Sunday, February 28, 2010

Missing in Action But Still Around

Things have been a little crazy around here the past week or so. As a result I haven't been either able or in some cases up to doing a regular post - even those easy ones like Mercoledi Musicale. This time it isn't the infamous "blogger's block" just life.

First there was the trip to London - just too much going on to do much other than take pictures, go to the theatre, museums and concerts, eat and meet up with a wonderful fellow blogger and his partner.

Second there was the kids' birthday - okay that didn't take up that much time just an extra biscuit on "the day" but Nora was under the weather - oh look something unspeakable on the sidewalk let's eat it and see what it will do to our digestive system! Now that could set me off on a rant about the bloody people here who don't pick up after their dogs but that is for another day.

Third the visit to the Corsini Library and its wonders.

Fourth, and probably the biggest - I'm back to working full time at the Embassy for a few months. I won't go into the details - at times they were just too Machiavellian for words - but every morning I am now arising at 0630 and merrily trudging my way into the office. Hey its will pay for the upcoming trips!

So all and all its been a bit of a dog's breakfast - sorry Nora. I am honestly working on something about those first three items, the fourth we will leave to God and her Angels to inscribe in the Book of Life. In the meantime I'm off to boot camp with the kids - this week we'll learn how I should respond to the command "Down"!

28 febbraio - San Romano di Condat

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beasts of Battle

In the famous Charge of the Light Brigade it is estimated that the British lost over 335 horses and that during the 1914-18 War on the Belgian Front alone 800,000 horses were killed. And a conservative figure lists 40,000 war dogs used by the Allied Forces died in that same conflict which ended in a stalemate and an Armistice. The totals for other campaigns are as staggering for animals that served as mounts, war machines, carriers and vehicles of communications.

And given that the British are known for their animal rights activism I am frankly surprised that it has taken so long for a monument to be erected remembering the animals that died in various armed campaigns throughout the ages. In a city overwhelmed with monuments in prominent locations to long forgotten heroes (?) of often long forgotten wars it is a shame that this lovely tribute to those who did not have “ a choice” is lost in the middle of one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. I happened upon it as I was leaving Hyde Park near Speakers' Corner to cross Park Lane and return to the hotel.

The monument was created by sculptor David Backhouse and dedicated in November 2004 by the Princess Royal in the presence of a goodly number of people who had contributed to its creation including Dame Vera Lynn. When I passed it on Friday there were still wreaths strewn around the base from last November 11th commemorations from various animal societies and individuals as well as a few more recent tributes.

The four bronze figures parade through a crevice in a stone wall lead by a cavalry horse. the rear of the procession being brought up by, it seems to me, a sad and rather reluctant mule carrying munitions. I do find it strange that in this procession the dog cannot be viewed through the crevice in line with the other animals – though that may just be my prejudice in favour of canines speaking.

Though the dog in question does appear to be looking back and urging on the ghost image of his fellows incised into the back wall – the elephants, camels, goats, horses and birds used in the various battles that Britain has fought through the centuries and throughout the world. In a rather strange oversight though a flight of carrier pigeons are included the caged wrens that were used to test for the presence of poisoned air during the Great War are missing.

But the mere fact that this tribute exists is a wonder and the fact that while I was photographing it a good number of people stopped to look at it. There was one trio of young trendy types who ended up spending as much time as I did looking at it and an overheard comment suggested it had made them stop and reflect in a way that other monuments to forgotten battles had not.

Perhaps it is my own fondness for animals but I found it a touching and emotionally moving tribute to creatures that went into battle because “They had no choice.”

23 febbraio - San Policarpo

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

I suppose this could be called "the lady that was known as Loo" or "sitting in the lap of luxury!"

22 febbraio - Cattedra di San Pietro

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Going to the Library - Part III - Rare and Wonderful

On my recent visit to the Biblioteca Angelica I was at first stunned, then a little angered and finally, I know I will get such flack over this, secretly thrilled that we were given such close access to the treasures. The librarian handled them all without gloves and a few of our party did touch one or two of these incredible documents. When I asked her why she wasn't wearing protective hand wear she shrugged it off and said: we don't take these out all that often??????

This is the oldest European document in the library's collection. It is a simple Parish Book of the Remembrance - a list of those who have died and are to be remembered at mass - from a church in France. It is on vellum and some of the pages had holes in them, however the librarian explained that it wasn't damage but cheap vellum, after all it was only a parish registry. The holes were from insect bites in the animal skin that expanded when it was worked to create the writing surface. The first entry dates from the middle of the 8th Century and the last somewhere in the 13th - 500 years of parish history. And of course as time passed the handwriting changed as the previous register's name was entered in the hand of his successor.

I must admit that prior to this visit I had no idea what an incunabula was. As the Librarian casually brought out each book the term was explained - these are from the infancy (the incubation) of printing. In many cases the texts were done on a printing press but the decorations - illuminations, gilded lettering, title pages etc - were still being done by hand.

This is the first printed edition of Dante's The Divine Comedy; of the 300 printed only 14 copies have survived. As with many incunabuli it is a combination of printed word and hand illumination. It was published in Foligno by Johann Numeister and Evangelista Angelini on April 5th and 6th, 1472 and the enlarged photo is the colophon - the details of its printing which until modern times always appeared, as it does here, at the back of a book. It reads (very loosely as it is in very old Italian): In 1472, the fourth month (April) the 5th and 6th days this worthy work was printed by me Maestro Johann Numeister this being the 10th impression and I was assisted by Elfulginato Evangelista (a monk).

This volume is unique for several reasons. It is an incunabula of one of the first books on pharmaceutics - De Materia Medica, five volumes written by Pendanius Dioscorides, a Greek doctor (40-90 CE) discussing the medicinal effects of herbs. This translation was printed in the 1500s but much later in the 16th century a student not only made notes in the margins but drew pictures of the various plants being described. It is a remarkable volume showing the library serving its purpose as the founder intended - a place for research and learning.

I have two more posts in this series of works which I was lucky enough to see on my day at the library however there may be a slight delay in posting as I head off to London and also wait for the new Mac with Photoshop installed.

17 febbraio - Santi Sette Fondatori dell'Ordine dei Servi della Beata Vergine Maria

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Make That A Ham and Cheese On ... Veal????

I may not have mentioned it but I have lost weight over the past year - in fact my good dark suit and tuxedo now look like they were made for my big brother. Now some of that may have to do with a gluten intolerance and a cut back on wine consumption but a good deal has to do with a generally healthy diet. Its not that I'm not eating some junk food - believe me I need my potato chip fix at least once every few days - just that at meal time I am having healthy balanced meals.

Italian i.e. Mediterranean cooking is amongst the healthiest in the world with lots of vegetables, grains, fruit, fish and small quantities of meat or poultry. Most of our vegetables and fruit come from a greengrocer stand down the street - owned by Italians but run by two very friendly Sri Lankin guys. We shop there almost every day for our evening meals and produce is fresh and seasonal. And because we are regulars we get the better stuff that is hidden under the counter for the "good" customers. Our meat we get from our two local supermarket butchers and from Armando, a butcher around the corner from the office. Armando is known as the Bulgari of Butchers - his prices are steep but I don't recall ever getting a bad cut from him and for company dinners and special occasions his is the marcelleria of choice.

The local supermarkets - small by North American standards - all have butchers and the cuts, if not of Bulgari standards, are good if expensive. That is one of the reasons that only small quantities of meat or poultry are bought by most Italians. That and the fact that most apartment kitchens are not big - often people only have small refrigerators, stove tops cookers and small toaster style ovens - scallops of meat or poultry are big sellers. Though our kitchen is bigger than most we very seldom use our big gas oven - most of our cooking is done on the stove top or in a really great little electric oven we bought from a colleague who was leaving.

One of the problems with buying meat here is that I am not all that familiar - even after two years - with the various names for cuts or what they are intended for. Normally the butcher and the other customers will be more than happy to tell you exactly how to cook what you have bought - though on occasion that has led to a heated discussion between two nonni as to who's method is the right one. Often the instructions are simple - a bit of olive oil in a frying pan and cook until done! Or in the oven at 160c until it is cooked, maybe a splash of wine or a touch of cream but nothing very fancy.

And often the simplest thing is given a little twist which gives it a visual appeal - Bella Figura is important in most things here. Take as an example the stuffed hamburgers we had the other evening. Did I say stuffed hamburgers? No these were stuffed hamburgers posing as the popular lunch time sandwiches known as tramezzini.

A tramezzino is white tea sandwich bread cut in a large triangle with a, not overly generous in most cafes, filling of tuna or egg or ham and mozzarella etc. In this case the bread was replaced by two slices (about 1/4 inch) of seasoned minced veal and a filling of cooked ham, mozzarella and rocket lettuce. A splash of olive oil in the pan, we get ours from a colleague's mother's olive grove in Sicily, 8 minutes on one side, five or so on the other. And eccola! Ham and Cheese on Veal!

With some rosemary potatoes and a small salad it made for a very nice supper. And probably a drizzle of fresh tomato sauce and a side order of hand cut french fries could make it look like a good old fashioned grilled ham and cheese with ketchup.

16 febbraio - Santa Giuliana di Nicomedia

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gung Ha Fat Choy - Gong Xi Fa Cai*

*A wish for the New Year in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Yesterday was the first of the 15 days of the New Year according to the Chinese Calender. This is the beginning of the Year of the Tiger, the third year of the 12 cycle lunar-solar calender.

I have written about a few of the many traditions surrounding the festivities to welcome the beginning of the New Year previously: 2009 - The Year of the Ox; 2007 - The Year of the Pig - somehow or other I missed the year of the Rat in 2008 which may have some Freudian significance??? Be that was it may there are so many traditions associated with the holiday throughout Asia - though we call it Chinese New Years it is a cause for celebration in most Asian cultures.

The story of how many of the customs of the new year began and the story of the animal race that determined the signs of the Chinese Zodiac are explain in a far more entertaining manner than I could muster over at Mental Floss. A click on the good luck symbol below will take you there.

Aside from the food traditions - and Jack if you read this I'm sure Mama's Jiaozi were as wonderful as ever - there is also the tradition of sending hui chun or good luck messages to family and friends. These hopes and wishes for the New Year are hung around the house or office in the hope of bringing fortune in the coming year. The people at Discover Hong Kong have a web page that allows you to send hui chun to friends expressing your hopes for their health, prosperity and happiness in this Year of the Tiger.

And if you haven't already done so you might want to check out your Zodiac sign by right clicking on the image and see what the coming year holds for you.

And finally this word of warning for the coming year:
The year of the Tiger is traditionally associated with massive changes and social upheaval. Therefore, 2010 is very likely to be a volatile one both on the world scene, as well as on a personal level.

With that in mind this Hui Chun is for one and all:

15 febbraio - il anno della tigre

Lunedi Lunacy

I'm afraid I'm loosing much of that Political Correctness which I thought was part of the genetic make up of Canadians.
(Right click to enlarge)

If this is what really passed for sex education in the 60s it explains a lot!

15 febbraio - Santa Giorgia

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I'm Going to London to Visit the Queen!

Well okay not really to visit the Queen but I will be going to London for a few days next week. Unlike the fabled Dick Whittington I have not plans to stay on and become Lord Mayor because frankly I couldn't afford it!

Now I'm old enough to remember when going to England was a bargain - things were affordable and it wasn't necessary to take out a bank loan to have a weekend of theatre, pubs and exhibitions. In fact with my airline passes and hotel deals it was something I did on a regular basis in those halcyon days in the 70s . I recall one wild five day shopping expedition just before Christmas back in 1978 when the pound was at its lowest - the only time in my life I was able to afford a Bond Street suit. There were so many day trippers in from the Continent that they had to use traffic police for the pedestrians on Oxford Street.

In those days the West End was cheap: a good ticket to see Alec Guinness, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Danny LeRue, Eileen Atikins, Dorthy Tutin, Derek Jacobi et al would maybe cost L2.00-8.00. I recall seeing Olivier in Merchant of Venice one evening and Maggie Smith in an Ingmar Bergman directed Hedda Gabbler the next and it didn't break the bank. Covent Garden wasn't cheap but you could still get standing room for Lynn Seymour and Mikhail Baryshnikov as Romeo and Juliet for L2.00. I was thinking of trying to get to the Royal Opera's new production of Prokoviev's the The Gambler but even seats up in the gods are running around L25.00 with partial view boxes at L100.00. I am sorely tempted to try for Jerusalem with Mark Rylance in a performance that has garnered universal praise but even that is running a rather steep L42.00 for a stalls seat.

Fellow blogger (given his incredible knowledge and writing skills I am almost embarrassed to call him that) David from I'll Think of Something Later has suggested a BBC Symphony Concert for Friday night which would introduce me to two things: the symphonic music of Martinu and David's skills as a lecturer. I am in awe of his writing and relish the chance to hear him speak and learn more about a composer I am not familiar with. He's also suggested a visit to the new Renaissance galleries at the Victoria and Albert and I think I've mentioned before that I am partial to art of that period. Thank you David.

Another highlight of the trip will be a chance to have lunch at the St James Restaurant at Fortnum and Mason with my friend Gary. He's flying over from Toronto on one of his regular missions to send books to the library at St. Helena Island so we're taking the opportunity to see each other for the first time in over two years.

So despite the cost - sidebar: someone explain to me why a small hotel in the mountains of Greece can offer free and fast wifi when a London hotel is charging L24.00 a day - it is shaping up to be a fun few days and damn it I would only waste the money on things like food.

14 febbraio - Santi Cirillo e Metodio

Happy Valentine's Day

Tortured, beheaded and then your skull is displayed in a glass case for people to gawk at: hey nothing says love quite like it!

This great picture of the purported skull of San Valentino in Santa Maria in Cosmedin is part of a wonderful photo set by mym which can be found here.

14 febbraio - San Valentino

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Torlonia Under Snow

Frequently I have mentioned that our local park Villa Torlonia is one of the former summer residences of the wealthy Torlonia family and the residence of Benito Mussolini during his time as Prime Minister of Italy (1925-1943. Prince Torlonia was a supporter of Mussolini and lived in the fanciful Casina delle Civette (House of the Owls) on the grounds while the Italian leader occupied the Casa Principale.

It is a wonderful space and well used by people in our neighbourhood. After Friday's snow fall a good number of us where out taking pictures and reveling in a view of the park that most people have never seen: the last big snow fall was back in 1986.
The Casa Principale, once the home of papal bankers and a prime minister, is now a very fine museum. It is fronted by a wonderful grove of palms weight down at this point by very wet snow.
This has sort of a Russian feeling to it but its actually the former Orangerie which was designed in a pseudo-Medieval style. It is now a very good and very popular restaurant. Their thin crust pizza is amongst the best in Roma.

Kids doing what any kids - and a few adults - would do after a snow storm: a snowball fight!

The park is in the English style with groves of Palms, pines, bamboo and oak dotted with statues, obelisks, fanciful ruins, ponds and lots of lawns to sprawl out on - when they aren't covered in snow.

Though these early flowering hibiscus seem to just shrug off the covering of snow, this poor cat doesn't appear to certain as to what's going on and has sought the safety of a bench. As with most parks in Roma the villa houses an unofficial cat sanctuary with groups of "cat ladies" who keep the felines fed and looked after. This poor puss has never seen snow in any of its 9 lives.

Hidden amongst the shrubs and undergrowth is the Moorish House - a wrought iron and stone fantasy which housed the greenhouse of the villa. It is currently being restored and should be magnificent when it is completed - in March of 2010 according to the notice!

The theatre is also being restored and was to be ready for August 2009 - we are still awaiting the grand opening and can only hope it will be done before we leave Roma in 2011.

By late afternoon all of the snow had disappeared and been replaced by puddles of water which are more typical of a Roman winter. But for a few hours this town was a bit of winter as I remember it.

13 febbraio - San Benigno di Todi
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Friday, February 12, 2010

Let the Games Begin

Okay the Winter Olympics can now officially begin - I received my Winter Olympic Mittens in the mail today! Big old bacis to my darling Sheila! Mille grazie cara!

12 febbraio - Cerimonia inaugurale dei XXI Giochi Olimpici Invernali a Vancouver, Columbia Britannica, Canada.