Old-fashioned journeys are best. I have just been to Rome and back, not on the ghastly but oh so seductive cheapo airlines, but on the train. Set out for Rome on Tuesday lunchtime and arrived midday Thursday having been sumptuously dined in London at The Goring, spontaneously lunched in Paris in the plump glories of the Gare de Lyon and then whisked sleepily through alps heavy with snow and twinkling lights. Dawn brought a foggy Italy, skeletal vines huddled and hidden as winter refused to give way to a sulky spring. But what did I care! I was Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.
I journeyed with my father who, at 87, can still stop a taxi at 100 yards and our mission was to attend the presentation at the Vatican of a beautiful facsimile edition of the Towneley Lectionary created by the Panini family of publishers (www.fcp.it) The Lectionary was created originally for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 16th century and its beauty lies in the illustrations by Giulio Clovio, a miniaturist Leonardo. My family purchased it in 18th century, then needless to say, let it go. The original now resides in the New York Public Library. The Panini facsimile recreates John Towneley’s binding, which includes our shield in all its many quarterings. Exotic, certainly. The presentation was presided over by two cardinals, one neat as a mouse, the other filling his throne in a very Renaissance manner. For those interested in Vatican fashion, I wore a black mantilla of medieval proportions and didn’t feel out of place.
After the ceremony, which took place in a huge long hall quite perfect for rollerskating, we had a special viewing of the Sistine Chapel. Really, Michaelangelo’s Last Judgement is a most unChristian work. All those naughty people being beaten down into the pit! God is just a vengeful Jupiter in another guise. Despite all those churches and armies of scuttling nuns, Rome always brings out the pagan in me. Not so Paris, where I church-hopped for an entire Mass: the confiteor in St. Sulpice, the Gospel in St. Germain des Pres, a little window shopping in the rue de Grenelle during the sermon, communion at St. Thomas Aquinas and the blessing at St. Clothilde. Lunch was oysters in the rue de Bac before the Eurostar home.