Tuesday 19 February 2013


05 February

The Agustinian nuns at Chiesa dei Santi Quattro washing and cleaning out their Peugeot hatchback in the forecourt. In their good habits, not their work ones!

Went to Piazza del Populo in the little electric bus 117. It tore through sidestreets. I walked back along Via del Corso, turned left and found myself at the Spanish Steps. Went into the Keats Museum just to allay a niggling doubt that I may have left my wallet there. I hadn’t. Lots of designer shops in this area, Margaret would have had a ball. Among them familiar ones from everywhere (global capitalism): Bally, Zara, Yamaha, Mango, Dolce & Gabbana. The survivors of ‘one capitalist kills many’ (Marx).

It was damp but mild. A light rain falling intermittently. Dull but lively. I had a tuna and tomato panino and a glass of Chianti outside a cafe named after its street, ‘Cafe Frattina’.

07 February

I’m getting to like the constant sound of the screaming, scavenging seagulls around Villa Irlanda. Sometimes it’s a witch’s cackle, sometimes a hearty but cynical laugh, sometimes a dog barking (or is that an actual dog barking?). I am beginning to rein in towards home and looking forward to it, which is a good sign that I have more or less achieved what I set out to do. May the Lord spare me any serious hiccups during my last few days! 

When I was in Despar today, at the bread counter, an Asian man came in a bought a single bap. It was weighed, put in a paper bag and sealed with a price tag. Cost 15 cent, I think. 

Yesterday afternoon, on my way to the presidential reception in the Irish Embassy, I got off the 75 bus at the junction of Via Fratelli Bonnet and Via G. Carini and went into a bar gastronomia on the corner for a glass of wine and an egg and turkey sandwich. Two young women (around 20 y.o.a) came in, one pimply with lank fair hair, wearing a black hoody with BASS HEAD in white on the back, carrying a shoulder bag and two hula hoops, the other one shorter, in red and black. The first had an Irish accent, spoke English and was clearly also learning Italian words from the other. The Irish lass with the candy-coloured hula hoops ordered a grappa and a Jameson, the other had a grappa. ‘We should get some wine,’ the Irish one said. ‘We can get it in Despar,’ said the other. ‘We should get it in a wine shop,’ said Hula Hoops. Sweet and twenty and determined to get pissed. Going to a party at the nearby American Academy??

On my way home from the embassy, I got a very sweet smile from a girl in a takeaway pizza place in Largo Argentina, and we shared a wordless joke: the way she picked up on her fork the tiniest piece of smoked salmon that had fallen off my pizza slice and put it back on.

11 February

Overheard from the Bore in the Breakfast Room this morning: ‘...Dickie was her cousin. Dickie Plantagenet was her cousin...’ 

Thursday 7 February 2013


07 February

I shook hands with the President of Ireland at the Irish Embassy on the Gianicolo Hill last night. Later he was rushed home to disinfect his hands. No, he was rushed home to be on hand (Oh God) to sign legislation to deal with the IBRC crisis which kept the Dáil up all night. I just heard about this from a Cork woman and her daughter at breakfast here in Villa Irlanda. 
I thought Michael D. looked rather tired and spoke with far less gusto than he’s known for. With hindsight, now, I can see that one of his slips of the tongue was classically Freudian: ‘confusion’ for ‘cohesion’. This drew a laugh from the crowd as the President immediately acknowledged it with some witticism. I wonder how many of the guests at the reception at Villa Spada were aware of Ireland’s parlous state, with IBRC’s €12 billion assets in danger? I know I wasn’t.
One TD summed it up succinctly: ‘This is going to be a long night.’

Wednesday 6 February 2013


01 February

Went to Termini today to get train tickets for Umbria. My initial impression there was that the last thing they want to sell is a train ticket. The station is full of designer shops, restaurants and cafés, and even has a few supermarkets, including a Despar (= Spar). The multinational heavies are actually pushing the real function of the station into the background.
It took me quite a while to find Informazione and longer to find Assistenza Clienti,which is where they sell tickets face-to-face. There are, be it said, a large number of automatic dispensers of train tickets, but unauthorized people come in off the street to help you work these machines if you have difficulties (for a gratuity of course).
At Assistenza Clienti, you have to get a queuing ticket in order to buy a train ticket. I went up to some women standing outside the ticket offices and asked ‘É una fila?’ (‘Is it a queue?’) They looked at me expressionlessly, and I realized that they were oriental and didn’t understand me. Eventually a man pointed me to the dispenser for the tickets that put you in a numerical ‘queue’ for the train ticket desks. It took me a while to figure the whole business out, but I have to admit that for a huge station like Roma Termini, it is an excellent arrangement. You don’t have to form a physical queue, just stand around and wait for your number to come up on a screen, which also gives you the number of the sportello (desk) you should go to. You might even be able to go for a coffee and come back, having gauged approximately how long it could take for your number to come up. 
My number was B416 and the last number in the B category to show on the screen was around 350. (The B category is for Inter City and Regional Trains). It was about an hour before my turn came, but I was able to go out for a smoke and keep my eye on the progress of my number. The process seemed to speed up when three or more people went to the same desk, but they usually took longer than a single person, so the quick advance of the numbers was a bit of an illusion. 
I watched a ticket official chatting to a woman and fumbling to put two tickets into an envelope for her, and thought that this scene would be great if the hero of my new novel was on the run from his Eumenides to catch a train that was leaving in five minutes and was also bursting to go to the toilet!

Friday 1 February 2013


somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

by e. e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands