Mostly books, sometimes other bits.

This week in Rome...

My Monday morning begins with a worried phone call from Diane. I’m sorry if I scared people with the Beige Spectre blog  –I’m fine, he’s gone!

He’s actually long gone now, since the last blog I posted was nearly a week ago. There is no particular reason for my lack of blogging over the last few days; for some reason I just haven’t got round to it. The Indian Highways article seemed to take a long time to finish, so I’ll blame my inefficiency on that. 

Nothing much of note happens on Monday; on Tuesday I decide to visit the Mel Bookstore to take advantage of its sale in big arty hardbacks, followed by Piazza Navona and San Luigi dei Francesci. The latter is a French church tucked in between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, and Lidia has recommended that I go because it holds the three Caravaggios depicting the life of Saint Matthew – The Calling of Saint Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew.  Apparently they are fairly important and are one of the things I should’ve done first, if I hadn’t been spending my time staring at modern art instead. Oops.

The letching is out in full force today. On my way to the bus (five minutes) I get a ‘you so lovelyyy’ and an inexplicable ‘eyyyyy!’. The Chinese are unquestionably the worst. I think it’s the massive Indian palazzo pants. They give off an attitude.

I get off the bus at Via Nazionale and at the Mel Bookstore quickly dismiss, because I haven’t got that much time, all the art books that are in Italian. Eventually I select a book of Polaroid stills and a hardback on Japanese printing. It has dawned on me that the things I’m finding interesting in Rome – Georgia O’Keeffe, Indian 21st century sculpture, Japanese art– have nothing to do with the city itself. I don’t think Lidia is enjoying this, hence why she keeps directing me towards Caravaggios. However, in my defence I will point out that the classic art that is everywhere in Rome has probably been written about a thousand times; the current exhibitions that are showing at the Fondazione and the other smaller museums are what need to be written about. It isn’t like I can review a Michelangelo fresco and publish it on The Flaneur.

Back on Via Nazionale, a random man blows me a kiss and another tells me that I am ‘wonderful’. It is as if they’re taking the piss, to be honest.

And this is when I commit sacrilege.

I’m in Rome. I go to Burger King.

I’m sorry, I know it’s wrong. It is so very, very wrong. However, they keep feeding me sauce-less wholegrain vegetable pasta and minestrone and I want to eat something that is fatty and lovely and bad.
I am salivating for a Chicken Royale. I buy one. With French fries. They are so good I can’t even explain.


Afterwards I carry on down past Piazza Venezia and go into Arte 5, where I find a delightful exhibition depicting a photographer’s journey from Kenya to New York, and then discover that San Luigi dei Francesci is unfortunately closed – I’m guessing for lunch. I go straight to Piazza Navona instead. The Piazza is worth the wait: two impressive statues, one by Bernini, an obelisk, a huge dome sat on top of the former home of the notable Pamphilj family, and abundant flowers and restaurants all strike me as I turn the corner. There are artists selling their work all over the square, and despite the thousands of tourists that are milling around I have a wander around the outside feeling like I have found a tiny little bit of heaven. It would be a lovely place to sit with wine and people watch, which is one of my favourite European capital city activities. Bear this in mind for the future.

At one end is the Museo di Roma. I spent a while looking around. The Museum is ok, but I’m glad I don’t spend more than five fifty euros on the entrance. It is mainly portraits depicting the changing status of the artist in the late 18th century, as a result of the French Revolution. The artists, no longer relying on the nobility to commission their work, found themselves with higher status and better financial security. Thus, they and their families often became the subject of paintings instead of just being the ones behind the brush.

The second floor offers more portraits, of influential families of la belle époque (thank god for modernism last year; I wouldn’t understand a thing without it). There are also late nineteenth century photographs of Piazza Navona, which are fairly interesting.

Cultural learning satisfied for today, it is time to head back to the hotel.

At gymnastics, the corridors are decorated for Halloween. B&B are in a mythical orange and black wonderland, oohing and ahhing at spiders and pumpkins and crepe papers lanterns all the way to the changing room.

Later, I beat Wench at virtual Scrabble with 348 points. It is a good day.

On Wednesday it rains, and B&B don’t go to school. I am still free though, and brave the mild drizzle (these Italians would have a fit if they were dropped in the middle of Lancaster in October) to meet Ashley and Laura for lunch, as per Wednesday tradition.

My mother rings me before I leave, in order to check that I am still alive, because I posted nothing on Facebook for the whole of yesterday. Clearly that I am a slave to Facebook has been well noted.

The bus ride to Largo Argentina is very, very bad. A man behind me is talking on the phone and leaning forward – I can smell his breath.  It smells like dirt. Disgusted? You didn’t live it down two miles of windy cobbled streets. When I get off the bus I am almost ready to vomit.

I wait for Ashley and Laura in Feltrinelli, and pick up a Jeffrey Eugenides (‘Middlesex’) in anticipation of finishing my Forster. When they arrive we head towards the ghetto, and a pasta restaurant that Ashley knows. When we get there is turns out there is a powercut, and we end up at a table in the corner, eating broccoli fusilli and drinking wine by candlelight, thoroughly hemmed in by Rome’s Jewish community. It is a slightly surreal experience, but the pasta and wine are good, and we make vague plans for the International Film Festival that is starting in Rome in a few days time.

Heading back through the square, Ashley tells us that the sacred area in the middle, which I had previously thought was a generic collection of Roman ruins, is actually the spot in which Julius Caesar was killed. This is fairly monumental, I think, especially since the information boards make no mention of it at all. I would’ve thought they might point it out; it’s a slightly important part of history. Ashley says she is unsure why it isn’t better known, but that the Italians in her office believe it to be common knowledge.

When she has gone back to work Laura and I head towards the Spanish Steps, passing the Trevi Fountain on the way. We are going to a cake shop that she promises is magnificent. We find it after a short sojourn in an antiquarian bookshop, and I am not let down on the cake front. Even if it is heinously expensive (ten euros for a fairly large wodge; six euros for my espresso) I would recommend that every visitor to Rome goes once. The cake (pistachio with vanilla cream) was just as good as any gelato I’ve tasted, the servings are big enough for two, your surroundings are fairly sumptuous, and you’ll be sat in one of the nicest parts of Rome, opposite the Spanish Steps and Keats’ house. It’s a nice place to go, as a one off – although I can’t guarantee that the pistachio cake won’t be luring me back. Cafe Greco, Via Dei Condotti.

Afterwards I have to head back, and I catch the metro at Spagna after leaving Laura bargaining with a stallholder over the price of the pumpkins that she needs for her Thanksgiving meal.


At London Underground stations, the ticket/ Oyster is needed at both ends of the line. In Rome, this is not the case – usually. Every time I have been on the metro the barriers have opened automatically, letting me sail straight through; consequently, in order to avoid clutching my ticket like a tourist for multiple stops, I have taken to throwing it in my bag.

This is a bad choice today, because when I get off at Vittorio Emanuele there are guards at the barriers. I have a huge shoulder bag, as well as two shopping bags. My ticket could be in any one of them; I wasn’t really paying attention. I’m pretty sure the guards could not be so bloody jobsworth and let me go – why are they checking anyway? They never have before, and how on earth would I have got on at the other end without paying? – but they don’t, and it is a good few minutes before I actually find my ticket. Annoying.


At the Bellomos Lidia and Alberto head out to parents’ evening and I occupy B&B with sticker books for a while. Bea gets to work sticking helmets and swords and chainmail in a book based on every conflict from Ancient Greece to the Second World War; Bene has Polly Pocket and Friends picking outfits for a disco, then a picnic, then a birthday party. Afterwards we make glove puppets (tiger for Bea; monkey for Bene) and Bene actually manages to sew part of the puppet herself. Hello A* in GCSE Textiles, you’ve finally made use of yourself! I feel like I may actually have imparted a skill, even if it is sewing (zero points feminism).

Anna is snapping green beans (not sure why) for dinner when Bea, who has been good all evening, decides that it would be a good idea to take a handful and throw them all over the floor. I am unsure why she does this (the same unsure as when she pushed the tortoise in the pond) because afterwards she picks them all up again and later, after we have made bracelets, she sweeps the floor without being asked.

Smurf memory game with Bene once again before dinner, and again we tie – how this has happened for a second time I have no idea.


I go down to reception after my duties are finished, and wait for a while before the internet sorts its stability out. Miguel comes and sits with me and tells me that he is working at the hotel for the rest of the season, in order to get money together to build a home recording studio in Perugia, where he is from. We then have a conversation about how sad it is that Perugia will not only ever be thought of in tragic terms, and he makes his opinion on the release of Amanda Knox and Raffaelle Sollecito very clear. Before I can discover exactly why he is so convinced of their guilt, however, he is called away by some relentlessly demanding German guests. I am left intrigued.


I am on rota on Thursday morning for Women’s Views on News, and since I am on a roll I keep writing after lunch too. Back in reception I finish my Indian Highways article, whilst blasting some 80s Manc through the BBC controller headset. A very strange debate over the situation of stray dogs in India then occurs over Facebook, with a Goenka student called Mudit. There are a lot of things that I could say about this, but since the debate is now fully over and the points have been made I won’t reignite it.

After the bizarre dog related interlude I decide that looking into the plight of stray animals in India might actually not be a bad idea, since they were so obvious when we were there. Emily very kindly sends me some links, and it doesn’t take much Googling before a wealth of information on the dog situation presents itself. Research done, and with an article structure in my head, I head up to my room. Unsure of where I will publish the article when it is written – stray Indian dogs have little to do with art (The Flaneur) or women (WVoN), my two main publishing platforms aside from my blog. However, I have been journo-ing for ten and a half hours and by half past six it is definitely time for a break, so this problem can wait. In Alphabet House, I dedicate my evening to reading my new Polaroid book, and then fall asleep early.

On Friday, something really good happens. However, I’m afraid I’ve reached over two thousand words for this particular entry, and Friday and the weekend will therefore have to wait. A lot happens! Check back soon J


Little Red Riding Hood: an inappropriate tale for children

On Sunday we go to the Colloseum. It is the second time I’ve been, and although this time we are going with a group and thus mercifully avoiding the ridiculous queue, the visit itself isn’t that different. Controversially, it confirms to me what I thought before – that the Colloseum is one of, if not the most, overrated thing about Rome.

Obviously, I understand that it has great historical significance. And it probably is worth a visit – a quick one, once. The Nerone exhibition, about Emperor Nero, is the most illuminating part. But the actual Colloseum, once you’ve seen it and ‘oohed’ for a few minutes, is not that incredible. Unless of course you are overly impressed by size and/ or have a burning desire to re-imagine the anguish of Maximus Decimus Meridius right in front of you.

The guide is speaking Italian and I don’t pick up much. Alberto does translate a couple of interesting points, though. Did you know, for instance, that the original white marble floor (bianco is about the only thing I can translate from the whole tour) was stolen, allegedly by a pope in order to decorate a church? Also, the Colloseum is owned by a private company rather than by a heritage trust or a national one, which is fairly unethical, if you think about it.

Bene and Bea seem to enjoy it anyway, and finish the tour by colouring in a gladiatore and completing a quiz about what they have learnt, before they had their luminescent jackets back in.

We drive to an organic market, where we are getting lunch. On the way we go past a hill that is made entirely of broken vases – I can’t ascertain from Lidia and Alberto why exactly this is, but they do tell me that the vases were collected from the old port, which used to be in this location.

After a wander through the market (it is fairly small, but filled with good organic food smells) we reach the restaurant. Lunch is the standard huge feast that I have come to expect from Roman weekends. I can understand a lot of the menu, which is encouraging, and I order a vegetarian antipasto and pumpkin and ricotta pasta. The antipasto is huge, and as is usual with starters is enough on its own. Alberto orders beef, which turns out to be a bad choice: ‘It is full of nerves,’ he says, spitting it out into a napkin. ‘Urgh. This cow has died of sadness. I cannot eat.’

The beef does look decidedly stringy. I am reminded why I usually choose the vegetarian option. My pumpkin pasta is lovely, and has a distinct lack of nerve endings.

Afterwards the kids meet some friends from school (Bene learns to say ‘this is my friend Clara’) and occupy themselves playing with building blocks (‘building blosss’) in the outside seating area. Alberto tells me that we are in the communist part of Rome, and points out a red flag on the roof of one of the neighbouring buildings. Then Lidia takes him home so he can watch the football, and when she returns I am momentarily relieved of children. I go into the bookshop, which has a shelf focused on what appears to be women in Middle Eastern society – in Italian, obviously. Decide that I need to make more of an effort with my language learning.

We visit Villa Celimontana on the way back. It is a really pretty and tranquil park, and even has a pond with tortoises casually swimming around. B&B are suitably enamoured by the tortoises for a while, and gather a group of children around them. They are admiring one that is sat at the edge of the pond when Bea decides, for whatever reason, that it would be happier being back in the water, and firmly pushes it off the ledge. The tortoise creates a small splash, before swimming away in a confused manner. I really think that it was quite happy at the edge of the water. The other children survey Bea quizzically.

On the other side of the park is a church that is filled with chandeliers. B&B fall momentarily silent at the sight of them lighting the walls, then have fun striking matches for the candle donation. It is a popular church for weddings, Lidia tells me, and is right across the road from the television studios where Berlusconi films.

Back in the park B&B find a climbing frame, and practice a charming new song: ‘Loosyy Loosyy go away, come again another day’. I pretend to be mortally offended by this and leave (I don’t go far, only to the benches) but am instantly called back (‘Loosyyy, can you ‘elp me pleeease?’) when Bea finds herself unable to get down from the monkey bars.

They have a pony ride afterwards, and I walk behind with Lidia and talk about riding. She says she used to have horses, but it is hard for the girls to learn whilst living in Rome. There is a school near their house in the mountains, though, so they will probably have lessons there.

I am once again put on the spot as we drive home. Benedetta wants me to tell her the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

It is a task I find almost impossible, even though it doesn’t sound like it is a particularly big ask. However, you spend one quarter of an entire academic year researching and writing 10,000 words on the twisting and feminising of traditional fairytales and then try to remember the uncorrupted version of Little Red Riding Hood off the top of your head.

It isn’t easy. The only images of Little Red Riding Hood that I have in my head are provided by Angela Carter, and consist of LRRH getting her rocks off and discovering her adolescent sexuality by seducing the wolf. More than slightly inappropriate; probably likely to get me fired.

The version I recount in the car, then, isn’t going to go down as a classic of the oral tradition. I manage to remember the basics, though, after a lot of very careful thought as to what to say. Afterwards Lidia tells me that the wolf shouldn’t be killed, but sewn back together afterwards by the woodcutter. My hastily scrabbled together LRRH, obviously, is not factually accurate.


When I bundle the kids out of the car and into the hotel Beige Suit is stood spectrally behind the glass doors at the bottom of the reception stairs. Just behind the glass, watching the road. It is the third day, at least, that he has been wearing his beige suit, which adds to the ghostlike aura.


Dinner that night is fish fingers and salad, courtesy of Lidia. Alberto finds this hilarious – ‘This is all she can cook!’ he says. ‘Anna’s day off; this is what we eat!’

Lidia says that she ‘’ates to cook’, which is a sentiment that I fully understand, and adds that they have fish fingers at the weekend so frequently that it has led to B&B begging for any other type of food at all.
Later I have to read about Martha’s New School again (third time this week). I have no idea why B&B are so obsessed with Martha and her New School and her incessant whining. It is not a classic of children’s literature.


That evening consists of Skypes with Louise, Melissa and then Katy. Beige Spectre is sat in reception for most of my Skype time. I don’t know whether he speaks English, but I attempt to convey his freakishness without it being too obvious. Whilst I am talking to Wench an American couple who have been on the Mac turn round to me and say that he has been following them too. Clearly he is just stalking everyone.

He is so ghost-like that I keep expecting to see him staring back at me from the bathroom mirror, or lurking in the shadows of Alphabet House when I let myself in at night.

After midnight, when he has gone on one of his terrifying random walks around the corridors, I take my chance to get back at AH via the street.

‘Don’t worry,’ the receptionist says as I scuttle past. ‘After tomorrow, no more.’

Roll on Monday.

Robberies and stalkers... all in a weekend's work.

After a quick supermercato shop on Friday morning (a lovely Italian man tells me to please, per favore, go in front – he has a trolley full; I have face wipes and a questionable chicken sandwich), I head to Flamino, in the north of Rome. I went to Piazza del Popolo, by the Flamino metro station, in July (the day it rained, Diane!), but I haven’t ventured north in the three weeks I’ve been here this time. Today my trip has a special purpose. I’m going to the Maxxi Museum (National Museum of 21st Century Art – XXI – clever!) to see an exhibition entitled ‘Indian Highways’.

I’m very excited about it.

A minor bit of research has informed me that the ‘highways’ of the title symbolises India’s movement from rural to urban, in economy, landscape, etc, and how the development of cities has created a mass migration of people towards them. This is of huge interest to me, considering the impression I got of India being a lot like rapidly industrialising Victorian England, and the fact that I did Modernism last year at Lancaster. The exhibition is said to focus on politics, society and religion.

I get off the metro at Flamino, and am surprised to see a huge crowd of banner waving people in Piazza del Popolo. It is another protest, I assume, although luckily it looks as though it might be a peaceful one. I cross the road and enter the mass, for no other reason than that I am nosy and in a permanent journalistic mindset. I am handed a few leaflets, and from the speech that is going on over loudspeaker I ascertain that there is anger over universities and the environment.

Back on the tram heading for the Maxxi. I reach my stop, and before I move an inch an old Italian man tells me that this is where I should shendi.


How he knows where I am going and where I should shendi I have no idea. It is fairly disconcerting. I give him a quick muttered grazie anyway, and remove myself from the tram and his psychic vicinity as quickly as I can.


The first thing I see at the Maxxi is hundreds of Indian faces painted on the floor outside the building. It is ‘Strands’ by NS Harsha, symbolising the varied contemporary social scene in India –some of the women are wearing headscarves, I notice, whilst some aren’t. It turns out that there are over five hundred faces, all joined up, all engaged in different actions. They wind around the concrete outside the doors to the museum in a figure of eight; from the gallery above they can be seen collectively.

‘Strands’ sets the tone for the exhibition, which is made up of sculptures, sight specific installations, paintings and films. Some of the pieces strike me more than others: a life sized truck, made of shiny metallic balls and full of metallic people on their way to work, is the first thing I see as I enter the gallery. It is so striking, I think, because these trucks were everywhere in Delhi. On the right hand side of the truck, a film is playing in the wing mirror – it shows a road identical to the ones that we spent so long driving down; I have similar videos that I took myself.

I’m extremely glad I’m seeing this exhibition after actually going to India – I don’t think it would’ve made half as much of an impact otherwise.

There is a lot to say about ‘Indian Highways’, so I won’t go into detail here. A Flaneur article will follow shortly.

I am there for two hours before I realise I should probably head back; I could have stayed for longer. If done properly the exhibition could take all afternoon – and it is just one of the collections that is currently on display at the Maxxi . It’s a really interesting museum, and I definitely will be going back soon.


A film is being shot outside the gates of B&Bs’ school. There are camera crews and children dressed in what looks like nineteenth century choirboys’ uniforms everywhere. I woman walks passed me in a nineteen forties dress, her hair up elegantly, lips bright red. Alberto dismisses this unexpected turn of events. ‘They make films here every week,’ he says, before, with even more unbelievable blasé, ‘Next Tuesday, they use the hotel.’

Oh, right. Feigned nonchalance. 

While B&B are in gymnastics I carry on reading A Passage to India –today, apparently, is all about India. And then Alberto comes back, just as B&B and the rest of their gymnastics friends tumble out of the hall. He looks distressed. As I grab B&B to take them to the changing room, he says, ‘We must be quick. There is a problem at the hotel.’


Benedetta senses urgency. ‘Why, Lucy?’ she asks, as I kneel on the floor, simultaneously stuffing her feet back into sweaty socks and craning my head around to make sure Bea hasn’t disappeared out of the door. ‘Why fast?’

I don’t know, Bene.


Fire, is my first thought.


I will just say, for future reference, if you are a tourist in Rome, or if you just happen to be crossing the road in Rome and you’re an exceptionally slow walker, the sight of an irate Italian man beeping his horn and cursing at you from behind the wheel of his tiny car generally means that you should move faster, or, in plainer terms, bloody well get out of the way, because the likelihood is that he really is in a rush and he will be close to running you down. Just sayin’.


It isn’t a fire, but a break-in. At some point in the afternoon, someone came into the hotel, not through reception but through the other door, smashed their way into six bedrooms, and made off with whatever they could get their hands on –the TVs from the walls, two unfortunate German women’s passports, a pair of trainers. Inexplicably, a profile of the thief can now be built – he left his original, strangely small sized shoes behind.

Later, when he comes up to the apartment, Alberto pours a large glass of wine and tells me that it will cost the hotel between ten and twelve thousand euros to replace everything.

He looks so crestfallen that I don’t know what to say, so I make some insubstantial comment about him needing a drink and drowning his sorrows.

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘we say this. But some sorrows, they can swim.’

This is profound. There is no reply. In the other room, Lidia tells B&B that their friends will not be able to come around for dinner as planned (it is already after nine) and a chorus of uninterrupted screaming begins. I drink my wine.


Saturday’s episode of the daily drama that is this week comes in the shape of a letcherous, snake faced man in an ill-fitting beige suit.

My first encounter with him starts just before lunch, when I am sat innocently in reception, as per, creating what you have just read. I’m so busy being dramatic about small scroat induced break-ins that I don’t notice him for a long time. I feel his grubby suited presence sat opposite me, but I don’t really notice. And then I get up to go for lunch, and that’s when I realise that he is blatantly staring at me, and that his eyes haven’t moved for –no exaggeration– close to an hour.

Now, you would think that if you were a tourist in Rome you wouldn’t be spending midday on a Saturday sat in a hotel reception doing literally nothing at all, unless something was severely wrong.

This man, I quickly decide, is the thing that is severely wrong.

I’m not being overly judgmental here.

I get my things together, feeling mildly perved on but not overly threatened, then walk down the corridor, cross the landing, go up one flight of stairs and step into the lift, and this is when I look out through the glass and see him stood on the stairs smiling at me.

I can’t describe the smile he is giving me. In this moment of terror (he really does resemble a snake, and I hate snakes, and also, how on earth did he follow me so silently?) he lights a cigarette.

My finger immediately goes into overdrive on the level five button. Fivefivefivefivefive... up. Aargh.  
In the apartment, I debate for a couple of minutes over whether I should tell Lidia what has just happened, considering yesterday’s break-in and the ensuing amount of crap that she and Alberto will now have to deal with. I resolutely decide on yes.

‘There’s a man outside,’ I begin, tentatively. ‘He isn’t doing anything. But he followed me into the stairwell-,’

‘He is dark skinned?’ Lidia says, ‘In a beige suit?’

It turns out that she noticed his silent, leering presence yesterday. Five minutes later Anna lets herself into the apartment. She looks mildly worried, and immediately starts talking to Lidia (over the top of Bene, so I know it is important) about beige pantaloons.

Well. It turns out that she was walking up the stairs, talking on the phone, and he followed her and then tried to have a conversation.

Lidia goes to find Alberto. Anna walks to the front door, looks out of the spyhole, and quickly jumps back in surprise. I don’t understand any of the Italian words she says, but I understand that he is outside the apartment.

With Saturday rapidly descending into a horror film Alberto appears, and phones reception to ask them to be aware of the situation. Lidia tells me that she believes he is the husband of a guest, that he has stayed here before, and that Alberto has given instruction that after he checks out on Monday he should be not be accepted at the hotel again.

The afternoon is a regular one, consisting of smoothie making, drawing, and a failed attempt to make crafty dogs out of cardboard, pipe cleaner and weird tinsel. After dinner I head down to reception again.

He is there, of course.

I don’t know what to do when I walk round the corner and see his beige suited sliminess, and I am so shocked I walk to reception and give Miguel a wide eyed, wtffff should I do? look.  He asks if I am ok; clearly I must’ve looked mental. I say yes, I am, and get a mint just so it looks like I walked up to the desk for a reason.

Beigey letch sits opposite me the whole time I am in reception. I sit him out. He isn’t going to scare me into running back to my room. This is my Facebook time! At one point he gets up, goes for a walk around the table, trips over my laptop wire, regains beige composure, and says, ‘English?’

Aargh! It talks!

I don’t say a word, or even let my eyes flicker from the screen. It is a good performance of being deaf. I decide that if he speaks to me again I will wave my hands around and pretend that it is sign language.
He leaves, briefly, and I decide that it is my opportunity to safety get back to Alphabet House without him potentially seeing where I’m going. Speedily pack up, but then he appears and just watches me. Luckily there are other people in reception, and I get the feeling he may be with them, the hopeless tag-along ‘friend’ that no one wants there.

So, split second decision. Walk back along the corridor, down the stairs and across the courtyard? No one would question if he ‘had’ to walk the same way –it’s the direction of all the rooms. Or down the main stairs, outside, and back through the bottom door?

I decide on the latter, because surely his companions would question why he was heading outside?

And then I make a run for it. Downstairs, round the corner, laptop as a weapon if he appears (thank god, for once, that it’s so heavy!), key in the door, inside. Slight relief. But maybe he knows his way around the hotel if he’s stayed here before? He could easily have come around the other way!

The lift takes what feels like minutes to reach the ground floor.

I have never been so happy to see the inside of my room in the whole time I’ve been here


Lancaster third year, a snapshot of memories.

Let me just say now, that if I made a list of all the things that I miss about Lancaster I wouldn’t ever be able to stop.

However. I can’t help it. I’m sat in a hotel reception in Rome and I’ve graduated and I don’t know where three years went or how I got here and soon I have to move to London and I’m (just slightly) scared.

So. Just off the top of my head. Iiiiiin review...

Wednesday night, Bar Eleven two cocktails for a fiver, Friary afterwards, last bus, relentless frape, beavers, Shakespeare essay anger, Alan Rickman, Sense and Sensibility, the air is filled with spices, weekend afternoon, film on, cider at Robert Gillow, walk along canal, drunken Spanish, School Dinners, massive crocodile, having people I love a couple of minutes or a bus ride away, getting Chinese, having to lie on the floor because we ate too much, a ghost in Hustle, Barker House Farm, broken vending machine, it’s not a classic anecdote, is it?, taking a broom to Carleton, vegetable lasagne, nipping round for cuppa, being scared of Tonys, homoerotic wrestling, waking up at 4am because Emma and Becca are pretending to be wood pigeons, six quorn pies, bit o’ Colin, too much blusher, pub golf, losing my sunglasses, is this your boyfriend’s building and are those his keys?, I’ve never heard of a Jonathon cake, Greggs coffee, productive Learning Zone morning, Schad on Mrs Dalloway, you know when you have so much sex you want to die?, leave me alone ‘Sheer’!, sunny Wednesday afternoon walk to Rainbows, South West looming over the M62, where did you come from, planet loser?, lurking serpent, falling over in Revs, waving his Roman sword, stealing Meg’s lipstick, still having it, losing my keys, finding them in the door, knowing at girl at school called Pandora, never seeing her box though, Wonderwall playing at Grad Ball, boob popping out/ poking it, taxi to Cartmel, woke up in my coat, sort of... spacey, forgetting my pin, owing the taxi office, retracing footsteps, Windermere, rainy boat, fat swans, life affirming teacups, beef and black bean panini, Lonsdale bar, I’d smash that bitch up!, blue face paint, flashing Cartmel Extrav, results day, blind panic, relief, Pimms, boxes leaving, cougar!, last night scrabble, empty room, books gone, sleeping bag, no pillow, wardrobe of work dresses, not much left, leaving at 5am, first train to London, standing in the carpark as the sun rises and bursting into tears in the taxi, 5.35am, train leaving, gone.

It doesn’t matter where I am; there are far, far too many things (people) that I miss.

Reunion soon, please?

Today: flooding, sausage dogs & a potted Roman-Jewish history lesson.

So. The Synagogue Museum.

I sit on a wall outside and write before I go in; Jewish children in little cloth caps file out on a school trip and look at me like I’m crazy. Go inside, bending the truth slightly by saying that I’m going back to uni in January (I sort of am), and get my entrance for four euros instead of ten.

The guide first takes us to a room in the Spanish Synagogue, which is decorated lavishly with Hebrew lettering and candles. I find out that there are three branches of Judaism in Rome –the Sephardic, the Ashkenazi, and those that follow the Italian rites.

Spanish Jews have been in Rome since 1492, when Isabella and Ferdinand wanted to make a Christian community in Spain. However, there have been Jews in the city since 200 BC –so twenty two centuries of continuous Jewish presence in Rome. It is in fact the only city in Europe that has never expelled them. The ghetto was formed in 1555, and conditions were predictably bad –the Tiber regularly overflowing meant that the two thousand inhabitants lived their lives in permanent damp. How cramped it must’ve been can be imagined from the narrow streets in my pictures. Only one synagogue was allowed, despite there being different branches of Judaism in the ghetto, so five separate rooms were made within it.

Outside the doors to the Spanish Synagogue is the oldest artefact the museum has – a holy arch dating from the early sixteenth century, before the ghetto existed. The museum also holds more than eight hundred textiles that were used to protect Torah scrolls –they are embedded with gold and silver thread, which Jewish women would take out of their clothes and other furnishings.

We then troop into the Italian Synagogue –it is just as ornate as any Catholic church I’ve seen, and is completely beautiful. It was built in 1904, contains the only square dome in Rome, as well as Doric columns and stained glass windows. Its architecture has been described as ‘eclectic’, and it is a symbol of freedom and empowerment. The square dome is painted in the colours of the rainbow, which are still vivid after over a hundred years.

In contrast to our surroundings, the guide tells us a distressing story about the Roman Jewish community in 1939. In this year King Victor Emmanuel III signed an act to limit the rights of Jews –so, like in other parts of Europe, they were banned from attending regular schools and had to leave public office. Later, they were asked to pay a large amount of money in order that their lives would be spared. The community got the money together within thirty six hours, but the deal was not kept to and one thousand five hundred, mainly women and children, were immediately shipped off to concentration camps. Sixteen of these returned when the camps were liberated; in the meantime, Jewish books were stolen from the ghetto and taken to the north of Italy; they have not yet been recovered.

She then tells us that there was a public blessing taking place in this building in 1986, when a terrorist bomb went off. This is why there are still security checks as visitors enter the museum –it is still a working synagogue.

In the museum, when the tour has finished, I get a potted history of the community. I will recount it, briefly. In the Roman Empire the persecution of Jews began in the 4th Century AD, when Christianity was established as the state religion. Hereafter, Jews were seen as being responsible for the death of Jesus. It was Venice, in 1516, that invented the ghetto – essentially just building a wall around the already insular Jewish quarter, and locking it at night. The Papal states, including Rome, were quick to follow. Different Popes were inconsistent in their treatment of the Jews, and the laws they passed regarding them. The Talmund, the text symbolising Jewish culture, was confiscated and burnt in 1533 in Campo di Fiori. There was also the practice of forced baptism, where children would be baptised against their parents’ wishes. In 1625, Pope Urban VIII banned Jewish names from appearing on gravestones –instead they would dedicate carved inscriptions to their deceased and have them mounted in the synagogue; this practice continued until 1848. Hebrew was and is the language of Jewish prayer and culture; Judeo-Roman is what would be spoken in the streets and at home. The Jews were educated, and despite how they were treated they were needed – knowledge of Arabic meant that many were used as translators for medical, scientific and philosophical tracts. In 1805 Rome was conquered by Napoleon, who freed the Jews and imprisoned Pope Pius VII, but when the French left in 1814 the old systems were reinstated. Partly through the help of the wealthy and influential Rothschild family, the ghetto was extended in 1814 to include the Fountain of the Tortoises.  

The ghetto was eventually abolished in 1870.

I go on to read about Jewish rites in the modern day, including Passover (Pesach), which commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. I didn’t know before this that the eating of unleavened bread came about because the bread didn’t have time to rise, the Jews had to leave Egypt so quickly. The collective experience of the Jews means that celebrations pay homage to events such as these; the eating of unleavened bread shows solidarity with their ancestors.

At the back of the museum is a room entitled Emancipation to Today, which covers the period from 1870 up to the present –including, of course, the Holocaust. I am the only person in the room, and I can’t hear anyone else in the rest of the museum either –I think everyone has gone on the tour. I want to read everything, but hanging at the back is a pyjama suit from a concentration camp and I feel so spooked by it, and by being the only person there, that I leave fairly quickly. The next room has a video on the Holocaust, which is without a doubt worse than anything I have ever seen before –it includes numerous executions.

After what the guide told us about only sixteen out of one thousand five hundred Jews returning to Rome after the liberations I find it very difficult to reconcile the museum I’m now in with the fact that it is stood exactly where these people were rounded up and shipped off to Auschwitz.

The video then goes on to talk about the migration of Libyan Jews into Rome, which is interesting in light of recent events. Four thousand Libyan Jews came to Rome after the 1967 pogrom, a result of the Six Day War. About half of these remained; the others went forward to Israel.

I leave, and outside find broken up plaques mounted all over the walls. Closer inspection reveals them to be the dedications to the deceased that Jews had put up in the synagogue when grave epitaphs were banned.
Feel very reflective. Stop at a cafe (the snappily titled Kosher Corner) for a very late lunch, and then head back towards the bus, and comforting routine of gymnastics, dinner, stories and bed.

At lunch on Wednesday, Lidia tells me that the trip to the amusement park on Sunday was not a success, despite it touting itself as the best in Europe. ‘We go for lunch at half past two,’ she says, ‘and there is nowhere to have lunch. Everywhere is closed!  And we go to the show, and the fairies are small and ugly... urgh.’

Lunch is once again minestrone, and I can only force half of it down. Afterwards I talk to Lidia for a while about Delhi –she and Alberto went ten years ago, and were as shocked as I was by the number of people sat listlessly at the side of the road.

The afternoon’s attempt to Skype the India group sadly fails after twenty minutes, when a fuse is blown and the hotel temporarily loses all its power. It’s very annoying, since I had a lot still to say –but I have to go get B&B anyway so there isn’t much I can do.

We stop off on the way home from school at a tiny shop near the Colloseum, which sells fancy dress costumes and vintage. Much debating over a pink frilly principessa dress is done, and Bene spends a lot of time dancing around wearing a long blonde wig and a tiara. Eventually, the princess costume goes in the bag, along with a red Indian, an ornate feather headdress and a couple of witches outfits for the approaching Halloween celebrations. The blonde wig and tiara go back on the shelf, and as we head back to the car we walk past Chocolate Boutique, which I have to stop and investigate, because really, who wouldn’t? It turns out it is salon that gives chocolate massages. I think it may become my new favourite place in the whole of Rome.

At home, B&B want to make sausage dogs from the insides of toilet rolls. I draw on my wealth of Rainbow experience to assist them in this. Bene’s sausage dog is a wonky-eyed triumph; unfortunately Bea loses interest after five minutes and is extremely displeased when I won’t abandon Bene’s cutting and sticking immediately and entertain her. This sets her off for the rest of the evening, and she completely refuses to play the matching up Smurf cards memory game with us later. Bene is loving it though, and I think this is the most successful game I’ve played with her. She starts saying what the Smurfs are doing in English too, which is good. Less good is that she smacks herself on the head every time she doesn’t make a correct pairing. D’uh.

Lidia had said earlier that the rain was supposed to come today, and she was surprised when instead she found bright sunlight. It doesn’t last long, and the rain does indeed come tonight. The rain (as bad as the rain we had here in July) is already battering the windows as I go to sleep. I am woken up three times during the night by a combination of wind, rain and growling thunder. It is like no thunder I have ever heard before. I turn off my alarm and go back to sleep at 8am, and don’t wake up until nearly ten, completely missing breakfast. I find that there is water underneath my window; it has leaked through the wood because I didn’t have my shutters closed. Have to lean out into the rain to reach them, which is not a particularly pleasant way to be woken up, and afterwards decide to abandon the plans that I had (Piazza Navona in this weather?) and spend the rest of the morning writing this blog and reading my Forster in bed.

It’s probably a very good thing that I didn’t venture out today. When I get to the Bellomos’ for lunch, I am greeted at the door by a very lively Bea, dressed in her Red Indian costume, complete with foot high feathered headdress. Bene skids out of their bedroom, squealing, still in pyjamas.

Alberto tells me that he didn’t take them to school this morning because two people have died on the roads as a result of the weather.

Now, I don’t mean to sound disrespectful or anything, but all the drama is starting to get ridiculous. Riots across England in August, two bombs, a hurricane and an earthquake in India in September, and now a weekend of violent ‘protests’ followed by potentially life threatening floods in Rome. I feel like the chaos is following me and that I might soon be doomed. Hello, Final Destination.

Gareth then sends me a picture of the floods via Facebook: 

The weather (at least where we are) seems to have cleared up by lunchtime, and Lidia tells me that they may go to the cinema this afternoon as planned. As they are seeing an Italian cartoon, my services will once again not be required. She assures me that there is food in the fridge for me to cook this evening, and I head down to reception with the laptop, where I discover that Colonel Gaddafi has been captured and according to Reuters possibly killed, although this is unconfirmed.

Consequently, a large portion of my afternoon has so far been spent refreshing the BBC homepage, although as yet (3pm, Rome time) I still don’t know whether Gaddafi is dead or not. I miss Sky News! If anyone has better access to the news than I do at this present moment I’d be grateful if they let me know, because not being able to get on an English news channel is driving me into a journo-geek frenzy. What IS going on? 

Riot aftermath, Indian vintage... and letching.

The hotel is still standing on Sunday morning, which is a relief. I go down to breakfast, where the receptionist tells me that last night he was caught in a stone fight just outside and that bins were on fire in Plaza Vittorio Emanuel II. Later I read online that they were the worst riots Italy has seen in years and that damages have already run into over a million euros.

The Bellomos head off to an amusement park, and I spend the day sifting through emails and article planning. Go back to Alphabet House early to read (100 Most Influential Women of All Time, from the Katha’s Storyshop; Forster is on the backburner for now). Get all the way from Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel, and when I fall asleep I can still hear helicopters and sirens circling outside.

On Monday morning as I get my coffee, Pina the housekeeper looks at me strangely and asks, am I not freddo?

I’m not freddo at all, but I tell her that I’m on my way to buy a more substantial cardigan because I didn’t expect the temperature to drop this early. She clearly doesn’t understand my blathering and just smiles. It is a smile that suggests, put on more clothes, you British freak.

(FYI, freddo  –nothing to do with small frog shaped confectionary– it actually means cold).

I go to Oviesse, but find no appropriate knitwear. It is all sleeveless, which makes absolutely no sense to me, and the few bits I do find all cost fifty-odd euros. I can’t justify it, and decide that I will just have to put up with strange looks and occasionally being freddo until wench or Diane visits, which hopefully won’t be too long.

Afterwards I go for a walk to see if my surrounding area really is as smashed up as seems to have been reported.

This is what I find at Via Merulana:

 And at San Giovanni:


This is after a full day of cleaning, too. I stop at Santi Marcellino e Pietro, the church I visited on my first Monday here, because I feel like it might be here that had an eighteenth century bust of the Virgin Mary destroyed. I can’t see much evidence of this, aside from a cameraman outside. I sit for a while; as I am leaving I notice that the front window is cracked. When I get back, I find out that the church was ransacked and that the Virgin statue was thrown into the street, where it was trampled by protestors.

My mind is happily distracted from the riots later –thank god for B&B. In the car, they demand that I tell them a story. Cue moment of panic –tell a story? Do I have to make one up?! Talk about being put on the spot. Lidia tells me it is ok, I can just tell them Snow White. This is not ok! I can hardly remember the story of Snow White, and if they expect me to come up with the names of all seven dwarves they’re going to be disappointed.

In the end I remember five dwarves, which I think is fairly impressive, and the twins are actually quiet and sit still and listen and don’t hit each other for the whole drive home. This is a fairly huge achievement, and I feel that my storytelling skills must therefore actually be pretty amazing.

We spend a while painting – Bene wants me to draw her princesses and pretty girls in dresses so she can practice staying in the lines; Bea wants a night sky, then a beach, then a picture of herself. The Horrible Science kit comes out afterwards, and we make a volcano and then an endless supply of fizzy ‘potions’ from vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Messy is not a word that describes the Bellomos’ dining table when we are finished. Destroyed may be a better one.

Afterwards is a dinner of chicken, spinach, and inexplicably huge slabs of mozzarella. Whilst putting on pjs, Bene teaches me how to count to twenty in Italian –which is kind of her. Twinnies are exhausted from all the crafting/ science experimentation and kitchen destroying, and I am free after a couple of standard weird stories. Tonight, Babar the elephant takes his incongruous monkey-child, bizarrely named Zephir, on a trip to the forest, where they make bows from tree branches. I have stopped trying to get my head around the trippy aspect of the stories by now.

Finish my day with lovely Skype catch-ups (catch-ups? Catches-up?) with Katy and Matt, then go back to the influential women book. Fall asleep feeling scandalized that Coco Chanel only received 2% of the profits from Chanel No.5 – damn that patriarchy!

I was reminded last night that I still need to visit the Jewish Synagogue, so this is where I head on Tuesday morning.

I will take this opportunity (whilst I’m on the bus) to highlight the number of inappropriately letcherous men that there are in this city. On Saturday evening, as I was walking back from Termini on the outer fringes of a riot, I was letched on four times. It is a ten minute walk. On Monday, assessing damage at Merulana and San Giovanni, it happened six times. I was out for maybe an hour. Consequently today, when I get off the bus at Largo Argentina on my way to the Synagogue, I am less than surprised when an Italian teenager steps into my path and says, deadpan, ‘You have the fire.’ (This is the kind of thing they say).

I am about to brush past in haughty silence, as I have taken to doing in these situations. The letching is getting tiresome after two and a half weeks. And then I realise that he is holding an unlit cigarette, and is actually asking if I have a lighter.

Oops. Lost in translation.

I tell him I don’t, I’m sorry, and then beat a hasty retreat whilst making a mental note to reassess the level of arrogance that I am clearly gaining whilst in Rome.

Walking down Via Arenula, I am suddenly faced with a swathe of colour that is cascading out of one of the shop fronts. Oh look, I think, it’s like India. Wistful. And then I notice that the window is full of Ganeshes. It’s an Indian shop! Yes!

I go in and discover that it is so packed with clothes, scarves, wall hangings, etc that I can hardly fit between the shelves. It is a vintage shop –Indian and vintage! A fusion of two of my current obsessions.

I am in the shop for a long time. The scarves are nicer than the ones I found actually in India. I have a lovely conversation with the till girl about Delhi, then select a black and white dress with beading in the front and force myself to leave before I spend all the money that’s in my purse. Vintage dress from an Indian shop in a Jewish ghetto in Italy – wow.

I find out a lot about the history of Rome/ the Jewish in Europe whilst at the museum. It’s all very interesting – and I want to do it justice rather than firing off a quick blog post, so I’ll save it for tomorrow. Instead, I’m going to Skype Louise <3

Night all!


Rioting. And other events.

Friday 14th October
I write most of today’s entry in my Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition notebook, whilst sat on a bench opposite Keats’ grave. It’s very quiet and mellow. You could even say it was melancholy, if you were in this frame of mind, which I am. The grave of Keats, undoubtedly, is melancholy. 

He is buried alongside Joseph Severn, an artist, who lived with him at the villa on the Spanish Steps (now the Keats-Shelley Memorial House) and was with him during his last months. Just behind the two headstones is a smaller tomb, for Severn’s son Arthur, who died as a baby.

After visiting Keats’ house in Hampstead in the spring, and in July the Memorial House where he died, I feel like I have to sit here for a while to take it in. There are two huge pine trees flanking the graves, which seems appropriate, and the whole corner of the cemetery is so, so green. It is really beautiful.

The grave itself –without Keats name, as he planned during his last illness – bears the epitaph:

This Grave
Contains all that was Mortal
Of a
Young English Poet
On his Death Bed.
In the bitterness of his Heart,
At the malicious power of his Enemies,
The words to be engraved on his Tombstone
Here lies one
Whose name was writ in water.
February 24th 1821

I sit and consider for quite a long time.

Previous to this I had a far less calming experience – my first attempt to navigate the Rome Metro. It really is the same as the Tube (and the Paris and Madrid Metros), apart from being a bit darker, more dirty and generally a bit more crap. It went fine, despite this. There are only two lines, which is why I’ve managed two weeks without having to use it.

I get off a Piramide, and have a long browse of the Italian/English used bookstall that I find outside. I buy a book for one euro from a man who reminds me of Grandad Miller. The book is called Literature and Psychology, and when I open it I find that it still has an old library card stuck in the front. It was last taken out of Milford University Library (where?) in 1985; before this there are three withdrawal dates, all from the summer of 1965. After 1985 there is a stamp saying it was withdrawn from library usage –someone probably noticed the twenty year gap. I have no idea what it has been doing for the past 26 years (longer than my life), but it has somehow ended up finding its way to Rome and into the possession of this Italian grandad, who has relinquished it to his stall, where it has been sifted out from between translations of Jackie Collins and books about the Virgin Mary me.  What a history. This unexpected little bit of retro makes my morning.

There is a strange sculpture by the bookstall, seemingly made of bronze – what appears to be men, all with their hands tied in chains, all with human-shaped mirrors behind them. It is interesting, but I have no idea what it means.

Across the road is the Pyramid of Cestius, which dating from 12 BC is the oldest building in Rome. Behind it, I have read, there is a random cat colony, which has existed since the nineteenth century. The pyramid is fairly imposing, and I take a few pictures. Then I make friends with an old man and we go on a mission to find the Protestant Cemetery, which it turns out is directly behind the pyramid.

The cemetery is also home to the graves of Shelley, Goethe and the composer Mendelssohn, and I set off in search of Shelley after I’ve done with Keats. His grave is a lot less tranquil than Keats’, at the top of the general cemetery, and is only slightly set apart from the other graves, at the foot of a tower. Shelley’s epitaph reads:

Nothing of him that dark fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Just down the hill, off one of the neat pathways that the cemetery is made up of, is the grave of his son William, whose mother is Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. She doesn’t appear to be buried here; I make a mental note to find out where her grave is.

One early feminist whose grave I happen upon by accident is Elizabeth B. Phelps, an American suffrage pioneer and lover of literature who died in Rome in 1898. After her biographical information the tomb reads ‘Her daughter, Elizabeth  Woodbridge Phelps, knows her mother’s devotion to literature and is glad to carry out her wish to be buried near the poet Shelley.’

After a quick look at the tombs of Mendelssohn and Goethe I head back to the gate, where I find my friend the little old man shamelessly listening in on a group tour that has just started. I tell him that I’m going to the Second World War cemetery across the road, and he says he will join me.

The war cemetery, whilst being moving, is very much like all the others I’ve ever been to. I have a bit of a mind-jolt when I see the epitaph of one A. Miller, and then get confused about the words engraved in the roof of the entrance arch. The arch is a memorial to the allied soldiers who died to give the Italian people freedom. What? I am sure Italy was on the side of the Germans, and I ask my little old man about this. He gives a very, very long explanation, describing in detail what seems to be every movement the Italian army had during the war. From what I gather, Italy changed sides after Mussolini died. Old man then recommends that I look up the work of Primo Levi, an Auschwitz survivor and author who eventually killed himself in the 1960s.

Afterwards, I head back to Cavour on the metro and get a very late lunch at a cafe on a side street. An American man (he is from California, he tells me) comes and sits with me, and promptly asks why I am eating a sandwich. This is a very bizarre question. He points out his huge bowl of pasta. I tell him that I’m British and that we aren’t used to heavy lunches, and in return he tells me that he can’t understand a word British people say. Thanks for that. 

Later, the Bellomos have friends round for dinner. The father, Alberto tells me, is his oldest friend –they have been soldiers together. For some reason, this immediately makes me think that they were mutual wingmen in their long ago bachelor days. And then Alberto starts talking about guarding weapons and National Service, and I realise that no, that actually were soldiers.

Alberto then declares that I can drink, because I am ‘a British’. It is about the twentieth time he has said this.
I point out that he has drunk the same amount (which isn’t very much; a couple of glasses of wine and the weekend-only treat that is the limoncello). ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘but I am a man. Not one Italian woman can drink as much as this.’

Whoa. I continue to sip my limoncello, in the name of equality.

Saturday 15th October
Today I am given another day off. Lidia recommends that I visit the Jewish Ghetto and highlights a few likely looking streets on my map that are nearby, and then points me in the direction of the number 3 bus.

I spend a few minutes waiting on the wrong side of the road, and then remember that I’m in Rome and cross over. It’s quite cold this morning, as I sit in the bus stop (I’ve moved to Rome and I’m still waiting in the cold for the 3). A letcherous, balding man says ciao to me three times, and when I eventually get on the bus it is packed. I am stood far too close to a teenage couple who are licking each other’s faces. I don’t mean they are kissing – no. He is licking her face, and she is laughing. Attempt to edge away but can’t get very far, because the balding letch is on my other side.

I get off at Parco del Celio and follow Lidia’s directions, which first take in the Roman Circus, now a long expanse of parched grass set in a valley. An information board tells me that in Roman times the circus collapsing was a regular occurrence, killing thousands every time.

I go on to Piazza Bocca della Verita, scene of Audrey Hepburn believing Gregory Peck had had his arm bitten off by the stone lion in Roman Holiday. The lion is now behind a fence, and appears to have become a sort of shrine –the queue to recreate the Roman Holiday scene is ridiculous. I stick my arm through the fence and manage to get a picture between posing Japanese tourists, and then cross the road to the river.

Not far along is Tiberina, the famous boat-shaped island in the middle of the water. It contains the hospital, Lidia has told me, where B&B were born. I read an information board on Ponte Fabricio, one of the bridges that crosses over to it. Ponte Fabricio, it tells me, was built in 62 BC by Lucio Fabricius. This is slightly awe-inspiring, and I can’t really get my head around how old it is. There is a tower next to it, on the side of the island, that imprisoned Pope Urban II in the late 16th century.

My camera battery is close to death, so I keep pictures to a minimum as I walk along the river. It immediately becomes clear that I’m entering the Jewish area. A large building on my right is decorated with a lot of Hebrew writing, as well as the Star of David. I cross over and find that the synagogue contains a Jewish museum and offers guided tours. It is closed, though, because this weekend is a Jewish holiday.

Instead I have a wander around the Portico D’Ottavia, which was built between 27 and 23 BC by the Emperor Augustus, for his sister Octavia. Being pretty old, it is currently undergoing renovation work. I discover that in the middle ages it was home to Rome’s largest fish market, and that some of the Latin inscriptions still visible are instructions on the size of fish that should be sold. It is bordered by Teatro Marcello, which Lidia has told me is a smaller version of the Colloseum. There is an accordion player outside, which is nice.

Carry on down the Jewish streets, looking for somewhere to get lunch. A lot of the food places seem to be nice restaurants, with groups and couples sat outside. They aren’t the sort of places where I can sit on my own, writing and reading my book (Fitzgerald’s stories are finished now –I enjoyed them even more than his novels; I’m now on A Passage to India. It’s my first Forster and I feel like it’s going to be heavy work). Eventually I find a more appropriate cafe, but pass because I’m morally opposed to spending five Euros on half a panini.

After a more reasonably priced lunch, I explore the Ghetto’s side streets. It’s all mildly interesting, but not as much so as I was expecting –I remember finding the Jewish Ghetto in Berlin fascinating, but not having chance to look round. This one seems to be mainly filled with restaurants. I do find a couple of interesting parts, though –a tiny street of art and bookshops, all of which are locked and direct the shopper to ask for entry elsewhere. I get the impression that the people who live here guard their community from outsiders, still. I find a church that, in 1534, was granted as a ‘Company for Homeless Maidens’ by Pope Paul III. In Piazza Mattei, I discover the Fountain of the Tortoises –La Fontana delle Tartarughe. It was built during the 1580s, but the tortoises that give it its name were probably added by Bernini  in the 1650s. There are also a couple of vintage shops (not good ones) and an interesting shop selling Mexican art and jewellery.

I’m here, in Casa di Frida, when I notice a tiny, dark staircase leading down from the shop – a relic, obviously, from the building’s original ghetto interior. It’s slightly unnerving – it’s so dark and narrow that I half expect to see a bearded Shylock type character stooping at the bottom. Very ghostly, and the Ghetto is full of things like this – narrows streets between high, high buildings, so tight the vespers can hardly fit down; tiny windows miles above the cobbles. It’s crazy to think that people lived closed in like this –for hundreds of years.

I walk down Via Del Giubbonari, which Lidia has said is nice. It is nice, if slightly out of my price range. At Campo di Fiori I sample the local wine at one of the many market stalls, then buy a bottle of bianco to take to Ashley’s tonight. It looks like a good food market, but since I’m arriving late in the day a lot of the stalls have closed, leaving festering piles of fruit, flowers and vegetables all over the floor. As well as my wine, I buy three miniature bottles of liquor from another stall – everywhere is offering free samples, and after much pondering (tasting) I buy cremas di melon, almond and pistachio.

Feeling mildly like an afternoon wino, I head towards Piazza Farnese and its famous Palazzo, now home to the French Embassy. The square has some interesting buildings surrounding it, and this is where my camera finally dies.

I have a walk down Via Guilia, which is pretty, then cross the river at Ponte Sisto in the direction of Transtevere. Transtevere is an area that guidebooks recommend, that Lidia has pointed out as worth visiting –and that the reviews I’ve read on Tripadvisor have been less than favourable about. Well, all I can say is that the Tripadvisor reviewers must have been visiting Transtevere in July, when everything was closed. It is b e a u t i f u l. It is, probably, the nicest part of Rome I’ve seen –quaint, colourful, arty, and full of little restaurants and shops. The buildings are all orange and covered with ivy; every street throws a wealth of artistically decorated tiny shop fronts in my face. I wander around in heaven for a while, and then go into what appears to be a jewellery shop –it is in fact much more, full of home furnishings, lamps, clothes, and jewellery boxes. I buy a necklace, a wooden jewellery box with pull out drawers, and a black top with beading on the front.

In the changing room, I stare at the mirror for a very long time, considering. Not considering my own reflection –considering the mirror. It is full length and hand painted in red, orange and gold, and only costs 65 Euros. I want it. I want it a lot. The practicalities get me in the end, and I wonder how much it would cost to have it shipped. Where in the world can you find a full length, hand crafted, one of a kind mirror for only 65 Euros? My guess is only at a flea market, and here.

I pay for my other items and leave, before I do something stupid and end up having to lug a mirror that’s nearly as tall as I am back on the bus.

Did you feel like this blog post might have been building up to something? That it was sort of... long? And that it might eventually reach a pivotal point?

Well. While I am waiting at the bus stop, my phone starts to vibrate. It is Lidia. I already have a sense of foreboding; I always seem to when people ring rather than text. I can sense the urgency. They need to speak to me now.

‘Lucy,’ Lidia says,’ where are you?’

I don’t know where I am, I’ve just stopped at the first bus stop I can. And the foreboding makes me nervous. ‘Erm,’ I say, ‘near the scene from Roman Holiday... Bocca della Veritas.’

Pause. ‘Have you heard the helicopters, and about the bomb?’

Jesus. Christ.

Lidia recommended this morning that I go to the Jewish Ghetto because a protest march was taking place, and it was finishing at San Giovanni in Laterano, just around the corner from our hotel. It was going to be a big march, she said –and this is a city that sees protest marches every weekend in the autumn. But this one was going to attract a lot of people, because it was a protest against the banks –and there may be trouble with the buses. I should try not to be in the area.

On the phone now, she tells me that Via Cavour, the main street running down from Plaza Vittorio Emanuel II, is closed because cars have been set alight and the front of banks have been smashed. She is with B&B and Alberto in a park out of the way, but the roads are closed and there is no way they can get back into the centre. I get on the bus, which should take me to Circo Massimo, where I caught it this morning. Lidia tells me to at all costs avoid Via Cavour. I tell her I should be back soon; I will tell her when I am.

My bus turns the wrong way; it isn’t going to Circo Massimo. Obviously, because to do that would be to go too close to San Giovanni. Instead it is heading directly to its destination –wherever that is. I have a few moments of blind panic, as we sail away into a part of Rome that I have never seen before. I don’t recognise a single street name, and before long we are on a dual carriageway, flying over a bridge that appears to be leading out of Rome altogether. 

I get off, panic, walk up the dual carriageway, and find a street map that tells me I am close to Piramide Metro. Thank the lord! To check the exact location of the metro station, I go into a carpet shop and ask a man for directions.

He tells me that the metro has closed down entirely from 5pm because ‘the teenagers get crazy on Saturdays’.

He directs me down the hill towards a bus stop. I ask every bus driver whether they go near Via Merulana; they all tell me no, I should get on the 175. But the 175 could take an hour to come; I know what Rome’s buses are like by now. Also, a helicopter is circling behind me and I CAN HEAR THINGS EXPOLDING.
The next bus driver closes his doors and drives off whilst I am in the process of asking where he is going. This hardly lessens my sense of panic, because where the bloody hell am I going now? No, he eventually deigns to inform me, he is not going near Via Merulana. Via Merulana is closed.

Via Merulana runs parallel to Principe Eugenio, one street down.

He directs to me a bus that will take me to Termini Station; I get on it gratefully and am on it for a further HOUR AND A HALF before I eventually get off. The very, very slow progress takes us back through Bocco della Veritas, past the peacefully protest that is going on at the Colloseum, and up through Plazza Della Republica towards the station.

I don’t get back to the apartment until half past seven. I text Ashley to tell her that I won’t be coming round tonight after all, and then Lidia phones and tells me to absolutely not go out, because the protestors are now in Plaza Vittorio Emanuel II.

I ask Anna, out of politeness really, whether I can turn off the crap gameshow that is monopolising the television so I can put the news on. No, she says, no news. No no.

My laptop’s internet isn’t working, and I can’t watch the news. I can’t find out what is going because Anna is too engrossed in what appears to be an Italian version of Deal or no Deal.

This situation makes me more stressed out than when I was stood on the edge of the dual carriageway listening to explosions. Eventually I find one of the Bellomos’ IPads, log onto the BBC and see that the protests are international and that London is suffering, too –although not as badly as here.

Then the news comes on the television. Seeing burnt out cars and armoured police shielding off rioters right in front of the majestic San Giovanni in Laterano is a surreal site, and I can’t describe it. Via Cavour is hardly recognisable, through the amount of smoke.

Anna has made carrot and potato soup; we eat it in silence whilst watching. When she opens the window afterwards for air, the sounds of helicopters and general discounted rumbling is deafening.

Just before 10pm there is a key in the apartment door, and Benedetta launches herself through in a ball of energy. Bea is right behind her. They seem to be high on adventure. Bea is covered in biscuit crumbs, and they have new stuffed Dalmatians, which they show off proudly (‘Look, Looosy!’)

I leave Lidia and Alberto to it (good luck getting the twins to sleep anytime soon) and head back to Alphabet House. All seems quiet when I pass through the courtyard; when I open my window later I can hear a loud voice talking but nothing else. Uneasy sleep.