Saturday, March 26, 2011


Of course I was up before it was properly light on the morning after arriving at the lodging on the Spanish Steps, and it isn't possible to separate the strands of jet lag from those of generalized excitement. Rushed outside and stared back up at the house where I could hardly believe I was going to be living for the next two weeks. Against the dawn sky in the background was the church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti (with its own modest obelisk in front). The Steps themselves are rightly called the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti.

Though (like everybody) I ended up photographing the Scalinata again and again, I think the picture above may be the only one I took of the southeastern end of the Piazza, which I walked through almost every time I went anywhere. I took a dislike to the column you see there, a 19th-century piece of bad taste commemorating the Pope's invention in 1857 of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. That figure at the top is a heavily-robed Virgin Mary and around the bottom are four frowning statues of self-righteous-looking prophets. It was useful, all the same, to be constantly confronted by this piece of pomposity, if only because it superficially resembled so many similar artistic gestures from earlier centuries all over the city. Virtually everything that survives in Rome from the 15th and 16th and 17th centuries shines with an authority that seems inevitable – and this can lead one to take such an abundance of integrity and beauty for granted, forgetting that it was in fact a constantly renewed miracle. True, this miracle lasted for a very long time, but it could (and did) eventually die.

Workers from the Comune di Roma showed up on this morning and every subsequent morning to power-wash the Steps. I adored their uniforms of orange and burgundy, with silver stripes.

Close-ups of the house on the opposite side of the Steps from the Keats House. This was the first thing I saw every morning from my bedroom window, the warm terracotta of the stucco walls, their discreet ornaments, the shutters, the slate roof, the dovecot at the top (though only an occasional urban pigeon ever inhabited it).

The Fontana della Barcaccia at the base of the Steps, in the shape of a leaking boat, slowly sinking. People used to say that the famous Bernini designed it, but now they say it was his son.

Back inside the house for breakfast, I started looking through the bound visitors' log books. People who have stayed in the apartment record their preferences and observations there. A recent visitor from Wales had left these pleasing ink-and-wash drawings of stair-climbing Romans and tourists observed through the windows. Someone else had pasted in a postcard portrait of Keats, urging readers to visit his grave and offering the reassurance that "there don't seem to be any pickpockets at the Protestant Cemetery."