Tuesday 27 October 2020

A Sane-making Walk in Rome

Yesterday was intense in the world of bad news. I had been feeling mildly guilty that I was away in Naples on October 22 when the Polish Constitutional Tribunal made its historic decision, and I felt even worse when I read a plaintive, di
sappointed  email on the worldwide Catholic media's lame reportage on the subject. To make up for Catholic journalism's insufficient coverage, I contacted a bunch of Poles and produced two articles on Poland's culture war--without an s key and therefore the cut and paste function having to do double-duty. Trying to remember what I was about to paste was hell. There were tears.

This morning I went on a sane-making walk around Rome. First I went with Benedict Ambrose to the caffe-bar closest to his language school with him and checked his homework while he stood at the bar drinking his breakfast cappuccino. Then I wandered off in the direction of Piazza Navona, which was all but empty. Next I cut through the streets to the Pantheon, went down the Via del Seminario, strode up the Via del Corso, got myself on the Via Condottti, and climbed up the Spanish Steps where I had a small rest. When I descended, I went on a semi-seriousearch for the Anglo-American Book shop, getting comfortably lost in the process, and wandered hither and thither on interesting streets back towards the Tiber, fetching up at the Ponte del'Angelo. At that point I was no longer lost, and dutifully went back to our rental flat.  

How do we feel about this hat?

It was a relatively quiet walk, either because most shops don't open before 10 or because tourism is all but dead, or both. It wasunny and warm and odiferous with the mingled scent of rotting vegetation, fresh bread and fresh flowers. I wasorry to see that Dolce & Gabbana had taken the petit-point rose dresses and accessories out of their windows, for I really liked them. 

But I enjoyed discovering a Sardinian bakery, contemplating the saint Maria di Novella parfumerie, listening to workmen shout their breakfast needs, and reading a poem by in the Piazza di Spagna. I even saw two Italian children, a big sister and her bespectacled little brother, running along the street, late for something. (It isad how rarely I see children in the Roman streets; where are they?) 

It's a Gucci hat, though.

I heard a 
snatch of music coming from the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia on the Via dei Greci, where the Anglo American Book shop is not. (That's on the Via delle Vite, the internet now tells me.) There were green vines embracing walls here and there. There were green plants in big pots. There were small purebred dogs--often French bulldogs--on leads held by well-dressed men in doorways. 

Rome is a very good place to be. Not necessarily to DO, but certainly to BE. 


Sunday 25 October 2020

No "s" key

I apologise to faithful readers for not blogging. The truth is, writing with a broken keyboard is not fun. I've been touch-typing since I was 14, so having to hit Command & V all the time is driving me slightly insane. 

Here is a blogpost I did for work. 

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Rain in Rome

It's raining. My newly discovered cafe Barnum--in which you can sit comfortably for a long time and the pastries are a revelation--was still closed when we went there at 8:15. (It opens at 8:30, it turns out). We went to another place nearby, and I am certain I was sold a day-old croissant.  My "s" key no longer works, so all these "s"es are cut-and-paste, and I don't know where I can get a repair. Rome is not an unsullied paradise. 

However, Benedict Ambrose and I have great fun when we can. For Thanksgiving we went to Cul-de-sac, which is near the Piazza Navona, and had a whole bottle of wine as well as hare pate, duck ravioli (B.A.) and spinach-ricotta ravioli (me). Normally I hate ordering a whole bottle of wine for two, but on this occasion I made the most of my tipsiness by conjugating "Essere" and "Avere" in pen upside down and backwards on the paper tablecloth for B.A. to read aloud.  

This morning we reviewed the mysteries of the definite article over our cappuccini and then, to be out of the rain before class, B.A. went to the Chiesa Nuova.

I am on Chapter 9 of Dieci Piccoli Indiani, but I have not progressed in by vocabulary workbook. Instead yesterday I finished reading John Le Carre's A Murder of Quality, which is so much better than Antonia Fraser's A splash of Red, I almost sat up straighter as I read it.  

Eventually I will write a list of oddities pertaining to living in Rome, but the only one that immediately comes to mind is the sudden "bzzt!" of the door buzzer. It happens several times a day, and I wonder if it I one buzzer for all the flats. Is it a resident who can't be bothered to dig out his or her keys, or is it a visitor trying his luck by pushing all the buttons? 

Update: It stopped raining, so I went for a walk in the morning sun. I didn't get as far as Testaccio, but at least it was a little exercise along the multicoloured streets. A nice thing: elderly men still read printed newspapers outside cafes. 

I review the headlines online during the day. First thing this morning I saw more stories about more coronavirus cases, more deaths, more lockdown measures, Cardinal Becciù's "lady" and the Duchess of Cambridge opening a new exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in London wearing a very chic black outfit from Alexander McQueen.  Of these things, I am most likely to write about la signora Marogna if no-one else at work has yet--cutting and pasting in the letter "s" as I go along.

Monday 12 October 2020

La Scuola

This is a very happy day for me. I have accompanied Benedict Ambrose to his Italian language school, and now I look forward to many happy years of him correcting my Italian pronunciation. B.A. has a much better ear for the nuances of sound than I do. He will be taking classes every morning for the rest of the week, and if he's keen, he might sign up for another week. 

Meanwhile it is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, so happy Thanksgiving to any Canadian readers.  It will be a Thanksgiving Day unlike any other, as families sort out their comfort levels and who-is-in-what-bubble. Personally, I ate too much at Sunday Lunch yesterday, so I will not be eating a morsel until nightfall. 

It is the habit of some of our Rome friends to go to an all-you-can-eat sushi place for lunch after Sunday Mass. One of the true marks of long-term ex-pats in Rome is that they love go to foreign restaurants, having tired of Roman fare. I'm not sure I could ever tire of proper Italian food myself. 

But now I am going for a walk to the Via Condotti before my own, long-distance, Italian class. Since March, I have been quite literally phoning it in.  

The photograph is of the mantilla worn by St Therese the Little Flower when she met Pope Leo XIII. B.A. and I went on a walking pilgrimage to her church way out on the other side of the Borghese Gardens on Saturday.

I am much more relaxed that I was when we left Scotland, which is partly the point of our Rome sojourn. It may be of interest to women readers that, having lost all interest in wearing make-up and all of that, I have started to spruce up again. The resultant lift in my spirits is what I believe is now called "the Maybelline Effect." It is real, and I wonder why, and how it worked in the centuries or decades women did not wear cosmetics? 

Thursday 8 October 2020

Il Sole

Today I woke up before dawn, made my London coffee and sat down with Agatha Christie's I Dieci Piccoli Indiani, which I have to finish before I can buy myself a real Italian book. It's my new rule, made so that I will stop buying foreign language book I never get around to reading. 

When Benedict Ambrose got up, he got himself some coffee and went up to the roof to wait for the dawn. When he returned, he said that it had been terribly cold before the sun arrived. We then went for croissant and our morning walk, and the difference between the sunbeams and the shadows was acute. 

Now I am in the "second bedroom", which is dark and dismal when the shutters are closed, but it now flooded with sunlight. 

How good it is to be in Rome in October! 

Last night it was dusk by the time I was finished work. We hurried out and down the narrow streets to the TLM, which was accompanied by a fine choir. The communion line, which formed after Mass, was long. However, we got our groceries and had a splendid supper and listen to "Lepanto" before it was too late to enjoy them.  

Suddenly I feel the need for a nap. As I have to read and summarise a long hypothesis on coronavirus for work, this will never do. 

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Fifteen minutes for Rome

One of my favourite aspects of Rome is the palette: sienna, burnt sienna, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, orange ochre, red ochre, pistachio, dirty pale blue. The old buildings, or palazzi, are painted these colours. Walking along the narrow cobbled streets looking up at these colours fosters tranquility.

The shop windows inspire excitement and, I'm afraid, incite desire: for pastries, for scented candles, for a table set for a dinner party just like that, to be a woman who dresses in clothes like those.

Pastries are reasonable. This morning Benedict Ambrose and I went out with our umbrella, which we didn't need to unfurl, despite the dripping rooves, to the Sicilian pasticceria nearest "our" church, the Traditional Latin Mass church. Stammering a little (ordering things is not part of my daily Italian study) at the counter, I caused two cappuccini and two cannoli, orange and pistachio, to appear. 

Cannoli for breakfast? Yes, I know. 

The cannoli at this pasticceria are perfectly crunchy; we will not need to go elsewhere, ever. After we had finished eating, I bought two more, filled with ricotta instead of cream, for tonight's dessert. It is the Feast of the Holy Rosary, and thus we will have a real treat. A choir will sing at tonight's Mass; it will be a solemnity, which means we will be happy. 

We wear masks, of course: everyone is wearing masks, for nobody wants to pay a €400 fine. If we forget to put them on, people stare until we remember. Happily I have a nice cloth one, the gift of a friend, which I can breathe through relatively easily. B.A. uses and reuses the ugly Chinese-made plastic face nappies. By the time I finish climbing the stairs back to our third floor flat, I am very much out of breath, though. 

All shops, churches and pasticcerie have bottles of antiseptic at their doors: they have a distinctive smell and feel gooshy. B.A. thinks our church has the best-smelling antiseptic, and he should know as he spends his days going from church to church. 

This morning I watched a news report about an 85 year old shopkeeper near the Colosseum who was knocked to the ground by a migrant who then ripped off the chain around his neck. The news report showed beer bottles, discarded wine boxes, and thin black men sitting on grass and kerbsides, and I thought that Pope Francis would not like the editorial slant of this news story, were he to see it. I also wondered if the man has children, and if they beg him to close his shop and take up gardening, and if they are in office jobs abroad. 

This morning I also read a news story about a 50 year old prostitute who is putting her sons through an expensive private school. They hate what she does, but she says she likes it and would do it for free if she could. She first came to her town when Romanian pimps drove her off her old patch; she arrived on a bicycle (if I understand correctly), and it is, in fact, the bicycle that sparked the interest of the interviewer. To keep fit, the prostitute bicycles everywhere and brags that she looks 35. 

These stories were cheerful compared to one I read when we first arrived, which was about the funeral of an 11 year old who threw himself out a high window in Naples and died. Police think people online encouraged him to do it. His classmates were apparently saying that they wanted to do the same thing. How awful. 

But that is not  about Rome. As I am indoors working most of the time, the sounds of Rome are mostly distant (and not so distant) cars and vans, beeps, and occasional shouts. I would really love to sit somewhere for a long time and eavesdrop discreetly on Roman conversations. Today my spoken interactions have been with the lovely, kindly ladies in the pastry shop and the elevator repairman, who asked if I wanted to go up, and I said "Salgo a piedi." 

I gave myself an inner gold star for remember the first person singular of salire, to go up, to climb, has a G in it. 

What I would really love to do is sign myself up for intensive Italian classes, for I have not lost the habit of believing in classes, but I am not on holiday so I encouraged B.A. to do it instead. My theory is that if B.A. can learn Italian (and he is much better at replicating accents than I am), I can improve by speaking to B.A. in Italian as much as possible. It's not the vocabulary--I know the vocabulary--it's that I lose my nerve. 

Tuesday 6 October 2020

A Sort of Rome Schedule

7:30 AM:  Wake up and see that I am too late for the morning TLM.

7:50 AM:  Make coffee in French press brought from home because I prefer London coffee to Italian.

8:00 AM:  Read Italian or study Italian vocabulary.

9:00 AM: Go for walk in beautiful Rome. 

10:00 AM: Start work. 

2:00 PM: Eat lunch. Go for another walk in beautiful Rome.

3:00 PM: Back to work.

6:00 PM: Go to Mass. 

7:00ish PM: Think about going for walk but go home to write some more.

8:00ish PM: Eat dinner.

9:00ish PM: Go for third walk in beautiful Rome. It might or might not involve gelato. 

10:00 PM: Completely exhausted and do not know why,

10:30 PM: Go to bed. 

I have a very clear memory of myself in 1998 thinking that the best thing ever would be to be a writer in Rome. Well, this month I am a writer in Rome, and I don't think I considered how much writing writing can involve. Still, the walks are lovely, and this morning's was highly amusing as a truck driver, perhaps mistaking my braids as evidence of youth, tried to convince me to remove my face mask.  

Monday 5 October 2020

Tell Clay Gilahooley

Hello from Rome! Benedict Ambrose thinks I need to relax more, so he has taken me away to the Centro Storico, where he will look at churches and I will look at the sun when not working. 

Rome is warm and rainy. Such tourists as there are seem to come from European countries, but the streets at night throng with young Italians. In the day, Italians congregate outside shops and chat. Freed from isolation and mass tourism at the same time, Italians dominate. It's ideal for tourists who love Rome but hate fellow tourists.

So far I have slept very badly (aftermath of extreme dentistry) until last night, but always with very vivid dreams. Last night I dreamed a group of unknown friends and I had been taken in charge by the Chinese police and taken somewhere to be looked at by dentists. (The dentists were a relief as we originally thought we were going to be interrogated in nasty ways). 

The story we were told was that they were going to check our teeth for recording devices, but later I realised they were probably putting them in. One of the dentists was a young American woman, blonde and now an ex-communist. She had been a doctor. She muttered to me her name and her state, which I forgot. What did stick were  her words, "Tell Clay Gilahooley that I still love him." 

Unfortunately, I repeated this story to my friends, once we were back in safety, and then I realised that I probably had a bug in my teeth relaying it also to the Chinese Communist Party. 

Relaxing is hard. B.A. says the nightmares are getting all the mental poison out.

Anyway, I am awake and soon to write a long article on the long encyclical called Tutti fratelli. The calls for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity seem heartfelt, but the irony there is that there are two unequal classes of Vatican correspondents. We are treated very differently. 

The "ordinary" correspondents were permitted to enter the l"Ufficio Santo for the live version of yesterday's Tutti fratelli Press Conference, and the "temporary" correspondents had to watch them on the livestream version, which was dubbed into Italian when it was not really Italian, from the Sala Stampa. The "ordinary" correspondents had earphones providing their language of choice, and the "temporary" did not. I was sure that listening to 1.5 hours straight of rapid Italian was very good for my listening skills, as that is where I am weakest, but it was not very good for my story.  The excuse was Covid-19 distancing procedures, but in that case, why not have held the press conference in a room big enough to hold all the press? 

My principal takeaway was that I got to hear and someone say "In the name of Allah" in the Holy Office, which was certainly very memorable. 

Before bed I've been reading a murder mystery by Antonia Fraser. Her heroine has so far been beaten up by a male acquaintance, her friend's ex-boyfriend, and seduced by another, whose first move was to pinch her hard on the breast. The character seems to think both actions were perfectly normal, which made me look at the date of publication (1981) and wonder about the private life of Antonia Fraser. I cannot imagine a Cambridge educated television presenter (as is the heroine) today not calling the police on the one and at least slapping the other.