When I think of the Piazza Navona in Rome I think of you now.
Last time I was there I was walking around, and every coffee I had, or wine I sipped, or smile I gave to a passing man, or Bernini fountains I stopped and stood at for the hundredth time pondering with fresh eyes, or place I wandered into… gazing at everything in Saint Agnese, or in the museums near by; I thought about you there in the piazza before me, and after me, off in your own reverie, not thinking of me except when I asked for an image of you once, standing before a marble goddess. You sent it to your part-time Aphrodite on Hérmes’ winged feet, and I treasured it, and buried it, like Crassus’ riches.
You have captured my imagination against my will, and that’s kind of lovely.
This strange, exciting, impossible idea of you sprung from the wells of imagination.
My eyes shine at you; the color of dreams and the sea.
Your eyes burn at me; the color of will and life and earth.
And time itself is a secret nod between us.
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.
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.
Keats’ Rome house is located at the Spanish Steps by the Bernini fountain.
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.
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.
“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell. To toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu!”
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.
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.