Audrey in Rome;

In the break before the start of the bar course, I had a little week in Rome, my very own Roman holiday!

I brought along some lovely books to accompany the journey – chief was A Time in Rome by Elizabeth Bowen (Beth, Beth, you are the educated travelling housewife I want to be), Walks in Rome by Augustus C. Hare, and The Taste of Angels by Francis Taylor. And of course, a trusty Timeout guide. Not surprisingly, I enjoyed Elizabeth’s take on Rome the most, and share some of the excerpts:

“Actual changes in Rome must be disconcerting- the hacking of new perspectives through old streets, the vanishing of gardens, and so on. Mussolini’s theatricalities, few thank him for; what seems less well known is that Garibaldi, in rash old age, sponsored an attempt to straighten the Tiber, which meant carving away an obtruding curve of the gardens of the adorable Villa Farnesina. One man’s improvement is another man’s poison. Trams, for instance, anguished Augustus Hare, who bewails “mutilation” in their interest. Yet, through grievous, actual changes are less eerie than the fictitious one. The Colosseum, I could have sworn, had shifted its position since I last saw it; I wasted a morning in angry search for it. But humiliation, having brought me to tears, gradually eased off into humility. Among Rome’s splendours is its unexpectedness, or better, unexpectability. If one cannot enjoy this, one enjoys nothing. Not that I was willing to be got the better of altogether. Partly I crept up to the city, partly attacked it – in the sense of attacking a vast problem. My object was to walk it into my head and (this time) keep it there. To encompass the whole of it was worth trying, as is so much which is impossible. Each day, I reduced some hiterto nebulous area by at least a little. My approach was pedestrian twice over: still, there could be no other. Rome made this so”.

I stayed at the Best Western Hotel Rivoli, which was a charming little hotel tucked in the heart of Rome, and the staff were lovely to me, and breakfasts were a joy with hot scrambled eggs, a selection of salami and cheeses, plenty of morning pies and waffles/bread! My only complaint was that I never seemed to have enough hot water!

“Crossing the gravel to an empty table, I sat down, soon to find myself drinking something I have never drunk, a glassful of some sort of coloured syrup. The waiter had misunderstood my order. Dust from the trodden gravel was filling the summery, tired air: as evening deepened, ilexes ran together ahead of it into the ink of midnight. Lovers wandered away from parties, deeper into the glades to await darkness, in which, when it came, their presences would be felt in the zones between lamps wakening in branches. I walked to the bridge spanning the deep gulch, one side the Aurelian Wall, between the Pincio and Borghese gardens, and looked over. Under me passed cars returning to Rome, people with elbows out of the open windows of what was already an afternoon langour”.

I came across an Italian wedding while visiting a church – so convinced it was an Italian mafia wedding! Tons of men in black Dolce & Gabbana suits and gold/silver ties and I think I spotted guns. Here was my Godfather moment:

“The virtue of little-restaurant Roman food resides perhaps in consistency more in flavour- a matter of freshness, resilience, tenderness, and in the case of pasta sufficient slipperiness without oiliness. Vegetables, not numbed by a session in the refrigerator, come out of open air and from recent earth. All helpings are over-generous. I could not believe one could have enough carciofi, or green tagliatelli, or cuts of veal crisscrossed by marks from the grill, together with insalata verde, till experience taught me this could be possible.”

Every lawyer should visit the Court of Justice in Rome, and be bemused on their version of scary statues (and possibly, scary statutes) meant to keep the criminals away (given siesta, they will never seem to have court!) My dress ‘Julia’  is designed by the talented Dolly Pearl designer Vi Hoang (http://www.dollypearl.com/) and I love her fluttering and lovely designs, and really recommend her new collection of beautiful Monet-palette dresses. I have meant to write about her for some time.

“The Past is either an abstraction or a selected time: when one gives it a capital P it becomes the former. It is in nature (at least in mine) to make for the concrete and particular, to “choose” a time and reconstitute, if one can, one or another of its moments. Happenings are objective; the effect of them never can quite evaporate. In Rome I wondered how to break down the barrier between myself and happenings outside my memory. I was looking for splinters of actuality in a shifting mass of experience other than my own. Time is one kind of space; it creates distance. My chafing geographical confusion was in a way a symptom of inner trouble- my mind could not be called a blank, for it tingled with avidity and anxieties: I was feeling the giddiness of unfocused vision. There came no help from reason, so I was passive. It is one way of approaching, to be passive, to be attracted in inexplicable directions, then half-see why. It takes one’s entire capacity to live one moment- the present, the moment one is living. One is enclosed in that, there can be no other. But cannot the present serve as a reflector?”

Sistine Chapel ceiling

Afternoon tea and Italian prosecco at the beautiful Hotel Majestic, located in Via Veneto. I later learnt that Hotel Majestic dates back to 1889, and is located in one of Rome’s most beautiful historical buildings, Villa Ludovisi, and was designed by the leading architect of that time, Gaetano Koch, and has been described as a ‘veritable jewel of neoclassical elegance’. The bar which we visited was decorated in a neoclassical style with frescoes and gold/black themes, and we learnt that several famous celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra etc. had stayed in the Hotel Majestic in their visits to Rome. While taking photographs, a guest even proclaimed the bartender to be the ‘best in all of Rome’! The bar has a sort of quiet charm which reminds me of the bar in Claridges where I spent the New Year’s.

As I am a big fan of John Keats, I had to visit the Keats-Shelley House by the Spanish steps, which were his lodgings before Keats passed away from tuberculosis at the tender age of 26. The Keats-Shelley House now contains one of the finest reference libraries of Romantic literature in the world as well as a unique collection of manuscripts, paintings, sculpture and memorabilia. I came upon this find through my trusty Rome Timeout guide!

February (?) 1820

My dear Fanny,

Do not let your mother suppose that you hurt me by writing at night.  For some reason or other your last night’s note was not so treasureable as former ones.  I would fain that you call me Love still.  To see you happy and in high spirits is a great consolation to me – still let me believe that you are not half so happy as my restoration would make you.  I am nervous, I own, and may think myself worse than I really am; if so you must indulge me, and pamper with that sort of tenderness you have manifested towards me in different Letters.  My sweet creature when I look back upon the pains and torments I have suffer’d for you from the day I left you to go to the Isle of Wight; the ecstasies in which I have pass’d some days and the miseries in their turn, I wonder the more at the Beauty which has kept up the spell so fervently.  When I send this round I shall be in the front parlour watching to see you show yourself for a minute in the garden.  How illness stands as a barrier betwixt me and you!  Even if I was well – I must make myself as good a Philosopher as possible.  Now I have had opportunities of passing nights anxious and awake I have found other thoughts intrude upon me.  “If I should die,” said I to myself, “I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.”   Thoughts like these came very feebly whilst I was in health and every pulse beat for you – now you divide with this (may I say it?) “last infirmity of noble minds” all my reflection.

God bless you, Love.
J. Keats.

There was even a series of letters and manuscripts from Oscar Wilde, who greatly respected Keats. 

I have expanded on so much on the trip, perhaps all that is left is to speak of the Spanish cat (and the sole cat I saw in my 7 days of Rome)!

“Two days later I left, taking the afternoon train to Paris. As before, I had too much baggage to go by air. Such a day, when it does come, has nothing particular about it. Only from the train as it moved out did I look at Rome. Backs of houses I had not ever seen before wavered into mists, stinging my eyes. My darling, my darling, my darling. Here we have no abiding city”.

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