Thursday, 4 December 2008

Off to Rome next week

Any owner will recognize that point in their dogs life when they have moved from any pretence of puppyhood into the canine version of middle age. One of the best indicators is when the walk moves from being a 'rorh' ( rush out rush home ) into a 'rosh' ( rush out saunter home ). It was very clear on this afternoons walk that the boyz are now firmly established in the second category. The wild whoop of delight and enthusiastic tail wagging when the leads are brought out is still as it was seven years ago. The difference now is that fifteen or twenty minutes into the walk the pace gradually slackens , the heads droop until all forward momentum is lost and it is made very clear that we should consider turning around and going back. Getting home now requires frequent halts and mandatory gentle and intensive explorations of every bush, mound, or tree that might contain a scent. What used to be an half an hour walk now lasts the better part of an hour. In this afternoons sunshine the two of them were to be found contentedly looking out across the valley to the neighbouring farms, lost to the world in their own thoughts. This enforced idleness enables me to examine the hedgerows around the house in some detail - the wild roses this year are dense with a canopy of bright red hips- in Scotland this abundance would be taken as a sign of the onset of a bitterly cold winter .

Walking with the dogs in the warmth of the afternoon sum it's difficult to imagine that we are well into December. Every year Christmas seems to catch us unprepared. Some of our acquaintances manage to get their shopping done by the end of October and get their cards to the Post Office with plenty of delivery time to spare. Not us. Come the 20th of December we shall be running around blindly trying to buy presents , choose a tree, order the Turkey and aiming to complete all those myriad tasks that Christmas entails. This is where living near a small Italian town suddenly comes into its own. Everything seems magically to come together late on Christmas Eve afternoon. Simone the butcher will collect the Turkey from a local farmer, the florists will get the flowers from the wholesaler in Perugia, the vivaio will deliver the tree, and the cantina will appear with the wine.
I've never been to the basilica of St. Paul's Without in Rome and hope to fit a visit into next weeks shopping and entertaining excursion. For a lapsed Calvinist Rome's churches are a constant source of amazement - I'm torn between an ingrained aversion to their decidedly un-presbyterian accumulation of treasures and attracted by the sense of continuity and history that can only be found in Rome.

The basilica of St.Paul's is built near the supposed site of the beheading of the saint at a place still known as Tre Fontane in memory of three springs that miraculously bubbled up where his head is reputed to have fallen to the ground. It was little visited in the early days due to the area being a marshy lowland noted for outbreaks of mal aria.After much drainage work, the original church was replaced by a basilica in 386 which in turn was sacked by the Saracens in 846 who stole the saints bronze sarchophagus. Until a hundred or so years ago it was possible to walk from the Ostian gate to the church under a two kilometre long covered walkway supported by eight hundred marble columns. This huge construction has somehow disappeared and today the church stands in forlorn solitude by a dual carriageway in a rundown area of gasworks and tanneries. The existing church dates back to the mid-1830's following a disastrous fire which destroyed pretty much everything bar the ancient nave arch. The outside, from what I've glimpsed rushing by in a taxi, borders on the vulgar but I am told that the interior with its eighty towering granite columns was rebuilt with an eye for accuracy. There again the fact that the malachite altar was a gift of Russia's Tsar Nicholas 1st may say much about 19th century ideas of historical accuracy. This altar iis the only one in Europe (?) at which the Pope faces the congregation in the earliest tradition of public worship rather than celebrating mass with his back to them. The King's of England were the patrons of St.Paul's as the King's of France were to the Lateran and Spain to S.Maria Maggiore. I shall hopefully be able to post some pictures next week.

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