throw out your guidebooks

Throw your guidebooks to the side (after you’ve seen the major sights) and get a little lost for an afternoon in Rome.

Side step vespas and taxis and pilgrims and other tourists behind maps, and get lost for a while. 

Do as the Romans do.

Bow in and out of the slants of sunlight and vespas, use sounds of water fountains and laughter as your navigation. 

An off the beaten path is not merely a passage but a rite and a full circle. 

When walking in Rome you are witness to the many passions of people in a cacophony of color and sound and motion. 

Roma begins to makes sense to you as you feel follow its rhythm; it is foreign and antique and familiar all at once. 

Rome is history in the bones of the city stirring the blood.

Roma changes you.

What could I suggest to you but to drink in the sublime here? 

See the city for the thousands of layers rather than one wild jumble.

Beauty is on display, oh yes, —but so is reflection of the human and the divine in every corner. 

The celebration of the individual is found even in the smallest of details in Rome. 

Art is a living thing. 

The story of mankind is in a treasured relic, and in a sip of espresso, and in a stolen kiss. 

Life is found in another language where the words are less important than the feelings they conjur in us all in the moment.

Rome is the tug of a heartbeat in a pulse before the veil falls over you.

Rome is a reminder of death that is very much a reminder to live! To live now!!

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eternal city

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Spend some time in the eternal city and you will feel death like a whisper on the back of your neck.

Go there young, when you still feel invincible, and watch the tombs and monuments to a crumbled past deathmask-smile at you.


Return after you’ve loved and lost a little, when you’ve begun to collect possessions interchangeably with memories, hold hands past paupers and ruffians and the modern courtesan; the tourist liaisons hovering by menus, beckoning, offering, waving.


Return again after you’ve lost more than you’ve loved but you still have a bit of youth on your side, and you can take in the big picture.


Return next when you’ve hit your peak and now the edges are fraying a little. When fountains and paintings once trumpeting romance and pleasure are grimier and more worn than you remember. When the seducers and the money takers suggest more pallid languor than sex, where every turned corner is a missed opportunity or a new experience, depending on how beaten down or defiant you’ve become since that earlier youth on your first visit. You have a decision to make… Strength for strength or a quick decline.



Return a final time, as cherubs and seraphim throw off shrugs and hands in the air when the whisper of death becomes an aria crowding out the ears. Stare at the details or miss them, memorizing the picture of life doesn’t matter so much in the short term. The marks on your soul have already been decided for you. This is the golden amnesia hour, where every thing thought and felt is only for the rushing moment, water slipping through fingers, spilling out of the mouth, tasted, cooled but most of it landing on your face, your shirt, your shoes, the uneven cobblestones. Keep drinking it in.


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.

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.

Here’s how to have a beautiful time in Rome

I’m posting some recommendations I wrote in Rome last year for the tumblr blog where I get a lot of travel advice questions.

I am currently on the island of Capri so I am writing this by memory and pasting on my iPad – so bear with any mistakes or typos.

I am in Italy for the 11th time, my last visit was also Capri and Naples, four months ago in May. I was last in Rome a year ago but I have spent more time in Rome than anywhere else in Italy over the years.

Sadly, I return home on Tuesday, flying from Naples to Dublin to Boston. But it is Friday night, I had a magical afternoon swimming in the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea, I am completely knackered and holed up in my hotel room praying it doesn’t rain all weekend as it is supposed to do, thunderstorms and all.

From my entry: champagne.tumblr.com/travel (updated and expanded tonight)

I get tumblr asks and emails, sometimes daily, on some of my favorite recommendations in Rome.

This is advice and Rome recommendations I wrote a year ago.

 

I’ll throw out some names and recommend some books:

Villa Sciarra and the 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 (church, food, la Renelle bakery, the Almost Corner Bookshop, graffiti, passersby).

The Aventine. (the Knights of Malta keyhole)!

Testaccio (the Protestant Cemetery!!

It’s peaceful, away from it all, gorgeous, Keats is buried there, Shelley has ashes, all the greats have visited, I am in love with the spot), mount Testaccio, the 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, Via Mazzarino 11.

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

Boutique villa art museums. Spada, Doria Pamphlij, Galleria Borghese, Villa Farnesina, etc!

Lunch and 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.
http://wantedinrome.com/ (exhibitions and strikes info)

http://thepinesofrome.blogspot.com/ (exhibitions and reviews)!

10 off the beaten path places in Rome (esp 2 & 7-10)!

http://www.revealedrome.com/2012/04/off-the-beaten-path-in-rome.html

A good site in general: http://www.revealedrome.com/ Summer in Rome tips and tricks!

RECOMMENDED BOOKS!!!

City Secrets Rome by Robert Kahn (2011 edition) (incredible!!)

Quiet Corners of Rome by David Downie and Alison Harris (a MUST)

Frommer’s Rome (The one classic guide I’ve learned the most from, consistent tips, great walks and itineraries, clear directions, the most practical info)

HV Morton’s (1950s classic!!!) A Traveller In Rome (love him)!!!

Secret Rome (Local Guides by Local People) – Jonglez 

(INVALUABLE BOOK)!!

The Secrets Of Rome – Love and Death in the Eternal City by Corrado Augias (incredible well written history of Rome – ancient to modern – one of my all time favorite books ever)!!!

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.

And fall for Artemisia Gentileschi and John Keats, like I did a long time ago.

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(1). Arrive an hour or two before sunset. Start near the bottom of Via Veneto, there’s a train stop there, around the Harry’s Bar area. That’s La Dolce Vita, 1960s, Rome. Cross through the Aurelian walls and into the Villa Borghese Park. Pause at the Lord Byron statue. Find your way on Viale dell Magnoile (ask for directions if lost).

Follow it through the park, by the cyclists and the children playing, past young lovers kissing on the grass or eating picnics on makeshift blankets. When you see a long line of white faded busts you’re approaching the pincian hill (pincio).

Wander around there a bit but don’t get too sidetracked. Eventually you’ll come to a fountain with a goddess (I’ve featured her on the blog).

In the distance ahead is the beginning of the most perfect view in the world.

The sun should be a little low slung by now, the colors softening, the golden hour already descending with deepening shades of orange, peach and purple in the sky.

You’ll see a palm tree up ahead.

Keep walking to where others are probably gathering at this point.

As you approach the marble fencing you’ll catch your breath at the shock of how close the cupolas seem contrasted to the distant and lovely vatican.

Rome from this angle is layered and rich to me, it’s up close and personal view is worth the plane ticket.

Far down below to the right of the pinccio is the impressive piazza del poppolo.

You’ll want to venture there too, but first watch the sun set over Rome from the best spot in the city, possibly the best spot in the world.

You see it’s really the kind of thing you can do in one day but preferably you can visit the area at least twice on your trip.

Because earlier in the afternoon I highly recommend (to the far left of the Pincio) walking down past Villa Medici and down the Spanish Steps. (I know, the crowds are deafening, the guys selling plastic junk are pushy, watch out for the harmless but sometimes annoying panhandlers (referred to as gypsies by some although I am told that is a derogatory label).

Walk down the nicely designed stairs (don’t forget to pop into the French church at the top of the stairs first) then walk down them (sidestepping American (and European) teenagers absentmindedly texting their friends with blasé looks on their faces and trying to be noticed).

Admire the Bernini (padre) fountain.

On your left is the Keats Shelley (Byron) House, an almost spiritual place for me.

The house Keats died in, a museum dedicated to English Romantic Poets and writers.

To your right is the classic more British than England tea house, Babington’s Tea Rooms (I take tea in there often. It’s a wonderful experience, the tea is exceptional, the scones are Scottish and delicious, the food is very good. It’s deadly expensive but worth the oasis from the noise and crowds and the afternoon tea is served in silver pots and in china cups. They also have drinks).

Back outside, you walk past the Bernini fountain and you go down the street a bit and on your right is Caffe Greco. Keats, Shelley, Byron, Gogol, Wilde, countless other poets, artists, writers, you name it, drank here!

The decor is still 18th/19th century marble top tables, red lush decor, decadent pastries, strong espresso, tea, champagne, aperitifs. It’s worth a drink and a meander. Local artists and writers gather there. Look out for the “caffe greco” sketch artist, he sits at a table and chats with the waiters, sketching people in the cafe for his own collection.

I have managed a few shots of him over the years. He’s been written up in magazines and guidebooks.

My latest visit to Rome was about the hidden spots, little not often visited places I’d never seen before and finding the best views.

I had nearly two weeks and I didn’t get through half my list!

But you see where the day takes you, what you are in the mood for and you see a few rare places and it is a pleasure. Then you hope to return one day and continue.

I love trying to get to know the city in pieces and nooks and crannies, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing in a superficial, not so grand tour.

I like to read and ponder and fall deeply into the art and architecture and the history of the centuries of the city.

Some times I just fall into the sensuality of the Italian sun, the verdant greenery, people watching, eating and drinking and walking.

This last visit I slipped on discreet earphones and listened to the voices of British men recite Keats poetry and I wandered the streets. Absolute heaven.

I listened to the Rome soundtrack on the busy Corso and through the Forum.

 

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a walk through the ancient porta san sebastiano on the grand old tour

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The entrance to the Porta San Sebastiano is the modern name for the ancient Porta Appia, a gate in the Aurelian Wall of Rome, through which the Via Appia, now the Via di Porta San Sebastiano at that location, left the city in a southeasterly direction. It was refortified at the end of the 4th century and was again renovated in the sixth century by Belisarius and Narses. The gate, a brick structure with turrets, still stands and has been restored to good condition. Modern traffic flows under it. Inside and upstairs is a museum dedicated to the construction of the walls and their recent restoration.

The gate is next to the Arch of Drusus. – wikipedia

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After walking for hours on the ancient Appian Way (an experience in itself of the historic pastoral Rome) we found our selves heading toward the porta san sebastiano and the celio district. It was one of the best walks I’ve ever had in Rome, practically isolated and beautifully quiet. There was even a local’s park without a tourist in sight (except us but we were trying to be incognito)!

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I felt like I was truly transported back in time, even with the odd car or vespa popping through the arch. Millions of ancient pilgrimages have passed this same way into Rome. I followed the steps of Keats and Goethe and Shelley and Byron and countless other Romantics and writers who went on the Grand Old Tour of Italy between the 17th and 19th centuries.

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Rome is modern sprawl springing itself forward from scenes of eternity.

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An ancient or centuries old pilgrim’s grafitti of an angel.

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The old cobblestone and bricks, filled with ancient marble and stone broken pillars for mending holes along the centuries.

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It is so enchanting.

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The side of the ancient gate.

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The Celio district is strictly off the beaten path and wonderful!!

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There are signs of an old way of life all along the way.

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Greenery hangs everywhere.

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So inviting.

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And we stumbled onto this magical place!

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By the forum far away but somehow fitting for this post I think.

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Caesar and cupolas; my idea of Rome, the ancient and the Renaissance.

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)

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.