Mary’s subsequent letters in Rambles deal with her touring of famous sites in Venice—museums, palaces, canals, churches, islands; one letter deals entirely with the class system in the city—and she notes That reading does not flourish here, may be gathered from the fact that there is no circulating library, nor any literary society, such as are frequent in country towns in France and England where people subscribe among one another for the supply of books. And she muses further in a way that has some unpleasant parallels to our lives in twenty-first century America: Meanwhile to live among people who do not read—who do not desire to learn ….
Of course, Mary could not really claim that the people of Venice do not read ... do not desire to learn: There were surely thousands of people there who were doing both—and happily so—just as there are millions in our country who read, who desire to learn. It’s too easy—and always has been—for cultural critics to glance around and see what they want to see.
I notice, for example, very few people reading in the coffee shops I frequent … but can I leap from that to condemn the country? I am fairly sure—no, positive—that Americans no longer read in the numbers that they formerly did. But I am also fairly sure—no, positive—that there remain millions of us who prefer a book to Twitter, a poem to Facebook. But many of us lurk underground these days when having an education, having a passion for studying and learning are signs to (too many) others that we are “elitist.”
I’m not “elitist”: Reading and studying and writing are simply the activities I prefer in the late autumn of my years. And these activities do not, by the way, exclude any interest I have in, oh, Facebook (where I post often), in movies (we go nearly every week), in TV series we like to stream (virtually every night), in baking (as often as I can), in exercising (which has become harder, more unpleasant in recent years), in spending as much time as I can with my wife, in … You get the picture …
Late in October 1842, Mary and the others left Venice and headed on to Florence—where she and Bysshe had lived twenty-three years earlier. (And where—as I related many, many pages ago—a Gypsy woman picked my pocket—with ease!—outside the main train station on April 22, 1999. Happy Earth Day—and welcome to Florence!)
 Ibid., 105.
|Florence & the Arno--April 1999|