Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Hallow's Eve

These next three days have always been amongst my favorite in the church calender:
October 31 - All Hallow's Eve
November 1 - All Saints' Day
November 2 - All Soul's Day

Its a triumvirate that has all the bases covered - Hell, Heaven and what ever is in between. The tradition of All Hallows as a celebration of goblins and ghosties and long legged beasties is an old one going back to the Celts. My Irish ancestors celebrated Samhain around this time of year. As with many pagan festivals it was appropriated by the Christian church in the 8th century and then by global marketing in the 20th.

In the Christian church it was originally a night of fasting and preparation for the Feast of All Saints (All Hallows - All Holy Ones - ergo All Hallows' Eve = Halloween) but the old traditions also said it was the night when spirits and demons roamed the earth freely. The only way to avoid them was to disguise yourself as one of them or to frighten them with something as terrible as themselves. Thus pumpkins (turnips and rutabagas in England?????) were carved with horrible frightening faces.
I don't think this pumpkin that I carved for yesterday's Halloween Breakfast was going to frighten anyone. Not quite the message you want to send to demons and ghosts!

My friend and colleague Chris and I worked up this witch who had more scare value than that pumpkin. Its a wonder what you can do with a few garbage bags, some coloured file folders and someone with Chris's creativity. She's a bit of a genius!

And though Halloween is not celebrated much here in Italy - though it is making inroads with blanket marketing at the moment - Laurent thought we'd keep up the tradition of having a pumpkin to ward off evil tonight, just in case some goblins or ghosts were hanging around our place. It seems to have work - haven't seen one all night!

31 ottobre - La Vigilia d'Ognissanti
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Friday, October 30, 2009


Okay that whole thing about the seeds in a kaki predicting what the upcoming winter will be like!!!!! What sort of nonsense is that? I mean I sliced open one of the seeds and found:

Where's the spoons? the forks? the knifes? This is some sort of cruel joke right? Its like those videos on YouTube that are not available in my region? One of those ethnocentric things that applies only to North American persimmons?

Damn now I won't know if I should buy a snow shovel or just a warmer coat!!!

30 ottobre - San Marcello di Tangeri

Thursday, October 29, 2009

All Gaul!

Fifty years ago today the world was introduced to a little guy with blond hair, a big droopy moustache and horns. He, his best friend Obélix, Idefix the dog and the villagers of a small town in Armorica began outwitting Romans - amongst others - October 29, 1959.

I first encountered Astérix le petit Gaulois in French class and I can't imagine a better way to learn a language.

Joyeux anniversaire Astérix, Obélix et toutes le gang!

29 ottobre - Sant'Ermelinada

Mercoledi Musicale +1

A friend in Athens introduced me to a wonderful piece of animation: Sita Sings the Blues. Created by independent film maker Nina Paley it is a brilliant take on the Rama and Sita legends mixed with blues songs from one of the great forgotten vocalists of the 1920s-1930s Annette Hanshaw. In this clip she sings Who's That Knocking At My Door - a great little number and I just love her signture tag: That's All!

The witty combinations of animation and visual styles, the parallel story of modern day Nina with the great Ramayana legend as seen from Sita's point of view, the shadow puppet commentators and the introduction of American blues makes for an animation classic.

The intriguing story behind its creation and Paley's decision to make free downloading available can be found here. And of course Sita has its own website here.

29 ottobre - Sant'Ermelinda
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kaki Time

No that's not a misspelled fashion statement. Its Plantae Ericales Ebenaceae Diospyros time of year here in Italy. Its guaranteed that in late October-early November a wander past any fruit stand or market display will reveal white Styrofoam trays holding three ripe orange/brown/golden yellow squishy balls of delicious goodness. Or there will be bins of yellow hard fruit ready to take home and ripen on the window sill. And they will appear as a frutta along with the ubiquitous ananas (pineapple) on restauarnt menus.

In North America we call them persimmons, in other places they are Shizi, Date Plums, Black Sapote or Mabolo depending on the variety and location. The variety grown in Italy - 5th in worldwide persimmon production - is the Japanese persimmon or Kaki.

Persimmon is not a fruit that I ate much back in Canada - maybe in a pudding once or twice at Thanksgiving but that it would be about it. As I recall North American persimmons were small and even when ripe had a slight astringency that could be almost unpleasant. Not so the Kaki - Kakis??? what is the plural? - appearing in the markets here. They are large, plump and soft to the point of appearing to the unaccustomed eye as being overripe. When split open they reveal a sweet, custardy centre with two seeds encased in gelatin. And the taste - well for me it brings to mind the Ancient Greek appellation: Fruit of the Gods.

As well as having all sorts of medicinal and nutritional value it appears the seeds can be used as a weather oracle. According to Wikipedia:

It is said that one can predict the winter by taking the seeds out of some persimmons and then slicing the seeds. The shape that shows up the most inside each seed will indicate what kind of winter to expect.

The three shapes resemble three eating utensils:
A Knife - there will be a cold icy winter (as in the wind will slice through you like a knife).
A Spoon - there will be plenty of snow for to shovel.
A Fork - there will be a mild winter.

I'll have to try that tonight and let you know what my kaki predicts - though I would be surprised if many spoons showed up here in Italy.

28 ottobre - I Santi Simone il Cananeo e Guido

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy II

Every monday morning my own Girl of the Golden West posts Stumbles - just to get the morning off right. Well this morning she had a whole pile o'Canadians ROTFL with this one.

Check out Yellow Dog Granny and the rest of this morning's Stumbles for a chortle, laugh or giggle!

26 ottobre - San Folco

Lunedi Lunacy

With thanks to Cathy, who is fast becoming my muse!

26 ottobre - San Folco

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Images of Athens

I'm never really too sure who these sort of window displays are aimed at? I mean would anyone really buy stuff like this? Well okay the two women of an indeterminate age walking into the Megaton ahead of Fotis and I on Thursday night maybe! But I mean anyone other than them?

25 ottobre - I Santi Crispino e Crispiniano

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why Would Someone Do That to Melina?

Melina Merkouri (Mercouri) was an iconic presence both theatrically and politically not just in Greece but throughout the world. Many of her films are considered classics of world cinema, her recordings - she was no singer but damn she was a communicator - are still being sold, her theatrical appearances were proof of her magnetism and her fight for a free Greece reached the world. When she became Minister of Culture her achievements were many.

I have my own little bit of personal history with her - a brief meeting that enchanted me and that made me fall forever in love with her.

Its only right that there be a monument to her in Athens and though it is not in the most conspicuous of places - opposite the entrance to the Temple of Zeus on a busy street - it was a fine tribute to a great woman. You will notice the past tense - was - because for some reason someone has defaced the bust erected to celebrate her life and achievements. I don't know what possessed someone to inflict damage on it and smash the nose. Was it the deliberate act of someone who disagreed with her politically and for whom she was no hero? Or was it - as so often happens in Roma - the thoughtless act of a drunken youth out on a binge to whom she meant nothing, just a piece of someone else's property to be vandalized?
Whatever the reason I first noticed the damage over a year ago. A whole year ago! Surely someone in government - federal, state or municipal - can have something done to repair the damage. This woman who, when she was stripped of her citizenship by the Generals, proudly proclaimed "I was born a Greek! I will die a Greek!" deserves better from the country she loved and served.

24 ottobre - Sant'Antonio Maria Claret y Clara
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Images of Athens

This distinguished looking member of the Orthodox clergy was sitting at the table near to mine at the Metropole Cafe in Cathedral Square this morning. I thought he had that sort of, at the least, Old Testament prophet look if not, at the most, "God the Father" himself from a few of the paintings I've seen around.

But I was not the only one impressed - an North American couple (that is the gentleman in white) of East Indian origin off one of the cruise ships were fascinated by him. There were some desperate attempts to communicate and some intriguing pantomimes and finally Spiros, one of the waiters was dragged into the little scenario playing out beside me.

"Tell him he has a divine look," the woman commanded in a tone that was not to be denied. "Tell him he's divine!"

The message was convey to the rather bemused clergyman who accepted it with a gracious nod - am I just imagining that his wife giggled a bit?

"We want his blessing," said the husband while making a vague sign of benediction in the direction of his wife and himself.

"No I want him to place his hands on my head," insisted the wife. "I want a proper blessing!"

Poor Spiros communicated this rather unusual request as the husband pulled the priest up to his feet, grabbed his hands and placed them on his wife's head. The priest muttered something in Greek - it could have been a blessing. Then repeated it for the man. The wife kissed his hand as did the husband and faces beaming they took their leave, turning to wave several times as they headed towards the Cathedral.

The priest sat down, gave me a "I'm not sure what just went on here" look and dipping his napkin in some water wiped off his hands. I am not at all sure he was that happy but there were two radiant people basking in the glow of his "blessing". And, no doubt, this evening, at dinner, they'll be recounting the experience to their table mates.

21 ottobre - San Gaspare del Bufalo

Mercoledi Musicale

My friend Cathy sent me this ...

... on Facebook!

21 ottobre - San Gaspare del Bufalo

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

Versions seems to be split on whither this commercial was banned or just kept under wraps by the Xbox people. Apparently it either created controversy or it was felt it could prove controversial. Whichever I find it rather profound in a macabre-funny way.

19 ottobre - San Giovanni di Brébeuf e Santi martiri canadesi

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hello Google? Hello Blooger? Hello Anyone?

For the past few weeks I have been experiencing a real problem with Blogger and tags. When I try to add tags I get: Error message bX-q8mnbv and everything I have done wipes out. The apparent problem is that you can only have 2000 tags per blog and only 20 per posting.

Well now there really is no way of knowing how many tags I have other than counting each individually - you know down the left hand side there, just scrolling down and doing the old 1... 2... 3... 500... 595... etc etc. I'm pretty sure I don't have 2000 but you never know but I know I have never put more than five or six tags on a post.

It is getting pretty frustrating. And even more frustrating is the fact that Blogger has not responded to the 41 error reports that are recorded on the Error Message bX-q8mnbv Help Page. Actually I lie, someone said two weeks ago that it was being looked into and they would get back to us soon. Now I know in the airline business we often said "soon" in answer to the question: When will the plane be boarding? And in that case "soon" could be anywhere from 2 minutes to 10 hours. So maybe Goggle-Blogger runs on airline time.

In the meantime I, and quite a few others, are getting just a bit frazzled. I mean would it hurt the people at Google to at least tell us to go screw ourselves if they are planning on doing nothing about the situation. Or at least tell us that we have to cut down our tag list and do more with less? But no, nothing. And I notice it hasn't even made it to the known issue section - so obviously for someone there it isn't an issue, just for the user.

So if someone at Google should happen to read this - could you at least send me an e-mail saying: Hello, Go to Hell or better yet Here's the solution to the problem.

18 ottobre - its not but it should be San Jude - the saint of hopeless causes!

È Una Buona Cosa*

*Its a good thing!!!!! - Okay so its a literal translation of Martha's tag line but I'm sure my Italian friends - Marco, Walter, Vin, Christine or Simonetta - will correct me if its wrong! They always do!

Someone was asking me the other day what my blog was about - so I started listing: opera, music, travel, food, Rome, Italy, the Hounds from Hell, Theatre, ballet, language, almost anything that comes across my line of vision. Frankly I believe in the power of serendipity.

"What no household hints?" they interjected with a slight note of disdain in their voice.

So without further ado here is the first in a series of household hints sent me by my friend Candy.

Laurent always has a banana at breakfast - oh grow up the lot of you, honestly! - so let's start off with a few banana hints.
Banana Bites

Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little 'stringy things' off it. That's how the primates do it.

Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster.

At the ballet the other evening Simonetta was complaining that her silk skirt was doing the old static cling number. Though she has lovely legs it wasn't the effect she was going for as we sashayed across the lobby of the Teatro Nazionale.
Reducing Static Cling

Pin a small safety pin to the seam of your slip and you will not have a clingy skirt or dress. Same thing works with slacks that cling when wearing panty hose. Place pin in seam of slacks and .... ta da! ... static is gone.
And to the questioner: Did I mention household hints?

18 ottobre - San Luca evangelista

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale + 1*

When I was an opera princess neophyte Anton Dvořák's Rusalka was something I remember reading about but it was seldom performed outside of, what was then, Czechoslovakia. The only thing that was ever heard from it was The Song to the Moon - Rusalka, the water nymph who has fallen in love with a mortal Prince, asks the moon to tell him of her love.

I saw it for the first time in London back in the 1980s and I recall it more for the revolutionary - now consider classic - David Pourtney production than the music. A performance of it here last season in an indifferent production made me more aware of Dvořák's incredibly beautiful writing for the orchestra. It has become cliché to say that the orchestra is almost another character but in this particularly work - as in Pélleas et Mélisande which we saw last week - I believe it is true.

It is nice to see it entering the repertory in many places now - New York, Boston, Paris, Toronto - and that more people are becoming familiar with it. The Song to the Moon is a wonderful introduction to it.

Here are two very different but each in their own way unique and extremely beautiful performances of it.

The death, from cancer, at an early age of Lucia Popp robbed the music world of one of the most remarkable voices of the later part of the 20th century. Her Mozart and Strauss were things of beauty. Silvery with a purity that is astounding, she never resorted to tricks she just seemed to open her mouth and the glorious sound rushed forth.

Frederica Von Stade is still very much with us though she is now on her "farewell" tour after a career that spans some 40 odd years. I was a "Flicka" groupie for a long while and followed her around a bit: Donna del Largo in Houston, Cenerentola in Paris, Ullise at Glyndebourne, Cendrillon in Ottawa. She was always a delight - on stage and in person. Hers is a different take on the Song to the Moon but again no tricks just sheer vocalism.

I'm not sure if these two glorious voices ever appeared together but I can only imagine what they would have sounded liked in Rosenkavalier or Cosi.

14 ottobre - Callisto I Papa

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Signs of the Times

I am always surprised by how quickly political posters appear here. Following last Thursday's decision by the Constitutional Court of Italy these posters appeared on the streets by early Friday morning

Thank goodness there is the Constitution.
It makes us all united and equal.

13 ottobre - San Teofilo di Antiochia

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Very Roman Solution

Parking is at a premium no matter where you go in Roma. Our street is lined with cars during the day and parking can be difficult. Of course being in Roma, there is always an answer!

12 ottobre - Nostra Signora del Pilar

Lunedi Lunacy

It makes perfect sense to me!

12 ottobre - Nostra Signora del Pilar

Sunday, October 11, 2009

And Fillith All Things Living With Plenitudinous

This will be our third Thanksgiving in Roma and as in past years we will be celebrating with friends. We will be feasting and giving thanks for what the Book of Common Prayer - surely one of the most beautiful pieces of English literature - quaintly calls "plentitudinous" in our lives.

And there is much to be thankful for. I will not rehearse everything but simply say that for all I have I give thanks and that includes all my dear friends who read this posting.

Though I no longer attend church I still enjoy the hymns that mark the seasons of the church calender; and as I have mentioned on several occasions Canadian Thanksgiving is based on the Church of England Harvest Thanksgiving Festival. The hymnal is filled with wonderful pieces for that particular season. "Now Thank We All Our God" is an old Luthern hymn dating back to the 1600s and translated into English in the mid 1800s. It has been included in most hymn books since then.


We had our traditional Thanksgiving lunch today - a few Italian innovations when ingredients couldn't be found but just your basic Canadian Thanksgiving. Started off with Smokey Pumpkin Soup, followed by Turkey, roast potatoes, chicory, peas and prosciutto and then apple pie with cinnamon gelato. Wine, water, coffee and digestivi in the way of things liquid. And the good friendship of our dear friends Walter (Robert was attending the canonization of Father Damian), Vincenzo and Larry and a recent arrival here in Rome, Lionel. After an initial flurry of greeting Nicky and Nora - the hounds from hell - settled down to tear the head off a toy Vin and Larry had given them and we settled down to conversation, food and fellowship.
Vincenzo, Lionel, Laurent (holding a loaf of bread Lionel made this morning), Walter and Larry - the start of our Thanksgiving meal with dear friends.

So we had a glorious sunny day, a good (if I do say so) meal, good dogs and good friends. A plentitudinous indeed!

11 ottobre - Giorno del Ringraziamento

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

And He Confound the Language of All the Earth ...

Languages are filled with "false friends" - anyone who speaks Spanish or French runs up against them constantly in Italian. But its not exclusive to the Romance languages. An anglophone could be forgiven for responding with a list of their University degrees if being told by an Italian that they were maleducato (badly brought up) though the Italian would wonder if all holders of Doctorates were ill-mannered.

And an Italian would be equally puzzled and a little concerned if you said you had bought "confetti" to throw at a wedding. I mean "confetti" is perfectly acceptable at a marriage, baptism or even a graduation but if you throw it here someone could get an eye put out.

My colleague Antonella is getting married today and she distributed the traditional "confetti" in the office yesterday. All the guests at her wedding will receive one of these little tulle bags.

Bedecked and beribboned it holds one of my favorites sweets - "confetti" - sugared or Jordan almonds. They are said to represent both the wish that a couple will have a fertile marriage and to remind them of the bittersweet nature of any relationship.

So here the bridge and groom will give their guests "confetti" and I will go to a shop and buy "coriandoli" to throw at them. And no I will not be throwing a pungent smelling green much beloved in Mexican cooking, that would be "coriandolo". Language is so complicated!

10 ottobre - San Tommaso di Villanova

Friday, October 09, 2009

Cleaning the Turtles

Since Roman times when it first flowed through the aqueducts - many of which are still in use today - the water in Roma has been known to have a high calcium content. It is perfectly safe to drink - in fact people like Marco and Walter poo poo our attempts to filter water, destroys the taste of your coffee Marco says. However when I see what it does to the dishwasher, washer and various pipes around the house I wonder what it will do to my pipes and they do say that kidney stones are endemic.

That calcium also clogs the pipes of the various public fountains - decorative and practical - throughout the city. At the moment the Moses Fountain at Piazza Santa Susana is being completely refitted for the first time in over a century and even the lovely little La fontana delle Tartarughe (the Fountain of the Turtles) which was restored as recently as 2006 is already showing signs of calcium staining.

On Tuesday as we left the stunning courtyard of the Palazzo Mattei di Giove (pictures to follow) our route took us through Piazza Mattei (hey they owned the neighbourhood!) and the Fontana was blocked off. Two young conservators (apparently in a fortune in designer clothes according to a friend who should know) were cleaning it.
The shell basins of the fountain had to be emptied using buckets - nothing hi-tech here. And there was nothing very hi-tech about how the marble was being cleaned - the technician was using masking tape.
She was applying a small strip and then ripping it off quickly - a little bit like the process I understand is used in depilation - ouch! I attempted to take a few more photos but she became most upset that I had taken one already - apparently I was interrupting her work. I won't question the logic.

The top photo shows one of the basins before the process had started and the bottom one an hour so after the cleaning had begun. It is a long procedure and I gather the fountain would be closed for several days.

09 ottobre - San Dionigi di Parigi
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Do I Look Like an Idiot?

Aside from the fact that Hugh Laurie is one of the sexiest men alive, he's also a damn fine actor. Loved him with Stephen Fry, love him in House.

09 ottobre - San Donnino di Fidenza

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

On the heels of the death of Mercedes Sosa comes the 10th anniversary of the death of the great fado artist Amália Rodrigues. I was asked to go to a commemoration last evening but wasn't able to make it. I saw her perform live many years ago in Ottawa and the raw emotion of her singing stays in my mind even now.

Here she is in 1969 singing one of her signature song: Solidao

In this documentary made in 1999 she talks about the film that brought her worldwide attention.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Signs of the Times

My old - I have to stop saying that he's isn't old, or if he is so am I - former roommate Ray's partner Bill took this photo last week in Firenze.
Though I can't say I agree with the sentiment - after all tourism is the major industry in town - I think, given the swarms of visitors (myself included) clogging the streets, shops, cafes and trattorias I understand the locals' point of view.

And at least they said "Please".

06 ottobre - San Bruno di Colonia

Monday, October 05, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

Apparently this has been around on YouTube for a while.

As my friend Candy, who sent it to me said: Only the British could get away with advertising like that.

05 ottobre - Santa Faustina Kowalska

Sunday, October 04, 2009

And Another Passing

Mercedes Sosa, a national treasure in Argentina and much loved throughout South and Latin America is the latest of what seems to be a passing parade of greats. She died today in Buenos Aires.
Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitude
The one that I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its width
Records— night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
"Mother," "Friend," "Brother" and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes...

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone's song, which is my very song.

Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Violeta Parra
It seems the world becomes a less brighter place to often these days.

Many thanks to Soror for posting this wonderful performance on YouTube.

05 ottobre - Santa Faustina Kowalska

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A Picture is ....

... (Often) worth more than 1000 words!

Thanks to Bev in Islamabad.

05 ottobre - San Placido

Things to Come - Musical

I wrote this introduction back on September 5 - and never got around to completing the post. Thought I'd keep it and finish off what I was going to say.
Now that feragosto is over things are returning to normal - or a least normal for Rome. Over the past week shops, bars, trattorias and super markets have been reopening or going back to regular hours, though a few places are still doing half-day Saturdays. Just a word on shop hours here - most places are open from 1000 until 1300 or 1330 then open again at 1530 or 1600 until 2000. Many places close on Saturday at 1300 or 1330 and most are not open on Sunday. Trattoria and restaurants are open from 1230 until 1500 for lunch and 1930-2000 often until last guest for dinner. It takes some getting use to - and we have had colleagues who just never catch on - but after a while it makes perfect sense.

Traffic has also returned to normal. During feragosto it was quiet, there were days when you could cross Via Nomentana and not see a car from Porta Pia to the bend at the Russian Embassy - about 3 kms; the hornet hum of motorinos was a mere buzz and the blaring sirens of ambulances heading to near-by Policlinico were few and far between. This morning as we sat with our friend Walter on Regina Margherita everything was as it is for 11 months of the year.
It is now a month later and believe me everything is really back as it was - for better or for worse. But what is for better is that the music season has started. Both the ballet and the opera are back in operation - if on reduced schedules because of the budget cuts. So here's a few things on my calender for the next little while.

  • La Gitana, a 19th century ballet premiered in 1836 in St. Petersburg, is on the cards for this weekend. One of the fine things that former Prima Ballerina Carla Fracci has done with the company here is to revive or re-stage some works that are known only from the history books. They are presented at the small Teatro Natzionale with a reduced company of dancers and orchestra but with fine production values. Next in the series will be August Bournenville's La Sylphide (Maria Taglioni as the Sylph 18th century print) which I recall seeing many years ago in Toronto with the magnificent Eric Bruhn. As well come November we will get a full staging of The Red Poppy - one of those ballets from the Soviet era about the poor Chinese girl trapped in the Western-based opium trade but saved by the love of a Soviet sailor. I recall the Bolshoi performing it - to general derision - when they first toured North America in 1959.
  • The fall season at the Teatro dell'Opera has opened with Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande - and I just saw the cast list and we are getting the second cast. As I have mentioned before most operas here are double cast and you pays your money and takes your chances. That is not to say second casts are bad casts just not necessarily the ones you want to see. And this time around I am frankly disappointed: all the singers are Italian in what is one of the quintessential French operas. The first cast was a top notch French one - this is one time when I honestly feel double casting is a rip off. And it will interesting to see how Maestro Gelmetti and his orchestra handle a work that is really not in their blood.

  • Then I'll be off to Athens in mid-month to visit my friends Yannis and Fotis and go to the ... wait for it... opera. I shouldn't feel ripped off there, one of my operatic idols Anna Caterina Antonacci (left) - who I saw this time last year in Medea - will be singing Gluck's Alceste. And American tenor Gregory Knude is in the cast as well - he was so remarkable in Zelmira at this year's Rossini Fesival. They are doing the French version which I've never heard and Fotis promises me that there may be a chance of making a fool of myself over Mme Antonacci after the performance. He made good on his promise with Agnes Baltsa so... problem is that I am known for saying the wrong thing as I abase myself before celebrities. I will have the infamous Marilyn Horne Ottawa 1986 exchange forever on my conscience.

  • I'm hoping to get up to the Verdi Festival for the Nabucco but tickets are currently not showing as available but I'll keep trying. I always enjoy Parma - the city, the food (yes Dora the ham!) and the Festival.

  • Our concert season starts at the Academia at the end of the month and though it may not be as starry a season as last year its still a pretty good line up. A Russian mini-Festival, under the rather romantic title Passione Russa, will be highlighting some of the better and lesser known works of Čajkovskij, Rachmaninoff and company. Most will be conducted by music director Antonio Pappano (left, photo courtesy OC) though Opera Chic's Uncle Solly - Yuri Termirkanov - is going to show us how the natives do it on at least one occasion. Michael Tilson Thomas will give us his thoughts on the 9th as part of an on-going Beethoven Fest. And Wayne Marshall, who blew us out of our seats literally last year with a very loud Porgy and Bess, is returning to try his hand at Bernstein and Broadway. Claudio Abbado plans to be a bit more traditional with his Mozart and Mendelssohn's Italian. Vladimir Jurowsky with take us to Firezne with a concert performance of Gianni Schicchi starring Juan Pons. Pappano comes back in his yearly foray into Mahler and Georges Prêtre promises to take us through some Brahms. And that's just our subscription, there's a whole pile of other stuff going on throughout the season.

  • The rest of the season is up in the air where opera is concerned. The budget cuts mean that many of Italy's opera houses have no idea what will be happening come the new year. Rome has given hints but a recent letter from Genova suggested they may have to close the house for the rest of the season. La Fenice still hasn't said anything about the new season nor has San Carlo. Bologna and La Scala have both put out their calenders but without much to raise the old opera queen's operaphile's interest though I will definitely go up to Milan to see From the House of the Dead. Palermo may have some interesting things coming up and we are planning to go to Sicily at some point in the new year but other than that nothing else has captured my attention. But then, of course my dear Opera Chic will probably write about something and I'll be rushing to Termini to catch a train to Cremona or Bolzano or Trieste.
Other than that nothing much planned musically over the next little while.

04 ottobre - San Francesco d'Assisi - Patrono d'Italia
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Saturday, October 03, 2009

And He Confound the Language of All the Earth

One of the fun things about having a blog is watching the traffic and seeing where people are visiting from. In the past month alone I have had people in 74 countries stop by to see what Willy Or Won't He is about. Though the bulk of the traffic is from English speaking countries there have been visitors whose language may be as exotic as Mongolian. Of course in some cases people may be located in one country and their server in another but it still makes you very aware that there are many languages out there in the Internet world.

In Biblical mythology the Tower of Babel resulted in the Lord causing a confusion of languages - in fact if you read the King James version of the story He was being downright vindictive because the peoples of the earth were making progress and He didn't like it. Perhaps we should take that as a forewarning???? Or perhaps given my own confusion of languages I should have taken it as a lesson.

So why this obsession at this point in time with language. Well I have become involved with doing some work for a magazine called Ballet2000. Published in Nice it is a tri-lingual (Italian, French, English) magazine devoted to the dance. And I help my friend Simonetta by taking certain Italian and French sections of the magazine - mostly reviews and media reports - and turning them into acceptable English. Now it has always been my understanding that for linguistic convolution the French were second to none and I have often stated that fact in a less than subtle fashion. I now publicly apologize to anyone I ever offended with that belief: Italians can take a phrase that resembles a straight road and turn it into a cloverleaf with feeder lanes and additional overpasses! And as for word creation - I know a few writers who could rival Shakespeare (who it is thought added at the least 1700 words to the English language) for inventive use of language. Now mind you there was the little episode where I spent 20 minutes and even sent an e-mail to my friend Marco asking for the meaning of the verb abbagnatare , in a headline, only to realize that it referred not to a verb form but to Elenaora Abbagnato, the prima ballerina. Colour me imbarazzato on that one.

I find it exhausting work - that would be me at the centre of the picture at the right throwing my hands up in despair as I unravel a 12 line sentence. And as each of the past three deadlines have been met I vow that I will never do it again. But it is a challenge and where else would I have learned the word: sussultanti, an adjective taken (or perhaps made up) from the verb sussultare - to make some one flinch or the sudden movement of tectonic plates during an earthquake. Now all I have to do is find some way to work it into a conversation. La penna della mia zia è sussultanti. No just doesn't work!

Confound language!

03 ottobre - Santa Geraldine

Friday, October 02, 2009

A "Look Inside"

Last weekend Firenze was overflowing with visitors - tourists like us - crowding the streets, cafes and trattorias of Centro. Getting into any of the big museums was a major chore. Without a reservation, which had to be made at least 3 days in advance, the wait for the Uffizi was going to be between 2 and 3 hours. So we decided to save that sort of thing for a mid-winter trip when things will be quieter.

However some of the other venues were, blessedly, crowd free: the Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which like many buildings is undergoing restoration. Despite the work going on the in the courtyard it was still possible to see the beautiful frescoes of the Magi Chapel. And they have an interactive space to find out more about Gozzoli's work - sort of a human point and click - very state of the art. Other than that there was the Marble Museum (one very strange bust, but more about that later) and an exhibition by a Chinese artist Yang Maoyuan.

Now Firenze is not a city I immediately associate with modern art - the great Medieval and Renaissance masters yes but modern stuff??????And more particularly modern art in one of the Medici palaces? But the exhibition is very firmly grounded in classical art - or more specifically classical sculptures of busts.
Maoyuan was born in Shanghai in 1966 and currently works and lives in Beijing. His work is the subject of several major exhibitions throughout Europe this year. "Look Inside" is a mixture of western art and eastern sensibilities. He creates sculptures in marble and in some instances bronze based on Greek, Roman and Renaissance models - the most recognizable being Michaelanglo's David - then he smooths away many of the features leaving only partial faces exposed.

The first gallery held rows of busts from the classical Greek and Roman periods displayed much as they are in all the museums in Italy. At first it was a slightly eerie feeling to see these incomplete faces but also in a way it there was a quiet fascination about the smooth white surfaces that surrounded them.
The second gallery held busts of Greek and Roman philosophers carved in black marble with the smooth surfaces overlaid with highly polished bronze. They did not photograph particularly well and were, for me, the least interesting of the works on display.
I'm sure it is just me but my mind's eye was filling in the missing bits of the David. But I also realized for the first time that his is not a happy face, not the face of a simple shepherd boy - it is both a determined and a troubled face perhaps foreseeing the tribulations of his future life as King.
Maoyuan also turned his eye to the many visages of the Buddha seen in the East. This forest of Buddhas is almost like a gigantic carton of eggs but each one bore a different aspect of the Holy Man.

I found it a fascinating exhibition but also am wondering if part of that fascination wasn't intensified by the contrast to the works that are on constant display as you walk through the streets of Firenze.

02 ottobre - Santi Angeli custodi