Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Shoes full of feet

Nathan and I celebrated our tenth anniversary today. Ten years! It hardly seems like yesterday that I came bounding down a flight of stairs, after a trip to the South of France, to find him in the bar of the theatre I was working in, waiting to be directed into a production of Taboo. I was his boss then... And still am! 

We celebrated the hugely significant anniversary by driving to Rome. Ah! Rome! The Eternal City. I was last here some 15 years ago, and it would appear to have lost none of its magic. 

We have had an incredible day. Julie frog-marched us around "her" Rome in the morning; Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Campo de Fiori. We drifted around in the blazing sun, stopping in coffee shops whenever we felt thirsty, eating pasta, and granitas made from fresh fruit juice. 

For the record, there are 136 steps in the Spanish steps, and the view from the church at the top is astounding. My favourite thing about Rome is its roof terraces. Usually high up on terracotta and ochre-coloured ramshackle buildings, they're often a blazing riot of flowers and dark green vines. Deeply inviting. 

We deposited Julie in a cafe, and I took Nathan on a trek around the oldest part of town. We climbed 124 steps to a remarkable cathedral perched on a hill above the Forum where the alter was surrounded by 30 enormous candelabras, and multi-coloured stained glass windows cast eerie rainbows of light onto the large stone floor tiles. 

From there we went to the English cemetery in Rome in search of Una Troughbridge's grave. Troughbridge was the lover of gay writer, Radclyffe Hall, who was buried in a crypt in Highgate cemetery next to her first lover, Mable Batten, in the 1940s. Una left a curious inscription on a plaque which says, "and if God choose I shall but love thee better after death." The quote, which is signed "Una", features in the second movement of the Requiem. Una spent the last years of her life in the Eternal City, but made it known to her family that she wanted to be buried in the Highgate tomb when the time came. Her wish, for very obvious reasons, was not granted, and she was buried 1000 miles away from the woman she loved so much. Very sad when you consider they were lovers for 20 years. 

Unfortunately, by the time we got to the cemetery, it had closed for the day. We spoke to the volunteer locking up, who said somebody else had asked about the grave, but they weren't sure where it was. I felt bitterly disappointed that, for the sake of arriving half an hour earlier, I'd denied myself the opportunity of looking for it myself, but I at least made the effort, and the thought was there.

From the cemetery we went up to the Colosseum, by which stage the heat was really beginning to take its toll, and I was feeling both heavy-footed and light-headed. 

We had supper in a restaurant near the Pantheon with two new friends; a theatre director called Anna and a wonderful singer called Evelina, who specialises in Sephardic Jewish songs. She was born in Libya, and hounded out of the country during the Arab-Israeli war in the mid-1960s. We've met some fascinating Italians on this trip and made some wonderful friends. 

They asked us about the wind storms we'd had at the beach a few days before, which they'd heard about in Rome. What we hadn't realised, in a form of  naïveté that only Brits could do, was that the storm was actually generating tornadoes and that the area we were in is part of the tornado belt in Italy. 

I'd made lots of films of the storm on my mobile phone which I showed to the group... And sure enough, there in the dark clouds hanging above the beach on one of the clips, was the small, but very distinct, and utterly chilling beginnings of a funnel! We were very nearly twistered out of that place!

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