Thursday, 30 September 2010


Tonight was the first preview of the National's production of Hamlet with Rory Kinnear following David Tennant, Jude Law and John Simm in what is a rich time for thirty something actors playing the Dane. There were high expectations and the audience were jittery willing it to go well. On balance this probably isn't a redefining interpretation of a great play but it's certainly full of good stuff.

Nick Hytner has form in placing Shakespeare's plays within a contemporary context. His Winter's Tale hinted at the loveless marriages and wayward teenage behaviours of our current royal family and his Henry V took us straight into the Iraq war.

This time the parallel takes us back in time. Elsinore is clearly a media aware, surveillance state, carefully constructed and controlled by Claudius and beyond the white palace walls and frosted windows the seeds of rebellious uprising bubble throughout continually put down by the military police. Having upset the Court, the poor players are unceremoniously marched off to their deaths without any protection from their patron and Laertes guerrilla followers are dispatched with equal efficiency once their leader pledges his own loyalty to the new King. Later Ophelia's suicide is assisted by Osric, who graduates from Shakespearean fool to a menacing head of the secret service. The stakes are high, the casualties numerous, the storm approaches. If we're anywhere it's Ceausescu's Romania at the end of the eighties.

The highlight of the evening is Kinnear himself who, despite all the secular trickery of the production, manages to summon an element of metaphysical wonder as he explores the unfathomable supernatural forces surrounding his bereaved state. His father's ghost is real - not imagined or dreamt and whilst the state totters around him he maintains both clarity and a brutal sense of strategy in order to play out his revenge mission. He is ruthless, driven and untouchable, neither asking for nor receiving much sympathy for the intensity of his cause. Even though his journey through the play sometimes loses coherence as he tries to make sense of verse and concept simultaneously, the familiar lines are treated with weight and examined with fresh intelligence. Hamlet knows he can't make sense of the fragmented universe in which he finds himself and I often think the tragedy is his refusal to sit tight and wait for an acceptable compromise to emerge. For the most part Kinnear's unapologetic prince brilliantly shows that resolutions cannot be found by blazing through the pure world of ideas, especially when faced by those who prefer power to truth - reconciliation and renewal take a less direct route.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Plans for Spring.

It's been a good week for looking forward. On Monday I had some really good discussions with Chris from Spiral, whose over here for a few days to meet with the organisers of a big community project in Rutland next Spring. There is every possibility of us getting involved with it. This was followed up by a long chat with Yell looking at ways in which we could be part of the International Youth Festival in Kingston next July.

Today I was back in Ham House putting together some ideas for Christmas, looking at maybe preparing a larger bid to give our work some sustainability over the next three years and exploring potential venues for The Canterbury Tales in May. It was a really productive meeting and I'm beginning to see how the project might shape up with shows in Sutton House, Hackney, in Ham itself and then out somewhere in Kent - either Nymans or Bodiam Castle (see above) would be ideal. There's also the possibility for all three years on the Applied Theatre course to be involved with Level 3 producing, Level 2 performing the work and Level 1 putting together an accompanying programme of workshop and educational projects.

In many ways it's the kind of project that we envisaged being able to create three years ago when we first laid out the Applied Theatre programme and it's exciting to think that we're only a few months away from bringing it to life.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Or You Could Kiss Me.

To the National to see Or You Could Kiss Me the new collaboration between Neil Bartlett and Handspring - the puppet maestros who brought us War Horse.

This time the company have gone for a more intimate story. Set in the imagined South Africa of 2036 two old men, lovers for over fifty years search for the right way to say goodbye to each other. The premise is promising, particularly as the play moves backwards and forwards across their lives, focusing on the forbidden nature of their initial affair and exploring how the loss of memory affects the way they perceive the romanticism of this shared history, but I found myself strangely detatched from the emotional heart of the work and ended up focused more on the tehnical dexterity of the puppetry.

It made me wonder whether the logistics of this Cottesloe production, played in the round actually compete with the simple and moving truths of trying to retain a remembered past. Perhaps the visible fragmentation of constituent parts is the point, but the mechanics of the process don't carry enough emotional weight to really justify the alienation from the fierce humanity of the piece, that actors could bring. Each puppet takes four operators to bring it to life and the swift yet meticulous way in which these mini teams work together does provide a physical metaphor for the way in which nursed care should work, but very often the dislocation of language from body and the basic presentation of facts - various definitions of dementia are read out by a nurse on an unnecessary microphone - distracted from what could have been a brave and noble story.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Pillowman.

The drama society hit the ground running this evening with a slick and accomplished production of Martin McDonagh's dark comedy The Pillowman. The work was tight, focused and although occasionally lacking in pace felt assured and confident. A lot has been learnt in a year.

There were good performances all round. Sarah Marr is excellent as the detached Tupolski, ably supported by Gaz Wilson, as the brutish Ariel. Together they form a tight double act as interrogating police officers. Whilst Danny Gubba as the play's story telling protagonist Katurian and Michael O'Neill as his abused younger brother Michel find some touching moments of subtly in their sibling relationship. There's also a brilliant show stopping pillowman knocked up by Chatal Koning and Marion Huard.

If there is any criticism - and I did only see the first act - it's that the students didn't quite find the play's dark heart and worked mainly in a form of deadpan TV pseudo-naturalism rather than exploiting the more theatrical moments of Jacobean cruelty that are revealed through Katurin's short stories. There's more texture in the text and the true horror of the situation that the brothers find themselves in only really surfaces when you realise that both have been trapped in a circle of violence where each attempt to escape is read as a provocation for a further act of abuse. To be implicated in the real moral dilemma the writer proposes we need to see physically and mentally what Michel has become and feel protective of him - even as we learn how despicable his crimes have been.

The humour is there but so are the deeper questions of influence, responsibility and the limits of innocence. To really explore these themes required a braver approach to playing the principal characters.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Insurgent Fraticide.

After the long summer break, during which memories of the frantic general election faded and the coalition government settled itself in, the Labour Party elected its new leader yesterday. The battle has been highly dramatic, particularly in the latter stages, when it became apparent that the only credible candidates were the Miliband brothers - suave David and slightly geeky Ed.

For most of the campaign and in all probability their entire adult lives - David was ahead. Off he set solidly picking up nominations and good reviews, whilst Ed kept out of the limelight working on persuading colleagues, CLPs and the Unions, slowly, almost unnoticed, coming up on the rails, timing his run and calculations to perfection. He pipped his seemingly unassailable elder sibling at the post, once the second preference votes of the other three candidates had been re allocated.

Whether the Labour Party have made an intelligent choice remains to be seen - but the personal elements of the story will keep it moving forward and, inevitably it's that that makes the situation so theatrical. It's staged hugs, careful words and the need to maintain nobility in defeat. In a Shakespeare play we'd somewhere towards the end of the second act. Licking our lips in expectation of the battles to come.

But perhaps this is more of a Greek Drama rolled out by the Gods to assure us of our fallibility. For David, seemingly immune to hubris, the effect of losing out on a position that he's coveted for twenty years by such a small margin to the brother whom he loves so deeply and against whom he cannot contemplate revenge must tempt him towards madness. It might take a playwright, working sometime in the future, to uncover the truth of the next few days. I would be surprised if Peter Morgan isn't already eyeing it up.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Freshen Up!!!

The end of freshers week and a decent crowd in to watch the stand up in the theatre. I thought it was a better show than last year and it was particularly exciting to see Jennie and Emma Boz, who were bursary beneficiaries from last years box office takings doing five confident minutes each. Emma's been gigging a bit, since her debut in Camden earlier this year, but for Jennie is was the first time back on the horse after several months. They both did great and hope other students will follow their pioneering spirit and take up places on the training courses that The Comedy School offers this year.

The bulk of the night was taken up by two great acts - one from the Hannah George (above) who went down really well and seemed to relish every moment followed by a brilliant Felix Dexter set. He twisted and turned, sensed the mood of the audience and tailored his material on the spot to keep everybody in hysterics - including a wonderful edgy five minutes on the dangers of having the Pope as your support act. In the intimate environment of the theatre it was a real lesson in knowing your stuff and adapting your set to keep the connection fresh and vital.

I'm hoping we can really develop a regular comedy night at the University - although I think it's time to move into producing the work in partnership with the Student's Union, rather than keeping it within the narrower confines of Drama St. Mary's. Siobhan was in the audience tonight and seems keen to start that process.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Tongue Fu.

Off to East London Thursday with Patsy to see Tongue Fu a wonderful evening of remarkable performance poetry at Rich Mix, a lounge bar just off Brick Lane. It's a bi-monthly slam organised by Chris Redmond and features some real talent.

The premise is simple - a three piece band improvise a background soundtrack and the poets do their stuff. The bill was brilliantly varied from the stressed street intensity of Kate Tempest and the more soulful deconstructions of Indigo Williams to the wry humour from Simon Mole and a hysterical improvised on the spot set from the unlikely looking Irish rap duo Abandoman (who we're going to try and bring in to run some workshops.)

Apart from it being hugely entertaining I loved the commitment of the poets to their words, to their rhythms, to being heard. At times they were ludic, at times profound but nothing was thrown and nothing was wasted as trancelike they went deeper and deeper into their own work, only to pull it back at the last minute with a self deprecating comment or line of pathos.

In the slimmed down times to come I can't help thinking that we should encourage our students to write more original material. Apart from the sheer pleasure of being able to play with words it's the cheapest way to develop ideas, to find a way through and to create new work. As the cuts bite in it's the smart graduates who'll survive to make a living and those who can carry us away with them on a new train of thought have a better chance than most.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Through the Stages.

The final part of the Richmond 110th project tonight with Through the Stages, the exhibition curated by community volunteers officially opening at Richmond Museum.

It's a really rewarding way for the theatre to end its year long programme and the team have done a brilliant job, not only in collecting and sorting the material into a coherent chronological narrative, but also in way they've installed the work giving both a busy feel of backstage clutter and a sense of nostalgia. Every spare inch of wall is taken up with some forgotten treasure or faded photograph, with a few carefully chosen artifacts to break up the wall displays and add a more visceral sense of the theatre's history. It's also lit it really well, the panels and cabinets spotted with sharp focused birdies to give a sense of drama to the space.

The place was packed and nearly everybody stayed for the full two hour reception, which I think is testimony to the sheer amount of interesting stuff to see, read and play with. They should be very proud of themselves.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Curse of Olivia Nightingale and Welcome Back.

Things are moving very fast from one thing to another with little breathing space in between. Sunday was the open day at Richmond Theatre followed by a promenade performance of The Curse of Olivia Nightingale which Carolina and Jennie have directed, using some of the initial workshop participants from Tender Souls.

The girls got great performances from the young cast, but the main focus of the piece was to experiment with form and create a mini-Punchdrunk interactive adventure in and around the foyer and auditorium. As with nearly all experiments there were problems, particularly with some of the improvised sections but it was clear that the cast had had a rewarding experience and that the work was well received.

Straight into the thick of it today on the post-Pope campus, with all the undergraduates piling back in full of summer stories, and ambitious ideas for the next year. We're hastily arranging a stand up gig for the end of Freshers week on Friday night with Felix Dexter, Hannah George and Alex Maple all bringing their Edinburgh gigs in. I'm hoping Jennie and Emma Boz will do five minutes each of the sets they worked on at The Comedy School earlier in the year.

Matt and I had a very positive session this afternoon with the Applied Theatre level 3 laying out a their programme for the next twelve months with Third year Companies, the new Prison Theatre module and our cumulative trip to Malawi next May, to plan and work towards. I was exhausted by the evening.

The first day back proper is always a little bit of a disorientating shock, particularly in the immediate pick up in pace - but it's good to see returning students and start a new journey.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Big Assembly.

An exhausting, but ultimately incredibly rewarding day for the University as it hosted the Pope for the morning. Most local residents were woken early by the hovering helicopters that made their first appearance of the day at six. I turned on the radio to hear our outgoing principal Arthur Naylor do the first of several interviews before heading over to Patsy's for live coverage on the BBC news channel.

It was the weirdest experience. A split screen of the Papal Nuncio in Wimbledon and our running track where thousands of children had gathered and were being warmed up by a charismatic choir leader and a Blue Peter presenter. Meanwhile an alternative view of events came via a regular exchange of texts with Trevor, sitting behind School's Minister Michael Gove in the VIP section.

Predictably it all ran a bit later than planned, but slightly before eleven his holiness arrived on campus and stepped out onto the piazza. It was absolutely extraordinary to watch as he slowly walked round blessing some of the children, shook hands with Arthur, David Leen and Father Gerry, who ushered him into the chapel for a short service and the presentation to St Mary's of a painting of the Virgin.

And then off to the big assembly and a rapturous reception from the kids, who'd been in situ for hours. Siobhan welcomed him. There was singing, a live link up with a school in Gambia and prayers, before finally Benedict delivered a short sermon in which he called on the young people to be the Saints of the 21st century. God, he suggested, is central to living a good life

His words were a simplified form of the key message of the visit, which seems to be to warn the United Kingdom that it's slipping into a dangerous and aggressive atheism. Although I disagree with the premise that religion guarantees you a moral compass and sense of empathy; I'm pleased at the coverage he's being given. The suggestion that faith is central to social cohesion and that fulfilment can't be found without belief is difficult to swallow, but at least his pre-emptive words will offer a chance to debate the value of secularism.

Another short trip in the Papal carrier round to the Waldegrave Drawing Room and an exchange of greetings with leaders of other faith groups, before he slipped out of the back and headed for home, for a brief nap before his big speech in Westminster this evening.

It took a couple further hours before non accredited staff could get back to work, but when I returned late this afternoon, the get out in full flow, the relief that all had gone well was palpable. Beams and handshakes all round. Barry, head of security, was delighted that operations had gone so smoothly. I offered congratulations.

'Nobody even spotted the sniper teams!' he said glowing with pride.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Final Touches.

With thirty six hours until Benedict arrives St. Mary's has begun to go into a bit of a shut down. Normal routes through the campus are suddenly blocked off, common rooms locked and the whole site is being swept. The initial police reckie teams have been replaced by TV executives and production managers planning camera angles and running orders. There's still quite a bit of painting going on - which must stop soon if it's to have any chance of drying by Friday - and an ornate new throne has been installed in the chapel (I know more than one academic whose nipped in to have a sit!)

By lunchtime tomorrow most of us will be on a day and a half of leave; although Sue and Matt have volunteered for stewarding duties and Trevor gets to attend The Big Assembly. Patsy and I are going to get some crisps in and watch it on her plasma screen TV across the river in Ham. It's going to be very strange - kind of an ultimate form of surveillance. They've built a Pope moblie parking space outside my office window.

With all the excitement of the visit plans for the new term have been bitty, although a couple of decent meetings, one on the Robben Island play, which Matt has done some terrific work on and is close to being ready for workshop and a quick chat this evening with Henry at The Orange Tree, who's happy to let some of our students sit in on his rehearsals for the theatre's schools tour of The Tempest in October. Meanwhile Eleanor's printed out lots of information related to applying for Heritage Lottery Grants, which I'd like to go for in order to provide proper funding for The Canterbury Tales. With work about to go into suspended animation I'm also going to try and finish the second draft of the Sarajevo play. There won't be so much time to think about it from Monday when the students arrive.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Brooming Horses.

One of the plans for the coming year is to put together a fun packed portable production of The Canterbury Tales in partnership with the National Trust that we'd tour to properties between here and Canterbury next Spring. Again we'd look to be hosted at Ham House, but there are several possible outlets for the final work, including a promenade around Strawberry Hill, the Kingston International Youth Festival, we could even take it down to Spain.

We need some decent funding to enable the tour to really work, which we'll look into over the next couple of weeks and I need to talk to Patsy about some of the music and choral work that I'd like her to work in. Today though I had a first chat with Tina as we tried to find a way to create horses for the pilgrims. I really like the silliness of hobby horses and we spent some time experimenting with creating our own out of broomsticks, working out different lengths of rein so that actors have some control, but have to work hard to maintain it.

The broomsticks of course give us lots of playful possibilities for other creations, structures, buildings, de marked spaces and providing we're imaginative and thoughtful could give us the basis for a whole design. The main priority of the production will be to take away any fear that our students have about working directly with an outdoor audience. They're going to need to be bold, fearless and charismatic. Post War Horse, it's the only way we'll get away with it.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Blood and Gifts.

The first preview of J T Rogers Blood and Gifts at The National yesterday evening. It began life last year in a shorter version, commissioned as part of The Great Game The Tricycle's season of plays about Afghanistan and has now been developed into a full scale work - interestingly it'll play New York at the end of its London run.

Set in the eighties the piece explores the American and British role in counter insurgency operations against the Soviet invasion and traces the West's relationship with the pre-Taliban Mujaheddin fighters, tasked with defending the mountainous Pakistani border from the Russian advance. Inevitably the play provides a history lesson and is heavy on exposition in its early stages, but quickly settles into a fast paced thriller that explores the knife edge calculations carried out at the sharp end of international diplomacy where no decision is perfect and often the choice is about doing the least damaging thing. The best scene was set in CIA headquarters where Jim Warnock, the American operative, played straight by Lloyd Owen, and his boss, the forthright Walter Barnes, impressively nuanced by Simon Kunz, openly debate the consequences of action or in action in somebody elses conflict. Suddenly the play felt contemporary.

In someways the scope is overambitious and many of the characters are presented as cultural or national ciphers rather than as fully developed protagonists in their own right. The sub plot, involving the struggles of distance parenting, felt a rather obvious and unnecessary device to bring some humanity into the political positioning. If anything the play is a morality tale of Shavian proportion and the complicated dilemma over the need and right to intervene in a foreign war didn't, in this instance, need the padding distraction of a personal metaphor.

So are there links between the arming of the anti-Soviet freedom fighters by the West thirty years ago, and the subsequent emergence of the reviled Taliban? Maybe. But for all its striving this isn't the play to seal that thesis. Instead Rogers reminds us of the pragmatic nature of allegiance albeit dressed up as an analysis of the evolution of a specific conflict.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Fresh Paint.

Back at work and St Mary's has gone into overdrive to try and get spic and span for the Papal visit on the 17th. It felt a bit ironic just three days after visiting the Michelangelo and Raphael glories adorning the chambers of the Vatican to watch the coffee shop being tarted up with a lick of emulsion.

Of course the visit is a big deal and huge honour for the University and everywhere there are signs of the accompanying make over. From my office I watched as in double quick time the pathway that will lead his holiness from the outdoor sermon to a private meeting with other faith leaders was tarmacked and the surrounding ground re turfed. Meanwhile toilets are being stripped, furniture upholstered, brasses polished and paving made flat; whilst security men and event organisers pace nervously, carry clipboards, talk into radios and stare into the middle distance as they imagine possible approaches, exits and evacuations. Nothing is spared and everything is moved in preparation. Staff who have volunteered to take part on the day rush from briefing meeting to briefing meeting. From the outside it's all slightly surreal.

Slowly we're beginning to make plans for the new semester. A few creaky meetings trying to establish where we'd left off before the Summer in sharp contrast to the hub of activity surrounding the campus. Still it's good to see everybody again and begin to look ahead.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Pope's Gaff.

Thursday 2nd September.
Last day in the Rome and with late afternoon transfers to consider I stayed in and around the Vatican this morning wandering the hundreds of rooms, palaces, chapels with the thousands of other visitors, sometimes piggy backing onto a guided tour, sometimes moving alone. It's an incredible collection but it's so sumptuous and there's so much that it's inevitable that most of it goes by unnoticed. Still I spent a good deal of time in the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche looking at the beautiful regional maps painted onto the walls by Ignazio Dante and I enjoyed the Raphael rooms - particularly playing spot the philosopher on the star studied School of Athens fresco.

The suggested tour worms it's way mysteriously around the buildings bringing you closer and closer to the Sistine Chapel - always, it seems, a suite of rooms away - until eventually you're led up a set of stair and funnelled into the room.

Truth be told I was a bit underwhelmed and unconnected. It was packed, as noisy as a train station and cavernous. I found no space to imagine the quiet contemplations that must have occurred here, the election of centuries of Popes, the decisions effecting millions of people. It had all the intimacy of Disneyland.

Went for a coffee on the terrace and looked across the Vatican grounds - shimmering and manicured like an exclusive golf club - before going to visit the crypt of St Peters, where all the Popes are buried alongside the convert Queen Catherine of Sweden and the last of the Stuarts - the unrecognised James III.

Soon it was time to be heading for home, but first I climbed to the Cupola of the basilica for one final 360 degree look over the eternal city. Muffled traffic, streams of pilgrims and tourists following their hearts and umbrellas across the square, the deep set Tiber, the ancient ruins and beyond the seven hills. Stunning really.

Since I got here I've been reading a lot of travellers tales Dickens, Goethe, Ruskin, Zola, Shelley, Woolf all wrote vividly about their time here - but my favourite description comes form Gogol.

'Rome. What air! It seems that when you inhale through your nose at least seven hundred angels will fly in your nostrils.'

It's the one I'll take home with me.

All Roads...

Wednesday 1st September.

This morning was old Rome. I wandered down to The Capitoline Museums to have a look at some of the salvaged glories. The huge body parts of a colossal Constantine in the courtyard, a dignified equestrian statue of the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius and the famous wolf suckling the feral twins Romulus and Remus. A cloister in the basement of the museum opens up to reveal a splendid view over the steps where Caesar fell, Anthony spoke and onwards over the forum itself. A mini town of rubble and debris, the ancient routes through the city worn to dust, the public buildings crumbled and jagged like old teeth in a rotten mouth.

I decided that I'd need more shade to see it properly, so instead headed down to the Colosseum - bold, evocative and intimidating. How terrifying the carnage in the cauldron atmosphere must have been? How perverse the blood letting? The architecture is exhilarating - steep steps leading expectantly from the dark concourses to the open wonder and unbridled lust of the arena itself. It's completely chilling. And it wasn't just gladiators and wild beasts. One highly popular form of entertainment was a kind of snuff pantomime where the victims were forced to sing and dance whilst being set on fire and burnt to death. The more they burnt, the more they danced and the more the audience apparently lapped it up. I left with imagined cries in my ears.

A twenty minute walk through Aventine and I found the contrasting sanctuary of the protestant cemetery, final resting place of Keats, Shelley and a hundred or so other emigres. It was a pleasant surprise to find Gramsci, tucked in a peaceful, well tended grave under the west wall. I was happy to accidentally come across him.

The light was shifting now, making it cool enough to cross the Circus Maximus and head for the Palatine Hill and an up close look at the Forum, where I sat for some time watching the world go by the undisturbed stones of an ancient civilisation.

Heading back to the river I came across Bartaruga in the Piazza Mattei, a welcoming little baroque bar filled with bohemians and travellers sharing light stories of their journeys, hopes and beliefs. I ended up in an animated debate about whether it's more inspiring to be aware of each sunrise or sunset, which ended abruptly when the sunset supporters realised they only had a few minutes left to find a memorable place to fulfil their ritual and fled for the hills. I stayed on for another glass of wine. I've always been more of a morning person.

A City of the Imagination.

Tuesday 31st August.

I've quickly discovered what a great place for walkers Rome is. As long as you find the shady side of the street you can comfortably be just about anywhere in half an hour from anywhere else. I started the day by crossing the Tiber and heading for the Keats museum by the side of the Spanish Steps. Already I'm finding it easier to conjure an image of the city that the grand tourists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century discovered than I am of imperial glories. Rome in my mind, I realise, has been in perpetual ruin, overgrown with vines.

The house is full of curios, but the star attraction is the room Keats died in, which, although fairly accommodating, has it's own silent protocol of only admitting one visitor at a time. Everybody gets to spend a moment alone with the spirit of romantic genius.

Walked up to the piazza del Popolo to see the Caravaggios in Santa Maria and then took a long stroll south down via del Corso to the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and across to the Piazza Navona. Before heading on to the lively Campo de Fiori for a coffee watched by the brooding hooded figure of Giordano Bruno burned for heresy in the market in 1600. I liked the contrast with the happy cries of the traders.

With a load of sightseeing done I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and walked without purpose through the old Jewish ghetto, across the river again to Trastevere and found the Almost Corner English speaking bookshop, run by Dermot, a charming Irishman, full of advice and recommendation. This might just be the Dolche Vita, I thought - a little bookshop in a Roman side street, chatting all day to newly arrived students and tourists about the wonders of an ever surprising and changing city.

By sunset I'd climbed the Gianicolo hill which overlooks Rome from the West and watched as the yellow walls and red rooftops of the city melted to butter and pastel pink, before ending the day with a beer, a pizza, a conversation with two very excited Americans spending their first day in Europe and late night walk back along the Tiber to the hotel. It's been glorious.