Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
A morning spent in a cemetery doesn't sound like much fun but that's what we opted for on Saturday. At least, it's what we did. We had missed getting into the cemetery for Non Catholics by ten minutes on Thursday so we thought we'd spend a quarter of an hour visiting it, now that we knew how to get there. In fact we found it such a beautiful place that we spent a couple of hours there after seeing Keats' and Shelley's graves. Donall was in his element, roaming the monuments with his camera. They were so varied, some so imaginatively designed. I particularly liked the architect's grave marked with a large marble cube balanced on one corner, defying gravity. I don't have a note of his name until we can use our photos.
Keats' grave is very pretty and the poem inscribed on it is apt too:
K . eats, if thy cherished name be 'writ in water'
E . each drop has fallen from some mourner's cheek
A . sacred tribute: such as herft in vain:
T . hough oft in vain - for dazzling deeds of slaughter
S . leep on! Not honoured less for Epitaph so meek!
Also touching, next to Keats' grave, is the identical grave of his friend, John Severn, who nursed the poet through his last illness. Severn died aged 83 in 1879 and his infant daughter's grave is also nearby. (Keats died 50 or so years before that, aged 25)
The cemetery is next to the Pyramid that names the nearby Metro station, and the Museum of Ostia. I made a couple of sketches of the contrasting structures.
We went to see the archaeological site of ancient Ostia the same afternoon, in fine sunny weather.
That evening we went to the church of St Paul within the Walls, down the
road from our hotel, to a performance of "La Traviata" which we thoroughly enjoyed. Opera is not so expensive in Italy as in London, so it was an oportunity not to be missed. We went to the Theatre Salone Margharita the next night, to hear a selection of arias by another company.
The weather has taken a turn for the better - we spent Sunday afternoon in the Borghese gardens, with the families and lovers who had also come out to play there. A children's funfare, bikes and pedal-powered carts, and strange little upright scooters (battery driven I think), ballooons, football games and groups of boys and girls out having fun - a great holiday atmosphere. We rested our feet for a few hours, getting over the sightseeing.
We looked into Santa Maria del Populo - a lovely church with two dramatic Caravaggios and a beautiful organ high up on the wall near the altar; the Genius of Leonardo exhibition in the same huge elegant piazza had modern reconstrructions in wood of some of Leonardo Da Vinci's inventions, including a very modern-looking bicycle.
The chapel of the Capuccins in the via Veneto off the Piazza dei Tritone was almost closed for lunch when we got there on Sunday morning, so there was no queue and we went in, paying our one - euro entrance fee. Here the bones of 4,000 monks have been cunningly assembled in the crypt of a church, into patterns, mouldings, candlabra, sculpures, some mummified whole are in tableaux - this is not as macabre in reality as it sounds here, but very beautiful. Vertebrae, in particular, make very pleasing ornamental forms when they are assembled like this!
Our last full day today - a warm sunny one - we have visited so many sights in eight days, we'll relax again today, just visit the Pantheon, and then more of the Villa Borghese's park in the sun
We've been visiting the sights that are compulsory for tourists in Rome, for the last three days: the Colosseum; the Sistine Chapel; the Catacombs and the Circus Maximus, and today we went to the Spanish Steps, which are a short walk from where we are staying. We'd walked to the nearby Trevi Fountain the other evening, guided to it by the joyous sounds of young people hanging out near water - it sounded very like a municipal swimming bath from the nearby streets, though nobody was actually in the water. It's an exuberant riot of stone and water, surrounded by tourists and pedlars of all kinds. (I am becoming a little allergic to the red roses thrust under my nose by insistent pedlars and my firm "No" is becoming more convincing all the time, I believe.)
Walking back towards the tunnel home to via Nazionale that night, we found a lovely restaurant, called That's Amore, where the proprietor and Donall established a running joke which promises to run and run. We've enjoyed our times there so much, we've been back twice. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is great.
We also found a play to amuse us on Tuesday evening, just a short walk from our base. At the Teatro Eloise, the play's title translates as "Any Questions". We understood enough through context and body language of the actors to enjoy the evening thoroughly.
Today we visited the Spanish Steps and went into the house where John Keats spent the last few months of his life before dying of TB. His death mask and a life mask are there and I tried to draw both. It was a moving experience to be there, looking at his face, while outside the windows the young people and families of Europe disported themselves on the Steps, most probably ignorant of the history of the house that overlooked them.
Then we went to try to see Keats' grave, in the cemetery for non-Catholics, just outside the city walls at the Pyramide. Unfortunately we arrived just too late - the cemetery shuts at 5pm. Tomorrow morning we'll go again, then go on to visit the archaeological site at Ostia, which is nearby and is free to visit this week.