Instead I make for Roma. It is the longest morning, beginning with the Homeric nightmare that is (still) the island’s only aerial terminus. As is tradition, I breakfast on a lime Bacardi Breezer in its infernal departure lounge, steeling myself for 113 minutes wedged between the Boeing’s greasy window and a pair of dead ringers for the Stenmarks (had the twins just been voted off Survivor).
At Fiumicino, I am reunited with Mrs A, embarking upon this, her first, tour of Italy. Andiamo! Our driver crosses the Tiber at the Ponte Palatino and we sweep into Piazza Venezia, glimpsing the Colosseum up the Via dei Fori Imperiali, then up along the Villa Borghese, winding down to lap the Piazza del Popolo, coming to a stop at the Hotel de Russie. A scrum of paparazzi and autograph hunters loiter at her entrance. Emerging from the back of our black Benz beneath an Officine Générale cap and Santos shades, I shield my face to avoid my fans, dashing inside, half-crouched, a superstar foully starved of his privacy. The fans don’t notice; Mrs A looks to heaven for relief.
At the Stravinskij Bar, the parasols strategically positioned to obscure us even from telephoto lenses stationed in the public gardens above, we order two spritzes. Three metres away, Shaggy and Sting (surnames commonly redundant in this hallowed courtyard) are deep in conversation. “Buonasera, Mr Aston,” the senior host offers as he passes and surveys all. “All pleasure again to see you.” Mrs A rolls her eyes again, as I simply cannot suppress a grimace of indecent self-satisfaction.
Fair walk home
After lusking the day away between downstairs spritzes and upstairs sleeps, pacing the balcony facing uphill towards Casina Valadier, leafing through the PG Wodehouse on our suite’s shelves, de Russie’s concierge has us crossing the Tiber again, to Trastevere and Taverna Trilussa, whose bucatini all’ Amatriciana – presented in a scalding, dinted steel pan – briefly stops my heart. Bizarrely, the restaurant’s PA plays Roxanne, its heroine plying Mary Magdalene’s trade. She’d be wasted this close to the Vatican, “that dress” or otherwise. Or would they?
It’s a fair walk home: through Piazza Navona, past the Trevi Fountain, where we stop for gelato di San Crispino, and along the foot of the Spanish Steps. Sleep – more sleep; the sleep of a thousand martyrs.
Before Via del Babuino is even swept of lukewarm garbage, at a bar there we take espressi and a panino. Two backpackers, one unwittingly brandishing her Colorado driver’s licence, join us at the bar.
“What kind of sandwiches do you have?” the girl asks, her elbows resting upon a glass counter whose sole contents are a visible array of panini, piadine and foccacie.
Her partner makes no lighter work of ordering coffee, the concept of espresso or macchiato alien to him. “I just want an American coffee.” They both capitulate and return to the street empty-handed.
Mrs A fumes. “No doubt they’re off to find a Starbucks.” The barista, overhearing, stifles a giggle.
We are barbecued to the Pantheon, all 34° Celsius of Lazio’s withering mid-morning glare bouncing up from her sampietrini. Then to St Peter’s Square for the Pope’s Sunday Angelus, the Holy Father appearing at his open window, mia casa, upon midday’s instant, returning 100,000 waves with his own, and 100,000 cheers with “buongiorno“; launching into the parable of compound multiplication, dei pani e dei pesci, so familiar to this bygone altar boy he can mostly follow it in Italian. “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted,” his Holiness entreats, as if reading from a private equity pitch deck. “Jesus is attentive to the primary needs of people.” All I can think of is getting my hands on the nearest half-bottle of ice-cold vino bianco.
In a taxi back to de Russie, spookily, Shaggy’s Angel is on the radio, Mrs A rabbiting the lyrics in an horrendous Jamaican accent; my turn, finally, to wear extravagant disdain on my clammy dial.
Departing for Termini the next morning, our driver hasn’t any foresight to prep the saloon before we pile into a mobile, leather-bound sauna. “It’s, ah, very hot,” I hint, brandishing my hand by my face like a Japanese fan, my irritation boring into the rear vision mirror.
He looks back, without malice, with only a shrug of his pallid eyelids. “It is summer.”
On our platform, at the door to the Frecciarossa 1000’s Executive carriage, three pursers languidly bitch and ignore me hauling 400 litres of personal effects up its steps. “It really is pretty f—ing hot today,” I bellow vaguely towards the indolent circle.
A fourth born workhorse emerges from the galley, testily offering to labour under the weight of my briefcase. “It is summer,” he protests. If looks could kill you’d see this on the news.