I’ve never equaled the sensory verisimilitude of my friend Adam, who once read the ninth book of the Odyssey, in Greek, in what is believed to be the Cyclops’s cave, a Sicilian grotto Homerically redolent of sheep turds. But I have read Yeats in Sligo, Isak Dinesen in Kenya, and John Muir in the Sierras. By far my finest You Are There hour, however, was spent reading the journals of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who led the first expedition down the Colorado River, while I was camped at Granite Rapids in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

– Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris

Five years ago, in the early days of April 2015, I was in Rome with my friend Crystal in anticipation and then celebration of Holy Week.

Since one of my favourite activities is reading texts in the places where they were written or in the places they describe, my friend and I devised a Literary-Experiential Quest through Florence and Rome. 

Here were some of the texts we read at specific sites: 

  1. The first canto of Dante’s Inferno in Italian in Via Dante (Florence) 
  2. Excerpt from Machiavelli’s “Mandragola” outside of Santa Croce Basilica (Florence)
  3. Poems of Michelangelo in the Duomo (Florence) 
  4. “Ode to a Nightingale”​ in the room where​ John Keats​ died​ in Rome 
  5. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in​ Antico Caffè Greco​ in Rome
  6. Excerpt from Virgil’s “Aeneid” on Aeneas coming to Rome (in front of the painting of Aeneas fleeing Troy in the Galleria Borghese) ​
  7. Excerpt about​ the Coliseum in St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul at the Coliseum
  8. Latin excerpt from Cicero’s “On Old Age” at the Roman Forum 
  9. Excerpt about St. Monica from Augustine’s Confessions outside of St. Monica’s church in Rome 
  10. Chapter from Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: Part Two Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection before Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square
Listening to a woman named Antonietta read Dante to us in Italian! 

Two of my favourite organizations that offer this kind of experiential learning that really brings texts to life are the Paideia Institute and Greek Studies on Site. Check them out and join their email lists. 

Now is a great time for reading books connected to the places I most want to visit, including: Armenia, Georgia, Lebanon, and Morocco.

Have you had some You-Are-There-Reading experiences? What would you most like to read and where? Let me know! 

And, to see more of my favourite You-Are-There-Reading experiences from around the world, click here

Published by Amanda Achtman

What matters to me is living in truth, taking responsibility, creating value & cultivating community.

One thought on “You-are-there-reading

  1. This is such a fascinating contextual idea, if you can do it. Otherwise, play music from that culture or time, put up pictures, or eat foods mentioned in the texts.


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