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'Rome never changes...'

Said the landlord as he showed us round the gorgeous flat on Via Nazionale. He avoided mentioning the way not one single door actually fitted its frame well enough to close properly, or the bizarre noises of the upstairs loo, but the flat was still beautiful, its shutters and balcony a matter of delight to the smallest member of our company, with all the city bustling below. And of course, he was right; Rome in essence is as she was when Larians and I first visited 17 years ago, and as I hope she will be when we are long past visiting.

This time I enjoyed it more, I think. The usual suspects turned up again, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Palatine hill, views of the Circus Maximus, the Vatican, St Peter's Basilica,the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, all in the benign sunlight of a Roman Spring.

There were added beauties this time. The National Museum of Rome was full of realistic busts of famous gents about town; Nero with a supercilious grin, Tiberius looking like a goggle eyed psychopath, Julius with a strangely gentle expression. There were galleries of mosaics and murals, glorious depictions of the fanciful and the real, women standing on columns or cuddling their masseurs, leopards emerging from flowers, fish, pigeons, flowers, life... Livia, a character I have always despised from Roman history, had a painted garden room that was breathlessly lovely. My companion and I were looking forward to decrying the awful woman's taste; it was not to be. I took no photos because I have no way of doing it justice.

New to me also was Ostia; I wouldn't have bothered had not one of our friends been a secret archeologist with a powerful flame for the place, because I've 'done' Pompeii and couldn't think this would be different. I was wrong; Pompeii was a city, with grid-like streets even as you might see in a modern example. Ostia was a port town. There were the shops, the warehouses, the posh places, the poor streets; there was the fish mongers, the coppers' pub,the pub with live music, the office of exotic animal importers; there was the theatre with stone masks, there was the shipwrights, here were the baths, the barracks, the cemeteries, the feeding troughs, the temples. Quiet treasures were everywhere; I found it easy to imagine the life of the place once upon a time when the Tiber rolled close by, and the breeze was undoubtedly more pungent. Ostia is still now without being depressing at all. And Rome, we learned, has strata that go back to 900 B.C, though they are afraid to dig it up for fear of what they might destroy. The Palatine gardens would almost certainly be a casualty. My Romanophile friend shrugged it off; 'They could always replant the gardens,' she laughed, 'Give me a spade!'

Love among the ruins in the house of Cupid and Psyche, Ostia.



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