For some reason, John Keats’ poetic line “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” has been on my mind this morning. I have not thought of the quote in years. Again why this morning, I do not know.
There is a story behind it. One that goes back some 35-40 years ago when I spent a month in the Rome area with my family. My parents and son returned home 3 days earlier than my wife, daughters and I. They had something that needed to be done. We had spent the month at the villa I have mentioned in the past in Lovinia on the Mediterranean some 40 miles outside Rome. Since my parents and son were leaving and my wife wanted to do some shopping, we all left Lovinia.
We spent the 3 days in Rome in a pensione. An Italian guest house. It was run by friends. Black Franciscan nuns. It was their nunnery and they operated the pensione as part of it for economic reasons.
The American dollar was strong. The Italian lira in the dumps. One American dollar got you 2,200 lira. My wife said give me $3,000 and I will shop for 3 days, outfit myself and our 3 daughters for a whole year. Promise not to ask for any money for clothes for a year. Go for it, I told her.
Recall $1 American money was equal to roughly 2,200 lira. I made the money exchange for my wife. A little more than 6 million lira filling two large paper bags.
The ladies shopped and I wandered the streets of Rome alone. An interesting experience.
One such experience found me at the foot of the Spanish Steps. To the right of the steps were a series of buildings. The first was a two story simple structure. There was a small brass plaque by the front door: John Keats Museum. John Keats, the name was familiar. Who? Then it dawned on me, he had been a poet. I had taken two years of English literature and Keats I recalled was one of the poets we were required to read.
I went in. The second floor was the most interesting. Keats’ bedroom where he died, a room I assumed was a former living room and a couple of smaller rooms. Keats still did not really register with me other than his name was now familiar.
The “living room” contained his writings. A large number were encased in glass. I strolled along reading some. Then I came across the one that brought total recollection to mind. A crumbled wrinkled yellow piece of paper on which Keats had written the poem containing the line…..A thing of beauty is a joy forever. It was as if I was looking at Lincoln’s Gettysburg address that he had written on a brown paper bag in pencil as he traveled to Gettysburg.
The poem, the line especially, brought tears to my eyes.
Keats had lived only 25 years. He was born in London 10/31/1795 and died in Rome in that bedroom 2/23/1821. An English poet. More specifically, a romantic poet. His works had been published for 4 years before he died of tuberculosis.
The house/museum is located at Piazza di Spagna 26.
The nuns had been good to us during our entire stay in Italy. When in Rome itself, which was frequently, we would stop, have coffee with them or lunch, took some of them to dinner a couple of times, celebrated the American Memorial Day with them at a roof top party they threw on the pensione. Most of the nuns were Americans and it was obvious they missed their homeland greatly. When our rented car broke down because we put the wrong gas in, they came to get us and gave us their car to use for two days while their mechanic fixed ours for nothing. They were concerned the rental company would rip us off.
Two interesting factors involving the nunnery and nuns.
The room my wife and I occupied was terrific. Huge and comfortable. A great bathroom. Bathrooms not necessarily one of Italy’s better offerings.
I wanted to have sex in the bedroom. My wife said no. We were in a nunnery! That is why I wanted to have sex. Sort of an odd perversion, I guess. She finally acquiesced.
The other was a statue of the Blessed Mother.
The Mother Superior was originally from Utica. Her brother lived across the street from us in Utica. The family name escapes me.
One night after everyone had gone to sleep, the Mother Superior and I were sitting in the kitchen having coffee and chatting. By candlelight. I am not sure they had electric power after 10 pm.
We had become friends. She sat there with her habit head covering off. I was impressed with her long beautiful hair.
I felt indebted due to the way the nuns had treated us over the past month and wanted to do something. I handed her a check for $1,000. She refused to take it. We had a bit of an argument. Finally, she said she would take it for one reason. If I gave it to her with the understanding that the nunnery would use it to purchase a new Blessed Mother which they badly needed.
Over the years, many Uticans stayed at the pensione. Recall that the Black Franciscans operated St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica. When they returned, we would run into each other or they would call me. To tell me they saw the beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother and the inscription beneath it stating Through the Generosity and Goodness of Louis Petrone.
One more story about the nuns.
The Mother Superior asked that I bring a gold cross back to Utica to give to the nuns at St. Elizabeth Hospital to deliver to their mother house in Syracuse. The box it was in was about 1 foot by 6 inches x 6 inches. I asked for the receipt for the cross. What receipt? She had none. I explained I was going to have enough aggravation going through customs. Remember my wife spent $3,000 on clothes. We already had 21 suitcases and boxes to go through customs with.
The Mother Superior said no problem. She boldly wrote on the box: Through the Goodness of God. I said good luck! No way is this going to work. She said don’t worry, God will be with you.
He was. When we approached customs in the U.S., the officer looked at my 22 pieces (overwhelming in appearance), smiled, asked if we had a good time, and passed us on without looking at anything.
I feel good at the moment. I was going to write about Trump and whether he would end up a dictator or jailbird. This story was more pleasant to share. Hope you enjoyed it.
Enjoy your day also!