An article in today’s Age on visiting the Brontes’ lonely house in Yorkshire got me thinking about a few I’ve made myself.
Anna Ahkmatova’s grand, dark flat on a canal in Petersburg, where Brodsky’s desk was preserved (French Cognac, books in English) and a babushka cranked a gramophone so I could hear her reading her work.
The summerhouse of Thomas Mann, in gingerbread vernacular-Lithuanian style, on the island of Nida, which the Russian apparatchik subsequently ruined by making it fashionable to holiday there. I could bore you further. Mostly I’ve only been idly curious, finding that a writer happened to live somewhere I was visiting, and having a stickybeak.
The exception for me is the tomb of Dante Alighieri, at the end of a dim street with a dirty bit of garden behind it smelling of cat piss, in Ravenna. Dante died of malaria, it is thought, and the boggy bit of ground where he is buried finds you swatting mosquitoes as you read the plaque, a rather poor joke.
The little temple-tomb is so wrong for him too, neoclassical, marbled and vaguely like a public urinal. But there is a lamp which burns there, night and day. Florence still pays for the oil in the lamp to atone for the sin of exiling its most illustrious son. I read Dante a lot, because of the book I’m writing, particularly the Purgatorio. Whenever the road seems long, my pen scratchy and producing only flaccid rubbish, I think of Dante writing over his exile, moving his family from place to place, currying favor with minor princes to feed them. My little office doesn’t seem too bad.
I also lived in Katherine Susannah Pritchard’s house in Perth, on a residency, sharing the rooms with poor, unquiet Hugo, but that’s another story.