In Berkeley Square you normally admire the trees, the tired bedraggled grass, and the stoic office workers stalwartly enjoying fresh air, whilst cars and trucks go round and round, circling like lions around Christians in the Colosseum. But at this time of year the pattern is disrupted by the landing of a massive tent, like a space ship, on the north side of the square. The tent serves as home to the LAPADA fair first and then the PAD fair will follow. The former is the flagship for the provincial dealers and they wave the flag doggedly, confidently asserting the value and significance of the local dealer. There is a smattering of the London trade too, together with slightly forlorn and lost looking international dealers - they look like travellers who have caught the wrong train and are doing their best to get home. The look of the fair is very chic as Stabilo - the builders of TEFAF and Masterpiece - have built it. White autumnal leaves adorn the carpet, and the ever elegant director Mieka stalks the floor ministering to the wants and needs of her clients, visitors and press. The mood amongst the trade is wary but optimistic and as the opening day passes so does the spread of little red measles dots indicating business is underway. I don't stay long as I find the dominant black decor slightly funereal but my friends are happy enough.
Further south in Battersea Park the Decorative Fair is open. This is a charming fair full of activity and life, animated particularly by sleeping, strolling and barking dogs. Furniture is always being carried in and out as no dealer wants to leave sold items on their stand. The flow makes the whole room feel very lovely and there is a buzz - possibly deceptive, as chests of drawers on the move and the occasional sofa do not necessarily indicate a mass of sales. But the crowd is welcoming and there is a trolley that rolls around guided by cheerful Australian girls selling champagne and cocktails. The feeling is very much one of a party. I am tempted by a few items and naturally I gravitate towards Ferdinando Jewels. Louise is sharing with Nick Wells, one my alumni from the university of Mallett. Their stand looks well and as per usual Louise is mobbed by women trying things on.
My flat has been transformed into a workshop as a keen young man called Oscar comes round and transforms the black and tarnished objects bought in the south of France into shiny silver things. Cleaning silver is hard work but the results are magical. The deep grey and black becomes a precious metal and the craftsman's original design emerges from the gloom like a butterfly from its chrysalis. Oscar sits in the garden, his hands black with cleaning products and the grime from the objects. His mood is good because, though the work is hard, the results are visible and rewarding.
A day wrestling with London Transport and Ryanair and we are in Rome. Sitting in front of us on the plane is a large man with a straggly beard. He drinks double vodkas throughout the flight, each time with a different fizzy drink mixer. He begins quiet behind his over-scale sunglasses, but gradually the alcohol warms him and he starts chatting to and joking with the small fair-haired air-hostess. By the end of the two and a half hour flight he is garrulous and waxes grandiloquent on the joy and speed of international travel. He laughs loudly and we are all a little awkward but thank-fully we have just landed and we disembark swiftly. On the ground he lets out a quick roar of excitement at having arrived and the start of his Roman adventure. I share his pleasure, his thrill, and his wonder at the miracle of being able to wake up in London and to watch the sunset in Rome. We are very lucky and the fact that this time it took an exuberant drunken Chilean living in Kingston-upon-Thames to bring it home to me, it is all true. Dinner at Da Fortunato beside my favourite building in the world, the Pantheon. The oppressive, unforgiving lighting which is such a classic of old school Italian restaurants becomes unimportant as a plate of Parma ham arrives still slightly warm from the slicing machine. This is accompanied by warm fluffy stuffed fiori di zucchini and a small football of milky Mozzarella. Falanghina white wine and dark red Aglianico del Vulture add a volcanic soil minerality to our dining which wakes us up for our pepper and black truffle pasta and keeps us going until the last mouthful of the beef tagliata that rounds off our meal. A shared bowl of those succulent jewels of the forest, wild strawberries, and all that remains is the walk home via the best ice cream shop in Rome - Giolitti. Two tiny scoops - one of pistachio and one of blackberry sorbet - and then bed, contemplating the wisdom of the Chilean.
The Palazzo Venezia is home to the Rome Biennale. The palazzo is only partially obscured by the fair and its magnificence creeps out at the corners and when you look up the ceilings. The history of any building in Rome is a tapestry of information but this building is both an erstwhile papal residence and was also used by Mussolini, whose presence can be felt everywhere. Many of his most important speeches were delivered from the balcony to crowds in the piazza below, and the exhibitors are keen to recount tales of where he kept and engaged with his numerous girlfriends. The fair is mixed in style with a smattering from every epoch and style. Some of the Italian Masterpiece exhibitors show here. Most claim to exhibit for reasons of loyalty to their capital rather than pure commerce. But as you would expect, elegance abounds, with fine pieces in every room - the mood is fundamentally buoyant. One exhibitor I spoke to had come not anticipating much but had sold eight paintings. As they often say, "You won't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket."