Season 10! Can that be right? It's really only nine years since we sailed Aisling away from Halifax, but this will be our 10th consecutive summer of cruising in the Mediterranean. We'd only intended to stay for two or three years, but as it turned out, there's an awful lot to see here. Aisling looks much the same as when we left home, perhaps even a bit better, while Rick and I are definitely showing signs of wear. Too bad we can't take ourselves somewhere for a refit! Never mind, we are happy to be back on our boat, even if we can no longer be considered young cruisers.
We arrived back in Marina di Ragusa on Sunday, after a three-night stay in Rome with our friends Derek and Barbara Kennedy, who have been renting an apartment near the Porta Maggiore since December. As always, we enjoyed our time with them immensely. They are superb hosts who know Rome very well, and with them we tend to see things that are a bit off the main tourist track. Barbara was recovering from a badly sprained ankle, but she was such a trooper that we managed to cover a lot of ground during a short stay.
On Friday, we visited the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio. To get there, we took a bus to the Piramide station where, to our surprise, there really is an Egyptian-style pyramid, the Pyramid of Cestius. This pyramid was built around 12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a Roman praetor (judge), during an era when Romans were going wild for all things Egyptian. Later incorporated into the Aurelian walls that surround Rome, it provides an impressive backdrop for the cemetery.
The cemetery is a quiet and shady spot, with beautiful trees and flowering shrubs. Wisteria tumbles down the walls, and pansies bloom on graves. Although widely known as the "Protestant Cemetery", people of many faiths were buried here, including Eastern and Greek Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews. The graves of the poets Shelley and Keats are here, along with many other prominent individuals.
The remains of Keats lie surrounded by blooming irises in a field near the pyramid. His name does not appear on his headstone. The inscription reads: "This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water."
Actually, Keats had asked only for the words "Here lies one whose name was writ in water". His friends Joseph Severn and Charles Brown decided to add the bit about the bitterness of his heart (which just goes to show that even trusted friends won't necessarily respect your wishes after you are dead). Severn and his son are buried beside Keats.
One of the saddest parts of this story is that Keats' genius was not recognized during his lifetime. He died at the age of 25, of tuberculosis (then known as "consumption") during a time when little was understood about the disease. It is likely that the treatment he received actually hastened his death.
Shelley is another poet who had a short life and a sad death. In fact, his story makes a sea-going person shudder. He drowned in the Gulf of Spezia in northern Italy when returning from a visit to Byron on his schooner Ariel. His body washed up on shore a few days later. His body was cremated but oddly, his heart did not burn. For this reason, although his ashes are buried in Rome, his heart lies in Dorset England in the tomb of his second wife Mary, who apparently had kept the heart wrapped in a cloth for many years. As the author of Frankenstein, she probably didn't find this weird at all. Shelley's gravestone is inscribed with the words "Nothing of him that doth fade but doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange". His close friend Edward Trelawny lies beside him.
As a side note, it is fitting that Keats and Shelley are buried in the same cemetery. Shelley greatly admired the poetry of Keats and wrote "Adonais" as an elegy to Keats. When Shelley's body was found, a copy of Keats' poetry was found in his pocket. (see http://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/shelley.htm.)
The graves of many lesser-known individuals were also poignant, with fine sculptural details. We spent more than an hour wandering around, reading tombstones and enjoying the tranquility of the place.
Because we lingered so long at the cemetery, we were very late reaching Il Vinaetto, the little enoteca where Derek and Barbara's friends congregate at midday. Lunch was pizza bought by the slice from nearby Forno Roscioli, which tasted almost as good as the superb vermentino wine recommended by the proprietor Matilde.
Walking through the vibrant neighbourhood that was the old Jewish ghetto, we saw small brass plaques embedded in the cobblestones. These are moving memorials to the many Jews who were dragged away from here by the Nazis.
On Saturday morning, we made our way to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to see an exhibition titled "The Caravaggio Experience". This exhibit was entirely virtual, with photos of Caravaggio's paintings projected on the walls of several exhibition rooms. Individual characters from the paintings were cropped out and magnified, showing details that could be missed when looking a painting in its entirety. The exhibit was accompanied by music, and (apparently) scents, but we were so caught up in the paintings that we didn't notice the scents. It was a great overview of Caravaggio's work, although nothing can compare with seeing the originals, several of which can be seen free of charge (or for a donation) in the churches of Rome. For example, the painting "the conversion of St. Paul" a section of which is shown in the photo below, can be seen in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, along with the Crucifixion of St. Peter.
From the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, we caught a cab to Trimani wine bar for lunch. Using English translations of Italian menus is always a bit risky, and the tomato "soup" with cod turned out to be nothing remotely resembling a soup, but everything was delicious. After a bit of shopping, we made our way back to the apartment.
The thing that delights me the most about Rome is how many amazing things you can see in a short walk or bus ride. I don't think I could ever grow tired of it.
Of course, no blog posting is complete without a discussion of food. On the night we arrived, we had dinner at the trattoria Fusco on Via Statillia. It was a delicious meal, but the memory of it dims in comparison to the meals we enjoyed at Casa Kennedy. Pasta with roasted tomatoes, sausage and basil, spaghetti carbonara, a stew of wild boar...and we won't mention the wines that they shared with us, lest our friends become envious. We hope to return their hospitality when they visit us in Sicily next week.
In the meantime, we are cleaning , polishing and tackling the usual projects onboard Aisling. Ciao for now amici, more to follow!