6.9.94 On the Pendolino
From Piacenza to Roma. Lovely train – red and sleek like a long stickleback. In the Rome guidebook (one of the new visual ones from DK – excellently executed), page 87 – there is a patron saint of drivers: Santa Francesca Romana. Rome. Good to be back. Driving through the streets I'd forgotten how beautiful – no, grand – it is. The churches, the striated golden stone. And motorini dappertutto. Fine weather. To Il Miraggio restaurant – fine spaghetti with a sprinkling of fish. Bad news: I have seen the Mémoires of Saint-Simon in a second-hand bookshop… To our room – number 106 – tremendous view of Trevi Fountain – tremendous noise too.
I sit outside San Pietro – refused entry because of my shorts - don't you just love the church's mercy? (Ironically, too, they are letting in others with shorts…) A walk to the Spanish Steps. Erroneously, I have to say, since I thought I was heading due west. The sun moves to the west early here it seems. Sun very strong – almost Yogyakartan at times – but there is a good breeze.
Down to the Tiber – very French, with trees (unheard of in Italy) along its banks. Pass a square with bookstalls (but no prices). So to here, driving up past the restaurant where I remember distinctly (why, I know not) eating Fegato alla Veneziana. It's amusing (ish) watching everyone with shorts stride purposefully up to the cerberi, only to be refused (mostly). To the Villa Sciarra (Trastevere after the Gianicolo (fine view). Melancholy beauty of the ochre house. Lots of kids, lovely evening. Cats everywhere – Egyptian cats…
Now in Piazza della Santa Maria in Trastevere – a "characteristic quarter…" waiting for our Negroni. Which turns out to be about four times stronger than any Negroni I've ever drunk. Return to the hotel smashed. Eat pizza (50 metres from the hotel), then gawp at the fountain.
7.9.94 Hotel Fontana
The view from the third floor breakfast room (light with black grand piano) stunning down to the fountain (the coins visible). The sun catching the papal stemma. Last night very strange: smashed out of my head (I've never had such a strange single drink in my life), there were various loud noise – the police, cleaning lorries, who knows what. But bed hard and comfortable.
The Pantheon - much bigger that I remember – really such a palpable demonstration of Roman power and ingenuity. M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT in huge letters. Behind me the restaurant/café where Mr Greenaway made The Belly. On the way the strange wall of colours from the Temple of Adriano – now part of the Stock Exchange. Motorini – lots of superb romane on them too, charging around. Bikes less common. Inside the Pantheon – stupendo – such power and lightness – and that massive hole punched heavenwards. The porch reminds me of Dendera – and perhaps has a similar function in a way.
Sant'Ignazio – fine, powerful church, and even finer building outside – rare movement in the Piazza. Wonderful ceiling in the church – extreme perspective. Chiesa del Gesù – little to see because of restauri – but OTT. Church of St. Louis of the French – three marvellous Caravaggios – especially the Calling of St. Matthew – those fingers: pointing à moi? - and à toi? To the Piazza Navona – surely one of the most beautiful and dramatic of all – the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, pure baroque, pure Borromini – I must learn more of him. The manhole covers here have SPQR.
By Marcus Aurelius column, at the end of Via Tritone/Largo Chigi a wonderful pedestrian subway that is a bookshop. To Tazza d'Oro – wunnerful – near the Pantheon, too – my centre of Rome, my omphalos. Bus ride (hot and crowded, Lire 1,200) to Stazione Termini, then to Santa Maria Maggiore. Big, very big – I was able to see thanks to my long trousers over my short ones, carried all day. Fine march of columns.
Now at Da Giggetto – near the sinagoga, and the Portico of Octavia (by taxi – about 7,000 Lire for three people – very reasonable, and the taxisti always polite with their Roman drawl – one, yesterday, reading "Greek philosophy"…). We sit near four free-standing columns from who knows when, and the remains of a portico. The synagogue heavily guarded… On the way here, the Vittorio Emanuele monument, a hideous pink…
Typical sounds – bad rock from a window high above us, a ball being bounced by bimbi, motorini (many), car alarm going off. We try: artichokes a la juive, baccala' spinati (cod, fried), and – da-da – suppli al telefono (is there a wire?). And then we'll see… The Romans with their eternal telefonini (I went into SIP today to ask about modems and telefonini – they knew nothing even though they had some ads in their window.) Opposite us, the old women out on their chairs in the street…
Basilica of Constantine – a bit impressive. Lovely in the early morning, cool shade, the deep green – especially the pines – which we can smell sometimes. Truly romantic mixture of churches, trees and awesome ruins. The fused bronze coins in the marble floor… To the Capitoline Museum. The Roman statues remind me of Musée Rodin – except that here there's a crowd. Fine views of Campidoglio and Sindaco's place.
For no very good reason, down to E.U.R. on the metro – full, smelling like Jakarta. On Linea B, a mad accordionist – earning around 10,000 Lire for five minutes… Metro dull – functional, no ads. Very sparse coverage of the city. Just not part of Italian culture (even in Milan, very half-hearted). cf. London and Paris – almost defines the city.
To the Colosseo Quadrato, the strange Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana – pure arches in the famous building (also called Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, closed off), elsewhere columns reduced to rods. The metro long and dull back. The image better in films in this, cross between La Défense and Crystal Palace.
The wind is rising: a storm is on its way…
Café Greco – rather impressive, like a gallery – wonderful green conservatory before us. Elsewhere plush scarlet velvet. Some of the pix really very good. The waiters in smart black tie and tails. Marble table tops. Fine. Unlike the weather, which is turning. To Piazza del Popolo – the double churches, but not as I remember them from winter.
Motorini di Roma – along with the fountains, and pines, and ruins – Respighi – Rome is mopeds – the motors of the city – for a population too lazy to move – "Jump on me/Leap on me, O desire to work…". Motto of the city – mopeds – they jump on their mopeds instead – fountains of youth, of history, La Dolce Vita. Carbon monoxide or Cinquecento – renaissance/Fiat. So be it: Roman Holidays...
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