Rome Stories: Cash, scams and favours to secure a home in Rome

Rome is a fantastic place to visit, but we have learned that it is no longer a doddle to live in. Having hankered for a home in the city centre, we have found a place that is much more satisfactory than our present flat. But it's a long way from what one might have dreamt of.

Rome is a fantastic place to visit, but we have learned that it is no longer a doddle to live in. Having hankered for a home in the city centre, we have found a place that is much more satisfactory than our present flat. But it's a long way from what one might have dreamt of.

A generation ago, foreigners picked up superb apartments in Trastevere for the price of a plate of truffles. Rent control may have kept Rome shabby, but it put it within reach of aspiring screenwriters and novelists. Today the centre of Rome is no cheaper than London. And the astronomic rents force painful compromises. We found one elegant flat with large rooms and plenty of light - but with views of other identical blocks, and no green space for miles. A flat close to the centre was directly above a restaurant with tables on the street, raucously busy half the night.

A friend with a superb flat acquired it by contracting a marriage of convenience with its gay tenant shortly before he died, enabling her to inherit it. A dodge is what you need, a cunning scam to cut around all the other poor souls haplessly queueing up.

There is a former government minister who lives in an enormous 17th-century flat overlooking one of Rome's most famous piazzas. The last time I saw him he was in some distress: a fire on the ground floor had damaged the flat, destroying the bed in one room and covering every object in the place with greasy grey smoke stains. The stench of smoke hung in every room.

As the only people who move freely from flat to flat in Rome are the politicians, he's moving out ... to somewhere possibly even more splendid. The idea flashed through my mind that I might take his place. But it's only a whim. And there would be a dire price to pay further down the road, when I woke up to discover I had become the equivalent of his vassal.

At Cinecittà, the magnificent pre-war film studios, they still talk about the making of The Passion of the Christ.

Director Mel Gibson had his own ideas about the Garden of Gethsemane scene. In Luke 22, we read that "there appeared an angel unto [Jesus] from heaven, strengthening him." Gibson sacked the angel and sent in a devil to torment Jesus instead. He also changed the shooting details. They were supposed to film in a real olive grove, but at the last minute Mel decided he wanted to do it on a Cinecittà stage instead. Huge, ancient olive trees were duly located and lugged on to the set. Rome's brilliant technicians fabricated a garden in next to no time.

The only drawback was that the same studio was already being used to shoot a shampoo ad, involving a terrific, leggy Italian model, with nothing on bar a few bubbles. The two sets were separated by a single curtain. You could look first at one, then the other, I am told, merely by turning your head.

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