- Stephen Altman
Blues for the Muse is set in Rome, where I've visited six or eight times this past decade. (Keats made one trip there; it ended badly.) It's hard to imagine that Rome even exists. Even in Italy. Spend time in Rome and you will understand why the phrase"Eternal City" is so apt, yet somehow falls short.
On Fridays I'll be posting things I've run into over the years--not necessarily BFTM-related or even Keats-related, but useful or pleasurable bits of poetry or prose. So while we're thinking of Rome, here's a useful three-sentence summing-up that I saved some time ago. But remember, this is Rome: Don't read about it; visit it. Here's what the writer said:
Rome is the ultimate city, the defining metropolis, that same civis from which the fundamental concept of civilisation derives. The place enshrines extremes of human grandeur and baseness like no other, reminding us of the enduring paradox of our species - that transcendent resources of imagination, faith and creativity can exist alongside barbarism, arrogance and folly. Whether living in Rome or looking at it, we learn by degrees something about who we are.
I tried to make Blues for the Muse feel a bit like Rome. But that was folly; nothing feels like Rome but Rome.
[The writer is Jonathan Keates (doesn't that sound like an alias?) reviewing Robert Hughes's enthralling Rome a decade ago. The photo is from La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), starring the incomparable Italian older dude Tony Sevillo. It won the Oscar for Best International Feature Film in 2014. Covid may be keeping you out of Italy right now, but that doesn't mean you can't stream La Grande Bellezza.]