Well, the antidote to any excess of Anglo-Roman romanticism is reading John Cheaver – Falconer – in Rome. No sentimentality there, in a tale of prison, American convicts and drug addiction. Unlike the friend who said, when I got here, ‘first you’ll fall in love with Rome, then it will break your heart.” Too late,” I joked.

The pretty student type in white stockings busking to street music and waltzing with her umbrella last night, in the dark, had a touch of heart-break. Like Rome’s poorer beggars, who supplicate on hands and knees on the freezing pavements, as if bowing to the full weight of Roman belief or power.
But the little concert of jazz and opera in the Palazzo Corsino, in Trastevere, had a more democratic air. Free and open to the public, Italians with bawling babies were suddenly sitting under the jewelled ceilings, surrounded by astounding art, listening to music, as if at home with the Corsini.

The National Gallery should try it, because it gave a freedom of access and a new dimension to looking at all those paintings. Ever the metaphor of light and seeing shines out of the story of the Christ child among the art, of course, and in real life Italians are refreshingly defiant at letting their bambini chortle and try to steal the lime light themselves. Refreshing until it interrupts the artists, despite the stern looks of the wandering curatrix who told me not to lean on a marble side table. The music was quite good, the idea better. It let you wander off to look at all those painted myths and Roman faces, donning the changing fashions of the ages, trying to defeat the march of time. I’m afraid the thought popped into my head that swiping just one picture under my coat would launch Phoenix Ark Press in a moment.

Back in the antechamber, where the audience were spilling over, my host was ready to leave, as he introduced me to a Curator and Chilean poet friend, called Antonio. Antonio introduced us to a Roman tram later, sweeping us back over the Tiber, but he didn’t think the singing very good, and a drink a better idea. ‘And this,” he said with a grin, “it makes me think of committing a crime.” Someone once said all good art is a kind of crime, but careful artists, we might all end up in Falconer! DCD

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