First Nation performances – The Auckland Festival

Hatea Kapa Haka

I booked mostly theatre events and at the time of writing, the only cancellation due to COVID 19 has been the out-door spectacular, ‘Place des Ange’ in the Auckland Domain. The transport of their equipment had been disrupted. (by now, several shows have been cancelled because the artists were not in the country before the quarantine regulations went into force.)

Hollie Smith

I attended the free out-door opening event in Aotea Square. The highlight was Bohemian Rhapsody performed acapella by Hatea Kapa Haka in Te Reo Maori. After a bad start, they began again and were stunning. They also led the audience in the National anthem in Te Reo. Hollie Smith, iconic kiwi singer, was the headliner culminating in a Te Reo version of ‘Bathe in the River by Don McGlashan. There was a lot of ‘community singing by the audience encouraged by the energetic and engaging singer/compare. It started to rain so I took shelter under one of the sun shades near the back.

Kane and Hera
Maori & Aboriginal flags

My next event was nearby in the Waitakere Rooms at the Aotea Centre. Intriguing. We, the audience, gathered for Black Ties in a large bar area before being ushered downstairs to a huge function room set out with circular tables and chairs. The action took place on a raised stage at one side of the room. Aboriginal Kane and Maori Hera are young and in love and to set things in motion (after an interruption by his adopted brother) he proposes. She’s keen, but won’t give an answer until they have met both sides of their respective families. The action quickly flicks between Melbourne and Rural New Zealand, exposing dysfunctional and inappropriate behaviour on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Everything goes hilariously wrong as prejudices are revealed and actioned. Mothers embarrass. Sylvia’s known bottom line is that only a Maori can marry her daughters, while Ruth Baker, wants her son to stay in Melbourne. At the end of Act one and against all the odds, the answer to the proposal was a yes, though we didn’t see much of the couple’s process in making this decision.

Wedding party Bride & Groom flanked by their mothers

We were banished upstairs at the interval and returned to find ourselves at a wedding reception. Families/Whanau/Mobs have met and the Mothers are already at loggerheads ranging from icily polite to downright vicious. Siblings and best friends are also at war, leaving Kane’s adopted brother ducking arrows and Hera’s young sister making the wedding video, which transports crucial off-stage scenes to on-stage screens. Did I mention the band? – of course it’s a musical with wedding and love story standards. They gallantly fill in the awkward pauses in the passions and cover when too many of the characters are off-stage. Consequently, act two sags in places.

Jack Charles father of Aboriginal theatre

The cultural clash is palpable and the experience, chaotic, funny and dangerous – all vital ingredients for a good night at the theatre. This important piece is a result of collaboration between ILBIJEIR and Te Rehia theatres. First Nation people have a lot to give to each other and we, the colonisers have much to learn from such cultural collaborations with the brakes off.

UPU
Matariki

Where Black Ties boldly takes swipes at Maori culture, The Treaty, the lack of a treaty (Australia), absent fathers, drink and loss of culture, UPU (Silo Theatre) is a cry from the Pacific. It’s an anthology of poetry and prose from the islands, starting with Matariki (Samoa) – the lining up of the stars for the Pleiades group in a powerful ensemble opening. It brings together voices from this vast area of ocean, often forgotten, to talk about sea level rises, missionaries and their legacy and colonisation. There’s a section where the speakers de-colonise with different actions, another where a Pacifica man describes the joys of sex for her, a white missionary wife. Another, eulogises the delights of Spam, brought to the Pacific by American colonisers. My favourite was the Fat Brown Woman. She has attitude, sexuality and she is not to be messed with. The women in the ensemble, all thin to average, somehow managed to swing their hips and swell their bodies to suggest fat. With such powerful words it was a pity that at times there were rushed or lost, particularly by the male actors. These are words to savour, messages from the First Nation people of the Pacific.

Biladurang (Platypus) is a one-person dance/theatre performance in a hotel suite twenty odd floors up overlooking water – in this case the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. Joel Bray is the writer and performer, he’s blond, white, Aboriginal and gay and this is his story. There’s a warning of ‘course language, adult themes, drug references, nudity and sexual references. I hesitated to book, but the Aboriginal aspect drew me in and well, I do look to push out of my comfort zone wherever possible. That’s what theatre should do.

pouring of wine

We gathered on the ground floor, a full house of sixteen people – mostly middle aged and, like me, older – four of us were men. Two lifts took us up and we assembled outside the room – one of us knocked on the door. Joel, dressed in a bath robe answered, embarrassed – quickly retreated to retrieve underwear from the floor and handed us all bathrobes to wear. It was intimate, but we settled in with a glass of bubbles each. Joel made a good stab at remembering our names as we entered and he played on the initial awkwardness of our situation by chatting away to make us feel comfortable. He lapsed into dance – using a wall and the floor as a springboard for his strong hands and broad feet – moving in contemporary style – narrowly missing furniture: the television, the low round table clustered with glasses and wine bottles. A sound track came from a laptop controlled with a finger in between arabesques. He recounted his teenage discovery of gay porn followed by Christian self-disgust and guilt. The self-inspection of his forty-nine-year-old body lead to memories of drug use, being fucked but never finding love in a relationship – a familiar gay theme. The performance is a careful construction of set pieces and intervening chat with audience management. Those who were placed on the bed were moved so it could become the next performance space.

Joel needed to shower and we heard the sound of water as he turned on the taps in the bathroom – returning briefly to dim the lights and point a remote at the television – we watched the next performance space. Emerging cleansed and naked but covered in foam, he opened the curtains, dressed. We look out at Auckland, the Waitemata Harbour and the Islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Four of us from Waiheke Island were there – we proudly point it out.

The water is part of the story of the Platypus the journey to being created half duck, half rat – defying classification. This is the crux of Joel’s story – white but black – not fitting in anywhere. His ancestors were ‘stolen’, became detached from their culture – half remembered by his father and reassembled by another generation. Does he know who he is?

He recalled attending an event for Aboriginal people and being asked, ‘How do you know you are Aboriginal?’ There was a pause but no answer to the question. There was a moment when he spoke for all First nation people – imagining a parallel universe where no Red Coats arrived no ships carrying settlers landed – a powerful image of a pristine forest (no global warming) where the Biladurang hunts for food in the river with her duck’s bill and lays eggs which will hatch into the next generation. There are still some in the ancestral lands of the Wiradjuri people.

Team Auckland at IGLA Melbourne 2020

MSAC Mixed Medley Relays TAMS in Lane 6

Team Auckland Swimmers took a team of two women and seven men ranging from late twenties to mid-seventies to The International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics, Melbourne 2020. Between us, we covered all four strokes, long distance and sprint events. Head Coach, Cynthia Borne set us a great programme which crucially, included relay practice.

Wolfgang from Berlin Robert from Noosa Aust. and Paris

The first Gay Games – Los Angeles1982 was so much fun the Americans decided to do it annually. IGLA was born and West Hollywood Aquatics famously lead the charge. At the height of the AIDS crisis, they battled homophobia and hysteria, swimming through water overdosed with chlorine and losing team mates from HIV, to compete with straight clubs and win and they are still winning. I love these yearly meetings with senior swimmers from clubs all around the world.

Team Auckland IGLA squad

We competed in the fabulous outdoor covered pool at The Melbourne Sports & Aquatics Centre. Water Polo, Syncro and diving were also accommodated in various pools in the complex. Team Auckland’s first spectacular win was the 4 x 50 metre mixed freestyle relay in the 240+ years age group,  beating two other teams to take the IGLA record previously held by West Hollywood Aquatics. We were all thrilled, particularly Diana, swimming in her first ever pool competition and taking her first start off the raised diving blocks. We repeated the gold medal later in the day for the 4 x 100 metre mixed relay. Team Auckland came away from the competition with 16 Gold, 5 Silver and 4 Bronze medals. Great swimming scored points to bring us to 12th in the club league table of fifty-two.

I joke with my older American friends every year about getting older and staying alive through swimming, how it gets harder every year. We don’t always remember names but faces and speedo clad bodies are instantly recognisable. We agree that ‘turning up, starting and finishing’ is important. It’s incredibly inclusive and the slowest person in a heat is always applauded for their effort. Our Terry, has gone from a complete non swimmer to an international competitor in a matter of months through sheer determination. He loved the challenge and ‘had a sense of belonging to a team – great to be in an environment where the rainbow community is the norm.’  Duncan entered all three butterfly races, a brave choice. He was there to watch and learn. After going out a bit too fast on the 100 m Fly, he easily picked up the pace for the 50m and swam a relaxed 200m perfectly on the last day. Wonderful. Ed has declared that this is his swansong but came away with a Bronze medal in the 100 Breaststroke so we may yet entice him back into the competition pool.

Me and ex Olympian Daniel Kowalski

We were in the presence of champions. A ninety-year-old woman, broke a clutch of world records. Other world and regional records were smashed, just to prove that LGBT swimmers are as good as anyone. It was also great to meet up with ex-Olympian, Daniel Kowalski (1996) who now swims with Wet Ones, Sydney. I’d met him at IGLA New York last year where he spoke on a panel of gay ex-Olympians.

Diana at the Open Water

Team Auckland continued to haul in the medals thanks to Ron, Jenny, Diana and myself. Diana, our only open water swimmer came away with a Bronze in her age group.

4 x 200 Mens relay team

For the first time ever, we entered a 4 x 200m relay team. It’s a gruelling race and we were just pipped to third place by a few seconds. The Mixed 400 Medley team, however, brought us home on the last day with gold for Jenny, Chenyang, Duncan and Diana. Jenny notes: – ‘a rare opportunity for relay races. They spur me on, to try my hardest for the team and I love seeing my team-mates doing the same.’

4 x 100 mixed medley team

Perhaps even more important than the medals and competition are the social and entertainment aspects of IGLA. A rooftop bar provided the opening party with a great view of the Melbourne skyline.  Our women enjoyed the women’s dinner. There was a party every night, including a French themed picnic.

Wet Ones, Sydney – political Pink Flamingo

The last day of IGLA always includes ‘The Pink Flamingo’, performed by those clubs with larger numbers. Jenny again: – ‘short, improvised & not-so-synchronised performances in and out of the pool. This year the Aussie teams satirised their sexist politicians, their newsreaders and ex-tennis-champ-turned-homophobe, Margaret Court. The standout were the Parisian Shiny Shrimps, who must have packed their costumes in excess baggage for their elaborate skit about global warming.’ 

Me and Ron at the sunset Beach party

Team Auckland retired to a local gastro pub for a meal with Different Strokes Wellington. We usually meet and compete once a year – this time only across the dinner table. Some of us went on to the sunset beach party at St Kilda’s, a chance to mix and mingle until next year in Salt Lake City.

Sunset at St Kilda’s Beach party

Finally, the day after saw us on a bus tour visiting a wild life sanctuary topped off with wine tasting at the Chandon winery. Great Australian hospitality and organisation.

Koala – Wildlife sanctuary
Chandon Winery

Back in the pool we’re getting ready for the next New Zealand Masters competition, and encouraging new LGBT swimmers to join us.

TAMS swim at the Tepid Pool http://www.tams.org.nz/

https://www.facebook.com/Team-Auckland-Masters-Swimmers-282047040092/

Sunday in Melbourne

National Gallery of Victoria

I need this day off to recover from yesterday, something is hurting deep in my gluteus maximus. Walking helps and a day exploring art in the city starts with the National Gallery of Victoria. One of my American swimming friends has recommended the Keith Haring/Jean Michel Basquiat exhibition there and without knowing anything about them, I get a ticket.

Basquiat graffiti – he wrote/painted on anything he could find
Haring graffiti -chalk on the subway

At first it looks as if it’s the story of two graffiti artists in 80’s New York. Haring developed his style on blacked out advertising space awaiting the next poster. Using white chalk, he worked quickly but didn’t always avoid arrest. Basquiat was black/latino and drew, painted or spray painted on anything. The exhibition unfolds to display dramatic and moving images.

They were both gay and their deaths in the late 80’s suggests they succumbed to AIDS. They were of course part of the group around Andy Warhol. Their work becomes stronger and more political ending in really moving work around HIV and AIDS towards the end of their lives. There’s an eleven-page hand-written eulogy from Haring for his friend Basquiat, who died first. I’ll just let the images speak for themselves.

Haring signature figures with a X = death
Basquiat -untitled figure
Haring
Three Haring in a row makes an impression
‘The Black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realised that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.’ In this 1982 painting the figure wears a three pointed crown – a prominent symbol in Basquiat’s visual lexicon.
Haring – huge mural. Can you see the map of the US?
Basquiat – the anger here is powerful
Basquiat the Fat Man
Basquiat the irony of a Negro Policeman
Haring – the end of apartheid in South Africa
Haring, Warhole & Basquiat

After a coffee break, I venture upstairs to the rest of the gallery to look at beautifully curated oriental and Indian art. Ceramics, carving and textiles of great quality. There’s an excellent selection of 17th, 18th and 19th Century British and European are, with most of the important painters on display. I spend a little more time on the impressionists. On the top floor there are dramatic black and white films by an Iranian artist Shirin Neshat and New Zealand’s Colin McCahon’s painting using letters and numbers have a room to themselves. Finally, there is a huge display of fashion by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons dating from 1981. Time for Lunch.

State Library Victoria

The State Library of Victoria is reputed to have an art collection, so jumping on the ever-efficient Melbourne tram system, I am there in no time. The dome of the reading room – reminiscent of the reading room at the British Museum – has been recently restored and is worth a look. On the way down there are interesting displays on the changes in the state of Victoria over the years.

The reading room
Ned Kelly death mask

Here I happen to observe a father pointing out Ned Kelly’s death mask and explaining to his young daughter that after a hanging, a plaster mould of the head was made. The next floor down is devoted to the world of the book, beginning with books donated to the library which were not deemed suitable for the public to read.

William Strutt Black Thursday Feb 6th 1851 – a devastating fire threatened to consume Victoria

I find the Cowan Gallery and am immediately drawn to three painting of horrific fires in the state. They seem relevant to the recent fires.

Julia Davia – Churchill National Park 2009. Victoria experiences the worst bush fires in recorded history.
Molly Tjami – Waru 2009 ‘I have painted a bush fire that is consuming our land’

Outside, it is still hot and the rally in support of Julian Assange is coming to close. The small group listening is exhorted to join in the march.

A Big Race Day

Catching the famous Melbourne trams

It’s an early start, as usual, to catch the 8am warm up in the competition pool. It’s cold in Melbourne at the moment and the water is actually warmer than the air. I do the main body of my warm up, leaving the sprints to later. There’s around two hours of 800m heats before the 200m relays. We’ve got a mixed team adding up to 240 + years and there are two other team in the age group, so there’s a bit of competition. Jenny, Ron and I are about the same speed. Diana, the youngest, has never done a pool competition before and is nervous. She’s swimming second after Jenny and does a perfect dive to maintain the lead that Jenny has made. Ron also increases our lead and I’m aware that the guy I’m swimming against looks quite a bit younger than me. I need to hold him at bay and breath only every four strokes for most of the length, but maintain the pace. I look around at the finish and he’s hit the pad, but he’s not caught me, by a whisker. Diana confesses she was jumping up and down shouting. So, it’s a Gold on our first swim.

The winning TAMS relay team
Show time
Show time

Next, we have the opening ceremony with speeches from the head of Australian Swimming and local politicians. All of them acknowledge that we are on not ceded aboriginal land and there is talk of a treaty soon and other initiatives. That’s good to hear, building on my experience at the museum yesterday.  I’ve heard that one of the Melbourne Glamourhead Sharks (who have organised this event) runs a dance school, and it is they who provide top class entertainment, including syncro in the pool. But first there is a fantastic rendition by the youngsters, of Advance Australian Fair. I recognise it as the National Anthem and join others who are standing. Word spreads until most are on their feet. Then all show business hell breaks loose and talented dancers prance around the pool showing of Australia’s future musical performers. Probably the best opening ceremony (for swimming) I’ve seen.

TAMS

Glad of the break, I’m now ready for my 200m Backstroke. There’s a slight moment, I’m aware of, when I let go of the rung before the gun, but immediately concentrate on the race. I’m the fastest as all my competition is in the next heat. It’s a hard race and I’m please with an improved time. But sadly, my false start was spotted and I’m disqualified. There’s time to recover and eat a protein bar and get a coffee before the 200 Individual Medley – another gruelling race for me. I feel tired and would like a sleep, but dare not. My time is better than recent meets but not good enough to beat the Americans, who have turned up in force. It’s always good to see them though and have a laugh about getting old, staying alive and so forth.

On the Starting block

My last race of the day is the 400 Freestyle relay with the same 240+ team as earlier. There are only two teams this time and we can’t tell if the other one is fast or not. They are not and Team Auckland,once again, do a fantastic race for another gold medal.

I’m totally wrecked and retreat back into the City for a nap. Rousing myself to meet Ron for diner and a drink (no swimming tomorrow) at a trendy riverside bar and eatery by Finders Station on the North side of the river.

Melbourne a New City

Melbourne modern skyline

My first impression of Melbourne from the airport bus is a vast sprawl of towers on a distant rise, much larger than I expected. The skyline almost rivals Manhattan. My accommodation is in one such tower – forty floors serviced by only three lifts so it’’s a wait. One woman complained that it took her fifteen minutes to descend on her way to work, stopping at every floor in the morning.

I’m here to attend the annual meet of the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics – last year it was in New York. After settling in, I catch up with my team mate Ron from Team Auckland Master Swimmers for something to eat.  So, the second thing I notice is the diversity in this city which makes me feel right at home. There are also buildings going up everywhere. Half completed skyscrapers dot the skyline with cranes attached. There is architectural innovation with varied results from dull to interesting. Some of the old colonial constructions like town hall, church and library cling on against the march of the modern. A new row of restaurants stretch along the South Bank of the Yarra River – over priced for what they offer. Still it’s nice to look out over the water.

Outdoor competition pool at MSAC

On Friday it’s registration at the pool, a time to check the place out and the transport from town. Melbourne’s tram system is very efficient and gets me to the Melbourne Sport and Aquatic Centre in twenty minutes. The complex is vast. We’re racing in a fabulous fifty metre outdoor pool, shaded from the sun with a massive awning. Inside is another competition pool and a diving pool. Elsewhere there is a leisure pool and various learning and training pools. No excuse for non-swimmers in Melbourne. The 1500m freestyle event is running so I have a little warm up indoors and then meet up with lots of old friends from around the world all of whom have travelled this far to compete. It’s a time to renew old acquaintances and make new international friends.

Wolfgang from Berlin, Robert from Noosa, Aust. and Paris
Museum of Immigration

Heading back to town I decide on the Museum of Immigration. This seem to be a global hot topic at the moment and I’m interested in what the Australians have to say about it. Starting at the top, I discover a floor exploring identity and just about every culture is represented here, confirming my impression that Melbourne and the State of Victoria is indeed diverse. It’s a moving if familiar story of immigration, how people travel huge distances for economic and political freedom. Down a floor and the history of Australian immigration and policy is laid out in all its imperfections. The notorious White Australian Policy is there, along with its demise due to human rights acts.  The contribution that immigrants have made is acknowledged and I exit through a courtyard of tribute to the rear of the building. It’s good to have an alternative view from current impressions of Australian politics.

Museum of Immigration back door.

There’s a rooftop drinks party out in the suburbs from 7pm. It involves two tram rides. We’ve decided to get their early so we can go and eat later. There’s the remnants of a wedding party and several other groups. I spot my old friend Robert (Noosa and Paris) and we gravitate to a quiet space indoors with a great view of the City.  Gradually we are joined by older swimmers and then my young friends from Out to Swim London turn up and I have to do hugs all round.

Museum of Immigration Tribute Garden

The security guard on the door recommends a Chinese restaurant across the road who are known for their dumplings. We want something with a few vegetables though and go for the noodles. Unfortunately, it’s not until we try to pay that the cash only policy is discovered. Neither of us do cash so I go off in search of an ATM clutching my New Zealand debit card and hoping that will work. It does though we’ve missed a few of the trams home. 

Greta Thunberg

I have become increasingly irritated, upset and angry at the stream of media attacks on environmental champion Greta Thunberg. I’m disgusted at the way some journalists have taken delight in mocking her youth, her autism and her family, recycling information into derogatory and twisted propaganda to meet their personal needs.

I first became aware of the green-house gas issue during my degree studies in ecology back in the early seventies. My scientific training has been invaluable in observing weather patterns, which have slowly but inexorably changed over the last forty years. I’m also a keen gardener and have noticed the changing flowering times and what can and cannot now be grown in London. These changes have accelerated in the past decade.

Back in the early seventies, The Club of Rome predicted that fossil fuels would run out early in the next century and that we should, as a species, prepare for limits to economic growth. At that stage, there did not seem to be too much danger from green-house gasses. However, the estimation of fossil fuel reserves was spectacularly wrong and we sent carbon into the atmosphere at an increasing rate well into the 21st century and continue to do so. At the same time, plastics were developing and suddenly took off, creating the problems of which we are now very well aware.

Fossil fuels are much more complicated and expensive to replace and their energy production is cheap, creating vast profits. The well-being of children and their future seems to have been subsumed by economic greed. Climate change and its challenges is inconvenient to the oil barons and besides, they aren’t going to be around when the sea levels rise and temperate regions are overwhelmed by refugees from uninhabitable equatorial lands.

Two examples of sensible global action by politicians happened. The removal of lead in petrol (recognised as harmful to public health) and the banning of CFCs, which were proven to directly cause the hole in the ozone layer which protected people from dangerous radiation. Both of these actions happened without too much democratic consultation; they were, after all in the best interests of human beings, especially our children, and of course, the environment. The latter didn’t feature much in their thinking – these actions were relatively cheap and easy to implement.

Human beings remind me of a species of Marine Iguana found in the Galapagos Islands. Iguanas survival depends of their tenacity to maintain as good place in the sun. Once their bodies are warmed up, they can dive into the cold Humbolt Current from Antarctica to feed on green algae. So tenaciously do they cling to their territory that not even and encroaching flow of molten lava will move them. Unable to adapt and flee for their lives, they perish. The lava flow may seem far away but any volcanologist knows that a new channel can suddenly open up bringing it closer.

All around the world people have failed to democratically elect representatives who believe in climate change or are prepared to do something about it. Our kind of democracy has failed in this respect. This is the message to adults from Greta and many other young people. We are supposed to have wisdom and experience and when we are shown up by youth, we don’t like it. It makes us feel foolish.

For those who say they are not climate change deniers and then post rude or hateful comments about Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, Marie Copeny, Xiye Bastida and many others environmental activists, just think about that for a moment. There’s a conflict here between beliefs and actions.

You might also pause to notice that these young leaders are all females and with diverse racial origins. It looks as if the age of the rich old white men is nearing an end.

Unexpected Delights and a Disappointment

Villa Borghese park -even the water fountains are art
Water Fountain Villa Borghese

Tuesday: The Musee del Arte Modern looks good. It’s somewhere in the Villa Borghese area – a green swathe that covers a large area to the North of the city. The map I’ve borrowed from the apartment bears no resemblance to the maps in the park and I end up on the other side and have to ask a policeman for directions.

Museum of Modern Art

Lions are on guard outside this neoclassical building; ‘The Time is Out of Joint’ is written on the steps – this seems relevant. As is usual here, getting into the galleries is a matter of trial and error. There’s a shortage of entry signs but plenty of ‘Uscuita’ exit signs.

Lions on guard
Giuseppe De Nitir Le corse al Bois de Boulagne 1881

There are Italian impressionists here and it’s all very well presented. What becomes clearer as I progress, is the clever curation. Nineteenth Century statues are placed against or looking at the art. ‘Very Bad Things’ makes use of gallery windows to stunning effect. A whole section is devoted to works made out of building material – cement, bricks and reinforcing iron rods. At first, I think it is dull, but suddenly it all comes to life. The artist has taken two dimensional designs using the trompe d’oel technique (as seen in the Vatican ceilings) and realised them in three dimensions.

Beef carcass (skin stuffed)
Seated nude

There’s a café to enjoy coffee and cake, but you have to double back through one of the galleries to reach it.

Kandinskij
Kandinsky
Max Ernst
Very Bad Things
Very Bad Things
Andy Warhol
Giuseppe Uncini – nel Cemento
Uncini
Giulio Aristieo Sartorio Le Gorgone
Giuseppe Ponone – rear work made from briar thorns
Maria Sironti – Solitude 1925/6
Piazza di Popolo
Piazza di Popolo

The Piazza di Popolo with one enormous Egyptian obelisk is worth a look – every pizza seems to have one or two, and fountains. Popolo is wide and open with two almost identical churches at one end. Three roads divide them off offering views of diminishing perspectives. I take the right-hand road leading to the river and the Augustus Mausoleum. On the way I stop to stare at the only two (large) rainbow flags I’ve seen, hanging on the gates of an art school.

Augusteo

The Augustus Mausoleum is huge – it’s closed now for restoration but was once used for concerts. ‘On May 13th, 1936 the Augusteo, one of the most famous temples of music in Europe, hosted its final concert: Bernardino Molinari conducted music by Rossini, Martucci, Paganini-Molinari, Respighi, Wagner and Verdi. Later the Mausoleum was to have become Mussolini’s tomb, but this did not happen and the important monument was abandoned.’

Augustus
Peace Temple

Right next door is a modern building of elegant and clean lines. It houses the Museo Dell’ara Pacis – a fantastic reconstruction of a marble temple, buried for centuries. On the lower floor is an exhibition – Claudio – about the life of the emperor Claudius – made famous by the BBC series I Claudius with Dereck Jacobi. Related to Caligula (his nephew) and succeed by Nero, Claudius created an age of relative stability between tow maniacs. It was a time of scandal, plotting, murder and political manoeuvring – well worth the visit.

Caligula
Claudius on hearing of his appointment
His Mother?
River Tiber – St Peters

Moving on to the Piazza Navena. There’s the excavation of an ancient athletics track under here where you can have an underground lunch. I’m happy to sit above ground, watch the fountains and enjoy Bruschetta Pomodoro followed by thinly sliced beef with orange, cheese and rocket.

Piazza Navena
Piazza Navena
Piazza Navena
elderly person

Wednesday: I’m fitting in the Museum of Rome in the morning and I can use my metro card. I’ve gone to all the bother of changing lines, during rush hour, at Termini to take one stop to Republic, only to find that after a short walk the Museum is across the road from Termini. I’m early so there’s time for espresso at the Museum Café which opens early to catch commuters.

Caligula (you can tell by his ears)
Marcus Aurelius
Young man – hair detail

The Romans went in for carved marble heads of family members – much like a photograph album – that’s why you get so many of them. Some are designed to fit into marble bodies or plinths and hairstyles can help to date them. There are also some good examples of bronze statues showing various techniques for colouration eg lips, nipples and the cuts and bruises of a boxer. It’s all well laid out and I particularly enjoyed the frescoes and mosaics saved from houses and lovingly restored. Down in the basement is an extensive collection of Roman coins, if that is your thing, but there’s also some beautiful jewellery.

Bronze
Painted walls
Painted walls
Mosaic
Gold Jewellery
Gold hairnet

Onwards to the Villa Borghese area for an early lunch of cheap vegetarian lasagne (dull) at a working café in a side street. Today I easily find my way to the much anticipated Gallerie Borghese. I have a two-hour time slot from 1-3pm and it take ten minutes to exchange my voucher for a ticket, check in my bag in the basement then make my way back outside and up the front steps to the entrance. No photographs are permitted. It’s busy physically and visually. The rooms are overly ornate in Rococo/Baroque style. Panels of different coloured marble vie for attention and everything is crowded. I start off in the Caravaggio room, but they fight to breath here. Some, but not all, are good – nothing stood out. Marble statues and endless renaissance depictions of the Holy Family, the Madonna and Child by unfamiliar artists lacking in the brilliance of Raphael and Michael Angelo. There’s a Peter Paul Rubens which shines and a few other gems which get lost in the melange of colour. A contemporary artist is exhibited in the spaces left by paintings on loan or being restored. His art is to make holes in a surface. Some of these are a slash through the fabric or metal surface. At intervals throughout, printed statements from the artist explain how holes can be art.

Gallerie Borghese

Having left, what I thought to be, the best until last, I’m disappointed. Still it’s been a time of otherwise excellent experiences. I treat myself to a beer at the other gay bar ‘My Place’ followed by dinner at Naumacho again.

A Birthday in the Vatican

Old entrance to the Vatican Museum
Copy of Michael Angelo sculpture

I’ve booked an early tour of the Vatican to celebrate my Birthday and avoid queuing, but it’s raining again as I leave the apartment and have to return and make use of a very waterproof raincoat with cap attached. I simply put the cap on my head and the coat hangs around me covering my small rucksack. The street sellers, who yesterday were touting ice-cold water, have adapted over-night and now offer umbrellas and plastic ponchos. The level of sales aggression here is much lower than other parts of the world and because I am water-proofed, I get to the Metro unmolested. It’s slightly tricky following the instructions to the tour meeting point, reading the email, on my phone, in the rain but I arrive in time, to a wide set of steps crowded with damp tourists. I have to queue (a short one) to check in to be redirected to my guide, Manuela who is a few metres away holding a pink umbrella. There are only four of us in this English-speaking group – the other three are all from New York.

We get our audio-gadgets and earphones and I try-out only one, in my better ear. I end up using both but find them hard work as Manuela’s microphone picks up and amplifies every sound around her and there’s lots of it, including other tour guides.

spiral ramp up to the museum
Wooden Vatican

We don’t avoid queuing entirely as we have to ‘enter the Vatican’ -another country and thus have to queue for a bag and body security check. We can go in now and there’s a bit of waiting around while Manuela gets tickets for us to feed into the turn styles. The place is so crowded (as my B&B host said it would be in the morning) that I’m glad that I’m on a tour. It might have taken me some time to work out where to go and what to see. Apparently, there are kilometres of corridors in the Vatican Museum and in three hours, we are concentrating on the best.  We’e in luck, the escalator is working, so we don’t have to walk up the huge spiral ramp. It looks quite spectacular from the top. Our first sight of art are two sculptures (copies) by Michael Angelo. Manuela says that he constantly referred to himself as a sculptor, not a painter. We look at a wooden model of the entire Vatican to get an idea where everything is. The present Pope hads eschewed the luxurious bedroom in the Papal Palace and has a suite in the only hotel in the Vatican City – but still guarded by Swiss Guards. The rain has stopped enough to look at the garden with the dome of St Peter’s in the background.

St Peters dome at the bottom of the garden
The Corridors of sculpture

Now we are going down a wide corridor packed with people looking at exquisite statuary and relief work. Manuela is a great admirer of all these beautiful young male bodies hewn from white marble.  She tells us how the Romans greatly admired Greek culture, especially the statues. Greek sculptors were employed to make copies of the best which were sold to wealthy families. Some of course are damaged from the sacking of Rome at the end of the Empire and buried for centuries. The Romans, however, were not as keen on total nudity. They covered genitals with fig leaves and bits of fabric strategically wafted across the crotch. Here all the ceilings are exquisitely painted in perspective to suggest architectural mouldings. The Renaissance painters were fantastic at this – you can find amazing theatrical sets demonstrating the art of perspective. Here the work is so convincing, even though the ceiling is entirely smooth.

Marble relief
Gorgon
Beautiful boys

Marble floor with Lapis Lazuli
Exquisite marble urn

We pass into a gallery of amazing tapestries and Manuela explains how the cartoon was inserted underneath the netting. A similar cartoon technique is used for the ceiling frescoes.

Tapestry -nativity
Voting for a new pope
Painted perspective on ceiling
Sicily

The hall of maps has a stunning ceiling and the maps, depicting various regions of Italy are all frescoes – each on had to be painted in one day and are apparently fairly accurate as maps go.  As they are painted as from the North of Italy, they are all upside down. This might have been before the realisation that the world is round and up the other way – a decision made to emphasise the dominance of European culture. The Antipodes print maps with Antarctica at the top.

Raphael
Raphael
Raphael

Now we are in the Raphael part of the museum – it’s under re-construction. Raphael sadly died young and his death was considered a great tragedy. Some of the work here was completed by his school of followers from his original cartoons. Michael Angelo and Raphael worked side by side in the same building. I note details of the fantastic mosaic flooring and Manuela is pleased. She spends time preparing us for the Sistine Chapel – we each have a leaflet with the lay-out of this monumental work and she goes through each section explaining what it’s about.

Floor design
Mosaic floor
Actor in mask

No guiding or photography is allowed in the chapel and we have fifteen minutes to crane our necks to look upwards at the ceiling. It’s recently been restored and looks vibrant. Every now and then there are shushing sounds from wardens – we are supposed to be silent. A young priest with a microphone shushes us prior to delivering a brief prayer.

Suddenly, we’re looking at work by Cezanne – his paper cut-out designs for stained glass windows – fantastic – but where are they? Now, out in the open air to see the magnificent St Peter’s Square before going into the Basilica. It’s the largest church in the world and took one hundred and fifty years and many Popes to complete. The lengths of St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey (the break-away Church of England) are measured on the floor here – tiny by comparison.

Cezanne

Manuela has left us to wander around. There’s been a service here and we can’t go down to the crypt today. It’s possible to go to the top of the dome but by the time we finish gawping and the ceiling, the queue is so long that I decide to call it quits. I’ve seen enough for one session and that the Metro back for a sandwich and afternoon nap.

Pie Jesus Michael Angelo
St Peters
St Peters
St Peters Square
St Peters
St Peters with Obelisk
Papal Palace

San Pietro in Vincoli

Later I venture out to the nearby San Pietro in Vincoli to see Michael Angelo’s Moses – part of a tomb made for Pope Julius II but never used by him. It’s tucked away to one side, but worth the walk up the nave for a look at the magnificent carving.

Ceiling San Pietro
Moses – Michael Angelo
Skeletons on the wall

As I’m around the corner from the centre of Gay life in Rome (two bars) I dine there on Spaghetti carbonara. The Roman version is made with egg yolk and cheese and lardons – no cream – it’s delicious and simple. I get chatting to a gay couple (together thirty years) sitting next to me. They live in Palm Beach Florida and are no fans of Donald Trump. They ask me about Boris and Brexit as have many Europeans this week. My answer is always that no one knows what will happen.

Gay quarter Rome

Walking in Rome

Via dei Fori Imperiali
Looking down on the ruins

Sunday and there’s no rushing to Ostia today. I’ve sketched out a walking tour, so we’ll see what happens. On the airport train, I met a pleasant American Couple who live and work in the Emirates; they recommended Ostia Antica as a day trip. I’ve been passing this place on my way to the swimming pool every day and I’ve worked out that it’s a site of archaeological significance. There’s enough of ancient Rome sticking out of the ground here in the city and I’ve seen the sites at Carthage (Tunisia) and more in Morocco.

The only evidence of the Eurogames in Central Rome
Romulus And Remus
Gigantic fragments

The Campidoglio is, like many buildings in Rome, sandwiched between a church and ruins, with the Vittorione towering nearby. There’s a magnificent square, designed by Michael Angelo with an equine statue of Marcus Aurelius who is much loved here. The two parts of the Musei Capitolini flank the Piazza and the third side is a civic building housing a wedding hall. It’s early and the crowds are light here. Everyone it seems is heading for the Coliseum.

Oceanus
Marble relief
Theatrical mask in marble
Audience room with frescoes & the pope

Getting into the museum is a test. On one side there is only an exit; on the other, a ticket office and two doors along, the security entrance which checks all our bag. Here, there is a magnificent collection of sculpture – not overcrowded like the British Museum. Each piece has space to breath and be appreciated. Some of the rooms are furnished with frescos painted on the walls. A modern addition incorporates ruins of an ancient temple and prides a huge space for another copy of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. – it’s impressive. Famous works – eg the Dying Gaul – are stunning and Caravaggio’s cheeky painting of St John the Baptist, is sexy. The model, obviously one of his pretty boys is smuggled into respectability with a saintly label. I go below to see the gravestones but miss the connection to the other side of the square. I exit and briefly consider giving the other side a miss, but there’s no problem and I’m allowed back in an take the tunnel under the square to the other side. Just as well as there are more treasures to be seen, including the famous view of the square from above.

Constantine
Marcus Aurelius
Caravaggio’s St John the Baptist
St Sebastian in seductive pose
Another naked hero fighting a monster
Gilded bronze man with club
Bacchus in red marble
Venus copy
Roman woman
The Piazza with Marcus Aurelius
Teatro Marcello

I’ve passed Teatro Marcello several times on a bus; now it’s time to photograph this very ancient Roman ruin, reclaimed in the middle ages and converted into the Orsini palace.

The Vittoriano towers white and sharp over the whole area. It’s a 19thc classical re-invention which seems oddly out of place. The Victorian age was one of energetic expansion and so-called improvement, not always achieving the desired result. I reference numerous English churches which were vandalised in this way by the Victorians.

Fathers of Italy
Ceramic roman

I notice from the other side of the road that people – not tourists are going through a door in the Vittoriano. I like going though open doors and especially if it’s free. This one leads to a temporary exhibition about Italian identity – how the nation was formed. It begins with the language – developing from a Latin base (like other European languages) with a situation where people spoke a variety of similar languages and dialects. Television is credited with consolidating the National dialect, though many retain their local versions alongside. Italy had become a mixture of republics, the Papal Sates and the vast kingdom of Naples to the South. This exhibition charts all this through the wars, Garibaldi, Mussolini and the post war referendum offering the choice of Monarchy or Republic.  Some how the flimsy plywood display units showing the gaps and the back of the display, make this raw and moving. At this point I have to comment that in spite of all the reports and predictions of a collapsing economy and infrastructure, everything seems to run smoothly in Rome. There are beggars here – more dramatic and dirtier than anywhere else. Some pose as semi religious-characters.  They have little impact on the trains and busses, which run on time at affordable prices. The refugees hide away in the park that was Nero’s palace trying to keep clean washing themselves and clothes in the ever-flowing water fountains.

one of many drinking fountains
Teatro Marchllo from the Vittoriano

Upstairs in the Vittoriano, the marble staircases seem empty and pointless and the other areas are closed off. I wander onto the huge balcony surrounding the building and offering great views of the city. I can hardly see for the glare of sunshine on the marble, but have difficulty finding a seat free of pigeon shit.

The Pantheon neoclassical facade

The next stop is the Pantheon – once a Roman temple – now a church constructed inside the ruins. There’s a queue but it moves fast. The place is crowded; buzzing with conversations which surge and die between announcements calling for silence. A recording is employed to cut through the buzz – the amplified voice, strangely at odds with its message. I sit down on a pew next to a woman tourist who has fallen asleep. The husband wakes her with his cap, brushing her eyeball with the rim as it sweeps past her. She’s not happy about that but goes back to sleeping. Light from the open circle at the top of the domed roof shines a shaft of light at one part of the wall. It’s dark and mysterious.

Inside the Pantheon
Bernini’s elephant

Outside, as I cross the Piazza, an African notice my green shoes and before I know it has put a friendship bracelet on my wrist – a gift. I’ve come across this before in Myanmar. He then offers me a small wooden carving, but want’s a contribution towards his family. No. I’m not playing that game and as I march off, he reclaims his free bracelet. I’m after a Coffee Granita, shavings of iced coffee layered with cream. It’s fantastic, though I think I could have done without the whipped cream.

Rear of the Parthenon

As I round the back of the Pantheon, to inspect the ancient Roman brick-work there’s a Bernini carved Marble elephant with an obelisk on his back – wonderful.

After a late afternoon nap, I return to Naumachio and try their mixed grill. Perfect. I’ve been observing a group of women who have clearly been here for the Games. One of them has a rainbow on her tee shirt and the same small blue ruck sac as I, from the Gay Games in Paris. As I’m leaving, I say hello and have a great conversation. They are badminton players from Ireland. The evening closes with my now routine gelato from my local gelateria.

It Rains in Rome

Coloseo

Sightseeing and swimming

Piazza di Spagna
Spanish Steps
Trinita del Monti
Panoramic view of Rome

Friday – the alarm has been set and the trains, once again run like clockwork. We’re joined by the water polo guys, playing in the indoor pool. My 100m Backstroke is a couple of seconds slower – possibly caused by arguments with the lane ropes – one of the hazards of swimming backstroke out-doors. In the lunch-break, I help Federico with his backstroke finishes – counting from the flags and touching with one hand on a dolphin kick, or two. He’s got the 50m backstroke with me tomorrow. Meanwhile, my 200m Individual Medley is quite acceptable, but there is a Netherlander in his seventies who is faster than me. I guess I’m used to fast guys in their seventies back in the UK. He’s a strong breast-stroker and gets away with swimming fly and back with a breaststroke kick. At the end of day two, I’ve got four gold medals and the schedule has run so efficiently that there’s time for evening sight-seeing. Back in town, I head for the famous Spanish Steps. They are moderately crowded and tourists sit around the fountain in the Piazza. Whistle-blowing wardens are employed here to make sure no one sits on anything marble – posts or balustrades. They undertake their job assiduously, forcing exhausted tourists back onto their feet. The marble looks pretty worn and pitted by acid rain, so it’s good that they are trying to preserve the place. The other problem is that sitting on the steps would block the place up, making the climb up to the Trinita del Monti impossible. The pay-off to this climb is the panoramic view of Rome – the church itself is unremarkable inside but the external façade crowns the steps to dramatic effect. It’s closing time and the gate-keeper of the church shoos new visitors away as I descend and locks the gates behind me. To my right there’s an alfresco restaurant overlooking the steps and I wonder what their prices are like for this location.

Fontera del Tritone

I’m now heading, in a leisurely fashion for the Fontana Di Trevi (Tivoli fountain), but I’m seduced towards the Fontana di Tritone nearby. There’s no one here as it’s in the middle of a traffic Island – worth the diversion. It seems as if Rome has a fountain or three in every Piazza and there are drinking fountains with running water everywhere. I pass a theatre showing Mary Poppins the Musical. In Rome, Italy? Astonishing. I pass via Boccaccio and am reminded of this great medieval Italian story teller who influenced Chaucer. Rome is full of streets named after the famous, from Marcus Aurelius to George Washington. As I pass the usual tourist shops, found world-wide, there’s something different, Pinocchio.

Mary Poppins
Pinocchio
Fontana Trevi

Predictably the Trevi Fountain is crowded, though it is possible to get photos. A gap opens up on one of the iron barriers – a chanced to sit and look. I listen to the whistles preventing people from sitting on marble edges. At 9.00pm, the lights go on and there’s cheering. Two women throw coins over their shoulders into the fountain. It’s supposed to guarantee a return visit to Rome. It’s a recent legend created by the Hollywood movie Three Coins in the Fountain. The coins are collected at the end of each day and go to a charity.

Trevi detail
Trevi detail
Vittoriano

My GPS directions home take me past the gigantic Vittoriano, a 19th Century white marble neoclassical gallery. It towers over everything else. My path is down the Via dei Fori Imperiale, and I suddenly realise that all of the ancient ruins can be seen from above. The views are magnificent and there is no need to pay to see the ruins below.

Ruins by night
Rome by night
Out to Swim 4×50 freestyle relay team

Saturday is the last day of swimming. Federico is once again trying to organise a relay. As a native of Rome, it’s best for him to do this. The judge allows us to enter four men in the 4 x 50m Mixed freestyle relay and we are able to co-opt James H from the water polo team. In the mean-time, we have the 50m Backstroke and Federico hasn’t warmed up due to organising the relay. He’s run out of time and I tell him to just do the race. He does and with a much better time than he entered. We’re waiting for James F to arrive and just when we think it’s not going to happen, he materialises. The Italian Mixed team are waiting for us – so are the officials. No one is in a panic and it all happens. We are faster than the Italians, especially with James H to finish. There’s talk of doing the 4 x 100 medley in the afternoon, but no one else can do fly and I certainly can’t manage 100 metres. The other option is the 4 x 200 freestyle and I don’t think our newbies would manage that either.

Five gold medals
Road to the Catacombs
Cacti at the San Sebastian Catacombs

I’m off back to the tourist trail and there’s a bus number 118 from beside the Coliseum which will take me to the Appian Way. I get talking to an American family from LA – she’s done the research and knows what to see, but it is I who get us off at the right stop.  The Apian Way is an ancient cobbled highway – only just wide enough for two cars to pass in opposite directions plus an occasional pedestrian. It’s only closed on Sundays, so we have to contend with traffic. A fork in the road looms and a driveway bisecting the fork, promises catacombs 1.6 km ahead. The sign says it closes in fifteen minutes but undaunted I and the family from LA set of at a brisk pace. We make it in time for the last group tour of the San Calisto Catacombs. Underground, it’s a delicious fifteen degrees, a relief from surface temperatures in the high twenties – our Monk-guide dons a jacket as we descend. There are over twenty miles of burial corridors in this complex at several levels. Spartacus, the gladiator and his rebels were all crucified along the Apian Way but it was during the early days of Christianity that the catacombs came about. Romans were cremated but the Christians looked forward to the resurrection and the restoration of the earthly body; they may have got that idea from the Egyptians. Christians were much persecuted in the Empire until Constantine converted and made Christianity the official religion. They came underground to pay their respects to their dead, to light an oil lamp. The lamp niches are still clearly visible. While they were down here, they held secret communion services. One early Bishop of Rome was caught and beheaded as were Saints Paul and Peter. At this site, many of the Popes were buried and when the barbarians invaded, looting and looking for treasure (The Christians weren’t buried with their possessions), all the important bodies were moved out to the Vatican and the others went down a level where they stayed forgotten and undiscovered for two thousand years. Many of the graves cut into the walls are short (the Romans were short people) and even smaller graves belong to children and babies. The very high proportion of children’s graves can be explained by the practice that early Christians had of saving the bodies of heathen children (innocents) in the hope of their salvation. That phrase ‘In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection’ comes to mind.

A Wet Apian Way

Back above ground in the heat, I’m determined to walk on past the St Sebastian catacombs and re-join the Apian Way and see viaducts. Alas, there’s a torrential downpour which goes on for thirty minutes. I take shelter under roadside foliage, but the water finds its way through the leaves. I’m very damp and reluctantly return to a bus stop for the journey back to town. We aren’t going the way we came, but It’s a circular route and I’m getting new view of Rome. It’s not until we’ve doubled back and are returning down the Apian Way that I realise that this bus is not returning to the Coliseum. Eventually it gets to the end of the run and I transfer and wait for the return bus, which rattles alarmingly over every cobblestone. I fear it might disintegrate at any moment as there are bits on the ceiling hanging by one or two screws. We are still not returning to the Coliseum and the driver tells me I have to walk from the Campidoglio. Sure enough, the road to the Coliseum is closed to traffic this evening.

Campodoglio
Campodioglio

I try my host’s recommended Pizza restaurant to cheer myself up. It’s around the corner and great. So far, in Rome, Pizza has been 100% OK – nice thin crispy bases. Unfortunately, my Italian is not good and I manage to say yes to a whole jug of the house red wine, which has to be finished. I’ve been on a beer ration all week, so it’s a bit of a struggle.