Monday 28 January 2013


23 January

I was sent on a fool’s errand by the receptionist yesterday (I should have phoned the place beforehand): she browsed the net for ticket outlets for Saturday’s Mahler Concert in the Parco della Musica and said there was an outlet in Largo di Torre Argentina, in a large bookshop called Feltrinelli. Off I went de shúil mo chosa past the Colosseum, down to Piazza Venezia, past the Vittoriano monument (nicknamed the typewriter or the wedding cake). I turned dutifully left into Via del Plebiscito and before I knew it I was in Argentina, which was ‘frantic with traffic’ (as The Rough Guide knew).  After a few swivels of the head I saw Feltrinelli’s, crossed the road carefully and went in. I was directed to the ticket office by an uniformed person and was told that tickets for that particular concert were not for sale there, I’d have to get them from the concert hall in Parco della Musica.

Rule One: Never assume that you can get tickets for a particular concert at a general ticket outlet.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the walk among the imposing monuments, palaces and churches in spring-like sunshine. There was definitely a touch of spring yesterday, with a few showers, the kind of harbinger of better times you also get in Ireland towards the end of January, a transient kind of quickening, an unusual mildness and luminosity. All the same, I took a bus back to the Colosseum, the 87. I have been warned that the buses are just as pickpocket-infested as the Metro. But on this particular trip I was surrounded by solid decent citizens, and one woman helped me to validate my ticket, as I was pushing it into the machine wrong side up. I have validated tickets on Italian buses hundreds of times, but it was an unaccustomed type of machine.

This afternoon, coming back from a solitary pint in Finnegans, an Irish pub off the Via Cavour, after jotting down some lines of a potential poem, I passed the pavement-sleeper with raised knee I had seen earlier by the railings of the public park across the main road from the Colosseum. He was now totally covered by a pink blanket or cloth which had assumed the shape of an egg, as if he had disappeared back into the womb. A few meters further on, a few fresh hawkbit flowers nodded on their green stems inside the railings of a park. These sights, coming one after the other, gave me the strangest inarticulate feeling: a mixture of sadness, joy and an intuition of fate.

Saturday 19 January 2013


19 January

Motivation on the blink today. A dull morning with damp penetrating cold. In Rome. Did I really need to come here for this? I have put on my long johns. This laptop is getting on my nerves, constantly making unwanted windows appear. I am going out to see the fourth century Church of the Four Saints, pointed out to me by my Roman friend Claudio when he was taking me back to his high-rise home last night for a pleasant few hours of reminiscence and dinner. 
When I am out this morning, I also intend to purchase a corkscrew, and suss out the Shamrock Bar down near the Colosseum, as it has billed TV viewing tomorrow of the match between Munster and Racing Metro, a must-see if at all possible.


The long johns were not a great idea: it seemed quite cold, but I warmed up from walking around, and then I got too warm for comfort. I am glad to say that I achieved all three objectives of my morning walkabout, which is good for my morale. On the other hand, it rained incessantly for the two hours I was out. The rain gave rise to my being frequently assailed by peripatetic street-vendors, droves of them, who were making hay while the sun shines by selling umbrellas. I found them quite annoying, particularly when one of them interrupted me as I was asking directions for the Shamrock Bar. They had the effect of steeling my resolve not to buy an umbrella, which meant that I got rather soaked in the end.

The Chiesa dei Santi Quattro Coronati (to give it its full title) was a gloomy place but of great antiquarian atmosphere, and there were notices at the entrance about the various restorations it underwent since the 300 ADs. The portico was quite bright, but the inside so dull I couldn’t properly see the frescoes behind the altar, many of which seemed to show naked men suffering extremes of torture (it wasn’t waterboarding), and I presume these unfortunates were the four blesséd martyrs. The cupola showed the usual eschatological depiction of the gathering of the saints in heaven with the Trinity represented in the centre.
The centre aisle was covered with majolica-like tiles which I couldn’t properly admire because of the gloom. 
The four saints were martyred in the 300s at the command of the emperor Diocletian, for refusing to worship idols. 
I suspected I’d find a corkscrew in a shop whose fascia proclaimed Ferramenta & More, and indeed there was an entire rack of them just inside the door. The one I bought - a ‘hands-up’ type - cost €6.30.
Off I headed towards the Colosseum, searching for the Shamrock Bar. I like to locate places beforehand, to get the befuddlement over with in advance of the time I want to be there. Sure enough, I found the Via del Colosseo (where the internet map assured me the watering-hole was located) but  the street took an indeterminate unsigned turn sharpish left. Befuddlement ensued and was not assuaged by asking directions from a middle-aged woman (it was at this point I was interrupted in my conversation by an umbrella vendor). The woman did not know where the Shamrock Bar was (probably didn’t know what I was saying and got a bit nervous of me). I was about to turn back up the street, which had now become a downhill cobbled laneway with small cars parked plentifully on either side, when I noticed two flags hanging limply from a building further down. One of the flags was a tricolour which might have been either Irish or Italian, but I soon saw that the building was Hotel Perugia. 
I went further down and was greeted by a young man coming out of an office. ‘Can I help you?’ He had a Dublin accent. He pointed out the Shamrock Bar and told me that one or two of the barmen play rugby for an obscure Roman XV, therefore the bar would be almost certain to show Heineken Cup games. He also told me that the the only ‘real’ Irish pub in Rome was quite near, on Via Cavour: Finnegans. He added that he ran a travel agency, and that if I wanted a tour of the Vatican, he could arrange one, or indeed any other kind of Roman tour that I fancied.
It is now half past twelve, time for lunch. Still raining: I’m afraid I may eventually be compelled to buy an umbrella.

Rome Journal © Copyright Ciaran O'Driscoll 2013

Thursday 17 January 2013


Yes, it happened, and on only my second day in Rome at that. It must have happened on my return journey from Piazza di Spagna, because I took the wallet out of my back pocket to pay the modest fee of €4.50 to visit the Keats-Shelley Museum, and went straight back into the Metro station after my visit. I didn’t notice a thing, must have been an expert that did it. Luckily, my wallet didn’t contain my credit cards, as I got fed up of getting them damaged from sitting on them and now carry them in a zipped pocket in my jacket. This meant, of course, that I was able to get more money as soon as I noticed that my wallet was missing. 

The contents of my wallet, to which I must now bid a fond goodbye, as I must eventually bid goodbye to life itself (poor Keats had to at the age of 25), were as follows:
€120 in cash.
A damaged Mastercard. I have since got a replacement, which is in the aforementioned zipped pocket.
Several other cards of dubious value to the robber, such as those for Limerick City and County Libraries, for Irish Voluntary Health Insurance, a long-expired one for EU Health Insurance.
A number of long-standing calling cards given to me by people I did not get around to calling.
A card which will raise the barrier for the robber if he or she ever wishes to drive into Curragh Chase Forest Park, County Limerick.
An expired, and therefore invalid, driving licence.
A number of receipts for recent purchases.

I did not like the Rome Metro when I travelled on it today, and obviously I like it even less now that I’ve discovered its overcrowded and claustrophobic atmosphere has led to the stealing of my wallet. Tomorrow I intend to investigate travelling by bus and tram.


17 January

I got lost but was redirected accurately by a most helpful woman at traffic lights. ‘Buona giornata’ she said in parting (Have a good day in US English). I had succeeded in finding a Spar supermarket, where I bought the following items for my midday snack:
1 lemon
Slices of Scottish smoked salmon (about half the price of Alaskan smoked salmon, which I was initially offered, no flies on me ho, ho!)
2 Ciabattine (small ciabattas)
A packet of rocket.
A packet of Edam slices.
At Villa Irlanda, I can make myself a cup of tea or coffee in the dining room and have my midday snack there. I need to be careful not to attract ants in my bedroom by leaving food around. Yesterday, I even found a bunch of ants gathered round a leaf that must have come off my shoe! These creatures (not quite sure if they’re ants but they look like ants) seem to be everywhere in Rome: I remember encountering them in a hotel bedroom back in 1993).
I also found an ATM machine that accepted my card this morning.
That’s two pluses and one minus so far today. When I got lost, I was going in a perpendicular direction to where I should have been going, thinking I saw the Colosseum in front of me, but it was a set of more modern buildings that looked vaguely Collosseum-like.
Old men and women of various nationalities were sitting on the pavement, backs against the walls of buildings, holding plastic or styrofoam cups up for alms. Could have been Limerick. 
The weather today is dull but dry. Correction: it was raining when I went out for a smoke to allow the cleaner do my room. Revise to showery. But the receptionist, Chiara, tells me there may be snow later; it’s already lying deep 60 km north. However, a resident of one of the cottages in the grounds here assures me that next week will be better.
This afternoon, I plan to take an exploratory trip on the Metro, maybe to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, and the little museum where Keats died.

Wednesday 16 January 2013



16 January

Pouring rain this morning. Met AM, who told me it was snowing earlier. Sound of seagulls during the night and now. Didn’t associate Rome with seagulls. I’m sitting at my desk in my room in Villa Irlanda, an adjunct to the Irish College, a quaint and curious place, very sparsely populated by guests (given the time of year, I suppose). Seems relaxed, though.
Got my WiFi Password and User Name from the director, AM. Cannot access either of my blogs except to read what’s already on them. I’ll probably post excerpts from this journal when and if I can. 
I’m looking at a mosaic type painting of the Virgin with her breast on fire, on the wall in front of me. Above her hangs a flat TV screen. Behind me a small, exquisite chandelier hangs from the high ceiling. The walls are painted whitish. I’m sitting at a lacquered brown desk which is marginally too high for my chair. Behind me a double bed where I slept well last night, alone and, as I anticipated, quite lonely. But this is something that has to be done: convince yourself.

One of the good things about going away that I have always found is the perspective it gives. Thoughts enter your head that didn’t find the occasion to when you were at home. Once you go away, it’s obvious that they had been seeking an outlet. Coming into your head simultaneously with the other thoughts is the thought of how obvious the other thoughts are, and you wonder why you hadn’t thought them before.

No sooner had I got on the airport express in Dublin than they began coming into my head. An awful lot of writing issues. Meanwhile my eyes were idly taking in the passing scene as we drove through Dublin city centre: why is that man standing in the middle of the traffic, gesticulating at the bus driver?And those three grotesque pop art sculptures of heavily booted animals, cast in bronze –what are they doing beside Busáras, marching one behind the other like Daddy Bear, Mamma Bear and Baby Bear?Are they somehow, in some quirky interpretation, an image of the New Ireland? 
Pondering over all the convoluted and unresolved writing issues that were now articulating their theses and antitheses, I remembered how much I enjoyed writing ‘A Year’s Midnight’, and how much I still like it, despite a very stressful year of confused efforts at promotion and the learning curve of meeting indifference. (Although it was reviewed in the TLS.
At this stage I was having cod and chips in the ‘Food Hall’ in Dublin Airport (reached via a serpentine itinerary, but well signed). I concluded that if I find something to write that I enjoy as much as writing 'A Year's Midnight', it'll suit me fine. As old EP put it, 'What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross.'

False memory: coming here in the courier's Mercedes last night, I suddenly remembered leaving my small black cabin bag on the ground at a Ciampino Airport taxi rank, and forgetting it. But I had in fact put it in my larger bag as soon I took the latter off the baggage carousel. In “A Year’s Midnight”, the main character George has a number of false memories; now, it seems, the author is beginning to have them as well.

Back to today. It stopped raining for about two hours around lunchtime and I was able to go out and get some bearings on where I was. I discovered that Villa Romana is about five minutes' walk from the Colosseum in one direction and from St John Lateran in the other. I bought a lunchtime panino with prosciutto crudo, mozzarella and rocket in a small delicatessen, which had a quote attributed to Virginia Woolf on a wall poster:  “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” 
'É vero,' I said. 'Si, si,' said the proprietor.

Now the rain is back, with an occasional rattle of thunder and screech of a seagull.

© Ciaran O'Driscoll 2013

Friday 11 January 2013


I'm going to Rome for a month on Tuesday 15th January. I'm excited and apprehensive about it simultaneously, if that's possible. Looking forward to it and fearing it. 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' a la the title of Susan Jeffers' book. Will I be mugged? Will I get all disoriented? One thing is for sure, I'll have to work at it to benefit. 
I'm staying at Villa Irlanda, a guest house run by the Irish College. My idea is to do some serious writing while I'm there, but also to brush up on my Italian, meet some old friends and make some new contacts, maybe travel a bit outside of Rome but certainly see some Roman sights which I haven't seen before.
There's a lot of preparation involved, both in setting things right for my wife and son at home (she's coming to see me in Rome for a long weekend) and in making sure I bring everything I need – clothes, communication devices with lists of addresses, the files I need (which I have to transfer from my main computer to my laptop), identity documents and tablets, innocuous items like my clothesbrush (which has gone missing), bills that will become due when I'm there, my chequebook, credit cards, copies of my books and the books that I'm currently reading, including an Italian translation of Dorian Gray, the Rough Guide to Rome...
I hope that by immersing myself in a new setting, I'll be stimulated to begin a new novel. That worked for my first novel, 'A Year's Midnight', but I had a year in Umbria to write the first draft of that. So I think what I will mainly be doing this time is taking notes of various interesting settings and happenings in the city, and waiting for the big plot idea and the characters to come tumbling out of this observational activity. Maybe 'a horse never steps in the same stream twice' but it's worth a try. If not a novel, maybe a few poems or even a journal of my stay....

A Year's Midnight, Ciaran O'Driscoll, Pighog Press 2012

Monday 7 January 2013



Knobbly peaks and ‘proper’ peaks, scrunchy peaks, collapsed peaks, ridged peaks, every single one attempting to equate the Platonic peak. 

Some succeed magna cum laude, others barely pass, others are seriously in the F-zone, 

like the man sent out by his wife on Christmas Eve in search of tomatoes. 

Do you call that a tomato? she asked on his exhausted, triumphant return. Do you call that a peak, O mountain?

We had a climber friend who conquered many mountains, and raised a glass to each when he descended. He came to prefer drinking their health to climbing 

yet he continued to climb and became an alcoholic, living only for drink and mountains.

It wasn’t the peaks that he cared for, but what lay beneath. The peak was just the icing on the cake of the mountain, 

the green stem-end on the top of a tomato that you twist out and throw away.

One treks through snow towards the peak of a mountain. The other drives through snow looking for tomatoes. 

Encountering the empty stalls of city supermarkets, he drives into the countryside, to a village where an old-time grocer is trading late, 

and there his eyes come to rest on a chipboard container full of tomatoes from the Canary Islands. 

And this happens because it has been decreed that there can be no Christmas without tomatoes, 

just as there can be no Christmas without snowy peaks to climb and celebrate in drink. 

But what is the purpose of a perfect peak? Are they not all perfect in their own way, perfect in their failure as well as their success in Platonic terms, 

perfect in their own right and in their deviations from symmetry, offering alternative versions of beauty, a plurality of possibilities?

Here's to tomatoes and mountain peaks. To climbing and driving in the snow.

                                                                      © Ciaran O'Driscoll 2013  

Wednesday 2 January 2013


The Alps, a shot from Sauze d'Oulx, an Italian skiing resort. I protest that I did not go skiing whilst there. My son did. I went walking (sometimes) with my wife. We did not drink Barolo, a splendid red wine of Piedmont (the region), but we brought some home, and have been drinking it for the last two nights.

It was strange and different and wonderful to go to the Alps for Christmas, but in my view the Christmas dinner in our hotel, four-course as it was, did not match the Irish traditional plate filled with turkey, ham, roast potatoes. mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, turkey stuffing and various vegetables including brussels sprouts, followed by plum pudding set alight with brandy or whiskey and served with cream or custard.

Was it worth going to the Alps for Christmas? Yes it was, if only because we didn't have the stress of preparing the Christmas dinner. It was nice to be served everything for a change. And also we were certain of snow, which is on every Irish Christmas card but hardly ever occurs in Irish Christmas reality. The nostalgia of snow. And the mountains, being surrounded by those Alpine peaks, had the effect of putting things in perspective; sub specie aeternitatis, as Spinoza put it.

I will be posting more about our Christmas holiday in Piedmont: watch this space.

And a Happy New Year to all my page-viewers!