Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fifi, Daughter 2 and Rome

I’ve just read Fifi’s account of her trip to us. It’s so rare - and delightful - for someone to recognise one’s perfection. However, should you go to her latest post (and why wouldn’t you? Sirius and Cassie have starring roles (in an Australian blog; how strange is that?)) please realise that her kind words show mainly what a lovely person she is and that she was suffering from jetlag at the time of writing. I mean, we are of course very nice. But I don’t want to raise the hopes of any other blogger who might one day meet us. We may have the odd flaw.

Fifi is extremely nice and also very self-deprecating. We spoke a couple of times on the phone before she actually struggled her way through Scotland’s transport system to reach us, and she said several times on the phone that she looked a wreck because of her busy schedule – at one point she said she looked 75. So I was expecting Germaine Greer. Ha! She looks about 30: honey tan, blonde curls, lovely smile, clear eyes – despite having had very little sleep for the past month.

I really felt as if she was a friend – isn’t it amazing how the world of blogging brings people together?

Of course, I love her for appreciating my lovely Daughter 2, who was the only one of our offspring who was at home at the time. Fifi mentions Eastern Europe, referring to the time when Daughter 2, as an architecture student, spent two periods of several months with friends in Slovakia building a community centre for an extremely deprived community of Roma people. There were only four of the students on the first visit, and they raised the money here and then bought the materials and built the house with their own hands. We were very worried when she said she was going to do this because we feared for her safety among 500 unemployed people who were living in unbelievable squalor – 5 showers and 5 toilets among them all, no running water in the houses, which were made of found materials - and so on. And we were worried about her out in the freezing Slovak winter, heaving building materials around. But they learnt the language, made friends with the people, built the building and the next year went back with other friends and extended it.

Anyway: Rome. In four days, we saw: Rome from an open-topped bus (not really recommended because the traffic is terrible on the busworthy roads); then, on foot, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore; the Forum; the Colosseum; the ruins on the Palatine Hill; the Vatican; St Peter’s Basilica; the Sistine Chapel; St Peter’s Square; the Castel Sant’ Angelo; the Trevi Fountain (red); the Capitoline Museum; the Spanish Steps; the Pantheon; the Museum of Rome; the Pantheon again; the Piazza Navona; the Trevi Fountain (normal).

As far as the traffic is concerned: in our experience, the British are more law-abiding – and quieter – drivers than some of our Continental cousins. This was certainly true in Rome, when people seemed to feel the constant need to express their desire for forward motion by hooting. And the parking! Cars were double parked, parked on corners, parked on pedestrian crossings – generally abandoned randomly as if a nearby volcano had shown signs of exploding and the owners had made a dash for safety. Here's a Roman car park, with a Roman keeping a place for his friend. Look at the interesting parking to our right of him.

Central Rome is very pretty, especially from a distance or with your eyes half-closed. Many of the buildings are high and painted orange or yellow, just like in paintings of Italy by Canaletto. Close up, some of them could do with repainting, and Rome has a terrible graffiti problem, but the general impression is slightly scruffily golden. And the skyline is liberally sprinkled with domes and spires and a clutter of interesting rooflines.

You might look down an alleyway and see a fountain.

Sometimes the buildings have obviously been constructed on the remains of something much older – not quite so ancient Romans appear to have come along, thought oh well, that chunk’s been standing a good fifteen hundred years; we’ll just add a bit . And this seems to have worked. And you do literally come round a corner to find a hole in the ground with a lump of 2000-year-old pillar just lying there, apparently just discovered and abandoned. (“See what I’ve found, Marco.” “Not another piece of temple? Botheration, that means we need to put this road along a bit.”)

The Forum was absolutely fascinating. When I was little, I was given a book called “The Story of Rome” by Mary MacGregor. (I’ve just looked at it, and it says “With love from Granny and Grandpa, Christmas 1958 – so I was eight.) I devoured this book – it has beautiful illustrations, probably very inaccurate. To counteract this enthusiasm, I then studied Latin in the senior school for six years with the world’s most boring teacher. (Well, I really looked out of the window for six years and passed notes to my best friend. But some Latin sank into my head all the same.) So the idea of actually going to the Forum, the Capitoline Hill, the Palatine Hill and so on was thrilling. Imagine standing in the Forum where Mark Antony entered with the body of Julius Caesar!

Most of the Forum is gone, of course – plundered, I assume, by later generations in search of building materials. But there are still lots of bits of wall, slabs of carved stone, half pillars, parts of temples and a huge triumphal arch. It’s not a great leap of the imagination to blot out the hordes of tourists taking pictures and to feel oneself surrounded by senators flicking by in togas, slaves carrying things on their heads and the atmosphere of confidence that comes from knowing you belong to an empire which dominates the known world.

We have Roman remains in Britain too, but they’re nicely presented, with a ticket booth to claim entrance money, smooth green turf between the remnants of wall and a gift shop and café on the way out. In contrast, you can just wander into the Forum and it’s a bit like an abandoned building site – everything just lies around on weedy or bare earth with a few bits of rusty scaffolding holding up the most obviously dangerous bits of ancientness. It looks as if various committees have from time to time decided to gather some similar artifacts together, so you find a little pillar collection here, a few fragments of cornice and an arrangement of carved fonts there. But mainly it just lies about and you think, wow, Tarquinius Superbus may have walked along this bit or sacrificed to a god in that temple.

I have to admit, though, that I did sometimes feel that a few nice stretches of velvety sward would have made the place look a bit tidier.
More another time.


  1. Did you see any of the wild cats about? Some of the ruins are overrun and it is quite horrible to see the state of the moggies.

  2. Hi Isabelle,
    Well THANKS again showing some more about my beloved Rome, also the stories are neat/COOL for just in 4 days!!

    You liked the FORUM ehh? Me too!

    Yes blogging can bring people together some times, I have had that experince twice also (someone from UK and Atlanta)...

    What do you eat in the morning?
    Look at my blog and see my Dutch(part of ) breakfast:)
    Please come and visit my blog:)

    Greetings JoAnn:)

  3. Lovely evocative post and photos. I'm having an intense swelling of memories of being there with a friend who is now deceased.

  4. Lovely photos, I've never been, but I day!!

  5. Interesting piece, this.
    Rome IS amazing and althoughIve only been twice, I have superb memories.
    And I like your finding of the book from Granny/Grandpa; I did something like this recently and it's fabulous how suddenly you're remembering...

  6. Not having been to Rome I find myself wanting to go there after reading your post.

    I thought the photo was a traffic accident! Never imagined it was a parking incident.

  7. I think Americans, and the British of course, are more likely to queue up and take turns than the Europeans. We were amazed at how little regard they have for personnal space! Jostling and shoving is the order of the day. And they'll shamelessly go before you, even when they know jolly well you were there first! You learn to be assertive....

    Are you SURE you had the world's most boring Latin teacher? Because I thought I had. Maybe it's just tough to make the study of Latin exciting.....? I struggled through it, but now am glad!

  8. ah, Isabelle, you are too kind....

    I felt just the same way in Rome the first time i was there. Of course, i didnt have the disturbing prospect of the blood-filled trevi fountain as a backdrop.

    The velvet swards are indeed a lovely thing, and I think a welcome addition to any archaeological site. Actually, any site.

    I wish I had taken a photo of that school building (in Edinburgh) lit up at night, although sometimes NOT photographing something makes it stick in your mind. Just as spectacular as the Forum really!

    Take care!

  9. Ah...your photos are bringing back lots of memories for me. I remember being totally amazed at all the Roman remains being so casually located around the 20th century city! And I can relate to Velcro's comment about the gatti...the Forum in particular was overrun with them when we were there.

  10. Neat-o! You have increased my desire to travel to Rome.

    I'm pretty sure I had the most boring Latin teacher ever. I still remember the first couple of sentences we learned. Vestus Virum Reddit...Manus Manum Lavat. Not sure of the spelling after almost 30 years, but so useful to know!

  11. What a lovely post. I really enjoy your writing.

  12. 'Botherationo' surely?
    Lovely post as ever!