Close Encounters of the Royal Kind [by Moira Egan]
[Tropical Weather Patterns in the Eternal City]
Please excuse my radio silence, which was mostly due to having spent the past couple of weeks bopping around with my mother, who timed her visit to coincide with two Bob Dylan concerts here (one in Rome, one in Florence) and who had never been to Paris and decided that her daughter would be a good tour guide. (Thanks Mom!) Well, Florence was evocative and lovely as usual, and the City of Light was its usual beautiful and welcoming self (I say that with no irony; I love Paris). More on close encounters with Dante, Petrarch, and Montaigne later, but for now, here is the funny story about Her Royal Highness (Ma'am), the Keats-Shelley House, and poetry prizes.
I think I have mentioned in this space that one of my jobs here is teaching a poetry workshop at an international school. One of my students, Chloe, seems to keep winning poetry prizes. Well, she's a very good poet, so that's not a big surprise. I even made sure to arrange my travel plans to be back in time for the projected date of the Keats-Shelley prize ceremony, "just in case," which of course turns out to have been a good idea.
But we had a fierce giggle when Chloe phoned me up the night before to inform me that it would be Camilla Parker Bowles herself who would present the awards. Oh no! What shall we wear? I told her I was sad that my Sex Pistols GOD SAVE THE QUEEN t-shirt from 1977 was packed away in storage. (No, I'm kidding, I wouldn't really have worn it, even if it were here.) Having been away, I hadn't known that "the Royals" were in town; then it was all over the news that Prince Charles was here to talk about climate change (and much has been made of the carbon footprint that their private jet will leave) and CharlesandCamilla (scandaloso! both divorced!) did meet with the Pope.
But I also hadn't realized that it's the centenary of the Keats-Shelley House, so it was a fittingly royal occasion for an officially Royal person to be there. The museum director gave a very effective little opening speech, reminding us that Keats had died believing that he was such a failure that he requested the words "Here lies one whose name was writ in water" to be engraved upon his tombstone. But it didn't take too long for people to realize that Keats was a name in fact inscribed quite indelibly into our poetic tradition, and admirers of Keats -- in fact, it was a group made up mostly of Americans -- set about buying and restoring the house in which he died. It's right beside the Spanish Steps, and it's well worth a visit, next time you're here.
One of the ongoing activities of the Keats-Shelley House is sponsoring a poetry contest for students all across the world. (Yes, so if you're a teacher, go to the website and get your entries ready for next year!) But this year's oldest age-group prize went again to Chloe, which of course makes me no end of happy. (In fact, last year, Carol Ann Duffy was on hand to present the prizes.)
But this year, it was the Duchess of Cornwall. I'm pretty sure that my rebel-hearted Irish grandmother was spinning in her grave to know that I was sitting in the same room with Her Royal Highness, but anyway, Camilla was very nice, even a little bit funny and self-deprecating. She paid close attention to each of the poems read by the students, and generously praised each kid as she presented the awards. I know that's pretty much her job, to be congenial and gracious, but she really was. As she left (they were going immediately off to Ciampino to fly to Venice in that fancy, huge-carbon-footprint plane), she greeted us one by one and shook our hands. Well, I am here to tell you, the royal hands are very, very soft. Chloe said, "Not even like satin, they're more like velvet." Indeed.