A monastery in the clouds

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One fall afternoon in Naples the clouds snuck out from behind the Pantheon-like San Francesco di Paola Church as I stood in the main square in the sunshine.

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Approaching the large, Bourbon Piazza del Plebiscito from the Santa Lucia waterfront district is one of the most dramatic views I’ve ever seen in a city. There is an old monastery on an ancient hill and from this vantage point it looks like the Certosa di San Martino is floating on clouds.

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A closer look as you come upon the piazza.

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Caffe Gambrinus (Oscar Wilde’s old haunt and one of my favorite cafe-bar-tearooms) and the gleaming dome of the Galleria Umberto I, a strikingly beautiful marble-covered shopping atrium.

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All photographs shot in Naples, Italy October 2013 and were shot on velvia 35mm film slides by Rebecca Price Butler alovelettertorome.com retrofocus@mac.com

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Dante, Virgil and Augustus and the clouds of Naples

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Augustus, in Naples, looks out at Vesuvius, the volcano that covered Pompeii and Herculaneum in lava and ash thousands of years ago. Clouds puff out around Vesuvio like plumes of smoke. Virgil, a great Roman poet of the Augustan era, is entombed not far away. His Aeneid, inspired by Homer‘s Odyssey and Iliad. Tuscan poet Dante Alighieri, in 14th century Italy, wrote Virgil into his Divine Comedy as a sage pagan guide through hell and purgatory.

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Dante Alighieri commands the clouds, overlooking the passersby in the Piazza Dante off Via Toledo. The day before it had stormed on nearby Capri and the clouds were thick and dramatic against the bright blue sky of central Napoli.

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I wept not, so to stone within I grew. – Dante

slide4Dante is host to one of Naple’s most popular “outdoor living rooms” where Neapolitans meet in the evenings for conversation, snacks, flirting and delicious coffee.

“With the color that paints the morning and evening clouds that face the sun I saw then the whole heaven suffused.” – Dante

All photographs shot on velvia film slides by Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com

How to have a beautiful time {in off the beaten path} Rome; the short list.

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Swing by the Villa Sciarra park in the residential Monteverde neighborhood. 

If you are going to visit the very off the beaten path Monteverde area, you may as well start at the Giancolo (Janiculum Hill) for the panorama view, which is nice, and the interesting area around it.

Then walk down the hill to the Monteverde neighborhood. It’s a long walk. Via Dandolo area.

You can hit Trastevere after the Villa Sciarra park.
{It’s an even longer walk.
Buses run all over too. And taxis.}


Trastevere is a Rome experience no-one should miss, even on a day trip to the eternal city.

Trastevere is a historical, rustic neighborhood with cafés, great restaurants, beautiful churches church, la Renelle bakery, hand made chocolate and soap shops, the Almost Corner Bookshop with English books, graffiti, hanging ivy and wisteria and lots of great people watching.

The Aventine. (See the Knights of Malta keyhole for the worlds, most unique view of the Vatican through a lemon grove)!

Testaccio (the Protestant Cemetery!!)
Why a cemetery? It’s peaceful, away from it all, gorgeous, John Keats is buried there, Shelley has ashes interned under stone, all the greats have visited, and I am utterly in love with this spot. There’s also the draw of “Mount Testaccio” and the ancient Egyptian pyramid of Cestius.

Villa Aldobrandini (I have managed to miss this every time but the book Quiet Corners of Rome has breathtaking shots of it and it’s been recommended to me by travelers online so I am going to visit it next visit! It’s in the great Monti area (quiet, off the busy coliseum section of the city, at Via Mazzarino 11.

Take a romantic renaissance walk on Via Giulia in the heart of Rome.


Visit the boutique villa art museums; Spada, Doria Pamphlij, Galleria Borghese, Villa Farnesina, etc!

Have lunch and shop at outdoor market shopping at Campo dei Fiori!

See the Roman Forum, the Coliseum and the ruins in the daytime AND by moonlight when the world looks ancient and is silent.

Picnic on Palatine Hill.

Climb the steps to Capitoline Hill, designed by Michaelangelo!!!

Walk on Sunday on the Appian Way and pass through the ancient portico by the Aurelian Wall!!!

Have a coffee by the Pantheon at night.

Stroll through the Piazza Navona.

Fountain hop several piazzas every night!!!

Have a drink at five different cafe bars on the same evening.

Try something local, in season and daring!

Get a little lost.

Cross the bridge of angels at sunset or even better, sunrise to get to the Vatican along side the Tiber.

Watch the sun set on the Pincio, overlooking the piazza del popolo!


Rome in the morning, Rome in the afternoon, Rome at sunset, Rome in the evening – are almost like different cities.


Have dinner one place, a spumante somewhere else, an espresso some where else, a gelato somewhere else.


Enjoy the stroll, see the Caravaggios, embrace the green parks, look for the views, get lost and go for a ramble.

In order to deeply read Joyce one needs an understanding of Irish politics of the 19th and 20th centuries and Catholicism in addition to an acquaintance with the classics and the canon of literature… But don’t worry, there’s help.

I find the only way to really understand Joyce in a significant way beyond the beauty of his prose is to read up on the political and religious background of Joyce’s Dublin.

There’s a terrific Annotated Joyce book which fills in the many blanks of The Dubliners and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. It is an academic imperative to understand some of the history behind Irish politics of the 19th century, Parnell in particular and the events surrounding the Potato Blight and English estate agents for absentee landlords and early 20th century and some of the Catholic references when reading Joyce if you want more than an impressionistic or superficial reading of these novels.

http://www.themodernword.com/joyce/joyce_works_dubliners.html

When tackling a mammoth full of beauty, whim and occasional gobbledygook such as Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake, I suggest reading an annotated companion to the books! It’s worth the effort. There is also a fabulously entertaining and interesting free podcast by Irish writer Frank Delaney called Re:Joyce in which he dissects a page of Ulysses for each five minute show. It is often humorous and the anecdotes and history lend rich details to Joyce’s difficult book.

http://blog.frankdelaney.com/re-joyce/

A decent background skim of the Greco-Roman classics and the literary canon or the “Western Canon” is very useful as well. I like Harold Bloom’s collection of Canons from various ages and eras.

http://sonic.net/~rteeter/grtbloom.html

Obviously that is an immense amount of reading and disseminating. Therefore, I suggest reading a summary of the canon with highlights of the Hellenistic period, etcetera to follow the references and allusions to the myths and the gods in Joyce’s work.

Spark notes and cliff notes and the Cambridge Reader to Joyce are also exceedingly helpful shortcuts to peering a little closer into his work.

At the end of the day reading and learning is a gradual process which enriches our lives slowly over a whole lifetime.

I am currently embarking on a re-read of A Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man after reading it years ago as a teenager. I know I will have a different experience having read and lived much in the years between falling into the pages. And I’m going to have my study guides and annotations at hand for a heavier, more in the know experience. The prose and the spiritual approach to art and history and human psychology affected me deeply in my extreme youth and I expect some of that will still be there within me along side the more powerful notions of understanding the social, cultural, historical and religious contexts of the world of Joyce’s books.

Happy reading!

See also:
Nationalism in James Joyce’s work; http://mural.uv.es/romoma/nationalism.htm

Irish Mythology (very important to Joyce’s writing)
http://www.luminarium.org/mythology/ireland/index.html

The Myths of Stephen Dedalus http://m.voices.yahoo.com/the-myths-stephen-dedalus-james-joyces-portrait-2666810.html

Celtic and Irish Mythology and Folklore in the fiction of James Joyce http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4667&context=opendissertations

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