|The comfy palazzo where the Cheevers lived.|
No, Rome wasn't an American suburb, and perhaps that's why Cheever had trouble writing during his stay in the city. He managed one short story--one even he didn't much like--but that was it. As usual, he socialized, often with a cocktail in hand. While Mary and the Italian maids took care of their baby (born at Salvador Mundi Hospital, on the Gianicolo), John explored the "Academy" (the American Academy, on the Gianicolo) and what he called the "nonAcademy." According to his biographer, Blake Bailey, he found a good number of "duds" in each group, which in some cases may have meant they didn't drink as much as he did. He had a long, pleasant walk with Robert Penn Warren along the Via Aurelia, but despaired at Warren's quoting of Dante and the writer's other intellectual pretensions. Similarly, he found another Academy Fellow, Ralph Ellison, friendly enough but given to "talking about negroes" and philosophizing about "mass motivation." Cheever had read Ellison's masterpiece, Invisible Man, and found it--not unlike Warren and Ellison--"longwinded."
|Cheever was not the first person to be|
uninspired by the Tomb of Augustus
That said, America's greatest short-story writer (or so some think) may have found in Rome a place in which to revel in his romantic (and bisexual) thoughts and fantasies. The city's "mystery," as Bailey puts it, appealed to Cheever; he "liked the strangeness of Rome." "At nightfall," Cheever wrote, "the combination of dim-lamps and Roman gin make me feel very peculiar....The city seems mercurial and while it is lovely in the sun with the fountains sparkling, it looks, in the rain, like the old movie-shot: European capital on the Eve of War....the atmosphere of anxiety and gloom is dense."