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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.'"

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I finally made it to Campo de'Fiori in the morning, this morning!

The name means "field of flowers' which, sadly, it no longer is.
There were only two flower stands today but still lots of color thanks to many of the truly beautiful vegetables and fruits for sale.
I took lots of pictures and am having a lot of difficulty picking out just a few for this post but here goes:

This market has been
one since medieval times and probably is still something like what it was in the days of the powerful popes.

A fellow shopper.

Lunch time and the market closes down:

Monday, May 5, 2008


Two Parades in Three Days

May Day is celebrated as a labor day in Italy.
In the States we try not to remember the events of the Haymarket Riots (you can look it up on Wikipedia), but here in Italy May 1st is commemorated with parades. Since we live right next to one of the main parade routes in Rome, Via Cavour, I was able to see this one which seems to have been sponsored by the UGL, the Unione Generale del Lavoro - something like the AFL/CIO. Many groups paraded representing different kinds of work and different cities and regions in Italy. Things seem to be somewhat depressed here for labor, too few jobs, low salaries, inequity for women, difficulty coping with immigration... What kind of future does this little guy have?

I think these guys, who were actually at the May Day parade, might have been scoping out the route for the Million Marijuana March which happened two days later.

We were sitting peacefully in the garden with the sun shining, when police helicopters and loud music sent me running out with my camera once again.
This time the parade looked very different with thousands of under-30s (and a few well-over-30's) making their way down Via Cavour dancing, drinking beer, clowning around (some literally!)

and generally having a good time.

This group were just hanging out and let me take a few shots.

This was the Million Marijuana March, Roma MMM 2008. Not much weed that we could smell, though, mostly beer. People in both parades seemed fine with being photographed - some even welcomed it, though some not.

I especially like this shot
of these two girls who were taking a break before the serious partying started down the hill near the Forum.

The parade ends.