Many years ago, when I first joined the John Hall Course as putative director, at the end of the London Week the management, and a few friends would have a round of drinks in a (long demolished) pub and the toast was 'Roll On Tivoli'. At the time, I thought it peculiar and ever-so-slightly cynical that we were hoping for the course to end. But what I'd failed to pick up on was a hope that the end would come, not quickly, but without too much drama and worry.
On June 13th this year, having begun this particular chapter in January 2020, the last part of this extraordinary story began.
On each and every day the ghastly spectre of COVID-19 lurked...
Equipped with gallons of hand sanitiser, info-red thermometer, 150 testing kits, plastic aprons, masks and all one would require for the emergency that I feared might arrive at any moment, the course for 2020 began.
Sunny hot days lay ahead. Exceptional trips to Ravenna, Padova, the Palladian Villas of the Veneto, the islands of the Venetian lagoon. Then came the necessity for the five day quarantine for arrivals from the Dead Zone that all of Europe regarded the UK to be, and lecturers began voicing their concerns, and a few of then decided that it was simply not worth the bother of having to deal with endless tests and quarantine back at home for the pleasure of coming to lecture to our group of curious and excited students.
I scrambled to fill the gaps, and found some fantastic speakers who we are delighted to have added to our already over-brimming faculty, and the course went on.
Then we discovered the eccentric loophole that meant that anyone staying in Italy for less that five days did not need to quarantine and so most of the lecturers that we had booked decided that they could come, so what turned out to be looking like a pared-down programme began bursting at the seams!
Down to Florence, and danger...more 'other' teenagers, more potential for 'mixing', spreading the virus! Again, I was forced to find a lecturer who was prepared to risk his health and liberty to come and run the gauntlet of quarantine.
There we were joined by a dozen from 2020, whose trip had been so cruelly curtailed by last year's outbreak.
True enough, it was only a matter of hours until I discovered that another group of students, not far from us, had been hit by the virus and we watched, with utter horror and sadness as things began to unravel for them.
But, off to The Eternal City, unscathed.
It is a furnace, but undeterred we continued. Frank Dabell and Gregory Dowling, both Italian residents led the visits and delivered orations and our group gelled and loved the experience, from Ancient to...well, less Ancient.
Yesterday we finally arrived in Tivoli, at the stupendous 'hanging gardens' and explosive fountains of the Villa d'Este, Gregory read from an Anthony Hecht poem about the Villa d'Este and we simply went to wander and wonder.
...and then finally for our last lunch at the Ristorante Sibilla, under the wisteria and in the shadow of the stunning 1st century BC temple, scene of many a Grand Tourist's lunch.
Back to Rome and everyone got their 'Test To Fly' tests and everyone was negative! This, and last year's students are now heading off to catch flights, I will go with those coming back this evening, and, The John Hall Venice Course of 2021 and 2020 is concluded.
Now I understand the rousing cry, 'Roll On Tivoli!'