|The view from the hill-top village of Selci|
Charles Dickens writes enthusiastically of the trips he made out of Rome into the countryside. He could have said just the same thing today. We did three great jaunts, all in a northerly direction: to Viterbo, to Anguillara (by Lago di Bracciano), and to a friend’s house at Selci, in Sabino. Having arrived on the local train at Fara, our friend Giles (he’s English, with an Italian partner) took us to look at the hill village of Poggio Catino – not a tourist to be seen (apart from us of course), and remarkable for a great limestone solution hollow. After he prepared the sort of impromptu lunch that I have never been able to master, we got back to Rome by taking the train at Poggio Mirteto. Working out the train times and the stations where the trains actually stop was a bit of a nightmare – the timetables are not all that intuitive, and having got to the station you have to remember to validate your ticket before getting on the train. Failure to do it leads to a hefty fine, a great source of income from tourism. All these trips offered photo opportunities, or perhaps more accurately opportunities for photographic clichés.
In fact, I’ve in fact taken the same photograph several thousand times – a narrow street or alley turning off at an angle in the distance, a street lamp projecting from building artfully silhouetted in the foreground, slightly sinister gathering shadows, preferably a few ‘authentic’ locals, a street sign or two to fix location, a predominance of colourful washes on the buildings themselves, stone steps or balconies or flowers in tubs welcome. London, Rome, Florence, Istanbul, Havana, Riga – through my camera they can all come out looking rather similar. (Hard to do the same thing in New York. Or, these days, in over-planned modern Singapore.)
Earlier I mentioned the state-of-the-art train between Florence and Rome. For the Viterbo trip we took different routes there and back; the outward journey was on a service that’s still privately owned, separate from the main network. The trains were a throwback to half a century ago, showing no great evidence of maintenance, at the cosmetic level anyway. In fact, looking at people going about their lives in Rome (and in Florence too, I think), you could see the impact of the economic problems besetting the country over the last twenty years. People don’t dress with the same flare as in the past; they’ve lost much of the old swagger. Service in Rome was always haphazard and disorganized, but this time there was an air of disillusion and general grumpiness that I don’t remember noticing in the past. Grafitti are everywhere; it’s obvious that public budgets are being squeezed. If you knew London in the 1970s, you would recognize the signs. The Metro was obviously built on the cheap, and maintenance is clearly limited to operational essentials. It’s gloomy.
|The train arrives at Viterbo station. Some Italian public architecture of the 1930s has Fascist associations, but it works very well, even so.|
The atmosphere of Rome couldn’t be more different from the manicured, controlled Singapore to which I returned. Living in Rome might drive me nuts – it’s hard to say without trying it, and anyway I think I would have enjoyed it more in my thirties than in my sixties. But I left Rome with a great sense of regret, and anticipation of the next trip.