Sunday, 19 February 2012

An Englishman and two Romanians in Rome


Rome with my wonderful recruitment consultants Raluca and Ondina on a works outing. Very hot in early October. A lovely driver who takes us by Mercedes for the cost of a shuttle and explains things in broken English, working as we should I tell them from love. Not for money.

Many American tourists. Unlined faces like elderly babies. Do I feel more loathing for them than for British tourists? No. British are much more objectionable. Australians too everywhere and also rousing my ire  but less so then British or Americans.

The girls go to the hotel and the driver takes me to St Peter’s where after a 25 minute queue I hear High Mass in Latin (Novo Ordo). The men in suits push you into line very sharply. Thirty bishops? Wearing purple anyway. Scores of priests in green. As always I wonder why the Latin Mass is not available except in such a terribly few places. Not in Romania at all, nor in Ireland.

Being in Rome is like walking into a series of paintings by Old Masters.

The next day we went to the Vatican. The Museums. Nero’s vast bath. An enchanting guide half Irish half (black) Zimbabwean called Patrice whom I chat to who is writing. The Sistine Chapel. Like Niagara Falls it is slightly smaller than I had expected. A huge throng of coach parties in the Museum. The tomb in the nave of King James III King Charles III and King Henry IX of Great Britain and Ireland (the Old and Young Pretender and his brother the last Stuart Pretender) by Canova. So moving. Tears well.

We get lost which is the only way you see things. The girls queue to climb to the cupola something which holds no appeal to me but in the end I looking for them climb it and they do not. The first rule of tourism: do not climb things. 280 claustrophobic steps with no turning back. And just a view at the top.

But Rome is heaven. Like a big box of chocolates. We spent six hours in Vatican which was far too short. 

I got out of the Coliseum with the girls but this was a mistake. This is a team building. Plus they saw the Forum with an archaeologist guide. I would have liked that. I walked and walked and discovered marvels. Like being in heaven. Like an endless box of chocolates. The Canova museum which is also a coffee shop. The beauty of overcast streets and in the rain.

I finally found the companion I needed in the Capitoline Museums’ bookshop, Christopher Hibbert’s middlebrow pot-boiler Rome: The Biography of a City which I read on the plane with delight. Like all middle aged men (?) I do most o f my reading on planes. How I at twenty or twenty-five despised that sort of book. My father read Hibbert I remember. Now  I look into the shop windows and see my father’s face looking back (but considerably fatter) and Hibbert is just what I want. At least though I have not yet started to read military history. 

And such a book I intend to write about Bucharest  - but very much better!

Except that though it had much about Boswell in Rome it had nothing on King Charles III, the Young Pretender or his brother and heir, Cardinal York, King Henry IX. For some reason the melancholy and insubstantial shade of King Henry IX is always in my thoughts in Rome rather than Caesar or Virgil. I wonder if I identify with him, an exile, like me.

Goethe said he only began to live when he visited Rome and I fear that I got there too later to be intoxicated with the place. But it is I suppose the most wonderful city in the world? Yes it is.

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