I’ve just got back from a lovely ten days around the Italian lakes with my family. Poetry was everywhere – it was hard to spend a day without stumbling on a statue of Dante or plaque quoting Ezra Pound (he wrote of Sirimone, where Catullus once had a villa: ‘our Olive Sirimo / Lies in its burnished mirror’). And of course, I went to see ‘Juliet’s Balcony’ in Verona (actually made out of a sawn-off Roman sarcophagus in 1935 to cash in on the MGM movie), with the walls of graffitt-ed lovehearts. It was hard not to think of Juliet asking: ‘What’s in a name?’ and the answer being an enormous amount of tourist Euros.
Then there was Lake Como, which Shelley said ‘exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty’. It was a stop on eighteenth century Grand Tours, and easy to pretend I was still in that era as we wandered through landscaped villa gardens full of palms and citrus trees and picturesque ruins, or swam beneath hills of higgledy pastel houses. Definitely one of the most Romantic places I have ever been, in the Byron-sense. I was reading Umberto Eco’s On Beauty in the evenings on our balcony – and about Burke’s conception of the Sublime, which is terrible and non-finite – as Gothic lightning cracked the skies above the water.
Not to mention fun on pedalos with my sister and her family at Lake Garda, a farm-stay near Bergamo, and lots of frescos and piazzas and fascist architecture, and wonderful food: cheesy polenta in mountain villages and lake fish, bresaola, pizza, cuttlefish, lemon icecream, wild mushrooms, truffle pasta.
Back now though, and I seem to have returned to autumn. I have put the sandals back in the wardrobe and am eating windfall apple crumble. And a new term is about to start – I have the first session with my New Writing North mentees this evening, on the theme of beginnings….