What an amazing city! I love it here. Everywhere you turn there's something else to look at: Roman ruins at the end of the shopping street; a farmer's market (oddly-shaped sausages, perfectly round cheeses, jams, eggs, flowers, vegetables) on a back street on the wrong side of the forum — the side where the entrance isn't. The people? wonderful. Billions of tourists like me; but an interesting bunch of wedding parties gathering for photos around the enormous Victor Emmanuel monument, which everyone fittingly describes as the wedding cake. I was there on Sunday, devouring my macedonia and coffee with the other tourists, positioning ourselves under the evaporative fans, when a bunch of very fancily dressed bridal guests turned up in their silks and satins and high heels to eat gelati on the rooftop terrace, too. There's an endless variety of people to look at. I wish Paul were here with his excellent photographer's eye — and his camera.
It's very hot. I packed very lightly, but clearly had a failure of imagination, unable to remember what a hot summer is like, as of course it is mid-winter at home. I had to go shopping today for sandals, a frock, a top and some linen pants. Nothing very spectacular: just European high street brands we don't have in Australia. And everything very cheap in the July sales.
Last night I found a Bach organ recital in San Antonio dei Portoghesi, between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Away from the Piazza, the streets were quiet, windy and narrow. I was early, so I sat in the Piazza a little. There was an old man "busking", with a tape playing "nessun dorma", and holding a microphone and lip-synching, in the vaguest and most minimalist possible way, with a few hand gestures to signify the great drama, as Pavarotti vowed to prevail... The bells of the church summoned me back in time for the recital. It was one of those incredibly ornate baroque churches. The organist struggled a little with some of the rhythms, I felt, but really let fly when it came to those ringing last movements. In the pew in front of me, a woman a little older than I am, quite elegantly dressed, moved arhythmically, perpetually, in response to the music.
When I'm travelling on my own, I stay and eat in cheapish places, unless I'm feeling particularly sorry for myself with homesickness. I really lucked out with this hotel, though. It's 10 minutes from the Termini station, in an area where every tenth building is a hotel or a restaurant. You press the buzzer, and the door opens and you are standing in a cool, dark, tiled vestibule, looking into an ancient courtyard with a moss-covered statue. The office is around the corner. Everything downstairs is tiny: the reception area; the breakfast room — and the breakfast. But upstairs, my room is spotless; my bathroom is clean and new; my sheets are fine cotton linen; and it's quiet, as my window opens onto the courtyard. I can hear a family laughing and playing; and a cat miaowing. It's nice; hearing these sounds in the summer evening.
There'll be time for fancy dinners at the conference; I've been happy on my own, dining at little pizza bars and cafes. Tonight, my pizza was served on a beautiful ceramic plate. It was fragrant and thin, as a pizza is supposed to be. It had carciofi (artichokes), salty black olives, truffle-flavoured mushrooms and some fine prosciutto. Not scattered evenly over the whole pizza, but artfully arranged in groups. This, plus a little red wine, came to eleven euros, in a cafe directly opposite the station.
And how weird: the "preview" I just checked appeared with a banner across one corner of the screen, saying "anteprima". A little new vocabulary every day.
Time, now, to go back to Wolf Hall (does anyone else think Hilary Mantel has read her Dorothy Dunnet *very* attentively?)