Friday, June 29, 2012

Olde Tyme Religion

I don't find myself overtly religious, by any stretch of the imagination. I've always kept rather quiet about my beliefs for the most part, believing what I believe and embracing a "live and let live" stance regarding everyone else. Being this way, it sometimes surprises people to find that I actually do appreciate religion in many forms. I loathe getting in religious arguments with others (another reason to keep my beliefs largely private) but here in the world of books, I feel freer to share some of myself.  I love learning and reading about all world religions. Whether or not I embrace the ideology, I love the ritual and dedication found in so many belief systems. That's partly why I love to read about more strict religions such as Quakers, Mennonites, monks, nuns, etc. I am fascinated by the dedication. I am fascinated with the stories of how one decides to take that path. I was actually talking about this the other day with my mother when she was talking about how before she became a wife and mother, she was very much dedicated to her church and seriously entertained the idea of becoming a nun. Given my presence here, you can guess that particular plan wasn't carried out, but she's always remained a very devout woman, which I think influenced some of my fascination with the structure, ritual, etc of so many religions. But as I told my mother, I think for many young women aspirations of being a nun was in there at some point with wanting a painted pony when you're a girl - just part of growing up woman.

"Melancholie" by Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905)

That being said, you will occassionally find some religious themed works scattered amongst my posts. They won't be the overly preachy kind, but the kind that give you just enough to think about. And being curious about all religions as I am, there's sure to be a good mix of topics traveling through.

This being one in that mix -- Tillie: A Mennonite Maid by Helen R. Martin. There's surprisingly more suspense in this 1904 book than you might expect just from the title. This is the story of Tillie, a young Mennonite woman who feels oppressed, mainly by her father but also by her religion. She is encouraged by the local teacher hired to teach the Mennonite children in the community (the teacher is not a Mennonite herself, but sees such potential in Tillie that she encourages Tillie to go for what she wants.) Tillie moves to the city, finding work with her aunt (who runs a sort of B&B), where she meets a young hottie Harvard grad who also encourages Tillie to embrace her intelligence and not hide it under a butter churn, so to speak. Tillie's father on the other hand, is of the mentality that children are created for the purpose of working for the family, so there's no need for a bunch of extra fancy book learnin'. Thus begins the struggle of Tillie deciding whether to honor her family or enrich her own life.

The plot might be in an older format, but that aside, who hasn't struggled with what they want vs. what their family expects of them? Especially those in highly oppressive situations where one is given a heavy-handed dose of guilt for going for what they want! That's one of the big things that really appealed to me about this story. I might not connect with the religion but I can certainly relate to her struggle! At times it was hard to even keep reading because some of Tillie's struggles were so close to my own childhood, particularly in this instance where her parents are described:

Tillie's father was a frugal, honest, hard-working and very prosperous Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, who thought he religiously performed his parental duty in bringing up his many children in fear of his heavy hand, in unceasing labor, and in almost total abstinence from all amusement and self-induldgence. Far from thinking himself cruel, he was convinced that the oftener and the more vigorously he applied "the strap," the more conscientious a parent was he. His wife, Tillie's stepmother, was as submissive to his authority as were her five children and Tillie. Apathetic, anemic, overworked, she yet never dreamed of considering herself or her children abused, accepting her lot as the natural one of woman, who was created to be a child-bearer, and to keep man well fed and comfortable.  It had been her {Tillie's} father's custom -- ever since, at the age of five, she had begun to go to school -- to "time" her in coming home at noon and afternoon, and whenever she was not there on the minute, to mete out to her a dose of his ever-present strap. " I ain't havin' no playin' on the way home, still!When school is done, you come right away home then, to help me or your mom, or I'll learn you once!"

But thankfully, there were the strong, inspiring words of Miss Margaret to balance out the painful scenes, words that are good for any woman to be reminded by, at any time of life:

As soon as you are old enough, you must assert yourself. Take your rights -- your right to an education, to some girlish pleasures, to a little liberty. No matter what you have to suffer in the struggle, fight it out, for you will suffer more in the end if you let yourself be defrauded of everything which makes it worth while to have been born. Don't let yourself be sacrificed for those who not only will never appreciate it, but who will never be worth it. I think I do you no harm by telling you that you are worth all the rest of your family put together. The self sacrifice which pampers the selfishness of others is not creditable. It is weak. It is unworthy. Remember what I say to you -- make a fight for your rights, just as soon as you are old enough -- your right to be a woman instead of a chattel and a drudge. And meantime, make up for your rebellion by being as obedient and helpful and affectionate to your parents as you can be, without destroying yourself. 

One of my favorite gospel songs
with a couple of my favorite silver screen actors -

"Old Time Religion"
Gary Cooper & Walter Brennan 
Sergeant York (1941)

Johnny Cash version (awweesoome!):

 I also read through another antique title recently, in a similar vein as Tillie -- The Quakeress by Charles Heber Clark, this one from 1905, but this book was much drier in tone, not as interesting, I thought. I do recommend Tillie though, if you happen to come across a copy. There's a free online copy here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

When In Rome...

I'm not sure I'd want to "do as the Romans do", at least not by Ancient Roman standards! Love is a beautiful thing, but how promising is it, when one person is a gladiator, condemned to death but allowed to live as long as he gives a good show in the arena, and the other is a house servant, once an educated girl from a respected family, but now enslaved and forced to do the bidding of the most ungrateful, spoiled biddy in town? Such is the question in Kate Quinn's historical fiction novel, Mistress of Rome. And before ye judge, no, this is not the standard supermarket bodice-ripper you may be imagining. This is actually a pretty well-researched historical novel, giving the reader a full on view of what it might have been like to live in those times, for ALL classes. We just learn about the world from the perspectives of Thea, a Jewish slave owned by bratty heiress Lepida, and Arius, the gladiator.

author Kate Quinn
image courtesy of

As fictional romances typically go, of course Thea and Arius have an instant connection, though actually meeting up takes some work. Luckily, Thea's mistress, Lepida, develops an infatuation with Arius and constantly sends Thea to the gladiator quarters with secret messages.  Over time, Thea's return trips back home take longer and longer (*wink, wink). It takes awhile for Lepida to catch on to what's going on, why her messages are never being answered by Arius, but once she does figure it out, she goes full-blown evil and finds a nasty way to split Arius and Thea apart. To spare you the spoilers / complete details of Lepida's sinister scheming, I will just say they end up spending years apart before finding each other again. By that time, Thea has a different sort of job, living in a different town, while Lepida naturally goes on to marry for money (to senator / bookworm Marcus Norbanus) and have an "oops" child she doesn't want or like. As the reader, you'll probably want to throttle Lepida, as I did, when you see how poorly she treats good-hearted Marcus. Never ceases to amaze me how the good guys always seem to fall right into the snares of the cruelest women. As for Arius, he finds his Thea in an odd relationship with Emperor Domitian (one that proves beneficial, in sort of a business-like way, to both Thea and Domitian). There's one other big surprise for Arius when he reunites with Thea but you'll have to read to find out

I loved the complexity of all of these characters. The evil ones were over the top evil, the good were  noble in character but lived a flawed reality, which I found refreshing. I like that sort of realism, even in fiction. Arius has a streak of rage he constantly battles, but he centers it and does his best to avoid bringing unneccessary  harm to the innocent (doesn't always succeed, but he does try!). He spends much of the novel trying to win a rudius from the emperor (a wooden sword emperors gave out to certain prisoners who had won favor with them. Obtaining a rudius meant you were pardoned of your crimes, your freedom reinstated). Emperor Domitian, on the other hand, starts out as a respectable character but then his straight up whacked out crazy starts to come out more as the novel progresses. That guy is into some twisted, twisted stuff. The way Quinn wrote Domitian makes me think she was inspired by the real-life Roman Emperor, Caligula, who also started out as a respected ruler but became more well known for his depravity and drunken orgies (not saying there's anything wrong with one in it's own place and time --- Zoolander, anyone?  :-P --- just noticed the similarity). And wouldn't you know, here comes Lepida again with an interest in Domitian this time. Poor Thea can't shake that witch off!

She's beautiful. She's even sort of interesting, like the way poisonous snakes are interesting. But she's awful. ~~ Vibia Sabina, daughter of Lepida & Marcus, talking about her own mother!

Because no one ever notices me, you'd be surprised how much I hear. ~~Vibia Sabina

I was really impressed with all the strong female characters in this book. Often, with historical fiction anyway, you find maybe one strong woman in the book with everyone else telling her to pipe down. In this book, good or bad, all the women seemed to have strong voices and had the men actually listening to them, even Thea, being a slave girl, earned respect from many. I found the Empress really admirable. You don't hear much from her through most of the novel, other than the rumors going around about her, but by the end you find out she's actually a pretty ballzy, spirited woman who did what she had to do to survive a maniac for a husband. You also find out she has a sense of humor about the whole thing, even though she admits she feared for her life at times. Also, Calpurnia, the bethrothed of Marcus' son (from an earlier marriage) becomes a fun character once she learns to speak her mind without fear. I loved it whenever she put Lepida in her place!

I wouldn't say there are any HUGE surprises in the plot, but enough twists and turns to keep the historical fiction fan entertained. :-)  Looking forward to when I have a chance to read Kate Quinn's second novel, Daughters of Rome.

"ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??" ~ Russell Crow in Gladiator

The midday executions dragged past, and then the gladiators marched through the Gate Of Life in their purple cloaks, pairing off for preliminary fights. My {Lepida's}daughter leaned forward, her eyes bending on the muscled armored figures. I looked at her irritably. "Since when is Little Lady Squeamish a gladiator fan?" "I'm not," she said, eyes still fixed on the arena. "I went for the first time at Matralia, and it was fairly awful. But it is interesting." I {Lepida} brushed a fly away from my wine cup. "You've got a crush on a trident fighter, I suppose."  "'s just that the gladiators are supposed to care about dying well, and all they care about is not dying at all." Her eyes traveled from the arena to the packed tiers of the Colosseum., the laughing, cheering crowds of plebs and patricians alike. "People don't seem to see that."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Off The Grid" Reads

Whenever I feel my mind becoming cloudy with stress, frustration and the like, nothing seems to make me better faster than stepping away from all my "modern conveniences" (ie. tv, internet, cell phone, etc) and just sitting outside with a quiet kind of book and my dog or taking said dog for a long strolling walk. The answer always seems to be in the quiet of the woods around me. I do love living in the mountains! :-) Whereever I settle throughout my life, there better be at least one good rock formation somewhere nearby! These books today, one a nonfiction account of a real life person, one a novel, feature people letting go of modern technology (either by choice or out of necessity) and letting the land guide them as it did for our earliest ancestors.


"Alaska is not the best site in the world for eremitic experiences or peace-love theatrics." 
~~ writer Edward Hoagland

You may recognize Krakauer's name from his book, INTO THIN AIR, exploring the details behind the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster that killed 8 people. Krakauer, a mountain climber himself (and one of the survivors of the Mt. Everest disaster), was first asked to do a newspaper piece on the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, a young Emory University graduate who in 1992 decide in a very Tolstoyan fashion to renounce worldly possessions and embrace the wilds of Alaska for a few months. McCandless, a history and anthropology major, loved authors who wrote of the raw beauty and life lessons found in the extreme elements of nature, away from modern technologies. He wanted to see if he could live in the manner written about by his idols such as Tolstoy, Jack London, Nikolay Gogol. He gave away his savings, left his wealthy Virginian family and friends and  drove off in his Datsun B210. When that car gave out, he hitchhiked the rest of the way to Alaska (meeting a number of interesting characters along the way) before entered the Alaskan wild with a pack filled with little more than the most basic articles of clothing, a stock of rice, his favorite books and a camera. Four months after McCandless entered Denali National Park, his decomposing body was found in an abandoned bus by hikers going through the area who were alarmed by the foul odor in the air.

This book is Krakauer's exploration of what McCandless might have gone through, who he really was, and what might have gone wrong that lead to his untimely death. When McCandless' body was found, it was too far gone to identify a certain date/time of death, but the coroner reported that the 67 lb body was completely void of any subcutaneous fat so initially it was assumed starvation was the culprit. Krakauer proves that there's a good deal more to the story than that. Many speculated on the complexities of McCandless, throwing out theories that he struggled with Napoleon and Oedipus complexes, among other ideas. 

McCandless was smallish, with the hard, stringy physique of an itinerant laborer. There was something arresting about the youngster's eyes. Dark and emotive, they suggested a trace of exotic blood in his heritage -- Greek, maybe, or Chippewa -- and conveyed a vulnerability that made Westerberg want to take the kid under his wing. He had the kind of sensitive good looks that women made a big fuss over, Westerberg imagined. His face had a strange elasticity. It would be slack and expressionless one minute, only to twist suddenly into a gaping, oversize grin that distorted his features and exposed a mouthful of horsy teeth. He was nearsighted and wore steel-rimmed glasses. He looked hungry. "You could tell right away that Alex was intelligent," Westerberg reflects..."He read a lot. Used a lot of big words. I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense of the world, to figure out why people were bad to each other so often. A couple of times I tried to tell him it was a mistake to get too deep into that kind of stuff, but Alex got stuck on things. He always had to know the absolute right answer before he could go on to the next thing.  ~~ Wayne Westerberg was a man who periodically gave McCandless work in Carthage.  

I'll admit when I first started reading, I had a preconceived notion of McCandless as a stubborn dumbass who lost his life being some pouty rich kid with something to prove. By the book's end, I hadn't completely lost that opinion -- I still don't understand the hero-worship this guy got. I don't understand why he blatantly refused items he needed from people wanting to help him. Why didn't he take at least enough money to cover basic expenses until he got to Alaska? I still say some of his decisions weren't too bright. He was still at the age where stubborn pride can strongly override common sense. Then again, Krakauer showed me that maybe at the end McCandless realized that himself, but too late. So by the end, I felt more pity and sadness at the waste of a life cut too short than I did harsh judgement. I found some irony in the fact that prior to this fatal trip, McCandless donated his remaining savings to OXFAM, an organization dedicated to eradicating world hunger, and yet McCandless ends up dying of starvation himself. I do admire his dedication to pursuing the life he wanted rather than what people expected of him, as I think everyone should. I just wonder at  some of his reasoning in parts of his story. I respect what he did but I still think he went in with an overly idolized view of what such an excursion would be like. Krakauer points out that one of McCandless' major idols (and one of my own favorite writers), Jack London, was famous for his nature-themed works but only spent one winter of his life in the extreme Northern areas featured in his novels and in reality ended up commiting suicide in California at the age of 40, after becoming an obese alcoholic. After the death of McCandless, there were comparisons made between him and the protagonist of London's short story, "To Build A Fire". 

Below: Film Adaptation of London's "To Build A Fire"
made in 1969, narrated by Orson Welles
(I remember watching this movie in a jr high English class 
when we were studying London and being seriously creeped out!)

I also checked out Sean Penn's film adaptation of Krakauer's book. Knowing very little about McCandless prior to reading the book, I found the film pretty believable, as far as interpreting the life of a man there is so little information about in general. You can view photos of the real McCandless here. Emile Hirsch was amazing as McCandless, particularly in the final scene. 

Below: Into The Wild Movie Trailer

King Of The Road (a favorite song of Christopher McCandless)
Such a good tune!


Into The Forest is Jean Hegland's story of two teenage sisters, Eva (18) and Nell (17) living with their parents in a blissful, nurturing environment at the edge of the woods. Their parents have a beautiful home where the girls were born and raised, where their mother grew red tulips and their father tinkered with "treasures" found at the local junkyard.  But bit by bit, that happy environment, where Eva and Nell were homeschooled and encouraged to pursue their personal interests, started to crumble. Their mother becomes ill and passes away just before nearby society falls away into dystopian chaos. The joys they once relished, Eva's desire to be a professional ballet dancer, Nell's goal to be accepted to Harvard, all seem like distant, virtually unattainable dreams yet it's those dreams they cling to to keep them going during the darkest days. 

Le Sommeil (Mother & Child Napping) 1842 by Alphonse Eugene Felix Lecadre

I know she loved us, though she left us mainly alone. She wasn't a talker like my father, and her love came in the form of quick hugs and cookies and a sort of a distant interest, an indulgent neglect. She lived deeply in the center of her life, and she expected Eva and me to do the same. I think she saw little need to act as companion or playmate to us. You're your own person, she would say whenever either of us came to her lonely or bored in the middle of the day, You'll figure it out. And she would give us a warm, firm smile and turn back to her loom... Our mother used to say that Father had an infinite capacity for entertainment, though now I wonder if it weren't just an infinite capacity for loving her, because after she was gone that all changed. When she died, his life seemed to collapse like a singular black hole, creating the density the encyclopedia calls singularity, a force from which nothing can escape, a negativity that devours even light.

I thought this book looked at the "what if" question in such a way that it was entertaining and moving but wasn't dragged out to the point where I would tune out as a reader (something I normally run into with end-of-days type novels). The population dwindles down via Old West days illnesses (I'm guessing the idea is that if gas shortages start up, vaccines can't be transported so diseases we believe eradicated become a threat again) such as cholera, measles, ptomaine (commonly from food poisoning / spoiled food) and giardia (an infection of the small intestine commonly caused by contaminated water).

a large source of tension /conflict
 throughout most of the novel

 I loved the differences between Nell and Eva though I wondered why two girls growing up so close to the woods would take so long to realize there might be answers to their problems within the very trees that sheltered them! In time, it's Nell's love of books that saves her and her sister, teaching them how to find food and medicine from nature, as well as providing Nell with a source of mental escape from the hellish monotony she finds her reality to be:

Siddhartha, M Is For Murder, The Hobbit, The Golden Notebook, Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Catch-22, The Martian Chronicles, Adam Bede. While I was reading a novel, I was immersed, awash in the story it told, and everything else was an interruption. I could read for hours at a stretch, and any distraction -- a question, a meal, the coming of darkness -- made me bristle with impatience. 
Hey, that's me all over! :-D Which is why I had a hard time accepting the decision Eva and Nell come to at the end. I won't give it away, I'll just say it would have been hard, maybe impossible for me to make to go the route they did in the end!

"I'll love you however I can"  ~~ Eli to Nell 
(my reaction being "okaaay, what's that suppose to mean??")

I will warn you that there is one "ick" scene between the sisters that will probably have you exclaiming "WHAT THE??" like I did. All I'll say is when you get around the part where Nell starts to hurt her back working outside, brace yourself... there's a weird development coming up. Think V.C. Andrews weird lol. Aside from that, I was really into this story, though I did feel like the characters could have been developed a bit more (ie. the relationship between Eli and Nell or the relationship between Nell and Eva's parents). I feel a little guilty saying that though, after reading that Heglund takes an average of 5 years to write each of her books. :-X

Anyone that says only sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain. 

...she danced a dance that sloughed off ballet like an outgrown skin and left the dancer fresh and joyous and courageous. She danced with a new body that had sown seeds, gathered acorns, given birth. With new and unnamed movements, she danced the dance of herself, now wild, now tender, now lumbering, now leaping. Over the rough earth she danced... "I wonder why anyone would want to walk on water -- when they could dance on earth."

I cut out some of that passage so I wouldn't have a bunch of spoilers there, but that passage seemed just perfect to end this post on :-)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Redeeming Lady Card with Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

My reading time has been on the back burner for a bit as I help get my mom settled into her new apartment but let's see if I can get back on track here. I now have my mom's personal library close by, with my mom and I already talking about doing book swaps so I'm excited to see what interesting finds she leads me to talk about here!

Right before this big move, I spent a few days tapping into my estrogen reserves, broke down and finally read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Not normally the type of book I gravitate towards, but I pride myself on being open-minded about books (a good story is a good story, genre aside) and  I had  heard SO much talk about this book, I started to feel like if I didn't give it a once over, I'd have to turn in my woman card lol.

author Elizabeth Gilbert

Just as there exists in writing a literal truth and a poetic truth, there also exists in a human being a literal anatomy and a poetic anatomy. One, you can see; one, you cannot. One is made of bones and teeth and flesh; the other is made of energy and memory and faith. But they are both equally true.  ~ Gilbert's neuroscient buddy, Bob

Gilbert's real life husband, Felipe, featured in the "Love" part of Eat, Pray, Love

I was just sorta "meh" about this one. Some things I liked and related to, other things she talked about left me thinking "REALLY? That's what you're bitching about??" There was a slight air of self-indulgence over everything but, like I've said before, that's not uncommon in a memoir. It's hard to have a fair opinion of all she talks about because we only hear her side. It leaves the reader wondering "Well, what happened though?" I thought it was kinda messed up for her to be like "Yeah, my marriage failed but I don't really want to get into it." Umm, thought the marriage failing / holy-crap-I'm-thirty freak out was the inspiration for the trip? Maybe some details so we understand better where you're coming from? Not saying she has to full on bash her ex, but just something to help us feel for her? The way she left it just made it seem like she was unhappy with the men in her life for not living up to some romance novel ideal. 

For all things related to this book visit 

So given my reaction to this book, I was surprised to find that TIME magazine listed Gilbert as one of the 100 most influential people of 2008. Seriously? I'm guessing this year will be E.L. James for the Grey trilogy?? It wasn't Gilbert so much that impressed me but all the people she met in her travels, particularly the guru she goes to interview that starts the whole idea for her trip.  Struggling with her feelings about her marriage, Gilbert finds herself appealing to God for help, though she admits she was not what one might call devout. The guru tells her, "You must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart instead. That way, you will know God." Being one who thinks more with her heart than her head myself, as hard as it's been sometimes, hearing a guru say this was reassuring to me that I was on the right path, for me anyway. But then Gilbert says the guru also told her "let your conscience be your guide" and then   I couldn't stop humming that damn Jiminy Cricket song lol. 

Something to think about next time you say "Ciao" to someone...
Gilbert explains that the word is actually an abbreviation of a 
medieval Venetian phrase meant as an "intimate salutation" - 
"Sono il suo schiavo!" translating to "I am your slave!"

Even if I didn't understand Gilbert's reasoning with the way she navigated through relationships, she did have some nice, feel-good sentiments to share here and there. They may sound a little greeting card-ish but still, regardless of how it's presented, it's the sentiment that's important to remember, such as when she realizes:

When you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt -- this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something  beautiful within life, no matter how slight. 

The sentiment here is something I try to guide my life by every day :-) When I get stressed, I often lose track of this philosophy, but somehow it always finds me again in whatever I'm reading. Isn't that bizarre how something in a book will find you that way, when you're not really expecting it but deep down it's the time when you most need to hear it again?

Gilbert says this is a favorite song of hers
that kept coming to mind during this 
spiritual journey she writes about

clipart courtesy of iStockPhoto

"You can do Yoga, but yoga," he says, "but Yoga too hard." Here, he contorts himself in a cramped lotus position and squinches up his face in a comical and constipated-looking effort. Then he breaks free and laughs, asking "Why they always look so serious in Yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver."

And this is coming from a guru :-) Though that "smile with your liver" bit could be interpreted a number of ways by some of my more pardy-hardy friends lol.

The information on Thursday children was interesting to me, being one myself. I grew up with the poem that vaguely states "Thursday's child has far to go", I like the guru's details better!:

...the patron god of children born on Thursdays is Shiva the Destroyer, and the day has two guiding animal spirits -- the lion and the tiger {no bear? ;-)}. The official tree of children born on Thursday is the banyan. The official bird is the peacock {I had peacock feathers in my wedding bouquet!}. A person born on Thursday is always talking first, interrupting everyone else {hey now, lol}, can be a little aggressive, tends to be handsome (a playboy or playgirl in Ketut's words) {well, lucky husband o' mine!} but has a decent overall character, with an excellent memory and a desire to help other people. 

So I'm glad I read it for the introduction to the humorous and wise guru, Ketut Liyer even if I didn't always agree with or understand where Gilbert was going with her story. But it's her story. Though with one simple passage, she did leave me wanting to run off to Rome and find some nice bench with a pile of books!

 Later in the day, I found a library. Dear me, how I love a library. Because we are in Rome, this library is a beautiful old thing, and within it there is a courtyard garden which you'd never have guessed existed if you'd only looked at the place from the street. The garden is a perfect square, dotted with orange trees, and in the center, a fountain... It was not carved of imperial marble ... this was a small green, mossy, organic fountain. It was like a shaggy, leaking bush of ferns.... The water shot up out of the center of this flowering shrub, then rained back down on the leaves, making a melancholy lovely sound throughout the whole courtyard. I found a seat under an orange tree and opened one of the poetry books I'd purchased yesterday. 

My kind of heaven :-) If any of my readers have been to Rome and have ideas of where this library / courtyard might be (not specified in book), please let me know! I have whole list of places I'd like to see once finances allow and Rome is on that list. 

Happy Reading!