They say that the invading Barbarians were so overwhelmed by the Pantheon’s beauty that they didn’t take it apart brick by brick. It is, of course, the most perfectly symmetrical monument, along with the Parthenon, to have survived since antiquity, the former lucky enough not to have been blown up à la latter. The Pantheon is a perfect space, the diameter of its rotunda exactly the same as its height, 142 feet. It sits in the middle of the bend in the Tiber that cradles Rome’s historical centre, halfway between the Vatican and Capitoline Hill, its low dome rising only slightly above the rooftops. I am here admiring this great work of art because my son John-Taki rents rooms around the corner, in the Palazzo Orsini, and it is near here where my daughter-in-law, Asia, has just given birth to my first grandson, Taki-Tancredi. Becoming a grandfather is a milestone as well as a millstone — can you picture anything more ridiculous than trying to chat up a young woman while a child is screaming, ‘Grandpa, Grandpa, come and look at the ducks…’
Milestones and millstones aside, Rome can never be boring. The Colosseum’s imperial glory, St Peter’s authority, the Piazza Venezia’s doomed dreams of power, they’re all here, and, as Freud famously once said, ‘Nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away …’ It’s one of the few true things that old phoney ever said, and I wish he had been around last week so I could have asked his opinion about the man who ran away from Rome because of Natasha Grenfell.
Let me explain: Natasha and her sister Katya are very old friends of mine, as were their parents, Lord St Just and the formidable Maria, reputed to have been the character on which Maggie the Cat was based in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams’s play of the old South. The family, straight out of an Evelyn Waugh novel, used to live in Wilbury House, among the most beautiful Palladian structures in England, now the property of Lady Iveagh, soon to become Mrs Taki if Alistair Londonderry gets out of my way.
Be that as it may, Natasha Grenfell met an Italian prince not so long ago, and the two of them decided to make whoopee immediately. It was love at first sight, so Natasha rented out her grand Gerald Road house, packed her bags and drove from London to the Eternal City. Everything was hunky-dory during the trip, and the Prince waited for her, pacing up and down in his broken-down palazzo until the love of his life was seen driving down the cobblestoned street. In two cars. Then a horrible thing happened. Natasha emerged from her car and he took her into his arms and they clinched like they do in the movies, but then, out of the corner of his eye, the Italian noticed what Natasha had in the other, chauffeur-driven automobile. Which was — and I kid you not — four dogs, six tortoises, nine birds and three rabbits. Exhibiting the conspicuous courage which the Italians showed in the brief Albanian campaign against the Greeks in 1940, the Prince ran away without saying a word, and was last seen somewhere in Transylvania talking to himself and, apparently, in a very confused state. Mind you, Natasha, like a true English eccentric, has taken it rather well. The only thing she accuses him of is not being an animal lover. When I told her that even Romeo would have quit Verona quicker than you can say Capulet if Juliet had come with as many pets, she said that Greeks were like Italians, unable to understand the English love for God’s creatures.
So, this is where Freud would have come in handy, although knowing the bullshit he saddled American women with, I would not be surprised if he attributed the princely flight to an excessive fear of being buggered by large pterodactyls. Never mind. I had the funniest time in the world’s most beautiful city with the Grenfell girls, Debbie Bismarck and her little boy Sasha, whom I tried to corrupt by telling him how good Wehrmacht uniforms looked around the ancient city long ago.
And, speaking of uniforms, do you think that if some copper had been around Kensal Green last week, that poor young man, who was so brutally stabbed to death by two black men, would still be with us? Of course, he would. Three years ago, Scotland Yard’s diversity division investigated the poor little Greek grandfather for inciting racial hatred. This time I will spare Scotland Yard the trouble of investigating a grandfather, and say nothing. In the meantime, a young solicitor full of promise lies dead, after having given up the valuables he had on him.