musings on rome written to a new friend

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I feel, in Rome, as if I am fully entered into the ancient-ness of the place.
I feel the history in my blood.
I feel almost Italian (with a mix of invading barbarian).

But I tread lightly in Italy.

I try to penetrate the history, the stories, but I tread lightly.
I don’t leave any trace.

I only steal moments.
I steal away people’s feelings in a one second snapshot.

I take more lingering pictures with my eyes.

I really don’t want to be the center of attention, I would rather fade into the background, and let people live around me.

I am greedy for their life spilling out.
Still as much a thief as I was as a child, after all.

This is why I love Naples.

I dread it a little, too.
I want to slap it around occasionally.
I want to remind it of its grit (as if it needs my reminder).
I want to shake it awake to its beauty and history and art.
I want it to not lose its charm, ever.

I don’t even care about the trash that much.
I love the darkest alleys.
I love that life is lived on the streets.
I love that the windows are always open.

I love listening to the strains of a language I cannot decipher because it always sounds like music to me that way.

That’s how I linger in churches so long…
I can’t understand the sermons so I can spend time looking at the art and thinking about pagans all day as if in a dream.

In Italy I am living in the dream and I don’t wake up again until I’m back home in the cold north.

I return to Italy like a lover who cannot stand the separation a moment longer. I want to feel the curves of familiar streets. I want to taste the crushed fruit of summer wine and feel that sun so different from mine. I want to see the stars again against the faint glow of the ruins.

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

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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beautiful photos of an old capri cemetery

Capri is a world famous resort, the playground for jet setters. It’s an ancient Roman island in Southern Italy still peppered with the villas of Emperors. I’ve heard it called the Beverly Hills of Italy because of its luxury boutiques and grand dame hotels.

To me, Capri is about the quiet moments, the local back streets, the flora and fauna and places like the beautiful, very off the beaten path 19th century non-catholic cemetery. The cemetery is in a residential, slightly run down section between Capri town and the Marina Grande but it overlooks the sea and is incredibly charming. Artists, writers, Anglo Saxons, Nordics and French in love with Capri are all buried here. There are Jewish graves and non-religious tombs and plenty of Madonna statues. And in modern Capri, plenty of Catholic Italians choose this idyllic spot with a sweeping view of the Tyrrhenian Sea for their final resting places.

I walked to the cemetery on the rather harrowing, not very pedestrian “old road down to Marina Grande” and found the graveyard after a ten minute “stroll” sidestepping uncomfortably close vespas, cars and buses like a veteran Italian. When in Rome, eh? You may want to take a taxi from the bus station in Capri Town.

Ask for the Cimitero acattolico di Capri. On Capri – not the pretty, much smaller catholic cemetery on Ana Capri – though that is also lovely. This is the spot with character and history and angels.

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all photographs were shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film and are copyright rebecca price butleralovelettertorome.com – retrofocus@mac.com

I took a lot of shots in this magical spot and will be posting more soon!

heart-stealing baroque napoli

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The old Greek section of Napoli, Italy is a recurring fascination of mine.

A closed boulangerie with a broom leaning against the store front. Painted pastoral scenes on plates. Rusted piping and peeling posters. Grafitti in bright colors.  

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Caffe chairs sprinkled throughout the back streets of Spaccanapoli. 

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The sun finds it way though the velvet black shadows. Posters advertise operas I won’t get to see. Padre Pio forever in the background, his face found in taxi cabs, on walls, in churches, in caffes.

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Hanging bronze dyed pasta, bufalo mozzarella from campania, rows of inviting rum-soaked baba cakes filled with rummy yellow cream, tiny wild strawberries, Sfogliatelle.

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Two “lovers” embracing in front of an iconic “second hand shop” full of Neapolitan treasures overseen by a curious little dog.

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The simple cafe tables and chairs in front of artisan shops and caffes with a sculpture of an old man in the background. 

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Every day life in an alleyway; people, a truck delivering goods, empty vegetable and fruit crates, the golden mustard apartments and hanging laundry.

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A baroque awning, layers of brick from different centuries, buildings and façades built on top of each other, a neapolitan girl on her mobile, another caffe beckoning the passersby.

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Hanging fruit and ripe red campania tomatoes and an early pasieggetta.

 

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I love the corners and crevices and surprising bursts of yellow in between the rust.

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Ancient pillars in residential neighborhoods, forming millennia old foundations.

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Another beautiful church front and a charming caffe.

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The quintessential graffiti of Naples, as ancient as the tags and scribblings on Pompeiian walls.

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The old guard and the ‘new art’.

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Bursts of color and brightness and the scent of glorious coffee floating in the air at every turn.

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More graffiti, and the vespas and cars and Neapolitans seem all the more nonchalant about it.

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I always seem to find the caffes… I always feel like I’m on some unspoken mission to drink the best coffee.

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A whole street filled with beautiful second hand and rare book shops and musical instruments and conservatories. I never wanted to leave. 

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When the little girl walked by I knew I had to capture her in that moment of contrasts and colors.

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A gorgeously appointed restaurant, intimate, and romantic in a baroque neapolitan way. I could have lingered for hours with a glass of nero d’avola and flirted but I had less than a day to shoot Naples because of all the rain prior to this day.

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This is a wider shot of the restaurant. It looks like an opening to another, older world. I told you it was beautiful.

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Stunning churches, colorful architecture, dark and ancient looking alleyways filled with street theatre and trash on the street… the extremes of modern Napoli.

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There is so much to see, just to read on the walls.

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I like when the grafitti becomes art.

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Even the scribbles are a crying out and bleed every color onto wood and stone and brick.

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Back to this fellow. I remember his likeness on other walls on other visits to Naples.

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The priest or monk, grafitti iconography and protest.

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I found this hollowed out frame and the lettering (name of the one time King) very delicate and beautiful looking.

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Mirrors and antiques and the scrawlings every where.

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A delightful music shop.

I know Napoli isn’t for everyone. I know street grafitti on historical buildings can be a bit of a shock. But once you visit Naples a few times and fall into the rhythm of the city and of its people, the fright wears off and you begin to see the color is all the more bright in contrast to the shadows. If you are like me and find beauty in decaying things and centuries of history piled up on top of each other, you may just find yourself falling in love with the heart stealer of baroque Napoli.

 

All photographs shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film.

I’ve returned back to the United States from Italy

Notes on a little about my photographic process. I’ve been asked about this and it’s mostly the use of fine art films and my analog camera, but it’s also my digital camera and my iPhone too, that I shoot images with.

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vintage sky blue vespa in napoli, italy, portra 800, october 2013

 

Yesterday I picked up my 35mm film photographs of Capri, Ana Capri, Sorrento and Napoli – shot in portra 160, 400 and 800, kodak pro h, and a few spare vintage-style rolls of color film, the names of which escape me at the moment. I shot some velvia slide film, which was developed into individual slides and I poured through each slide on a light table with a magnifying glass and chose the best ones (and the lab will scan them onto cd so I can post them here and in some articles and guides on Italy for other publications – AND which cost me $5 per slide)!!!

A roll of art film can be $15-$75 just for 35 mm film… 120 film (medium format/ large format) can be even more. Some times one can luck out with a five pack for $55, depending on the film. The film slide film is usally $25+ per roll and there is some incredibly beautiful discontinued slide film is now $75-$125 per roll with an expiration date! My fridge doors are not packed with cheese or juice or butter but with endless rolls of film, the cheap stuff, the mid range and the criminally expensive. It’s vitally important to buy your film from credible sources. That’s why I tend to buy the film in person, from a few credible photography shops in the Boston area, who properly store their unexpired film in a film fridge.

So for this trip, the 11th to Italy (ahh, makes me think of Doctor Who!) – I spent a couple hundred dollars on the film, a couple hundred to develop the rolls and a few hundred more once they scan the velvia film slides onto CD.

I shot about a hundred pictures on digital but focused mainly on analog because I prefer the dreamlike, tonal quality and the color and beauty of these special films. It’s sad how incredibly costly it is to shoot with fine art film; it’s truly a dying art form. But there is still the drugstore deals on fujifilm and kodak (buy one 5 pack, get one free, etc) I collect in bulk because that film is great for every day shots and practice. But for Italy and for shoots where I’m looking to tell a story, I still rely on those rare gems: portra, velvia, etc.

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neapolitans in spaccanapoli, portra 800, october 2013

 

As I return to writing and shooting and editing I’m thinking of arranging this into a book or extended project of my version of Off The Beaten Path Italy so I’m thinking of the tremendous cost as an investment. We’ll see.

I have a busy weekend but I’m going to get some pieces together soon and post some of the photographs here. I do post some of the stand alone shots on tumblr here.

tiny beautiful things

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”

Cheryl Strayed, from “Tiny Beautiful Things”

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