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Friday, May 21, 2010

Catching Up

Things have been busy and so I have neglected my blog. I will try to be better about it.

Bill has been teaching and having a great time talking science with his colleagues here.

We even put up a vinyl blackboard for him in the apartment and gave several sets of the blackboard to the various children we know here, Anna Laura, Elsa and Ciccio.  I hear they are very popular.

I have been getting used to Roman house keeping (bought a "cloth rope" for hanging laundry) and been renewing my understanding of when what shops are open, where to find things like "cloth rope" and drain cleaner, "Mr. Muscolo," and I am still not sure when is the best time to go to the pescheria although I know that the mornings it is open are wonderful fun with beautiful displays and lots of people talking all at once buying fish, clams and shrimp. (This photo is actually of two fishes one wrapped around the other - very beautiful!)

We have found a local cafe we like, the coffee is good and there is even dog parking outside.

Last Friday I went to the La Natura Secondo De Chirico, a fairly representative exhibit focused on his ideas about nature.  I found the paintings about interiors and exteriors the most interesting, not only the paintings of spaces with furniture outside and ponds and forests inside, but also his images of professionals such as archaeologists, with artifacts of their work and thought as physical parts of their bodies...

On the way to the exhibit I stopped in at the little church of San Vitale, on Via Nazionale. I used to pass by frequently but rarely found it open.  This day the doors were wide open and I went down to find interesting work by a modern sculptor in the portico and inside the church.  I couldn't find any useful references to the name of the sculptor (Severino?) but will keep trying.  He or she does marvelously expressive hands that I hope to practice emulating.

Inside it is modest - a welcome change from some of the bigger basilicas in town.  Work was being done to clean up the capitals the light and scaffolding of which gave a lovely backdrop for another of the sculptures.

Ah!  It is noon and I need to wake up Fannie and Andrew.  They arrived yesterday and are sleeping off several all-nighters and jet lag.  They are here for a week of exploring and eating - big splurge (they bought their own flights but with housing paid for, a not-to-be-missed opportunity.  Today, I think, they will be in search of great gelato, ancient monuments and the Capuchin cemetery.

More soon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bad Blogger!

Just learned from Adrienne that Blogger is fine on PCs, just bad on Macs. Wah!

Nevertheless, here are a couple of photos to guess at:

This one is easy:
Clearly the family has grown!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Full Days

The last few days have been very full, if not exactly busy.

On Friday one of the 3 Andreas, who we privately refer to as Andrea the Elder although he is hardly old, borrowed a Roman version of a ZipCar and gave us a ride to our new apartment. It is on Lungotevere (along the Tiber river) in the Flaminio District which is north of the center near the Olympic stadium and the new Maxxi Museum of Art and Architecture of the 21st Century designed by Zaha Hadid. Although we will miss the opening of the latter, I am looking forward to going up there soon to see it from the outside.

I didn't realize it when I took this picture but our apartment is the upper one on the far right. It has a terrace just to the right out of the picture.
We are in a complex called the Villa Riccio, apparently built in 1921 by Senator Riccio for families of functionaries. It consists of Palazzos (and Palazzinis, little palazzos, I guess), most of which are 4 stories high and are painted a warm deep orange. A great feature is the beautiful gardens throughout the complex with a wide variety of plants, fruit trees, flowers, and cats!

At first the apartment itself was a bit of a disappointment because what was probably a beautiful high ceilinged space has been converted to a funky temporary feeling place with creaky wood floors probably laid right on top of the old stone floors, poor quality Ikea cabinets and white wash everywhere even on the bathroom tile! Everything was slightly grungy and the terrace was terribly neglected with dead plants and lots of mess. However, the decorations are rather unique, arty or hippie, I don't know which, with lots of purple, orange silk drapes and candle stubs everywhere.

It didn't smell very good when we first arrived but I bought some Oust and it's fine now. At least it was somewhat clean and the linens were definitely clean. I've spent a bit of time cleaning more deeply and getting familiar with the neighborhood. (Where DO you buy sponges and what are they called in Italian?) I've particularly enjoyed working on the terrace, lots of weeding to do, and today I got some marigolds to plant. (Need to pick up a trowel too! Where to you get one of THOSE?)

Here is Bill in the shade on the terrace. We have had several pleasant meals there already. Unfortunately the weather has been a bit rainy (I wonder if the ash cloud is contributing to this??) so sitting out is not yet our Always Thing.
Here is the view from the terrace looking south.
The gorgeous orange is from the clay tennis courts at the Navy Club across the street, and the river of course is the Tiber river, the Tevere. The river of cars on the lower left are the crowd heading back to town after a soccer game on Sunday.

The next day we went out walking and didn't get home until nearly midnight. We wandered throughout the 'historic center', the Pantheon is under reconstruction, and finished up with a lovely meal at one of our favorite fish places in Trastevere, Paris. After dinner we took a taxi home and learned from our driver that we had missed the Million Marijuana March this year! Darn!

Sunday we worked, and Monday Bill gave his first lecture and I went to the big Caravaggio exhibit at the Scuderie (horse stables but now an exhibition place) near the Quirinale. Although there are already quite a few Caravaggios in Rome, this exhibit includes some works in private collections that may not be on exhibit again anytime soon. All the reservations are sold out so I had to wait nearly 2 hours to get in but I would say this was one event for which it was worth waiting! Luckily it was quite cool and I was behind a friendly history of art student from La Sapienza, so we got to talk art before the show.

Now I'm off to find that trowel and maybe a piece of pizza.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We're baaaack!

A greeting for us as we arrived which made us feel right at home!

For now we are staying in the San Lorenzo district in a hotel very near the university.

An easy walk for Bill for a few days.

Students enjoying a bit of togetherness out in the rain...

We move to our apartment on the 7th, but until then I am exploring this neighborhood which is just outside the walls near the Termini train station.

I have several projects in mind while I'm here including one to look for color in Rome. I think we often see Rome in our minds as the white of marble and red browns of the ancient walls and the grays of the old stone roads but in fact there is a lot of color here.

We have already seen several friends: Andrea, who was key to arranging this trip for us, and his bride, Daniella, on the first evening, the day after their first anniversary. Lots of talk about marriage, politics and education; lots of fun and so different from the US where Americans rarely seem to talk about politics over dinner. (Maybe it ruins the taste of the food for us there...) Then Angela Taraborrelli stopped by yesterday and I got a chance to visit with her and Anna Laura for a little while. It turns out they live just a block from our hotel! Anna Laura is still quite precocious, as you who know her can imagine. And Angela is excited to be giving the keynote speech at a conference this week in Nottingham, home of Robin Hood. So we don't expect to see them again until we are settled in our apartment.

We also saw the other Andrea briefly last night at the restaurant, Pommidoro, where we went for an early supper of carciofi and wild boar (!); he had brought some students so we didn't get to talk to him much except to receive his blessing on our menu choices, a very important thing.

Of course I have resumed taking photos. Today and yesterday I have concentrated on the neighborhood and particularly the incredible amount of graffiti here. I can't decide what I think about it. Clearly lots of it is simply tagging which I agree is a kind of vandalism. But some is really art by people who have an incredible sense of color and form, real ideas to express and sometimes even a sensitivity to place.

As I walk around looking at it all I can easily understand how disturbing it might be to many of the residents especially as I come to feel that much of it is an expression of alienation from this place and society. Who does this? Why? What do they need or want? And are the taggers really different from the one I think of as artists or not?Angela pointed out that there is a block where graffiti artists were actually asked to paint and I think I found it today. I photographed the whole wall and will include a few shots here. This wall is along the Via Degli Ausoni.
More later...

PS: Blogspot is as bad about photos as it was 2 years ago! Arrggggh! If you'd like to see more photos, I will add them to Flickr at this link:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

LAST DAYS - draft

These are our last days in Rome, and perhaps appropriately, it is raining a bit. Max and Brittany have trouped off to see St. Peter's Basilica, and I'm home getting ready to pack, doing a last laundry, a last shopping for mortadella, buffalo mozarella and tasty tomatoes, munching a last bite of zucchini flower and anchovy pizza, and making a last trip to the bancomat. It's been a great stay in what is genuinely a city full of wonder. And the wonders are not just the ruins, the art, the Madonninas, the mad traffic, and the politics, but they are most especially the people who opened up to us as soon as they saw us try to make connections with them through their food, their work, even their children and dogs.Last night we had our final Taverna Romana dinner and said thanks to our funny and slightly bossy waiter. We told him that we were headed home. As we got up the man and woman who own the place and the two waiters all came forward to shake our hands and wish us well. I was touched by their smiles and warmth. I'll be sorry to leave them behind. We have a date at Trattoria Monti, our other "neighborhood" restaurant for our last dinner on Friday. I'm looking forward to that as well.

Yesterday was sunny and very hot already, and we went to the Borghese Gallery. Every time I go my appreciation and joy in it goes up. The Bernini sculptures get better the more I feel I get to know them and the painting collection with its many Caravaggios is a tribute to Scipio Borghese's taste. SB, really, must have been an awful person. From the audio guide and other information I got the impression that he stole, extorted and bullied many of these works away from others. I guess I should be grateful for it, but I confess to feeling a bit guilty too.

I'd love to go to the Forum one more time (maybe tomorrow afternoon after I've made some serious progress packing) and to San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane. I'm sorry Fannie and Andrew didn't see this tiny church by Borromini. As the DK guidebook puts it, this church is “so small it would fit inside one of the piers of St. Peter’s.” But it has beautiful curves, all working from an oval plan of which the ceiling is the most evident part. And the light is wonderful! I love the space and find real peace inside. I'm not religious, but this church is almost perfect in some way. And I suspect that perfection is a spiritual dimension, on a real one. It is too small to get good photos but I will include a couple here anyway. The fa├žade, which was one of the last works of Borromini before his suicide, is sadly quite grungy. That and the noise of the street makes it difficult to appreciate for the uninitiated.

I also want to mention one of the other things that we enjoyed here fun and that is some of the books we found related to Italy. For example, we are both mystery fans and discovered Camilleri's Sicilian hero Montalbano on this trip. We have mentioned Camilleri to several of our Italian friends. They are all delighted to hear we have read him and then immediately launch into discussions of the potential difficulties for the translation, the importance of his use of the local dialect, and the complications with understanding the politics.
I think that, while I can't judge the original or the translation as a translation, the result is so good as to be addicting with plenty of use of colloquial language to suggest dialect and character. There are also good notes in the back. (Recipes would have been helpful, too!) I hope that the Brits do a 'Mystery' program project on it, filmed on location in Sicily. There is already an Italian series.

Last weekend the four of us went to Villa Adrianna with Giorgio, a friend and colleague of Bill's who, years ago, went trick-or-treating with the kids on Halloween.
Rather like the Palatine, Hadrian's Villa is a big green park with ruins still being excavated. The Villa features baths, libraries, beautiful pools with live fish and turtles, sculptures and the remains of frescoed walls and mosaic floors.
It is out of Rome near Tivoli, so Giorgio bravely jammed us all in his car and took us there. It was a beautiful day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fiori di Zucca

Max and Brittany have arrived in Rome, newly minted graduates (literally; Rutgers degrees have the official date 21 May 2008). They are helping us through the home stretch, our last two weeks here.

On one of his first trips to the market, Max saw zucchini flowers and got very excited. As he explained later, his interest goes back many years, to a dinner at Chez Panisse when we were celebrating his grandfather's birthday. The appetizer which arrived then was a squash soup, with one perfect fried zucchini flower on top. At the time, his enthusiasm for vegetables was (as he admits) probably typical for kids of his age, but "well, we were downstairs at Chez Panisse" so he dug in. Apparently the experience stuck with him for a decade, so he seized his opportunity to act on it!
Fiori di zucca is one of the classic Roman (particularly Jewish Roman) dishes. One takes the zucchini flower and stuffs it with a piece of buffalo mozzarella and an anchovy, then dips the flower into a batter and fries the whole thing. After a long afternoon of trekking through the Vatican museums, Max and Bill went off to get the missing ingredients (thus learning the word for yeast in Italian, lievito). Then Max bravely charged into the kitchen.

Here are a couple of action shots, so you can see how things look as the flower is being stuffed. Then, the results. They were amazing, and maybe the pictures give some feel for the experience. Alas no e-smells or e-tastes. It is reminiscent of a vegetable tempura, but the cheese (which melts to a wonderful consistency) and the bite of anchovy are unique.

We were incredibly impressed, and there was much joking about how Max could try culinary school if Philosophy doesn't pan out. He even seems pretty happy about the outcome himself.

Monday, May 12, 2008


If you wander around the older parts of Rome,
and you are like me and look up often, you will undoubtedly notice small shrine-like images of Mary.

They come in lots of styles, painted, behind glass, reliefs, mosaics. Some are on the corners, some have canopies or fancy frames. Sometimes they are accompanied by lights, or flowers, or notes on paper, or medallions in the shape of hearts. They are all humble in a way: outside, part of the street, mostly old, mostly neglected. Disappearing.

They are called Madonnelle or Madonninas, small Madonnas. Estimates are that there are less than 500 still in Rome (where are they all?!!), but I have read that at the height of their popularity there were thousands of them.

It used to be that there was no public lighting on the streets; many of these Madonninas have lamps or candle stands in front of them and so were able to provide light at night.

Some are said to have performed miracles. This seems to have resulted in their being moved indoors. A loss I think, but the stories, of course, have survived.

Here are some links about them that tell some of those miracle stories:

I have been intrigued and charmed by these little shrines for my whole visit here.

In photographing them, it also became important for me to show them in context, and I discovered that this provided me with a wonderful way to engage (to use one of Fannie's words) with Rome's street scenes. This is why I am showing them in pairs.

My friend, Claire, told me a little more about them when I asked her months ago. She says, "These shrines to the "Blessed Mother" are typical in the Roman Catholic faith. Mary is beloved as Jesus' mother. Marion theology within the Church has five main doctrines re: Mary - Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, and Assumption into Heaven without dying. She can be depicted in any of these 'roles.'"