Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Year

It was one year ago yesterday that we arrived in Rome. So much has changed in that year and, as always, so much has remained the same. Even here in Rome, the centre of inconsistency, I've found consistencies.
Votice at a shrineI noticed yesterday that the votive candle in front of the shrine in our compound wall was almost burnt out - this morning there was a new one in its place. It burns night and day, unmolested, expressing someones cares, concerns or perhaps their thanks. I should think a bit more about that candle and a little bit less about the inconsistencies.

31 lulgio - St Ignacio di Loyola

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

If the name Ethel Waters means anything to most people today its for her appearances as a token ''coloured" singer with evangelist Billy Graham - normally singing His Eye is on the Sparrow. Her incredible career as Broadway, cabaret, radio, movie and television super star are largely forgotten. I don't know if she is ever mentioned during Black History Month but she should be. She was one of the great entertainers of her generation and paved the way for so many.

Ethel Waters Album CoverI remember seeing her in an episode of Route 66 (I had such a crush on George Maharis) called Goodnight Sweet Blues and within a day or two running out to buy a compilation album of songs she had made famous. The album cover (right) had a picture of her from As Thousands Cheer (she was the first black woman to appear in an otherwise all white Broadway big revue) and was chocked full of goodies: Heat Wave, Suppertime, Stormy Weather, Am I Blue and all the great numbers from Harold Arlen and Vernon Duke's Cabin in the Sky. When I went searching on YouTube I found that every one of the hits from the film version of that show - MGM wisely realized they couldn't replace Ethel - are up there.

This is one of my favorites - Taking a Chance on Love with Eddie ''Rochester'' Anderson and Pearl Bailey's younger brother Bill doing the moonwalk!

And here she is in 1952 singing what was to become her theme song. As Bernice Sadie Brown in The Member of the Wedding she's joined by a young Julie Harris and a very young Brandon De Wilde. The three had created their roles on Broadway to great acclaim and thank god somebody in Hollywood decided to preserve it on film.

Whither she was sing of her love of God or her love of a man (or woman) Ethel knew how to sing it!

30 lulgio - San Pietro Crisologo

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Quote ... Unquote"

I was remined by Ben Brantley's New York Times review of the London revival of Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden of the following exchange that ends the second act.

There has been some discussion about a trial involving a woman found guilty of murder who may well be the current Governess of Laurel, the disturbed teen-aged granddaughter of Mrs. St.Maugham.

Laurel: Was she hung?

Mrs. St.Maugham: Hanged, my darling, when speaking of a lady.
Now that's the way to end a second act!

20 lulgio - Santa Marta

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

Just last week Cowbell was talking about the bees under her deck. Though she did confess its more a stoop than a deck.

I had a really big deck but I sold it.

28 lulgio - San Nazario

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Feragosto - I

Feragosto is upon us. That time of year when Romans close up shop for the month and head off to the seashore or the mountains to escape the heat of August. Most businesses in our neighbourhood will be closed for the entire month - restaurants, pizzerias, gelaterias, tobacco shops, bars, clothing stores etc; only the supermarkets and the vegetable stand run by two Sri Lanka chaps (they never close)will be open for groceries.

The streets will be almost deserted except for a few cars and stray dogs. Sadly along with the golden tans and vacation snaps those dogs are part of the legacy of Feragosto.

This billboard has been appearing around town and can be translated as:

You have the choice?
Are you humane or inhumane.
Leave him with a relative. Leave him with a friend.
Leave him with a keeper. Leave him at a kennel.
But don't leave him in the street. Think about it!
It is a criminal offence to abandon an animal.

And as hard as it is to believe of a "civilized" country there are hundreds of reasons for these billboards wandering the streets in August.

To me it says a great deal about people here and none of it particularly good.

28 luglio - Santa Natalia

Friday, July 25, 2008

Laid to Rest

I enjoy cemeteries. Well its more like I enjoy visiting cemeteries. They can be among the more fascinating sights in a city: St. Peter's in Salzburg, Pére Lachaise and Montparnasse in Paris, Highgate in London, San Michele in Venice, Mt. Pleasant in Toronto, local parish churches around Southwestern Ontario. They record much of the history of a place and a culture and more often than not they are pleasant places with old growth trees, shrubbery and flowers - wild and cultivated. They can often be an oasis of quiet in the centre of a busy city. Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma (the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome) is very much of that nature. When we were there last Saturday a few families were picnicking on the grass in the shadow of the Pyramide in the Zona Antica, several pair of lovers were doing what lovers do in a park and a small group of Italian students were sitting in a circle having a heated discussion on the troubles of the world. Outside the walls the sun beat down on the pavement, motorinos horneted by and cars rumbled on the cobblestones but inside it was cool, peaceful and calm.

The first person buried in the area of Porto San Paolo was in the 1st century BC when Caius Cestius was laid to rest in the Pyramid he had ordered built as his tomb. If the inscription on the tomb is to be believe it only took 330 days to erect this rather grandiose memorial to a man who history remembers only for his command that it be constructed. And the only reason his tomb is still extent was that with good Roman logic it was easier, faster and cheaper to incorporate it into the Aurelian Walls, built to enclose the city, than to tear it down.

Prior to the Papal authorities giving permission for non-Catholics to be buried in the “unconsecrated” ground near the Cestius Pyramid – at the time an area known for its less than sterling reputation – its believed that non-Catholics were buried in unmarked graves near Piazza Flaminia along with the Roman prostitutes. The first person known to be buried in what became il Cimitero Acattolico was an Oxford scholar named Langton who died in 1738 at the age of 25. In the 270 years since some 4000 persons have been laid to rest – some famous: Keats, Shelley, Severn; some infamous: Gramsci, Jussupoff; others simply ex-patriots who died while living in Rome or Italy.
Print of a nightime funeral.Non-Catholics were not allowed to bury their dead during the daytime. The purpose was two fold - not to provoke the local populace, who often reacted violently to "heretic" burials and to protect the mourners from the curious. Often armed guards where required to stop attacks on funeral parties.

The glorious jumble of monuments in the cemetery proper included everything from the simple recording of dates on a stone slab to elaborate mausoleums and gravestones with what seems to be the life history of the deceased. Inscription
The history of the cemetery - so often threatened by Papal and city authorities - is as fascinating as the people buried there. Much of what I've learned (and the two items I've posted here) come from a guide published by the Cimitero Administration and sold in their Visitors' Centre. I mention the Centre because it is entirely staffed by volunteers and once I stop working I've decided to volunteer to work with them. It will give me a chance to practice my Italian, do a bit more exploring and be a small part of the history of Rome.

For a look inside the Cemetery click on the entrance gate:
To a slideshow (The interval time can be adjust to allow time to read the captions)

And I wasn't surprised to see that I Gatti della Piramide (The Cats of the Pyramid) have their own website.

26 lulgio - Sant'Anna e Giocemo

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Around Pyramide

Laurent and I are starting to take those little jaunts around Roma that we always said we would. Last Saturday was sunny but pleasant - not the extreme heat we'd been having the past week or two - and once marketing was out of the way the perfect day to get out. For some reason I choose the Pyramide area as our destination - not that I knew what was there other than a pyramid but it sound like a good place to go.
Serendipity (serendipità) was our friend once more - we found a pleasant trattoria to have lunch, the Pyramid of Cestius, Porto San Paolo and best of all the Cimiterio Acattolicco or Non-Catholic Cemetery built into the Auralien Walls at the Porta. Our arrival at the Pyramide Metro Station took us past the Stazione Ostiense - the town terminus for the electric train that goes out to the old port of Ostia with its popular beaches.
Though built in to a standard station design the interior reflects the nautical nature of its destination. Walls are a sand colour and golden crabs adorn the cornices and picture rails. But best of all some artist of no great talent adorned the walls with oceanic scenes of almost hysterical banality.
I'm really not sure what Neptune is doing with the dolphin or what that is lapping around crotch level. But in either case, whatever it is, it can't be natural, can it?????
(Double click for a closer look)

This poor nymph is either upset at being caught in the net or has come to the sudden realization that these two guys are headed for the gay end of the beach. Which ever, she doesn't look too pleased with the outcome.
(Double click for a closer look)

Well I guess we can't all be Raphael!
24 luglio - Santa Christina

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

The first time I went to Laurent's apartment for dinner he put on a recording - I'm not sure but he might have bought it for the occasion as he knew I liked classical music - it was the incredible Janet Baker singing Berlioz's Les Nuits d'éte (The Nights of Summer.)

Now it just happens that IMHO Dame Janet was one of the greatest singers of the late 20th century. I first heard her back in 1970 at the Glyndebourne Festival in Cavalli's La Calisto a performance that I treasure to this day. I believe at one time I owned every recording she ever made and was fortunate enough to see her in concert and on stage in some of her finest performances.

In this 1972 concert she sings my favorite of the Berlioz settings of the words of Theophile Gautier: Le Spectre de la Rose (The Spirit of the Rose.)

Open your closed lids
that a virginal dream lightly brushes.
I am the spectre of a rose
you wore at the ball last eve.
You took me still pearly
with the watering-pots silvery tears
and about the starry gathering
carried me all the night.

Oh, you, who caused my death,
powerless to banish it,
my rosy spirit every night
will come to dance by your bedside.
But do not be afraid - I demand
neither mass nor De profundis.
This fragile perfume is my soul
and I come from paradise.

My lot was to be envied,
and to have so beautiful a fate
many a one would have rendered up his life -
for my grave is on your breast
and on the alabaster where I lie at rest
with a kiss a poet
has written:
'Here lies a rose
that every king will envy.'

In a way I still think of this as one of our songs.

23 lulgio - Santa Brigida

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paper - II

First off, many thanks to all our friends who sent e-mails and left comments – mille grazie carini!

We hadn’t planned anything special for our anniversary, though we were married last year we’ve been together since 1978 so the big celebration will be for our 30th on November 23. However as always here in Rome, serendipity stepped in: our friends Robert and Walter gave us a call to ask what we were doing. They are back in town between a business trip to London and a vacation trip to Budapest and this would be our only chance to see them until mid-August. So dinner was proposed and gladly accepted.

We headed downtown to meet them at one of their favourite Enotecha (wine bar/store) Il Vinaietto di Marco e Giancarlo in the Largo Argentino area. As we approached the shop a sudden yelp that could only come from a stepped on daschie (we use to hear that sound occasionally) assailed our ears. “Oh that’s Freda, you’ll meet her,” Walter said. And meet Freda we did. She’s not quite a foot tall, has a lovely shiny black coat and soulful black eyes that just tell you that no one has ever petted or looked after her in her life - I swear daschies learn that look at their mother's teats. She owns the place and Giancarlo and Marco run it for her comfort and entertainment. Patrizia, a full-figured Mexican lady, is nominally Freda’s owner, as if a daschie could ever be owned!

The shop itself is a hole-in-the-wall that has recently been extended through to the hole-in-the-wall next door. No elaborate displays of gilded grapes and coloured pastas - just shelves of wines, a stand up bar and a few high bistro tables with stools. Robert first went there almost 20 years ago so its been a neighbourhood fixture for a good while. Clients are mostly locals and everything was done with an air of jovial familiarity. As bottles are emptied they are pitched, with a resounding tinkle, into large bin at the end of the bar. A few friends stood joking at the bar, people wandered in for a refill and then back out onto the street to enjoy their wine and a cigarette. Yes smoking is forbidden in Italian restaurants and bars - which is why terraces are so popular. In one corner a besandeled gentleman sat on a step-stool enjoying a glass of red while he read his novel - another gentleman came in to have two plastic bottles filled with wine obviously intended for the home dinner table. It was friendly, quirky and fun. And the wine - yes I fall off the wagon on occasion and this was an occasion - was a pleasant white from Sardegna.

After a few more tummy rubs for a poor neglected Freda, we headed off to a traditional Roman trattoria where Robert and Walter have been eating for some time. Da Sergio alle Grotte is just off Campo di Fiori but again is aimed at locals in the area. A mixed antipasti platter, a shared linguine with mushrooms, veal steak with salad and a black current tart made for a more than reasonable anniversary dinner.

As we strolled back into the Largo to catch our bus we passed a gelateria advertising Mint and Celery gelato - though the combination was intriguing none of us were up to gelato at this point. Guess it means a trip back to see Freda and try that gelato.

22 lulgio - Santa Maria Magdelena

Monday, July 21, 2008


According to the table of Anniversaries the first year is Paper. Which means that sometime today I should be giving Laurent something in paper - we work in the same office so I'm just wondering if a file would count????

Happy Anniversary

21 lulgio - San Prassede

Lunedi Lunacy

"Italy is Democratic Repbulic, founded by a nation of workers....."*

We just won't use this guy as an example.

*A free translation of the first paragraph of the Italian Constitution of January 1, 1948.

21 luglio - San Prassede

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Miracolo! Miracolo!

Two months ago I was moaning the fact that my hibiscus had not survived the winter and had it not been potted with another plant would probably have sent it to the garbage hopper.
Hibiscus morta
This morning when I went out to water the plants:
Hibiscus shoots
Hibiscus shoots
Old Mom Nature is incredible.

20 lulgio - San Elia Profeta

Frutta Fesca

This morning when I walked down the hall to the kitchen the mingled scents of peaches and melon were filling the air.
Fresh Fruit

20 lulgio - San Elia profeta

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Orimpics You Say?

Just think if Laurent had stayed in Beijing we could be part of the Olympic celebrations starting next month - oh joy!

The Chinese government has spent an Emperor's ransom to ensure that these will be the greatest games in the history of the Olympics. But are they really ready?

I haven't found a way of posting this without the 4 second slide show so for a longer look: hit the pause icon and then forward arrow to see each photo or a double click will take you to the album.

And thanks to my friend Naomi for sending me these photos from the Chinglish pages of Engrish, a hysterical look at fractured English at its most creative.

19 lulgio - San Simmaco Papa

Friday, July 18, 2008

Miss Jones, There's a Conflict in My Schedule

Okay I've got a real schedule conflict on May 30, 2009. We have tickets for two concerts that day at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival and its also the last night of our regular subscription at Accademia di Santa Cecilia. MAY 30, 2009!!!!!

The fact that I know about this conflict already scares the hell out of me. I've never planned my life that far in advance in the past sixt fift few years. Six months or so sure but I bought those Salzburg tickets as the 2008 Whitsun Festival was coming to an end - one year before the event - one friggin' year. I mean how the hell do I know if I'll still be in Italy in May 2009 or alive for that matter. Of course optimism is the best approach to this sort of thing but one year in advance?????

So why not buy tickets to events closer to the dates? Well there are two good reasons for that:
  1. Often the things we want to go to sell out very quickly or at least the good seats do. Example: the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, on June 22 the best we could do for a performance on August 22 were two high stool seats in the back row of a third tier box, actually two separate boxes.
  2. If we don't take subscriptions to things we talk about going and then when we finally decided find out it was two days ago.
So last night I sat down with our kitchen calenders (2008 and 2009 - yes we have that one already) and marked down dates. Keeping in mind that the tickets for next year's opera season will go on sale in November so at that point we'll have plans through to December 2009.

I'm just being optimistic!

18 lulgio - San Frederico

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ultimate 419

We've all received them - those e-mails from Nigeria or Ghana telling us about the plight of the widow/brother/son of an ex-government official who has fallen on hard times. But if only you - through God's grace and your Christian love (tough luck if your a Buddhist or Muslim I guess) - will help all will be made right. He/she has not just a million but a hundred million dollars that nobody but little old you can help him/her/it spirit out of their war-torn, corrupt, godless country. And for this help you will receive not 5, not 10, not 15 but 20% of those hard gotten millions.

Its difficult to believe that people give credence to any of these scams but I guess greed clouds judgment more than I realize - otherwise they wouldn't still be popping up every so often. But I have to admit this one that showed up in Laurent's colleague Remo's e-mails has to be one of the most original 419 scams I've every read. 419 Scam
A bit of research indicates that it may have been created as a spoof of 419 e-mails and if it is kudos to the creator. If not, anyone want to contribute to get the poor SOB back to his loved ones while he's still in good humour?

17 lulgio - San Alessio Confessitore

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

After my little poke at Bollywood earlier this week I sat and watched one of my favorite movies: Monsoon Wedding.

Tracing the two days before and day of the wedding of a modern couple who are in a traditional arranged marriage, director Mira Nair celebrates family warts and all. Despite various problems and situations in the end family and friends join in a joyous dance that even the pounding rain of a monsoon cannot dampen.

I recall when I first saw it at the cinema I came out on a high and I still get it everytime I watch it here at home.

16 lulgio - Nostra Signora di Carmello

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And Puppy Dogs' Tales

A Trento Teikel
I mentioned a bit earlier that we were seriously thinking about getting another dog. I mean we all knew that eventually the subject of another dog would come up seriously but every time it has in the last little while I simply said Nope! I've had a hard time dealing with the loss of our Reesieman - to the point that in May when I saw this handsome fellow in Trento I almost lost it. The owner must have thought I was crazy but after fussing over him I asked if I could take a picture. And I'm not too sure the pup was all that impressed either.

Then we were at our friends Linda and Nazareno's place outside of Rome on Saturday and I met Pablo. Pablo isn't really their dog but I don't think either he or Nazareno know that. Theoretically he belongs to the very nice couple next door but a year or two ago they got some sort of little lap dog who took over the house. Pablo now spends more time with Nazareno than with his "owners." Pablo discovered that I was willing to give pats, belly rubs and chin scratches so I became the second most important human in the place. And it felt great, and right, to be eating dinner with one hand and rubbing a puppy - even a big overgrown puppy - tummy with the other.

Rama's boyRama's boyRama and his boyRama's boy
Then my friend Yannis in Athens goes and posts these pictures of his whippet Rama's new pup. Rama sired this gorgeous little boy who must be about 6 weeks old now. He was the only pup in the litter, which I found strange but apparantly does happen. Rama doesn't seem all that impressed with his handwork but I sure am. That is one handsome pup and the colouring and markings are beautiful. And those eyes!!!

All that to say that once we get the summer over with - its going to be full with visitors and travel, not the best atmosphere for introducing a dog into a house - we're going to be looking for a puppy to adopt us.

15 lulgio - San Bonaventura

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

I had a bit of a Bollywood theme going there last week and was reminded of a music video I saw a year or more ago. Buffalax takes non-English music videos and adds subtitles not with translations but transliterations. The results of what he thinks he hears are sometimes hysterical. And its nice to see that the North American industry doesn't have a monopoly on mindless music videos.

Of course being a Canadian I worried about the "political correctness" of posting this - because that's what Canadians spend most of their time doing: worrying about political correctness, okay that and the weather. And being Canadian I'm falling all over myself in advance with apologies, breast-beating and mea colpaing but I still think its funny.

14 lulgio - San Camillo de Lellis

Saturday, July 12, 2008

He's It's Hot

Its been a real scorching few weeks here and the long range says the next two months will be more of the same. Since the second week in June temperatures have been averaging 35-36 with not a cloud in sight. Actually I lie, there has been the odd cloud but not a rain drop in sight. And though I've been doing my bit to conserve water (using the water from the air conditioning - turned low to save energy - to water the plants)- the public water taps are still running freely, as they have done since the First Republic. Romans take that as their entitlement - though the high calcium content of the otherwise pure water could account for the number of people with kidney stones.

Reading my friend EG this week I realized how much water we do drink here. We'll go through a 1.5 bottle between the two of us at dinner, the same at lunch. And if there's a large group for a meal its not unusual to go through five or six bottles. Of course where water is concerned there are two schools - correction three: frizante, naturale and legemente frizante. We're a frizante family ourselves though its funny how in most restaurants the minute the waiters hear our fractured Italian assume we'll have naturale.

Now you may have noticed that Roberto Bolle ad at the top of the post - it is not there for the lascivious reasons you first assumed and I am frankly offended that you would think that of me. Not at all - Robertolicious is the spokesperson for one of the many brands of water available here. And my good friend Opera Chic, in the spirit of civic duty, brought the new television ad campaign to our attention. A click on the ad above will take you to her posting and 90 seconds of Tchaikovsky, dancing, water and Roberto.

Is it me or is it getting hotter in here?

12 lulgio - San Gaulberto

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dite il pomodoro ... Detto il pomodoro*

Roma equals Tomato
Yesterday's page from the Italian Notebook was all about my favorite food of all time - tomatoes.

Yes I love tomatoes more than I do potatoes... what is it with those "-toes" words? There's nothing as wonderful as a fresh tomato tasting of sunshine and the earth - all it needs is a sprinkling of salt or maybe at the most a light bathing of balsamic vinegar. Not one of those woody-cotton-bally things that's travelled half-way around the world in cold storage but one fresh from a local farm much like what's showing up in markets around Rome at the moment. According to GB at IN he counted 19 different types in his local market yesterday and I saw 6 or 7 in our market on Via Libia. Wikapedia lists at the least 70 different varieties, but even they admit that their compilation is incomplete.

And tomatoes are just the start at this time of year. My friend Larry over at Amoroma (that Roma sign at the top is from one of his postings) and I arrived in Roma and started writing about our lives here at roughly the same time. And one of the first things that we both noticed was the variety and the seasonality of things in the market. In April it was artichokes, May and June there were sweet dark cherries and plumb green figs and from now until October its tomatoes!!!!!

Larry's perspective on Rome is different from mine - his partner Vin is Italian and they live in an neighbourhood not often frequented by non-locals. As a result he - and his digital - often catches things that most straneri (outsiders - that would be me) miss. Recently he let us share in a few of the festivities that make their neighbourhood of Garbatella so enchanting. And he also shares his "bird walks," the trips he and Vin take around Italy as well as school outings and just random strolls around town. And last December he created a wonderful on-line Advent Calender that each day revealed another window of Rome. As early as February he was gathering windows for this year's edition.

He and Vin have just come back from a few weeks in Umbria and, I'm so envious, will be heading down to Sicily in the next week or so. Larry shared their Christmas there with us and I'm looking forward to his posts as they tour around the island. Buona vacanza ragazzi!

Meanwhile at lunch I'm heading over to the market near the office to pick up a few tomatoes and a hunk of mozzarella for lunch.

* You say tomahto and I say tomatto - oh let's call the whole thing off, some things just don't translate!

11 luglio - San Benedetto Abate

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Open Wide!

I finally had dental surgery yesterday to remove a cracked wisdom tooth that I should have had looked after two years ago. Unfortunately I'm one of those people that only thinks about a toothache when there's pain, if that disappears I forget about it. And its not that I'm afraid of dentists, I've been known to fall asleep in the dentist's chair, I'm just one of those "out of pain, out of mind" people.

My dentist is German, a tall, gray-haired handsome older man with a great chair side manner; his staff are charming and friendly even when giving me totally incomprehensible instructions in Italian. Yes, we resorted to some rather strange looking pantomine when X-rays were being taken. The good Herr Doktor assured me he was good at two things: flying helicopters and removing teeth. I had heard about the first talent from friends - apparently he's flown around the world - but wasn't about to put that skill to the test. But now I can avow to his second accomplishment, I honestly didn't feel a thing during the surgery and it was over before I knew it. I didn't even have time to fall asleep.

You'll notice I said during the surgery - it was once the freezing came out that I started doing my Jerry Lewis impersonation. So here I sit on my bed (well actually its a home office chair)of pain and anguish, chocked full of anti-biotics (oh yes it had reached the inflammation stage before I did anything about it) and painkillers trying to focus on the keyboard, have breakfast and get ready for work - multitasking's a breeze when you high on ketorolac tromentamina. I'll try and keep the pathetic whimpering down so as not to disturb my colleagues at work but I can't guarantee I won't burst out crying when I see the Herr Doktor's bill later today!

10 lulgio - Santa Felicita ed i suoi sette figli

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

When he posted that old Pete Seeger number "Inch by Inch, Row by Row" last Friday Sling got me to thinking - a dangerous thing at the best of times. I realized how often the analogy of a garden appears in world literature and cultures. It's often equated to Paradise - sometimes a perfumed bower of roses, other times a place filled with plentiousness or sometimes just a simple plot of land. But a garden and gardening has grown to represent what is harmonious and good in life.

In his satiric novella Candide, Voltaire ends his hero's optimistic foray into the world with the recognition that the sole philosophy he and his friends can live by is to build shelter, bring warmth to the home, put daily bread on the table and cultivate the land.

When Lillian Hellman, John LaTouche and Leonard Bernstein transferred Voltaire's tale to the Broadway stage their Candide was a box office flop but the music was always highly regarded. Seventeen years later it was to become a success with a rewritten book and a revised score and has since been produced both as an operetta and a musical more than any other Bernstein piece with the possible exception of West Side Story.

Bernstein's operetta ends with Candide, his foolish love Cunegunde and their friends deciding that, like their counter parts in Voltaire's novella, they must simply "Make Our Garden Grow."

I'm afraid the one really good version that's up on YouTube has dreadful sound but here is a reasonable performance by the late Jerry Hadley (who sadly took his life last year) and Renée Flemming (before she became Rennaaay)from a Lincoln Centre performance. Things go a bit astray at the end but it still has an impact.

We’re neither pure nor wise nor good
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.
And make our garden grow.

09 luglio - Santa Veronica

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

And This Just Off the Newswire

Just after I put the previous post up this morning I was paging through the New York Times Online and what do I find:

A Private Dance? Four Million Web Fans Say No!

An article about the wonderful video Sageweb had posted and Matt Harding, the man who created it. The guy's a star in my book for creating so much joy around the world. Would that there were more!

08 lulgio - San Adriano


Its been a while since I've shared some of the riches out there from my blog buddies and its about time I did. And here's a few pictures of Spoleto from our weekend in Feburary (and a few from the past weekend) that have been hanging around that I've meant to share but some how never got around to posting.
Death Notices - SpoletoThe tradition of posting death notices on billboards, expressly there for that purpose, still exsists in smaller towns in Italy. This was one of the boards in Spoleto last Sunday.

  • Over at Big Ass Belle, Lynette enjoys the first tomato from her garden and in the process makes me so homesick for a Bacon and Tomato sandwich. The tomatoes we get here are fantastic its getting the North American style bacon that's the problem.

I'm pretty sure almost every Umbrian hill down has its Boca fountain. Spoleto is no exception however this one is build into the first wall surrounding the Rocca castle. It was probably originally fed from the castle cistern.

  • I'm not sure why but this posting from Sageweb had me laughing and shedding a few tears too. It can't be menopausal, I'm not on any drugs and I wasn't hung over. Maybe just a happy high?

The ceramics in this area are colourful and though expensive can be an attractive addition to that small hillside villa we all want to buy. The best we could do were two ornaments to add to this year's Christmas tree.

  • Since May, maybe earlier, Speck has been sharing her Hot Dog cartoons with us. I have to admit that Francine is my favorite but here's a few of them for you to relish! Sorry I just had to.

I'm not sure that security is really a big issue in Spoleto but this palazzo owner wasn't taking any chances - and admittedly the window is almost level with the pavement.

  • Lorraine reminds us that last Friday was the 232nd anniversary of the official birth of the United States; and she makes some observations on the documents that define America. And if you scoll on down she lets us share on her road trip with the Child and Auld Hat to visit our friend Sling.

The shops in Spoleto tend to the trendy, the elegant and the expensive. And they do know how to display things.

  • And speaking of Sling he posted an old Pete Seager number that had me singing along and remembering my brother on guitar singing tenor, my sister-in-law doing alto and me mostly off-key boy soprano. Goodnight Irene anyone?

And again speaking of Sing, when I see woodworking like this - the choir stalls at the Duomo in Spoleto - I am reminded of postings he done about the work he and his colleagues do as cabinet makers.

  • The talented and witty Hat takes an aphronism from Mark Twain that is not one of his better know - but it should be - and gives it an artistic and philisophical twist.

The goodies that are available in stores like this are incredible - pastas, meats, condiments, wines - everything need to make a great meal.

08 lulgio - San Adriano

Monday, July 07, 2008

Colour Me Envious

Though I do tend to focus on opera in my postings, a glance at my Mercoledi Musicale on Wednesdays does reveal a slightly wider musical interest. Admittedly my taste runs mostly to the vocal but classical, church, jazz, blue grass, country, pop, rock-a-billy and folk have all been part of my musical education. I do draw the line at later rock and heavy metal - yeah I know I'm an old foggy!

I can thank my brother for my love of folk music; he had a five-string banjo and played it at church socials, corn roasts, strawberry socials and family gatherings - sometimes whither they wanted him to or not. And I remember him taking me down to Massey Hall in Toronto to see the Weavers (after Peter Seeger had left the group) when I was around 8 or 9. Very early on I learned Seeger, Woody Guthrie and The Weavers songs and can still remember most of the words if not the harmonies.

I was reading the Toronto Star online this morning and came across a review for this concert. The chance to hear an American legend, the performers he's nurturing to carry on the tradition of folk and Sylvia Tyson coming out of the audience to do harmony. Folk don't get much better than that... and I'm so damned envious.

07 lulgio - San Claudio

Lunedi Lunacy

Bundnie in the sun - WarsawJerry, the star of this video, looks so much like our first daschie, Bundnie (its an Arabic name - we got her in Cairo) and enjoys playing catch as much as she did. Bundnie loved sitting at the top of the stairs and having the ball thrown up to her; then she'd toy with you for a while before letting it bounce back down. And she very seldom missed, I on the other hand ...!

Did I mention we were thinking of getting a dog?

07 lulgio - San Claudio

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Elephants and Tiger and Tenors... Oh My - Part III

Before the curtainWell its only taken me three posts and one week to get to the reason for our jaunt up to Spoleto: Padmâvatî. French composer Albert Roussel wrote the work after he and his wife had returned from a long honeymoon voyage to India. He was fascinated with the culture, mythology and music of the Sub-Continent and when he received a commission for an opera decided to adapt a well-known 13th century Indian legend to the stage. Reverting to opera-ballet in the tradition of Lully, Campra and Charpentier, Roussel and librettist Louis Laloy tell the story of Padmâvatî the beautiful wife of Raj Ratan-sen of Chitor. Having been struck by her beauty the Sultan Alloudin demands she be given to him or he will sack the city and massacre its people. When Ratan-sen returns from battle wounded and defeated rather face dishonour Padmâvatî kills him and commits suttee on his funeral bier.

I have to admit I am not familiar with a good deal of Roussel's compositions and that 20th century French music is not really my thing. But as I said before I just couldn't let the opportunity to hear a much discussed but rarely performed work pass. Rarely performed because, though a brief 100 minutes, it demands a large orchestra, full chorus, corps de ballet, a conductor familiar with the French style, eleven soloists and, if it is to make its full effect, a level of production that most opera houses can't afford these days.

Spoleto logoSo how did the renewed Spoleto Festival do on those counts. To address the last requirement first - they imported the production lock, stock, 450 costumes, enormous sets and menagerie from the Théâtre du Châtelet. Staged by Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, it was sumptuously costumed and set by Omung Kumar Bhandula and Rajesh Pratap Singh. Walls rose and fell, smoke billowed, candle lit processions lead by Elephant head gods wended their way through the audience and across the stage, flower petals fell and the heroine and her husband found their apotheosis in a sunlit sky. Was it over-the-top as a few critics have claimed? Damn right! But how else do you stage an opera-ballet of this nature? And it worked marvelously as theatre!

Shiva dancesThe Châtelet chorus, a major element in Roussel's writing, was nothing short of stupendous - whither wordless accompanying Padmavati's preperations for suttee, hymning Shiva or issuing war cries they were a major strength. The Prague National Symphony Orchestra played under the impassioned Emmanuel Villaume who drew all the drama out of Roussel's dense score while not quite avoiding some of the bombast. The dancers - a troupe of 20 from India - performed Tanusree Shankar's interesting mix of modern and traditional Indian dance movements faultlessly.

Padmâvatî commits sutteeThe lead singers were all new to the production and it seemed to me at a bit of a disadvantage. Not only where they competing with a grandiose production but given the brevity of the work there was no great opportunity for development. Alessia Nadin in her lovely brief introducion of Padmavati before she removes her veil and Philippe Do as the typically French high-tenor Brahmn showed to best advantage. John Bellemer's Ratan-sen was colourless both vocally and dramatically and Giorgio Surlan as Allouddin blustered effectively as I've seen him do on several occasions. It must have been hard to live up to that entrance on elephant back.

Padmâvatî laments the fate of her homeland.Though Padmâvatî is a brief role - 35 minutes of singing apparantly - it is an intense one. Nicole Piccolomini delivered all the required passion and intensity though I felt her finest moment was in the quiet lament that ended the first act. Hers is a voice more contralto than mezzo if perhaps lacking some of the velvet associated with that, now, rare type of voice. It was an impressive Italian debut and I'm looking forward to hearing more of her though it appears Berlin is home base for the moment.

The entrance of the Sultan And that menagerie I've been talking about for almost a week now? The horse brought on a rather nervous messenger to deliver news of the Sultan's advance; the elephant paraded in, knelt to deposit Alloudin in midstage, trumpeted and sauntered off; the tiger was paraded across the back of the stage as the suttee preparations began. None of it had much to do with the opera but it all added to the spectacle.

And I think that is the only way Padmâvatî can be enjoyed - as a spectacle musically, visually and dramatically. On those counts Spoleto had a winner. And Betty Jean got her elephant!
Curtain callCurtain call
The obviously happy cast received at least 15 curtain calls from a responsive and pleased audience - count Betty Jean and I as part of that group.

Production photos by Marie-Noëlle Robert for Théâtre du Châtelet.

06 lulgio - Santa Maria Goretti

Saturday, July 05, 2008

My First Italian Mash Note

We were having dinner last night at La Baie Sardinia just around the corner from us. Its a wonderful family run restaurant with an owner/waitress who reminds me of Anna Magnani with a sense of haha. She's charming, personable and emotes so expressively that you just know what she's talking about even when you don't. And the food is remarkable - a seafood antipasti of mussels, popcorn shrimp, dressed sardines, salmon, octopus, squid and garlic-mayonnaise white fish that has to be tasted to be believed. And the shrimp, zucchini, white truffle spaghetti is nirvana. And on a steamy Roman evening when you can finish off with Sardinian sweets and a wonderful sweet-bitter green apple sorbetto you know that all is right with the world despite what's happened at work during the week.

But I digress, as we sat chatting with Lorraine and John I heard a little giggle and this note was left beside me:
Eva's mash note
There was good-natured laughter from the table behind us - a family gathering of 7 or 8 - and there was Eva. Eva was probably 6 or 7, long dark curls and big brown eyes. She was giggling nervously at her mere audacity as only a child can do. When I spoke to her it was all downcast eyes and embarrassed smiles.

When we left we said buono sera to the table - as you do here when you've been in the same room as people enjoying dinner - and a special ciao to Eva. She was still embarrassed but as we left turned and shyly waved.

Yeah, everything is definately right with the world - or at least our little neighbourhood of Africano.

05 luglio - San Antonio Maria Zaccaria

Friday, July 04, 2008

Elephants, Tigers and Tenors! Oh My!!!! - Part II

Duomo and Rocca - Spoleto
So there I am last Thursday reading Opera Chic – the many armed Goddess of Opera on the Internet – and I come across this post about the Spoleto Festival. Laurent and I enjoyed a weekend in Spoleto during the winter and knew that the famous Festival di due Mondi was in question for this year – frankly I had given up looking at the website. After Gian Carlo Menotti’s death last year things had been left in disarray and a typically Italian battle was going on for control of the once prestigious festival. Then OC goes and posts about a production of Albert Roussel’s often discussed by seldom seen Padmâvatrî - and its star the young American contralto Nicola Piccolomini - that opened the Festival last Friday.

That got me thinking – and when I start thinking after visiting OC that normally means I end up travelling and spending money – we had a few things planned for the weekend but they could be worked around the second performance on Sunday afternoon. Friday night we were having dinner at a great little Thai restaurant in our neighbourhood and I mentioned it to my friend Betty Jean. When I promised her an elephant on stage she offered to drive with me.

So after dithering for a day I decided I had to grasp this opportunity – when would I ever get to see Padmâvatrî, an Elephant, a Tiger, a Horse, gorgeous costumes from India and an up and coming young contralto – a species as rare as white tigers – all in one shot?

Sunday morning Betty Jean and I headed up, its only a little under two hours by car, had lunch at the newest addition to Il Gambero Rosso in the area, the wonderful La Pecchiarda - Eggplant Parmesan, Roast Lamb, rosemary roast potatoes, a glass of the house white (yes I fall off the wagon on occasion) and a honey melon for dolce and all for next to nothing. Until you get out of Rome you tend to forget how expensive a city it is.
Garden of La PeechiardaFood things!
We sat in their garden enjoying the sunshine then wandered around town – I had forgotten how steep those hills can be, particularly in the blazing sun - stopping in at the Duomo and the odd shop here or there.
The Horse, of course!
As we were walking towards the Teatro Nuovo we came across one of the stars of the opera having a bath in the middle of a side street – not a common sight but he didn’t seem too upset when we took his picture. Unlike the elephant, who was an French import, this guy was a local who was having his day in the spotlight.

Auditorium of the Teatro NuovoProscenium arch - Teatro Nuovo
It seems that every town in Italy has a theatre like the Nuova – the standard 18th century opera house with poltroni (ground floor seats,) several levels of palchi (boxes) and at least one if not two galleries for those short on cash and not afraid of heights. In a rather charming touch the proscenium clock in Spoleto only shows the correct time twice a day – it appears to have stopped at 5:45.

Roussel's piece of orientalizm hasn't been heard in Italy since the 1970s and Italian opera goers are not known to be terribly responsive to the unfamiliar so it came as no surprise that the house was about two-thirds full. Fortunately it was an appreciative audience and there was much to appreciate, and I'll write more about that in the next posting later today.

04 lulgio - San Odo

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

Still in the afterglow of a good Canada Day celebration, what could be more Canadian than K. D. Lang singing Leonard Cohen? Okay K. D. Lang singing Neil Young but maybe that will wait for another Wednesday.

This is one of many covers of K. D. doing this Cohen masterpiece on YouTube. There are purer more musical one's out there but this performance in September 2007 at the Elton John AIDS Benefit is surely one her most emotional. If that last Hallelujah doesn't give you shivers you're made of stone.

02 lulgio - San Ottone

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


We'll be celebrating Canada Day here in Rome in much the manner we would at home - perhaps minus the fireworks but you never can tell there seem to be fireworks somewhere in the city every evening these days. We'll be gathering on the grounds of our Embassy as family,friends and colleagues to celebrate our country.

And if we can't find any fireworks around town maybe I'll just set off my own display by going to this nifty site that I've used to bring a little bit of feux d'artifice and noise into my life when needed.

To all my friends back home in Canada - Happy Canada Day! Bonne fête Canada!

01 lulgio - La festa del Canada

Il Ciclo di Mesi - Luglio

Cycle of the Months - July
In Prince Archbishop Georg von Liechtenstein's world (1400)during the heat of July the nobles besported themselves in a cool grove beside a stream. The peasants, however, continue to toil under the hot sun.

01 luglio - San Secondino