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Mongolian visas and the sexiest art gallery in the world

March 21, 2013

I went to Rome yesterday to collect my passport from the Mongolian embassy, complete, I hoped, with a Mongolian visa. I’ve already got the Russian and Chinese ones, both of which were bureaucratic nightmares in London. They have privatised ‘visa centres’ which employ a whole load of people to wade through all this bureaucracy. Well, the Mongolian visa application process was nothing like that. Firstly, it took some investigate work to discover there actually was an embassy in Rome, anyway when I did, (flashback to a week or so ago) I went to drop my passport and the necessary documents there.

Crap map

Crap map

It was off the ‘tourist map’ (beyond Villa Borghese), so I drew a map myself from the National Modern Art museum onwards, and found as soon as I was past the museum that this map corresponded in no way to the actual streets (more of getting lost in the Villa Borghese later). Anyway, when I finally found the place it turned out not to be some gigantic thing with big flags like most embassies but a few rooms in what looked like a posh apartment block. You ring the bell to gain admittance. I left my passport there, walked the length and breadth of Rome and then returned to Arte Studio Ginestrelle, where I’ve been powering though the first draft of my new novel – on the cusp of 30,000 words already. I think it must be the mountain air.

So, I went back to Rome and to the Mongolian Embassy yesterday. A very sweet lady told me to take a seat before I could even say anything, disappeared into a room then came out with my passport, complete with visa. I didn’t even have to say my name. Either Mongolians have super-impressive memories, or they don’t get many applications here.

I returned to the main drag and had a cannolo and cappuccino to fortify myself at the Caffe Giolitti, near Marcus Aurelius’ column. It’s meant to serve the best ice cream in Rome, but I’ve become obsessed with finding a good cannolo and I can highly recommend theirs. I’m going back to try to ice cream as well, don’t worry. I was fortifying myself because I’d planned an afternoon visit to the Galleria Borghese, which I’ve heard is quite an experience – some people have been known to suffer from Stendal Syndrome there… perhaps the cannolo wasn’t a good idea. They run a reserved ticket policy, so everyone turns up for their timeslot at once, which is slightly chaotic and leaves you all hot and bothered. Then you’re thrown into this explosion of art. Immersed in total art, as the Borgheses envisaged it. I can see why some people have a funny turn in this gallery. It’s only two floors, but the window seats were crammed with people looking exhausted by it all. Even before you consider the paintings and sculptures, every room is a riot of pink, peach, gold, ceilings frescoed to the nines. The rooms fold out of each other, some tiny, some large, and you find yourself going round in circles. You have the sense of being trapped yet not wanting to leave.

But still, to induce nausea and dizziness? Is it because people can’t handle the

Caravaggio's 'Boy With A Basket of Fruit', Galleria Borghese, Rome

Caravaggio’s ‘Boy With A Basket of Fruit’, Galleria Borghese, Rome

fact that so much genius is crammed into one small gallery? Like Bernini’s gravity defying, belief-suspending sculptures, Caravaggio’s perfection, the ingenuity of Roman art? Or, my theory, is it’s all the sex thrown at you in such a small space. I mean, the place seethed with it… take Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina, which depicts Pluto grappling with the goddess. How Bernini managed to convey the violence/ eroticism of the story in marble is just amazing, the way Pluto’s hand grips the goddess’ thigh, as if the stone is the softest skin. Or take Caravaggio’s wet-lipped young boys, or Raphael’s topless, flirty La Fornarina, just a few of the carnal delights.

Apparently Cardinal Scipione Borghese liked young boys, so he was particularly drawn to Carravagio’s Boy With A Basket of Fruit, one of my favourite pictures as well… right now one of my favourite things in the world. I like to think the boy was some hustler Caravaggio picked up from the Piazza Navona, it’s probably not too far off the mark. Did the lad know what he was getting himself into? He seems kind of wary, like he’s unnerved by Carravagio’s (lustful?!) gaze. There was a couple snogging in front of this picture, and on the other side of the room there was a guy sitting in the window seat with his head in his hands looking severely worse for wear. Sounds like a student disco, right? It’s testament to Caravaggio’s talent that these 500 odd year old paintings can do this to people.

I left the gallery and it was like coming out some strange, beautiful time machine, back into the dreary, ugly present, but thankfully it didn’t induce nausea. I found myself wandering aimlessly in the rain through the Villa Borghese. It took a while for me to realise I was lost and that it was totally chucking it down. Finally I found my way onto Via Veneto which in the rain didn’t look quite as cool as it did in La Dolce Vita.


Attempting to take a picture of the rain falling through the Pantheon roof

One drawback of Rome is they’ve never really cottoned onto pavements, so you, the cars and mopeds are all sloshing about down those cobbled streets together. But the sight of rain falling through the hole in the Pantheon ceiling makes up for soaking trainers.

I had lunch at the Cul-De-Sac restaurant on the Piazza Pasquino, named after the ancient and much battered, but talkative, torso that’s propped up on the corner. Cul-de-Sac is one of the oldest wine cellars in London and so I couldn’t not have a glass of vino with my tagliatelle with broccoli and Pecorino cheese. Both the food and wine were gorgeous and very reasonable. Ever so slightly tipsy, I wandered back towards the train station, stopping by a church which I thought had Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew in it, but it turned out to be the wrong church… easy mistake to make as there are so many of the things. It did have Michaelangelo’s Risen Christ in it, whose nudity the clergy were so shocked by they to make him a bronze loincloth. Honestly, them old artists and their boys.

One visitor to Rome not put off by the rain

One visitor to Rome not put off by the rain

So, only about a week left at the Art Studio Ginestrelle now… I wish I was here another month. But alas, I must return to Rome for a few days and then onwards to the Balkans.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2013 11:47 pm

    Have just found your blog posts, HH. Great stuff. I shall be doing much vicarious travelling with you in the next few weeks. Anything to escape the rain and bogging cold in bad ol’ blighty.


    • admin permalink*
      March 23, 2013 7:55 am

      Thanks! Yes, hope I’m not causing too much envy, though the weather hasn’t been too great here either.

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