There is a buzz about Rome; a vibrancy which translates, almost, as an arrogance. Deservedly so. To call it a beautiful city is not enough. It has it all. The sunshine seems only to enhance the Mediterranean hues of the buildings: the warm terracottas melting into the pale yellows and pinks, all with contrasting shutters, mostly green. The characteristic trees which line the routes with their flat tops reminiscent of umbrellas … the Italian music emanating from the car radio as the taxi driver chats, animatedly, on his hands-free whilst expertly negotiating the melee on the roads. It is a freneticism devoid of urgency. Perhaps catching a glimpse of the remains of the Appian Way, en route, serves as a humbling reminder of how small we are in the great scheme of things. Built in approximately 312 BC, those who laid the stones are long gone. Footprints in the sands of time, our troubles pale into insignificance when faced with the magnitude of this city; its history, its ancient architecture. As we near our hotel, the Colosseum stands majestic before the Forum and the years fall away as my ‘Approach to Latin’, once more, comes to life. I smile.
Sitting here on this dark Monday afternoon, it is almost November. There is no buzz here; no vibrancy. It is cold and the leaves are falling from the trees while, everywhere, offices are filled with ‘battery humans’ staring at computer screens. Avidly clock-watching, most are mourning the weekend gone before and counting down to the next two days of freedom. For most, life in between is nothing short of mundane. It’s called ‘staying afloat’ or, more precisely, ‘living to work’. No! Carpe diem!
Becca, for one, comes alive in Rome. One can almost see the blood returning to her veins! She spent a year in the city, teaching, and, fluent in Italian, she is the perfect tour guide. Monti is her second home, an area close to the centre and in the shadow of the Colosseum where they have life sorted. Teeming with vintage shops, wine bars, cafes and the prettiest little cobbled streets, the pace of life is slow; the people friendly. Church bells chime as another hour goes by but no matter. The shops open late morning – or whenever – and close sometime in the evening – or whenever. All are welcome and, if time to stop and chat, then all the better. A stroll to the wine bar down the road or the little shop next door produces a bottle of wine, complete with glasses and snacks, and one is free to shop or just reminisce about the day as the sun goes down. ‘Don’t worry, be happy …’
Tuesday evening was one I shall never forget. Becca had booked tickets to see Tosca at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma for my Birthday. What can I say? The whole spectacle was magnificent. The floodlit Opera House was alive with some of the most elegant and well-dressed all with a shared thirst for culture – and the odd cocktail at the bar! As though one had stepped back in time, the theatre, itself, was spectacular. Seemingly swarthed in deep red velvet, much of the seating was in individual, ornate boxes harping back to a time of opulence -coveted but, sadly, not ours! From our third level seats, we should have had a perfect view of the stage and the grand orchestra below had it not been for two large German gentlemen seated directly in front of us. I wonder if, in days gone by, said gentlemen would have offered us their seats? No? In ‘my world’, I’d like to believe they would …
The curtain lifted and Puccini transported us back to the Rome of 1800. There were one or two gasps, however, at the sight of the libretto and its English translation, projected above the stage. Not sure. Slightly distracting. Thankfully, the music swept us away to a world before technology proving, without doubt, that one’s senses are omnipotent. Bravo!
We spent my Birthday, as has become tradition, drinking champagne at the top of the Spanish Steps. The sky was deep blue and the sun scorching as we captured, on film, one of the most beautiful of backdrops while watching the world go by. If one blinked, one could almost see Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck as they were, sixty-four years ago … more so, having seen her life in her photographs, scripts and personal belongings so recently. That being said, we had to go to the Via Margutta, also synonymous with Roman Holiday. The narrow, tree-lined, cobbled street is instantly recognizable as the backdrop for the palace at the beginning and it is here, in one of the prettiest courtyards, that one will find the stairs to the little apartment belonging to Gregory Peck’s character. Via Margutta is also known for its art – studios, exhibitions, it is home to one of the quaintest of shops owned by our new friend, Stefano. Last year, I saw my beautiful painting of the Spanish Steps in his window. By the Russian artist, Alexander ‘Sasha’ Serghey, it was love at first sight but my head ruled my heart and I flew home without it. Becca returned, before Christmas, and brought it back with her. One day, it shall have pride of place.
Actually, talking of the artist, ‘Sasha’, he, too, featured in my Birthday. On popping in to see Stefano, having watched the sun go down over the Piazza di Spagna – the colours never fail to amaze and inspire – we discovered that he had, kindly, organized a private viewing of Sasha’s work in his studio/apartment on Via Margutta. A winding marble staircase led us up to a door where the artist was waiting to welcome us into his world. Speaking little English and extremely reserved, he watched as we feasted our eyes on the wonderful paintings of Rome covering every inch of wall space available. Few are as privileged. None are for sale. There was one I particularly liked – a view through a window – and I had hoped he would feel it a worthy Birthday present … he didn’t! Perhaps, too, it didn’t help that, when encouraged to sit down, I happened to catch one of his precious pieces which fell from its easel! Thankfully, no harm done. The whole scenario was a little surreal but, at the same time, entirely fitting. I do feel, sometimes, that our lives are part of some ongoing sitcom … pray, God, we are never boring!
Ryanair flew us away from the eternal city and back to reality with a jolt. Herded on and off buses, once more, we were told that they had run out of prosecco and had only one vegetarian panini left. Last flight of the day. My argument that our fares should be reduced in line with the casual depletion of food and drink on offer was met with disdain and the final straw was to learn that – despite the sign on the back of each seat stating receipts are given for all on-board purchases – my receipt could only be accessed online. Welcome aboard Ryanair. Cheap flights but the plane is extra!
Arriving in Edinburgh at 10.25pm on Saturday night, it was dark and freezing. There had been some Halloween music event on at Ingliston and taxis were few and far between as we queued amongst the drunks in costume. Is this it?
We learned the next morning that a young boy who was very special to Becca, and about whom I had heard so much, had died suddenly. He was only thirteen years old. He was bright, funny and brought so much joy. I felt as though I knew him – and I liked him very much. Life can be very cruel but it is short and we have neither the time, nor the right, to feel sorry for ourselves. There is so much to see and do and I feel sad when I see all these ‘battery humans’ resigned to their grey lives. Edinburgh? Rome? Whatever. Doing what one loves/ enjoys is the most important thing. Of course, one must earn enough to live but do not succumb to greed. I think we can learn a lot from the Italians. Don’t worry, be happy …
‘Catch, then, O! catch the transient hour,
Improve each moment as it flies;
Life’s a short Summer – man a flow’r:
He dies – alas! how soon he dies!’
Samuel Johnson, ‘Winter, An Ode.’
This is Trish, signing off.