“Is this the first time you play at the Pantheon?” The question was aggressive. The questioner wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he had a large Polizia badge hanging round his neck, and resting on a very authoritatively sized stomach. The badge was not much below my eyeline when I stood up.
I didn’t have time for any of the usually persuasive story about having biked from almost Scotland. “It is the last,” he said, wobbling his badge with power. “Here it is forbidden.”
You could see why it would be. The crowds were big enough for a football match (though well enough behaved for rugby), and had just been dangerously parted by a parade of three horse-drawn carriages. No authority would be in the mood to tolerate a stationary cellist eliciting mild applause.
Even so, I did get a photo, and a video, to prove that I did play in front of the Pantheon – which has probably seen worse in the 1897 years that it’s stood there.
Rome is a city of many superlatives and magnificences like this. The Highway Cello journey was conceived as being “from the edge of the Roman Empire to its heart.” And here that heart seems still to beat.
I’ve been here nearly 72 hours – in Rome, silly, not specifically at the Pantheon – and I’m still trying to believe that the project is effectively over – the goal has been reached, I’ve arrived, I’m in Rome.
So I’ve been going around all the iconic places, and many little hidden corners, shamelessly blocking the tourist traffic, and playing Bach, and Debussy, and old English folk tunes that may or may not have been written by Henry VIII, and Irish love songs, and anything else I can think of, trying to get it into my head that I’m in Rome.
The heat has dissipated, and the forecast is for a comfortable 33C today. It went out with quite a bang. Jenny and Alfie had put on a little party, and I’d played some stuff out on their terrace, overlooking semi-suburban Rome – yes, Rome – and I was sleeping on the same terrace because the bedroom was too hot, when I woke up to find I was being blown away.
We’d seen some lightning in the distance, earlier, and suddenly the storm arrived. The wind was fearsome, and fearsomely sudden, and stuff that wasn’t tied or weighted down was banging and crashing and flying away. Rome – yes, I’m in Rome – can really put on a show.
They have pizzas here, and ice-cream. And fountains. And a river called the Tiber. And history, and Empire. And tourists who seem sometimes to want a break from all that just to listen to a cello playing in the shade.
And I’m sitting in a heap, reflecting that I’ve ridden 40 days, and 1800 miles, and climbed the height of approximately 3.3 Everests to get here. And feeling that odd mixture of finality, and mortality, and emptiness, and accomplishment, that goes with the reaching of a goal.
A goal, by the way, that would have been a lot harder to reach without all the encouragement I’ve had from patient and indulgent readers – for which, thank you, and thank you again.
When I should, at my age, know that life is not about goals. It’s only process. And the process continues, and today’s another day. So what shall we do today?