization & a very British weekend

So, after a week’s sojourn, back to ol’ Socrates and his Roman bust and its unearthing in Piazza Venezia. 

To be honest, the Museo Nazionale Romano feels like a long time ago. But I will recreate the potted history lesson it gave me as well (and as briefly) as I can.

Because of the abundance of art, philosophy, literature, etc, in Ancient Greece because of its place as a centre of learning, an absorption of the Hellenic culture began to manifest itself in Rome in the second century BC. The ‘Hellenization’ came about because of increased contact between the Greece and Rome, for trade initially, and means essentially that a lot of the sculptures that I find today at the Nazionale Romano appear much more traditionally ‘Greek’ than Italian.

Interesting facts on Muses: of Zeus’ nine Muse daughters (Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania, Melpomene), Melpomene is the Muse of Tragedy and the protector of arts and sciences. The word ‘museum’, named after Melpomene, comes from ‘muse’. Greek poet Sappho was named by Plato as ‘the tenth Muse’. And of course, ‘muse’ has passed into our lexicon now as a thing that artists derive their inspiration from – the Pre-Raphaelites’ Lizzie Siddal and Andy Warhol’s Edie Sedgwick are the first that spring to my mind, and then there is of course the band Muse, and the epitome of all muses, Marilyn Monroe, whose status as an art object probably outshines that of her as an actress.

My mind is constantly blown by how much our society relies on ancient Roman and Hellenic culture, usually without us even thinking about it.

The politics of the ‘cult of personality’ (my extremely vague A-level political history is forced to come into play here, hello again Lenin) was prefigured by that pervert Caligula, miniature statues of whom once existed in their droves. There is one at the museo here. In contrast, few statues of Emperor Nero remain – most were destroyed after his death as a result of his damnatio memoriae, which to be quite honest doesn’t even need translating.

Considering that the lovely bloke once burnt 200+ Christians in order to provide light for his evening meal, I’m not entirely surprised that his statues were irrevocably smashed up.

The next statue I come across is of Aphrodite (Roman Venus; I was unaware until recently that they were one and the same) bending to bathe. It is not the Greek original but in fact one of numerous Roman copies, a manifestation right in front of me of the Hellenization of art in the Roman Empire. This particular statue has a fairly mind-blowing history – it was unearthed in the bathing house of Emperor Hadrian (he of the Wall fame).

Behind Aphrodite is her son Eros, God of love, winged, as a young boy. Both statues are depictions of the supposed Greek ‘ideal’. A large number of statues were discovered at Hadrian’s villa, near Tivoli. Villa Adriana was apparently decorated ‘intellectually, yet with Romantic taste. Aside from the Aphrodite, a bust of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, was also found.

Other important statues at the museo include two of Apollo, one of which was found in the Tiber, a potential Hera, sister and wife of Zeus, and Discobolo –a discus thrower, unearthed in the seventeenth century. Discobolo and his ilk were extremely popular with Roman nobles, who evidently enjoyed decorating their gyms with statues of young boys in loin cloths, lunging.

Another interesting fact: the statue of Dioniso that I find upstairs was discovered in 1928 on Appian Way in Rome, and was taken to Germany where it was used for propaganda by the Nazis in 1944. It dates from between 117 and 138 AD, and was only returned to Italy in 1991.

On the top floor my ocular senses are attacked by a recreation of the villa owned by Livia Druscilla, wife of Emperor Augustus. A huge mosaic has survived and it is mounted across the walls of one room here, in a reconstruction designed to represent the outdoors – it is a garden scene, with trees, birds and flowers in abundance, and I read that it was discovered underground and was probably used as an ‘indoor garden’ when the heat of the Italian summer got too unbearable. The colours are still vivid and everything is in high bloom, offering, like with the statues, an ideal rather than realism. It is incredible how much of it has survived.

On Friday evening, I am letting Bea jump all over me (literally, from the sofa, while I only half pretend to cower on the floor) when Alberto tells me that they never played like this with their old au pair and that they must therefore like me. I am heartened by this.

On Saturday I am free in the afternoon, which I luxuriously waste (I can’t even remember what I did; it probably heavily involved Facebook and the Guardian App) and then Lidia and B&B go to a friend’s for dinner and I attend Alberto’s football party, where I have a very interesting conversation with about India, the dangers of sharks, and the British education system (yes, diverse topics) with a man named Luca, father of B&B’s friends Polite Martina and Nintendo-Addicted Lucio.

Once again, the fact that I can drink two glasses of wine AND an entire bottle of beer and not be on the floor leaves them astounded.


Sunday, out of nowhere, is unbelievably, beautifully, unexpectedly British.

This is what happens. We go to buy a washing machine. Such an English way to spend a Sunday morning! I entertain the kids with video game shopping and Disney books whilst Lidia and Alberto head off upstairs and purchase white goods like so many British parents do at the weekend. We could almost be in Ikea. While I am sat outside later, unpeeling oranges for the twins and waiting for Lidia to bring the car round, it starts to rain. We go to a McDonalds on the edge of a main road (just like Leeds Road McDonalds!) and sit outside under cover whilst the rain plummets down.

A  November weekend of washing machine shopping and McDonalds. I FEEL LIKE I’M HOME.
It is amazing. I have never had a McChicken Sandwich and relished its greasy beauty so much. And then, because the gods clearly love me today, we go to a mall.

The twins climb into a trolley and Lidia wheels them off to the Disney Store. Freedom! Freedom in a mall, for the first time since before India! The first time I’ve properly shopped since AUGUST! Ahhh. I go to Hollister, which is not advisable on an au pair’s wage but hey ho, and beauty of beauties, my card works in Italy!

I rejoin the twins after my Hollister excursion, briefly, and we count seven elves, a reindeer and the numerous presents that are piled up outside Santa’s grotto. B&B are enamoured by the fake snow; Lidia later tells me that they never see it. Once, she says, it did snow in Rome. Once. She thought the roads would close and she wouldn’t be able to get home, so she was preparing to camp out at her mother’s. And then the snow stopped after twenty minutes.


Afterwards H&M steals away the last money in my purse, which I happily exchange for a light pink floaty shirt and a fur lined gilet. I am irrationally happy with my purchases, which mean I will no longer be gazed at worriedly by the Bellomos and the hotel staff when I step outside into the balmy Roman autumn wearing fewer layers than they deem suitable.  

On the way home, the lightening starts, and the rain gets increasingly torrential. Due to the homeliness of today, I feel like I should be in Lancaster or Almondbury (either will do) wrapped in a duvet, with a hot chocolate, writing shit poetry and sporadically napping. It is the only thing to do in this weather.  

Instead I spend the evening with slightly damp feet, drawing pictures with the twinnies. But I suppose today was homely enough, and we can’t have everything in life. Today, my cosy new hoodie and a cup of tea will happily suffice.


Caravaggio & journo geeking.

Friday morning greets me with an email from the National Student, sat in my inbox like a gift from aspiring journo heaven: would I be available to interview Emma Thompson’s son about his recent trip to Burma and meeting with one-year-free-from-house-arrest opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi?

Yes, I think I would thanks. It might be the most important article I’ve done in my (almost) two years of journo-ing, as long as I can structure an interview without my absolute hero-worship of my interviewee’s mother getting in the way, which I cannot fully guarantee. In true geek fashion, I’m even more excited than when I got to interview Claire off The Apprentice and Maximo Park on the same day.

Burma research takes precedence, then, over San Luigi dei Francesci this morning (sorry Lidia). Caravaggio has been in the church for god knows how many years; I’m sure he can wait a few more days.

I have numerous questions for Tindy, and despite a lot of research I still fear that they aren’t politically intelligent enough. I do manage to resist adding a postscript for Emma Thompson at the bottom though, which would’ve gone along the lines of this: ‘Hello Emma Thompson, you are one of my biggest heroes, in fact you wouldn’t believe the amount of afternoons me and my friend Wench have spent watching Sense and Sensibility. THE AIR IS FILLED WITH SPICES. Also I agree with your views on religion, and I’m a feminist too! I know that you’re busy saving the world and suchlike, but I really think that we should be friends. Respectfully, Lucy Miller.’

I don’t write this.

Instead I control my hero-worship, just, send off my questions for Tindy, post the ‘Indian Highways’ article for review on The Flaneur, and head off to another exhibition.


The ‘Beyond Africa: From Africa to New York’ photographic display, in Arte 5, is an exhibition depicting the photographer’s journey from tribal Kenya to New York. I went to Namibia when I was 18 (I fell in love with Africa more than I did with India, but got less out of the trip), and I’m loving the contrast of the photographs I find here.

The Kenyan photographs were taken during the time the artist, Speranza Casillo, spent living with the Maasai Tribe in the Chyulu Hills. The sparse Kenyan skyline, sometimes only broken by a solitary tree, set alongside the dirty and underground parts of New York brings about a rugged side in the latter that we rarely see. The question of civilised/ uncivilised, and what we usually deem this to mean, is questioned.

As usual, a Flaneur article will follow.

I buy two photo books of Paris after I’ve taken my notes (I know, I know – again nothing to do with Rome). One is pocket sized, and full of the monochrome early twentieth century Paris of Eugene Atget . After just a flick over a few pages I can attest that I agree with history’s view of Atget: he was a man with a very good eye for a shot. The other book is huge and contains hundreds of pictures, a lot of which seem to be of women in 1920s garb swinging off carrousels and the tops of buildings. I love the clothes, and the innocence, and the locations; it goes in the bag.

I leave Arte 5 considering that the number of art books I’ve picked up whilst I’m here is going to do serious damage to my baggage allowance on the flight home.


Saturday. I’m free! Lidia tells me that they will be going to her mother’s and that she will see me at 8pm for dinner.

There are twat American girls at breakfast. They talk in that loud way that Americans do when they want EVERYONE TO HEAR THEM. One of them says that she broke up with her boyfriend because he wanted to take her skiing for her birthday, and, I kid you not, this was unacceptable to her because ‘he should’ve known me better – I don’t like to ski’.

Words fail me.

They come into reception as I am waiting for the Mac. They want to move to another hotel because they haven’t got ensuite, and from this I deduct that they must be staying in Alphabet House. The bathrooms have been vomit inducingly disgusting over the last few days, but since they are only sharing with me and Anna I have to conclude that the dirt all over the floor is their fault anyway.

Also, they don’t think that the croissants, jam, bread, coffee, and orange juice count as breakfast. YOU ARE IN ANOTHER CULTURE. ITALIANS EAT BREAD FOR BREAKFAST. GO HOME IF YOU WANT A FRY UP.

As I am about to leave, I hear a classic comment from the girl whose heinous boyfriend tried to take her skiing: ‘Do you think,’ she says, looking down at a leaflet with a perplexed expression, ‘that we should do some cultural stuff while we’re here?’

Oh my god, get out of my life.


I spend Saturday morning at the Museo dei Fori Imperiali/ Trajan Market, which is not a market that sells things, but the remains of a Roman one. There is quite a lot to see and read, and it is mildly interesting in the way that all faceless ruins are. There is an exhibition of Japanese art running inside the main museo building (I can’t avoid modern art even when I’m in a two thousand year old ruin, obviously), and I take lots of notes. The tiny geisha figurines and pressed flowers set against the giant busts of Roman gods, for dramatic juxtaposition, is one of the reasons why the exhibition was chosen to be staged here. My verdict on the mercati – minus the Japanese art – is that it is ok, and I’m glad I came, and that there is a good view from the top, which takes in Piazza Venezia, the Forum and a few churches. The remains of the market, a video tells me, have layer upon layer of history in them – Roman, medieval, Baroque, and then all the failed and all the successful restoration attempts. And these are just the main influences.

I’m fully aware that I should be fascinated, but I’m not for exactly this reason. Its history is too vast, too impersonal, too far reaching for me to fully comprehend. Without a bit of humanity I’m fairly lost. It reminds me of A-level history exam questions: ‘Assess the importance of the Roman, medieval and Baroque, and their influence on the Trajan Market of Rome as a whole across 2000 years.’ What, just me and my pen? In forty minutes?


Afterwards I walk down through Piazza Venezia and Largo Argentina, and past the Pantheon, in my second attempt at San Luigi dei Francesci. I love this part of Rome – it’s so cobbly and pretty, and I stop for a panini and an espresso at a cafe that is nestled between layers of peaches and cream buildings. There are vespers everywhere – it is so very, very Italian.

The stomach ache that I’ve had all day is still lingering, so afterwards (after I’ve discovered that San Luigi dei Francesci is closed between 12.30 and 4pm – that is one long lunch) I buy a packet of miniature Bueno bars and eat three of them as I wander in the direction on Campo di Fiori (don’t judge me, I’m ill). At the market I buy four decorated bottle tops as souvenirs, which is entirely unjustifiable because it is very rare that the bottle doesn’t get finished, and then cross the river into Transtevere.

I find myself without meaning to at the Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica, in Palazzo Corsini – once home to Christina of Sweden (thank you once again, 100 Influential Women book). Christina might have disappeared to Italy and neglected the poor Swedish working classes, but she was all about the arts. The collection here has existed unchanged since the eighteenth century, which is fairly amazing if you think about it. I pay for my biglietti (only two euros for a Caravaggio!) and spend a while browsing. It doesn’t take too long to get around; there are only a few rooms and the map is very helpful in pointing out the significant paintings. Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist, displayed in pride of place at the end, is the highlight.


Next on my Roman to do list is a Transtevere church, Santa Maria Della Scala. It is really beautiful inside, with chandeliers everywhere, much like the one just outside Celimontana that we visited with the twins. I sit for a while and soak up the atmosphere – there is tranquil music playing – before deciding to head back across the river to attempt to re-find San Luigi dei Francesci. The amount of effort it has taken to track down, Caravaggio better be worth it.

I accidentally find two more churches on my way there. The first is dedicated to Saint Barbara, who was beheaded by her own father because of her Christian faith, and the second is Chiesa Nouva, which is adorned with frescos and ornate in the manner of most Catholic churches. A sign tells me that is another Caravaggio inside, the Depozitione – but once it has lured me towards it it reveals that it is fact a copy, and that the actual painting is in the Vatican Museum collection.

I leave Chiesa Nouva after this flat out lie, and when I reach San Luigi dei Francesci I find that it is actually, finally, open. It is easy to find Caravaggio Corner, due to the obscene amount of tourists that are pressed into it, snapping away despite the signs everywhere warning against the use of flash. I take my time getting to it, and read about the rest of the church first. The three paintings, when I eventually reach them, are very dark and give off a feeling of foreboding (later, Alberto will tell me that Caravaggio is so famous because his work was so different to his contemporaries’ and was therefore seen as scandalous). I stay for a while, refusing to be jostled out of the way by Americans – I feel like it has taken a lot of work to reach the church during its actual opening hours, and that I should get my money’s worth (the church is free, but the analogy is one of time). After sufficient studying of the life of Saint Matthew, I head home, where I have a long and luxurious nap before dinner.


With the Bellomos visiting friends outside of Rome, Sunday is a writing and doing nothing day. I have a lie-in and then a long shower, paint my toenails, generally rest, finish A Passage to India, spend a lot of time on Facebook, play virtual Scrabble, and then order takeaway pizza to come to reception.
It is a good Sunday, but then Monday throws me a curveball.

However, I’ve written enough for today, I feel, so my recount of the last few days will have to wait. Thanks for reading!