Roaming Romantic Rome

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There’s a power struggle going on across Europe these days. A few cities are competing against each other to see who shall emerge as the great 21st century European metropolis. Will it be London? Paris? Berlin? Zurich? Maybe Brussels, center of the young union? They all strive to outdo one another culturally, architecturally, politically, fiscally. But Rome, it should be said, has not bothered to join the race for status. Rome doesn’t compete. Rome just watches all the fussing and striving, completely unfazed. I am inspired by the regal self-assurance of this city, so grounded and rounded, so amused and monumental, knowing she is held securely in the palm of history. I would like to be like Rome when I am an old lady. 

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

 

‘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, The Blithedale Romance

Regal. Retro. Romantic. Rome.  I first met her in the movies in the ’60s when my family spent Easter week watching Ben-Hur and The Robe.  Later I sighed at her heroes in Gladiator and King Arthur, and still turn to Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain for escape, classic style, and fun frocks.  And though recently I giggled at Brit wits, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy based on their pilgrimage to places Shelley and Byron lived, I do love teaching literary legends–particularly The Romantics–who moved to Rome.  Long before the Left Bank of Paris brimmed with expat genius, Rome was muse to so many who for centuries have transported readers to the The Eternal City via  memoir, fiction, and poetry.   Still, nothing is like being in Rome for real.  I was there last week on a detour; but as with many of life’s detours, I realized Plan B was To Be.

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Since moving to Morocco in 2014, I began planning my Dream Week for Spring Break 2016. I didn’t know if I’d stay abroad after my initial two-year work contract, so I saved the best for last.  I’d fallen in love with Italy in 2000 and have since returned eight times; but in 2004 I was swept away by the Amalfi Coast and hoped this year to perch on a Positano terrace across from Capri, the island that enchanted me more than a decade ago. A Mermaid in Marrakesh, I felt I’d find my muse staying between the Path of the Gods and the ocean below. Nothing moves me like the sea, and I couldn’t wait to live like a local and go no farther than a boat ride to a restaurant I’d read about.  I’d write in the sun.  I’d breathe.

I had booked the perfect villa last August beside the iconic Le Sirenuse, the set for Only You, a 1994 film my sister and I love . The plan was to join friends from the US in Tuscany the first week of the break, then travel alone by train to the coast. Sadly, an unforeseen circumstance that has caused much stress forced me to cancel that second week, but a colleague offered a Plan B. She suggested I stay with her in Rome and catch the Ryan Air flight on Tuesday for $26. My flight and stay at a hotel inspired by my favorite painter, Modigliani, cost less than changing my original ticket.

Lately I’ve been faced with huge decisions and it seemed all roads were, indeed, leading to Rome.  I’m passionate about several paths–family, travel, writing, education–and have been praying for a way they can all convene.  Birthdays are when I pull over to reevaluate the map of my life journey.  While in Tuscany I celebrated the one that was my father’s last.  He died at work. So young. So missed.

Roaming, resting, relaxing in Rome in my favorite neighborhoods (near Piazzas of Spagna and Barberini) proved to be poignant. I loved seeing friends in Tuscany (many pictures to come), but I’d spent the week fighting the flu.   Being in Rome on Easter and finally visiting The Keats-Shelley House—where Keats, too, came to Rome seeking a kinder climate for his health—moved me. I’d always loved Keats’ “When I Have Fears I Will Cease to Be” where he confesses concern that he’ll die before writing all he felt placed on earth to write or before marrying his beloved Fanny Brawne.  I thought, too, about Lord Byron who said “If I don’t write to empty my mind I go mad” and Henry David Thoreau, an American Romantic, who said, “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I’ve never wanted to be one of that mass.  Keats died after just three months in Rome beside the Spanish Steps at twenty-five; Shelley was living in Tuscany when he drowned off the coast of Italy at twenty-nine.  Byron died from exhaustion in Greece at thirty-six.  All so young. So much more to write. To live.  I returned to Marrakesh with a renewed gratitude for my health and the warm climate I enjoy daily.  And I continue to seek the best way to live what’s left of my life.

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The bed in which Keats spent the last two months of his life looking out of the two  windows below.  He had only one month to enjoy the city before bed-ridden.

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Loved this “Romantic Beatles” T-shirt in the gift shop–appropriate since the revolutionaries/flower children of the 1960s were legacies of the Romantic Era.  My fascination with these four started in college and was piqued by the 1988 film Haunted Summer and Veronica Bennett’s novel, Angelmonster, focusing on the obsessions, dysfunctions, heartaches and genius that led to Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein.

Second generation Romantics Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, and Keats followed fathers of the movement, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Blake, in philosophically  opposing tenets of the previous period, The Enlightenment– institutions, tradition, conformity, science and reason.  Romantics were (and are) the Carpe Diem Crowd, idealists who value individualism, democracy, experimentation, emotion, imagination, social reform, change, and nature.  Other European Romantic artists were Pushkin, Hugo, Turner, Beethoven, Schubert and Berlioz–all influenced by the philosophies of Goethe (who lived in Rome for a time), Locke, and Rousseau whose tabula rasa (man is a blank slate made by society that writes his story) meant respecting the “noble savage” be he a Native American or Mary Shelley’s creature in Frankenstein who became a monster  by the doctor who recklessly created and abandoned him and  villagers who feared and abused him, and the social contract (fair play between the governing and governed which fueled the French and American Revolutions).

I thought about how the tension between Reason VS Emotion, Duty VS Passion, Fact VS Feeling VS Faith affects decisions.  Just as I lived the questions while wandering Venice three months ago, I roamed Rome believing I’ll live into the answers.  Meanwhile I’m learning to wait in passionate patience.

I brought back writing inspiration from the vibrant literary landscape that is Rome.  I walked the streets off Via Condotti where writers gathered around wine at restaurants and coffee at Antico Caffè Greco.  In the area around The Spanish Steps known in the 19th century as the “English Quarter” lived not only the Shelleys, Byron and Keats  but also Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and William Thackeray, Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, the subject of my Master’s Thesis, wrote The Marble Faun based on the Faun of Praxiteles displayed in Capitoline Museum.  I returned and read Wharton’s “Roman Fever” and plan to read Dickens’ Pictures from Italy and Henry James’ Italian Hours.

I loved studying filmmaker Federico Fellini in grad school who said:

Rome does not need to make culture.  It is culture.  Prehistoric, classical, Etruscan, Renaissance, Baroque, modern.  Every corner of the city is a chapter in an imaginary universal history of culture.  Culture in Rome is not an academic concept.  It’s not even a museum culture, even though the city is one enormous museum.  It is a human culture free from cultural faddishness, or neurotic trendiness.

Maybe…

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One thing is for sure. From the bizarre to the sublime, Rome is human history.  I’d enjoyed seeing the Forum, Pantheon, Colosseum, Catacombs, and Vatican City on two prevous trips, but this time it was nice to do what Romantics do best.  Feel.  Truly  Rome is an Ode to Joy, a Sonnet called La Bella Vita.

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Piazza Barberini
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Up the street on the hill is Hotel Modigliani. Perfect location–5 minutes from Spagna and within 3 km of all main sites. In Barberini I was also just around the corner from Borghese Park.

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Before visiting Paris or Rome see the 2004 film, Modigliani.
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I was upgraded to the top floor suite at no charge. An unexpected blessing.

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View from my terrace

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Near here in Palazzo Barberini was the home of William Wetmore Story, an American sculptor, poet, and art critic, where expats gathered from 1819-1895.

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Borghese Park

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Easter lunch at Piazza della Rotonda across from Pantheon

 

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My favorite store

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Wine Bar atop Spanish Steps

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Trevi Fountain–always my first stop so it isn’t my last.

I’m grateful for roaming Rome which confirmed two things.  I’ve been missing my children since December and want to travel and do life with them again more than anything. In Positano a gorgeous villa awaits, but I hope to go when they or my sis can  join me one day.  And, like it or not, the only constant is change. The Romantics knew this and thus seized the day knowing too soon the day ceases.  I’ve experienced adventure, beauty and new relationships aplenty.   So much in my life has changed in the last two years. Places. People. Paths. My comfort is knowing the One who holds this gorgeous globe, my family, and me.  He has already picked our next path. It’s good to be at peace with peace.

 

 

Cindy McCain

A Southern Girl Gone Global, I flew from my empty Nashville nest in 2014 to land in Africa where I lived two years in magical Marrakesh, Morocco. Now I live in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and continue sharing my journey--so far across 27 countries on 4 continents and the Caribbean. This travel/lifestyle blog is about letting go of fear, clinging to faith, and following your heart's desires. It's a celebration of beauty, adventure, relationship...roots and wings.

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10 comments

  • So sorry you missed Pasitano and the Amalfi coast. We stayed there last year and did day trips to the surrounding area. If you have any interest in a wonderful driver, we can recommend one. His name is “Poppy.” ( If you are interested, we can give you information about his company, etc. You would need to have an advance reservation for him I believe.) He knows everyone, every good restaurant, and every good guide if you want to ask lots of hard questions about the antiquities you visit. One such location is Pasteum. Most people miss it, but it has two Doric Greek temples that are better preserved than the ones in Greece. It is a small place in the middle of nowhere, but we really enjoyed it. However, I do recommend a guide there. We asked so many specific historical questions that the guide asked us if we were from the US. She was amazed that we actually know the difference between the Greeks and Romans and had some sense of the history of the time and place. We were embarrassed for our country. Of course, it is not as significant as Pompeii and Herculaneum, but if you have already seen them, you might want you consider Pasteum. Last year we also saw the Vatican gardens early on the morning. We had never seen them before, so we enjoyed them. The Pope actually lives in the gardens rather than in the papal apartments. Rome is always fun, and we too always visit the Trevi fountain.

    Billie

    • Hi Billie, I have done Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento, Capri but would love to check out more of the Amalfi Coast. Pasteum and Poppy sound GREAT. Hopefully I’ll get there one day and get in touch for info. Thanks! I’ve heard good things about “Context Tours for the Intellectually Curious.” You two could lead your own tours with the knowledge between you!

  • Loved reading this, sounds just like you. Cannot open the pictures. Maybe this is on FB, sometimes I look both places. Betty

    • I am glad pics opened. Thank you. It was fun to soak up that area in a relaxed way knowing some of my favorite writers did the same. 🙂

  • Dumb me, I finally was able to hit the correct button to see the pictures. They are great. Betty

  • Although I and others miss having you back home in the States, your writing and pictures take us along on your journey through life. Can’t wait for your next adventure.

  • Finishing your two years in Morocco with a trip to Rome was meant to be. I can see in your pictures and your words how much it meant to you. So sad that Byron, Shelley and Keats died so young. It reminds all of us to savour every moment….especially in Rome!

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