Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rome. Then Tewkesbury. Latitude next.

My three days in Rome were... a little strange. If you've never been to Rome but want to know what it's like, get a kazoo, then blow into it while watching this slideshow.

That's pretty much it.

It didn't start well. For various reasons (90% personal disorganisation, 10% HSBC being crap) I didn't finish packing for Rome until 3 in the morning. Which was always going to be tricky when I had a car booked to take me to Heathrow at 6.15. I set my alarm for 5.45 - gulp, less than 3 hours sleep - and went out like a light.

At times like this I always put my alarm clock somewhere that can't be reached without getting out of bed. It's a good job too. I don't think I'd have got up otherwise. As it was, I was up, dressed and clean and raring to go by 6.10. I was knackered obviously, but at least I'd done the hard part. I knew the driver would ring the doorbell so with my suitcase at my side I took a quick nap and rested my eyes to wait.

Cut to 7am. I woke up and looked at the time. A quick panic. Had the doorbell gone without me noticing it? Was there a driver sitting outside patiently waiting for me to show my face? Surely they'd have rung me if they'd got here and found nobody answering the door... wouldn't they?

I leaped up and took a look outside. Nobody waiting. I rifled through my hand luggage to find the number for the car company and gave them a call. I've since seen the e-mail that confirmed the booking, it was definitely meant to be a 6.15 pick up in order to get me to the airport for 7.15... but they were expecting to pick me up at 7.15. An hour late. Oops.

Oddly, having discovered that it wasn't my fault I felt kind of relaxed about things. If I'd slept through phone calls and doorbells it would have been my fault and I'd have been stressing about missing my flight. As it was, it was someone else's fault so I decided to be Zen about it. If I missed my flight - which seemed likely - it would be someone else's problem to solve.

The driver turned out to be waiting in a cafe about 5 minutes away so he rushed out and was with me before 7... and we began the hurried drive across London. One of the problems with London is the traffic. From my place to Heathrow might take an hour when there's no traffic - as you might find if you were setting off at 6.15 on a weekday morning for example - but as people start motoring into the city to get to their offices - as they do nearer 8 o'clock - it's always going to take a little longer. Several years ago I had a cab to Heathrow take me over 3 hours. It's an unpredictable beast.

The driver did his best and we were there in about 1hr 15 minutes. I leaped out of the car, (I did a lot of leaping that day) grabbed my bag and into the notorious Terminal 5 convinced that I was chasing a lost cause. It was nearly 8.30 and the gate was supposed to close at 8.50. I saw huge queues for every check in desk and thought I had no chance.

I don't quite know how it happened. Maybe Terminal 5 has teethed and started to function the way it's supposed to. It took me less than 15 minutes to get through check-in and security and get to the gate. I was worried that my bag wasn't going to get on the plane but I checked at the gate and they confirmed that it was there. Remarkable. I breathed a sigh of relief - the fact that I hadn't had time to eat anything, buy a newspaper or exchange any money was a minor niggle - but at least I was going to get my flight.

Ten minutes later they made an announcement. The flight was delayed. By over an hour. Harumph.

Rome itself was strange. I was there because the documentary, America Unchained, had been selected for the RomaFiction film festival. But as nice as the festival staff were I found the whole affair to be strangely unfathomable. I wouldn't really describe it as a film festival as it seemed to be mostly concerned with TV shows. I think C.S.I. New York is a very well made piece of television but I'm confused as to why a festival would choose to screen episodes 11 and 13 from Season 4... especially when it's already shown on Italian TV. Much as I enjoyed watching it, I was similarly confused by the inclusion of the first episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. Odd.

I was joined on day two by Andy - the film's producer and press-ganged, second-half director - and we trolled around a bit seeing some sights. I've heard spectacular things about Rome but I'm afraid I didn't like it all that much. It's like visiting Disneyland only with real history to look at. Wherever you go there are 500 other tourists in the way... and of course, you become one of the 500 tourists who are in someone else's way. Yes the Trevi Fountain is spectacular, but am I the only one who feels a bit deflated by the presence of a the Trevi Steakhouse a hundred yards away? Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed myself, the weather was spectacular and we dined extremely well, but it didn't have the relaxed charm that I've experienced in other big European cities. Berlin, Stockholm - even Paris - all attract huge numbers of tourists without feeling quite so compromised as Rome did. Oh well.

A Red Rose in a Coke Vase, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

Near the top of this week's to-do list were the words 'Buy A Tent.' Or at least they would have been if I was the kind of person to actually write out a to-do list. It was definitely something I needed to do in preparation for Latitude. I'm doing a book reading in the Literature Tent on Sunday night but will be camping at the festival for the weekend. Which obviously requires a tent. Or Rome-style weather. Which is unlikely. Certainly better to have a tent.

While I was in Rome a friend got in touch and invited me to come along to the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival on Saturday night. They're in a band - Circulus - who were performing and there was room in the tour bus if I wanted to tag along. It seemed like a fun idea. And it seemed like a good way of road-testing my camping ability. So while I only got back from Rome at about 10pm I was up early and straight out to buy a tent first thing on Saturday morning... and then on the road to Tewkesbury.

The festival takes place on part of the site of a battle dating back to 1471. They do a battle reenactment in the afternoon and then have lots of entertainment in the evening. We missed the reenactment (although, I think the Yorkists won. Again!...) but the gig that night was spectacularly good fun. When 70% of the audience are tanked up on mead and wearing medieval garb then medieval-folk-prog-rock is the order of the day and that makes Circulus ideal.

Doing something so different so soon after my trip to Rome made the Italian jaunt feel very distant. I didn't feel like I'd been drinking cocktails beside the Tiber the day before... it felt like a month had passed.

Still, my fears about camping were assuaged. It's been over 20 years since I spent a night under canvas. On that occasion my companions and I were eventually chased off the site by an angry farmer and his three slavering alsatians so it was nice to have a happier experience this time. I've made my peace with camping. Latitude here I come.


Ms Alex said...

Here, to help you plan your weekend is the handy link for the Latitude gig/clash guide. :)


Anonymous said...

you'll love latitude dave. we went last year, it was a great mix of books and comedy and music. look out for the coloured sheeps. we'd have been back this year if it wasn't for a pesky newborn!

Jack Stewart said...

Yes, Latitude is incredible, I absolutely love it.

Sadly, Dave, they seem to have scheduled you to read at the same time as Blondie are playing. :( Don't really know what to do.

Anonymous said...

Have fun coming to Suffolk (my home county), Dave! Are you planning on seeing any sights or are you just coming for Latitude exclusively?

If you'd like any recommendations on things to see I'd be happy to supply a few of my county's finest..

Pickle said...

I was in Rome in May and your slideshow is exactly how I remember it. You're right about the touristyness - I was SO disappointed with the Trevi Fountain! It was beautiful, but spoiled by all the tourist tat around it. The Pantheon was my favourite by far...

Unknown said...

Dave, have you ever read any books by Magnus Mills? The mention of "a night under canvas" brought him to mind, and I think you'd like him. My favourites are The Restraint of Beasts and Three to see the King.

Anonymous said...

A taxi to Heathrow? Surely it's quicker by Tube...?

Anonymous said...

sorry to be pedantic but blowing into a kazoo makes no noise, you need to hum