Saturday, July 31, 2010

How Hot Was It?

So hot that:

It looks like the heatwave that had us in its grip for most of July has finally broken; now if it will only stay like this for the August holidays everything would be perfect.

31 luglio - Sant'Ignazio di Loyola

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Woodcarver's Art

Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity (both of you) will know that I have this love affair with wood working. For me it has always held more of a fascination than marble or stucco, as wonderful as they are. Perhaps because, to my mind at least, unlike the other two, wood is a living breathing thing. Of course Rome is the wrong city to be in for wood; this is a city of marble and plaster in baroque perfusion. So I am always intrigued when I come across examples of the wood carvers art. And even more intrigued when it is art created by someone I know.

Felice, a work colleague, came into my office a few weeks back to share a few pictures with me. He is both a gentleman and a gentle man and as I discovered a man of great talent. He has taken up wood carving and is largely self-taught in the art. The photos he shared with me were of two pieces he carved as gifts for Canadian friends.

This beautiful sheathed dagger was created from two different pieces of olive wood. The darker piece is older – perhaps over a hundred years old if not more – and had been sitting in a friend's yard for a long time when Felice discovered it. It was exactly the wood he had been looking for – a fitting contrast to the lighter coloured piece of young olive that he had found one day on a mountain near Monte Cassino.

As he told me often the search for the right piece of wood can be a task in itself. Though he had a basic design in mind he says the wood – the grain, the bend, the shape - eventually dictated the form that the dagger and sheath took. Even as he works on a piece he finds that his concept will change almost as if the wood itself is telling him what is in it.
To bring up the grain in the wood he hand rubbed it with linseed oil with particularly beautiful results in piece carved from the older wood. Felice spoke about how only natural oils or waxes should be used on wood, not only to bring up the grain and enrich the colour but to allow it to breath. Holding a beautiful piece of oiled or waxed wood is a tactile experience that is missing when it has been sealed with varnish, shellac or urethane.

This small mask was carved from a piece of African chestnut - a hard wood often used in flooring and though similar in appearance not a relative of the North American variety. It is not the easiest material to work with but at the time Felice was still new at wood carving and he liked the colour and grain. Though it proved a difficult medium he treated it as part of the experience of learning his craft - I think with great success.

Another thing he learned while creating this pieces was that when carving a face it is better to work symmetrically. He began by completing one side of the face and then the other – working as it were vertically. After he had worked on it a while he realized that this method had its drawbacks - it would have been easier to work horizontally.

I find it interesting to see the development of the mask as it is traced in these photos from its rough concept through to its completed state. The finish on this particular piece was beeswax - again a subtle highlighter of the grain, colour and more importantly the life in the wood.

I always find it remarkable that an artist - and Felice is an artist - can take a piece of wood and in it find the inspiration for pieces like this. I'm looking forward to him sharing more of his work with me so I can share it with you.

30 luglio - San Pietro Crisologo

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

Milan is definitely the fashion capital of Italy, if not Europe. The shops are filled with stylish items beautifully displayed and I might add most of the time "beautifully" priced - though we are currently in the waning days of the annual July Sale so a smart little frock can be knocked down from €3500.00 to an affordable €2250.00.

But amongst all the high fashion comes this little bit of lunacy - and its all yours at 25% off for only €350.00 (CAD 468.00 - USD 455.00).

I'm not sure where occasion calls for a Rhino bag or what stylish outfit it would go with? Or what else it would accessorize with? Or why the hell you would even want to buy it but just so you know - it's out there and it's available.

26 lulgio - Santa Venera

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dear Lord, I'm Turning Into ...

... one of those ex-pat English types living in Italy so beloved of Edwardian novelists. Yes, I bought a Borsalino! Next thing you know I'll be sitting on the piazza in the hot sun in my rumpled, slightly soiled, linen suit, ogling the tanned fishermen, my ivory tipped cane clutched in one gnarled fist and my afternoon aperitivo in the other.

24 luglio - San Charbel Makhlouf

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rossini and Tetrazzini

Tomorrow night at La Scala starts what looks like what is going to be a summer for Rossini with the most popular of his operas Il barbiere di Siviglia. The Scala production directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle is 40 years old - I remember when it was first presented at Salzburg in 1969 with Claudio Abbado on the podium. Several generations of Rossini singers have followed Ponnelle's closely choreographed movements, been caught in the "real" rain storm and rocked back and forth on his rotating sepia toned vision of Seville. I'll be getting the chance to see two of today's great Rossinians - Joyce Di Donato and Juan Diego Florez along with several of their colleagues - in this classic "old fashioned" production.

Our great-grand parents and grand parents would be astounded to hear the rich mezzo voice of Ms Di Donato singing Rosina. They were use to Rossini's heroine being sung by a coloratura soprano who would spin of stratospheric phrases meant to shatter glass. I'm not sure how or when the soprano tradition of Rosina came into fashion - though it was certainly within Rossini's life time - but by the beginning of the 20th century singers such as Selma Kurz, Marcella Sembrich, Freida Hempel, Nellie Melba, Amelita Galli-Curci and the incredible Luisa Tetrazzini dazzled their audiences with their high notes. By the time Nerman captured the much loved and admired Italian soprano for Eve magazine Tetrazzini had largely abandoned the opera stage for the concert hall and was frankly in vocal decline. An unfortunate marriage had lead to her losing the fortune she had made as one of the world's highest paid singers and necessity forced her to performed well past her peak.

An earlier caricaturist pictured Tetrazzini and her arch rival Nellie Melba dueling it out in 1908 - the choice of weapons? Victrollas of course.

But here she is, recorded in her prime in 1911, singing Rosina's Una voce poco fa from The Barber the way our great grandparents heard it. The style may seem a bit dated but the technique is rock solid and a few singers today would do well to take a listen.

The stories surrounding the petite - but stout - prima donna paint her as anything but a diva. She was much loved by her colleagues - pace Dame Nellei - and worshiped by audiences around the world. She lived in and adored San Fransisco; it is believed that Chicken Tetrazzini was created by Ernest Arbogast, then chef at the Palace Hotel, to honour their famous resident.

On Christmas Eve 1910 she sang at the corner of Market and Kearney to serenade between 100,000 and 200,000 of her beloved San Franciscans. It was said that crowds down the side streets could hear her clearly - and that was in the days before amplification!

After her retirement Tetrazzini made this little film clip in 1932 - 8 years before her death. She is listening to a recording of Enrico Caruso singing M'appari, Tutt'Amor and joins her old and much loved colleague. Even here the good nature that so endeared her to so many comes through. I particularly love the little laugh she gives at the end.

After her retirement she taught - and often supported - students in her home in Milan. It was rumoured that she was financial distressed and that when she died in 1940 the state had to pay for her funeral - though that has been questioned in a recent biography. It was during those declining years that she came up with what is perhaps her most famous quip:

I am fat! I am old! But I am still Tetrazzini.

Perhaps she was a bit of a diva after all.

22 luglio - Santa Maria Maddalena
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy - A Day Late But...

Language - its always about language! My favorite transvestite comedian!

20 luglio - Sant'Apollinare di Ravenna

Sunday, July 18, 2010

HFH - Dog Day Morning

With the temperatures running in the 40s both Nicky and Nora have preferred to stay indoors where its cooler though both of them make the odd foray onto the balcony.
Nora's main purpose for going out is to bask in the sunshine and to make sure that dog from two blocks away that she can hear doesn't climb up to the second floor and invade her space. She really does hate the camera and gives me such disgusted looks when I brandish it her way.
Nicky takes the term "bedding plants" seriously. His escape of choice is to make himself comfortable amongst the foliage of this spreading plant.

18 luglio - Arnolfo di Metz

Friday, July 16, 2010

Classical Nerman

I thought I'd post a few more of the wonderful Nerman caricatures from that little book I was mentioning last week.

Einar Nerman's contract with Eve magazine required a monthly page of caricatures of singers, conductors and notable musicians who played the Royal Albert Hall and other concert venues in the London of the 20Ss and 30s. His talented pen found plenty of scope in the full-bosomed prima donnas and eccentric conductors who mounted the podiums.

By the time Nerman inked these drawings of these two musical Dames, they were both approaching the end of long careers. Nellie Melba was a reigning prima donna of the opera stage from the 1880s until her retirement in 1928. Much loved by the public she was less appreciated by her colleagues. The Melba stories are numerous as the dishes named after her and most suggest that the Australian soprano did not "work and play well with others", but damned she could sing! Clara Butt was much loved by the British public though her stock within the musical world was not always as high. Sir Thomas Beecham, well known for his sarcastic wit, once quipped that she could stand on the Cliffs of Dover and be heard on the shores of France. Rather snidely Nerman has her cradling Kennerley Rumford, her stage and life-partner, to her amble bosom.

Frieda Hempel and Amelita Galli-Curci shared much of the same repertory though the petit Italian soprano never ventured into the realms of Wagner the way her saftig colleague did. Though Hempel had a successful career in Europe it is thought that her North American career was overshadowed by Galli-Curci. Both turned to recitals in the late 20s and that was Hempel chief venue until her retirement. Galli-Curci's singing days were cut short by surgery which left her vocally damaged and she retired to a life of teaching.

By the time Nerman drew this caricature of Enrico Caruso, the great tenor had been dead for 20 years. I'm not sure where Nerman got his inspiration but he captured the well-known roguishness of his subject. Its interesting to see that current tenor heart throb Jonas Kaufmann wasn't the first one to go for that rugged five o'clock shadow look. Of course while Nerman was in New York Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior ruled the roost in all thing Wagnerian at the Met. He was never known for his convincing acting but when you sang like he did - on a night when he felt like it - acting really didn't matter. I agree with Sandy Wilson who says of this drawing that Nerman "has, I could swear, capture sound on paper."

These two great conductors of the 20th Century were as different as night and day. Arturo Toscanini was the martinet, the terror of the podium; Sir Thomas Beecham was the avuncular uncle. Both were magnificent in their own way. My own preference has always leaned towards Beecham, I've always found Toscanni's readings to be cold - to my ears his Falstaff robs that masterpiece of all its humour and joy. However with Beecham you always feel the joy of a true "amateur": he was chiefly self-taught as a conductor, championed various neglected works and seemed to be in the habit of founding orchestras when he couldn't find any to hire him as their conductor. His recordings of La Boheme and Carmen are still - to my mind - the touchstones for those two war horses.

Its probably just me being an old "fogie" - no it is definitely me being an old fogie - but I can't imagine a caricaturist having as much fun with today's crop of singers or conductors.

16 luglio - La Beata Vergine Maria del Monte Carmello
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

An Agenda

I don't normally get too involved in the gay question perhaps because for me it is no longer a question. I am a man who has been actively "gay" since I was a teenager and "out" since I was in my early twenties. I have never been in the habit of making any bones about who or what I am.

I have been in a relationship with the same man for 33 years - many of the people around us have had two or three legal spouses in that same time frame - and later this month we will have been married for three years. I have been lucky in that I have not often run into "homophobia" amongst colleagues - oh of course there have been comments behind my back but "sticks and stones". I have been the target of one gay bashing many years ago and when I stop to think about it some workplace discrimination back in the late 70s. But I believe in many ways I've been very lucky. I have been in workplaces and communities where tolerance and understanding have been the watchwords and I live in a country which recognizes that my relationship is as valid as any other.

I was happy to see that Argentina has been added to the list of countries that have come to the same recognition. And, as always, I was intrigued by the comments on the CBC website news posting. Many were supportive and joyful while other took a decidedly opposite stand. Of course the matter of the "gay agenda" came up - as it always does. And I was delighted to see this reply from a woman in Ottawa who styles herself "Thinking Mother".
I'm gay and I do have an agenda. For all you out there who are so paranoid about the big gay agenda, here is what it is...

My agenda is to foster a compassionate and tolerant society where all people are free from oppression.

My agenda is to teach my children to judge people only on how they treat other people.

My agenda is to be able to behave in public the same way I behaved when I was in a heterosexual relationship - which means occasionally holding hands and not feeling too self-conscious about a small appropriate display of affection now and then.

My agenda is to be able to answer a co-worker's friendly question about my weekend without avoiding saying "we" or "she" or otherwise indicating that whatever I did was with my female partner.

My agenda is not to be hated simply because I fell in love with a wonderful woman who makes me and my children very happy.
It sounds like a reasonable agenda to me! And many thanks to Thinking Mother for putting it forth. I move that we accept the agenda. Do we have any seconders?

15 luglio

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mercoledi Musciale

Noël Coward was known as "The Master" and indeed he was: actor, writer, composer, playwright, director, singer, cabaret artist, film actor and raconteur. There were very few areas of the arts that he did not indeed "master" and on top of that he was a spy during the Second World War. He was also a man who formed life-time friendships with many of his peers and when he could would include them in his productions.

Ivy St Helier was a well known revue artist and Coward wrote the part of Manon, the cabaret singer, in his musical Bitter Sweet for her. She got to sing several numbers including what is probably Coward's most autobiographical song: If Love Were All.

I believe in doing what I can
In crying when I must
In laughing when I choose
Hey ho, if love were all
I should be lonely.

I believe the more you love a man,
The more you give your trust,
The more you're bound to lose.
Although when shadows fall
I think if only
Somebody splendid really needed me
Someone affectionate and dear
Cares would be ended if I knew that he
Wanted to have me near.

But I believe that since my life began
The most I've had is just a talent to amuse.
Hey ho, if love were all.
Hey ho, if love were all.
He was being uncharacteristically self-effacing, Coward certainly had more than "a talent to amuse".

14 lulgio - Camillo de Lellis

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Castles of Rome

I don't know it just seems to me that that rather literal translation of Castelli Romani just doesn't say it! In fact I'm not sure there is a translation that would do the region justice.

Right on our door step - this Sunday's jaunt to Ariccia took 45 minutes, okay according to TomTom (the GPS system) it should have only taken 33 but then good old Tom doesn't always take into consideration that a whole lot of Romans are leaving the heat of the city on a Sunday morning. But the point is that within an hour's drive of the apartment there are wonderful towns to head to for a look-around, a meal - often a local specialty, a nice regional wine and a pleasant stroll.

The area is built on the remnants of a volcano which means the ground is fertile and it's been an agricultural area since people first settled in the area. Two of the craters form lakes - Albano and Nemi - which are a source of recreation for modern Romans as well as natural reservoirs for the surrounding communities.

The great Roman families of the Renaissance built summer palaces on the volcanic slopes of the area to escape the summer heat, stench and malaria of the swampy crowded city and enjoy the cool breezes of the hillsides. And of course the farms and forests around them provided produce, poultry, meat and game for their tables.

Ariccia was the summer stronghold of the Chigi papacy and the Palazzo - renovated to designs by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Alexander VII - was the summer home of the Chigi famly until they turned it over to the city in 1988. The Piazza and Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta in front of the Palazzo was also designed by the great Neapolitan born creator of much of what we see in Rome today.
Palazzo and Chiesa face each other across what once was a piazza and is now the main road into town. The fountains are capped with the familiar Chigi family crest. Bernini's church was modeled on the Pantheon. He had been instructed by Alexander to make it a "Pantheon Marian". The colonnades on either side, which once housed Papal offices, are now a bar and trattoria.

Behind the main altar is a fresco of the event that gives the church its name: the Assumption of the Virgin as painted by Jacques Cortois a Burgundian artist. The main decoration is the stucco work by Bernini's faithful disciple Antonio Raggi that adorns the dome. He also created the striking Evangelists stucco work for Bernini at San Tomaso di Villanova in Castel Gandolfo. And just in case there is any doubt who paid for the building of the church - there's that familiar Chigi crest again.

Church has always been theatre but in this case a church on Ariccia's Corso Garibaldi has been turned into a theatre. Town centre was almost empty on Sunday afternoon - but I discovered all the action was the other side of the Piazza - mind you it was kind of nice to have the place almost to ourselves. In the hot summer sun that bougainvillea was almost blinding in its intensity.

And it seems that each town in Castelli has its own specialties - food or wines. Frascati and Velettri are known for their wines; Nemi as I mentioned a few weeks ago is the strawberry capital of the region; and Ariccia is the home of porchetta. In the Piazza alone there are three take-aways serving only this local specialty. A boneless pork loin is rolled, stuff with herbs and slow roasted over a wood fire. Then it is sliced and served - most often cold - with various simple additions. Porcine heaven!
Corso Garibaldi ends at a belvedere overlooking the fertile farm lands of the region and it was there that we settled in for lunch at Spazio Art'è, an enoteca that was featured, so the owners proudly showed us, in a recent edition of La Cucina Italiana. The service was friendly and when I mentioned I had to be gluten-free they sprang into action showing what I could and couldn't have. So my anti-pasti was a sauted mixture of zucchini, arugula and ciccoria (chickory); followed by - what else? - Porchetta. The large plate of roast pork, enough that I took some home for dinner the next night, was served with prunes, pine nuts and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Dolci was a tangy lemon semi-fredo which was a refreshing end to a very satisfying lunch. The meal was washed down with a very nice white "Vertus" from the region.

Though it would be nice to go back and see a bit more of the Palazzo - we took an hour long guided tour of the main rooms of the Piano Nobile, many of which were used by Lucchino Visconti in The Leopard. There were a few other areas that we had left unexplored and look definitely worth the visit. And another plate of porchetta wouldn't be so bad either.

13 luglio - San Dario
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Monday, July 12, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

My friend Cathy - who sort of acts as a talent scout for this sort of thing - sent this one to me. It worth slogging through the first minute of typical French television verbosity to get to the act.

They remind me of an act I recall from the old Ed Sullivan show - the Nitwits. Unfortunately the only clips of them I found were not great quality but you might want to take a look at:

Hollywood Palace - Petulia Clark


Hollywood Palace - Jack Benny

Though the act may be considered in many ways politically incorrect today, it was the sort of thing that made us laugh back then. Pagagnini follows the tradition to prove once more that everything old is new again!

12 luglio - San Giovanni Gualberto Visdomini

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Loving Father

Though the Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia is filled with many wonders, I think the most wonderful is this simple painting by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. And the subject is not all that common - the normal devotional painting is Madonna with Child but here the infant Christ is held by his Earthly father San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph).

It was executed in 1623 for the chapel of the Palazzo and is one of Bernini's rare paintings. And it is the only known work actually signed by the artist. All religious significance aside I find it an incredible vision of paternal love.

11 lulgio - San Benedetto da Norcia

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