Roman Mornings

I have a feeling that one of two readers would like to see what’s up in Dorset (judging from the comments section). And I must admit, so would I. From time to time, there are moments where I’d dearly like to be in two places at once.

Yesterday – one of those beautiful, late late summer days with a little hint of autumn in the air, I would have loved nothing more than to have been waking early in Dorset and spending the whole day in the veg patch, which I know will have gone entirely crazy in the last three weeks. But equally, when you’ve been travelling, it’s good to stay still. And so I’d decided early on that by far the best thing was to stay in London, and have a quiet weekend catching up. Which I loved just as much, and kept on thanking my lucky stars I hadn’t taken the 3 hour train journey west, and wasn’t about to take a 3 hour train journey back to London this morning.

I’m obsessed by early September: the time of new notebooks and the new school year, which somehow still runs rather deep in my psyche. So much more the new year than January, to my mind. This weekend we’ve been on the tipping point of that hectic new start. I love the moment of pause – almost as if we are caught in a freeze frame – that has been the moment when 31st August clinks gently into 1st September… and the helper skelter ride begins. All the more appropriate that it’s happened over a weekend.

For a moment, I’ve been reflecting once or twice on some wonderful few days in Rome. I don’t think I’ve walked and looked and photographed so much in years. A very very long time ago, I read James Lees-Milne’s Roman Mornings and perhaps it’s time to dig out that book again now. For me, I must admit, Rome has been all about the mornings… getting up and enjoying the deserted city, which itself will be yawning and shaking itself this morning for the return to real life after the ubiquitous August closure. But then despite how tired I would get – it goes without saying that I was seriously missing my afternoon glass or three of delicious wine, or peroni, followed by an even more delicious two hour nap – well, nonetheless, it was somehow time to carry on walking. Perhaps more than any other city I know, there is always something glimpsed around every corner, leading you on relentlessly.

A little corner – which leads, to the right, literally into a tiny dead-end mews – around the corner from my hotel. But I realised later that this fine facade forms the northernmost termination of a beautiful, long street, Via Belsiana. You could see the arched door from a very long way away.

At 7am there is no one on the Spanish steps. Which makes it an excellent time to take your wedding photographs, so long, of course, as you don’t want to look bleary eyed in each shot, which I am afraid might be a danger in this particular case.

What I love most of all about Rome is the narrow glimpses that suggest… time to stop, go back, and have a look.

I am not sure I can remember the name of this jewel-like church.

You’d be hard pushed to find something this wonderful in London. Everything here this good has had the life restored out of it.

The Trevi Fountain was not flowing.

Something was up.

Cleaning. The guy standing up top might have been a relative of Il Duce. He didn’t seem to be doing very much.

Although he did deign to help get the hose out of the window. Who knew that there was a hose behind that window?

Have you ever wondered what happens to the millions of coins that get thrown in to the Trevi Fountain? They get swept up the next morning, before anyone is awake.

€3000 is thrown into the fountain every day. The coins are collected every morning at dawn and given to a local charity.

You know, I want to look this good when I walk to work, when I’m a bit older.

The start of my recurring obsession with Italian shop signs. (For further examples of this obsession may I refer you to Tipografia Sicilia?)

I popped into Canova’s studio on via Babuino, now a crazy cafe, filled with rather dreadful but en-masse beautiful plaster models by his assistant’s assistant (?), who finally inherited the rather wonderful building, Tadolini. I would say worth a stop for a coffee, if you are passing, and have a strong stomach for late 19th century statuary.

Walking on busy Via del Tritone I spied this tiny shop on the other side of the road – a tiny gentleman’s outfitters. I was fascinated by the signage inside. That implied something rather special. I crossed (taking my life in my hands) to find the most remarkable interior, intact since it was installed in 1907.

I bought a beautiful dark navy blue-with-chocolate-stripes knitted tie as part of my charm offensive to ask the owner if I could photograph her store (there was a sign in the window saying no photography). The shop had been set up by her great grandfather. She was elderly, herself, but still rather… racy…

I was rather relieved we don’t have quite the same dress code at Ben P towers.

I was on my way to Borromini’s first major church in Rome, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.

I’d been to the church a few times but the Crypt had never been open. A strange haunting place, although impossible to photograph.

It’s hard to get over Borromini’s insane creations. How one would begin to describe this in a set of AutoCAD computer drawings these days, I am not entirely sure? Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry… eat your heart out.

(just in case you needed to buy any of these).

I think I’d quite like to park my bike here and call it home.

This wonderful old lady guards the door to an apartment building on Via dei Prefetti. Food-minded people will like Obika Mozarella bar directly across the piazza. Perfect.

Another Roman favourite, Maccheroni.

I’ve got a lot of time for a church that is actually a block of flats.

The Caravaggio altarpieces in S. Luigi dei Francesi are extraordinary. It is so fine seeing great paintings in their original context. You understand (for instance) the importance of the natural light source in relation to the architecture of the composition.

The church also has some fine neoclassical chapels.

And a crazy ceiling that makes a nicer photo than a ceiling.

If anyone can tell me anything about this building… I will be eternally grateful. It is, according to the sign on the door, the Missionari del Sacro Cuore de Gesù, directly opposite Borromini’s Sant’ Ivo alla Sapienza, on Corso Rinsascimento. It’s one of the buildings that intrigues me most of all in Rome. I can’t even tell when it was built. 1920s? It has an air of Swedish Grace about it (Stockholm Library anyone?). If you know any more, and I must confess my initial internet research made me feel like I was tumbling into the world of Opus Dei – well, I’d be really grateful if you’d get in touch.

A good little bit of Fascist lettering on a building next door.

It had been a fantastic day. I stopped for a beer or two at Bar del Fico. I am sure one or two readers will enjoy the view…

… of the terracotta apartment buildings opposite.

The evening sunlight was beautiful on the Spanish Steps on my way home.

The following morning. Somewhere in the heart of the eternal city… you could feel a tiny bit of anguish. I guess we’ve all got it right now. The following photograph was a not uncommon scene.

I was making my way to the Pantheon, early, which you may have read about already, here.

And from there, I was heading to the Capitoline Museum, one of my favourite in Rome. I will admit to saying that the Jesuit church isn’t quite my thing… but it is pretty remarkable in itself:

Curiously, I loved the fact that the colossal fragments in the courtyard of the Capitoline had been rather neatly boxed while building work was underway. It made one look at them in a whole new light.

One had in mind, just for a start, the crates of antiquities shipped over to their newly-constructed palaces by the English Milordi in the 18th century.

If I had one hour only to spend in Rome, I’d go straight to the sculpture galleries at the Capitoline.

I love this flight of stairs around the back of the Campidoglio.

After a monumental afternoon thunderstorm, when I ran down to the Pantheon and was soaked to the skin, it was time to make my way to Galleria Borghese.

The gardens of the villa Borghese were looking remarkable, post-saturation, but now in hot sunshine.

I am sure we all desire a bird cage like this.

Photography inside the Galleria Borghese is strictly forbidden. You will be glad to know I didn’t find that out immediately.

I loved the Eygptian Room.

And, even more, this insane open Loggia.

The striated stone decoration is entirely painted.

Eventually it was time to leave.

A small neoclassical moment at the northern end of Piazza del Popolo.

My last day was a visit to Palazzo Farnese… the French Embassy – perhaps one of the most remarkable buildings in Rome. Here, photography really was strictly forbidden. Which is lucky, because it could be argued the blog is… long enough. My planned lunch target was closed for il Ferie. But I had a great stop here… during another massive thunderstorm, right around the corner. I can’t recommend caffe Peru highly enough.

I made my way back from Piazza Farnese to my hotel, where I had packed my bags early that morning, sad to be heading home. Always the best way.

I hope you don’t feel too exhausted at the end of reading this blog. Almost as much a commitment as taking a holiday. I trust you recover soon.


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