Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just Like the Real Thing... Only Smaller

Tuesday was a gorgeous day here - almost spring like, I noticed a few of the plants on the balcony are sending off new shoots. It was certainly too nice a day to sit around the house and I had to get down to a toy store at Piazza Navona before Laurent got back that afternoon from Greece.

And what does a toy store have to do with Laurent's return you may ask - or you may Chairman Mao Minsaturenot but I have to work this in somehow. He collects lead soldiers which means he is the easiest person in the world to buy for - birthday, Christmas, anniversaries, welcome home I missed you cause nobody else would put up with my crap are occasions for adding to the collection. So what did I get him - something Italian? a Swiss Guard? A Carbineri? - nope if I were going to do that I'd try for the real thing!!!! I got him a Chairman Mao, little red book and all. Doesn't quite work with the 18th century French grenadiers but he can add it to his famous people grouping.

In honour of his time spent in China I have no problem giving him the Mao figure, however I refuse to be the one to add the Pope J2P2, Stalin, Mussolini or Hitler miniatures to his collection. And why exactly do they always group those figures together?

31 gennaio - San Giovanni Bosco

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

E Avanti a lui tremava tutti Roma!*

*And before him all Rome trembled! - Tosca over the dead body of Scarpia

Well all Rome wasn't exactly trembling a week ago Sunday past (January 20th)but the Teatro dell'Opera had to be moving a bit with all the clapping, stomping and carrying on during the curtain calls at the end of Tosca - why even the orchestra stayed behind to join in the ovation. And when a frail looking Franco Zeffirelli came out, leaning heavily on conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti, the foundations had to have given a few shakes.

So was it really all that great an evening? Well yes... and no. Let's just say it was an evening of marvelous inconsistencies. As I mentioned before as a designer Zeffirelli is a traditionalist - if the libretto says Act I - Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle that's what we get.
Act 1 Tosca - set design Franco Zeffirelli
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma - Tosca
Set Design by Franco Zeffirelli Act 1 - Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle

And as a director he is remarkably faithful to the libretto, if Puccini writes music for a Te Deum and Illica and Giacosa want a procession then we get a procession to end all processions - Swiss Guards, Confraturnities, Priests, Cardinals et al. Tosca Act 1 - Te Deum finale
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma - Tosca
Act 1 - Te Deum finale

There were the Zeffirelli trademarks - extras wandering through the Church, children, a stripped to the waist muscle fuck in the last act,an elevator scenery change, naturalistic action mixed with outright operatic playing to the audience. It may not have all been logical but after some of the Regie nonsense seen here over the past few months - pax the dreadful Neapolitanized Merry Widow and the Smurf-infested Mose in Egitto- it was good to see a director who'd read the libretto and listened to the music.

As for the music making Gelmetti led a taut performance that burned with a sense of drama until "E lucevan le stelle" in Act 3 when all drama left the stage, but more about that later. Though its was a Sunday matinee we had the first cast from opening night: Martina Serafin, Marcelo Alvarez and Renato Bruson. The veteran baritone Bruson, 71 years old according to Wikipedia, was sounding a little thread-bare and now lacks the dark tones to create a really terrifying Scarpia. And if dramatically his Scarpia seemed an imitation of Tito Gobbi's, it should be best remembered that most of Zeffirelli's direction for Act 2 derives from the Callas-Gobbi 1964 production.

Martina SerafinReports of Serafin's Strauss (Johann Jr and Richard) and Wagner had not prepared me for the Latin-intensity of her performance. She was a many-coloured Tosca - almost child-like in her love-play with Cavaradossi in Act 1, very much the grand singer use to theatre in her over-reaction to the painting and truly frightening and frightened in her Act 2 scenes with Bruson. Her Vissi d'arte was a bewildered cry from the heart not just a big soprano aria. Marceo Alvarez, her Cavaradossi, is a big handsome bear of a man with a thrilling voice if no great ability as an actor. He handled the first act by-play with Serafin in a charming way - one could almost believe he would have hustled her into the Angelotti chapel for a quickie if it hadn't been occupied. His Vittoria! Vittoria! was thrilling without being show-stopping because it turns out he was saving the big guns for that Act 3 aria.

Marcelo Alvarez as CavaradorssiAnd stop the show he did. Now I must admit the aria was beautifully sung but the audience reaction seemed a bit over the top. Cries of bravo, a prolongued ovation and calls of bis (encore) rained down upon the kneeling figure of the about-to-die Cavaradossi - at which point he looked up with a big smile, acknowledged the ovation and turned to conductor Gelmetti with palms outstretched and a little-boy look of pleading on his face. He mimed "not for me maestro but for them," Gelmetti shrugged, Alvarez (forgetting he was playing Mario Cavaradossi) ran off-stage to ... okay it with Zeffirelli or stage management? get a drink of water? blow his nose?... who knows. But he returned all smiles and nodding threw himself into position and did it all over again. After that point Serafin, the excellent Spoletto (Claudio Barbieri) and the crackshot firing squad could do little to revive the dramatic tension - though the chase and leap from the parapet did have a certain excitement.

But at that point the real drama was being reserved for the curtain calls.

Just in case you'd like to see/hear what the carry on was all about Teatro dell'Opera has posted an edited video of the first night encore here. And my friend Parsi has a complete audio here.

(All photos are courtesy of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma)

30 gennaio - Santa Giacinta

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Going For Baroque

Yes I know its not very original but then neither was "If it ain't Baroque..." "You Baroque it.." or "My heart is Baroque - with one of those little heart symbols" - which all came to mind as I started this post. I'm sure you could come up with a better pun but its 0730, the sun is just up and I haven't had my first capucc yet.

Link to Travel SiteAaron from Meanwhile is heading over here next week - which means we should be getting a series of incredible, and often unusual, photographs of the Eternal City. He's been using an amazing site as his inspiration in planning this trip: Rome in the Footsteps of a 18th Century Traveller (a click on the Guida di Roma at the left will take your there.) The site is obviously a work of love for Roberto Piperno and as Aaron mentioned also the work of a life time. I wasn't familiar with it until I clicked on the link in Aaron's post and I spent a fascinating and fascinated hour or so paging through it. It's been added to my favorites and the link being sent to any of our friends who are coming to visit.

Thanks Aaron and we've ordered sunny and mild weather for next week - its sunny and heading for 15c here today - but bring a sweater, coat, gloves, a scarf and umbrella just in case.

29 gennaio - San Constanzo

F & M Christmas Windows

Yes I know Christmas was over a month ago but sometimes things get put to one side and then you realise you still haven't shared them. This Smilebox template was the most appropriate but doesn't have a speed control for the slides. You may, as the Actress said to the Archbishop, want to do it manually.*

Click to play F
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
I still haven't mastered shooting photos through windows yet - not sure what the technique is there - so a few of the longer shots are a little less than perfectly focused. Though the theme is a bit time worn I still found these windows charming and funny in a very subtle way.

*I discovered a long time ago that it is possible to make almost any sentence in the English language sound rude by simple adding: As the Actress said to the Archbishop.

29 gennaio - San Constanzo

Monday, January 28, 2008

My Mame - Back Where She Belongs

And speaking of the great Angela Lansbury, I found this draft that I had forgotten about in the archives.

My friend Blake was in New York a few weeks ago and managed to get tickets for the opening night of Deuce, the new Terrance McNally play starring Angela Lansbury and Marion Seldes. He took this great shot of the incredible Angela as she was leaving for the opening night party. She wasn't signing autographs but she turned to the crowd and called out: This is my night to howl! Blake says the cheers at that point where almost as loud as the applause at the curtain calls.
Angela Lansbury leaves the Music Box TheaterAt 82 she still looks great and Blake says that both woman were wonderful but Lansbury has that magic on stage that says "Star."

I remember the first time I saw her on stage - Mame during the Boston try-out in 1966. It had be a disastrous few days. I headed for Boston and a drama school audition at MIT - I was all set to become the Michael Redgrave of my generation - notice not the Olivier or Gielgud, I knew my limitations.

I was eighteen and terribly naive. It was my first time flying and I honestly believed they brought a new airplane out for each flight - duh well 33 years in the airline business taught me better than that. I won't go into the gruesome details but that three days involved lying to my boss about where I was going; getting stacked up over JFK and missing my flight to Boston; losing my ticket in the transfer terminal; buying a new one on North East Airlines; having just enough money for a cab to my hotel in Cambridge and to get into Boston the next day; gave a horrible audition where I blew the test piece to hell; a call to my bank in Toronto for a draft; their call to my boss that cost me my job.

Angela Lansbury - MameAs I said it was a disastrous few days. Except my wanders through Boston took me past the Schubert Theater and a brilliant yellow poster announcing: Angela Lansbury as Mame, a New Musical. I had really loved Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame and really hated Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (one of the greatest portrayals of evil in the cinema.) How could that horrid woman be the aunt that we all knew we were meant to have? I bought a ticket in the balcony - what would it have been $1.50 maybe $2.00 and strangely, considering it became the hardest ticket to get in New York, I don't remember it being a full house.

- Overture!
- Voice over reading of Patrick's father's will.
- First scene - Patrick and Gooch (Jane Connell) outside Beeckman Place.
- Party scene with Vera Charles (Bea Arthur) centre stage and then...

And then this woman appeared at the top of a spiral staircase in a backless gold lame jump suit, a trumpet in her hand and as she descended began singing, radiating love, joy and that magic that says "star." And for the next three hours every disaster disappeared.

28 gennaio - San Tommasso d'Aquina

Lunedi Lunacy

Twice a month - every second Friday if memory serves right - my father and I would head to downtown Toronto from what was still in those days almost country to go to one of the first run movie theatres. My favorite was The Imperial - a former Vaudeville/Movie house now a legitimage theatre - with its grand staircase, box seats, gilded proscenium, painted domed ceiling and big blue velvety seats. I remember sitting in the Mezzanine watching this brilliant piece of clowning written by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama and played to perfection by Danny Kaye, Mildred Natwick, Glynis Johns and Ray Middleton.

And yes that's the incredible Angela Lansbury in the day's before she bacame the Queen of Broadway and Television.

28 gennaio - San Tommasso d'Aquina

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Food! Glorious Food?

Fortnum and Mason are known for their Food Hampers, incredible Wine Shop and though their Food Hall may not be as glorious as it once was its still pretty wonderful for a foodie. Cheeses, meats, pastries - savoury and sweet - are displayed with taste and a certain elegance. The world famous hampers would be a delight to receive - though Deb thought that one particularly generous fruit basket destined for a hospital would probably become a feast for the nurses and aides as there was just too much for any poor sod in convalescent mode.

Amongst the various sauces, the Patum Peperium* (A Gentleman's Relish) and English condiments we found these items for the jaded palate.

24k Gold LollipopsToasted African AntsScorpions in CandyMopani Ants

As my dear old mom use to say when she overcooked the roast - which was every Sunday: Put a bit of horseradish on it and it'll go down a treat.

* I did a major misspelling of this but have corrected it. All I had to do was check the one in the cupboard.

26 gennaio - SS Tito e Timoteo

Quel Chapeau!!!!

Our wanderings through Fortnum and Mason last week brought us to the Ladies Hat Department and this lovely number caught our eye immediately.

Feathers and Snakeskin chapeau
I was begging Deb to try it on so I could take a picture when a very friendly Irish saleslady with an "Are You Being Served?" manner, came gliding over. We were trapped! Deb did try it on but I couldn't get a picture which is a shame because it looked great on her and she said it was one of the most comfortable hats she had every worn. In lilting tones the Saleslady extolled the virtues and glories of said chapeau for that special occasion. Deb wryly remarked that she had found the hat now all she had to do was find that occasion. I suggested with a big birthday coming up perhaps we had found the perfect gift and I could drop a hint to James. Deb simpered "Oh would you?" I said it would be my pleasure. We both radiated contentment at finding the perfect birthday gift, thanked the saleslady for her kind assistance and made our getaway. I must say that Deb and I are rather good at by-play in shops.

Before we left we did convince the saleslady that such an elegant hat would show to better advantage on a mannequin head than a hat stand and she made the switch. It takes an unmarried gentleman of a certain age accompanying a lady friend on a shopping spree to notice these things.

Oh and the price tag on this little snake skin and feather confection? Why only L695 - that would be 1,382.89 CAD or 1,375.23 USD at today's rate of exchange - cheap at half the price!

26 gennaio - SS Tito e Timoteo

Friday, January 25, 2008

Songs for Parky

Michael ParkinsonOne of our guilty pleasures when we lived in Poland was watching Michael Parkinson on BBC-Prime. I say guilty only because we were using a pirated satellite signal; once every three months an elderly gentleman - reeking of vodka and b/o - would come to the house, his wife would hold the ladder as he climbed out on the roof and worked his magic for a third the cost of the regular hook-up. I can say that now because the 7 years statute of limitations must be up.

But I digress, Parky's shows were a highlight of Sunday night on BBC - he moved over to ITV after a major shake up at the BeeB. His interviewing style was relaxed, the people he attracted where some of the best (and occasionally some of the worst - the Meg Ryan interview was notorious) and often he had celebrities tell him - and his audience - things they had kept even from their analysts. Parky retired this past year but not before some incredible compilation shows. Here's the last part of the show devoted to music. It started with Michael Buble and went on to include some the greatest names in music - and a few musical surprises, Robert Mitchum!!! - of the late 20th century.

Is it me or was it really a "Golden Age?"

25 gennaio - Conversione di San Paolo


Though things have been a little off kilter here the past week or two doesn't mean I haven't been following my favorite bloggers. Though in many cases I haven't been commenting a great deal - imagine me keeping my mouth shut - I still found so much to enjoy out there.
The flock starts across
  • The doyenne - so young and she's a doyenne already - of Opera here in Italy if not all of Europe, the beloved Opera Chic has been featured in Classical Singer magazine. Interviewer Amanada White, rightly IMHO, calls her the world's foremost opera blogger.

  • My darling Auld Hat is back in full force after a brief sabbatical and is as wise, witty and talented as always.

  • Sageweb went on a trip and gets tripped up at Ikea. And then she goes and gives us the cutest damn puppy and puddy picture around. And you all know how I feel about puppy and puddy pics.

  • RG has totally ruined The Wizard of Oz for me, I'll never look at getting back to Kansas the same way ever again.

Under the shepherd's eye
  • Once again Tater writes from the heart and reaches our hearts with a memory profile of his beloved Jimmy.

  • Lorraine is touched by grace at a time and place she least expected. And in the telling proves that grace can be in the written word.

  • And Elizabeth muses on the nature of friendships and the kinship of being an outsider.

An old sheep dog
And that just a random sampling of what I've been reading from my blog buddies - all of them more than worth a regular visit if they're not on your list already.

These pictures where taken on a back road in the Reiti plain in November. That old dog was very concerned when we separated him from the flock. The shepherd had given us the all clear when there was a break - but that old boy kicked up quite a fuss.

25 gennaio - Conversione di San Paolo

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The past month hasn't been the best of times or in light of an e-mail I received today, the worst of times.

There have been good things this past month - good Christmas celebrations with our old friends Betty Jean, Stephan, Sarah and Brian; a great New Year's dinner with Linda, Nazareno and Brigitte though Laurent couldn't be there; three glorious days with Deb and James in England; a visit from our Jack which led to some sight-seeing and socializing with other friends; and Tosca Sunday night with Linda and Nazareno. All pretty damn marvelous.

But it just seemed the bad was winning in the balance. We said goodbye to our sweet Reeserman almost a month ago; the fire was a major shock for Laurent, then add in his family concerns; a few events at the Embassy have caused frustration and even anger; and I had a bit of a health scare. I won't go into details but to say there is little we can do about most of these things and the specialist gave me an "all is well" report yesterday. Taken with the gray-wet-cold weather - I know at least it isn't snow - and day-to-day living in Rome - sorry gang it is only romantic when you're visiting - a certain air of depression has set in here at Via Asmara. And I might add, for myself at least, a touch of your old self-pity.

Then we received news today that shrunk all those things to their proper size, made me ashamed of my self-pity and, perhaps defensively, has had me railing at a God I'm not sure exists, off and on all day. A friend of ours from the Foreign Service and her husband have suffered the sudden loss of their 9 year old son. He had a brain aneurysm and was on life support for several days before our friends made what they felt was the only decision that could be made. They married late in life and he was an only child - a bright kid from what I recall on the two occasions I met him - and the apple of his mother's eye. There is no way that I can even begin to understand what they are going through right now as they head back to Canada with the body of their only child.

I find I am asking all the questions that you ask when you hear about something like this. You know them - may well have asked them yourself in the past. Why, if there is a loving God does he allow something like this to happen? Why is a 9 year old child taken while murderers and rapist run free? Why? Why?

But perhaps the real question that should be asked - not of God - but of myself is: Why does it take something this tragic to make me realize how fortunate I am?

23 gennaio - San Emerenziana

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Food! Glorious Food! - And Sartorial Options

Deb and I had our lunch at Fortnum and Mason's Fountain Restaurant last Wednesday before the Panto. Its a pleasant room in shades of mint and white with the F & M crest in gold highlighted fretwork, large windows looking out on to busy Jermyn Street, marble tables, crisp linen, heavy silverware, comfortable seating and very attentive waitstaff. And the food was excellent.

Based on Jonathan's recommendation we both had the Cêpes mushrooms in garlic cream to start - just the right amount of garlic to set off the woodsy mushers. Deb decided on the Seared Chicken Liver salad as her mains - ruccolo, lentils, large bacon bits and chicken liver, all crusty on the outside and pink on the inside. She was mightily pleased with her choice.

Tucking inAnd that would be himself - looking like a deer caught in the head lights, there is a reason I don't post photos of myself too often - tucking into his Welsh Rarebit with grilled tomato and thick bacon rashers. Rarebit can often end up tasting like a bland grilled cheese sandwich - but this was a tangy blend of very old Cheddar, ale and mustard. And I had to have an order of Chips to go with it - you'll notice they came in a a silver bucket lined with a white linen napkin - classy and tasty. A glass of Pouilly Fuissé, at a very reasonable price, was a fine accompaniment. Deb being a wise woman skipped the sweet menu but I had a light Butter Milk and Honey Pana Cotta with roasted figs. We just had time for coffee, pay the bill and dash over to the Picaddilly Tube station and head across the river for the Panto.

Thomas Pink CardDuring lunch I had glanced out the window and saw that Thomas Pink was having a shirt sale. We didn't have time after lunch so retraced our steps after the Panto. Let me explain that when you have an athletic build like mine - waits patiently for hysterical laughter to die down - it is difficult to get dress shirts that fit in North America. If I get the right neck size the shoulders are down around my elbows and the cuffs trail like gorilla paws; if I get the right sleeve length I turn a bright red and my Margaret Rutherford-like chins give me the air of a Dickensian bailiff about to foreclose on a poor widow. But shirt stores like Pink's have dress shirts in every conceivable size combination and style. A few whip rounds of the old tape measure and the friendly salesperson - a young lady from Virginia of all places - produced two shirts one French blue, one white, regular one-button cuff, button-down collar, size 16 neck, size 34 1/2 sleeve. The credit card was whipped out - American Express stockholders made happy and I now have 3 dress shirts that actually fit.

22 gennaio - San Vincenzo Martiri

Burn Rome, Burn!

Quo Vadis PosterBoth the title and the picture may be a bit over dramatic - who me!!!! - but when I got home Saturday I was reminded of Peter Ustinov strumming a lyre and chortling as Rome flamed behind him. I somehow had a picture of Laurent on our balcony doing much the same thing last Wednesday night.

Apparently the elderly gentleman across the hall left a space heater on beside his bed while he was out. The bedding smoldered and when he came home around 11 pm the draft when he opened the front door really got things going. Laurent smelled and saw smoke in our front entry hall and opened the door to find a hall filled with smoke and our Portere (Building Super) stepping out of the elevator (DUH! rule #1 - In case of fire do not - repeat - do not use the elevator) carrying a small and totally inadequate fire extinguisher. Fortunately he had called the Fire Department.

Then the real fun began - can you say farce?

  • The fire trucks went roaring by the complex, missing the entrance and the Super's son had to go chasing after them.
  • Someone forgot to open the front gate to let the trucks in and it wasn't responding to the remote.
  • Once they got the gate open they had trouble maneuvering the trucks in because of the number of cars parked in the fire lane.
  • They didn't bother evacuating the building or doing a head count and the old fart on the first floor who has given us so much grief refused to leave his apartment. Instead he and his wife hung out the windows watching everything.
  • The firemen, policemen and ambulance drivers all arrived, exchanged warm greetings - much kissing of cheeks and old acquaintances renewed - niceties first, fire second.
  • Ironically the gentleman operating the cherry picker sat at the controls- much shouting, tooing, frowing and lurching to the delight of the crowd and the discomfort of the gentleman in the cherry picker - sat puffing a cigarette as smoke poured out of the apartment windows.
  • Two of the firefighters came out of the building oxygen tanks in one hand, burning cigarettes in the other. My buddy Stephen said the interplay as they attempted to smoke and turn off the tank controls was worthy of a Three Stooges movie.
  • The gentleman from across the hall was in a heated (sorry) discussion with his son and the police, denying that it was his fault.

Having said all this, the fire was contained to one apartment (it was gutted), no one was hurt and we have sustained moderate smoke damage. Is it possible that Beppe Severgnini is right when he says that in an Italian crisis all looks chaos but out of that chaos comes order???? As my friends are fond of saying: Relax. It's Rome

22 genaio - San Vincenzo Martiri

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

There appears to be a Hippo theme running through these posts. However Pat et Stanley are very Gaelic while the humour of Flanders and Swann could be nothing but British. I recall seeing them in Toronto - first in At the Drop of a Hat and then in At the Drop of Another Hat - back in the 1960s.

Michael Flanders began their revue by saying:
It's small wonder to us that Satire squats hoof-in-mouth under every bush. The purpose of Satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth - and our job, as I see it, is to put it back again
And they did - they did.

21 gennaio - Sant'Agnese

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Get Your Fresh Faggots

In response to overwhelming requests here's the recipe for Faggots just in case you should decide to make your own. Okay so nobody really asked but its late and I'm still trying to get over seeing the Zeffirelli Tosca and the fact that there was a fire in the apartment across the hall from us while I was away. Everything is okay here and I'll write a bit about both the love fest/circus that was the Rome Opera tonight and the after effects of the fire tomorrow.

25g/1oz unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
175g/6oz minced pigs' liver
2 lamb or pigs' heart, trimmed and cut into chunks
450g/1lb belly of pork, trimmed and rind removed
½ tsp mace
4tbsp freshly chopped chives
1 tsp freshly chopped sage
1 egg,beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper
115g/4oz fresh white bread crumbs
25g/1oz beef dripping or 3 tbsp olive oil

For the gravy
4 red onions, peeled and each onion cut into 8 wedges
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
900ml/1½pt fresh beef stock
290ml/½ pint red wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the onions. Cook until soft and transparent. Cool slightly
2. Place the belly pork onto a chopping board and cut into portions.
3. Place the minced pigs' liver into a large glass bowl and place under the blade of a mincer. Using a fine blade of a mincer, mince the pork belly and lambs heart directly into the bowl with the pig s liver. If you do not have a mincer at home ask your butcher to mince all your meat for you.
4. Add the cooled chopped onions, mace, chives, sage, beaten egg and salt and
pepper. Stir in the breadcrumbs.
5. Using your hands shape the mixture into 12 patties. Place on a plate and chill for about 1 hour.
6. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. 7. For the gravy: place the onion wedges into a large roasting pan or ovenproof dish. Add the thyme and drizzle over the olive oil. Place in the oven and roast uncovered for 40 minutes until the onions are
8. Meanwhile heat the dripping or olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry the faggots until golden brown on both sides.
9. Place the stock and wine in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce by a third.
10. Remove the roasted onions from the oven and lay the faggots on top. Pour over
the gravy liqueur. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and cook the
faggots for 40 minutes.
11. Place two to three faggots onto a plate. Top with a spoonful of the onions and pour over the gravy. Serve the faggots with mashed potatoes and green vegetables.

Recipe courtesy Chef Antony Worrall Thompson on the BBC website.

Personally I think I'll stay clear of any food that lists amongst its ingredients 2 lamb or pigs' heart, trimmed and cut up into chunks. Though that onion gravy sounds like it could be good.... on roast beef!

20 gennaio - San Sebastiano

Saturday, January 19, 2008

So That's How It's Done!!!!

Deb and I dropped in to the Windsor Farm Shop at Windsor Castle on Friday morning. Produce and products being sold are from the various Royal Farms around England and are top quality and for the most part organically grown. I picked up a Pork, Stilton and Apple Raised Pie (which Laurent and I had for dinner tonight - delicious) and some Beetroot and Horseradish relish for Laurent, Deb got us some some tasty Cheese and Ham stuffed Mushrooms for Friday night's dinner.

While we were there I noticed this product on special:

Hand Made Faggots

Pretty much cleared up the mystery for me.

19 gennaio - San Mario

Friday, January 18, 2008

Music Hall Turns

I mentioned yesterday that British Music Hall performers played a large part in the development of Panto. From the 1880s onward famous stars deserted the "Halls" at Christmas to go legitimate in theatres throughout Britain. It brought a certain vulgarity to Panto that was regularly decried in the pulpits and better papers but guaranteed full houses from opening night on Boxing Day (December 26th) until February or March.

Marie LloydTwo of the better known were Little Tich and Marie Lloyd. Little Tich often appeared as the Dame and though not pretty by average standards Marie played both Principal Girl and Principal Boy at various times with great success.

I was surprised to find this restored film of Little Tich doing his famous boot dance from French Pathe (he was a great favorite in France and the USA.) I think its a remarkable piece of footage.

And though I could find no film of Marie Lloyd I did find a Halls star and Principal Boy of a slightly later period, Lily Morris singing one of Marie's hits: My Old Man Said Follow The Van.

We had to move away
'Cos the rent we couldn't pay.
The moving van came round just after dark.
There was me and my old man,
Shoving things inside the van,
Which we'd often done before, let me remark.
We packed all that could be packed
In the van, and that's a fact.
And we got inside all that we could get inside.
Then we packed all we could pack
On the tailboard at the back,
Till there wasn't any room for me to ride.

My old man said: "Foller the van,
And don't dilly-dally on the way".
Off went the van wiv me 'ome packed in it.
I walked be'ind wiv me old cock linnet.
But I dillied and dallied,
Dallied and dillied;
Lost me way and don't know where to roam.
And you can't trust a "Special"
Like the old-time copper
When you can't find your way home.

I gave a helping hand
With the marble wash hand-stand,
And straight, we wasn't getting on so bad.
All at once, the car-man bloke
Had an accident and broke,
Well, the nicest bit of china that we had.
You'll understand, of course,
I was cross about the loss.
Same as any other human woman would.
But I soon got over that,
What with "two out" and a chat,
'Cos it's little things like that what does you good.


Oh! I'm in such a mess.
I don't know the new address -
Don't even know the blessed neighbourhood.
And I feel as if I might
Have to stay out here all night.
And that ain't a goin' to do me any good.
I don't make no complaint
But I'm coming over faint,
What I want now's a good substantial feed,
And I sort 'o kind 'o feel,
If I don't soon have a meal,
I shall have to rob the linnet of its seed!


written by Fred W. Leigh and Charles Collins.

I grew up hearing a fair bit of these Old Music Halls songs - though in bowdlerized versions - and I love them. I'm amazed when performers and acts I've read about show up on UpTube.

18 gennaio - Santa Prisca

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Christmas Tradition - Pantomine

By the time most of you read this Deb and I should be sitting in the Stalls at the Old Vic yelling "Oh no you're not!" or "Hello Buttons!" or even "Its behind you!" at Cinderella, the Ugly Step-Sisters or Buttons. And no we won't have had too much vino at the Fountain, we'll be part of a largely adult audience regressing to childhood at a Christmas pantomime.

Its difficult to explain Panto to anyone who hasn't grown up with it. Its very, very English - though the tradition has carried over to Canada, Australia, in fact anywhere on the map that was pink when I was a kid, even Hong Kong. Its roots go back to popular theatre of the 1700s but it has changed so much that John Rich and Joey Grimaldi wouldn't recognize it today. Over the years it morphed from a Sir Ian McKellen as Widow TwankeyHarlequinade preceded by a fairy story in punning rhyming couplets to a fairy story used as an excuse for elaborate stage sets, long-limbed chorus girls and Music Hall turns. In the 90s it seemed to have become the refuge of second banana television performers and would be pop stars. Now its become all the rage with "legitimate" actors, writers and performers. Cinderella,at the Old Vic this year is written by none other than Stephen Fry - writer, actor, director, bon vivant and all round good time Charlie and Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) is playing the Fairy Godmother. And that my dears is Sir Ian McKellen (yes Gandolf as well as the greatest Shakespearean actor of our time) at the left as Aladdin's mother Widow Twankey two years ago at the Vic! Pantos gone all respectable like.

Why Widow Twankey? And why does she run a laundry in Peking? And why does she have an assistant called Dim Sum? Because its tradition! And speaking of Twanks there are other traditions that everyone of us in that audience today are expecting will be observed.

The Dame: There will always be a man dressed as a woman - not the same as a female impersonator, take a look at Sir Ian. This will be Widow Twankey, Jack's mother Dame Trot, Mother Goose, Sarah the Cook or in the case of Cinderella there will be two as the Ugly Step Sisters. The Dame is normally man-mad and has lines that would make a sailor blush - though fortunately they go over most children's heads. And as in the case of Sir Ian, each change of costume will be more outrageous than the last - he had 14 if I recall.

The Principal Boy: In the good old days the Principal boy was a perky-breasted, long-Joseph Millsonlegged beauty in net stockings, high heeled boots and doublet with plunging neckline. She could belt like Merman, dance like Miller and slap her thigh in what was thought to be a butch gesture. Sadly that has given way to Principal Boys being played by .... a boy! Sometimes its a slightly over the hill pop star or a refugee from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical - though more often these days its a good looking man who can sing, dance and cause the hearts of matinee ladies and the chorus boys to flutter. This year at the Old Vic its stage and film actor Joseph Millson (right) and he's required to do a strip tease - my how Panto has grown.

The Principal Girl: The main qualification is that she be pretty and able to sing - Julie Andrews was a principal girl at the Palladium back when she was a teenager.

There are Doubles acts, Animal acts, Singalongs, Audience contests, ghost scenes, laundry scenes, schoolroom scenes, in the introduction the good fairy enters from the right and the demon or villain from the left, popular references are made to local and international events (I seem to recall a line about Tony Blair hiding behind a Bush a few years back.) Songs are sung, dances are danced, good triumphs and unless its really bad the audience has a good time.

Sir Ian with Frances BarberApparantly Fry, being Fry, has written a very erudite script (emphasis on the rude) with some decidedly gay twists. The Prince and his footman Dandini have a shower scene; Cinderella's best friend forever Buttons helps her with make-up tips and accessorising and they share the same taste in men; and when Cinders and her Prince are married in the grand finale, Buttons and Dandini have a civil union. "Oh my dear, sounds ever so gay," as Widow Twankey would say!

I have a feeling we'll all be shouting "He's behind you, Buttons!" And Deb and I will be yelling the loudest.

That's one more shot of Sir Ian revealing the legs that sunk a thousand ships.

17 gennaio - San Antonio abate

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Window Shopping

I'm really not that much of a shopper myself - I prefer online where I don't have to deal with snotty clerks - but window shopping here in Roma can be great fun. The Corso is the ultimate in chic shops though Nazionale and Victorio Emmanuale have their share of name designers and boutiques.

Galleria Ceiling
The Galleria off Corso is a bad imitation of the glorious Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II in Milano - they try but....
Ceiling off Corso

Shaving Brushes
And for the man who still uses a straight razor - or Sweeney Todd
Window full of shaving paraphinalia.

Statues for the home and garden
And should you need that ancestral bust for the entrance hall or cherub for the garden walk.
Statues for the home and the garden

A question of taste.
You may have heard about how stylish Italian woman can be; well there's stylish then there's...... downright slutty.
Taste good or bad?

Shoes, glorious shoes
I thought of one or two people I know when I saw these shoes - and most of them where women.

Dreaming of a White Coated Christmas
And how practical would these little items be?

Borsalino for men
Borsalino makes hats for men, women and, if that orange one is any indication, pimps.
Borsalino for Madam

Faberge style presepe
Then there's those Christmas chatkas that we all need - like Faberge egg presepe and sterling silver Santa sleighs.
Faberge style PresepeSilver Sleigh

A blushing bride for June
And looking forward to the blushing bustiered brides of spring:
Another blushing bride

Adoramus te - Monstrances
And for all your devotional needs:
Virgins in the Window

16 gennaio - San Marcello papa

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Given that after the crappy weekend we had a glorious sunshiny day today - though it was a chilly 7c when Stephen and I went for a Capu and cornetto at 1100 this morning - I spent less time wandering around the net than I would normal do. However I did find some new things on old favorites and a new site that I've added to my regular list of reads. And there are several posts out there from the first part of the month that I just haven't got around to mentioning and should have.

Entrance to Villa Ada
  • Though most people don't need encouragement to read Joe, My God, he had a YouTube entry up yesterday that is weird but wonderful. Wait for the comment at the end - it glorious

  • Elizabeth proves time and time again that the world is full of strange things on Ridiculon but the Nun Pod has to be one of the best.
Egyptian Ambassador's Residence
  • In case you missed it last Friday EG told us one of his great Doris stories - that woman is going to become a book.

  • Also last week RG posted a hysterical story about his mother Justine and her sister Mary. Sadly the same day he posted a loving and lovely tribute to Mary who has just passed away.
The Boating Lake
  • And earlier in the month Japonisme did a beautiful post using one of my favorite Beatles songs: The Long and Winding Road.

  • Tater, with that incredible ability he has with words, looks at another type of road and traces Steps.
Enjoying a dip
  • And while looking for a review of the Fountain Restaurant at Fortnum and Mason's - that's were I'm taking Deb for lunch on Thursday before the Panto - I discovered Around Britain with a Paunch. I'm still working through who's who but I gather Jonathan is the author and Cowie is his girlfriend/SO/wife but he/they are real serious foodies. The pictures are great and the reviews, comments and observations fun. Lunch at the Fountain sounds like it should be great for a London lunch.

  • Boy About Town had some real problems with Google and after a losing battle decided to open up at a new location as Boy About Town LB.
Wild blackberry bushes
  • Much like other communities, Blog communities see movement and change. New people arrive, neighbours move away, change homes or sometimes go on vacation. Two of my favorite bloggers have decided to take a vacation from their daily postings. Big Ass Belle is my blog-mama, one of my earliest commenters and a force in Blogdom but she's also a person who, to my mind at least, has her priorities in the right order. As does Auld Hat over at The Voluputary. Auld has been a delight day in and day with her creativity, wit and wisdom but she wants, and deserves, some time to recharge. I'm going to miss them both but look forward to their return.

Steps into a grove
Of course I've been visiting all my regulars and leaving rude messages just to let them know I've been around.

These photos were taken the first weekend we were here in Rome - back at the beginning of August. We spent Sunday at Villa Ada, the former hunting park of the Royal Family a few blocks from us. It is now one of the largest (320,000 sq metres) public parks in Rome. Its a popular venue for rock concerts, boating, horse back riding and strolling.

15 gennaio - San Mauro abate