TEA WITH MR KEATS

I got the opening day of the Keats Museum at the bottom of the Spanish Steps wrong. It was today, with plans for tea in Babingtons opposite. 5 months only Keats had in Rome, before his death of TB in February of 1821. His room, where at least he could look out on the charm of the steps and fountain, is as tiny as the curling edged bed, a replica. The museum is not only a shrine to Keats, but English ‘Romanticism’ and especially Shelley and Byron, all of whom died tragically, within a remarkably short time of each other. I am not sure I got that story about Shelley’s heart right. It’s nice to see though that not all Americans behave like Abrams publisher in New York towards writers, good or bad. The fine bookcases were a gift from the New York Stock Exchange, filled with volumes collected over the years, that you can take out, though only to look at inside the Museum. The American Academic too, standing in for someone who was sick, was amused and helpful.

If Keat’s time in Rome carried him off forever, to a gentle spot in the ‘non-Catholic’ cemetery, the prices at Babingtons could carry off anyone. At 31 euros for the full tea it seemed excessive, so we made our own, as I went off to look for a job at the British Council, or to get some advice. Boy how unimpressive that place is to enquiring English voices. People with little sinecures, doing not very much, and grandly announcing they work for ‘culture’. They are really closed until next Monday, but everything is done online now, and I wonder what Keats would have thought of the welcome to English visitors and travellers. Still, we probably don’t need such places anymore, or little has changed to sailors in the sea of the world.

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