Monday, March 31, 2008
Most people don't realize that Maggie Smith got her start in Revue comedy as a singer/dancer/sketch performer. I was fortunate to see her both in London (Hedda Gabler directed by Ingmar Bergman) and later when she decided to live in Stratford, Ontario and become a member of the famed Shakespeare company there. For 10 seasons she played everything - Chekhov, Congreve, Coward, Cross, Shakespeare. Her Lady Macbeth was outstanding, her Rosalind in As You Like It one of the finest comedy performances I've ever seen and even though she could do star turns she just as easily became a member of an ensemble. To this day I remember a frighteningly beautiful Three Sisters with arguably a group of the finest actors in North American at that time. It was another Golden Age.
31 marzo - San Beniamino
Friday, March 28, 2008
And their message:
An Italy without outsiders*
It can be done.
Again I am not going to comment one way or another on the political situation here but that slogan does raise some interesting questions. Such as who then would work the dairy farms, man the clothing factories, clean the houses, toil as live-in caregivers for Nonna and Nonno when the family is too dispersed to do so or for that matter who would pose for the lingerie ads? I'm sure they have answers.
*A more accurate translation of extracomunitari would be "immigrants from outside the EU" - given the normal message from FN this suggests a new tolerance of former East Block peoples who are now part of the EU. Strano. Molto strano.
28 marzo - San Sesto Papa
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I may not have mentioned it but I've been in love with the tits-and-tassels Parisian Music Hall revues for as long as I can remember. When I was 14 I wrote to the Lido de Paris asking if they could send me a programme book. I received one with a note from Pierre Louis-Guérin, then the Lido Director, saying he looked forward to the day when I could be there to see one of his shows. I still have that programme and managed to catch three productions in Paris over the years as well as several when they were at the old Stardust in Las Vegas.
But to be honest I wish I had been around in that period between the two Great Wars when Josephine Baker, Mistinquett, Maurice Chevalier and the Dolly Sisters starred in fantastic spectacles whose sole purpose was to astound and entertain. The music was jazz-hot, the dancers were beautiful English roses and the Showgirls elegant and stately. The tableaux were as frivolous as the time itself and subjects could range from The Loves of Casanova, Great Queens of History, Milady's Garden, the Jewel Box of Cleopatra or even something as everyday as The Newspaper. Designers jostled with each other to be more creative and innovative. And in a place like the Folies Bergère where the stage is only 32 feet deep it was a challenge.
I found this particularly series of designs by Marco Montedoro particularly delightful and silly. Montedoro was an Italin artist who fled to American during World War II and eventually became head designer at New York's Radio City Music Hall. This tableau, for Un Vent de Folie the Folies Bergère show for 1927 starring Josephine Baker, was called Restaurant Italien and his imagination went wild clothing the showgirls and the ponies (dancers) as Bread Sticks, Antipasti and Pasta and the chorus boys as after dinner coffee and bonbons.
The set represented a table at an Italian Restaurant; the waiter with the serving dish was a painted backdrop and the table would have been a two level platform - an ingenious use of the small stage depth. The whole set would have taken up about 12 feet of space - meanwhile a larger scene was probably being set up behind it.
No doubt an Italian tenor, from Roumania, would have been on the forestage - the Folies Bergère has a runway around the orchestra pit - warbling something appropriately Italian as the cast paraded, dance-stepped and glided across the table as:
|Le Grisinnis - Breadsticks|
|Le Cappacchino and La Fiasco - something like a wrapped candy????|
It was definately a glorious, silly time! I wish I had been there.
27 marzo - San Ruperto
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
This combination of bluegrass and gospel had me wanting to clap along and maybe even call out a few "Praise the Lords." And the guy on the electric guitar damn near sets the place on fire.
Though they may look like they're dressed for the Republican Convention the Cumberland Trio were part of the folk scene in the 1960s.
26 marzo - Sant'Emanuele
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
- According to Blue the in-flight magazine for Aegean Airlines 2008 has been declared the year of the Feta by the Greek Government! Greek cheese manufactures have been up in arms over the imitation feta coming out of Denmark, Holland and Germany the past few years. It’s a billion dollar industry worldwide so the financial stakes are high and Greek producers are worried about cheap imitations that pass themselves off as the real thing. Feta marketing is going into full swing in Greece and throughout Europe. The new EU safeguards on Feta labelling – wouldn’t you have loved to hear that resolution, no doubt defining percentage of water, salt and curd content, read onto the order paper – guarantee that within Europe only Greek Feta can bear the proud name. Look for the πραγματική ελληνική φέτα on the label.
- Yes we have recycling here in Rome and many of us collect our plastic, paper and other recyclables to put in the handy bins on the streets. The problem appears to be that the city forgets to collect them.
- I now feel that I have finally arrived in Rome. I have become a regular customer at a barber shop at the bottom of Via Nazionale. I first went there because it was close to the language school and open. There are two barbers – Walter, an older bespectacled gentleman with a trim goatee and an air of ownership, Mimo, a younger more casual gentleman with a permanent tan and an artful comb over – and Luisa, an extremely attractive full-figured lady, who does the manicures, scalp massages and general reception and clean-up.
I was made to feel welcome, despite a struggle with language, from the first time I walked in off the street. Mimo is my barber - Walter only deals with former Prime Minister Prodi, President Napolitano and the older long-time clients. But that’s fine because Mimo does an exceptional job with my fastly thinning hair. Luisa makes sure the nails are trimmed and glossy and gives the most relaxing scalp message immaginable. All the little formalities are observed – we shake hands on arrival and departures, health of my colleague (Laurent, who also goes there now) is always enquired after and the proper greetings and wishes for any approaching festival are exchanged. And we even have our little jokes about my bad Italian and Luisa’s emerging English.
The day before we left for Athens I noticed that is was “almost time to buy a violin” as my mother use to say. As we were going to opening night at the opera with Parsi on the Friday I felt a haircut was in order. I dropped into the barber shop to see if they could take me after school at 4:30 but Mimo was booked up from 2 until 6. Luisa did a bit of fiddling, some frowning, then told me to come back at 4:15 and sent me on my way with a cheery “a presto.” I arrived back at 4:15 and somehow someone had been pushed back, someone else had been pushed forward and I was cut, manicured and massaged.
When a man's barber does that for him, he knows he's arrived wherever he is.
- And a final sign from Athens. When Parsi took us to lunch in the newly redeveloped Gaz area we saw this sign on a building near the restaurant. Anyone want to guess what it is?
25 marzo - Annunciazione del Signore
Monday, March 24, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I'm not saying that this is a country of excess but.. underneath all the wrapping, silk flowers and butterflies are gigantic chocolate Easter Eggs. And yes, people do buy them!
*Happy Easter and good wishes to all.
23 marzo - Pasqua di Risurrezione
Of course the differences between the two rites extended far beyond the dates of Easter and are best left to theological minds. But this past month in visiting the 12th century Duomo in Spoleto, the 9th century Basilica of Santa Prassede in Rome and various churches in Athens I was struck by how close they were artistically in earlier times.
23 marzo - Pasqua di Risurrezione
Saturday, March 22, 2008
And they went, and found as he had said unto them; and they made ready the passover. And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
We were strolling near the Cathedral in Athens last Saturday around an area of shops that specialize in church adornments. When I saw this icon in a store window memories of Holy Week at my old Anglican parish in Toronto came flooding back and with them one name: Elizabeth Lemberger.
Elizabeth was an Austrian Jew who had converted to Anglicanism after her escape to England at the onset of the Anchluss. Alone at the end of the war she immigrated to Toronto and became part of an incredible parish family at St Thomas - Huron St. Every year after the Vigil and First Mass of Easter a group of us would gather in Elizabeth's cramped apartment over a laundromat on Bloor St for a Passover supper. She would prepare many of the traditional Seder dishes and a few recipes she remembered from her childhood to share with her extended parish family. For her it was a way of remembering and celebrating the faith of her birth and the faith it gave birth to and the family she lost with a family she had found.
It has been over 30 years since I sat at one of those dinners and 15 years now since I last saw her, we lost touch as I moved around the world. But as I looked at that icon last Saturday the memory of her ladling hot, savory, aromatic broth into a bowl of broken matzo was as vivid as though it were yesterday.
22 marzo - Sabato Santo
Friday, March 21, 2008
Four jobs I’ve had in my life:
Airline Employee (33 years) - Clerk, Customer Service Agent, Training Instructor, Project Manager
English Teacher to the Polish Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff
Web Editor of an English Language Business Paper in Poland
Security Screening Officer with the Government of Canada
Four Movies I Watch Over and Over Again
The Dead – a beautiful, simple, touching film - Walter Huston’s last based on the James Joyce short story
Raise the Red Lantern – a classic of the Chinese cinema with the incredibly beautiful Li Gong as a young girl brought into a merchant's household as the fourth wife.
Dumbo – What you ain't never seen an elephant fly?
Some Like It Hot – Well no body's perfect!
Four Places I Have Lived
Toronto, Canada – born and bred
Ottawa, Canada – home base for most of my adult life as I travelled around the world
Warsaw, Poland – our first real diplomatic post together, I was more a visitor in Mexico City, Amman, Cairo, Chicago and Beijing.
Rome, Italy – our current home
Four TV Shows I Watch
(We have 500 channels here – 100 in Arabic and 50 of those are for sex chat lines???? - and there is still nothing to watch)
The Simpsons (I Simpson)– you know its reruns when you can say the English dialogue over the Italian dubbing.
Ugly Betty – reruns on Fox here and we still don’t have this season yet!
Family Guy (I Griffin) – you know its reruns when you can say Italian dialogue over the original English
Law and Order: SVU – reruns but who bothers with dialogue when you can watch Chris Meloni or Mariska Hagerty for that matter.
Four Places I Have Visited
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
Aix-en Provence, France
Mount Sinai, Egypt
Okay I’m not bragging here but on one of those map programmes I’ve clocked up 195 cities visited, now mind you that includes a restaurant stop at St. Tite so maybe I should make that 194.
Four People Who E-Mail Me Regularly
Four Favourite Foods
Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
Roast Potatoes with Rosemary and Olive Oil
And yes I am Irish and yes there is a theme here!
Four Places I Would Like to Be Right Now
(Okay I’m going to cheat on this one and going to include places I'd like to be in the coming months)
In Punta Cana for our nephew Andrew and Jessica’s wedding in April
At Mount Tremblant for our friends Martin and Robert’s wedding in June
In my old garden, once the 52 cm of snow has disappeared, to watch things begin to grow
In Rome with Laurent – oh wait a minute I am but I honestly can’t think of a 4th place.
Four Things I Am Looking Forward to this Year
Our trip to Salzburg in May
Our trip to Venice and Vicenza in April
Maybe, just maybe, a trip to Malta
Celebrating our 30th anniversary in November.
Four People I'm Passing this on to:
21 marzo - Venerdi Santo
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
This number is taken from a wonderful collection called Primadonna on a Moose. Miss Fallis sings popular Canadian songs from 1840 to 1930 including Paddle Your Own Canoe, Oh What A Difference Since the Hydro Came and By the Banks of the Saskatchewan.
19 marzo - San Guiseppe
Here's his suggested treatment for the problem:
- Go for long walks and get more exercise.
I'm okay with that.
- Get more fiber in my diet - fruit and vegetables.
Love fruit, enjoy salads, cooked veggies - would rather leave them but...
- Some minor procedures should be performed that will improve things and avoid future problems.
I'm all for preventive medicine.
- Stay away from soft drinks.
Not a problem I've never really been a fan of pop - other than coke with my rum, which I don't drink anymore.
- Avoid drinking wine.
19 marzo - San Guiseppe
Monday, March 17, 2008
Thousands of people walk up this metal staircase on the Aeropagas at the Acropolis every day - but this little piece of green and yellow seems to be stronger than they are.
A crevice in a rock on the Acropolis that holds a few grains of earth and catches small pools of water is all this lovely little flower seems to need.
On a windswept promontory on the Aegean at Cape Sounion this plant took root in the ancient stones of the Temple of Poseidon.
17 marzo - San Patrizio
Sunday, March 16, 2008
In an e-mail I had mentioned that I would be in Athens this week and asked if anything operatic was on the books. Not only was Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) premiering Friday night but the great Greek Mezzo Agnes Baltsa would be singing the lead role of Isabella. And a friend of his had two extra tickets and if we would be interested..... Would we! Damn right!
I'll likely post a review later in the week - too much to see here to spend time in the hotel room blogging - but it was a great evening, spent with great people. And that would be Miss Baltsa taking a moment to pose with a fan at the opening night reception.
Thanks Parsi for including us in a wonderful evening. And remember Rome, Muti, Otello, December!
16 marzo - Delle Palme
Ok, let me help you with this:
1. An instrument maker
2. A box maker (who is called Menelaos, I suppose there must also be an Agamemnon around)
3. Just a bar
4. Just a bar (and a very trendy bar indeed).
5. A place where you can buy a kompoloi (its a string with little balls on it that you play in your hands, I know what you 're thinking, no!!! nothing sexual!!!).
6. A taverna with live music
7. A taverna without live music
As to number 5 I'm shocked he would even think that such thoughts would cross our minds. And Elizabeth, close but no cigar. Hmm I wonder what a cigar makers sign would look like?
16 marzo - Delle Palme
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Certainly the art of the shop sign is still being practiced along the various narrow streets and alley ways. Lettering is normally in Greek but normally the picture will tell you what the craft or speciality is. Though I must admit in a few cases here I’m totally mystified. (Scroll over a picture for a title.)
13 marzo - Santa Patrizia
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I don't recall how it happened but I tripped and 25 flight plans and I fell to the ground in an undignified pile. As I scrambled to collect the plans and my dignity a smoky accented voice asked: Are you okay, darling? Here let me help you. And a ring-laddened hand was proffered. I looked up into the most fascinating face I had ever seen in my young life. The halo of Carmel-coloured hair and a smile the like of which I have never seen again almost blinded me to an incredible pair of sparkling, laughing eyes. It was Merkouri. In a complete daze I know I must have turned a bright red as she helped me up, dusted me off and kissed my cheek. At that moment I was head over heels in love.
In fond memory of that moment, which I had forgotten about until a few days ago, and in celebration of our departure today for Athens here is the devine Melina singing Children Of Piraeus in Never On Sunday the movie that inspired Illya Darling.
Σας αγαπώ, Melina.
12 marzo - San Massimiliano
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Sunday morning we headed into Centro at around 1000 to meet our friends Walter & Robert and Larry & Vincenzo at Caravita, an English-language parish just near Piazza Venizia.
The Palazzo Rinuccini faces Venizia at the entrance to Corso, the main shopping street that joins Piazza Venizia to Piazza di Popolo, and was the residence of Maria-Letizia Ramolino Buonoparte, Napoleon's mother, after her son's fall. She lived there from 1815 until her death in 1836 at the age of 86. Much of her time, even after the onset of blindness, was spent on the green shuttered balcony overlooking the Piazza.
After mass we headed over to Il Barroccio on Via dei Pastini for a nice leisurely lunch: Cured meats and sausages, mozzarella, grilled eggplant and zucchini, a vegetable-chocked Rubatela, lamb stuffed pasta with a light fresh pea-studded sauce, a very good Sicilian red, a slice of confetti cake and a glass of amaro. And much laughter and a bit of carry-on.
After lunch we strolled down to see what was happening in Piazza della Rotonda and found the area around the Pantheon crowded with Sunday strollers and tour groups. There really doesn't appear to be an "off-season" for tourism these days in Rome. Next week, with the beginning of Holy Week, will be madness. I think we'll just avoid Centro or better yet get out of town.
And of course if your going to wear the uniform of the Polizia Municipale its always best to fashion accessorise with trendy red-framed glasses but do hide that cigarette in the palm of your hand just in case the Commissairio walks by.
When Pius VII had them proclaim his glory for restoring the Pantheon and major work on the Piazza, I'm not sure he was thinking of the Macdonald's that would be installed there two centuries later. He was the Pope who, though having been kidnapped and held for six year by the French, asked for better treatment for Napoleon on St. Helena. And he offered refuge in Rome to members of the Bonaparte family including Maria-Letizia. (I have to admit the Macdonald's sign is so unobtrusive that I missed it the first few times I was in the Piazza.)
If the crowds were bad at Rotondo the mob was worse at Giolitti, but service was quick, efficient and any wait was worth it.
What we were all after - the best gelato in Rome. Mine: a medio cornetto - half coffee-half pistachio. Larry's: the same but without the fattening cornetto! The world is a good place!
And to further prove that point the camellia tree outside the front door is in full bloom.
11 marzo - San Constantino