Monday, November 30, 2009

Lift Up Your Heads, Oh Ye Gates

And be ye lift up ye everlasting doors!
And the King of glory will come in.
Psalm 24:7
Adapted by Charles Jennens
For Handel's oratorio Messiah.

This staged performance of Messiah from Vienna may not be to every one's taste but ignore the strange goings on and you have the Arnold Schönberg Chor giving a youthful and I think wonderfully dramatic performance of this magnificent chorus.

Messiah is one of the great traditions of the Christmas season and that great chorus is appropriate for the beginning of the Advent season. It also appropriate for a start of a tradition that I have enjoyed over the past two years: our friend Larry's Internet Advent Calender. In 2007 each day from December 1st to Christmas Day Larry opened a window in our adopted city, last year he opened doors in Roma and this year he'll be opening some of the many gates throughout the city.

As in previous years I will be posting a link to his Advent Calender on the sidebar at the right. A simple click will take you to his Gate for the Day and a posting suitable for the day and the season.

There are so many wonderful gates here in Roma that Larry started a bit early this year with an Introduction and a remarkable bonus gate.

30 novembre - Sant'Andrea Apolostlo

Lunedi Lunacy

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.
George Bernard Shaw

Why is the those crazy Commonwealthers do satire so well? Love the Chasers and the Chasers' War on Everything. Its brash, brazen, bawdy, bold and just damned funny.

30 novembre - Sant'Andrea Apostolo

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Il Fidelino

The Boy with a thorn in his foot (Il Fidele or Il Fidelino) was a well known subject in Greek and Roman sculpture. The first known version was a Greek bronze created between the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE which is now in the Musei Capitolini here in Rome. Various versions of it in bronze and marble were made from Roman times onwards and can be found in collections in Firenze, London, New York and this one at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin which dates from the time of Augustus.

He is part of the exhibition Die Rückkehr der Götter (The Return of the Gods) - a fascinating collection of classical pieces that had been taken from Berlin to Moscow and St Petersburg for "safe keeping" in 1958. The collection of Roman and Greek art was returned and has been restored and some pieces are being displayed for the first time in a decades.

The name Il Fidelino (The Faithful Boy)comes from the apocryphal story created to give what was a simple Grecian theme a more grandiose civic purpose in Rome. Legend says he was a shepherd boy who ignored the pain of a thorn lodged in his sole to deliver a message to the Senate. It was only after his task had been accomplished that he applied himself to removing the hurtful barb.
Some how this does not look like the face of a boy who has run miles to bring a message but simply a young lad, perhaps a Shepard, concentrating on removing that bothersome thorn.

Though those beautifully sculpted hands and feet don't look like those of a young man who has tromped through fields or climbed rocks in search of his sheep.

What ever his purpose in life he was a fitting subject for the unknown sculptor's hammer and chisel.

29 novembre - San Saturnino di Tolosa
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sweet Singing in the Choir

In the same room at the Bode as those beautiful choir stalls there was another stunning example of the woodworker's art from an completely unknown source. The labeling simply says Upper Italy 1531. No further attribution but it again reflects the artistry of the carver and the inlayer.

Again the wood used is walnut with stained veneers and bone for the inlays. The triangular base is ornately carved with symbols of battle and various grotesques and surmounted by a choir book stand.

A left click on the image below will show a close up of the faux-choir book which is a minor masterpiece of trompe oeil. One can almost imagine the cantor singing from it.

The three sides of the base are marquetry panels, one of which serves as a door into what is obviously a storage space.
Rather unusually the subject matters has no Christian symbols that are immediately apparent but all three scenes are of a secular nature. That cat has the strangest markings and is perhaps not the best example of craftsmanship but those instruments look like you could almost pick them up and strum a tune.

28 novembre - San Giacomo della Marca

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Take A Pew!

I have mentioned more than once that woodworking fascinates me - so often the work of a master wood carver reveals the soul of both the creator and the wood he has worked on.

This remarkable set of choir stalls, chiefly made from walnut, are from a Monastery in Pavia. Made circa 1500 they have pride of place in a large room in the Bode Museum, and are fine examples of carving in the elaborate detailing at the ends and columns as well as the art of wood inlay known as marquetry.

When I first looked at the scenes they appeared to be simply reflections of town life somewhere in Italy but then I noticed a pair of figures in one scene - two women embracing at the door of a house. Their postures mirrored what is often seen in representations of the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary. It appears that the artisan created each scene to include an episode from the story of the Virgin Mary using events from the Official Gospels and the apocryphal Gospel of James;. But here they are seen as part of everyday life in a town not as a special event. Perhaps it was done to remind us that often momentous events take place in the most mundane settings.
The birth of the Virgin who was, according to James, the daughter of Anna and Joachim.

And James tells us that Mary was given to the Priests of the Temple to be educated and to protect her purity so she could become the perfect vessel for the incarnation.

Amongst the apocryphal stories is one of several men into who's guardianship the priests wish to place the Virgin. When Joseph presents himself miraculously his staff broken into bloom signifying that he was to be the chaste protector of Mary and the earthly father of the Christ.

Though the official Gospels only refer to Mary and Joseph as being "espoused" in the Medieval church their wedding was a favorite subject for paintings.

The only panel which is based on a recognized Gospel account is the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth - again a favorite subject for artists. Strangely that most frequently used of subjects,The Annunciation is not included amongst these panels.

It would appear that the artist ran out of inspiration for the last two panels that show only empty village settings.

Though it may well be that he moved on to another project elsewhere and another artist took over his work. Or perhaps the workshop may have run out of the necessary materials and he created scenes with the woods and veneers at hand.

Interspersed with this narrative are panels depicting the various instruments of the passion and for the celebration of mass.

A thurible sits ready and smoking to cense the elements of the mass - chalice and pyx in one panel as empty as the tomb. The pincers and hammer at the ready to do their part in the crucifixion.

As with most woodwork from the period the creators' name may well be hidden somewhere within the design - though these pieces were to the honour and glory of God, artistic vanity and rightful pride of workmanship demanded some small recognition. According to the Museum listing it is the product of the Mantuan workshop of one Bartolemeo di Polli - I've come up with nothing on him - with additions by others unknown.

Their names may have faded or be unknown but their craftsmanship remains as a testimony to their days spent on this earth mastering their art.

27 novembre - San Primitivo

Thursday, November 26, 2009

For All My American Friends

Auguri di Santo Sgeveno!

And for a lovely Italian take on that most American of festas GB of Italian Notebook explains my greeting here!

26 novembre - San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio

Quote ... Unquote

I'm sorry Walter, Marco, Vin, Simonetta I love you all but Italians are hard to understand. I don't mean when they speak - I mean they are HARD to understand. Of course I am not the first straniero to make that observation - that was probably some poor Hun who had come down to conquer and found himself totally confused. The red tape, traffic and hysteria going on around him made it almost impossible to rape and plunder with even a modicum of Hunish efficiency!

I'll give you an example of what I mean: our neighbour on the first floor can barely bring himself to say buon giorno and tends to hustle the children along if he sees us coming - now that may be a combination of us being stranieri and omosessuale. Yet the other evening when we had a power failure and discovered that there was no way to open the front gates he patiently explained about the key for the back gate, was indignant that we didn't have one - this was not right the Embassy should have given us one, what would we do if there was an accident we could be trapped in the compound - and trotted down the long back lane way to open it for us. This morning it was back to a curt nod and a muttered greeting!

But then as Beppe Severgnini explains in La Bella Figura in an emergency Italians come through! Severgnini's explanation of the Italian character is highly recommended reading for anyone visiting Italy and mandatory for anyone planning to live here. He addresses many of those questions that have been puzzling us stranieri since the first Gaul gawked in wonder at the Colesseo.

Take traffic and parking! Though he's talking specifically about the parking situation in Napoli, he could be addressing the Sunday morning circling for a spot near the door at IKEA here at Porta di Roma.
Italian motorists must - not "like to," not "want to," not "beg to," but absolutely must - park right next to their destination, with no thought for the consequences. It's true all over the country, but here in Naples, under pressure from the lack of space, stimulated by uphill gradients, and excited by the descents, drivers seem particularly creative.

Anyone arriving by car expects to park outside the front door. A couple of hundred meters away there may be a huge free parking lot, but that's irrelevant. Leaving the car there would be an admission of defeat. Our car user circles like a shark awaiting the moment to strike. If the individual concerned thinks he or she is important - a title that many in Naples like to acquire in the course of a brief, solitary award ceremonies - then irritation increases. Status is inversely proportional to the distance between destination and parking space. The closer the car the more important the driver.
And I think he may have come up with an explanation for that Mercedes that has been parked on a nearby street for the past six months. You may recall I wrote about it in September. Yes its still sitting there but that sticky mess of figs has dried up and is now covered by a lovely autumnal arrangement of dead leaves.

Severgnini's possible explanation? Again he's talking about Napoli but it could be Roma and it could be that Mercedes owner.

There's another category of motorists that deserve examination here in Naples. I'm taking about the Potential Driver, who has found a parking space - improbable, improvised or just plain impermissible - and has not intention of giving it up. This driver gets around on foot, on a scooter, or on public transport, defying the ticket inspectors and muggers. But the car stays where it is. Every so often, he dusts the vehicle off. Why should he move it? A car is a form of reassurance, proof of prosperity, and a place to listen to the radio or store wine. No one around here has ever parked so close to home before. The neighbours know this, and observe in admiration.
La Bella Figura
Beppe Severgnini
The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group

Well of course, why didn't I think of that: once you've got a good spot why give it up? Makes sense doesn't it?

Okay even Severgnini can't always give reasons that make sense to us Huns - hey we are in Italy - but he makes a good stab at it. And its entertaining reading!

26 novembre - Sant'Umile da Bisignano

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Its Turning Into ...

... one of those weeks!

25 novembre - Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

Words! Words! Words!

For some reason the conversations at coffee these past few days have centred around words and language. In a day when language is changing so rapidly we can often lose the things that give a language its flavour - dialect, local idioms etc. We were talking today about safeguarding regional dialects here in Italy.

And language can also be used as a safeguard - which brings me to the purpose of this post. I am been discovered by spammers both on my blog and on my e-mail. Fortunately the blog spam seems fairly innocuous - selling various programmes etc, unlike my e-mails where someone has decided that I would be interesting in wife swapping and having affairs with dissatisfied married women. What the reaction would be when I swapped Laurent with some guy for his bored suburban spouse can only be imagined. And though I think I may be able to bring some satisfaction to that poor dissatisfied woman - yes I have delusions of triviality - I am really not all that willing to put myself out, as it where, to accomplish the task.

All that to say I am going to add word verification to my comments section so that spam is eliminated and chances of anything nasty or viral being transmitted through it reduced. I'm sorry for the inconvenience and hope its doesn't stop anyone from leaving a comment.

And speaking of "word verification" - as my friend RG mentioned a few weeks ago you'd think if they were going to call it that they would use actual words. I mean what the hell does "defliqit" mean?

25 novembre - Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

Mercoledi Musicale

In my old parish church in Toronto, as in most Anglo-Catholic parishes, if a major feast falls on a Sunday it is normally transferred to the next day. Well November 22 was the Feast of Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of music. As I have mentioned in the past her association with music appears a bit tenuous - other than the fact it may have been played at her ill-fated wedding and that she sang while being executed - a three day event if the legend is to be believed - there doesn't seem to be much else of a connection.

Now it may not be a major feast day in the church calender but it has been here on the blog for the past few years. And this year I've decided by my own rules that the feast would be celebrated today as part of Mercoledi Musicale. And what better way to celebrate it than with one of the greatest of her followers Mozart. I couldn't find anything that he wrote with the Saint particularly in mind but here is the setting of the Agnus Dei from his Coronation Mass (my favorite of all his church music) sung by Canadian soprano Donna Brown. Nothing could be more lovely in honour of the Patron of Music.

And to my own bright Cecilia - I know its a day or two late but there was no way I'd forget.

25 settembre - Santa Cecilia - trasferito

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Storni

I was returning from an appointment in Trastevere this afternoon and decided to take the Ponte Palatini rather than my normal walk cross the Isola Tiberina - I had already had my ice cream on the way over, Sacher Torte and Zabalione. As I started across the noise of the rush hour traffic was almost drowned out by the calls of flocks of starlings.

It appears that the birds are staying around Rome these days rather than heading south the way they use to in November - but its not climate change just a change of vacation plans. It is not unusual to see clouds of them just before sunset.

The acrobatics were literally stopping traffic - a few people had gotten out of their cars in the middle of the bridge to take movies. I did a few seconds of video from the safety of the sidewalk.

It was a beautiful if at the same time slightly unsettling display. Alfred Hitchcock has a great deal to answer for!

24 novembre - Sant'Andrea Dũng Lạc e suoi 116 compagni di martiri

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Another Dire Warning - 1881

Give women rights and this is what will happen in a hundred years time! Mark my words! No job will be safe! Men will face unemployment! You will no longer be master in your own house!

Amongst the many treasures at the Museum of German History was a Schnupftuch(handkerchief - don't you just love German - so onomatopoeic - I'll just blow my nase in this here schnupftuch) from England circa 1881. In cotton with printing on one side it is a satiric jab at the fight for women's rights. Unfortunately the lighting was not the best, the overhead glare intrusive but with a fabric that old I will not - nor should not - use my flash, so the images are not the best. I just thought it deserved a showing.

Three of the borders show what will happen in various bastions of male dominance and a fourth the decline of the modern male into base domesticity. The cartoonist - unknown at this point - has created a design much in the manner of the popular Punch magazine where the original of this may well have appeared. It is a dire prophesy of what will happen in a hundred years if those silly women are granted those rights they seem to feel they are entitled to. You will notice that those rights did not seem to rid them of those corsets I talked about last week. And many of the women seem to bear a strong resemblance to Music Hall chorus girls.

The arts and sciences - why even the science of motor car repair - will be taken over by the female of the species. None of the manly pursuits will be safe - not even sports!

Well, well those precision routines from the Music Hall may just stand them in good stead when they have to practice maneuvers. And I'm sure that there is nothing salacious meant in furling a sail! They are only able bodied women doing their job.

The high courts will be the centres of high fashion and Aunt Liza will be running for office along with Mrs Dubblechin. And talk - there will be no stopping those politicians now!

O the shame! Washing clothes, scrubbing the floors, cleaning the windows, tending to the babies, tatting.. no please anything but tatting!

And of course there will be men put out of work and who will end up spending their time loafing and in idleness. What other choice will they have?

And you may have noticed all those women are wearing pants! Pants I tell you! What will be next? Men in dresses and lace berthas?

This can all lead to no good! Heed the warning!

24 novembre - Sant'Andrea Dũng Lạc e suoi 116 compagni