dimanche 25 octobre 2015

Visiting the Keats-Shelley house in Rome

   Currently in Rome for half-term, I spent most of the week walking through the ancient ruins of the Roman forum and the narrow picturesque streets of  the Trastevere district. Yesterday, my wanderings took me to Piazza di Spagna, one of the most famous places in the city. As I was standing among the crowd on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the aggressive hustle and bustle of the street, and started looking for a more peaceful place. I spotted a welcoming little door just at the foot of the Spanish steps, with a sign carved in a stone plaque that read: Keats Shelley memorial house.

   I entered the building and found myself in a shelter of peace and tranquility. This is the house where the famous English poet John Keats spent the last days of his life. He came to Rome in 1820 like many other fellow english Romantics in search for inspiration, but also in search for a better climate which he hoped would cure his tuberculosis. Although he was still very young - twenty-four years of age only - Keats had already produced the masterpieces which gained him recognition as a poet (The Eve of St Agnes, Ode to a Nightingale, The Eve of St Mark, to name but a few). He travelled to Italy with his friend Severn. Upon their arrival in Rome in November 1820, they found this small flat which they shared for a few months. Unfortunately, the mild cllimated of Rome did not help cure Keats' tuberculosis, and he died in February of the followiing year. He now rests in the non-catholic cemetary of Rome.

 The flat is now a memorial to Keats and his fellow poet Shelley, and it hosts a beautiful reference library dedicated to the english Romantics. Keats' small bedroom with its window overlooking Piazza di Spagna has been reconstructed, and it looks just like it was when the poet lived in it.

If you go to Rome, I strongly encourage you to visit this place. For  those who can only travel through the Inernet, a virtual tour is available here:  http://www.keats-shelley-house.org/en/virtual-tour

And here is a short video introduction to the memorial house:

mardi 13 octobre 2015

Still reading through Peter Ackroyd's London biography - how commerce and speculation have shaped the city throughout the ages

   Peter Ackroyd's London biography is so dense and well documented that it is taking me ages to finish. However, I am enjoying it, so I will continue and read it through, no matter how long it takes. Fortunately, the Marylebone branch of Westminster Library is patient and has agreed to renew it multiple times...

   So far, what I find most interesting about this book is how it characterizes London. Indeed, Peter Ackroyd does a great job of capturing the city's essence, the permanent traits that have formed the quintessence of London throughout the ages.  The main one is certainly the fact that it was built upon commerce and speculation, with trade and business driving the city's expansion, shaping its physiognomy, and ultimately determining social interactions between its inhabitants. Indeed, whether we like it or not, the stark contrast between abundance and need, the omnipresent building works and the extravagant advertisements of luxury properties that we see when walking in the streets of London are not anomalies of this century. Rather, they are a distinct feature of the city's personality, which has lasted throughout the ages.  If anything, the 21st century has but added an international dimension to this structural phenomenon, with overseas money now fuelling the city's permanent expansion and renewal. I will meditate upon this next time I walk along Billionaires row in Kensington Palace Gardens.