Friday, January 30, 2009

Napoli Bound

We're heading down to Napoli for the weekend - only 1 hr and 21 minutes from Roma on the high speed. It will be a few days of opera (Peter Grimes at San Carlo), museum visiting (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli)), sight seeing (Palazzo Reale and Herculaneum) and eating (Ciro a Santa Brigida if we can get got a reservation.)

And to celebrate, here (from Love Me Forever in 1937) is the great American soprano Grace Moore singing what is arguably the most famous Neapolitan song of all time: Funiculì, Funiculà.

I've been told that Miss Moore's Neapolitan dialect is pretty darned authentic, but not as authentic as the Linguine all'aragosta at Ciro's.

Buon weekend a tutti! a lunedi!

30 gennaio - Santa Savina

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Get Your .. Undies in a Row, Mister!

We've always been very lucky with housekeepers in our travels. Okay there was that episode in Cairo with Ahmed the houseboy and the curtain rods but that's ancient history and then there was Elizabeth in Poland who insisted she drank vodka to counteract the poison her son-in-law was slipping into her tea. But every place else we've always been looked after by some remarkable people. In Mexico City there was Manuela, who when Laurent was sick moved in for two weeks to look after him because I was back in Canada. In Warsaw there was our darling Christina who frankly just moved in - hell the dogs thought they belonged to her. She was almost 6 feet tall, had baboon's ass red hair and ruled our household with an iron fist. In Chicago there was.. oh right we didn't have anyone in Chicago that would have been me!

And here in Roma we have Eileen, a wonderful young lady from the Philippines. She's married to an Italian and they are building a house in his home town of Siracusa. I take it for granted these days that when she leaves at the end of the day the house will be spotless and shirts will be hanging neatly in a row, beautifully pressed. Everything will be in perfect order.

However I must admit I wasn't quite ready for how orderly things would be when I took a load of whities out of the dryer last night and threw them on the spare bed.
I'm not sure but I think she may have ironed them.

Okay I just realized I have now blogged about toilets and underwear... I may have to rethink the direction this blog is taking!

29 gennaio - San Valerio

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

Its been an on-going argument for the past century: Uruguay claims that tango was born in Montevideo where the distinctive style of music was composed*, while Argentina maintains it originated in the dance halls in the barrios of Buenos Aires. But for the moment the two countries are joining forces to petition UNESCO to grant tango world heritage status.

It was back in 1985 when the Tango Argentino troupe took New York by storm - what started off as a one week engagement at the City Center turned into a 200 performance run on Broadway. I recall how surprised I was, though most of the female dancers had that sultry look many of the male dancers were not the slim, sleek Spanish types I was expecting but stocky, middle-aged men. But once they began to dance they became the sexiest men on earth.

Tango Fire appears to be the same sort of dance troupe - if a little younger and better looking.

And if ever there was any doubt that the tango is about making love, just watch this couple.

* The world's most popular tango, La Cumparsita, was composed by Uruguayan Gerardo Matos Rodrígues 90 years ago and has spawned more than 2,500 variations. It became Uruguay's national hymn in 1998. And here it is, I find the bandoneons variations on this version particularly fun.

28 gennaio - San Tommaso d'Aquino

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Zoo Story

I am not a big fan of zoos - not even Madagascar could convince me that animals are happy in captivity, no matter that they are fed and looked after. It is probably that whole Disney anthromorphical thing but to me creatures just don't look happy in zoos. The zoo at the Villa Borghese - our great city park - has been renamed Il Bioparc and retooled from a zoo of cages to a biological garden of natural habitat enclosures primarily housing endangered species and injured animals.
Of course being Roma the entrance has to have a certain grandeur if not the out and out air of the grandiose.

The baroque entrance ways are typical columns, vine-entwined capitals and marble balustrades replete with stucco elephants and draperies.
The elephants on the cartouche are certainly not of the Disney variety. In fact this one looks mighty perturbed - perhaps at the thought of captivity.

And I'm not sure that mythological heroes slaying creatures great and small is quite the message a modern zoo bioparc wants to convey. But then I'm prejudiced - I've never really liked zoos.

27 gennaio - Sant' Angela Merici

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

One way to handle - should you really want to - evangelists.

26 gennaio - Santi Timoteo e Tito

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Year of the OX

In honour of the approaching New Year I had Chinese food twice this week and it wasn't bad. After two previous experiences at "Chinese" restaurants - one in Roma where the MSG level was enough to guarantee an instant migraine, the other in Munich where the Haus Ming is the only place I know that can ruin white rice - I have been giving them a wide berth. But the WOK I near work was actually good and the jioazi and shao mei were very good, and they served really cheap jasmine tea - Laurent said he almost felt he was back in Beijing.

So we are now entering the Year of the Ox, the second sign of the 12 animal signs that make up the Chinese Zodiac.If you were born in any of the Years of the Ox you might want to check this out. And the rest of us can check out our signs here.

I know that as I am writing this that in Beijing our friend Jack's mother will be making her own jioazi and shao mei for the family New Year's celebration. If you'd like to try your hand at shao mei here's an easy recipe I adapted from Cook's Illustrated.

6 ounces medium shrimp , raw, peeled, and coarsely chopped
2 ounces ground pork
6 water chestnuts (peeled if fresh), minced
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons dry sherry or vermouth
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 large egg white , lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Ground black pepper , to taste
2 tablespoons minced scallions (greens only)

1 package wonton wrappers


1. Mix all filling ingredients in medium bowl; let stand about 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to make dumplings.

2. Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut square wonton wrappers into rounds. Holding the wonton skin in the cup of your hand, place two rounded teaspoons of filling in the center. Cup your hand around the wonton skin, gathering folds up around the filling. Press the gathered folds lightly around the filling to adhere, forming a cup-shaped dumpling.

3. Spray a collapsible steamer basket* with cooking spray. Fill large Dutch oven with enough water to come to the bottom of the steamer basket. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat; lower basket into Dutch oven. Arrange dumplings 1/2-inch apart in basket. Increase heat to high; cover and steam until the dumplings are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve, passing dipping sauces separately.

*I use a bamboo steamer lined with cabbage leaves over a wok of simmering water.

And Hui Chun or luck messages are an important part of New Year's. As well as hanging them in your home or office it’s a nice idea to send one to a friend.

In the meantime: Gong Xi Fa Cai - Gung Ha Fat Choy*

*Wishing you prosperity - in Mandarin and Cantonese

26 gennaio - Eve of the Lunar New Year

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cat Amongst the Angels

Last Saturday was the first full day of sunshine we had since all week so, morning marketing done, Laurent and I decided to explore our neighbourhood.

The main cemetery for the city, Cimitero del Verano, is located a 10 minute walk along Viale Regina Margherita from our place; so we decided to hike down to Piazza San Lorenzo and give a look see. I have mentioned in the past that we both enjoy visiting cemeteries - when I said this to an Italian friend he thought it was morbid in the extreme. But we find it a great chance to explore another part of our adopted city's history.

Like any cemetery Campo Verano has its share of kitschy monuments and this reclining angel must be amongst the kitschiest.
And being a Roman cemetery it also has to have cats - and if this sleek and well fed feline is anything to go by there must be a cat lady or ladies who feed and look after them regularly.At first she approached us with great interest but when there was no food forthcoming decided we were best ignored.Though her disdain for the treatless humans was nothing compared to her opinion of that angel.And I tend to agree with her.

23 gennaio - Sant'Emerenziana

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Formal Dinner - Folies Bergère 1930s

Since many of my friends are in a celebratory mood, I thought I'd add to the celebration with a formal dinner. But not just any old formal dinner, but a dinner created by designer Freddy Wittop for the Folies Bergère in the 1930s.

Wittop was Dutch born and worked in all the grand music halls of Paris between the two great wars; like many of the designers of the period, he moved to the USA with the outbreak of WWII. After a stint in the U.S. army he led a Spanish dance troupe that toured North America but returned to his first career as a designer in the 1960s. His iconic red dress and spray of feathers first worn by Carol Channing when Dolly was welcomed back where she belonged won him a Tony.

Anyone who designed for the Folies found that the restrictions of the stage on Rue Richer - it is only 36 feet deep - meant novel solutions had to be found to produce grand spectacle. Like Marco Montedoro in his Restaurant italian that I featured in a posting last year, Wittop used only a small portion of the stage to present his Grande menu.

The chairs, candelabra and most of the table are a painted backdrop with perhaps a 12 foot wide platform as the front of the table. Fortunately the Folies also had a promenade around the orchestra pit so the action could be moved out - to the delight of the gentlemen in the audience.
The menu started with a serving of crayfish - apparently to serve something as a Buisson is to serve it in a pile. Being chorus girls, not the nudes, they would have kept their shells on.
The appetizer was followed by a parade of main courses featuring, amongst other dishes, salmon and pheasant. Perhaps this would have given a few of the danseuses nués a chance to shine.
At most French meals the salad is served after the main course and this one was no exception as the chorus girls took to the stage as lettuce and some rather saucy tomatoes. Most of the chorus girls were troupes of English dancers - the Tiller Girls and Bluebell Girls being the two most famous. There is still a troupe of Bluebells at the Lido de Paris.
Dessert would have started with the stately showgirls parading in feathered finery as Meringues. Very few of the girls were French though most of them learned to shout out "Oh La La" like female versions of Pepe Le Peu. Then the chorus girls - they sometimes had only minutes to make complicated costume changes - took over once again but this time as luscious Crêpes Suzettes.
And of course no meal would be complete without a bowl of fruit. One is tempted to say that there are apples and pairs on these plates!

The glorious frivolity of it all - and the incredible imagination.
22gennaio - San Vincenzo e Sant'Anastasio

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

Memories have been jogged this past week of the moment back on June 28, 1939 when Marian Anderson walked onto the stage at the Lincoln Memorial after having been banned from singing at Constitution Hall. Anderson was one of the great singers of her time and fêted throughout the world but was not so honoured in parts of her own country.

Anderson was primarily a concert singer, her rich contralto showed to great advantage in lieder and nowhere better than in the Brahms Alto Rhapsody. This is a recording from 1939 - the year of her Washington triumph - with Eugen Ormandy conducting. The sound is not the greatest but the interpretation is matchless.

Anderson's first appearance in opera was to be another landmark - January 7, 1955 at the Metropolitan Opera she sang the role of Ulrica in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, the first African American singer to appear on its stage. It was arranged by her manager Sol Hurok and Rudolf Bing, the Met's General Manager, who was quoted as saying, "I am not straining every muscle to find Negro singers. I am looking for the best, regardless of race or creed." It paved the way for so many wonderful performers that I recall hearing on the Met broadcasts in the years after. The Met website has a wonderful description of the performance and the events leading up to it.

Of course no Anderson concert was complete without a set of spirituals.

She always delivered them with an simplicity and intensity that touched the heart and spoke poignantly of her heritage.

21 gennaio - Sant'Agnese di Roma

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For All My American Friends

And to your new President:


And to celebrate I'm going over to a favorite site and set off some fireworks!

20 gennaio - San Sebastiano

And I Miss ...

... Canadian winter?

These pictures from my friend Dayle - who lives in Southern Ontario - make me feel better about the almost two months of non-stop rain we've been experiencing here in Roma. Its wet but at least you don't have to shovel or scrape it!

And when I hear from my friends Rick and John about the -35c temperatures in Ottawa that damp chill that has my bones creaking doesn't sound all that loud after all.

20 gennaio - San Sebastiano

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

Michael, my old (well actually he's young) friend and former work colleague from Warsaw days, is planning to get himself a cat. But like any responsible person who wants to be owned by a pet he's been researching first. One of his resources has been on YouTube for a while but appears to be a sensible (?) guide to owner petship.

19 gennaio - Santa Faustina di Como e Santa Lierata di Como

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Little More Joy

A few months back I posted a picture of Joy just after Rachel and Tim had arrived back in Italy. Well, as baby's tend to do, she's grown and become quite the little lady. We stopped off to see them and have some of Rachel's incredible peanut butter cookies just after Christmas.

To celebrate the week I thought I'd "Obamicon" one of America's newer citizens - and I promise this will be the last time I use this little toy.

To see what a doll she's turning into just left click.

Ain't she a sweetheart?

18 gennaio - Santa Margherita d'Ungheria

Hmmmm... Okay

There are some words that just don't belong together!

18 gennaio - Santa Margherita d'Ungheria

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Push Me Pull Me

The subject of flushing toilets has popped up twice on blogs I read this week. Rainey over at Here's The Thing has been explaining the wonders of water swirling down the bowl clock-wise to their Australian exchange student. Or is it counter-clock-wise, I can never remember and am too lazy to go flushing toilets to find out.

And over at AmoRoma, Larry has proven once again that he is an astute observer of life in Roma with an overview of toilet flushing systems he's discovered here. And now that he mentions it, he's right, I've never seen so many types of buttons, handles, cords, pedals et al to activate the simple flow of water into a toilet bowl.

Mind you there is one type he forgot and I can't blame him because I'm sure we're the only people in the world who have it: the vacuum pump button!

The idea is you push the button:
It sends a rush of air down the tube which forces the trap to lift and the water flows.Technically a very simple premise but like any pump it sometimes, to the confusion of guests I might add, requires priming.

17 gennaio - San Antonio abate

Hmmm, I realize I have just posted an item about flushing toilets - this is getting a little strange but what was even more disturbing is I was going to add the label Ballcock, a perfectly fine plumbing term, then I realized what sort of hits I would probably get.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Occasionally I have made comments, perhaps less than flattering, about Big Ben and the Boys in that other country across the Tiber but today I am seriously impressed by the power of Pope Post. On Saturday last at around 2:30 pm Laurent put several parcels into the hands of a very pleasant gentleman at the Vatican Post Office - several bound for Canada and several for the United States. Imagine my surprise when I received a message from my friend Rick sent at 2:30 pm yesterday (Thursday.) saying that his two parcels had just arrived in Ottawa. That means five days - one of which was a Sunday - from post office to front door. Now that is a miracle!

And talk about serendipity, I'm posting (pun intended!)this on the Feast day of San Marcello, a 4th century Pope. Emperor Maxentius had him condemned to work as a slave at the Catabulum or central office of the imperial postal system. Tradition says he died there in 309 AD. The church of San Marcello al Corso - we dropped in there on Sunday - stands in that spot on the Corso today. I believe he is the patron saint of postmen or at least his name, and that of the Savoir are often invoked by people standing in interminable line ups at the Italian Post Office.

16 gennaio - San Marcello Papa

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Scenes From a Life in Rome - Pranzo and Presepe

Sunday is a special day in Italy - not just because everyone is heading to church, yeah right, but because Sunday pranzo(lunch) is the most important meal of the week. That's when family and friends gather at home or a restaurant to look at the week that was, celebrate an engagement or birthday, eat Mama's unbeatable tortellini or the rubatello at your favorite trattoria. We discovered that Sunday lunch is an ideal company meal - guests arrive at 1:30 and sometimes stay as late as 8 but often until around 6. The meal can be leisurely, no one is worried about getting up for work the next morning or getting a taxi late at night and clean up can be done at a reasonable hour. And so much has been eaten during the day that the mere idea of anything more than a bowl of soup and some bread and cheese for dinner is unthinkable.

Sunday past we met Larry and Vincenzo for pranzo - they had been to church, we however had occupied Sunday morning with a few other things. The nice thing about doing Sunday lunch at a restaurant in town is the strolling afterward. You would never think of getting up from the table and heading right home. So stroll we did - we had pranzoed (there goes my Italinish) near the Pantheon so we headed over in the direction of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and popped into to view the incredible treasures - including Michalangelo's Christ with the Cross - and their Presepe. A bit more strolling - over to San Marcello to see their Presepe and listen to a very good Seniors choir rehearsing a concert. Virtuously we skipped Giolitti, we had just had Mount Blanc for desert after a meal of vegetable soup, saltimbaco and roast potatoes so ice cream would have been a bit of overkill.

A third stop at a church just behind the Galleria Alberto Sordi - I can never remember the name - to surreptitiously view their presepe as a mass was being conducted in Spanish with guitar accompaniment. Last year their Bethlehem was situated across the Tiber from Castel San Angelo - or at least that was the backdrop; this it bore a striking resemblance to one of the hilltop villages in Latina. As I've said previously the settings often resemble the world around the church than any attempt to reflect a real middle-east setting.

One of the fun things about strolling with Larry is his insatiable quest for the unusual and the remarkable in his adopted city. His enthusiasm is contagious - when he points something out or drags us down an alley way to see something a bit out of the way I am reassured that he is that rare thing: a natural teacher. I envy his students the insight and knowledge he brings to learning.

I hadn't noticed the RomaBike stations around town - too big to be seen I guess. The scheme is a simple one meant to encourage people to bike within Centro rather than taking their cars. You enroll in the scheme for free and are issued a card which will unlock bikes at 19 stations situated around town. The first 30 minutes are free and there is a nominal charge (against a credit card you have registered) after that time. You bike to the station nearest your destination lock the bike and continue on your way. If the station is full you have a padlock to attach it to a rail, a cell number to call to let control know. Larry has a colleague who has used it as her mode of transportation to work every day and so far it hasn't cost her a cent.

As we reached the Corso Larry drew our attention to two curious things on Via Lata - a fountain and a sign.

Water fountains for public use have been a feature of Rome since the Caesers - most tourists, and a few ex-pats, are scandalised by the constant running taps throughout the city but Romans take it for granted. This is one of the oldest fountains in Rome - the Facchino or Porter. He was a real person called Abbondio Rizi and was head of the Porters' Guild in the 15th century. He was famous for the heavy weights he could carry and the fountain was carved as a monument after his death. He is one of the Six Talking Statues of Rome.

And this little notice, put in place on August 6, 1784 is very specific in it's instructions. The basic message is "Don't shit on our doorstep, under penalty." Can't be any more explicite than that can you? And didn't I say Larry showed us unusual things?

15 gennaio - San Mauro

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

As well as his fascination with Japan, Laurent has this thing about Berlin and on one of his trips there came across Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester. He came home with a five CD set which gets frequent play in our house.

Raabe and his band of musical geniuses recreate the sights and sounds of a Berlin cabaret orchestra between the two World Wars. The tongue-in-cheek world weary insouciance of the impeccably attired Raabe is a delightful contrast with the obvious joy the band takes in playing.

The style of 30s Berlin cabaret is perfectly recreated in this little number: Daisy.

And all that's missing from this next number is an adagio team - her in miles of pale green chiffon sparkling with sequins and ruffled with marabou feathers.

Raabe also does brilliant covers of current hits. His take on Britney Spears' single Oops!... I Did It Again has to be heard - beats the hell out of Spears for me. Give it a listen over here.

14 gennaio - San Felice di Nola

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christmasy Things - Polish Presepe

Yes I know, Christmas is over and the Valentine's stuff is in the shops already - only one month to buy that special someone that special something - but here the spirit of Christmas or at least some of the trimmings last until February 2, Feast of the Presentation in the Temple. In the Church of England we called it Candlemas and it was the day on which all the candles to be used for the liturgical year were blessed, quite a lovely ritual. But I digress - as I sometimes do, back to the 39 or so days of Christmas.

Part of those trimmings are the Presepe or crèches that are displayed in churches throughout the city. Some are pretty cheesy - vulgar plaster statues encircled with flashing Christmas lights - but others are works of art. Entire villages are constructed - often with Bethleham resembling the area around the church they were created for, the Presepe at San Marcello has gas lamps much like the ones that once light the nearby Corso. Many date from the 19th century or earlier and figurines wear elaborate clothing meticulously aping the fashion of the period.

It stands to the reason that at the wonder that is the Pantheon (Chiesa di Santa Santa Maria dei Martiri)they would have an almost life size Presepe. It was created by art students from the Leon Wyczolkowski School of Fine Arts in Bydgoszcz (Poland as some thoughtful person added to the billboard.)

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Even if our friend Larry hadn't told me I would have known this was Polish immediately. The colourings are similar to those of the traditional Polish crèches and it has that rather disconcerting influence of Social Realism left over from the good old days of Communism that still echos in certain schools of Polish art. The exception is the Bambino - Jesus bears a striking resemblance to the slightly bloated figures of Botero. There may not have been room at the inn but there appears to have been food.

Also a little unusual are the figures on the right of the tableau - four "modern" saints coming to worship with the traditional Shepherds and Wise Men. I can only identify Saint Teresa the Little Flower of Christ and try as he might Larry couldn't put a name to the other three either.

13 gennaio - San Ilario di Poitiers

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

Though I don't get all the jokes - at times its even too British for me - but I love Victoria Wood and Julie Walters.

Some of this sounds familiar - except the tart, of course.

They have my vote!

12 gennaio - San Bernardo da Corleone

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Things Japanese - A Calender

Laurent brought back this desk calender from Japan. Its the work of YABUUCHI Satoshi, who uses traditional techniques to create his wood sculptures. They reflect many of the values and traditions that Japan has forgotten in an attempt to be more Western.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

A visit to his website reveals some really lovely carvings as well as some major bronze works he's done for public display. Apparently the little boy with the antlers has something to do with the sacred deer that roam through the streets and parks of Nara.

11 gennaio - San Igino Papa

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Anticipation - Verdi Requiem

Last night was one of those much anticipated nights - the Verdi Requiem by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Antonio Pappano conducted and the quartet of singers included two of the bigger names around today, Anja Harteros and Sonia Ganassi and two of the biggest, Rolando Villazon and René Pape. All three scheduled performances were sold out - despite there being many empty seats - and are being recorded for release later in the year by EMI. We were respectful asked to try and keep coughing and noise to a minimum - so of course some fool let out a huge hack as the chorus started into the pianissimo passage that begins the piece.

Now I'm the first one to start bitching when bloggers compare old recordings to current live performances, its an apples and kumquats situation. However, and because its me writing I can have a however, where the Requiem is concerned I have certain sounds in my mind's ear. The first recording I owned of it was the old EMI pressing with Sir John Barbarolli leading Montserrat Caballé, Fiorenza Cossotto, Jon Vickers and Ruggerio Raimondi. Sir John had worked with the New Phil and Chorus for years and even in a work as monumental as this had a way of making it seem intimate and human when needed. The blend of voices worked, not always an easy thing with Vickers in particular, especially Caballé-Cossotto. Their Agnes Dei sounded like one voice - perhaps it stayed in my mind because it was almost otherworldly. It may have been a trick of the recording studio but even without the recording, sadly I don't believe it was ever reissued, I can still hear it.

Which brings us back to last evening's performance. If EMI plans to issue this as a recording they are definitely going to need a few mixing room tricks. It just didn't work and I feel much of that has to do with Antonio Pappano.

I have a problem with Pappano - I am not as enamoured of him as much of the Roman audience seems to be. There are times when he is good and times when he is, frankly, bad. And like the little girl with the curl, when he is good he is very, very good and when he is bad, he's dull! Last night was a dull night. I can't fault either the magnificent chorus - is there anything these people can't do - or orchestra - I agree with Opera Chic they are the best in Italy; they responded to his interpretation faultlessly. It the interpretation that bothered me. We had molto fortissimo, we had molto pianissimo but we had little in between and, for me at least, in this work it is those in between parts that give it emotional power.

And it is going to take a bit of studio mixing to get the voice balance right between the soloists and orchestra. There were times when the sound swamped the singers and at times the voices just didn't mix well. I am not one of those fans who glory in the failure of singer X, Y or Z, what they do is hard work and demands consideration but last night's quartet just didn't work. Harteros didn't float in the Libera Me, not that it was a bad performance just that it didn't have that incandescence you want for mankind's plea to God for release from death. And her voice was not the ideal blend with Ganassi who did some of the best singing of the evening. Pape was good but I am becoming more convinced that he is a baritone more than bass - I felt the same way after the Elijah in November. Villazon was not having a good night. I really don't believe he is a Verdi tenor - or at least not late Verdi. The Ingemisco was fine but just didn't ring out and he seemed to have trouble in the Domini Jesu.

It was one of those much anticipated nights that, disappointingly, just didn't take off and it will be interesting to see what the EMI engineers make of it. Meanwhile we'll have another opportunity to hear the Requiem in June when Daniel Barenboin and his La Scala forces make the trip down from Milano. Oddly enough the quartet includes Ganassi and Papé but with Barbara Frittoli and Marcello Giordani as soprano and tenor. It almost sounds like another recording project.

Special kudos to Percussionist Marco Bugarini, his beating on the big bass drum would have indeed had the dead awakening.

10 gennaio - San Pietro I Orseolo

Friday, January 09, 2009

Things Japanese

In November Laurent spent a few weeks on vacation in Japan - yes we do occasionally take separate vacations. He had been there about three years ago to visit our friend Colette but had restricted his activities to Tokyo. This time he did some serious touring around on their great train system - Kyoto,Nara,Osaka and Himeji. He can't stop talking about how efficient and user-friendly their service was, but keep in mind most of his recent experiences has been on TrenItalia.

One of our guests on Christmas Day was another Colette, a friend from Canada who teaches English in Japan. As well as some gelatin sweets adorned with good luck symbols she presented us with a length of obi silk. Well over 14 feet long, its lacquered silk which gives the pattern extra depth and makes it easier to tie the obi. The band of solid orange silk towards one end would be the part of the obi closest the body. It doesn't show and given the cost of patterned silk it is more economical to use the plain silk.

It is a lovely piece of material and Colette suggested cutting it up to make place mats, though I think I would find it difficult to cut into such a beautiful piece of material. We'll have to think of some way to use it.

And a click on the Chrysanthemum will lead you to the first of Laurent's Flickr photo sets of his trip. "Nara is a small town a former Capital of Japan prior to Kyoto. Lovely temples and sacred deers roaming around the parks of the city."

09 gennaio - San Marcellino

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I always look upon these Sharing posts as a two-fold opportunity - I can bring your attention to some of the wonderful posts I've found in the past few days and put up some of the photos that I'm frankly too damn lazy haven't had time to get to as photo essays. This time around its some photos from my Torino, Genova, Parma opera week back in late October.
Out of Africa
This fascinating bronze entitled "Out of Africa" was prominently placed in the lobby of the Teatro Regio di Torino. I have mixed reactions to it - it is a beautiful piece but something about it disturbs me.

Holy Water Font
More often than not the holy water fonts in churches here are either dry or have a small bowl of water placed in them. But in Torino's Chiesa di San Filippo Neri the font was more a fountain of holy water.

Il Museo Egizio in Torino has one of the finest - and stunningly displayed - collections of Egyptomania in Europe. I was particularly taken with this gold and lapis necklace. The pyramid as a display may be the obvious choice but it is subtly handled. Click for a close up.

The gates of the Palazzo Reale in Torino are a direct steal from Versailles but wasn't every palace in Europe?

  • My friends Larry and Vincenzo spent Capodanno (New Year's) with Vin's family in Sicily. They made a trip over to Taormina to see the sights and Larry found some rather pretty, if unusual, Christmas decorations.
That's the house of Christopher Columbus in Genova sticking up in middle way back there. His front yard is now a parking lot for motorinos - that's one way to destroy the lawn and bring down prices in the neighbourhood.

This altar in il Duomo di San Lorenz once held relics of San Giovanni Baptista, the patron saint of Genova. His story is retold in the stone carvings in and around the altar. I'm constantly fascinated by the use of coloured marble throughout the churches in Italy - designs and colours always created to take the eye to a focus point.

  • Evilgnome calls the Fenway home in Boston, sadly last week he saw part of what makes his neighbourhood so unique destroyed by fire. And as he remarks when the Mom and Pop stores leave a neighbourhood so does much of its character.
Though the waterfront in Genova has been restored - and magnificently - its is still separated from the historic centre by an elevated freeway. There is no way to see this fascinating painted facade the way it was meant to be seen - approaching from the water.

A complete replica of a Turkish galleon is moored beside the Aquarium on the waterfront. It was original created for some Roman Polanski film and is now a tourist attraction. The Neptune figurehead is a great example of the carver's art.

  • My darling Dora introduced me to two of the feistiest ladies in Blogdom: Margaret and Helen are two 80-somethings who chat on their blog - Margaret from Maine and Helen from Texas. They've known each other for over 60 years and their outspoken - often salty - take on the world is often amusing, always insightful and invariably controversial. They even have their own on-line store.

The Cross of St George (red cross - white background) features in the coat of arms of many cities throughout the world. It's the municipal coats of arms in both Milano and Genova in Northern Italy - as in the New World it is in Montréal

I only intended to pop into the Aquarium in the harbour for a few minutes and ended up spending over 2 hours. Though not a fan of zoos or the like I found a peaceful fascination in the unusual sea fauna. I really must post a few more to these shots of jelly fish, I found them incredibly beautiful.

  • And speaking of beautiful, my friend Lotus Green is constantly revealing the beauty of the Japanese influence on our world. Her December 30 post on Fireworks is as spectacular as New Year's Eve display. And her post naked is a enchanting mixture of the visual and the aural.

08 gennaio - San Lorenzo Giustiniani