Diary Australia


7 September 2019

9:00 AM

7 September 2019

9:00 AM

It’s been a long time away from home in Tasmania. I arrived in Rome in early July to teach Latin to a group of Australians and one young Chinese woman. Heat wave conditions with the temperatures soaring into the high 30s. Climate change? Well maybe, but Juvenal complained about the insufferable heat of a Roman summer 2000 years ago. It doesn’t deter us – we are all enthusiasts and we enjoy working through substantial chunks of perennial classics fundamental to the Western tradition – Virgil, Cicero and many others. Helping with the teaching are Sydney lawyer John O’Halloran (as strong on Roman archaeology as he is on Roman law) and a former student from 40 years ago, Robert Carver, now in the English Department of the University of Durham. We work all the morning and walk in the afternoons. A moving highlight is the Scavi under St Peter’s where the bones of the apostle lie.

A Roman friend arranges a visit to the Charterhouse of Trisulti in southern Lazio, founded in 1204 by Innocent III, and now the home of the controversial Dignitatis Humanae Institute. The Director, Ben Harnwell, shows us around a place of extraordinary beauty with perhaps the world’s best-preserved monastic dispensary. The controversy arises from its links with former Trump aide Steve Bannon who apparently has ambitions to guide its development. This is a touchy subject and we leave it alone.

Next I’m off to the French Vendée, to Chavagnes College, a small ‘public school’ (in the English sense), hosting an important and ambitious conference on Western Literature. What makes this English school remarkable is that it’s in France, and it has expanded its scope into the tertiary sector, offering both a BA and now an MA in Liberal Arts. The principal speaker is Joseph Pearce: his series of lectures forms part of the BA teaching programme. My own paper is a re-working of my chapter in Catherine Runcie’s recent collection Reclaiming Education. The Vendée is a strange region. A local seigneur receives us on the steps of his home, the very spot where members of his family were shot during the Revolution. He shows us his chapel, and the war-damaged flag which he’s holding in trust – to give back to the King when he returns! Can this be the France of Emmanuel Macron or am I dreaming?

My next stop is Yorkshire to stay with my sister- and brother-in-law in a pretty village on the edge of the moors. It’s such a beautiful part of the world. On a sadder note we travel across to the Lake District to have lunch with a senior Catholic priest who has been suspended from his duties.  He was falsely charged with abuse, the police determined that there was no case to answer, but a timorous church shilly-shallies over his reinstatement. This story is all too common nowadays and like many others I regret that the Church is often too slow to act in serious cases, but cruelly over-zealous in failing to deliver swift justice to people who have been wrongly accused. His case amounts to a denial of human rights and it would break your heart.

I was an only child but fortunate to marry into a large family! Down to Surrey next to stay with two more sisters-in-law and the husband of one of them, the latter very much damaged by a stroke several years ago. Their courage and warm hospitality delight and shame me: could I ever be so brave?  They give me a wonderful time, and sylvan Surrey is always such a delight.

Ivisit another old friend near Reading, Christopher Moseley, author of UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (2010). I think Chris is the cleverest man I know, fluent in many tongues but with a special interest in the languages of the Baltic states. He has worked as a translator and interpreter and enjoys world-wide recognition as an expert in this field.  He is also quite unjustifiably modest.

Finally, Mallorca, where I’m putting this diary together. I’m here as a ‘responsible adult’ for my 10 year-old grandson, Rupert, who is doing a live-in tennis ‘boot camp’ run by Jofre Porta, once Nadal’s coach (Nadal, of course, is a Mallorca man). Rupert plays in several matches on the other side of the island at Nadal’s own ‘Academy’, a glitzy operation where rich kids’ parents are said to pay 66,000 euros a year for luxury accommodation and instruction. I prefer Jofre’s more modest establishment because they work them harder. Language is always interesting to me, and Catalán is more in evidence here than Castillian Spanish, despite (or perhaps because of) Franco’s stern attempts to suppress it. I have little of either but automatically speak Italian (something in the romance Mediterranean atmosphere triggers it) but I’m generally not understood. This casts further doubt on Belloc’s claim to have walked from Paris to Rome speaking only Latin!

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