Rose and I discussed it on Saturday over tea in the National Portrait Gallery's Portrait Restaurant, this sometime inability to write anything of satisfaction. The view, by the way, from the restaurant, out over Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall past Lutyens' Cenotaph, Horse Guards Parade, and Inigo Jones' Banqueting Hall where King Charles lost his head after Rubens painted the ceiling, to the clock tower, usually and quite wrongly called Big Ben, at the Palace of Westminster, is pretty grand but not dramatic enough to detract from the conversation-stopping tower of sandwiches, cakes, scones, creme brulee, clotted cream and jams, delivered to the table for the delectation of the Celt and the lady, our blind date, dressed in the finest of navy blue bracketed with pink fur cuffs. I nibbled a crumb or two whilst the three of us got to be very comfortable at the table in front of the window - I'd like to say a window streaming with the setting sun but actually is was just rain.
It seems the Celt and I cannot walk by St James's Park without it beginning to rain. There had been a New Year's Day parade that day in central London so our taxi driver, unable to take us near the National Portrait Gallery, dropped us at the end of Downing Street and we scurried in increasingly heavier rain, eventually squelching our way around the Thomas Lawrence exhibition - an agreeably sized presentation of brilliantly alive portraits of the Regency period.
Rain it did too, the day we arrived in Rome - a day earlier than planned because of Heathrow being snowed under, and the day we began the first of our walks around Rome - solidly and torrentially, so heavily in fact that Bernini's great Tuscan colonnade at St Peter's Basilica, sheltering many a dripping tourist, leaked like a sieve. The ellipse in front of the Basilica, centered with a Nativity ensemble at the foot of the obelisk and furred with rain held a long, huddled line of umbrellas shambling its way to the entrance at the foot of the steps, dwarfed both by the basilica and the downpour.
We turned around, umbrella aloft, leaving to another day the path across the piazza to join the queue, and walked back past the Castel Sant'Angelo, talking about the Corridor, that papal escape route to what had been Hadrian's mausoleum, as we crossed the Tiber between Bernini's angels – each holding a symbol of Christ's agony – on eventually to the Piazza Navone with its Christmas market, finally coming to the Broken Boat fountain where we took the Spanish Steps up to the Pincian Hill and our hotel.
So, this occasional inability to write is a merely a symptom, it seems, of the process of discovering, a finding of the one drop in the rain of ideas that could become a river - what one really wants to write about, but rarely that which brings one to the keyboard - in my case, at least.
Silenus and the baby Bacchus, a sculpture I saw on St Stephen's Day in the Vatican Museum, took my breath away - such an unexpected version of the parent and child, the grouping that predates the midwinter festival celebrating the birth of a child. That so much beauty remains from the ancient world took me by surprise and that definitely is a tale for another day - a rainy day, perhaps.
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