Shelley! Byron! Water! Cats!

I never thought I’d take such an extended vacation — I blame it entirely on the Italian people, because it was in Italy that I discovered how much I really like lying around and staring at the stars, the ceiling, and out the window which, basically, is what I’ve been doing this entire summer, when I was not grilling or eating peaches.

But I did have one or two thoughts about Italy and now that I am out of my extended vacation haze, I realize that mainly they are about the romantics and water.

Hiking along the Cinqueterre with my English professor friend C, which is where I went after London, we kept coming across places where romantic poets had spent time in the sea, sometimes tragically, sometimes not so much.

I’d like to say first that it was really fabulous being on vacation with someone who has her English literature down cold. While I struggle to remember when Hardy died, and whether he is a Victorianist or something else, C not only can tell you the answer to these questions (I think she would say he might be both) — but she can tell you what happened to Hardy’s heart (not to mention Shelley’s) (ick), and a little bit about Hardy’s wife. More on that later, after encounters with water.

The Cinqueterre is quite beautiful. In fact, the Ligurian coast, where there is pesto and lovely fish everywhere you sit down, is a wonderful place. Many of you probably already know that. I, however, did not, so I am going to say it several times, because the wonder of it all is still fresh for me. Italians are kind, gracious, fun, and have an interesting habit of always asking you when you arrive at a restaurant without a reservation, even if the restaurant is completely empty, whether you have a reservation. Upon learning that you do not, shoulders are shrugged, mouths are twisted around in expressions that vary from regret to hope to disdain, and then prego a table is produced. This is the theater of the miraculous, and after a while it became a delight, sharing in the sorrow of not being able to have something and the giddy joy at having it produced after a small emotional struggle. Yes, it was only a table in an empty restaurant, but it stood for all of life, and we felt it as such. Particularly if we had already had a drink or two before dinner, which, dear reader, we sometimes had.

Shelley — I have to get to Shelley. In the interest of actually posting something before August ends, I have not looked up these facts, so please don’t use them if you are writing a term paper on Shelley, because you might not get the grade you want. Apparently, Shelley and his friends came to Italy in the winter — for obvious reasons. My impression is that they were a dark, brooding lot, with a lot of sexual experimentation going on, a loosening of constraints both social and literary, and also, they were likely there for the food.

During this trip, Shelley apparently went out in a boat and, in a storm, the boat sank and he drowned. When the body washed up on the shore, and his friends found him, someone (probably Byron) had the bright idea that they should make a funeral pyre right there on the beach. Unfortunately (and I am sorry, but this does make me laugh, even though it is very disgusting), they didn’t realize that it is not a good idea to try to make a funeral pyre with a body that’s water-logged and they couldn’t get the whole thing to blaze up in the way they’d imagined. So, this group of insane and impractical writers and lovers and hangers on, removed Shelley’s heart and brought it back to England with them, the body being a lot more complicated to get home.

And then, being on a roll with stories of hearts and writers, I wanted to tell you too that (according to my friend C, in whom I have complete faith), when Hardy died, his literary executor, who sounds like a bit of an idiot, had the bright idea of storing Hardy’s heart inside a biscuit tin, but without a lid. Apparently, one of Hardy’s cats … well, do I really need to go on? This, apparently, is the sort of thing you learn in English graduate school — along with the interesting fact that Hardy did not speak to his wife (although they lived in the same house) for over a decade — and when I asked my friend C why he began speaking to her again she informed me that the decade of no speech ended with Hardy’s wife’s death, not with some event that got him talking to her again, although she might have been a help in choosing a better literary executor, had he only thought to ask.

So, what’s left? Ah. Byron. Byron is memorialized all over the Cinqueterre in part because there doesn’t seem to be anywhere he didn’t take a long swim from or to. And what a swimmer! In addition to a lovely grotto named after him, there is a little sign in Portovenere that tells you he swam from that small village to another larger place that took us quite a while to get to on the train. Perhaps it was faster to swim, but I’m afraid if I’d tried that, I would have met Shelley’s fate.

My next post, which I hope will be far more timely than this one, will be about Dickens, and the conference in Genoa I attended with C and a bunch of Dickens scholars who assembled there to discuss Dickens’s sojourn in Italy. More conventional than the romantics, and certainly more practical, Dickens was nevertheless no less interesting. More on that next time, dear reader.

Oh, and by the way, when you hike this weekend, don’t wear those cute high heels, okay?

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29 thoughts on “Shelley! Byron! Water! Cats!

  1. Pingback: mandarine » Blog Archive » Bloglily’s back

  2. Ok, first of all, I absolutely love the Cinque Terre. I’ve only been there once, that one time being far too short, but it was startlingly beautiful and the food made me realize how wonderful getting fat would be.

    Second, that sign there isn’t so funny. Not too long ago, I was at an active volcano, which you have to hike to. The hike isn’t that strenuous, but it’s not a walk in the park, either. Anyway, when I finally arrived at the volcano there was a woman there in 4.5″ gold spike heels. Not funny. What was even less amusing is that she wasn’t the only one. I always feel so underdressed, like such an American slob, here in Costa Rica. Oh well, at least I’m comfortable!

  3. Mandarine, dude! (As we say around here, after we’ve eaten our fill of peaches.) Have I told you today that you are a wonderful blogfriend, and it thrills me more than I can say that you actually noticed I have been away. You are sweet.

    Erin that is absolutely stunning! The gold heels, I mean. Really, what sort of culture produces a woman who hikes in FOUR POINT FIVE INCH gold spike heels? I’m going to have to lie down in my birkenstocks and give that some thought.

  4. Bloglily! You’re back! I haven’t even read the post yet, just drooled over the beautiful pictures. I had to run to the comments first and say that I missed you. I’m so very glad you’re posting again!

  5. Ok. Now I read the post. And I’m even happier that you have posted again. Your vacation sounds wonderful. Oh how I wish I could live in one of those colored houses clinging to the hillside, eating peaches, and sailing out a bit into the seas to take pictures like that on lazy perfect afternoons! And definitely without wearing the cute spikey heels.

  6. Woo-hoo, Bloglily’s back and back in style! I seriously thought you had decided blogging was not for you and had moved on. Thank goodness it was just because you were having a fabulous holiday, considering literature and eating peaches.

    I’ve just been in the neighbouring province to Liguria, Livorno, and experienced that reservation thing many times over, always in empty restaurants because we were turning up early with our small children. It was very entertaining, and as you say, theatrical.

    I am looking forward to hearing much much more about your holidays, and am sending you a big welcome back hug.

  7. Hey Cam, I’ve missed you too — where else am I going to find out about the mathematical properties of sunflowers and what it’s like to be in New York City with an injury? Not to mention many other things? As for the cute spikey heels, I have decided that this fall I’m going to buy some sexy shoes. Just not for hiking.

    Charlotte — happy birthday to Lily, first of all. And believe me, if I was going to move on, I’d have a huge party first and give away stuff! (What stuff, I’m not sure, which is why I can’t move anywhere, anytime soon.) My boys are thrilled I’m blogging again, by the way. I didn’t realize it, but they really like hearing about the people I read and the people who come over here and leave comments. Everyone here is very real to them (and to me) — which is such a wonderful and unlooked for bonus of writing a blog. hugs to you too, Lily

  8. Yay! She’s back. It’s midnight and I just finished updating my blog and saw my link to you on it and decided to click over on the off-chance you were back and there you were! What a luscious, icky, hilarious, delicious, envy-provoking post.

  9. Hurray! Welcome back BL! We missed you.

    Agree completely about the charm of Cinque Terre. Is the first picture from Monte Rossa or Vernazza? Vernazza was my favorite place. There was this restaurant built into the watchtower at the sea’s edge. I distinctly remember the warm breeze coming in from the Mediterranean Sea.

  10. Well I’m now fascinated by these twisted secrets of literary figures (so shocking!)… please tell more.

    What an incredible vacation…

    Welcome back! Can you see how much we all missed you?

  11. I went to grad school in English and I didn’t know ANY of those stories re. Shelley’s heart, Hardy’s heart, etc. Sheesh. Why were my professors so boring??

    My MIL is just the sort of European that might show up for a hike in high heels.

    Now I want to go to Cinque Terre.

  12. Ohhhh, bloglily! So many times I’ve clicked over to see if you were there…and tonight…here you are! I love the pictures, LOVE the stories, and I’m so envious of your wonderful vacation and all the great things you learned. I wasn’t a grad student in English, but I was an English major, and believe me, they told us NOTHING fun like this! Welcome back to blogging. I, like charlotte, had feared that maybe you had decided there were more fun things to do than share your life with us through your blog. Now the world is put right again. Thank you for this!

  13. BL, your story about getting tables in empty restaurants so perfectly illustrates the wonderful Italian tragic sense of life. In the name of all that is good (brava!) and beautiful (bella!), welcome back.

  14. Yesss! You’re back! Glad to hear you had such a fabulous excuse for not blogging. And thanks for the gory details on Victorian heart handling. By the way, having your heart eaten by your favourite pet isn’t that bad I think. Depends a bit on the kind of pet of course (goldfish?), but a cat would be OK. Better than having it carried all over Europe in your friends’ hand luggage…

  15. Ahhhh, Life is complete again. The world has tilted back to its regulation 23 and a half degrees, spring has arrived here in the Southern hemisphere and Bloglily have returned. With interesting tales and wonderful pictures. Although I may have difficulties with Dickens. 🙂

  16. Bloglily, how wonderful to find you back in the blogosphere! Your time in Italy sounds glorious as does the relaxed attitude that you brought home with you. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your travels.

    There’s a very interesting essay by Hermione Lee on the whole business of Shelley’s heart in her book “Virginia Woolf’s Nose: Essays on Biography.” I hadn’t heard about Hardy’s heart, but I’m currently in the midst of Claire Tomalin’s biography of him and read there that immediately after his wife’s death he wrote reams of love poems to her, apparently overcome with remorse for those ten years of silence. Fascinating stuff, this literary biography!

  17. So glad to see you back! I was wondering if you decided to stay over there!! (Of course I wouldn’t blame you a bit!!). Italy sounds very literally divine!!! Lovely photos by the way!

  18. I can’t tell you all how nice it is to come back and have people actually happy to see me! It does my heart (which is not in a biscuit tin or someone’s pocket) good.

    Danielle — Wouldn’t it be great, someday, to have a small house in some wonderful country like Italy? Or England (between May and October)? Or France (if one spoke French). I’ve got to stop spending so much money on shoes and books, though, or I’ll never be able to do that.

    Kate, I love knowing that about Hardy and his wife! Isn’t Claire Tomalin really, astonishingly, good? I thought her biography of Pepys was incredibly well done, and I am right in the middle of the one about Dickens’s mistress, Ellen Ternan. I didn’t know she’d done one of Hardy — a writer I really like — I’m so glad to hear about it and looking forward to reading that soon.

    Hey Archie — I’d love to know more about those Dickens difficulties. I have some of my own. But I began Our Mutual Friend not long ago (that and the bio of Ellen Ternan are keeping me busy these days), and love it — it’s very, very funny. By the way, there’s some Archie-related news coming up in the next day or so, so stay tuned, okay?

    Edwin — “If I was forced to have someone eat my heart,” says my son Jack, “it would have to be [insert dog’s name here].” You’re so right on Edwin! And thank you for your kind words. It’s making my entire weekend complete.

    Brava Bella Tai! xo, BL

    You know Sandi & Yogamum, I never heard any of this stuff when I was an English major either. In fact, the lives of the poets and novelists were not really of all that much interest. It was the TEXT we were after apparently. How borrrrring. I’ll take the hearts, and the hugely disfunctional relationships, and the weird, wild lapses in judgment any old day.

    Well Nova, I do remember one really drunken evening when a bunch of English grad students sat around the table after a really good dinner and everybody tried to come up with the writer who’d had the WORST life. Ted Hughes with his two suicidal wives, comes to mind…

    Thank you Helen! (By the way, I really like your new site. It’s very cool looking, and fun.)

    Polaris, You, being you, would naturally have committed the names of the five towns to memory and would be able, like my friend C, to recite them even in your sleep or after a good dinner. I, however, could never keep them straight so I am afraid the answer to your question will have to come from someone more attentive and much smarter than I. But you know what? I do remember that restaurant in the tower in Vernaza — we hiked up there, because we thought it was the way to the next town, only it wasn’t, so we hiked back down.

    Hey Jana, Luscious and icky!! That’s just so accurate.

  19. You can’t trust cats. That’s why we always put the tops on all our biscuit tins if there’s even the slightest chance of there being a human heart inside. It’s just common sense, really.

    Kidding aside, welcome back. You’ve been missed.

  20. Your post made me long for Cinqueterre, were my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary (you can see our hotel in your photo of Manarola). In fact, I’ve been having Italy longings all summer.

    And Byron. On my last trip to Europe, I visited Chateau Chillon on lake Geneva and read his poem, “Prisoner of Chillon” in the dungeon, not far from where Bryon carved his name on a pillar. Literary tourism is wonderful.

    It is very good to have you back!

  21. Scott, It makes me so happy to know that you, the font of Common Sense, are out the world, keeping organs safe from marauding animals.

    Hello U-Dad — The whole thing makes me want to read that Tomalin Hardy bio and maybe some of those gushy poems to his wife.

    BEN! It’s like a KFOG quiz at 9:00 a.m. — I need to give you some concert tickets or something for guessing (knowing, I mean) the answer to Polaris’s question. I guess my hardy, I mean hearty, congratulations will have to do. (And thank you for that bit about Byron. His name is everywhere in Italy — what a guy!)

    Mary, you crack me up. The thought of anybody breathing a sigh of relief about anything I’ve done (except maybe forgetting to remind them to brush their teeth) makes me laugh.

  22. I must be unoriginal and join the masses and say that I too am so glad that you’re back! I’ve missed your erudite intelligent brand of writing ever so much. And what a post to come back with. The pictures are amazing!
    I’m going to ask the dullest of questions as I’m in the market for a new camera. What sort do you use? I thought of you while we were sojourning through Northern California… We had a lovely trip! Okay, nuff blathering, can you tell I’m psyched you’re back?

  23. Yay! Yay! You’re back! And posting a picture of a sign that almost epitomizes my attitude towards high heels, as several bloggers can testify after I lectured them about how bad they are for backs, hips and knees in their comments sections! I pretty much live in Birkenstocks.

    And what an amazing picture of the Italian coast! I want to go there. I’m surprised that scene has not been utilized for numerous jigsaw puzzles.

    Welcome back, BL.

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