Friday, February 29, 2008


Our friend Kevin has finally made it out of Sri Lanka and he will be arriving shortly in Doha - the pups, my Sobie and Silver got in yesterday - and reunited with Bev. They'll soon be on their way to the safety (!) of Kabul. It's a long story and since it involves personal events I don't think I have the right to go into it in depth without his permission. Let's just say that for a time we were worried - frankly scared - for his freedom and safety.

I can't think of a more Canadian way to celebrate than K. D. Lang singing Jane Siberry's beautiful rift on Psalm 23, The Valley .

And "thank you" to Lorraine, her group of prayer warriors and my friend Vin in Florida.

Kev - if you read this, and I think you will - welcome home!

29 febbraio - San Guisto

Birthday Wishes ...

Rossini caricature... are going out to that bon vivant and all-round great guy Gioachino Rossini - 53 years old today. Yes, the Swan of Pesaro was born February 29, 1792. And in honour of the occasion we're sending out birthday greetings and best wishes from all of his friends and fans. And what better way to say Happy Birthday than with a few of the Maestro's own compositions.

First off Rolando Villazon asks the musical question: La Danza!

He may not be a Rossini Tenor but he sure knows how to wow a crowd. That gang in Berlin was with him all the way.

And Emanuele Luzzati and Guilio Gianni continue our theme with a piano rendition of La Danza until mascot Puncinello has a wild and funny dream to the overture to Il Turco in Italia.

Happy Birthday Maestro you don't sound a day older!

29 febbraio - San Giusto

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Candle in the Wind

As I mentioned in an earlier post there are shrines all over the city. Many are built into the walls that surround estates or courtyards and are tended to by local societies or confraternities. Flowers, petitions and candles are left imploring the protection or favour of the Saint being honoured - in most cases Santa Maria Virgine. This particular shrine - to the Virgin - is set into the wall surrounding our Villa complex.

Shrine with votive
As well as the plastic flowers (at many shrines they are real and changed regularly) and petitions that are attached to the grill there has been a red votive candle on the ground in front of the shrine for the past two weeks. When the first burnt out it was replaced. What I as an non-Italian find unusual is this votive has sat on the ground totally unmolested for that long. The walls may be sprayed with graffiti, people may throw litter on the streets but that candle has not moved. And ours is a busy street with two embassies side-by-side and a very large elementary-junior school at one corner. You would think that a bright red glass votive holder would be the target for, at the least, a prank of some kind. But there it sits - burning, representing some one's intentions and concerns. Had this been back in Ottawa I'm pretty sure that within a day it would have been used as a football or stolen.

It says a lot about the power of traditions, and perhaps superstition, in this country.

28 febbraio - San Osvaldo

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Songs Her Father Taught Her

In 1492 their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella weren't just busy financing Columbus's treasure hunt to India they were also arranging for an "ethnic cleansing" of their Kingdoms of Aragon, Castille and Granada. The Alhambra Decree gave the Jewish population of Spain four months to either convert to Christianity or leave their homeland - taking with them anything they owned that was not of gold, silver or minted coin. And with that edict the Sephardi began their wanderings in North Africa, Europe and the Near Orient.

Though Ferdinand and Isabella may have gained much financially - monies, treasures and land reverted to the crown - Spain lost much of a culture that had existed within it borders since before the birth of Christ. A culture that had flourished under Roman and Muslim rule but was destroyed by Christian zeal - and plain old fashioned greed. A culture that was rich in learning, art, crafts, music and history. And a culture that had its own language, Ladino, that was on the verge of extinction just a few years ago.

One of the reasons that both the language and the music have survived was the work of Turkish-born Issac Levy (1919-1977) - a musician and synagogue cantor who spent a lifetime collecting thousands of Sephardic songs from Balkan, Turkish and Moroccan singers who had immigrated to Israel. His daughter Yasmin Levy has continued in his footsteps, singing traditional songs, composing new songs in Ladino and adding a flamenco flourish to much that she sings.

Nani Nani is a traditional Sephardic cradle song or lullaby in the form of a dialogue. I haven't been able to get an exact translation but the Mother sings: Sleep my soul, my life, sleep peacefully and dream that your father comes back to us in happiness. There have been suggestions that it is the song of a deserted woman who's husband has been unfaithful.

This is the title track from her album Mano Sauve. I find the combination of modern and traditional instruments and the mixture of the Sephardic with the Flamenco fascinating - almost hypnotic. Her passionate love of this music is almost palpable. Its incredible to see the various cultural influences in this song - Sephardic, Turkish, Spanish - a mix of Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures!

27 febbraio - San Leandro

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

To Market To Market

Produce from our local market.Like most of the good citizens of Rome we head out to our local market on Saturday morning. We have a large two story enclosed market on Via Libia - all the streets in our neighborhood bear the names of places in Italy's former African colonies hence the area name Africano - about four blocks from the apartment. Strangely its also the same building where I go to get my Resident papers processed. The area just in front of the market is crowded with temporary stalls selling everything under God's sun and there's a small park much favoured by Senior Citizens and their patient Filipino caregivers

Libia Market
The first floor is fruit and vegetables, the second meat, fish, cheese, breads, wines, clothing and sundries. Its noisy, its crowded and at first confusing; now we have the stalls we go to regularly where we know we'll be greeted warmly, our bad Italian tolerated and kindly corrected, little extras will be thrown in and a piece of cheese or one or two olives proffered for our tasting.

It is unusual to see two men shopping together here in Rome and we sometimes get stares from other customers. At first it was a bit disconcerting but now we just smile and say buon giorno. One Saturday morning when I went marketing by myself the Nonna (grandmother) at one of our preferred vegetable stalls was most concerned that "il aultro signore e ammalatto?" I assured her that Laurent was fine and we settled down to choose vegetables for the minestrone.
Fruit stallsOne of the great things about the markets here is that there is still a certain sense of seasonality to things. As an example figs - in September and October there were fresh sweet juicy figs from Italy, in November and December Turkish figs that were not as tasty and now there are none to be found anywhere. And we have a wide variety of choices - at the moment there are three types of cherry tomatoes available and which ones you buy depends on what you are using them for.

ArtichokesArtichokesArtichokesIts also artichoke season and there was a choice of five or six kinds. We asked one of the ladies to prepare six of the globe artichokes for us and within a minute she had them trimmed, acetated with lemon juice and ready to be steamed, sprinkled with Pecorino, breadcrumbs and parsley for Sunday night's dinner.

 Mauro's Cheese and Deli ShopA wide choice of olivesOur deli of choice is always Mauro's; the first time we went there the young lady in the picture was so helpful, pleasant and jolly we just kept coming back. And the cheeses, cured meats and olives are the best in our particular market. They also do some very nice antipasti - grilled eggplant rolls stuff with sun-dried tomato and marinated in a spicy olive oil is a favorite in our house. And the fact that Mauro is a bit of a hot daddy doesn't hurt either.

Fish stallsThere's so much available at the markets here in the way of seafood - fish, shellfish, eels etc. We still haven't gotten adventuresome enough to actually buy any. Neither of us are familiar with many of the fish caught in this area of the world other than Rumbo (which we have frequently at our local trattoria Lemoncini.) And though there may be 5 different varieties of eel available I'm not about to prepare them in my kitchen.

Our favorite butcher Meat, meat and more meatThe people at our favorite butchers' are more than happy to put up with the strange mix of Italian-French-Spanish-English Laurent and I attempt to communicate in. There have been times when we've resorted to pantomime - my attempt to buy a whole turkey rather than bits and pieces is still the talk of the second floor. And being Italy, of course, other customers are more than willing to get into the act - advise is freely dispensed on why you don't want a particular cut of meat or what you should do with the one you just bought. Unlike most of our neighbors we have a very large upright freezer - most Romans will buy meat in small quantities every day or two. We tend to buy larger portions, which must raise the unasked question about how many people there actually are in our family. I'm often tempted to wave my hand in an extravagant manner at our bundles and exclaim: Per i otto bambini (For the 8 little ones). And I think we get the odd stare now!

The market photos were taken by Laurent this past Saturday, February 23, 2008.

26 febbraio - San Nestore

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

I've heard it said that Upstairs Downstairs was the reason that PBS was so successful back in the '70s and '80s. I'm not sure how true that was but I do know that, in my corner of the world, the sophisticated thing to do on a Sunday night was set the channel to WNPE/WNPI, sit back with a sherry and join Alistair Cook for Masterpiece Theater.

This brillant send up by Stanley Baxter, the great Scottish comedian, may only hit home with USDS fans and people who recall the acting gentry of the period - Dame Edith Evans, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson. But even if you don't get some of the references Baxter's playing all the characters is sheer artistic genius. And just think of all the money the BBC saved on actors' salaries for this one.

25 febbraio - San Caesario

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spring Has Nearly Sprung

Barring one gray, sprinkly day its been sunshine for the past two weeks. Not always warm - it went down to -2c a few days there - but warm enough to wake up sleeping plants. The mimosa and almond trees around town are in full bloom, as are Laurent's allergies, and the plants on the balcony are starting to bud.
Almond tree in bloom
The almond tree just below our balcony is in flower at the moment. Since our car is parked underneath it we have to clean the blossoms off every morning - well beats snow right?

Chamomille tree
Our friend Betty Jean gave us the chamomille tree when she was leaving for Damascus. Its starting to bud and already there is a hint of the lovely scent that we enjoy when its warm enough to sit out and have our dinner on the balcony.

Day lily starting to grow
This day lily (another gift from BJ) really didn't have much of a rest - it was still blooming at the end of October. And I noticed a tendril of ivy has hitched a ride in the pot and is doing just fine.

Sedum in bloomShoots are starting to appear
The sedum is starting to bloom and send off new tiny purple leaves. I forget the name of the plant in the second picture but last summer it was a mass of purple-pink bell flowers. I had worried that it was dead but new shoots reassure me it will be blooming again this summer. Sadly I'm not so sure about my lovely scarlett hibiscus.

Balcony plants
Cyclamen is a much favoured winter plant here. These two have been blooming on the balcony all winter. It has been strange to look out on January 1st and see green leaves and bright coloured flowers.

23 febbraio - San Polycarpo

Friday, February 22, 2008

I'm Proud to be Canadian

I've always been proud of being a Canadian. This morning, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, our black, straight, Haitian-born, female Governor-General, Madame Michaëlle Jean, will be investing a white, gay, New Brunswick-born, male clergyman, the Reverend Brent Hawkes, with our highest civilian award, the Order of Canada, for his contribution to the community and his activism on behalf of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Now that's diversity.

Today I'm feeling extra proud!

(Click on Brent's picture for a full news story courtesy of my buddy Gary.)

22 febbraio - Cattadera San Pietro

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More Sharing

And wouldn't you know it, I no sooner finish putting up the previous post than I come across three more items I want to share.
  • Our friend Larry is continuing a tradition in Rome that he started with a group in New York - a Lenten Journey. Here in Rome he is making a visit to one of the Station Churches each week of Lent linking his visit with a reading of the Beatitudes. This week a visit to Basilica di San Clemente and a Beatitude brought back memories of his Pacific Coast childhood and his mother. A lovely and loving tribute.

Shrine in the Borgo
Of course shrines are everywhere in this city - this one is built into an arch of the Passetto Borgo, a fortification that runs from the Papal Apartments to Castel Sant'Angelo.

Contented cat
A very contented cat basks in the sun at the Cat Sanctuary at Torre Argentino. It is one of several homes for the many stray cats that wander the streets of Rome.

  • LotusGreen of Japonisme has spotted a Klimt inspired trend in some of the new fashion collections unveiled in the past month. Her keen eye has caught the similarites between many of the materials and designs being used and the works of the Viennese painter. And while your there you might want to listen to the Mills Brothers sing Yellow Bird.

21 febbraio - San Pier Damiani


There have been quite a few changes going on in my little corner of Blogdom and at least one addition to my list of favorites.
  • In an unusual concept three of my favorite bloggers have joined forces with a friend of theirs, who I'm ashamed to say I hadn't visited before, to become East End Boys and West End Girls. Auld Hat (The Voluptury), Cowbell (I Need More Cowbell), Eric (Secrets of the Red7) and Maine Gay have turned blog reading into one-stop-shopping - we'll now be getting four great blogs for the price of one. And Ms Hat's template is innovative and cool.

Bas Relief - King David
King David plays his harp before the Lord - bas relief from the organ decorations at San Giovanni in Laterna.

  • And the sexiest food photographer I know has, with his buddy Al, done a redesign of his blog. The new look over at Tater is clean and classy and the writing remains amongst the best in blogdom. And those photographs... I want me a big bowl of cherries.

Red Bull SmartCar
I knew those damned SmartCars needed some sort of power booster.

  • And speaking of food, at Around Britain with a Paunch Jonathan has posted a very unusual food fight. As well he and Cowie are cooking up some goodies, visiting some upscale restaurants and on a very serious pancake hunt.

Spider web gate
An very Deco spider spins its metal web on a gate near our house.

  • Our blogmother Lynette has come briefly out of retirement and posted another one of her powerful pieces. Kayla is not an easy read and if you are like me you will be both heart-broken and enraged.

Collanade at San Pietro
Towards the Piazza San Pietro from the steps of the Basilica.

  • Elizabeth at Love Elizabeth touches on diversity in two posts - one as an observer and the other as one of the observed. And over on her other planet, Ridiculon, she's posted a photo that asks, it seems to me, a reasonable question.

Forgotten tombstones
These tombstones lay forgotten by the side of Via Nomentana, our main street. No doubt they are relics from the catacombs that warren the area.

  • Buddy Sling recounts an adventure in dining at Applebee's that makes me appreciate that here in Italy being a waiter/waitress is a profession not a inoportune pause on the road to stardom. And earlier in the week he provided us with some real pretty guitar music.

Piazza Navona Fountain Restoration
The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona is being restored. This means using dental equipment to clean delicate surfaces. Sort of like a teeth cleaning only takes a hell of a lot longer.

  • It often happens that someone posts a comment and you've never seen them before, so off you going to check out their blog and how it would connect to you and your interests. I'm guessing Gertsamtkunstwerk is, amongst other things, an opera fanatic but the title Mad Musing of Me pretty much says it all. Been enjoying the posts immensely and according to one I'm in the Upper Middle Class. My accountant would be surprised to hear that.

21 febbraio - San Pier Damiani

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Parlo del Piu e del Meno

  • The people over at Hasbro-Parker Brothers are running a contest to choose city names for the new Global Monopoly. They've choosen 68 cities but the field has to be narrowed down to 20 by February 29, 2008. And you can add your favorite city for a wild card vote to be held the first week of March. At the moment Istanbul is leading the pack with Montreal a close second.

  • Laurent and I wanted to go up to Venice at the end of April to see Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Teatro La Fenice. As I have mentioned in previous posts we haven't seen the rebuilt opera house and it would have been a nice break in one of our favorite cities in the world.

    I checked their website and seats where available. I followed the very specific instruction about ordering tickets by fax to the letter. When I hadn't heard back from them by yesterday I thought I had best give a call to find out what was going on.

    Me: Could you tell me what is happening to my fax order?
    Them: We don't know. We don't process orders by Fax.

    Me: So why do you say you do on your website and even have a procedure set out?
    Them: We don't know. We don't process orders by fax

    Me: So the fax number on your website for tickets - who would have received my fax?
    Them: We don't know. We don't process orders by fax.

    Me: So someone there has a fax with all my credit card and personal information on it and could use it illegally.
    Them: We don't know. We don't process orders by fax.

    Real quick, someone tell me again about the romance of living in Italy!

  • Bev in KabulMy friend Bev works as a Security Officer with one of the NGOs in Kabul and she and I chat several times a week on Skype. A normal conversation with her can be punctated with comments like - "brb just got a text message about a bombing near one of our offices in the North"or "oh shit someone has been arrested I have to head off to the jail ttyl". So I was not surprised when she told me she would have to visit the local brothels as research for a security report. What did surprise me is that the brothels in Kabul that cater to foreign "needs" are all located in Chinese restaurants????

    Yes I'll have a General Tao Chicken, Shrimp Fried Rice and a side order of .....

  • The following quick calculation on the cost of a top price ticket may just explain why La Fencie is not taking Fax orders:
    At the Box Office: E150.00 (CAD 224.00)
    By Fax: E150.00
    By Telephone (10% Surcharge): E165.00 (CAD 246.00)
    On the Internet (27% Surcharge): E177.00 (CAD 264.00)
    As they say: Do the Math!

20 febbraio - San Eleuterio

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

100 Years to the Day

On February 16, 1908 the Orchestra Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (in those days is was the Reale Accademia di Santa Cecilia) played its first concert at the long vanished Anfiteatro Corea. It was a Sunday afternoon and Guiseppe Martucci conducted a very mixed programme:

Santa Cecilia Poster - 1908Rossini - The Siege of Corinth Overture
Beethoven - Symphony #3 - Eroica
Mozart - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Wagner - Siegfried Forest Murmurs and Tannhauser Overture

On Saturday - 100 years to the day - Antonio Pappano led the current orchestra in the same programme in the stunning Salle Santa Cecilia of the Parco del Musica.

Pappano has a way with Rossini - as witness his Guillaume Tell earlier in the season - so The Siege of Corinth Overture had a certain sparkle and panache. Sadly that didn't carry over to a flabby performance of the Beethoven - the title of the second movement "Funeral March" was taken to literally for my taste and the rest was all climaxes and crescendo and little else. It doesn't give me great hope for the 9th in April. After the intermission the remarkable string section gave a light and pleasant reading of the Mozart favorite. Then the full orchestra and Pappano let lose with the Wagner. The Forest Murmurs was well judged and the wind section outdid themselves. For the Tannhauser Overture even the normally wayward French Horns seemed to be in total agreement with their conductor and his interpretation. It was a real dual between Christian and Pagan love - the core of Wagner's opera. The recurring Pilgrims Chorus, which can often have a sanctimonious heaviness to it, was uplifting, at times even joyous. And the Venusberg music had an insinuating sensuality about it. It was a very Italian reading and the most satisfying music of the evening.

Orchestra Accademia di Santa Cecilia
The concert was given in the presence of Giorgio Napolitano, the much respected President of Italy and this led to a little scene that could only have happened here.

As he entered most of the audience stood and applauded. The woman next to me - of a "certain" age, spun sugar blond hair, heavy make-up and a slight smell of mothballs and body odor to her black wool dress - refused to stand, loudly proclaiming that he should do something about the disgraceful garbage strike in Naples. The woman behind sharply rebuked her for bad manners and the lady in front of her demanded to know what she thought the poor President could do about it - go and pick up the garbage himself? She retorted that she had paid for her ticket and when he started paying for his she'd stand for him. Fortunately the orchestra broke into the National Anthem at this point.

As the stirring - and very operatic - Fratelli d'Italia played I gave a sigh of recognition - Canadians aren't the only ones who don't know all the words to their National Anthem or make half-hearted stabs at singing it. I would dare say a good half the audience didn't know the words and those that did mumbled them self-consciously. It was just like being back home.

I noticed that President Napolitano seemed to be singing heartily, the Lady beside me mumbled!

19 febbraio - San Mansueto

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has long been known for their short-animations and I, like most Canadians, grew up watching these cartoons:

BlackFlies - are only fun to sing about not get bitten by and believe me North Ontario will be alive with them in the next few weeks.

The Big Snit has a more adult theme.

There are so many more out there - maybe I should just start an NFB weekly post.

18 febbraio - Santa Simeone

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Things - Masks

Faustus' posting of the Muppets and Harry Belafonte for February 13th over at The Search for Love in Manhattan made me take a good look, for the first time in a while, at what surrounds me every time I sit down at the computer - masks that Laurent has brought back from his trips to Africa.

Totem from TogoHe brought back the first when he went to Togo on a project back in the spring of 1982. Its not actually a mask but a totem to be placed on the hut of the Principal wife of the Tribal Chief. Carved in acacia then covered in a type of pitch, its inlaid with copper, small smooth stones and coloured beads. It's always been the one I've treasured the most and has been in every home we've lived in from Ottawa to Rome.

Sudanese Mask from Juba region
On one of his regular trips from Cairo, where he lived at the time, to the refugee camps outside Khartoum he found this mask from Central Equitoria (Juba) region in the south of Sudan. The wood has been carved in a distinctively Central African design then covered with a thin layer of leather.

While on several temporary assignments to Lagos he found some examples of the West African carvers' art in the local markets: Masks and totems from the Cameroons, Chad, Ghana and Nigeria.

Animal? Bird?
I not sure if this one was meant to be a bird, animal or human and I until I took these pictures today hadn't noticed that it was asymmetrical.
Update: Laurent left the following comment: All the masks are from separate Tribal groups. They are meant to represent this or that Tribe. The one with the multiple marking on the face in white is in fact beauty scars to adorn the faces of males of that tribe near the coast of Cameroon. We really should talk more.
Animal? Bird?

Fertility Totem
Now I may be reading more into things than are there but I would say chances are this one is a fertility symbol of some sort. Though one friend did think it may have been the inspiration for one of the characters on Futurama and a few people have found it creepy. I like it.

Red maskI was asking Laurent if he thought this Nigerian mask didn't have almost a European look to it - perhaps a representation of a slave trader? He thinks I may be forcing a meaning on it. I really wish we had more history on these.

Leather maskAnother mask carved in wood and then covered in leather. The features and animal symbol on the forehead are outlined in a braided leather. Its a very intricate piece of workmanship.

Metal maskThis is Laurent's favorite and my least favorite - again Nigerian but this time worked in metal. For some reason the crocodile and two smaller faces have alway disturbed me.

16 febbraio - Santa Guiliana

Friday, February 15, 2008

29 Hours in Milano - A Carnivale Parade

Theoretically Carnivale ended at midnight of February 5th but as I was walking down Corso Vittorio Emanuale on Ash Wednesday morning this little procession was wending its way down the street.
Children in CostumeChildren in Costume They stopped to open bags of confetti and joyfully pelt each other with streamers under the watchful eye of someone's Nonno and some very patient teachers.
Children in costumeChildren in costume Unfortunately their winter coats hid what appeared to be some very imaginative costumes - though there were a few Fairy Princesses there wasn't a single Spiderman or X-Man amongst the lot of them. And I'd love to know what the young lad with the Michelin man legs was suppose to be. Maybe the Michelin Man??? Duh???

15 febbraio - San Faustino

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Buon San Valentino

Buon San Valention
Auguri e amore a tutti!

e grazie Maurizio for the photo....

14 febbraio - San Valentino

29 Hours in Milano - Savini Sweets

On Wednesday I headed into Centro - which in Milano means the area of the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuale. And wouldn't you know it I hit Savini just in time for a morning cappucc and a pear and chocolate fagottini - no it's a pastry, okay! Honestly you people!

Savini sweets
Though I'm not all that big a sweet person I love the displays - you can almost feel the pounds going on as you look at them.

Savini sweets Savini Pastries
I really want to try that little mountain of meringue and whipped cream in the upper left, all studded with candied fruit and violets... hmmm candied violets. No don't think Homer ever said that!

Savini sweets Savini sweets
A simple fruit salad becomes a work of culinary art. Notice the red-green-white of the Dragon Fruit - the colours of the flag of Italy.

Entrance to Savini
It may just be me but even the flowers look good enough to eat.

14 febbraio - San Valentino