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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
St Peter's at last
22/04/2010

After three quarters of an hour with gel filler and a shower, Pip was ready to join Sarah on a jaunt to Rome. Top of the list was a visit to the Basilica of St Peter, one of Rome's great sights and one we haven't visited yet.
Much to our surprise and delight, there was no queue. In all the hoo-ha about the ash cloud over Europe, we hadn't thought that of course all the tourists have been unable to get here, making the city remarkably empty. There are of course millions of pictures and books of the cathedral, so we've just made a small album in the gallery. The picture above is of the wonderful swelling belly of the niece of Pope Urban VIII who commissioned the baldachini over the altar from Bernini. The niece (whose name is not recorded) vowed to support the columns if she had a successful pregnancy. Bernini carved nine of these women, on the faces of the plinths supporting the columns, recording each month of the pregnancy, and on a tenth face there is a baby! The bees on her stomach honour the Berberini family of the pope.
The columns themselves are fantastical twists, like brown sherbet sticks. They are made from 927 tons of metal removed from the roof of the Parthenon. These twists mirror the ones in the galleries beneath the dome (not pictured) which are the oldest part of the building; apparently they go back to Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who sent six of them from Greece when he commissioned the first temple over the burial place of St Peter.
The dome itself is of course magnificent. Designed by the elderly Michelangelo, he died before it was completed. It is difficult to give an idea of its size, but the letters of the inscription around the lower layer are nearly 2m high. It has enormous grace and lightness, seeming to hover above the frantic bronze of Bernini like the feathered sky of a spring morning.
At the other end of the basilica is the beautiful Pieta carved by the young Michelangelo, when he was only 24. Even at a distance and behind glass it is an astonishing carving, the marble seeming to flow and ripple, so that, like Mary, you expect the dead body in her arms to move and breathe. It is the only work he ever signed, to stop it being attributed to anyone else.
In addition to these outstanding pieces, there is the throne of St Peter, also by Bernini. Its central window is a dove within a great sunburst. This is but one of many images of the rising sun scattered throughout St Peter's and many liturgical vestments used either by the Pope himself or to adorn the altar. There is an irony here. The first cathedral on this spot was built when it was still customary for the entrance doors to face the sunrise, or east, rather than for the altar to encourage the congregation to face Jerusalem, as most extant churches do. This caused problems for Pope Leo the Great in 460, as in his time, the early Christians then turned round and bowed to the sun, in an echo of the third century sun-cult, itself a successor to the worship of Apollo or Mithras. Leo's fulminating sermons against this practice still exist.
There is a wonderful bronze of St Peter, seated, which on festival days is draped in Papal raiment. It is considered good luck to touch the statue's feet, which we saw many people do, and his toes are worn quite smooth with the optimism of millions.
Apart from the Popes there's an eclectic mix of people buried in St Peter's, and there are probably whole guidebooks on the subject. We particularly noticed Pope Innocent XIII, who financed Queen Isabella of Spain for the Reconquista, and thus Columbus' voyages to the Americas. He got a good return on his investment, but there's a man with a lot to answer for! We could not help noticing the shapely angels that adorn the tomb of the last of the Stuarts, pretenders to the English throne and unacceptable because of their Catholicism.
There are five women buried amongst all these masculine dead, and of these the most interesting to us is of course King Christina of Sweden, whose tomb is marked by a very ugly medallion mounted on a pillar in the north aisle. She was brought up as a prince, and King was her proper title, though she is usually called Queen. She abdicated in 1654 and moved to Rome, where she continued her patronage of philosophers and artists. Most notoriously she had a wide range of sensual tastes, including passionate relationships with women.

Places and people
Gini and Albi
10/04/2010, Ostia Lido

Across the pontoon from us is Gini, a rather handsome 50' Gibsea. She has a strong pilot house, and all in all looks more like a Nauticat or some other northern motor-sailor than the stereotyped image of a yacht from Dufour. In fact, these boats have won awards as strong cruising boats, and you can see it in her lines.
Aboard her lives Albi, who is working hard on improvements with a view to selling her in the near future. He is all round clever at boat stuff, and has already cunningly improved our stern anchor roller, making it much stronger and more trustworthy for all those fishing quays ahead of us in southern Italy and Greece. He's also going to dive and scrub our hull. In theory, this is a job we could do, but in fact neither of us are divers. Mike talks longingly of a hookah (seethis site for one make), which is a way of making shallow dives without having to lug a scuba tank about, by having the compressed air tank on deck, or on a raft, and long flexible hose to the diver. This is probably still a bit out of our depth (boom, boom) but something we will explore. It's the sort of kit which would pay for itself pretty fast.
In the meantime, this is Albi, our friend and helper.

Places and people
Easter breakfast at the neighbours
10/04/2010, Ostia Lido

Last weekend was of course Easter and we were invited next door to Amorada for a typical Italian Easter breakfast of boiled egg, proscuttio and salami, which was a real privilege.
Amorada is owned by Alessandra, Fabrizzio and their daughter Veronica (she of the Indian Rope Trick). The boat's name comes from the Sardinian for lover, and also suggests the love (amore) of small bays (rada), which suits her owners who like to get away to small anchorages.

Places and people
Good Friday in Rome
06/04/2010, Outside the Colosseum

Holy Week is a big deal here of course. The Romans, or more particularly the Vatican, go about it rather differently from the pageantry and ostentatious penitence of Spain. There are of course numerous Masses and liturgies in St Peter's Basilica, with enormous crowds.
On Good Friday it is not usual to actually celebrate Mass. The Via Crucis is an old tradition, in which a crucifix is carried from the Colosseum to the Palatine Hill, stopping fourteen times on the way for meditations on the Stations of the Cross. The Pope often leads this procession, but the current pontiff, now 82, leads the ceremony from a big dais projecting from the side of the hill.
Huge crowds attend this affair, from all over the world. It's a mixture of the devout, anxious for a glimpse of the Pope, and the curious trippers who can't miss a free event. We got right in the midst of the crowd but didn't stay throughout the ceremony, which was in Italian, largely spoken and hence not terribly interesting for us.
The roundabout that envelops the Colosseum, the Via Fori Imperiale and the Via de S Gregorio south to the Circus Massimo are all shut to traffic for the event, and one great part was to walk the streets that are normally traffic choked and get splendid views. This shot shows one of the massive internal walkways of the amphitheatre, the purple light eerie against the ancient stonework.

Places and people
Rebuilding and re-use
06/04/2010, The Forums of Rome

Rome makes you see in new ways. Everywhere the old and the older are used to build the relatively new. The street plan reflects classical land use: the mediaeval warren around Campo di' Fiori was built on the parade grounds of the legions, outside the city walls. Or successive generations lay claim to the inherited mantle, as Mussolini did by driving his Via dei Fori Imperiali through the Forums.
The Forums are still amazing despite the depredations of river silt, Vandal invasions, earth tremors and constant looting for materials. For a start, they cover a huge area. And whilst much that remains is in ruins, the scale of the buildings, the width and paving of the streets, cannot but impress you by the complexity of governance, religion and debate that required these developments.
This building is not by any means the grandest or most significant in the Forums. It is interesting because it combines different eras, and tells a tiny piece of the complicated history of the area. For a start, the street level of the Forum was several metres lower than today. Over centuries the silt deposited by the Tiber's regular floods built up the 'floor' of Rome. Taken from the street as it was in classical Rome, you can see in this picture the enormous height of the columns of the temple of Antonius and Faustina. These deities were the parents of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Antonius himself began the building in 141AD, for his wife. The roof architrave is still there, with inscriptions of candelabra, griffins and acanthus.
The temple is so well preserved (the best in the Forum) because somewhere between the seventh and eleventh centuries it became the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. in 1429/30, Pope Martin V gave the church to the Collegio degli Speziali (College of Chemists and Herbalists), at the time officially known as the Universitas Aromatorium. (They still use their adjoining guildhall, which contains a small museum that holds a medicine-receipt signed by Raphael).
The brick steps are modern - and the fa├žade of the church is from 1602.

Places and people
The glories of Rome
06/04/2010, Vatican Museums

Back in October and November we did do quite a lot of sightseeing and have got the multitude of pictures to prove it. But we completely failed to post anything. Of course many of the pix are better seen in commercial photos on line or in the books - our skills (and equipment) will not really do justice to the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Forum or the astonishing Sistine Chapel. And you can read all about those is many different places.
The Vatican Museums, of which the Chapel is but one, shining part, are enormous. The acquisitiveness of the Renaissance Popes, their wealth and patronage, creates an extraordinary set of collections. For any sailors, the Gallery of Maps is particularly fascinating. Between 1580 and 1583, Pope Gregory XIII had 40 detailed maps created of the Papal empire, painted on the walls of a 'corridor' that is 175m long and 6m wide, by the friar and geographer Ignazio Danti. Essentially, the pope's possessions were Italy and parts of France, and so each large section of the wall shows one region, with a large inset of its major city. To one side of the room is the western coast, and to the other is the eastern. At each end there are specific pictures which hark back to the classical empire, further emphasising the Papal claims to succession to that power.
The ceiling too has amazing frescoes, illustrating events which took place in the regions shown on the panels.
The picture above is, we think (but can't be absolutely certain) Genoa as it then was, with big curved sea walls. If anyone can correct us, please do! As you can see the maps are decorated with detailed pictures of vessels, and elsewhere with wind roses.
We recommend the Map Room to anyone interested in navigation and history. But don't miss out on the great monuments, or the Chapel and the Raphael Rooms within the Vatican.

Places and people
And another thing
26/03/2010, Norfolk

In the middle of this, in late February, Celia fell over and broke her hip. Fortunately she was whisked to hospital and came through the surgery with flying colours. She spent a very difficult month in hospital. Another whole blog could be written on that experience, but for a start, let's beg Jamie Oliver to turn his attention from school dinners to hospital food. Starvation interspersed with nausea doesn't help anyone get well.
The only (narrow) silver lining is that she missed the last and most intrusive stage of the building works on her lovely new extension. Her local council, with some difficulty, had agreed to this addition to enable her to stay in her own beloved cottage, and it's been done nicely. She's now ensconced there, with good access to all she needs and a stunning view of the fields and horses. Now it's keeping up the exercises to get well enough to resume driving the ponies now that summer is on the way.
During this time, Sarah's been working in south London again and staying two or three nights a week with Fiona, who's been very generous. She and Melanie came out to Rome in February and had a great time rushing around the sights.

Places and people
Laproscopy: from the inside
26/03/2010, Theatre

Pip also started out with lots of training, but ran (literally) into serious trouble with her right knee. What had started out as a bit of a nuisance deteriorated during last summer, and any walking, like Roman sightseeing, was becoming impossible. She tried the recommended approach of rest, ice, compression and elevation, and took lots of anti-inflammatories, but as soon as she stopped, the pain and swelling returned.
After a lot of investigation, and the discovery that Suffolk NHS will do everything possible to avoid giving knee surgery, we took the plunge and at 24 hours notice she had keyhole surgery on 3 March. These pictures are the inside of her knee joint! The bottom right hand one shows the tear, which is what the surgery shaved to stop pain and any deterioration.
At the time of writing, it's healing well and we have bought some high-quality builder's knee-pads. The engine maintenance requires quite a lot of knee time (and that's before the praying starts), so they're essential.

Places and people
Fitness, health and the creaking of joints.
26/03/2010, Ipswich - and South Wimbledon

The picture is the personal trainer, the lovely Georgia, who took on Sarah's various flabby bits and did a good job of getting (lots of) them under control In particular, two bouts of stomach surgery in 3 years and a long history of shoulder trouble needed action. Georgia has been brilliant, and my shoulder in particular is stronger than it has been for years. Painful though it is to admit it, serious training is much more effective than short bouts of physiotherapy have ever been.
No - I can't do this move, though it's not for lack of trying. The piece of kit is a TRX, and is truly astounding. See http://www.zerotocruising.com/?page_id=1692 and watch the video clip for how the serious pros are using it on their catamaran. Awesome, if terrifying. Mike and Rebecca ran a martial arts gym for 20 years and are w-a-a-y out of our league.
For this summer we've decided we're not quite ready for this, but I can see another winter's training might get Roaring Girl fitted up with one for the future. They are flexible, effective and pack down really small. In the meantime, we have both worked hard on getting in trim, and hope to maintain some of that in the coming months. Lots of people say - well surely, living aboard keeps you fit. Our experience is that you get quite strong in the upper body, but not that much more. It's very easy to end doing very little cardio work and letting all sorts of muscles get pretty flabby.

Places and people
Birthdays as well
26/03/2010, Rural Norfolk

Meantime, Sarah's mother, Celia, was 80 shortly before Xmas. We - Sarah, brother James and indeed Pip too - organised a party for her with a lot of help from friends. Despite a picturesque but daunting foot of snow, about 45 people turned out, which was quite a tribute.

Places and people
A long winter
Pip
26/03/2010, Ipswich - and NZ


Like everyone in the UK it feels like it's been a hard winter. Snow, fogs, miserable, fetid politics. We have also had some particular challenges. The picture above is my Dad, Arthur Harris, who died suddenly on 15 December, at his lovely home in Hastings, New Zealand. He had a dicky heart for many years, though it never seemed to slow him down, and on his last day had been working outside, painting a fence.
Brother John and I flew out to NZ on 16 December for the funeral, where we met up with brother Dave and his partner Jo. Of course, we stayed for Xmas. Fortunately the snow allowed us to leave and let up long enough for us to come back before the New Year.
Dad is missed by all his children, and his long-time partner Joan.

Places and people
Huge amounts of sightseeing
11/10/2009, Rome

We spent four days just seeing the very top of the huge riches of Rome. The Vatican Museums, the Forum, Colosseum and Palatine Hill. An open topped bus tour. The Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. Various slices of pizza, several ice-creams, very (very) sore feet. 137 photographs. We're only posting the one picture, of us beside the Arch of Constatntine and the Colosseum, to stand for it all.
Rome requires a different way of seeing. Every building, every sight, every perspective is full of different layers and events, epochal changes over the last three thousand years. So many different forms of government, such an array of art and propaganda. Rome is full of reinvention: the Colosseum built as a demagogic gesture, over the top of Nero's extravagances, now at the end of Mussolini's own imperial gesture of the road that cuts the Forum in two. The Sistine Chapel, painted against the Pope's original commission but famous from the moment of completion. The beautiful statues in the Octagonal Garden of the Vatican, mostly collected in the Renaissance - classical-Roman copies of earlier Greek originals.
We feel we've seen so very little of it; we are already planning our next forays into a city which will become emptier over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we return to the UK for a while, as the coffers need filling. The weather is still splendid here, despite several torrential thunderstorms, and neither of us is looking forward to the short, wet days of the UK in winter.

Places and people

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