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. 

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