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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.

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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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