Embarrassing strata on Roccatagliata

By no stretch of the imagination can I be called a domesticated person. Cooking is not my forte (indeed it is my pianissimo); I can barely sew on a button, and I would never, if left alone, sweep under the bed or behind the sofa.

It is therefore unexpected, and I fear comical to my friends, that when I am on holiday, sightseeing, I have this preoccupation with dust. I have just been in Italy: to Verona, Vicenza and Venice, all cities of astounding beauty, each containing architectural gems and incomparable works of art. Guidebook in hand I stood in front of these, reading to my companion such extracts as, ''The partly Romanesque interior has a round-headed main door, to the left of which is the tomb of A. Fracastoro (d.1368) the physician of the Scaglieri'' or, ''The Teatro Olimpico (open daily 9-6) the last work of Palladio (1580, finished by Scamozzi) is a very interesting structure of wood and stucco with fixed scenery representing a piazza and streets in perfect perspective.'' Or yet again, ''Over the sacristy door are busts of Titian and the elder and younger Palma.'' And so on.

Instead, however, of being thunderstruck by, or at any rate interested in the excellence of these beautiful artifacts, I was, for some reason, merely appalled at the dustiness of them. It was all I could do not to go and borrow a ladder from the sacristan and climb on to, say, the tomb of the Doge Pietro Mocinego and give it a thorough good dusting. All the statues in Italy, and most of the picture frames are deep in cinquecento dust, and I simply longed to collect a bunch of matrons with mops and brooms and buckets full of nice lathery water to have a go at cleaning things up. I only had to be shown a Bellini over an altar or a candelabrum by Roccatagliata and I would say, ''H'm, lovely, but my, it does need a dust!''

Whence this obsession with cleanliness has sprung I know not, but it has now become so much a part of my sightseeing I am quite dreading the day when I have to take a visitor to Westminster Abbey; just in case all its statues, too, are deep in dust. Because then I suppose I could do something about it, could start a campaign to dust round John Dryden's ears and give Disraeli's collar a wash. If the recumbent Mary Queen of Scots has inches of fluff on her kirtle, or indeed her nose, I suppose it would behoove me to insist on the Dean and Chapter investing in a vacuum cleaner? I might even have to offer to help!

Maybe I'll take my friends to the Zoo instead. The hippos can't be dusty.

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