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Rewrites on PIGS have finished now and I have posted the first 10 chapters again.

21 February 2011
Keywords: NEW PIGS
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Apologies, but PIGS has been taken down for reworking. I will begin to put it back when the rewrites are finished.

13 February 2011
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Chapter 1 of PIGS has been changed slightly.

31 January 2011
Keywords: changes
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I shall be posting PIGS in instalments for a while. Comments would be appreciated.

3 December 2010
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          The last time I had been to Fiumicino Airport had been twenty years previously. I had had to stop over in Rome for a night on my way to Malta. Before leaving Spain, where I was living at the time, I had asked Bob, my father-in-law, if I should take anything and had been told, "Bring a carton of Benson and Hedges and a dirty magazine for a friend of mine. You can’t get dirty magazines here,” Bob had explained, “Malta is a Catholic country.”

         “So’s Spain,” I had said. Although I had no trouble finding a dirty magazine. The problem was choosing which one I should take from the extensive offer at the local newspaper kiosk. Just after Franco died there had been a period in Spain which was known as the destape, literally the uncovering, when everyone who was anyone proceeded to take their clothes off either on film or in the smutty press. I could even remember a naked and pregnant Carmen Cervera, then Miss Spain, Miss Europe and third place in Miss Universe, now the Baroness Von Thyssen, taut, bloated stomach and brown, rubbery nipples, posing in a popular magazine. No one seems to talk about the youthful exploits of María del Carmen Rosario Soledad Cervera Fernández de la Guerra any more, enough being said of the work she does for her husband, the industrialist and armaments millionaire, now deceased, Hans Heinrich Von Thyssen. These photographs were, apart from being a little distasteful, hardly dirty enough for Bob’s friend. At least, so I thought.

         Finding the appropriate magazine, whilst not an altogether unpleasant task, was a little embarrassing. I had to thumb brazenly through the magazines, those that were not safely encased in a thin, plastic, protective covering, until I found one to my liking. Or more to the point, to what I imagined Bob’s friend’s liking would be. Settling finally on quite a racy mag, I paid for it, took it home, stashed it away on top of my clothes in my hand baggage and promptly forgot all about it, until I was going through customs later on, on my way from Fiumicino to Malta and I had been stopped and asked to open my case. There on top was the dirty magazine.

         The Customs Officer picked up the magazine between the tips of his fingers, looked along the line of Nuns returning to Malta from their trip to the Vatican, and then looked back at me and shook his head,

         “Disgraziato,” he said, tossing the magazine back onto the case.

         I had wanted to explain, to say, “No, you don’t understand. It’s not for me, it’s for a friend of my father-in-law,” but felt that this bold denial might somehow make matters worse.

         This time Fiumicino, when we eventually got there, after sitting on the tarmac for two hours at Barajas, was not a problem. Nor was it a problem finding our way to Termini Station in Rome by train. The first problem was trying to get a taxi to take us to our hotel. The first taxi-driver flatly refused to take us, mumbling some lie about a strike, and the second one said it would cost twenty-eight Euros. Although this seemed a bit steep, as we didn’t know where we were going, we got in. When we pulled away from the station the driver pointed in exasperation at a lorry parked across the road.

         “You see?” he almost cried. “Traffic!”

         I have no idea what he expected to find in the middle of Rome, but it seemed traffic was not it. About five minutes later we were pulling up outside the Hotel Sistina and duly being charged our twenty-eight Euros for a ride that would have been under five in Madrid. The driver even shook my hand and wished us a good stay! Cheeky bastard!

         Anyway, as we got out of the taxi, Bob and Mavis were leaning from their bedroom window in the hotel. Coincidence or chance? Or had they been there waiting during the two hours we had been stuck in Barajas, imagining smoking wreckage and twisted steel? Probably not. They are well aware of the basic incompetence of Iberia, having suffered it themselves on more than one occasion.

         A small scene was being played out just up the street. Something to do with parking. A good-looking Italian with an ugly, brown and white mongrel with a bulky face and a pink nose was endeavouring to help a scowling driver park his car in a space which was far too small. He was waving his manicured hand and chewing on a perfectly rolled cigar. The creases on his beige trousers were sharp and straight enough to have been etched in using a ruler and a very pointed pencil. In the end, seeing the impossibility of the task ahead, he gave up with a grunt, disdainfully dismissing the failure as being down to the incompetence of the driver. He pulled almost imperceptibly at his tightly knotted tie and then more aggressively at the dog's lead and made off up the street. This was when I noticed the number of parking spaces allotted to scooters. I had always been aware of the Italian’s liking for this form of transport. Indeed, many an Italian comedy of the seventies had the scooter virtually in the starring role. But the sheer number of them was astonishing. As were the age differences of the riders. I had thought it specifically a young man’s mode of transport. But here were young girls in jeans, young girls in suits, old men in overalls, old men in suits and the insolent youth. All, mind you, wearing helmets. None of them with hair laconically blowing in the wind calling out “Ciao” as they rode past, as I had thought they might. We went into the hotel, checked in and wished Mavis a happy birthday.

         After lunch, Susie and I walked down the street to the Spanish Steps which were disappointingly without their famous pots of azaleas. Wrong time of year. The obelisk in front of the Trinità dei Monti church was shrouded in scaffolding and a large tarpaulin. At the bottom of the steps, we glanced at the house where Keats had lived and died and decided not to go inside to see the lock of his hair. We contented ourselves with looking at the house from the outside and imagining how much it would cost to rent. Although in Keats’ day this area was known as the English Ghetto, the evidence did not point to him being the poor poet in a garret, even though it is said that he had no advantages of birth, wealth or education. Thinking of an appropriate quote with which to show off to Susie, the only thing that sprang to mind, apart from the dreadful “I stood tip-toe upon a little hill” was “The great beauty of Poetry is that it makes every thing, every place interesting.” Discussing this, we decided that Rome was interesting enough in itself without the aid of poetry. And I realised I couldn’t think of a single poem about Rome except Auden’s The Fall of Rome, which is only worth mentioning here because of the superb last stanza, which has nothing to do with Rome at all:


                                      Altogether elsewhere, vast

                                      Herds of reindeer move across

                                      Miles and miles of golden moss,

                                      Silently and very fast.


         We crossed the main road at the bottom of the Piazza di Spagna and turned into the maze of narrow streets and majestic buildings that would swallow us up for the next couple of hours. There was something to look at round each corner, although most of the buildings seemed to belong to either the Church or the Government. I pretended I had detailed and extensive knowledge of the city and waved and pointed vaguely off to the left, saying, "Down here." Although it is true that I did have some idea of where we were going, it was almost as much a surprise to me as it was to Susie when we glimpsed a small part of the huge bricked dome of The Pantheon at the end of a narrow street. I don’t think I could have prepared her for it even if I had quoted Hadrian’s own description. Hadrian had said, "My intentions had been that this sanctuary of All Gods should reproduce the likeness of the terrestrial globe and of the stellar sphere. The cupola revealed the sky through a great hole at the centre, showing alternately dark and blue. This temple, both open and mysteriously enclosed, was conceived as a solar quadrant. The hours would make their round on that caissoned ceiling so carefully polished by Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold; rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below, prayers would rise like smoke toward that void where we place the gods."

         I explained knowledgeably how the French had copied the façade for their Pantheon in Paris, bunging a Saint-Paul’s-type dome on top and how Francisco Solano López had then copied the Paris version for his own Panteón de los Héroes in Asunción, the only difference being that Solano López´s Pantheon typically has a pink dome. We wandered around the enormous columns of the portico and then slowly into the building itself. For me, the rectangular ornate decoration of the interior rather spoilt the sombre, plain brickwork of the outside where, with the exception of the pillars, all the lines seem to be curved in harmony. The dome, though, was massive and impressive. We stood under the open eye at the centre and looked up in search of the gods. Instead of a glimpse of Jupiter majestically astride the sky, we got an insolent drop of rain each in our faces.

         We walked off in what I told Susie, correctly as it happens, was the direction of the river, lingering in the squares, especially the Piazza Navona. At one end of the square we could see the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, built to commemorate the twelve-year-old Christian girl Agnes, who refused to marry a pagan and was hence martyred. It was in this location we are told that Agnes was exposed naked, but was miraculously covered by the prodigious growth of her hair, thus saving her from disgrace, but sadly not death. I am sure she would have preferred the miracle to have spared her from martyrdom. As we walked into the square, we were greeted by a group of street musicians who were lustily belting out a pretty poor rendition of Y Viva España. Painters of coloured drawings and cartoonists sat along the centre of the square between the fountains, reminiscent of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and I wondered what made a person lose all artistic taste and perspective when converted into a tourist, for these awful things must sell or no one would do them. I looked at a few of the characterless paintings and saw that they were exactly the same as their characterless counterparts in Madrid and Malta. They could even have been painted by the same characterless person. Colours all wrong, perspective dodgy. I looked at a graceless caricature of Sylvester Stallone. It only looked like Sylvester Stallone because it didn’t look like anyone else. Yet there were the tourists, bargaining over the price of the bright watercolours and sitting to have their charcoal caricatures sketched out.

         From the Piazza Navona we walked down to the river and out to the middle of the Ponte Umberto, from where we could see Castel Sant’Angelo and the dome of Saint Peter’s. It was a good place to stop and rest our feet, to say what a good idea it had been to come.

         Looking at the skyline and thinking of the buildings we had just seen made me think of Lawrence’s definition of the two Churches: the Church of the Eagle and the Church of the Dove. As he explains, “the Churches of the Dove are shy and hidden away, but the Churches of the Eagle stand high with their heads to the skies.” So far, I had only seen Churches of the Eagle. Maybe even the occasional Vulture. Except, if we are going to be pernickety, whilst the Holy Spirit is an Eagle in the Old Testament, and a Dove in the New, it is never portrayed as a Vulture. Anyway, there in the distance was the dome of Saint Peter’s, a Golden Eagle if ever I saw one, dominating the horizon and making its presence felt, its obvious power perhaps even a little bit frightening. I chuckled inwardly, thinking of ‘bird of prey’ and 'bird of pray’, but didn’t think it worth mentioning. Perhaps wisely. Instead we looked at about ten rubber window-cleaning brushes discarded on an unreachable ledge of the bridge, obviously tossed there in haste when the Police arrived to prevent that annoying practice of some poor, out-of-work immigrant soaping your car window when you’re stuck at the traffic lights.

         We decided to go back into the narrow, chaotic, cobbled streets of the city and find the Trevi Fountain. On the way we stopped off for an espresso and a cappuccino at a pavement café, sitting outside despite the intermittent rain so that I could smoke. We talked about the policemen’s uniforms and how immaculate and smart they looked. Susie said they looked like they had been dressed by Gucci. And it was true. Even the police cars were Alfa Romeo’s.

         “It’s called style,” she said, looking at me.

         She didn’t need to say anything else for me to know that style was something that I somehow didn’t have. I blamed it on my being English, but felt it perhaps went deeper than that.

         She was right though. They did have style. The Italian policeman may be hopeless when it comes to catching criminals, I don’t know, but he looks bloody good whether he’s doing it or not. And he knows it too. On guard outside some Ministry building, he walks up and down preening himself, checking the shine on his knee-length boots, the crease in his blue-black trousers, the fall of the gold braid attached to his lapel and to his leather belt and the slight tilt to his cap. And they all have medals. Even the most lowly has at least one medal pinned to his breast.

         As we sat drinking our coffee we noticed that there were no gaudy neon signs on any of the buildings; in fact, no signs of any description. That and the fact that no traffic was allowed into this part of the city gave it a kind of style too, an elegance lacking in the brightly-lit, graffiti-daubed, horn-blasting centre of Madrid. It wasn’t just that the buildings were bigger and more imposing, it was also that you could actually see them that made Rome a more attractive place to be than Madrid.

         It was easy to find the Trevi Fountain. As we got closer all we had to do was follow the steady stream of tourists ahead and the ominous sound of hundreds of people’s voices that drifted through the streets close by like a compelling scent. Coming at the fountain from a street on the north-west corner of the square meant that the first thing we saw was not the fountain but the people looking at it.

         The Trevi Fountain does not have either style or elegance. Famed as being the most beautiful fountain in Rome, if not the world, you can’t help feeling that this reputation might not just be based on the fact that it is totally excessive and extravagant. Bigger is better. Taken separately, its figures are really no more impressive than those in the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Navona, its false portico certainly far less impressive than the Pantheon, but it is the sheer size of the fountain that makes you stand back and realise that you are looking at a very great weight of stone and water. The rocks supporting the figures are almost Gaudi-like, the way they seem to be a part of the palace behind, the way the urns only seem to have broken half-way out of the stone, like those Rodin figures that have not become totally freed from the marble they were hewn from. But taken as a whole, the fountain cannot fail to impress. Almost as big as the square it stands in, it is the kind of folly that there is no time nor money for anymore. Had it not been the Church paying for it to the greater glory of a Pope in the first place, it probably never would have been built. I can imagine some intrepid architect trying to sell the idea to today's Church or Local Government. It would be like trying to explain to a modern publisher why he should risk his investment on someone like James Joyce. An American behind us perhaps summed it up best.

         “Gee!” she said to her companion. “This really is the Mother of all Fountains!”

         That night we went out for dinner to celebrate Mavis’s birthday. On the opposite side of the restaurant, taking up about five, long tables was a group of American tourists who had obviously been shuttled there on a bus. They were enjoying themselves in the way people do when they are on holiday and form part of a large group. Everything was to their liking and quite a few things seemed to be extremely funny and were accompanied by raucous laughter and back slapping. Pidgin Italian was hooted at the waiters and overweight women hugged men they had met not more than half an hour ago, including the unfortunate waiters.

         And then the musician arrived with his guitar, toothbrush moustache and red, polo-neck jumper. He sang, for want of a better word, all the Italian songs he knew his audience would know and love and try to join in with, from Funiculi, Funicula to Santa Lucia. And he managed to sing all of them off key and out of tune. His audience didn’t mind. They were more out of tune than he was and had the added disadvantage of not knowing the words.

            “Lesti, lesti via’l monton’ su la/Lesti, lesti via’l monton’ su la/Funiculi, funicula funiculi funicula,” sang the guitarist in his drab, flat voice.

            The tourists struggled through the verse with mumbling hums, some louder than others, and then yelled out a tangled version of the chorus in unison, all gaily recognising when it came to funiculi funicula, one piggy little man with round glasses actually standing up, swaying his graceless body and waving his wine glass from side to side in time with the music.

            Day Two was spent visiting churches, one Church of the Eagle, Santa Maria Maggiore, and one Church of the Dove, San Pietro in Vinculi. We walked from our hotel up to the top of the Esquiline Hill. Santa Maria Maggiore looks a bit like a palace from the back and an old University from the side. The entrance is an ornate portico stuck onto the University building. Legend claims that the plan of the church was outlined by a miraculous snowfall in August 358 AD and, as a result, the church is also known as Santa Maria della Neve.

            The huge, rectangular nave with its marble pillars is unquestionably impressive, but I can’t say that I liked it very much. The ceiling is gilded and the gold used is said to be the first gold brought from the New World, which was donated by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. I was much more taken with the little confessional boxes lining the right side of the nave, all of which had a different sign outside – English, Español, Français…. – so that all the sinning pilgrims of different nationalities could confess to the Dominican monks hidden away inside. I looked at and liked the mosaics behind the altar, but had then had enough and left Bob and Susie to walk round whilst I sat on the steps of the main entrance for a smoke. I will have come out in at least half a dozen snapshots taken by the eager pilgrims and tourists. I’m the one sitting beside the Tunisian beggar and the old man in a raincoat reading a newspaper.

            We had to climb up a flight of steep steps to find the small alleyway which led away to the rear end of the basilica of San Pietro in Vinculi. The back of the building is an unassuming brick structure in a pretty bad state of repair, paint peeling from the window frames, flaking plaster and a few crumbling holes in the walls. The front of the church looks like a seventeenth century Roman villa with its five simple arches and plain rectangular windows. Inside it was a bit like an empty warehouse. But at the end of the nave on the right was the reason we had come: Michelangelo’s Moses. Even from quite a distance, you could see the anger and determination on his face, his head turned so that it seemed he was looking straight towards us. In a way, it is fortunate that Moses is surrounded by other figures that were not sculpted by Michelangelo because it emphasises just how extraordinary a work it is. The muscles on the right leg seem to bulge and the veins on the arm swell. It really seems as though he is on the point of moving, of getting to his feet. In comparison, the other figures are just static pieces of stone. Michelangelo himself, it is said, felt that this was his most life-like piece of work and it is said that when he completed the sculpture he commanded it to speak. Given the thunderous expression on his face, I dread to think what he might have said but fear the language might not have been suitable for a church.

            With the frown of Moses still hanging over us, we went off in search of a bar where we could have a cup of coffee and, if possible, with even the smallest table in the street so that I could smoke. Bob kept glancing over his shoulder as though half-expecting the Titan Moses to have arisen and to be glaring at us angrily from behind a distant corner, waving a clenched, stone fist of rage.

            And it was not only in the prices of drinks where Rome differed from Madrid – on the first day we had been charged €18 for three beers which would have cost, at most, €6.60 in Madrid – it was in the dearth of bars. In Madrid you cannot walk more than 20 metres without finding a bar, in Rome it can take the walk from San Pietro in Vinculi to right opposite the Coliseum before you find so much as somewhere to buy an ice-cream.

            The place we finally found for our coffee was actually quite nice and we sat at our table writing post cards home. Pictures of the last two Popes on the post cards. Writing stupid things like: Weather’s here, wish you were lovely. Feeling every bit the tourist and enjoying the feeling. I thought that at any moment Bob might take me in his arms, start swaying from side to side and begin singing funiculi funicula. But Moses’ scowl was still there. And so was his knee. And his left leg, slightly backwards, pushing against the floor to rise with a roar of righteous and rightful disdain. The golden calf, after all, was everywhere, and we were all worshipping it. And Bob showed me an article in the newspaper: Muslim teacher, who was ordered to remove her veil, awarded €1,100 for hurt feelings. Which made me think of the centuries-old fiestas of Alcoy, the Moors and Christians, which have always ended with the exploding of Mohammed’s head. But not this year. Just in case. I wondered what Moses would think. Maybe, had he known, Michelangelo might have changed the Beethoven scowl for a wry smile.

            After coffee it was down to the Forum, which really looks like a building site. Everything lying about the ground. When you have seen Leptis Magna, you don’t waste your time on this kind of thing. Or so I was told.

            Back past the Trevi Fountain on the way to the hotel because Susie wanted to see it again. Poke my head into the corners of more tourists' photos. A short rest and then dinner.

            Susie and I had spotted the fresh pasta on show in the window of the restaurant earlier in the day. We had also spotted the photo of the owner, taken from a magazine article, which proclaimed he was a “thin Pavarotti”. And it was true. He did have the same jolly, fat, bearded face and the same black, flaccid hair as the famous tenor. On the inside cover of the menu there was a photo of “Pavarotti” in a jaunty sailor’s cap. But, as we were to learn later, instead of singing he shouted. Very loudly.

            Anyway, when we got there, the small restaurant was full. Or appeared to be. But Pavarotti beckoned to us.

            “This-a way, signore,” he bellowed. “Ees-a plenty room. Ees-a table for you? How many?”

            “Four,” we said.

            “Ah, four,” he repeated a little glumly. He looked a little disappointed. “Ees-a difficult. At this-a moment.”

            We waited and, after some rapid reorganising, were finally ushered to a table. This was soon followed by Pavarotti roaring abuse at a waiter through the hatch into the kitchen.

            As we looked at the menu and Mavis decided on flounder – “I’ve just seen one go past,” she explained – a group of four Norwegian women entered, asking for a table for eight. The restaurant was only wide enough for a table of four on each side of a small, narrow passageway to the kitchen. Pavarotti sat the Norwegian women next to us across the aisle.

            “We asked for a table for eight," they companied.

            “I know-a ma business,” growled Pavarotti, straightening their tablecloth and dumping a bunch of serviettes and grissini on their table.

            He turned to us.

            “You mind-a move up?” he said, pushing the palms of his hands towards the next table.

            Mavis said, “I could see that coming,” and snickered.

            But we moved anyway.

            The meal, although it took a long time to come, was very nice. In fact, the meal took so long to come that it gave one of the Norwegians time to drink four bottles of wine and finish his meal. Suddenly, he lurched backwards and jogged Mavis inadvertently on the shoulder.

            “Don’t toucha ma face!” said Pavarotti suddenly to the Norwegian.

            No one knew what was going on. The two women, Mavis and Susie, were opposite Bob and me, being prodded, and we looked on, not knowing what was happening.

            “He toucha ma face!” an indignant Pavarotti explained to the other Norwegians. He looked back to the first one and made as though to slap him. “Animale!” he roared.

            We still looked, but could not see.

            “Don’t toucha ma face!” cried Pavarotti again, slightly louder this time and looking around, although certainly not for support.

            The drunk Norwegian bumped Mavis again.

            “Oh, goodness me! What are they doing?” she asked.

            Bob and I, who could see, did not know.

            Then Pavarotti was off again.

            “Don’t toucha ma face! He toucha ma face. Animale!

            Pushing the Norwegian into Mavis.

            “Do you think we should go?” she asked.

            “Don’t toucha ma face!” roared Pavarotti.

            The Norwegian foolishly tried to stand up to Pavarotti in a wobbly, tipsy kind of way. He touched Pavarotti’s shoulder a little gingerly with the tips of his fingers.

            “Don’t toucha ma face!” roared Pavarotti, totally beside himself. He drew his fingers across his throat like a knife. “You comma outside,” he said. “You finish!”

            The Norwegian bumped Mavis on the shoulder again. She winced. Bob frowned like Moses. I looked the other way, wanting no part of it.

            “He toucha ma face!” Pavarotti explained to us. It was out of his hands. “Animale!” he spat at the Norwegian.

            “Can anybody tell me what’s going on?” asked Mavis.

            Nobody could.

            The Norwegians got up to leave.

            “Excusi the show,” said Pavarotti then, sidling up to our table.

            The Norwegians left.

            “You wanna the grappa?” asked Pavarotti.

            Mavis looked at him.

            “Onna the house,” he said.

            “That would be nice,” said Mavis. “Thank you.”

            “He toucha ma face,” Pavarotti explained dolefully, pouring the drinks. Then he remembered that Man is a Hunter and he said “Animale!” a little more vigorously before chasing off in search of the drunken Norwegian.

            “I don’t think we’ll be coming here tomorrow night,” said Mavis, sipping at her grappa and giving a short, sharp intake of breath. “Although I must say the flounder was very good.”

            “Yes,” said Bob.

            The next day was the Vatican. This involved a swift walk past the shops of Gucci, Prada, Armani, La Sensa and so on. Down to the river, Bob wanting a toilet almost from the outset. Susie wanting to stop at all the shops. Then we were on the Ponte Umberto again looking at the brownish surface of the river. Bob told us that when he had first gone to London, recently recruited into the Army, he sought out Westminster Bridge and recited Wordsworth:


This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields and sky:

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air,

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour valley, rock or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will;

Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!


            We looked towards Castel Sant’Angelo and thought of Tosca leaping to her death from the ramparts and then Beatrice Cenci witnessing her brother Giacomo being quartered and having his limbs torn off and hung on the four sides of the scaffold where she was to be beheaded on the orders of Pope Clement VIII. For as Shelley said in The Cenci:


The Pope is stern; not to be moved or bent.

He looked as calm and keen as is the engine

Which tortures and which kills, exempt itself

From aught that it inflicts. A marble form,

A rite, a law, a custom; not a man.


And so, on down to the Vatican and Saint Peter’s. When we arrived the queues were so long that Bob and I, who had been before, decided not to go in. We walked away from Saint Peter’s but not out of the Vatican; up a narrow road, we took a strategic right turn and found a bustling wine-bar, where we could sit and talk, but, sadly, not smoke. That didn’t matter much, as it happens, for we were soon talking about all sorts of things, from my water colour courses in Ocentejo to Mavis’s forthcoming hip operation.

            Meanwhile, Susie queued up dutifully to go inside Saint Peter’s to see La Pietá. When she came out to meet us about an hour later, we hadn’t arrived yet. She noticed they were cordoning off a section of the square with wooden barriers. A small party of squat women in black from Reggio Calabria pushed across to the edge of the barrier in case there was anything to see. So did Susie, though more through inertia than through interest. She stood with the squat women at the edge of the barrier and waited. And then he came along in an open-top car. The Pope. Waving to the faithful and to Susie. He drove all the way round the barrier, close enough to touch. The women from Reggio Calabria almost swooned. One of them threw back her head and wrung her hands together before her breast.

            “El Santo Padre,” she cried. “Che bella fortuna!

            “Che bella fortuna,” her companion agreed.

            “What was he like?” I asked later. “Calm and keen?”

            “A little man with the whitest hair I’ve ever seen,” said Susie. “He had bodyguards running along beside the car,” she went on. “You know, like the President of the United States. I could have touched him.”

            “Why would you want to do that?” I asked.

            And the next morning it was back to Madrid. We left quite early in the morning and when we arrived at Barajas Airport there were not as many people about as there normally are. The Customs Officer looked bored as I walked towards him and I fancied he took a step towards me, about to show an impertinent interest in my luggage. Before he could say anything, I warned him off.

            “Don’t toucha ma case!” I said.



5 October 2010
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