Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Family Portraits

Despite my constant complaining about their website TrenItalia does make travel within Italy remarkably easy to most of the major cities. With their new Frecce high speed trains Napoli is only 90 minutes from Roma as is Firenze in the other direction. So Sunday it came as no surprise heading back on the 2010 out of Firenze to see a fair number of people in our car clutching - as where my friend Peter and I - programmes from the Maggio Musicale performance of Verdi's La Forza del Destino and catalogues from the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi.

We had taken a morning train up and arrived - in the pouring rain - at Santa Maria Novella with enough time to catch the exhibition, have a leisurely lunch at Trattoria 4 Leoni and make the late afternoon performance at the Teatro Communale. And we were back home in Roma by 2200. A full day but a good one.

Peter had seen the exhibition earlier in the fall and wanted another peak in. I wasn't all that familiar with Bronzino's work so was more than happy to accompany him. We hadn't reserved and being a Sunday and rainy we had to line up for about 20 minutes but as with all line ups here the wait had its entertainment value. Its always fun to watch the attempts to jump queue and the pantomimes of astonishment or indignation when the heretofore invisible line up is indicated and suggestions made that the culprit go to the end of it. The attendant was obviously adroit at handling myopic and offended patrons of the arts who had never waited in a line at any other museum anywhere else in the world.

As with so many of the exhibitions here the design was exceptional, the flow from early works through the allegorical, the sacred and court portraiture was presented with style and flair. Pieces were put into the context of other artists and influences of the period and included poetry by Bronzino and his contemporaries who were members of a poet's society of the time. Descriptions were in Italian and English and included verses - again in Italian and English - written in the slightly doggerel style Bronzino and his friends used in verses circulated amongst themselves.

Angelo Bronzino was a Florentine born and bred and though his travels took him to Pesaro and the delle Rovere court he returned to his home town and the employ of Cosimo I de'Medici. He was official court portrait painter to the Medici family from 1539 until his death in 1572.

It was these portraits that I found the most interesting and that gave me the greatest pleasure. When discussing it later on the train with fellow passengers I mentioned that the details was incredible but that it was the eyes that gave his likeness of the great and those around them life 500 years later.

Even the formal clothing of the court can't hide the cheerful aspects of a pudgy two year old Giovanni de' Medici painted in 1545. As healthy a child as he looks in this portrait he suffered from tuberculosis in his early teenage years. He was the son chosen to enter the church and was first Archbishop of Pisa and then made a cardinal at the age of 17. Two years later he was dead from a malaria attack. He* and his mother Eleanor of Toledo are the subject of the remarkable painting chosen for the poster and catalogue cover for the exhibition.

One of the more intriguing works was this double sided portrait of Cosimo's dwarf Morgante. Braccio di Bartolo (his nickname was a joke based on the name of a giant in an epic poem of the period) had joined Cosimo's court around 1540. Though he was an entertainer he also was known for for his kindness and cleverness and was much beloved by the Duke. He accompanied him on several diplomatic missions and Cosimo bequeathed him land and the right to marry.

This two sided portrait shows Morgante preparing for the night hunt with an owl on the retro and triumphantly displaying his catch on the verso. In the 18th century it was considered an obscene work and his nakedness was heavily over-painted with vines and grapes. It has been recently restored and is now being displayed for the first time in several centuries as Bronzino painted it. Though he had some privilege at court, like all dwarfs, he was there as a curiosity and was often the object of ridicule and humiliation from courtiers, functionaries and courtesans. Now 450 years later they have all been forgotten but Morgante lives on in Bronzino's work and in sculptures by Giambologna and Valerio Cioli.

With the time at hand I couldn't fully appreciate all of the more than 80 works on display so it may mean another day trip up to Firenze. After all thanks to TrenItalia its only 90 minutes away.

There are several articles on the Internet on the exhibition and an interesting video in English on YouTube: Bronzino in Florence.

Though most sources indicate that the sitter is Giovanni, as mentioned in the catalogue, recent suggestions have arisen that given the date of the portrait - 1545 - it may be his elder brother Francesco.

29 novembre - Sant'Andrea apotolo

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

The unsinkable Betty White is still going strong and proving that comic timing is a gift and an art. Here she is with Johnny Carson in a sketch from The Tonight Show in the late 70s.

One of the running jokes - though he may not have appreciated it in real life - on the Tonight Show was the amount of money Carson forked out in alimony payments. Of course he thought of divorce lawyers as the Devil!

29 novembre - San Giacomo della Marca
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas is Coming

Yesterday my American friends celebrated their Thanksgiving and for most it signaled the beginning of the Christmas season. In Canada our Harvest Festival is in early October, which is too early - despite what retailers say - to even start thinking about holiday-tide so I've always taken my cue from my American cousins. Here in Italy I've never quite figured out what the signal is for the start of the run up to December 25th so I've created my own.

When Betty Jean's Christmas cactus blooms its time to start thinking about the holidays. And this year its getting set to Bloom with a capital B! I've counted 40 buds - the most I've had on any Christmas cactus.

As I look at it on the windowsill I'm reminded of Betty Jean, Stephen, Sarah and Brian and our friendship during our time together in Warsaw and, as difficult as it was, here in Roma. And it also reminds me of so many of our friends around the world - in Pakistan, Poland, Serbia, England, Greece, the United States, here in Italy, in various parts of Canada and back home in Ottawa. Friendships that have bloomed over the years and continue to do so. Reaching back to my American friends holiday - for that I am truly thankful.

26 novembre - Sant'Umile da Bisignano

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

For My American Friends and Family

The Happiest of Thanksgivings to you all.

This and many other wonderful vintage images are at Vintage Holiday Images and Cards.

25 novembre - Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sebastian - the True Story

He is a familiar figure in Christian iconography - whither in the paintings of Botticelli (left), Titan, Rubens, or El Greco, in sculptures by Bernini and Antonio Giorgetti or in small carvings in wood or ivory by unnamed artists - his bound youthful, athletic body twisted in almost erotic lines showing off its musculature as it is pierced by arrows. His beautiful and sensitive face ringed in ecstasy or impassively accepting his violation; his eyes often cast to heaven seeking the glory of his savour as he enters amongst the elect.

Well that would be Saint Sebastian of course - a young, handsome, virile member of the Praetorian guard turned Christian being martyred at the hands of his fellows by order of that "nasty" Diocletian, the scourge of Christianity. Dying in sweet agony bound to a tree which is often as erotically sculpted as the Saint himself, he has been perhaps the subject of more works of art than any saint in the litany.

If that's the case then who's this guy here? Yes I know the young, athletic, atheistic self-same Saint as imagined by Peter Paul Rubens but just roll your mouse over the picture for a closer look.

Hey wait a minute! What happened to the arrow encrusted stud? Who's the old geezer? Well he is in fact the Sainted Sebastian! Or at least the closest an unknown artist could come to a likeness of the Martyr some 500 years after his death.

Yes according to this mosaic in a chapel in San Pietro in Vincoli and historical records the real Sebastian was a grizzled, combat hardened veteran well passed his youth - and he did not parade around in strategically placed loin clothes. Now that is not to say that all of the facts that revolve around his mythology have been misrepresented. He was indeed a member of the Praetorian Guard who converted to Christianity and he did proselytize on behalf of his religion but that wasn't the main problem where Diocletian was concerned. The big sticking point was loyalty - unbending, single minded loyalty to Rome and the Emperor was required of every member of the Guard. If you were a follower of this new god then chances were that your loyalties would be divided and held to question. So Sebastian was rounded up in a purging of the army ordered by the co-Emperors Diocletian and Galerius

Poor old Diocletian was to get the full blame for all this in later Christian histories but looking at his reign as Emperor tells a different story. He was part of a Tetrarchy that had found Rome in a perilous state financially and physically and used hard measures to bring things back into line (god that sounds very familiar doesn't it?). One questions how if he spent all his time dealing with pesky Christian martyrs he found time to consolidate the Empire.

When it was found that no auguries could be read predicting the future of the new Tetrarchy, the priests demanded that all institutes of the Empire be purified and everyone was required to perform the traditional sacrifices. When Sebastian, amongst other Christians, refused he was arrested and handed over to the Macedonian Guard to be used for archery practice. According to the Legenda sanctorum he was shot full of arrows until he resembled a hedgehog???

The tomb of Saint Sebastian at San Sebastiano ad Catacumbas (San Sabastiano fuori le mura) features this traditional sculpture of the martyr by Antonio Giorgetti, a pupil of Bernini.

In the church built over the catacombs where he is reputedly buried, the "tomb" of the saint shows that lithe youth laying much pierced and obviously quite dead - however it didn't quite play out that way. He was rescued from the practice field by Saint Irene who tended to his wounds and nursed him back to health. However ever the old campaigner and never one to be kept down by something as a piffling as a fleeting resemblance to a porcupine, he was back front and centre haranguing the Emperor. At this point Diocletian had his hands full with comprehensive tax reform and didn't need someone yelling at him from the sidelines. So he ordered Sebastian clubbed to death and the body thrown into the sewer. Not the most romantic of ends and hardly a fitting subject for a large painting to adorn a chapel meant to impress everyone with your family importance.
This fresco in San Pietro in Vincoli records a religious procession during the time of the plague. A sly Satan slinks off the scene, his work having been done, as the bodies pile up and the faithful process through the city with an icon of the Madonna.

So why the gym-buffed stud muffin makeover? Much of it had to do with the Plague which struck most of Europe in the mid-1300s. Fuelled by fear as they watched their family and friends die swiftly but painfully around them the Romans looked to Saint Sebastian - he was their third most important saint - who had survived the archers' arrows to intercede on their behalf. The mosaic from San Pietro was carried in procession around the city with other holy icons. Candles were lit, prayers were addressed and promises made - and the plague lifted. The blessed Sebastian suddenly became one of the hottest saints around and the object of universal veneration.

But would you really want to kneel and address your pleas to a grizzled old codger covered in sewer sludge? Well neither did the faithful of the period - so by degrees Sebastian was changed. The beard and white hair, wrinkles and robes were morphed into the athletic perfection of an unclothed model. And that undignified method of execution glossed over and the far more sensational and artistic- and is it possible erotic? - death by many piercings became the agent of his martyrdom.

The church, painters, sculptors, writers, poets and artists of all kinds had found themselves the perfect cover boy!

23 novembre - San Clemente Romanus

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Oh Bright Cecilia

Bronze pomegranates (an age old symbol of both welcome and life) adorn the marble altar railing at the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

In 1599 when Cardinal Paul Emilius Sfondrati was rebuilding the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere he had the body of Saint exhumed. It was said that witnesses testified that the body was intact not corrupted by decay or death. Apparently it was still possible to see the three cuts on her neck where the executioner tried, unsuccessfully, to behead her. This only strengthened the devotion to the Saint and her day was celebrated with great pomp, elaborate processions and decorations and, of course, music!
The altar at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere enshrines the remains of its titular Saint. The marble carving is said to duplicate the state her body was found in when it was exhumed in 1599 - the young Stefano Maderno's work became a model for many other sculptors of the period.

Her actual association with music is rather tenuous and never was so much made of such a tiny bit of pseudo-biographical information. St. Cecilia was said to have heard heavenly music at one moment of her life and from that became the patroness of all western music. A cult build up around her and poets and composers created odes and anthems celebrating her life and the glory of music.

This two brass castings are on either side of the main altar at Santa Cecilia - the top one is definitely Cecilia (the organ pipes are the give-away) and the other two are possibly her husband Valerian and his brother Tiburtius who were martyred with her. I'm not sure of who the three are in the lower panel and wasn't able to find any information on a search.

Over the past few years I've always posted something musical to celebrate the Feast of Santa Cecilia. Normally its been something in the classical vein but I found this little treasure from 1941 originally recorded by the Andrews Sisters. This is a latter version by the Bon Aires.

Our home is a shambles, all I treasured has gone
The town seems deserted, everyone's so forlorn
A storm came from up above but somehow it missed
The shrine of Saint Cecilia

The bells in the chapel never ring anymore
The clock in the steeple can't tell time as before
But up on the hillside, stands a place heaven blest
The shrine of Saint Cecilia

Each day at eventide
When I seek haven from my daily care
You'll find me by her side
It seems so peaceful there

I kneel in my solitude and silently pray
That heaven will protect you, dear, and there'll come a day
The storm will be over and that we'll meet again
At the shrine of Saint Cecilia
Pern Jokern / Carroll Loveday

A little big of digging suggests that the lyrics are referring to a town somewhere in Europe - perhaps right here in Italy - which has been hit by the devastation of war. By some miracle the local shrine dedicated to Cecilia has been spared and brings comfort and hope to the singer.

Oh Bright Cecilia!

And as always this is sent with love to my own bright Cecilia.

22 novembre - Santa Cecilia
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Lunedi Lunacy

A list of vintner approved cures for what ails you:

Now I'm thinking maybe I should get working on an Italian equivalent????

22 novembre - Santa Cecilia

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Murder Most Foul

And Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
Genesis 4: 8-9
King James Bible - 1611

This bas-relief in Berlin's Bode Museum is a graphic depiction of the moment when Cain strikes out against his brother. Though it has been seriously damaged, there is really no need to do anything other than imagine the violent action of Cain's right arm. Even without it the faces tell us the whole story.

Cain's face is twisted in anger at the Lord's rejection of his sacrifice and hatred for his younger brother. Even in profile it betrays the violence of the act he is about to commit.
Abel's face is filled with fear and astonishment. In his play Back to Methuselah Shaw maintains that the knowledge that Adam and Eve learned from the tree was the meaning of mortality. And I can see that knowledge in Abel's face.

21 novembre - La Presentazione della Beata Vergine Maria

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote ... Unquote

While paging through the Guardian today - I guess that's what you call it when you read a newspaper on the Internet - I came across an interactive article (see link below) on a painting that is being sold in England by its present owner, Lord St ­Oswald. The National Trust and the Art Fund are trying to raise the needed £2.7m to keep The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Bruegel the younger in the country. In the article there was a quote by W. H. Auden which sent me scrambling to Google for the poem in its entirety.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus - long thought to be by Pieter Bruegel the elder is now considered a copy of a work rather than the original. It is in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels where Auden saw it in 1938.
Musée des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden - 1938
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.
Auden's words brought to mind the presepi which will be appearing in churches and homes next month: tableaux of the Nativity surrounded by people going about their normal business. Though some may be aware of the event being celebrated others are oblivious to the occasion. And I've often observed it in miniatures and early paintings in museums and churches that while the mundane activities of the town or country continue unaffected miracles are wrought, martyrdom inflected and achieved and the gods thunder, roar and laugh.

Post Script: Auden was not the only poet inspired by Bruegel's painting, William Carlos Williams also wrote a short poem entitled Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Ho Visto*

Yesterday was a typical Roman October day: it started cloudy, the streets damp from the early morning humidity, then blinding warming sunshine and by late afternoon as the sun set a chill came in the air again. Layering was definitely the clothing watchword for the day. Most of the afternoon was spent in the Porta San Giovanni area. First, Sunday pranzo at Canavota, one of those wonderful family owned trattoria that has been around for ages. And being Roma and a Sunday we ran into Robert, our oldest friend here, and Paul another acquaintance who was visiting for a few days - the world is small.

After lunch it was a quick ascent up the Scala Sancta which tradition says Santa Helena had brought back from Jerusalem. Okay we didn't do it on our knees but did a quick jog up the adjacent staircase. No indulgences for us! Then over to San Giovanni in Laterno. It's been almost two years since I had been inside what is officially the Pope's parish church here in Roma. It has one of the most beautiful ceilings and some of the most fascinating inlaid flooring of any of the major churches in Rome. We took a quick go round of the cloister to look at a few of the artifacts stored there and, as always came across a few surprises.

Hidden away in a corner of the Cloister, behind a set of 13th century doors and nestled amongst bits and pieces of sarcophagi are the Holy Vending Machines. I'm not sure if they are from Antioch or where exactly Santa Helena would have found them but they do have a slightly Monty Pythonistique air to them.

And a short walk down Viale Carlo Felice found us at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme for a look at another set of relics that Santa Helena brought back on her shopping trip from the Holy Land. And it was nice to see that the posted signs had their required effect.

To be perfectly honest it doesn't really say anything about not defacing the sign does it? Just not to walk on the grass, spray paint (or is that use insecticide?), fight (or maybe disco dance?) and throw garbage on the grounds.

*I've saw.

15 novembre - Sant'Alberto Magno
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest We Forget - Part II

My dear friend Diana asked me to write something for the Canadian Club of Rome blog for Remembrance Day and I felt that an adaptation of a posting I did two years ago would explain, particularly to our Italian members, the significance of the poppy we wore today and on the past few days. In reading over it I realized that the symbolize of the poppy and its history bears repeating.

This is a memorial at the birthplace, in Guelph, Ontario, of Colonel John McCrae the author of "In Flanders Fields". A right click on the photo will take you to a brief history of the poppy, its association with Remembrance Day and this well-known poem.

Once again - we must not dwell on the past but we must remember it and those who died so that we may freely remember it.

11 novembre - Remembrance Day

Lest We Forget.

As the years go by the reason that November 11 was chosen as a Day of Remembrance has begun to fade into the fog of history; but the reasons that day was chosen no longer really matter - what does matter is that we continue to remember.
We wear a poppy to remember.
We lay a wreath to remember.
We ask the world to be silent for two brief minutes to remember.
We say a silent prayer to remember.
We listen to the last post to remember.
But it is not important how we remember, what is important is that we remember!  And that we remember not just those who have died in both combat and peace missions but those who bear the scars, physical and mental, of battles fought and scenes witnessed.  And it is important that we not just remember today and then forget about it until the next November 11 comes around. 

And no matter what the mission may be - peacekeeping, protecting or combat - and no matter if we agree or disagree with it, our fallen, our wounded, our retired and our active forces must know that they are not forgotten at home. Must know that their actions past and present are remembered.

11 novembre - Remembrance Day
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Italian Cheese - and I Don't Mean Parmigiana

With my darling Blake, better known to Nicky and Nora as Uncle Pervy, in town I found myself in Centro today visiting oft visited but much loved sights here. I never cease to be amazed and delighted by the incredible perfect geometry of the Pantheon, the slight imperfections of Michaelangelo's Cristo della Minerva, the rush of water you hear just before you turn the corner to the Fontana di Trevi, that moment when an unsuspecting guest discovers the trick of the dome in Sant'Ignacio or entering a church like Santa Maria Maddalena that on other occasions has been shuttered and finding an amazing baroque organ loft.

But for every wonder there are things that have me making that funny sharp intact of breath sound that indicates I am displeased with something or scratching my head in bemused bewilderment. And within the space of a few minutes today I found myself doing both in the area of the Fontana di Trevi.

For some reason the city of Rome has allowed souvenir sellers to set up large stalls to the left and right in front of the Fontana. Aside from the fact that what is for sale is cheap and cheesy it blocks what should be an uninterrupted view of the wonders of the largest Baroque fountain in the city. It is said that back in 1751 Nicola Salvi made sure that an unsightly barber's sign, that a stubborn shop owner refused to move, was hidden behind a vase - only to have his grand design spoilt 250 years later by a hawker of Chinese-made plastic-marble replicas of his masterpiece. Whoever in the city authorized this should hang their head in shame and be made to stand full clothed in the Fountain while we throw coins over our shoulder at them.

And in looking at the wares for sale in a few of the souvenir shops that encircle the Fountain I really wonder if anyone buys any of this stuff - I can only suppose that as the shops continue to operate and the various tchatzkahs are displayed for our buying pleasure someone must. And who wouldn't want this lovely full length synthetic wool tapestry in their home as a reminder of their time in Rome? Just a hint - we are leaving in 9 months time and there will be a farewell party!!!!

10 novembre - San Leone Magno - Papa

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Music, Food and Photos

A pictorial chef d'oeuvre which no doubt Yannis will turn into a culinary masterpiece.

As well as appearing nightly on the Greek version of Master Chef my dear friend Yannis is a talented photographer, graphic designer, food blog writer and collector of the weird and wonderful - and no I don't mean friends like me!

He posted this little gem on to us on Facebook today.

09 novembre - Dedicazione della basilica Lateranense

Monday, November 08, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

I've posted this a "Lunacy" because frankly I'm terrified of flying - yes 33 years with an airline, flying sometimes 4 times a week and for all of those times secretly - and on one or two occasions not so secretly - terrified from bridge off to bridge on.

In the early days of aviation Barnstorming or stunt flying was a major source of entertainment in the US and Canada. A small company of aircraft - single engine open cockpit - and stunt performers would go from rural community to rural community offering spills and thrills to the locals. Many of the pilots were veterans of the World War One and amongst the stunt performers were a fair number of women "dare devils". Here is one of them: Gladys Ingle of the 13 Black Cats a company of flamboyant Los Angeles-based stunt pilots who defied both superstition and the odds on survival in the 1920's.

Brave? Yes!
Courageous? Yes!
Out of her mind? Yes!
Sorry to me this is true lunacy.

08 novembre - Santi Quattro Coronati

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Oh Freedom!

So many of my blog friends have been posting beautiful tributes to Shirley Verrett as a testimony to her art and the woman herself. Even the normally acerbic commentors on Opera chats have take time off from proving how witty and all-knowing they can be to write simple appreciates for this great singer.

Over at Singer for all seasons my dear Yvette posted a few simple and beautiful words to commemorate Shirley Verrett and this clip which I had never heard before and I am borrowing it with both apologies and appreciation to her for initially posting it.

I have nothing more that I can say.

07 novembre - San Prosdocimo di Padova

Saturday, November 06, 2010

They Just Keep Leaving Us

Last evening, just before going to bed, I did a bit of quick surfing and over at Parterre Box read the sad news of the death of the great American opera singer Shirley Verrett. She was a singer I loved but only saw twice on stage - once in I believe in 1969 at Covent Garden in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice conducted by Georg Solti and then in 1972 in San Fransisco in a rare revival of Meyerbeer's L'Africaine with Placido Domingo. But I did have many of her recordings in my collection - including an album of duets with Montserrat Caballe which ranks as one of the great recordings of the late 20th century as does the La Scala recording of Macbeth which was one of her greatest triumphs - and heard her on Met broadcasts.

She was an artist much loved by both her audiences and her colleagues and once she had retired worked tirelessly with students to pass on her knowledge and experience. She was a diva but never a prima donna, her work was known, like the lady herself, for its honesty, integrity and passion.

Here she is in Che faro senza Euridice, Orfeo's expression of grief at the loss, for the second time, of his beloved Euridice recorded a year or two after those Covent Garden performances.

Sadly they did not record the devastating recitative that leads into the aria as I recall her cries of Euridice! Respondmi! tearing at the heart. Another moment that I can still see in my mind's eye if though it were yesterday was when Euridice (the lovely Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar) placed her hand on Orfeo's shoulder to be lead out of the Elysian Fields - Verrett's whole body gave a shudder of joy and her face became alight with the happiness of being reunited.

No doubt yesterday she entered Elysium with the same joy and happiness.

06 novembre - San Leonardo di Noblac

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Día de los Muertos - Mixquic 1987

As I worked on the posting for November 2 - All Soul's Day - one of those little memory drawers opened and I recalled a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) fiesta back in 1987. Laurent was in Mexico City on his first posting. I was able - through juggled work schedules and thanks to working for an airline - to get down for a month at a time once every two or three months. We were lucky - the peso was low, the economy booming and despite the death and destruction that the 1986 earthquake had caused, the city and country was vibrant and bustling.

Part of learning about the culture was realizing that the images of death were always present - as a theme it ran through art, music, religion and folk traditions. The strange mixture of Aztec and Christian traditions that in another place would seem dark and unduly fatalistic here had an openly sardonic irony that was in so many ways healthier than that Anglo-Protestant fear of death I grew up with.

In Mexico death was part of life and at no time was that more apparent than on the Feast of the Dead. And in particular in the small town of San Andrés Mixquic just south of Mexico City in the Distrito Federal. It is a three day event there - part street fair, part carnival and part honouring the dead by families and friends. Many of the traditions are common to most towns and villages - the bread of the dead, the sugar skulls and strange skeleton figures but in Mixquic they are know for the decorations on the graves and the traditional altars to loved ones set up in homes. Families work on elaborate floral mosaics and prepare graves with candles and incense for a Feast with their Dead.

I did not take many photos that day but I think this one was perhaps the best and seemed to sum up so much of what the day was about.

A left click will take you to a short slide show of a few of the other photos that were taken that day.

05 novembre - Beato Guido Maria Conforti

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Handy Men

Minnie over at Les Minimes was just recounting, with her usual wit, her experiences with a visit from the plumber at her flat in Nice. As well as bringing to mind all the joyful of adventures we had with our lovely old (1885) house in Aylmer, I was reminded of this number by the team of Flanders and Swann.

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Fortunately for Minnie she has not had to call in the Gas Man... yet!

05 novembre - Beato Guido Maria Conforti

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ho Visto*

Every Tuesday afternoon I head over to Trastevere for an appointment. Trastevere literally mean "across the Tiber" and encompasses a large area south of the Vatican on the west bank of the river. The northern area of the Rioni (Rome proper is divided into 22 districts or Rioni, Trastevere being number 8) is a warren of cobblestoned streets, alleyways, old palazzi, palazetti, churches and other buildings some dating back to the 12th century. It's also a beehive of trattorie, bars and trendy clubs some catering chiefly to tourists and others to the better heeled youth of the area.

I'm not working these days so I often leave a bit early, have a coffee at a bar just off the Lungotevere - I don't even have to order now just wave at Cisco, the barman, and my Caffè macchiato is made - and wander around the back streets. It is still an area I am not all that familiar with and I only get over there on those Tuesday jaunts. It's odd, but I think only normal, how once you get settled in a city you tend not to leave your own area most of the time. So Trastevere is mostly uncharted territory to this stranger from the Upper East side.

This past Tuesday as I was approaching the Piazza de'Mercanti I noticed this gentleman unloading his truck.

Firewood? In the middle of Rome? Why would he be unloading firewood? Sure our wealthy neighbours on the ground floor have a fireplace but I don't suspect many people in the palazzi in that area do. Then I realized it was in front of a trattoria that had been a favourite haunt of many film stars in the 60s and 70s: La Taverna de'Mercanti. And of course this would be for their famous wood burning pizza ovens.

And as I walked along the side of the building I noticed a screen door leading directly down into their kitchen and took a quick shot of one of the staff preparing for the evening onslaught.

When I mentioned it to my doctor, he gave that famous Roman "BOH!" and suggested that I come over one evening and take night time pictures as according to him it is quite lovely. But then he suggested I go and eat elsewhere - too many people looking for the table that Gregory Peck sat at!

*I Saw

03 novembre - Santa Silvia

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Thought for the Day

As I have often mentioned I don't normally comment on politics here in Italy - as a guest it is not seemly or proper. However and you knew there had to be a however given Mr. Berlusconi's comments today I feel that there has to be a response.

For anyone who has missed it, in defence of possible charges concerning a 17 year old girl the 74 year old Prime Minister stated: As always, I work without interruption and if occasionally I happen to look a beautiful girl in the face, it's better to like beautiful girls than to be gay.

In response a friend of my friend Mark posted the following picture on Facebook.
Better gay than Berlusconi.

With thanks to Herman for what is the perfect response to Mr. Berlusconi's inane comment.

02 novembre - La Commemorazione dei defunti

A Prayer for All Souls

This lovely, simple Welsh song of grief and hope asks for rest for one soul but on this day I think it can serve to ask that all souls of those we love may rest in peace.

Myn Mair - O Mary

My pennorth* I'll offer for a soul in prison,
My candle I'll offer in the church in the vale,
The Mass I'll pray earnestly, seven times seven,
To save his immortal soul.
O Mary, O Mary.

St. Paul and St. Peter, all the saints of heaven,
And Mary, God's Mother, plead strongly,
That he may have peace and dear liberty,
Paradise open, and the arms of his Father.
O Mary, O Mary.

Mother of Jesus, the fairest of earth's women,
Maidenly Queen of all of the heavens,
Lovely lily of the valley, worthy rose of heaven,
Intercede in fervour for the soul of my friend.
O Mary, O Mary.


In most Latin cultures this is known as the Day of the Dead but I have always preferred the more gentle sound of the English tradition of calling it All Soul's Day.

For Ryan, Deb, Steven, Frank, Susan, Albert and Isabella and those we still hold dear in hearts and minds if not in our arms.

02 novembre - La Commemorazione dei defunti

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Master's Degree in Bathroom Fixtures

I have nothing but the highest admiration for Italian design - whither it be in clothing, furniture, architecture or kitchen and bathroom fixtures Italy excels. There is a innovative flair and style to how Italians create, perceive and display things that give them a beauty that is, to my untrained eye at least, very distinctive.

Take bathrooms. I don't know about you but one of the first things I do when I check into a hotel room is look at the bathroom. And many hotels here are upgrading their bathrooms with sleek shower stalls, designer bidets, floating stainless steel bowls as sinks and space age controls. Like this little console at the Hotel Savoy in Parma.
It's simple! It's sleek! It's shiny! It's sophisticated! It's Italian design at its best. And its a bitch to use. Notice it is uncluttered with silly things like indications of what does what or hot (C for caldo always a little catch) or cold (F for fredo). Now I don't think of myself as a techno-idiot but I do require some instructions when I first use something - even something as basic as do not touch stove element when gas is on!!!!! But I guess Italian designers take for granted that you will know what to do - unless of course you are a dumb stranero like me!

I was about to step in the shower - one question, why do so many hotels have those folding glass panels that only cover half the bath forcing you to crouch in the corner unless you want to get water all over the floor? - so in an attempt to test the water first I reached for the knob to turn on the faucet. I turned it left! Nothing! I turned it right! Still nothing. Ah maybe the lever? I turned it up! Nothing! I turned it down! Still nothing. Ah wait a minute if I pull the lever out what happens? Well it definitely starts a flow of water - hot and from the hand shower which is pointed at me and into the room. For an old person - sorry Marco, make that a mature person - my reflexes were pretty quick - close the lever.

Okay so pulling the lever out controls flow and turning it up or down must control the temperature of the water. Now for the knob, it turns so it must control something - turn the hand shower away, set the lever at midposition and slowly pull it out. Ah that's the secret. Now turn the nob slowly to the left. Why look waters coming out of the faucet - a bit more and its coming out of the overhead shower head but I forgot to swing the glass panel into place so water is now spraying all over me and the floor.

I hadn't even stepped into the shower yet and already I'm all wet. I really do admire Italian design!

01 novembre - Ognissanti
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