We started the day by taking a Metro down to the Protestant Cemetery and sat for a while by Keats' grave. It's a peaceful place, under the shadow of the ancient Pyramid of Caio Cestio, just far enough from the city centre to deter most tourists. It's still strange to see the steady trickle of pilgrims come looking for a moment of private communion at the graveside. Nobody seems entirely sure what to do on arrival. Most take a couple of pictures and walk off slowly. The link between the poetry and the city is equally strained. Keats was only in Rome for the last three months of his life, and he spent most of that in bed fighting the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him. Perhaps he was the first pop star. The cemetery cats stretch, blink and wonder what the fuss is about.
We headed through Testaccio back to the river and crossed over to Trastevere where we ducked into Santa Cecilia to see the graphic altar sculpture showing the Martyr's semi-decapitated head, stitched unconvincingly back onto her body. She had a difficult death. After her Roman persecutors had failed to drown her in a bath, they hacked away at her head. She sang throughout the three days it took her to die, and subsequently became the patron saint of musicians. It's pretty grotesque.
We crossed back to the North Bank and walked through the narrow Trevi streets up to the Keats house by the Spanish Steps and spent an hour, as darkness fell, amongst the books and letters. There is one from Oscar Wilde, recalling his distress at visiting the young poet's grave and attacking the over-literal memorial hung on the wall alongside. It brought to mind the sonnet he wrote after attending the auction of Keat's love letters. Pop stars and patron saints always need sentries to protect their enigma.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.