Never go to Rome when you're itching for a holiday; 'I mean, do I look like some sort of a mug? Do I?'

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The Independent Online
I went to Rome recently because I had an unexplained rash in the shape of a question mark and I thought, I need a holiday, forgetting of course that I hate holidays.

When I was young I loved the whole idea of going abroad on a whim and a plane. I never went anywhere without my pocket atlas. I knew the colour of each country, its capital city, currency and the name of its dictator off by heart. In most of these places I had an alter ego who had a nicer family than the real me, more pocket money and wicker furniture. And I spent more time on my travels than I did in my own head. In fact, I was ashamed to be Irish because we didn't have malaria or triangular stamps.

But that's no longer the case. And I could fill this whole paper with reasons why I hate holidays but of course you wouldn't be happy with that because you only bought the paper for some news from Chechnya and a recipe. Anyway here's a few unconnected reasons. I was ripped off by a taxi-driver; and I had to visit a museum and a Coliseum.

On my arrival at the railway station in Rome, I hailed what looked like a genuine taxi (being driven by a man who wasn't actually frothing, which was a surprise) to take me to the hotel. After about a minute the driver decided to hide the meter. He just hid it. He pulled a rag down from the dashboard and concealed it. And when I got out at the hotel, he charged me at least three items as much as he should have. Now I didn't take too kindly to being hood-winked in this extortionate way.

Powerless and practically broke, I gave him my iciest stare. If he was scared I couldn't tell because he was laughing so much before he roared off at high speed, honking his horn, down a narrow medieval street.

My immediate thoughts were of revenge mainly because of the damage to my self-image. I mean, do I look like some sort of a mug? Do I? Well do I? I desperately wanted to throw a cat at the man. I'd love to have locked him in his car, thrown a vicious streetcat in on top of him, and turned Celine Dion to full-blast on the stereo. I didn't do that but I did pray that his hair would start to grow and keep on growing until he looked like Brian May (the guy from Queen who isn't dead yet). I don't know if that happened but my rash had certainly "grown". It was now in the shape of a conundrum.

Lots of other funny things happened, but before I left Rome I was persuaded to visit the Vatican to see the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by the deadly painter Michelangelo. Well you don't see anything like that in Ireland, do you? The only frescoes you find in Irish churches are abstracts done by pigeons. The church spent its money covering-up scandals rather than commissioning art.

Anyway poor old Michelangelo spent the best part of 10 years on his back painting that picture, went blind in the process and became old. And then he came down, burnt out but satisfied with his achievement. And I can vouch for him, it is really good. But when he went to the Pope, and said "Well Pope, there it is, what do you think?" expecting a clap on the back and a bonus, the Pope said "That's no good at all, some of those figures in your painting have no clothes on, that's a disgrace, you'll have to get back up and paint on some underpants." I found that quite depressing.

My point is, (I think), that I hate museums and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say they are the dullest places on earth. They are the toilets of a nation, full of, shall we say, the national debris. Museums are lifeless; the only difference between them and graveyards is that you don't find gangs of youths having cider parties in museums.

The Coliseum was a disappointment too. If some of the gladiators were actually there (as well as Ulrika Jonsson - preferably being savaged by lions) it might have been interesting. I presume such bloody spectacles died out due to the lack of stunning goals and bald referees. All we got were some men hanging around outside the arena dressed up as centurions and smoking fags. One came over and said we could have our photograph taken with him for a small fee. I offered him salt, a sachet of salt I'd taken from a restaurant earlier, thinking this would be a marvellous if somewhat obscure joke. (Salt of course being the original currency in Ancient Rome ... I suppose fraudsters at the time "cut" it with baby powder or something... And people who liked well-seasoned chips soon became poor. And...)

So, in conclusion, holidays, rip-off, museum, Coliseum, big rash.

Penny Sinclair is away

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