Petronella Wyatt

Home thoughts from abroad

The ongoing escapades of London's answer to Ally McBeal

I have just been staying outside Rome near a town called Ladispoli. In ancient times, the area, which was a luxury seaside resort for various Roman emperors, was called Alsium. During the second Punic war it managed to exempt itself from having to send troops to fight Hannibal. Later, both Tiberius and Marcus Aurelius had villas there in order to escape from the broiling heat of the Roman summer and its accompanying stench.

Getting into Rome is probably more difficult now than it was those thousands of years ago. A la Livingstone, a lot of the city has been pedestrianised and cars require a special permit to enter the centre. This leaves one at the mercy of the Roman taxi-driver, who makes his English counterpart look like Talleyrand for subtlety and good manners. One example will suffice. One afternoon I asked one of these Roman taxi-drivers to take me to a street called Via Giulia, which is near the Tiber.

The man drove about 200 yards and then declined firmly to go any further. This was inexplicable as there were no signs or policemen barring his progress. When I protested he literally shovelled me out of his car and on to the street. I later discovered that this is now the norm rather than the exception. The Romans have always been known for their rudeness, but nowadays it almost reaches the point of harassment.

The traffic jams are worse than in London, too. A friend of mine tried to drive from the Via Veneto to St Peter’s. After moving two yards in 20 minutes he abandoned his car in the middle of the road and walked the rest of the way, ignoring the screams and yells of the other drivers.

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