So, time to catch up with the blog, whilst I’m sat upstairs in Feltrinelli’s cafe, drinking almond tea and eating biscuits (opposite the square where Caesar was killed). Seems as good a time as any.
I’ve been reading Eat, Pray, Love. It’s slightly surreal to read whilst I’m here, because of course she keeps pointing out places that I’m very familiar with. I pass through Republicca, where she has a breakdown over her ex boyfriend, almost every time I leave the hotel. Her description of getting lunch in Trastevere then crossing back over the river to Piazza Navona is something I’ve done myself multiple times. It is very bizarre. I can relate less to the India section, since whilst I was there I spent 90% of my time on a yellow bus, but it did make me start thinking about this meditation business, namely, if there are such huge swathes of the eastern world dedicated to the practice, then surely there must be something in it? It sort of made me want to visit an Ashram, but I don’t think I have the patience required or that I ever will.
The reason I’ve been reading Eat, Pray, Love is because my mother brought it with her when she came to visit, along with a coat and boots and various woollen items that will hopefully now guard me against the freddo Roman December.
Diane’s visit is my favourite thing that has happened in Rome in recent weeks. She arrives on Thursday night, after a stopover in Amsterdam, and we head for the piazza in front of the Pantheon to eat.
My mother does not enjoy the darkness of the street that leads down from Largo di Torre Argentina. ‘Come on,’ she says, as I am admiring the decor in a brightly lit shop window. ‘Let’s not hang around.’
Diane doesn’t want to linger on this quiet street because there is a group of people stood close to us, conferring in hushed voices. She is not accustomed to the kinds of people who spend their time on Roman backstreets near world renowned churches, however. We are from Huddersfield, therefore everyone is a potential assailant.
I have a quick glance over. ‘It’s a monk and a nun.’
Amazing. This sets the tone for the entire weekend.
On Friday morning we head back the same way, to visit the Pantheon in daylight. I have never noticed before, but almost every shop on the street leading down to it is in the business of priestly attire. My mother is extremely amused by this – why, we question as we peer in the window, must priests visit shops entitled such things as Sartorial for the Ecclesiastical just to pick out their socks? Or umbrellas? There is also a ‘pin-up’ priest, whose face can be found adorning tea towels, calendars and placemats. I kid you not, reader.
We visit the Pantheon, then walk on through Piazza Navona and around the surrounding streets, a lot of which I haven’t stumbled upon myself until now. We find a gelateria and get icecream that is a clear contender for the best I’ve had here so far. I get two scoops, Irish cream and biscotti, and manage to partially order it in Italian. It is working until the silly man insists on talking back to me in English. How will I learn this way??
Afterwards we head in the direction of the Spanish Steps, once again taking in the Trevi Fountain on the way, and all the time taking care to avoid killer monks and nuns. They are all over the city this weekend, even more so than normal.
We stop for a coffee and decide, since we are in Italy, to infuse it with a shot of grappa. Well. This is not advisable, I have to tell you. Grappa, it later transpires, is made from the stalks of grapes –so actually the most crap part of the grape. It is predictably gross, but I have an inability to let alcohol (or coffee) go to waste. So I drink Diane’s, too.
After our delightful lesson in why we should always stick to liqueur that we already know, I take my mother to the Jewish ghetto. It is a far, far more interesting part of the city, in my opinion, that the Spanish Steps/ designer tourist area. It is getting dark when we arrive, which is slightly scary considering what I have learnt about what happened there, but I want to find Sohra Margarita – the incredibly good Jewish restaurant that Ashley and I went to a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I have no idea where the piazza is – even though I am certain that it is really, really close.
We give up in the end and go to Campo dei Fiori, which is an excellent choice. We have cannelloni and rosemary chicken and salad and white wine, and the best part – huge, fat, salty, British pub chips. The chips are like heaven, or at the very least a little bit of Yorkshire that has somehow found its way to a blue light strewn restaurant in a flowery square in the middle of Italy. If I wasn’t sat outside under a patio heater in Rome I could be in a country pub somewhere in England, the chips were just that good.
When we get back on the bus to head home, we find that we are again surrounded by lots and lots of nuns. There is almost no room for anyone else on the bus. I briefly wonder, in my post wine state, whether they have all been on a trip to Sartorial for the Ecclesiastical for their socks.
On Saturday morning we have booked to go to Galleria Borghese. The whole visit to this, possibly the most famous of all Rome’s art galleries, is slightly tainted by over-efficiency and generic Roman arrogance. No, you cannot come in yet, go away. No, you cannot bring in your bag, get in that queue and check it in. The attendant actually points out the time on my ticket (11am) when we try to enter the lobby to wait at 10.55, and says, ‘the number is the same as in English’.
Needless to say, he is very close to getting the Huddersfield chav treatment.
The Galleria is nice, but is overshadowed by the effort it has taken to get inside, and at ten to one a tannoy blasts into the room before we have finished looking at the paintings. ‘Get the f*ck out!’ it says. ‘Now! We need you OUT so we can get the next herd of cattle in. What are you DOING? Don’t linger! You’ll hinder our profits.’
So we troop out, feeling a bit of annoyance, and also a lot of love for the British Museum (and every other museum in London and the UK) where you can just walk in and not be rushed or patronised by balding attendant men or over officious tannoy systems.
‘I don’t like being rushed,’ Diane observes as we leave. ‘You see the paintings but don’t have time to look.’ Which is exactly the problem of Galleria Borghese.
My two highlights from the Borghese collection are both statues. The first is of Pauline, sister of Napoleon, who scandalously had a semi-nude sculpture of herself made. She answered, when it was questioned why she had requested the sculpture, ‘Well, why not? It wasn’t cold; I had a fire.’
This is a fairly impressive response for the nineteenth century, I feel.
Pauline was also a patron of the arts, which I suppose she would have to be, considering her connection to this gallery.
My other highlight is Bernini’s statue of Apollo and Daphne, which depicts the moment when Apollo, in chase, reaches the latter and she begins her transformation into a laurel tree. The leaves that are coming out of the statue are very delicate; the audio guide tells me that it took almost two years for the statue to be restored to how it is now.
Afterwards we walk back up through the park, stopping at a cafe for lunch. We both get rocket and buffalo mozzarella pizza, which is extremely good, but difficult to eat. It has runny tomato sauce, and is the drippiest pizza that I have ever encountered.
Instead of getting back on the metro at Spagna we consult the map, before heading down through the beautiful hotels and shops of this area towards Via Sistina and Trinita dei Monti. I haven’t been all the way up here before, at the very top of the Spanish Steps, and there are art stalls all around. The view of the shopping area is impressive, too.
On Via del Corso we stop for another coffee, avoiding the grappa this time – instead we have espresso con amaretto, which is about a million times better, and comes with cream on top. And then I order an apple pie. Like the vaguely annoying woman in Eat, Pray, Love, I am dedicating myself to the pursuit of good food this weekend.
We had been handed a leaflet for a ‘concept market’ the day before, so we head there after the amaretto and apple pie. The leaflet says it runs from 10am to 8pm, which seems ambitious, but since we’re in the area we decide to check it out anyway. When we reach Piazza Montecitorio, however, there is no sign of it at all. We do discover some new and delightful little cobbled streets, and then to make up for the lack of market we head back to Largo Argentina and buy a hat from La Chieve, the oriental shop on the corner. It is getting dark by now, so as well as my new hat I throw on some red lippy too – voila, instant image change.
We go across the river to Trastevere, where we go into a few shops before stopping at a cafe and ordering wine, which in a delightfully continental fashion comes with crisps and nuts. It is very clear that after all today’s food we don’t need any more, so in its place we just have the wine. A couple of buskers pitch up near our table and Diane gives them a Euro. Sat outside on cobbles, drinking wine, in late November, in a new hat. And it is still ridiculously warm. Bliss.
(Just to cut back to the present, where I am sat upstairs in Feltrinelli, watching the world flitter past the window, once again full of pasta and wine. Two Americans at a table behind me are discussing the relative virtues of moving to London –it is a wonderful place for the kids to grow up, but so expensive– and on my right hand side an old man is taking notes from a heavy tome, scribbling in every free space he can find in his newspaper. This randomness is what I enjoy most about being here – today, I love Rome).
Diane has brought me an Independent –among the many things I miss are newspapers– but because of our hectic schedule I don’t get round to reading Thursday’s news until Saturday. When I do, it tells me that there is currently a resurgence in gang violence occurring in Rome, part of which is manifesting itself in the San Giovanni area. Well, San Giovanni is at the end of my street, which is slightly unnerving. Diane adds it to the list of things that she is worried about regarding Rome, which so far includes riots, floods, protests, robberies, Beige Spectres and unaccompanied overnight trips to Tuscany.