On Italy, on Love, a Keatsian letter never sent

I write to you from Italy. It’s where I belong, if I belong anywhere in this world. I should be writing this in Italian, that beautiful language… the language of Dante, and poetry, and of the maestros, but I’ve mastered one language only, English. Mastered it with the devotion of a life long lover who never grows bored. Such is my devotion to Italia itself. To the stories of Italy, to the soil, the sun, the gleaming stripped marble of ruins, the art, the hum of life for centuries still playing in stone.

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Love and Italy are entwined for me. But love for a place feels less dangerous than love for another soul. What is it about love more than any other sensation or state that makes it worth dying for for nearly everybody? Is it the intoxication? Is it that danger of falling; first in love, —the surrender of giving oneself so completely to another, and then, —the alluring danger of falling into disrepute and disintegration? 
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You’ll never have nowhere to go, I heard in a song once. That’s the other thing about love too, isn’t it? If you are my fail safe, I’ll be your home. We’ll never have nowhere to go, we’ll never be quite alone, never be utterly lost in the world with our pieces of love tethered to an anchor. Love gives you the buoyancy of floating, even at the end of a rope. The deeper the love, the deeper the water, the longer the line, the sweeter the kiss, the saltier the tears. The deeper the knife plunge. Something like that.

 (Shot by me, double exposed b&w film, protestant cemetery, Rome, Italy, 2008)

Loving is swimming that feels like floating, falling that feels like flying, until loving feels like drowning when there’s still a spark in the brain and air in the lungs, — quickly quickly at first, then slower, slower so there’s a flicker of hope, until the last tick tick tock of blue veins and dark arterial blood, and with the sounds of a few trite memories, voices of ghosts before you’ve forgotten, —then the spark is faltering again, then flickering out, the air is now escaping, —then, at once — nothing.

 (shot by me, portra film, capri protestant cemetery, isle of Capri, Italy, 2013)

Keats said, “Love is my religion; I could die for it.” Not for religion, not for country, not for god or even one’s soul, but for love itself, that fickle slow dying and quickening and petering out and rushing back and dissolving of self, that is worth dying for, each and every time. 

We hope for one great love in life, but perhaps there is a beauty in a few great loves, slipped into and out of like different characters? Multiple loves for multiple lives. 

 (analog photograph by the amazing Francesca Woodman)

That’s what we have, you and I, isn’t it? We fall in and out of love, in and out of each other? We hunt and repel, we submerge together, and reemerge on opposite sides, —we crash back into, then back away, sometimes we look away when speaking… 

Tell me when does love stagnate? When the newness of sex becomes too familiar or the nuances of our narratives loses their mystery? When we lose ourselves a little too much to capture the other, and no longer “get each other?” When the brains soften followed by the body?   

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I fear I’ll never feel that with Italy, my love will never die for its myths and beauty. I’ll always return to its warmth, its reminder of death, and of the temporary. My love for you also feels endless, for it is already a ruin we revisit, happily, to hold onto the dust a little longer, to declare we were once here, to hope when we’re carrion our love will find itself in the hum pressed into stone too.

standing at the ruins on a quiet roman night

Rome is pieced together by fragments old and new; a broken clay pile of people who have lived and died, and are forgotten, rivaling the Monte Testaccio in size and obscurity.

Rome is the heaviness of time. It is the marks left on humanity. It is a walkable history book, forever unfolding its pages.

Rome is monuments of the big whigs leaving you breathless with their grand scale and an overwhelming rush of beauty.

‘Everyone is dead here’, the city whispers, in a voice softened against the bone-white marble of ruins.

The palatine lies silent under the stars. This is your one moment to catch your breath and savor Rome.

Try to stop time by breathing it in slowly. Hold it in, and take a sensory snapshot. Stand there, holding your breath, recording, feeling as immovable as a statue; a Henry James’ American willing a sacrifice to the pagan gods.

‘Just let me remember this. Let this enter me. The endlessness of it. The cobwebs. The broken stone. The bones. The dust. The pulse remaining somehow. Let me carry Rome where ever I go. Let it become a part of me. No, let me become a part of Rome. Another story never writ, another name unknown.’

     

   


Italy and England 

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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.

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An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.

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Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.

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The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.

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Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.

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Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.

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After wandering the many lovely garden parks of london wound up at  Buckingham’s Gate.tumblr_n2din7vCpZ1qznevxo4_1280

Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.

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A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.

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Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.

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From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London

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From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.

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From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.

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You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.

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This sign is so British it hurts.

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One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.

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Always, a pilgrimage, a  beauty, a joy. John Keats forever. English Romanticism forever. B3-yzpZIAAIuVOk.jpg-large

Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.

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The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.

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Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.

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The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!

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Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.

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I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.

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Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.

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A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.

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Meeting new friends abroad 🙂

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Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.

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Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!

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Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.

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The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.

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My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.

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A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.

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The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.

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Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.

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On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.

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Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.

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Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.

For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.

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Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!

Anaïs Nin’s 111th birthday

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Today, February 21, 2014 is Anaïs Nin’s 111th anniversary of her birth. She died in 1977.

She was the artist and writer who inspired me to read more books (she detailed and listed classics of literature in her literary diaries and helped in no small way to introduce me to much of the more interesting side of the western canon.

 

I found her through Henry Miller, who was recommended to me at 17 by a smug faced twenty something dishwasher at the restaurant I was a cashier girl and bartender for, the famed Harvard haunt Bartley’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

I found Anaïs searching for another Miller book to read after Crazy Cock and Tropic of Cancer, and ironically, (I would find out later), I found Anaïs and forgot about Henry for awhile , until I got to Henry & June, in which he featured.

 

I spent a lot of time as an English major and bookish girl trawling the college library shelves and the second hand bookshops of Boston and Cambridge. Nin’s childhood diary Linotte literally jumped from the shelf when I was looking for Henry and landed in front of my feet. How could I refuse a book hurling itself at me? It was a sign from the fates.

 

I picked up her beautifully written, rather innocent, girlhood journal which began as a letter to her absent father at aged 11 as she sailed across the sea to New York and the new world with her European mother and brothers. I couldn’t put the book down and when it was finished I eagerly sought out the continued series of Diaries which detail her whole life from ages 11 to seventy something. I also read her fiction, novellas, poetry and my personal favorite, her astounding literary criticism and advice on writing. D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study and In Favour of the Sensitive Man are two stand outs.

 

As I sit here and sip champagne and blood orange juice and re-read her timeless quotes, I am reminded of how radical her thinking and living was to a teenage girl who loved the lost generation and the 1920s. Anaïs not only encouraged me to travel, she encouraged me to read what I wanted and to write, to paint, to sketch, to meet people, to look for adventure, to see the magic in every day life, to risk things. To question authority and identity and ask myself the questions: is there really only one self or multiple selves? Can dreams ever be actualized? Can a woman really live more than one life? Can life be fantastic some times? What role do I want to play in the world?

 

Although, like Anaïs, I grew up with an absent father and an artist mother who had to work very hard just to feed, shelter and clothe her and her children, and who was poor growing up, I followed her lead in dreaming big and making plans to see the world and pursue art and culture because that is what mattered to me. I refused to see them as out of reach. And today I have been able to realize those dreams, step by step, of traveling and becoming intimately acquainted with Italy and other places I love. I have pursued my love of photography and writing.

 

It is not always easy to feel talented or confident about your work but I do try to search for the marvelous in every day life and seek out the fantastic and what moves me.

 

I try to engage with people who are also questioning life and their assigned roles, other artists and thinkers. I pursue passions and pleasures and try to find a balance…

 

I can be too much of an extremist, hedonist or dreamer some times in an absent minded professor way, which isn’t always great for paying the bills and attending to mundane responsibilities!

 

But I have had the attitude that we are here now, we live now, and I don’t want to wait until I am retired to see and experience the world. I also look for art and culture where I live and in creative friendships and partnerships which enrichen and enliven, as Anaïs did with some of the most creative and eclectic minds of the 20th century.

 

Nin’s dragged up relationship dramas aside, I focus on the brilliant, courageous, rebellious, mischievous, fascinating, multi-layered, artistic, open writer Anaïs Nin was and in her gorgeous, atmospheric, insightful writing, I find that constant source of clarity and inspiration I need to live fully in my dreams and in the day to day.

 

I owe such a tremendous debt to Anaïs Nin and her work.

 

You can also find me on twitter quoting her work:

http://twitter.com/anaisnin 

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I had always believed in Andre Breton’s freedom, to write as one thinks, in the order and disorder in which one feels and thinks, to follow sensations and absurd correlations of events and images, to trust to the new realms they lead one into.

“The cult of the marvelous.” Also the cult of the unconscious leadership, the cult of mystery, the evasion of false logic. The cult of the unconscious as proclaimed by Rimbaud. It is not madness. It is an effort to transcend the rigidities and the patterns made by the rational mind.

Winter, 1931-1932 The Diary of Anaïs Nin , Volume One 1931-1934

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You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book (Lady Chatterley, for instance), or you take a trip, or you talk with Richard, and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death.
The Diary of Anaïs Nin , Volume One 1931-1934

favorite views of rome and the fatal charm of italy

 “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi

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The top of the Castel Sant’Angelo from the Ponte Sant’Angelo.

Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning. – Giotto di Bondone

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The golden hour of sunset on the ruins in the heart of the city.

A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority. – Samuel Johnson

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Looking over the city at dusk from the Villa Medici where the Pincian hill and the Spagna area meet.

“I sometimes fancy,” said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene always made a strong impression, “that Rome–mere Rome–will crowd everything else out of my heart.” ― Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The casina view on the tip of the Pincio (Pincian hill) overlooking the Piazza dell Popolo. It is my favorite spot in Rome to watch the sun set. Get to it by the Popolo, Piazza di Spagna or the Villa Borghese park.

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More views from the majestic Pincian Hill. There’s a particular happiness I experience whenever I am on the Pincio. I have so many beautiful memories there. It represents everything I love about Rome; the history, the beauty of the landscape and architecture, the art, the people watching. I love the ivy covered apartments and Renaissance architecture.

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Another one from the Villa Medici with the silouhette of Saint Peters in the distance.

In the world Rome is probably the place where most in beauty has been accumulated and subsists in span of twenty centuries. It has created nothing, only a spirit of greatness and order of beautiful things; but the most magnificent monuments on the earth have extended and were fixed in it with such energy to leave the most numerous and indelible tracks in it, more than in anywhere else on the globe. – Maurice Maeterlinck

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From my hotel balcony overlooking the Aurelian wall, the Villa Borghese metro stop, apartments and the Villa Borghese park. A sign of Rome is the countless antennas on rooftops.

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On top of Saint Peter’s Cupola, Vatican City is laid out.

From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe. – Mark Twain

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Peeking through a gated fence and cypresses to a private garden.

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There are a thousand little views of the Vatican from different corners of Rome.

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A glass of prosecco and a view from my hotel balcony on the Via Veneto at the Grande Albergho Flora.

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From a Vatican Museum garden, another breathtaking cupola and manicured, statue studded garden.

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Rome through a glass of Sicilian wine at sunset.

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The Coliseum from a distance on a tele photo lens.

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Rome from the top of the observation deck on the Vittoria Emanuale Monument.

Yes, I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life… Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome. – Goethe 

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The Via del Corso from the Vittorio Emanuale (aka the Wedding Cake).

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The rooftops of the historic center of Rome.

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

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The Roman Forum and the Alban hills.

“She had always been fond of history, and here [in Rome] was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine.” ― Henry James

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Cupolas and sky high statues.

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Churches over the Forum; layers of history, people and ruins.

“Rome was mud and smoky skies; the rank smell of the Tiber and the exotically spiced cooking fires of a hundred different nationalities. Rome was white marble and gilding and heady perfumes; the blare of trumpets and the shrieking of market-women and the eternal, sub-aural hum of more people, speaking more languages than Gaius had ever imagined existed, crammed together on seven hills whose contours had long ago disappeared beneath this encrustation if humanity. Rome was the pulsing heart of the world.” ― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Forest House

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A beautiful frontpiece to an old church and an arch.

Rome is beautiful, so beautiful, I swear, all the other things seem nothing in front of it. – Charles de Brosses

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Cypresses and stone.

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The cypresses, umbrella pines and verdant green against red stone and brick and roof tiles are gorgeous.

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A lone goddess in a corner.

See the wild Waste of all-devouring years!
How Rome her own sad Sepulchre appears,
With nodding arches, broken temples spread!
The very Tombs now vanish’d like their dead!
Alexander Pope

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Borken temples and pillars.

Rome – the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar.
George Eliot
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Ancient Rome, Baroque, fascist architecture and the 21st century in one sweeping glance.

You cheer my heart, who build as if Rome would be eternal. – Augustus Cæsar

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The Alban Hills appear blue against the sky no matter the weather or season. They once hid Julius Caesar from his enemies in his earlier youth.

For me, Rome is the old center, with her narrow streets, in warm colours, orange,red and even gold. Here is Rome like a house. The alleys are passages, and in three minutes you are in the most beatiful squares of the City, Piazza della Rotonda with the monument, the Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona. These are my reading rooms, my refreshment rooms, my salons where I meet my guests. – Rosita Steenbeek

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The Wedding Cake view of Rome is the view of the gods.

The light that reveals Rome’s monuments is not that to which we are accustomed; it produces numerous optical effect plus a certain atmosphere, all impossible to put into words. The light strikes Rome in ways that I’ve never seen. – Stendhal 

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The back view of the Wedding Cake of the Forum, the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, where the Emperors and the Patricians lived in Ancient Rome.

The traveler who has contemplated the ruins of ancient Rome may conceive some imperfect idea of the sentiments which they must have inspired when they reared their heads in the splendor of unsullied beauty. – Edward Gibbon

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The Piazza del Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1536–1546 at one of my favorite museums and spots in Rome on Capitoline Hill.

O Rome! my country! city of the soul! Lord Byron

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Julius Caesar and the ruins.

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Porta San Sebastiano is the modern name for the ancient Porta Appia, a gate in the Aurelian Wall of Rome, connected to the Via Appia, the old entrance to the city for ancient pilgrims, wanderers and the 17th, 18th and 19th century Grand Tour.

A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome. – Alaine de Lille 

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Another peek from the Pincio.

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The alternate view of Rome from the Janiculum Hill, the Giancolo.

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The Pantheon, which draws me to it at night to admire it’s immortality against a navy sky.

The Roman evening either keeps still or it sings. No one can behold it without growing dizzy, and time has filled it with eternity. – Jorge Luis Borges

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Did I mention how amazing dusk is on the Pincio?

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A private rooftop garden, the Auerlian Wall on the original “1950s & 1960s La Dolce Vita” street of the Via Veneto, not too far from the Lord Byron statue.

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The Twin Churches of the Piazza del Popolo and the Vatican.

“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo.” —Mark Twain

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A palm tree (or descendent of) left over from ancient Egypt, planted a millenia or two ago perhaps.

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This spot is disarmingly charming. Below to the left is the luxe 19th century Hotel de Russie with an enormous garden terrace and marble stairs with cafe tables, coffee and cocktails from an outdoor bar.

“Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy.” — Fanny Burney

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Wandering around the city at night, the cobblestones lit up by cafe lights.

“What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.” —Erica Jong

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The Villa Borghese gardens leading out to the Pincio.

For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery… back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.” —D.H. Lawrence

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The sun falls over the Piazza del Popolo through construction fencing. At the center of the square is an Egyptian obelisk — it was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus.

I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble. Augustus; quoted in Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

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The Fontana del Mosé Salvato view of the Pincio.
Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city. – Anatole Broyard

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The wide view of Via del Corso always reminds me of the film Roman Holiday and Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s vespa ride.

“Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Near the Piazza di Spagna, at the top of the Spanish Steps. Young lovers are all over the park snatching amorous  moments out in public.

Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy. – Bertrand Russell

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The sun rises and sets in Rome and each golden hour the view becomes more and more beautiful. It’s what brought the Romantics and the artists for centuries. The landscape, the ruins, the fountains, the art, the cupolas  and the stone and marble bathed in the Italian sun. It’s why I keep returning to the Eternal City. It’s what I live for.

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” – Anna Akhmatova

if you find yourself in naples…

When you go to Naples, go to the top of a beautiful hill and enter the serene parco Capidimonte and stroll through large hedgerow pathways. You’ll find a glorious fountain covered in thick hanging moss and mariner figures. There is a lovely view of the hills of Naples nearby. The fountain is decaying, partly buried under the thick growth of moss and greenery. I couldn’t possibly love it more. After you wander around and linger on the grounds, go into the museum. See wonderful pantings and sculpture. Go to the second floor for the three Artemisia Gentileschis currently available for public viewing. Dream of returning before you’ve even left. Fall in love with beauty all over again.

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Charles III of Bourbon era fountain detail, Capidimonte Park, Napoli, Italy, autumn 2012 (digital)

Chandeliers in Roman Churches; on being and nothingness

When I was last in Rome, in October, I spied the most beautiful chandeliers hanging from very old church ceilings throughout the city. The churches were built upon layers of history, starting from the ruins of pagan temples thousands of years ago, with places of worship erected piece by piece like a mosaic throughout the first whispers of a Christian Rome through the middle ages to the Renaissance. The  Santa Maria in Ara coeli is on the capitoline hill in a foreboding, plain edifice hiding treasures of lights, stonework, faded marble, pillars from various eras, countless sarcophagi and dazzling chandeliers. The Santi Giovanni e Paolo is built on the ruins of the Roman saints John and Paul’s houses… and their remains, martyred in the 4th century. It boasts Byzantine flourishes, a coffered ceiling, gorgeous frescoes and a hushed, ancient stillness that hangs in the air. It was the first church to be built in Rome and has seen many facelifts and stylistic touches over a millennia.

Pillars from different centuries in Santa Maria in Ara coeli

Coffered ceiling and ornate interior in Santi Giovanni e Paolo

The imposing, numerous chandeliers of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of HeavenBasilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli al Campidoglio.

Bright frescoes and peeling paint over faded stone and wood in Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The chandeliers appear even more elegant against a faded backdrop. 

The churches are particularly breathtaking in person. They remind me of the somber prayers and cries heard in these walls over centuries of visiting pilgrims and faithful Romans alike. The splendor of the chandeliers and the art work only add to the sense of contemplation I feel wash over me whenever I enter their doors. I am an outsider on the one hand and a product of Judeo-Christian thought on the other by my very life in the western world. In America. Because of my Catholic and Protestant émigré forbears.

As the daughter of lapsed catholics, I was not raised with church but with the talk of God and conversely, the discussion of “no god” growing up. There were stories of gods and theories of prime movers or nature or the impersonal universe as the sources of mankind. There was the appeal of  ens causa sui, being one’s own cause. There was also the fear of that idea. So many ideas whirled around me in the conversations of adults. Nothing was ever formed, nothing was concrete. Life was fluid. Beliefs were temporary lapses of judgement. The mystery of the unknown barred an anchor, yet my openness to all possibilities was also a kind of freedom.

What a delicate balance in life we all lead.    

I still don’t know the answer to any of these big questions, or the Big Question, but I feel a subtle change, a quiet shift take over within me, in the quiet corners of Rome. In the buildings made of stone and marble, under the statues and paintings. When I enter into the symbolism of the stories, when I breathe in the heavy air of history, something fills my imagination whilst I am there and it’s hard to move away from it. It never really leaves me. Old chapel or cathedral, broken temple, an all but vanished sacra, an altar of astronomy and science or art – they are all my churches.

naples scenes in a few steps

napi4I love walking down the little market walk ways under Renaissance awnings. There’s nothing on earth quite like the streets of Naples. I’ve heard it said certain spots in Napoli hearken back to the ancient world, only a few other spots in the world like Calcutta can recall another time so long ago.

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In the connecting pedestrian streets of the picaresque Spaccanapoli, Naples boasts one charming cafe after cafe another. I love the coffee of Napoli; the rich, strong demitasses of espressos, the sweet nuttiness of a nocciola (espresso, sugar and ground roasted hazelnuts), or a frothy and properly hot cappuccino.

napi5The children of Naples play in the grotty, wonderful streets against the backdrop of statues, paintings and colored walls peeling for centuries. In between the tiny fiats and citroens and three to a vespa. They find their games anywhere and everywhere, cheerfully kicking their “footballs” under the feet of passersby, in front of store windows, around fountains and niches of ruins. There is such a sense of play underneath it all.

napi2From the moment I first walked these streets a few years ago I became enchanted with the market trinkets hanging from stalls, the smell of cheese and bread, tomatoes and fish wafting out of trattorias. I loved the cobblestones, the gorgeous archways, the warm colors. I am enchanted with the best people watching in Italy.

napi1Old world art, architecture and pop culture kitsch mix in any given corner of the historic center of Napoli. There before me is amazing street art graffiti, a sticker of a carefree Einstein placed prominently over a cafe and a quiet tea shop tucked up in the most unlikely of places. There is an empty neighborhood chair left leaning against a wall amid an array of inexplicable traffic signs – there’s even a post-modern Madonna under the auspices of a revolver.

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Near to the beautiful garden Cloisters of Santa Chiara, is a street art Eve with Eden’s snake, underneath an old Campania tree. The hand painted Spanish tile, fountains and arched windows of the cloisters are a near silent oasis in the heart of the city. Lemon and orange trees and flowers line the green, manicured gardens of the inner courtyard. It is a private, clean and calm spot to pop in for a little bit, for a lovely walk or a sit on a bench with a book or a friend.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.