Roman Writers’ Haunt

At famous Caffe Greco

Are certain places more “lucky” or “fruitful” to write in than others?  Are there spots that have proven so inspirational and productive to ghosts of authors past, that writer-pilgrims can visit them and be filled with fresh ideas?

While James and I were vacationing last month in Rome, I discovered in my Italy tour book that there was a certain little cafe near the Spanish Steps called El Greco, which had been frequented by Byron, and Goethe (to name a few smashingly successful writers).

We ordered two cappuccinos and a slice of amazing fresh tart topped with summer-time cantaloupe and kiwi, then sat down at a little marble-topped table, the first in a sequence of three narrow rooms that receded into the building, away from the street.

I thought of how many other famous authors had written great works (or rather, drafts of great works) inside these walls.  Did they know they would be famous?  Were they worrying whether the price of their food and drink would be worth the writing they produced in the next few hours of work?  Did the writer have another writer friend at his elbow, brow also furrowed in thought, pen scratching across the page?

View from hidden haunt that a writer friend shared with me.

James sat reading his novel beside me and told me I could stay as long as I wanted.  I held my journal in front of me as I studied the archways between rooms and the gild-framed paintings of ancient Roman ruins.   I wasn’t overcome with a breathtaking idea to infuse my current writing project, but did feel that I had made myself part of the family through my investment.

Investment?  Yes, my friends, a financial investment.  In Italy, their coffee is superb, but their idea of sipping and lingering over a cup of java is not like that of Americans.  You can drink your coffee standing up at the bar for the regular coffee shop price, or you can pay an extra two euro per person to sit in the cafe and order off the menu.  That’s standard pricing.  Caffe Greco, however, charged us six euro per person, just to sit.  Our food prices came on top of that.  So when I say I made an investment to write there, I mean my wallet was gouged like a good ol’ tourist’s should be. 🙂

The importance of this scenario: James was completely willing to spend the money on this because he knew it was important to me, and I was also willing to fork over the ridiculously proportioned cash to count myself as an equal among the great writers.  Whether I ever achieve the same level of fame as Goethe (and I literally could not stop reading my translation of Faust for three hours straight), doesn’t matter.  I’m willing to sit where he sat, pick up my pen, and think to myself, I’m a writer, too. 

Treating my inner child to tiramisu and chocolate gelato

I believe in myself enough to pay to sit at Caffe Greco, no matter the cost.  James believes enough in me to come here and wait patiently as I scribble pages or words into my journal, and a few days later he will linger again with me in a museum in front of the umpteenth Greek mythology statue as I point out the part of the story that I recognize being enacted in stone.

I have my own writer’s haunts in Seattle.  There’s a particular coffee shop a back garden that nobody visits during the working hours in the summertime.  I go there with a good friend and we write for long stretches, taking occasional breaks to read sections of our work out loud or to share something exciting or traumatic or interesting that happened to us that week.

In the fall and winter, we have other favorite nooks to curl up with our laptops.  I’m creating my own Caffe Greco near home, reminding myself that writer’s haunts are made when writers haunt them.

The magic is not in the place so much as it is in the heart of the writer and the writer’s community.

As we head into the Halloween season, what are your favorite haunts, and what makes them so inspirational to you?  Perhaps you need someone to jointly haunt a spot with you?  Do you have a friend in mind who would join you on this quest?


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