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Amber Paulen

Roman Literati

12 January 2011


Sitting in an open window in January absorbing the sun is a luxury I do not take for granted. The dew that has clung to the shadows all morning vaporizes into a visible mist like smoke hanging between the buildings. And the city smells and sounds are welcomed in. How often can I wonder at the privilege of living in a city that is consistently stimulating—for whatever reason.

Lately I’ve taken a strong interest in Rome’s past literati. Goethe, Keats and Gogol most capture my imagination; though there were (and still are) many known and unknown others. In the 1800s, the area around the Spanish Steps was known as the “English Quarter,” a designation which doesn’t strike me as so Interesting. Rome cannot, like Paris between the World Wars, boast of a single brilliant expatriate movement: its influences are pervasively continuous.

The three greats, according to me, were not here at the same time; Goethe in 1786-88 off and on, Keats in 1821, Gogol in 1838-42 off and on. What they got from Rome was something of a respite, perhaps a bitter one in Keats’s case, as he continues to rest in the Protestant Cemetery. Yet he too enjoyed the sun and blue sky, the Classical architecture. The atmosphere which one absorbs here, this ancient Mediterranean duskiness, chaotic and vibrant, has been part of the city since there stood on the land under this apartment building, the houses of the ancient Roman nobility. Rome’s influences are perennial.

One must not forget the Romans: more passionate, more impulsive, natural admirers of beauty, natural critics of work. The life on the streets of a sunny January afternoon has not changed much, neither has the Classical architecture.

Poor Keats, who died here sick with tuberculosis and unconsummated love. I would love to know what Gogol thought. And in what shadow he sat in the Antico Caffé Greco sipping coffee and scribbling down Dead Souls. Unfortunately, Gogol is under-represented, all he has is a plaque on his apartment. The other two have museums and gift shops; their chronicles in Rome are thoroughly recorded, like that of Henry James. But one cannot argue with the favoritism for the dead young poet and for the creator of Faust.

Exciting: My tour about Rome’s foreign literati is up on the Rama App, available for all i-devices, a great companion on any trip to Rome!



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