Italian impressions

Dear Charlie,

Renovations completely ate into my usual weekend blogging time, so I apologize for my tardiness and hope you weren’t waiting in too much anticipation for my letter. And having just finished your “Pictures from Italy,” you might have wanted to leave this unopened. I have learned from painful personal experience that no matter how wonderful your vacations are and how much you experience, no one sincerely wants to hear about it or see your holiday photos when you get back. And if they say they do they’re lying. Unless it’s your mom, and even she might just be humouring you.

I’m kind of glad you didn’t take actual photos; it means there’s no photo of you propping up the leaning tower of Pisa.

Without photos, it’s hard for us readers to envision the multitude of churches you visited, or all the tiny Italian towns you try to describe (or, in the case of Switzerland, consciously do not describe). But there are a lot of them. So many. My eyes may have glazed over a little. Maybe.

So, let me recap: you get kind of stung by your American audience after criticizing their country, and decide to spend a year in Italy, and then preface your Italian observations by trying to pacify your audience up front by telling them you have the best of intentions. So you clearly learned something from your American adventures and your book’s reception. All well and good.

Well, I don’t know how large your Italian fan base was, but I can’t imagine this book improved it any. Perhaps our definitions differ, but I hardly think calling a town a “pig sty” is an entirely objective observation, or one designed to gain an affectionate Italian following! My overall impression is that very few cultural events or locations raised themselves in your estimation out of the general dirt, squalor and primitive Catholic rites that seem to be your primary preoccupation in your travels. For a guy who declares he has such an open mind, you’re very concerned with foreign standards of cleanliness.

An actual picture of Italy in the 1840s. There are more if you click the photo.

That said, there are several vignettes that were fascinating reading. Your dream of Venice was a lovely, soft interlude, and your descriptions of the Easter week celebrations in Rome were really interesting – I can imagine you and your wife in a carriage surrounded by flowers and sugarplums, and you loving every crazy, giddy minute of it. I enjoy picturing you standing each day in the coliseum, which you clearly fell in love with. And your hike up the sides of Vesuvius was pretty epic – it’s not everyone who would risk flying lava to peer into the mouth of a volcano. And while I’m on the subject, I think it’s fascinating to think that when I visited Rome I probably walked the same ancient roads and wondered at the same buildings and sights that you did. The coliseum still stands, and it connects us, somehow. This is cool.

All in all, and in spite of your less than charitable observations, you must have enjoyed being away from home, since you began writing Dombey and Son, the novel I’ve just begun, on a return trip to the continent. I’m looking forward to getting into a new story, now that I’ve learned more about you as a traveler. If I have to sit through anyone’s travel stories, I’m glad they were yours. And I remain,

Yours affectionately,


P.S. How much do I love that you describe the first Italian villa you stayed in as “the pink prison”? 🙂

One comment on “Italian impressions

  1. Blair says:

    “The coliseum still stands, and it connects us, somehow. This is cool.”

    I felt that way when I was in Rome too. Not for Charles Dickens but the ancient figures themselves… almost overwhelming at times.

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