Thursday, December 31, 2009

As The Old Year Fades

I cannot say that 2009 is a year I regret to see fading away. It has been a difficult one in so many ways with personal and family illnesses, the lose of close friends, tensions and problems on the home and work front and more than a share of life's little dramas.

But it has also been a year that has had its rewards, chief amongst them the fact that: I got through the past 365 days pretty much intact; Laurent and I are still together and are living a good if at times frustrating life in Rome; I have some wonderful friends here and throughout the world; and I now have two little creatures to help (?) me with the blog - please ignore the smart blogging wear, it was early or maybe late I don't honestly remember.


So as we leave, what the press has been calling the naughts, and head for the teens, I am counting my blessings, tallying up the positives and allowing that perennial bitch Hope to spring eternal. So I'm going to put a sock in it and stop whining about the past year and looking forward to new reasons to whinge and whine in 2010.

To all my friends everywhere:

Happy New Year
Bonne Année

Buon Capodanno


31 decembre - San Silvestro

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things - Theatre Memorabilia

I mentioned earlier today about stopping in at our friends Simonetta and Renato's on Christmas Day. Simonetta works with us at the Embassy but as well as being a colleague has become a close friend. Through her I have become more closely associated with the dance world. She has been both a dance critic and writer on dance for many years and seems to know everyone in the dance world.

And she is the one who got me involved in translating for Ballet2000 - a tri-lingual dance magazine published out of Nice. Its hard work but it has taught me a lot in the past six months - about language and dance. Though I have been going to the ballet since I was five I am developing a deeper understanding of what is perhaps one of the most ephemeral of the arts. And for that I can thank Simonetta.


For that and a charming little book that she left under our tree a day or two before Christmas. The Natural World of the Ballet Girl is a tongue in cheek little tome tracing the life of a Victorian ballet dancer. Not some great Prima Ballerina but a simple girl who dances in the corps de ballet - sometimes as a village girl, or one of the Ballerina's friends or a lady of the court. Her's is a life of dusty, drafty stages, demanding ballet masters, the smell of greasepaint mixed with lamp oil, shared digs, small pay packets and often indecent proposals. Despite its slightly wry tone it accurately reflects the almost Dickensian life of a dancer of the period.

Before Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes made dance a form of high art to the English , ballet was seen more often in the Musical Hall than the theatre. The Empire Theatre in Leister Square lead the way with ballets based on French models such as Coppelia as well as their own creations. The themes could vary from fairy tales to mythology to allegories to celebrations of current happenings. Productions were elaborate: settings replete with special effects, waterfalls, transformations, flying dancers, processions, beautiful costumes and scores written by famous composers of the period.

Amongst her many dance related treasures Simonetta has this rather appropriate photograph from 1902 in her collection. Our Crown was an Empire Theatre ballet created to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. As well as cities and counties of the United Kingdom countries of the Commonwealth joined in this paean to the House of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha and its new ruler.


And Miss Emille Tree - attired for the bitter winter in fur, adorned with symbols of the Dominion and armed for the hunt - proudly represents Canada. I do wonder how long she would have lasted in those tights in an Ottawa January? Fur leggings would be more useful but then the gentlemen in the stalls would have had nothing to train their opera glasses on! And despite Mr. Smith's warning to lascivious Gents in The Natural History that was one of the appeals of Victorian ballet.

29 decembre - San Davide

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things - Well Chosen Gifts

Each Christmas it becomes more and more difficult to find something unusual or even just fun to give. The big question around our place is always: Well what do want for Christmas? And for the past while the answer always seems to be: You know there's nothing I really want. So gifts become socks, underwear, gloves - all those practical things that your old aunt gave you as a kid and you turned your nose up at but now accept readily because you always forget to buy them for yourself. Fortunately there are also the little surprises that do appear under the tree such as a 3 CD set of vintage recordings of Mahler, Brahms and Strauss (even after 60 years Kathleen Ferrier and Bruno Walter can break you heart with Mahler's Songs on the Death of Children) or a Cavalry officer from the Greek War of Independence in beautiful detail.

Then there is that gift that you may have mentioned briefly at one time, forgotten about and is suddenly yours. When we spent that fun Sunday at Wendy's Flavor of Italy making pranzo I used this great rasp style grater to zest the lemons for the ravioli. I think I may have said something to our friend Jocelyn about it in passing one day. Well guess what I unwrapped at her place on Christmas Day? The minute I got home I had to try it - voila a pile of lemon zest in seconds and no idea what to do with it at two o'clock in the morning!

And while wandering around the housewares department at Rinascente gazing at 600 euro coffee machines on Wednesday I came across two ceramic cups that I had seen in Pesaro in August and thought were cute. They turned out to be perfect stuffers for Laurent and Lionel's stockings. And also a great idea for the gift exchange on Christmas Day. And of course I had to buy one for myself for those mornings when I need a double espresso to get motivated at the old keyboard.

And finally totally unexpected I received a lovely present when we dropped in to say hello at our friend's Simonetta and Renato. A perennial and delightful guest at their table on family occasions is Alberto Testa, the Italian dancer, choreographer and dance authority. Il professore - I once called him Dottore and was begged not to: "Everyone in Rome is a dottore" he said with a sardonic twinkle in his eye and voice - turned 87 on December 23 and is still elegant, graceful and a wonderful story teller. His description of teaching Burt Lancaster (a natural dancer) and Claudia Cardinale (a stick) the waltz for Il Gattopardo is funny with a bit of a bite. He surprised me with an autographed copy of his book on Nureyev.

Looking over what I've just written I may have to revise those first thoughts - there are still things out there that when given or received give delight, particularly when they come from family and friends.

29 decembre - San Tommaso Becket

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy - Another 12 Days of Christmas!!!!!!!!!

We got a theme running here so let's go with it!


28 decembre - Santi Innocenti

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sights, Sounds and Shares of Christmas

I love the fact that the big tree at Piazza Venezia, in front of the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, isn't quite perfect. It leans slightly to one side which is just fine and being Italian it leans to the left or the right depending on how you want to look at it!

For some reason this year has seemed busier than past Christmas seasons here and I haven't put up as many posts as I would have liked or even had planned to. Perhaps it wasn't so much busy as I am getting lazy???? However I did take a whole raft of pictures and had a whole parcel (slightly smaller than a raft???) of paragraphs to do with the holiday season. But I thought I would still share some of the sights, sounds and posts from friends of the holidays - after all we do have 10 days of Christmas left.
I find the Piazza Navona Christmas Market too crowded during the day time but in the evening - or at least last week when it was cold and humid - it was almost deserted. We wandered around for a bit and then headed over for one of Signora Paola's home cooked meals at Der Pallaro - including her signature potato chips.
  • Once again Joe of the fabled Joe My God posted one of my favorite Christmas stories: The Dance of the Sugar Plum Lesbians has become a Seasonal classic. Each year I read it anew with added delight and it brings a smile to my face each time.

This wonderful display of teddy bears graces the window of a very upscale toy store in one corner of Piazza Navona. I was particularly delighted by the three kings and their camel. I'm glad the store was closed for the night otherwise ......
  • From his new digs in Palm Springs Jeff recalls for us an earlier time when network television still had an identifiable style and, yes, even a certain class. As he says "this little gem embodies the spirit of the holidays."



The Novona market has a cornucopia of Christmas goodies - things for your presepe, decorations for the tree, Befane for January 6th, sweets and consumables. Much of it is cheap merchandise made in China but Laurent and our friend Jackie did find a few things to add to the Christmas trees.
  • Over at Japonisme Lotus Green has a wonderful series of posts - aural and visual - on roses and the return of light as the days begin to grow longer. Every one of them has something of interest and as always she astounds me with her wealth of images.

Just before Christmas we met with our friends Joe, Peter, Pino and Claudio for another delicious meal at what is fast becoming our favorite eatery in Centro, Antica Enoteca. It was raining that evening and after dinner as we walked over to catch the last Metro we found the area of Piazza Spagna and the Spanish Steps blessedly empty. Every so often it happens here and you understand the magic of this city. And that would be Laurent, Pino and I voguing in the rain.

  • Laurent featured a wonderful Christmas story from the Canadian Press about Fred the dog and his trip across Canada. Thanks to the good will of the people at VIA Rail Fred made the 4801 km trip from Vancouver to Montreal and was reunited with his family.

As I've mentioned before there are presepi throughout the city - in piazzas, churches and of course private homes. This antique one is half way up the Spanish Steps and depicts an 18th century Roman street scene complete with cavalry officer.

  • She does not write as often as she once did but as always when Big Ass Belle does it is always going to arouse emotions and get you thinking. Sadly Christmas for her revives memories of a 40 year old mystery that will live with her the rest of her life.


The carousel at Parco della Musica is a beautiful antique one from a circus and is part of an amusement area with a skating rink and cafe. And of course my favorite presepe in Rome - Emanule Luzzati's magical vision of the nativity fills the amphitheatre. I am hoping to get back to take some daylight photos of his characters when we get back from Madrid next week.


Though not as grand as the one in Piazza Venezia our own tree holds memories for us. Ornaments given us by family and friends and that we have bought over the years in Chicago, Ottawa, Toronto, Hong Kong, Poland, Mexico, Egypt and Italy; the collectibles - the Wedgewood and Russian enamel medallions, the silver Christmas flower from Towle; and of course our sterling silver balls. Its eclectic and maybe even a bit gaudy but it says so much to and about us and the past 31 Christmases.
  • And finally our friend Wendy Holloway - who runs a wonderful bed and breakfast just outside Rome - included a traditional Central Italian Christmas recipe on her Flavor of Italy blog: Gobbo alla Parmigiana. I keep meaning to write a post on the great Sunday morning we spent at her cooking school a few weeks ago - an experience we intend to repeat at the end of January.


27 decembre - San Giovanni evangelista

Saturday, December 26, 2009

HFH - aka - GPP

Given that the kids are now 10 months old and there has been a firm change of character from the light hearted chewing of anything that moved of puppydom to the serious chewing of anything that moves of adulthood I thought a change of name was only right. The postings formerly known as Gratuitous Puppy Pictures (GPP) will now be called Hounds From Hell (HFH).

I don't think either one of us realized what a challenge it is to have two pups of roughly the same age in the house. Our previous experience had involved introducing Reesie as a pup into an already existing pack - Laurent, Bundnie and myself. The establishment of pack order has been an interesting - in the Chinese proverb sense of the word - experience.
The two of them love the couch in the Den and it has become the favoured sleep spot. Its also good for imperial poses (That would be they before their were groomed, then Nora in the middle and Nicky below) and for climbing over the arm and into the lap of poor unsuspecting Papa as he tries to type. I am learning to post with a lap full of daschies, who once they are comfortably ensconced are a bit difficult to dislodge.


It is normal to "strip" the coats of wire-haired daschies; hand stripping is probably the best however it takes forever and a day and patience on both the part of the stripper and the dog. Since patience is at a premium in our household the groomer used the shears on them over a month ago. When Nicky came home I didn't recognize him - because the undercoat is a different colour they both like completely different dogs.

Since that first day when I sat in the back seat of the car holding them Nicky has been a whiner and Nora the gregarious one. Those traits have only increased as they have gotten older. Nick still whines a great deal and Nora thinks that her mission in life is to lick and kiss people. Nick has also given us a series of other problems: He is also afraid of other dogs but unfortunately that takes the form of aggression - sort of I'll snap at them before they snap at me. It has happened on a few occasions during our walks at Villa Torlonia and has been a real source of concern. We are working with a very good Danish trainer to nip this in the bud. And Christmas Eve, the first time he had been around a group of people, he seemed to be afraid of them - including one friend he had been playing with only the day before - and was extremely skittish.
The trainer says that Nicky is also being protective of Nora when other dogs approach her - to be blunt he thinks of her as his bitch! Though heaven knows a great deal of their waking time is spent fighting, scraping and posturing for top place when they fall asleep in the den it is always cuddled together.

There are a few other traits that I won't go into here as this tends to be a family oriented blog but let's just say that Nick has not realized that Nora has been spade and also that if he continues to hump her head he may not need that aggression training!

26 decembre - San Stefano

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Sounds of Christmas

Often when you go to a museum you go into visual overload - things become a blur and then suddenly a piece jumps out at you. Something that speaks to your mind but more often to your heart. This beautiful sculpture by John Flaxman was only one of the many wonders at the Bode Museum but it was one that said something to my mind and heart's eye. Though the visit of the Magi is not until January 6th I thought I would share this with you on Christmas Eve.

video

Once again the music is by the Boston Camerata from their album A Renaissance Christmas and is the beautiful German carol Es ist ein Ros'enstsprungen by Michael Praetorius using the original harmonization.

A rose has sprung up, from a tender root.
As the ancients sang to us, its lineage was from Jesse.
And it has brought forth a blossom in the middle of the cold winter at the stroke of midnight.

The rosebud that I mean, foretold by Isaiah,
is Mary, the pure, who brought us this blossom.
At God’s immortal word, she has borne a child
who makes us blessed.

(This small bloom, that smells so sweet to us
with its clear light dispels the darkness.
Truely man and truer God!
He helps us from all trouble and saves us from sin and death.)

24 decembre - San Giacobbe
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

This version of the 12 Days of Christmas has no hidden meanings!



And keeping the Nativity front and centre the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre give a touching rendition of an old favorite.



21 decembre - San Pietro Canisio

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Dog's Christmas



Sadly I think the Hounds from Hell would eat the cookies and probably try and lick the fat guy in red to death!

With thanks to my friend BonBon Jamiefils


20 decembre - San Domenico di Silos

A Christmas Greeting

Currently members of the Canadian Armed Forces are serving in the conflict in Afghanistan. It is not the first time in history that our troops have been far away from home at the Holiday time - the lists of missions in which Canadians have served is the history of the conflicts of the past century and a half. Being away from family and friends is difficult at any time but more so as you know they are gathering for their traditional celebrations and you will not be there to share with them.

We are all busy at this time of year but perhaps we can take a minute out of our crowded schedules and send a simple "Happy Holidays" greeting to the women and men of our services in Afghanistan.

Messages may be sent by going to Morale by Message Board (English) or Le moral par babillard électronique! (French).

It will only take a minute or two and will let them know that the Canadians or friends of Canadians everywhere have taken the time to stop and think of them as the holidays approach.

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Happy Holidays, Meilleurs voeux, Happy New Year, Bon Annee and a wish for peace and may we all be able to exchange the same greetings next year.

20 decembre - San Domenico di Silos

Santa Claus is Coming to Town - VI

A band blaring out "Santa Claus is coming to town" always announced his arrival. One can only think that the poor band members were ready to run screaming into the streets after playing the same tune for two hours.

Earlier Santa's arrived in a variety of conveyances - horse, train, aeroplane and one year in a giant silver fish (!!!!) but by the 50s it was the tradition sleigh drawn by reindeer. And you'll notice that Rudolph is not amongst the lot - he was the mascot of the rival Simpson's store across the street!

And up he headed to Toyland. Where you could ride on Punkinhead's train, play in a fish pond and sit on Santa's lap for a few precious minutes as you whispered your heart's desire into his ear.

20 decembre - San Domenico di Silos

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Santa Claus is Coming to Town - V

Sometimes the connection with Santa, Christmas or Fairy Tales was a trifle vague but as long as it was colourful it didn't really matter.
Of course many of the floats were recycled with a chance of colour, an alteration of structure. This year's Animal Fair could be next year's Circus Float - but only the most precocious of children - who are you smirking at? - would have noticed.
Santa was always preceded by a float to remind us - if the blowing snow and below zero temperatures weren't enough as you sat on the curbside - that he came from the North Pole. I recall Teresa Michaelski and I having a heated discussion as to whither the Ice Queen's palace should be coloured blue or pink. What color was ice in your world?

19 decembre - San Dario di Nicea

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Hidden Meaning - I

This has been around the Internet for some time now but is an interesting take on a traditional Christmas Song. Though there has been some debate on how true it is, given that often religions hid messages in code it is entirely possible.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics.

It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

The True Love was the love of God the Father for his people.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
May thanks to Her Excellency Anne Leahy for passing this on.

18 decembre - San Malachia O'Morgair (Maelmhaedhoc O'Morgair)

Santa Claus is Coming to Town - IV

A few more floats, marchers and bands before the man of the hour appears!


The parade route in the 1950s was about 10 kilometres through the centre of Toronto from Christie Street down to Yonge and Queen St where a special staircase led Santa right into Eaton's Toyland.

That first colouring book was very detailed in design and looking at it now it would have been very difficult for some kids to "stay between the lines". Following editions were less accurate depictions of the floats but easier to colour.



18 decembre - San Malachia O'Morgair