Before we left Ireland in early August, I dashed to Halfords and brought a Sat Nav. It got us safely to my parents in Kent, through France and down to Rome, mostly without a hitch. We were a bit smug about how fabulous it was. And then we started driving in Rome . . . Mostly, our car is parked outside Vittorio’s parents’ house on the outskirts of the city, whilst my sister-in-law’s car is right outside the flat, parked with her resident’s permit for free. Last weekend, amidst the chaos of packing to go to a wedding, she suggested we drive her car to our car, before driving up to Tuscania. It sounded like a great idea – too much luggage to get the metro, saving the taxi fare etc. And so we bundle our posh outfits into the little blue car, and off we go. This isn’t the first time we’ve driven in the city centre, but it’s the first time in an Italian registered car. I sit beside my husband, with the Sat Nav cradled in my hands, like a navigator in a rally car. Kids are sworn to silence, whilst I describe what’s up ahead and count down the metres until our turning. I point to roads like I’m directing aircraft. We notice immediately that no one gives us any leeway in this car, because we’re not obviously foreigners. Mopeds drive at us from every direction, no one ever, ever, ever gives way, so that the only way to change lane is to aggressively do it, and hope for the best. After going over the Tiber three times, we head out to Via Trionfale, where we try to park. Vittorio indicates, but no one will let him reverse into the space, instead they overtake us impatiently honking their horns, and shaking their fists at us in exasperation. I look backwards, and tell him when it’s safe to go. We are SO getting a taxi next time.
Tuscania is about 90 minutes north of Rome. The Sat Nav takes us up the coast and then inland. We’ve never been here before, and we’re going to see our dear friend Carla marry her partner Thomas. I met Carla more than ten years ago in Paris on a six week voice training programme. Carla then worked with me as a dancer in my company, and the following year as our Assistant Director. She’s an extraordinary woman, and through the exigencies of time and space, I hadn’t seen her for nine years. And so there, in the little hills of Tuscania, I see her climbing towards us, the children running to greet her. I hug her with damp eyes, finding her unchanged and lovely. Carla has a rare earthy grace. She’s Italian, but lives in Paris, her partner Thomas is German, and their informal wedding in the 1920s converted cinema in Tuscania is a gorgeous cacophony of languages – people tumble between English, French, Italian & German. I’m in awe and a bit ashamed. Late into the night, curled up on a sofa with the Italian, everyone dancing to the B52s, the music shifts to something classical, and people move fluidly into waltzing. I glimpse their joyful turning between standing figures.
Either side of the wedding, there are visits to two astonishing gardens. The first is the Tarot Garden (Il Giardino dei Tarocchi) by Niki de Saint-Phalle, half an hour away in Tuscany (Tuscania isn’t in Tuscany – it’s in Lazio). I didn’t know anything about this garden, and wasn’t prepared for the sheer onslaught of colour and light, or the capricious movement of space in solid form. At one point, I walked into a circular courtyard, surrounded by pillars, every one a different riot of colour and texture. Enchanting, gorgeous and utterly gobsmacking.
On the day we leave, we drive to the Gardens of Bomarzo called Sacro Bosco (Sacred Wood) also known as Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters). This, believe it or not, is a Renaissance theme park, built by Pier Francesco Orsini (1523 – 1585). It’s hard to believe these sculptures have been here for 500 years (especially with a hangover). There are giants wrestling other giants, great fish carved out of the bedrock beside Poseidon, a crooked house, which is the only thing Vittorio remembers from when his uncle brought him here as a child. But the best bit is the great screaming mouth, which you can go inside and pretend you’re being savaged by a monster. It was a bit like driving in Rome . . .