I started reading Muriel Spark’s The Public Image (1968, shortlisted for the Booker Prize), set in Rome, on the flight over. She mentions that Time tends to go anti-clockwise there. I was interested to see how that played out during my fortnight’s stay at the Accademia Brittanica, The British School at Rome.
A fortnight is too short and too long for a writer – enough time to relax and be complacent, whilst staying open, searching for what stirs you; and not enough time, once you’ve found your hook, to stay there and excavate, experiment, understand and deepen.
All the city’s clocks were full moons, electrical storms, a partial eclipse. Rome – Eternal City, Dead City – is bigger than you are. You might as well submit. I went to see a friend read from a book he’d written about the moon. He wasn’t there – just a ring of people talking about it. In Italian.
‘Go thou to Rome,’ said Shelley, ‘the paradise, the city, the wilderness.’ For me, lingering in gardens, it was more paradise than wilderness. Although the often 30 degree heat felt like a small lick of inferno.
Inevitably in the heat, I was drawn to the city’s many fountains – particularly the forty in the Villa Borghese Gardens – one per two hectares. And there was a memorable outing to Villa d’Este in Tivoli, where the fountain is god and goddess and my mouth stayed wide open all day long. A big O, clock, water spout, moon.
Now I’m home, I’m not sure what day it is. Whatever direction Time is going in, I will pluck the day and eat it. Carpe Diem. A hundred thousand fridge magnets can’t be ignored.