Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Roman Holiday

Here's another article from The Files - a, somewhat verbose 'what I did on my holidays this year' piece which was first published in a magazine in the US in 2004. Since this was published, this blogger has been back to Italy - for four days in Rome last year. My favourite country, by far. Mind you, I was last there during the coldest November on record so ignore the bit about it being 'too hot.'

This is a disgraceful boast I know, and I apologise to readers in advance for that. I chalked up another country on my growing dipstick of intercontinental travel this summer. Italy. It's a fantastic place. Vibrant, cosmopolitan, exciting … and bloody hot too. Eddie Izzard does a wonderful piece in Glorious where he’s talking about the fact that the Italians were the world's first fascists – Mussolini in 1921, of course. Yeah, he notes, but most of them probably just went along with that because Italians, by and large, are into football and life, and they like driving around on scooters saying 'Ciao!' a lot (yes, that’s where that joke in Angel comes from). He's dead right, you know, they do. My God, the number of Lambrettas and Vespas this blogger spotted speeding along the twisting side-streets of Sorrento and Capri and Rome were… incalculable. So, I didn't try.
The Isle of Capri was brilliant - you need a ferry to get there. We managed to get into and out of The Blue Grotto (the latter was much harder!) and I was slightly startled to find the place absolutely FULL of Americans – all of them desperately trying to convince anyone that would listen that they didn't vote for Bush. Twice.
Rome, as a contrast, was chock-full of American teenagers. All talking loudly in cafes about the latest movies that they'd seen. I was about to venture forth and ask a few if they liked Buffy but I bottled out because (a) I'd probably look like a pervert and (b) I'm really not sure what's "in" any more with regard to teenagers and there was, therefore, the potential to be sniggered at and called 'granddad.'
Highlight of visit, I must say, was a trip to MonteCassino. For those unfamiliar with the place it's a monastery on top of a very large hill that has existed, in one form or another, since the 600s. It's been destroyed a few times – once by an earthquake, once by invading Saracens – but it always gets rebuilt. The last time it was destroyed was in 1944, flattened in just three hours by a mesmeric 'shock and awe' airstrike by the US Air Force after numerous German, Italian, British and Commonwealth (New Zealand and Indian, chiefly), Polish and French forces had spent over six months blowing the crap out of each other as they inched up and down the hill trying to gain the upper hand. (If you're at all interested, I can highly recommend a superb book on the subject: Matthew Parker's MonteCassino published in 2004 on Headline). Once again, post-war, the monastery was rebuilt and it now looks as good as ever, an imposing monument to both the Catholic faith and the human spirit that won't let war or natural disaster spoil a thing of outstanding beauty.

After visiting the monastery, the party I was with drove down to the British War Cemetery at the foot of the hill – an impressively cool and tranquil place on a blazing hot day with austere marble monuments and a fountain in the centre of a garden of roses and poppies. I thought of Eric Bogle’s tone-poem 'The Green Fields of France' whilst I was there. I really wouldn't mind ending up in a place like that myself. Then we all went to a pub and watched the England versus Croatia football match with a group of Italian locals occasionally shouting out 'Wayne Rooney!' to our considerable amusement.
So, anyway, I know most of you are Anglophiles but if you’re coming to Europe there are much nicer places to visit than London. Trust me, given a choice between the beautiful cities of mainland Europe - Paris, Milan, Prague, Amsterdam – and anywhere in England, I’d chose the former any day.

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