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Mon. 17 October


[image ALT: A thick grove of pine trees, maybe 10 meters tall, bare-trunked almost to the top where they spread out in umbrella-like branches. Thru the trees, a low building. It is a scene in the Pincian Gardens in Rome.]
(Still catching up) — The Villa Borghese is, like the Farnese Gardens, another one of those places I paid no attention to at age 17 or at least have not the faintest memory of despite a clear memory of the Canova of Pauline Borghese in the Museum — More fool I then, the gardens are lovely, even if the first impression of the Pincio is "here we are in the Jardins du Luxembourg", quickly dispelled. For one thing the Villa Borghese is huge; and it's much more nature and wonderful big trees and much less little paths lined with little wire fences . . . .

We started our walk thru the gardens by buying an ice cream cone for James and two vantagli; vast throng of people in the Viale delle Magnolie which is the main allée in: I don't believe I heard a word of anything but Italian thruout the gardens, and there were several thousand people. Beautiful example of garden design, extremely civilized and extremely cool and green as well, and this precisely despite all the people. Egyptian gates, real and fake obelisks including one only about ten feet tall, fountains of every kind from the barest suggestion of a woodland spring to splendiferous multi-tiered concoctions of allegoristic statuary, people eating, walking, bicycling, necking, digging up a plant in one place, playing football, skateboarding in the dry basin of a fountain, playing cards — three old men standing at the central table in the tiny Tempietto di Diana, boating in the Lake of Aesculapius interestingly titled on its temple "ΑΣΚΛΗΠΙΑΔΙ ΣΩΤΕΡΙ", curiously pagan use of Σωτηρ for Rome — marvelous place. James and I stopped among other spots at a little fountain, bronze, utterly absurd, of a Faun and a woman holding a baby faun aloft with grapes dangling here and there and the inscription "vitae laude murmure suo fons canit" on a base with four rabbit-head gargoyles, the whole set in the center of a bed of scarlet rosa rugosas; also elsewhere a ruin, created in 1792, called Tempio di Faustina, convincing in all except the inscription on the pediment not incised but applied.

Sunset thru the pines near the Villa Medici, and out via the Pincian Gate and the Via Veneto, which especially in its upper portion has got to be one of the most pleasantly civilized urban landscapes in the world. I sort of wanted to sit there, but James sort of did not, so we didn't, since I can always go back on my own.

Walk back to the hotel via the via delle 4 Fontane and ate at a pleasant underground restaurant l'Europeo, in the v. del Principe Amedeo I think, very close by. We came in early (6:30) since James needed to get to bed early, so at the beginning had a long conversation with the probably head waiter and another waiter, in their 50's and 60's respectively; the former spoke excellent French and good English and, so the other claimed, a total of ten languages, which at some level I well believe, since one of the junior staff took orders from a couple of Japanese women in English but finally volunteered various things in Japanese to their surprise and instant gratification, they beamed —

We both had gnocchi (di patate) al pesto and a grilled trout, with a ½ carafe of cheap white between us. Jewish couple from Wheaton, Illinois of all places sat down at the next table, I suggested they see the Jewish Quarter and possibly if they could (artichokes??) try carciofi alla giudia. I suppose I should have mentioned the Arch of Titus.

And quickly to bed. Room and beds fairly comfortable, but James miserable with a cold that appeared out of nowhere Sunday morning and by the evening was awful — Actually, I've noticed that a few hours in Rome and my lungs feel very bad. I've since been told that this past week was particularly bad, a major ozone and pollution alert to the point that Romans were being asked to cut down their driving for a few days. I slept fine after a bit of insomnia, disguised as reading [. . .]

This morning James woke up on his own before our 5:00 wakeup call and that in turn woke me up. We dressed quickly and he got all his stuff, our cab or limousine (hard to tell what it was, cabs apparently still on strike) put us at Fiumicino at 6:07, James checked in immediately but I couldn't even accompany him that far, we suddenly separated at a police checkpoint at the entrance to the room where he checked in: airports finally leave me each time more with the feeling of being in prison to the nation states; freedom of movement was much greater until 1880 or so when they invented the international passport — left James fuming at United (his flight takes forever because it stops in Milan before going to Washington) [. . .]

Got back to the San Giorgio, after a change to the Metro at Ostiense, and ate as much breakfast as I could since 2 breakfasts were included in the price of the room and James never got his. So I had 2 coffees, several croissant-type rolls, an orange juice, a pear, a yogurt; then I repacked my few things, continued catching up on this and left when, looking out the window at Termini's outdoor clock I saw it was getting near on 10:15 departure for Terni.

The Terni train was jampacked, so I wound up standing between cars with 4 other people two of whom were young Mexican men from Guadalajara, Manuel and Alejandro, who were on a free day of their tour of Spain and Italy and chose to go to Assisi; nice couple, Manuel with only his left arm: it was pleasant, as I told them, to speak Spanish since I arrived here speaking pretty good Spanish and vague Italian and I don't want to leave with good Italian at the price of vague Spanish due to mixing and similarities!!

The 20‑minute change in Terni I used to buy my 2d (and last) monthly abbonamento to the rink to replace this one which expires the 21st; on the Todi-Perugia train I was engaged in conversation by a couple of young men studying chemistry in Perugia living there out of an apartment Monday-Friday and returning to their families in Terni for the weekends.

At Todi train station, I helped a group of six American women thru the arcane ticket system and very quickly had offered to guide them around Todi, which turned into six hours of delightful company, starting with a pleasant meal at the Jacopone (the Umbria being closed exceptionally for repairs) where I treated them to wine and grappa: a bottle of Grechetto which is the only Todi wine after all, and 2 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino at $18 a bottle or 40% of U.S. restaurant prices and even not so expensive by Italy restaurant prices — the best and most expensive wine on the menu. They were appreciative — we were sat at a table for 5 and a table for 2 behind, and the 2 had ordered a small carafe of red but after the Brunello they raved and left their carafe quite untouched and said so.

The women, in their late 30's to possibly early 50's, were except for one all members of a women's hiking group from Sacramento: Marlene, Sandra, Betty, Getta, Penelope, and Shirley, I really had a delightful time squiring them around, making sure they saw the sights at their own pace and playing guide to those who wanted one, all along — this varied from 1 to 6 at any one time: after our lunch (we broke up at 3:30, and they/we were nowhere as riotous as a group of 20 or so Tuderti in an adjacent room, all in late middle age or older, who sang and drank and roared with laughter) I took them up to S. Fortunato, down to the Consolazione, over to the Roman Niches with pit stops at S. Giorgio and S. Maria in Camuccia, then up to the Duomo and onto the Piazza to sit at the Caffé where half of us drank soda or bitters, the other half ate ice cream, and finally back to their bus (I guessed — rightly as it turned out — the appropriate bus to cover Todi in the right amount of time, and got the tickets while they sat at the caffé) as it was getting a bit chilly, via the alimentazione at the end of the piazza where nearly all of them bought something to take back to their week's rented villa in Orte Scalo; they left on the 7:09 bus, we traded cards — they were delighted and I too enjoyed the outing very much.

Then back to the apartment — still no mail — hot bath, no further meal (very slightly queasy, can't say why: I had antipasto misto and the boar in truffle sauce and a tiramisú, all good), but situps only 31 because of the queasiness and surely also the lack of exercise other than some walking during James's stay, and skips 44 not so bad considering same.

One major item of outside news: Prince Charles basically had a book ghost-written for him — an "authorized biography" making extensive use of his own diary and letters, and letting the cat out of the bag — never loved Di at all, was weak and felt forced into it by Philip, with the Queen remote and leaning on Philip. I have long noted the resemblance between myself and Charles, also between my mother and Lilibet, and Philip is apparently much like my father down to the polo, the tall and handsome when young but jejune and acid-tongued rudeness to people, and a taste for severities [. . .] By and large, I feel Charles is being courageous in all this. It's never too late to be honest, never too late to fix what your parents and your own weakness messed up. [. . .]


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Page updated: 30 Mar 09