snapshots of posthumous john keats in rome

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This is the view John Keats had of the world for the last months of his life. Once he was too sick to climb the Spanish Steps to the Pincian Hill view of the sunset over the piazza delle popolo and take in the sweeping view of the renaissance rooftops of cupolas, churches, houses and hotels of Rome – he had one final view, the Bernini fountain outside his room, at the end of his deathbed. He could hear the passersby and the fruit sellers. He could hear the horses hooves and the coaches. He could hear the rushing water of the fountain and smell the scent of the sweetest water in Rome. Sometimes he could drink it, a few shallow sips in a brief moment of respite.

I stood and looked out his window and took this shot with my phone. I stood there for ages alone and stared out the window and looked for John Keat’s ghost or a shadow of his memory, an imprint of him somewhere. I think I found him in the golden glow of dusk which touched everything in Rome for the last hour before sunset and made everything so pretty it hurt to lose it each night.

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Keats’ Rome house is located at the Spanish Steps by the Bernini fountain.

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A white rose I brought for John Keats’ Plaque near his grave on the wall to the left of the garden in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome in the Non-Catholic Cemetery near the Pyramid of Cestius.

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The annual/ bi-annual pilgrimage to the Protestant Cemetery never fails to give me chills when I read the epithet Keats intended for himself; Here lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Water.

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“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell. To toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu!”

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Each time I follow that sign it still feels like a mystery unfolding. No matter how many times I retrace my steps to the back garden, to the memory of him, it feels new again.

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Really delicious prosecco at Caffe Greco, Rome, Italy, Oct 2012 (iPhone).

From the bar napkin I penned this:

Tonight I looked for Keats’ ghost.

Spotted Byron in the Borghese and heard Shelley was somewhere around the Villa Medici. Caught a glimmer of him.

Goethe kept a respectful distance when I passed him on the pincio. 

Keats silently joined me somewhere on Via delle Magnolie. He slipped out from the shadows and fell into step with me. I felt him quietly by my side for the rest of the night.

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more wandering off the beaten path on capri

The most quiet places on the island are the pedestrian back roads along the sea and in the heart of the woods. Climbing up the island’s vast hills and weaving in and out beautiful homes and churches and shops and into nature brings you a contemplative ramble among the ruins of emperors.

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Walking along more pedestrian streets of antico Capri.

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Lush lemon trees, a sight and scent that always makes me happy instantly.

 

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Another beautiful niche.

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A still life of modern life.

 

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The hand painted tiles and stairs are stunning on Capri.

 

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A gorgeous private garden glimpsed past an open gate.

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A Capri cat, a local who probably descend from the cats of ancient Rome who lived on the island with the emperors.

 

 

 

save the antico caffé delle pace in rome!

tumblr_m3j0701vo21qznevxo1_1280The Antico Caffè Delle Pace / Bar Delle Pace in Rome, Italy. I took this shot in March 2012.

I am posting a photograph of one of my most favorite 19th century cafe-bars in the world because it is in danger of being lost along with many other beautiful old cafes and shops in the historical center of Rome! Romans are protesting these closures. 

I have palpable memories of sitting outside people watching with a prosecco or an espresso, soaking up the beautiful patio, cafe tables, the renaissance church and museum to one side, the hanging greenery. 

One evening we were caught in the rain and had the sumptuous, historical, cozy, beautiful cafe interior to ourselves as I sipped pinot nero and nero d’avola and he had endless pots of smoky tea. I remember the 19th century cash register and the bust of Augustus and the antique mirrors and the waitresses and waiters who looked like fashion models. 

It’s the kind of place that’s built for the “beautiful people” and can be a magnet for the rich and famous (and more interesting the Roman Who’s Who of writers, artists, intellectuals) but I never felt like an outsider there. 

It is a low key, lovely cafe. I enjoy the walk to it on sunny afternoons or on cloudless, starry nights anytime I am in Rome. It is one of the highlights of my trips. 

And if we lose another historical, old world cafe or shop – Rome will love it’s very heart of the centro storico. 
the impossibly cool caffe & bar della pace, rome, italy, 2012.

http://www.wantedinrome.com/news/2002440/rome-s-bar-della-pace-faces-closure.html

http://roma.repubblica.it/cronaca/2013/06/28/news/per_il_bar_della_pace_arriva_lo_sfratto_a_sorpresa-61990474/

I’m not sure what I can do to help but I would like to do something. Any Italians or people living in Rome have a site or petition or anything? I would love to spread the word. alovelettertorome@gmail.com

off the beaten path via li campi & via posterula

I’ve gotten to know the ancient island of Capri and ana Capri fairly well over the last ten or so years and love still getting a bit lost when I go off the beaten path.

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A quiet, labyrinthine neighborhood, Via li Campi, away from the crowds of Capri Town.

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I wandered without a map past schoolchildren as they walked home from school. I wanted to find a local place not marked by tourists.

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This was probably one of my favorite afternoons. I like to get a little bit lost in old neighborhoods.

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Every corner held a new surprise… usually just another curvy turn but still, it was a surprise.

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This was a tiny apartment courtyard . I would love to know the history of these walls and stairs.

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I could walk this path all day. There’s a quiet in the shadows I long for.

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So many colors and hues over decades.

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Via Posterula

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Further into the maze of private pedestrian streets.

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One can hear the call of birds and the echo of footsteps on the rock.

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Here the gardens are on the rooftops or behind high walls in private courtyards.

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There are Capri hand painted tiles were all over the small neighborhoods.cap8

Ana Capri is a great place to buy the artisan handmade tiles. I brought a few back home myself.

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I’m working on a piece I did on my favorite tile shop, an interview with the owners and a photographic tour of the shop. I should be publishing it in the next few days.

the café experience in naples

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Espresso served hot, rich, never bitter and with a creamy head, like a caffeinated, non-alcoholic guinness. No-one will ever convince me that coffee is better anywhere other than Napoli, Italia. They have their own sweet and savory versions of coffee drinks, their quality roasts are never acidic or dull, they would never dream of serving up a cappuccino Roma-style – lukewarm with 20 minute old foam – but are hot, foamy and always fresh. They have this divine beverage: nocciola, espresso with ground roasted hazelnuts and a little sugar made into a hazelnut cream.

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I have to restrain myself in Naples cafés otherwise I would stalk the café barkeeps and photograph and video their coffee making and ask them a hundred questions on their process in really bad Italian.

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A wonderful thing about Naples cafés are their wonderfully low key, around the corner neighborhood places to imbibe espresso and the most luxurious, art nouveau paradise, extra fancy grand caffes to choose from. REMEMBER IF YOU WANT THE CAFE SOCIETY EXPERIENCE AND YOU WANT TO SIT AROUND AND LUXURIATE YOU WILL PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE. IT IS WORTH IT DAMN IT – AFTER A LONG HOT DAY OF WALKING EVERYWHERE OR IF YOU ARE FEELING LIKE A SPENDTHRIFT OR HAVING A ROMANTIC ASSIGNATION OR HOPING TO HAVE ONE OR MEETING FRIENDS. OTHERWISE, AND READ THIS CLOSELY, STAND… STAND… STAND… S T A N D… AT THE BAR AND PAY HALF – H A L F – THE PRICE (WHICH MEANS YOU CAN DRINK TWICE AS MUCH). ALSO: NAPLES IS WAY WAY WAY WAY CHEAPER THAN MOST OTHER PLACES IN ITALY BUT THE FOOD IS INSANELY AMAZING.

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DON’T BE SO AFRAID OF NAPLES PEOPLE! I AM JUST SOME AMERICAN BROAD WHO USUALLY DOESN’T PASS FOR ITALIAN AND I AM NOT SCARED.

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Granted the city has it’s grotty grubby moments like any ancient city or city with an employment and crime issue but if you have your wits about you, stick in touristy areas at night, stay out of ghettos, see the old Greek neighborhood Spaccanapoli, hang at Piazza Plebiscito day or night, hit Caffe Gambrinus, get chocolates at Gay Odin on (noisy, dusty, busy but family filled Via Toledo) and see some goddamned art and sculptures at Archeologico and Capidimonte. By the way, all this is only the tip of the iceberg.

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There are so many funny, hilarious, crazy, cool moments in Naples, just go already. And drink the coffee for god sakes. Do I have to keep convincing you?

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Seriously, all of these drinks are so good all other coffee should bow down to the coffee in Naples.

sunset on the tyrrhenian sea

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On a little boat floating around the island of Capri we gazed up at the rocks and watched as the sun slipped slowly down behind the cliffs.

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Old barricades, canon heavy forts by the English and later the French, ancient walk ways of Romans and shepards, medieval paths with goats grazing on them, modern swimming clubs and fashion designer villas now sprinkle the soaring cliffs of Capri.

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The sea is calm for a moment, the south wind changes, the sun slinks further down and there is an upheaval in the waves.

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The boat rounds the entrance to another hidden grotto.

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The famed Faraglioni rocks, with a boat passing under it’s arch. We are about to enter it ourselves.

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Another boat races us to get there first. And yet we are all at a leisurely pace here. We are on “Capri time” as the locals say.

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The shadows and light meet and turn the shimmering sea dark and the rock impenetrable.

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It still amazes me how green things can grow out of prehistoric rock.

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The shining sea, the endless sky, the stone as familiar as an old friend’s face you still remember instantly after a long absence.

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In the rocks are countless animals and plant life, fishermen and birds of every color and song. In the water sea life and shells as exotic as halfway around the world.

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The views some people have. The lives they lead. The quiet stories never known to outsiders.

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Another Madonna of the Rocks, another Madonna of the Fishermen, of the sea. The Blue Grotto.

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To think this island was settled thousands of years ago and that people thought they could climb these hills and mountains to make new lives.

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The sunset kept receding and then bursting forth again as we sailed around the bends. The sun played a game with us.

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On Capri, the clouds touch the rocks and one can lose them selves in the mist. The challenge is not falling off a cliff like an unlucky Roman.

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Saying good-bye to Capri is never an option. It always calls you back, if, like me, you fall in love with it.

all photographs shot on fuji velvia 100 film slides by rebecca price butler – alovelettertorome.com 

spaccanapoli – off the beaten path naples

FH080007It’s “that” street they always tell you about if you find yourself in Naples.

FH080008For people watching, craft shopping, cafe hopping and snapshot taking, you can’t pick a more fascinating and colorful place than the Old Greek section of Naples.

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Another half hidden gem in a Neapolitan alleyway.

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I wonder what this one means, what it is for and how old it is? Also I love graffiti that states the obvious.

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Interesting graffiti.FH080019

This guy was hiding in the most unlikely corners around the neighborhood.FH080020

Commentary on the papal conclave me thinks.

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This is certainly one of my favorites.

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Gorilla boy is back.

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Naples, where the vespas and motor bikes look even cooler when parked against peeling grafittied walls.

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Just your normal everyday missing chunks of a rather old building. This sign means nothing, paint it.

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Hiding behind corners gets surprise shots and weird angles.

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Off the beaten path Napoli.

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The inside of a building half torn down.

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Open shuttered windows and laundry hung about everywhere. Modern life layered onto to history.FH080025

A church at the end of another road. More graffiti and more arches to walk under.

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Naple’s newer creatures.

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The side entrance, dramatic to me, no big deal to the locals.

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I’m trying to decide if this is rude or not.

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Can a city qualify as cool on one incredible nonchalant chatting spot? It should.

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I just follow the crowds to avoid them.

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I followed the sound  of New Orleans jazz music and found this delightful bunch.

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The layers, the layers, the layers… I go on and on about it but Napoli is a city of layers!

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Gentile.

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It’s the forbidden peeks into private gardens and courtyards I love best.

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The spooky Purgatory Lane.

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Vico del fico al purgatorio. An abandoned dusty baby’s pram that wasn’t there in October at the entrance of the dark and musty Purgatory Lane. Nope, not at all like a horror movie.

All photographs are 35mm film, Pro H and Kodak, copyright Rebecca Price Butler, of alovelettertorome.com

at the enchanting villa san michele’s gardens on anacapri

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A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.

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The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.

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The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.

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The bird’s eye view.

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The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.

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The tiny chapel in the garden.

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Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.

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There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.

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Although the villa is high up on Anacapri, there are soaring rocky cliffs surrounding the grounds. One rock was the the fort overtaken by the pirate Redbeard, which was later owned by Axel Munthe and donated back to the island (but owned by) his Swedish foundation.

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The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.

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The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.

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Every turn on the grounds is more and more enchanting. I cannot recommend enough an hour’s visit to the Villa for it’s peacefulness and beauty. On hot days it’s a cool and shady refuge.

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Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!

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A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.

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The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.

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Potted urns along the walk.

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Herbal garden, leaves and trees.

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Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.

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Another angle of the sphinx’s view.

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A tiny boat leaving the shore.

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The clouds and mist find each other.

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Because of Axel Munthe’s tireless advocation for the exotic array of birds who migrate to the island each year, Capri is now one giant bird sanctuary. Bird hunting is outlawed. The beautiful song of many different birds can be heard from morning to night, when the nightingales come out. It is then when I can feel Keats poem, Ode To A Nightingale, alive in the air.FH060023

I worry some of the pictures are a bit repetitious but they were all beautiful reminders of being there. Even a subtle angle change is reminiscent of walking through the grounds and seeing the beauty unfold a step at a time. And believe it or not I am actually restraining myself.

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A semi hidden niche at the end of Villa San Michele’s labyrinthine gardens and loggias.

This was part one of the Villa San Michele series shot on portra 35mm film, velvia film slides and vintage kodak. The history of San Michele, more garden rambles, the cafe and interior of the villa, the flora and fauna of the grounds and excerpts from Axel Munthe’s book on his Villa to come in following posts. For visitor information visit: villasanmichele.eu . If you find yourself on Capri, even for a day, you must take a convertible taxi or the bus up to Anacapri (because it’s less crowded, lovely and full of hand painted tile, jewelry and sandal artisans) and it is the home of the Villa San Michele! You won’t regret it!

More to follow! These photographs and travel essays are copyright Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

jet lag from naples & nocciola coffee

I’ve been away in Italy taking lots of lovelyish pictures and collecting interestingish stories for the blog and some travel guides/magazines. Of course after a jet lagged flight from chaotic Napoli to Dublin and nearly missing the connecting flight to Boston I have managed to stumble into the bath, into bed, and into work since I landed on Eastern Standard Time. I dropped off 25 rolls of 35 mm film, mostly varying speeds of posh portra and some fuji and semi-vintage kodaks and the criminally expensive velvia. I have digital files to pour over and edit as per usual after a trip. It takes months, sometimes years to go over everything. The new URL for this blog is alovelettertorome.com)

13napoli1The 21st century couple. Napoli, May 2013, while I was devouring something at a cafe. Digital eavesdropping. The Santa Lucia district. An Italian spring afternoon (always superior to a drafty New England one).

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The Piazza Plebiscito. Mostly designed by the French it is quite breathtaking when approaching it from the Santa Lucia district when the sun is setting at the peak of the golden hour on the castle or monastery built on a hill overlooking the Bourban buildings and the city square. The clouds and the stone and the Neapolitans … and the coffee are a marvelous combination. I feel excited when I’m standing there watching and listening. There are always children playing football on the cobblestones and lovers kissing against a light post. Oscar Wilde’s haunt, the art nouveau camp paradise Caffe Gambrinus makes a great sweetened nutty coffee drink – the Nocciola. If you haven’t had a nocciola it’s exceedingly hot espresso with roasted  hazelnuts crushed into a “cream” and a hint of sugar. Served in a girl’s glass and they are absolute heaven. Don’t ever expect to drink them outside of Naples. I’ve had arguments with Romans and Florentines and Milanese and you name it on the veracity of this beverage and on the elusive espresso con panna (espresso with whipped cream). These delicacies do exist and they are unique to decadent Napoli.

13napoli3You’d think someone who has been drinking coffee since they were six years old (and I’m a youngish 37) would not be excited about good espresso and proper cappuccinos after all this time but when I’m in Naples I am, I am, oh boy, I am.

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I’m warning you ahead of time, I took an obsessive amount of photographs of fisherman’s boats. And fishermen.

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There really is nowhere like Naples.