Magazine article The Spectator

Milestones and Millstones

Magazine article The Spectator

Milestones and Millstones

Article excerpt

Rome

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, TakiTancredi. 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. …

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