Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ho pensato* ..

*I've been thinking, not all that unusual despite what a few of my friends may think, that I  haven't done too much in the way of postings lately. When I look at the sidebar I realize that this month's entries have been sparse upon the ground.  There have been several reasons for this - you'll notice I said reasons not excuses - chief of which has been that this has been one of the busiest times in the past four years.  There have been guests (always welcome so not a problem), events have piled up one on top of the other  (opera, a cheesecake cooking class at the house, the Roma Marathon, private tours of a few choice sites here in Roma etc.), it was Laurent's 55th birthday this month (which involved two great dinners and a few other carryings-on), the celebrations of March 17th and the news that we would be going back to Ottawa this summer.  It has made for a busy month both physically and mentally.

It also means that I have let many things slip - blogging, responding to e-mails and even leaving comments on friends blogs.   With the former I am not at a loss, god knows, for subjects just for the time and inspiration.  For the e-mails I am ashamed and have a few people that will be receiving e-mails that will begin with heart felt apologies for ignoring the senders.   For the later I want to assure all my friends - David, Debra, Jacque-Sue, Yvette et al - that I do read your blogs faithfully just that often the only thing I can think to say in the way of a comment is "thank you for posting" - hardly the wittiest or most intelligent response to the hard work that goes into writing a posting.

The move involves compiling a complete inventory of everything that will be shipped back to Canada, finding a house to live in, arranging travel for the Hounds from Hell in the summer months when many airlines won't transport animals and a checklist of things that fills three pages of single spaced items.  Fortunately I have Laurent to keep me on track when I threaten to go off the rails about things and he in turn has me for those moments when hyperventilation sets in.

And to be honest at this point the news that we would be returning to Ottawa, though not unexpected, has led to a minor period of depression.  Life here has been incredible, and frankly charmed, on so many levels and though I knew it would eventually come to an end I tend to put that sort of thing out of my mind until I run smack into it.  As things slowed down a bit at the start of this week I was having time to think.  But before I got myself into too deep a funk I received an e-mail from a friend who in two sentences gave me some perspective on it.  Dayle and I met through tragic circumstances which I will not rehearse at this time but out of that tragedy came a friendship - though we have only met face to face once I think our notes back and forth in the past four years allow me to call it that.  I'm not sure how she sensed how I was feeling this week but sense it she did and wrote:
You guys have had a great 4 yrs chocked full of good times and wonderful memories.  Remember to think of what you have had - not what you are losing.
Cara Dayle many thanks for that reminder - it was needed and timely. 

Now to sit down and work on: the inventory, a few postings and those e-mails.

31 marzo - Sant'Amos

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ho Visto*

*I saw

It was a gorgeous spring day here yesterday (the 24th)  - sunny and warm with early flowers out and trees budding. The perfect day for a stroll down to Villa Torlonia, our local park, to take a look at how much progress has been made on the restoration of the Teatro and the Moorish Kiosk. Work on the former will be completed in February 2010 (?????) and the later in March 20 - god in her wisdom only knows!

We were not the only ones who decided it was fine weather for a Thursday in the Park - a gaggle of grandmas with strollers, runners in teams and solo, courting couples (mind you a few of them looked like the courting stage had passed),a pack of dog walkers and elderly neighbourhood nabobs occupied the benches, walked the paths and dotted the lawns.

Progress - in the past this gentleman would no doubt have been reading his La Republica or Corriere dello Sport to catch up on the world and football.

A visit to the Non-Catholic Cemetery out by Pyramide on Wednesday led to a walk up the Aventine Hill and a look into the 5th century Basilica of Santa Sabina.  My friend Debra had mentioned a newly uncovered fresco in the porch and another visit to the simple grandeur of the mother church of  Dominicans in Rome is always a pleasure.  The baroque decorations have been stripped away to reveal the original mosaics, marble columns and wall panels and the high multi-panned selenite windows; the floors bear carved and mosaic tomb coverings of past worthies; and the great wooden door with its carved panels dating from 422-425 CE.

The doors (top) of Santa Sabina are from the 5th century and depict the scenes from the Bible including one of the first depictions of the crucifixion.  The mosaic gisant is one of the early Dominican abbots at the monastery attached to the mother church of the order.  The multi-panned windows are made of a semi-translucent form of gypsum. A keyhole in the porch wall allows a view (bottom) into the cloister of the monastery.

And next to it is the lovely Giardino degli Aranci (Orange Garden), an neighbourhood park in one of the greenest area of the city. From the belvedere on the crest of the cliff overlooking the Tiber there is an incredible view of Rome from the Quirinale to the Janiculum Hills.

A left click will enlarge this panoramic photo of Rome from the Quirinale Hill to the beginning of the Parco Doria Pamphilj on the Janiculum Hill.
25 marzo -L'annunciazione del Signore
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Buon Compleanno Caro!

24 marzo - Santa Caterina di Svezia

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Heureux Enfants!

Amongst my listening the past few days has been a new album by the Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. I first heard her in 2002 when my darling Ryan and I met for a weekend of opera, food, wine and chat in Toronto. Marie-Nicole was making her operatic debut at the COC in Handel's Guilio Cesare. It was a high profile start as she was appearing with the great Polish contralto Ewa Podleś as well as Isabel Bayrakdarian, Daniel Taylor and Brian Azawa - not exactly light weights in the field of Handelian opera. It was a memorable debut. I did not have the good fortune to see her again until this past fall when she presented a concert here in Roma.

That particular evening she gave a programme that I was familiar with from a BBC prom concert but she was slightly under the weather and her voice was not as free as it had been in London. That was until she launched into Orlando's going "furioso" from Vivaldi's opera and in what is basically an accompanied recitative she tore the place apart and had the Rome audience begging for more.

She has become something of a specialist in the baroque though her albums have also included composers from Brahms to Berg by way of Schumann, Hahn and Hector Berlioz. The one selection that I have on repeat is by the last composer. From his dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette here is the contralto aria from the Prologue: Heureux Enfants.

It may be best to use the "Watch on YouTube" button to see and more importantly hear this in HD.

Those first transports of love that no one forgets!
The first confession, first vows of two lovers under the stars of Italy;
In the hot breeze-less air laden with the distant scent of orange blossom,
the nightingale singing with their sighs!
What art is in its song that can match your heavenly allure.
First love, are you not higher than any poetry?
Only Shakespeare in his poetry had your
supreme secret which he took with him to the stars.

Happy children with hearts aflame,
met by chance, one glance joining your two souls,
hide in the flowery shade,
the divine fire that consumes you,
this pure ecstasy which words turn to tears.
What royal degree could govern your chaste delirium,
what could equal your transports of love?

Happy children, what treasure would be paid
for just one of your smiles?
Ah! Savour the sweet cup of honey for as long as you can,
this cup sweeter than all the chalices from which the angels in heaven,
who are jealous of your passion, derive their pleasure.
Back in my misspent youth I had a passion for Berlioz particularly when sung by Janet Baker. The Berlioz crush waned - the Baker one never! - bu with Marie-Nicole's new CD and a few of the recent concerts at Santa Cecilia I am finding a new interest in the romanticism and complexity that is Berlioz.

22 marzo - San Benvenuto

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

I have never believed in dressing any of our dogs up! In fact I once refused to pay a groomer who had put bows on our Reesie's ears when I had specifically said no kerchiefs, no bows! I explained to her that he was neither a toy nor a doll and that I did not consider it "cute" but a form of cruelty to animals. She did eventually get paid but never did it again.

At the moment I live in a country that is obsessed with "La Bella Figura" and it should come at a surprise to no one that that sense of fashion spills over onto the canine population too! As we were strolling down Via Cavour after watching our Vin run the Marathon and having a great lunch we happened upon a large pet store. A peak in the the window revealed what the well-dressed dog - of a certain size - will be wearing on the streets of Roma this year.

Our two may be getting away just in time!

21 marzo - Sant'Elia eremita

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ritorna vincitor!

Congratulations to our dear Vin who ran the Roma Marathon today.

He did it in 3 hours 24 minutes - beating his time in the Athens Run by 20 minutes and last yeasr's Roma (his first) by 30 minutes.

Complimenti caro! Vincenzo Vincitor!

20 marzo - Sant'Allessandra di Amiso

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Mad World, My Masters

If ever Thomas Middleton's title for his 1605 comedy was prophetic it would be today. Except that these days events are far from comedic and seem to be spinning out of control beyond the tragic. I'm almost fearful of picking up a paper or visiting a news website. The turmoil seems never ending and each day brings - even given the media delight in, and inevitable spin on, the "bad" - more fearful events.

Though its hard - and foolish - to try to avoid what is happening around the world something always seems to come along to remind me that there are still good things that abound. And one of them was a posting yesterday from my blog buddy Debra at She Who Seeks.

It is a simple blessing by the Irish mystic, poet and Catholic priest John O'Donohue. I found it lifted my entire day and I hope you will find the same when you click on this link: Beannacht (Blessing).

Thank you Debra for allowing myself to be wrapped in that invisible cloak of love.

18 marzo - San Cirillo di Gerusalemme
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Auguri e Buona Festa!!!!!!!

Though today is traditionally a day to wear green, here in Italy its Green, White and Red that are predominating. On March 17, 1861 Victor Emmanuel II, until then King of Piedmont, Savoy and Sardinia, was crowned as King of a United Italy and it has been chosen as the date to officially celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Unification. Everything is closed but the city will be abuzz with events - concerts, parades, exhibitions and fireworks.

Il Risorgimento
, or "The Resurgence" to unify Italy had begun in the early 19th century and though Victor Emmanuel was to become King in 1861, the country was not truly united until the defeat of Pope Pius IX's troops on September 20, 1870 at Porta Pia. And even then historically it was not a fait accompli until after World War I.

A Staffordshire pottery lid commemorating the meeting of Victor Emmanuel II and Garibaldi at Teano on October 26, 1860 where the revolutionary leader greeted Victor Emmanuel as King of Italy. On November 7 of that year the two men road into Napoli side by side.

Until 1861 the country had been a collection of City States, Kingdoms, Dukedoms, Republics and Territories led by an ever changing group of dynastic families. Borders and alliances were fluid depending on who was in and who was out. Many regions were under the domination of foreign powers who brutally suppressed any murmurs of nationalism. But the carbonari (coal burners), groups of like-minded revolutionists, began to cause unrest in 1820. The fighting was to reach a peak in 1848-49 when revolutions broke out throughout the peninsula and again in 1859. People like Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour and Victor Emmanuel himself were to play the major roles in the combat - on the battlefield and in the political backrooms - to eventual bring together the scattered Peninsula into the country we know today as Italy.

The decisive battle on September 20, 1870 at Porta Pia where after a three hour bombardment the walls of Rome were breached and the Bersaglieri entered the city. Pius IX knew he was defeated but had forced his troops to put up a fight at the needless cost of 72 lives.

If ever there was a composer associated with il Risorgimento it would be Giuseppe Verdi, whose works are often sited as engendering fierce nationalistic feelings in the hearts of the hearers. His largely forgotten La Battaglia di Legano - which will be presented here in May - was a wild success with its boldly patriotic story and music. Its opening night audience demanded an encore of the entire last act and one particularly enthusiastic officer in the audience tried to jump on stage to join the battle between the Italians and Germans. This arousing of patriotic furor was particularly true of the choruses from many of the early works: Patria Oppressa - the cry of the Scottish exiles for their homeland in Macbeth; the despairing O signore, dal tetto natio sung by the pilgrims in I Lombardi; the triumphant hymn Cara patria già madre e reina, a call to found a new nation in Attila. All express the longing of a people for a homeland of their own but perhaps the one that expresses that feeling the most deeply is also the most famous: Va pensiero from his Nabucco.

My friend Opera Chic writes about the extraordinary happenings this week at the prima of the celebratory production of Nabucco at the Teatro dell'Opera here in Roma. The entire audience joined Riccardo Muti and the forces of the Opera in singing an encore of what many consider the "unofficial" national anthem of the United Italy. She also posted a wonderful performance, again led by Muti, from 1986 when the audience demanded an encore and got it! Truly breathtaking.

But as a tribute I thought I would post - or rather repost - a video I made two years ago at the Parco della Musica here in Roma. It was a Sunday morning performance by the Carabinieri Band with the chorus of the Academia Santa Cecilia styled after band concerts of the late 1800s and it ended with Verdi's chorus. The week before 6 young Italian soldiers had died in Afghanistan and the concert was dedicated to their memory which gave it an added poignancy. Unbidden that day many people in the audience joined in that. The performance is a bit rough and the video even rougher but for me it speaks as eloquently as any performance of a longing for nationhood and love of homeland.

To all my Italian friends and to my adopted country for the past four years I wish "Auguri" and a future, even in these hard times, as glorious as your past.

17 marzo -San Patrizio d'Irlanda

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Frescoes in the Dovecote

One night at a dinner just after we first arrived in Roma - almost four years ago now - the conversation turned to Museums and which was the favourite. Without missing a beat my friend Joe recommended the Massimo and that was quickly seconded by three other people at the table. And it is a view I have came to share; last week was my umpteenth visit to the former Jesuit Seminary, just across from Termini Railway Station, that houses the sculpture, fresco and coin collection of the National Museum of Roma. The entire collection is spread over three sites and is one of the more important in Roma. It also holds one of my favourite pieces of Roman art the Boxer.

The jewel of the fresco collection is the dining room from the Villa of Livia, the beautifully preserved testament to the art of the Augustan Age. But equally fascinating are the stucco work and frescoes from the Villa Farnesina that have been newly displayed in celebration of the Museum's 10th anniversary. But for me the most delightful set of frescoes is the recently added fragments from a 1st century columbarium relocated from their original site in Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome's largest park.

This first-century columbarium, or burial chamber for cinerary urns, was excavated between 1838 and 1922 in the park lands surrounding Villa Doria Pamphili. The photo shows the frescoes and niches as they were in situa during the period of excavations. Many of the fragments have been moved to the Museo Massimo
Given its function the term "columbarium" is rather whimsical and speaks more to design than function. When excavations were made in the 1840s the resemblance to the tiered niches of dovecotes was noted - columba being the Latin for dove - and the name stuck. The structures themselves were designed for the storage of funeral urns - cremation being the norm in Rome of the time - and to maximize space in a crowded urban area. Burials of any sort were not allowed within the walls of ancient Rome so catacombs, cemeteries and columbaria were located in areas surrounding the city or across the Tevere. St Peter's is built on the site of a cemetery that can still be visited - three levels below the current church; beyond the walls of the city the lava rock landscape is riddled with catacombs that make modern building excavation both risky and problematic. Various columbaria around the city have been found and excavated but very few are open to the public for viewing so the transfer of these fragments to the Massimo gives the opportunity to see a type of Roman art not often available.

Often the scenes were simply those of the life left behind and that continued on amongst the living - a hilltop picnic, a farm yard or an idyllic market scene. Perhaps the scenes held a significance for the family that owned the niches or those who were members of the burial society that is lost to us today.
The columbaria were funded by collegia or funeral societies - a common practice in Italy to this day - the not inexpensive costs of construction and decoration being shared by members. A monthly payment ensured that those in good standing would receive a proper and respectful burial with all the required rites. The structures were simple tiers of niches but the walls were adorned with brightly coloured, simple - and quickly sketched - scenes of daily life, animals, birds and the legends of mythology.

Birds were a favourite subject in frescoes, both in homes and burial chambers; perhaps it is the idea of the freedom of flight being analogous with release from the body. Or more likely the desire to bring the outdoors in - as with Livia's garden dining room.

There were as many beliefs about the afterlife in Rome as there were religions - and there were many of both! The general feeling was that the dead, living in their tombs, could in some undefined way influence the fortunes of the living. So it was deemed wise to err on the side of generosity in the way of gifts and offerings to the deceased - just in case. Celebrations and feasts in the tombs, cemeteries, columbaria and catacombs were frequent and often very elaborate. In many ways akin to today's observances on All Souls' Day.

The Trials of Hercules seemed to be greatly favoured as a subject - despite what that dreadful 60s cartoon series may have suggested the hero was no great friends of centaurs - in fact in the top fresco he does combat with Acheloos for the hand of Deianira. The second fresco would seem to indicate that the man with the bow and arrow has Minevra on his side guiding his hand.
Cremation was the chief burial rite until the mid-3rd century when inhumation became more common. The dead were cremated on a pyre and often personal belongings were burned with them. The ashes were then placed in a container - often an urn but cloth bags, gold caskets and marble chests were also commonly used. Each container had it own nidus or "pigeon hole" with an inscription naming the person and occasionally their achievements.

These little satyrs are obviously ignoring any warning they might have been given by their mothers about not teasing the animals. And it could just be me but at least the one taunting the hippo reminds me of the old Monty Python taunt: I fart in your general direction!

Roman frescoes have come down to us in relatively good condition, the colours often still vibrant, the shading subtle and the details crisp. This can be attributed to the method of painting employed: Buon fresco or real fresco. It accounts for the simple - almost cartoon like - deft strokes of the brush as the artist raced against time to finish before the lime plaster dried.

Water colours painted quickly into the drying layer of plaster required a deft hand in a bit of a race against time. I am constantly surprised at the small details and shadings in something like the simplest bunch of grapes or figs.

16marzo - Sant'Eusebio
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Mick Jagger "The Photobook", an exhibition of pictures taken of the rock star over the years by various photographers, is currently showing at il Parco della Musica here in Rome. A stroll through it reminded me that all of us, even rock stars, age - and not always well. Then my friend Elaine sent me this little video to remind me even further that tempus indeed does fugit!

14 marzo - Santa Matilde di Ringelheim

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Hope

As do we all.

Many thanks to Skip at Skip's House of Chaos for originally posting this.

12 marzo - San Luigi Orione

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale!*

*At Carnival time anything goes!

Tuesday (Martedi grasso) was the final day of Carnevale throughout Italy - well except in Milano where they use the Ambrosian liturgical calender so it lasts until Saturday, those Milanese are such party animals. But for the rest of Italy it was the last hurrah before the strictures of the Lenten observance took hold. Traditionally at midnight on Tuesday the festivities ended and with the coming of Mercoledi delle Ceneri (Ash Wednesday) the 40 day fast begins.

The organizers of this year's Carnevale in Venezia were trying to get away from the 18th century theme that has predominated in the past and go more towards the 19th in celebration of this year's anniversary of the Unification of Italy. Quite a few people were decked out in post-Napoleonic costumes but there were still the rugged (!) individualists who used their imagination! The gentleman at the top is a Louis XIV incarnation of "Once Upon A Time"; while the next ladies had stepped out of a local pasterica window; it was hard to figure out who was trying to look the prettiest of that couple in the bottom photo.

Viareggio but it is celebrated throughout the country in big cities and small towns. Festivities vary from region to region and in many cases from town to town. Putignano is known for its parade of big heads; Ivrea, just north of Torino, celebrates with a reenactment of a 12th century insurrection using oranges as ammunition; throughout Campania it is celebrated with a mixture of the fantastical and the traditional. The small town of Pontelandolfo has its cheese tumbling tournament; equestrian events are the centre piece in the Sardinian village of Oristano; and in the hillside town of Castignano a gigantic bonfire signals the end of the party.

Equally fantastical were these three ladies (????) posed in the archways of Cafe Florian in the arcade at San Marco. Many people wore the traditional domino, tricorne and masks while for others a mask was the only disguise needed. Needless to say the vendors were everywhere and doing record business.

And everywhere there are the traditional foods, both main dishes and sweets. Most of the dishes were created to both clear the household pantry in the days before refrigeration and for one last glorious feast before the fast began. In the south there's Migliaccio di polenta made with corn meal, sausage and grated cheese. Cooks in the Emilia-Romagna region produce a rich Pasticcio di Maccheroni or Macaroni Pie replete with sweetbreads, chicken giblets and, for the wealthy, truffles. And every Napoletano family has its "secret" recipe, handed down from nonna to nonna, for the "best" Lasagne di Carnevale in Napoli if not the world - though my friend Marco assures me that his mother's is not only the best but the only authentic one.

But the real treats of Carnevale are the simple pastries - fritters that were meant to use up the flour, lard and oil that would be avoided for the next 40 days. The Lombardi Chiacchere, Tuscan Cenci and Roman Frappe may sound different but they are essential fried strips of dough dusted with powdered sugar. Venice has its donut holes, in Sardegna they lace the fritters with saffron and in other regions they are dipped in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Our Isabelle posing with two of the ladies parading through San Marco on Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately my gluten-intolerance restricts the number of dolci di carnevale that I can consume but I will admit that on our trip up to Venice for the last weekend of Carnevale I went off my diet - big time! Now I had always said I would never go to Venice during the annual pre-Lenten hullabaloo - I have an aversion to crowds of both the size and kind that throng the streets for the event. However our guest Isabelle wanted to see the city built on water and I am pleased to say she loved it though she did find the crowds as bothersome as I did, a wise child!

Isabelle didn't have a costume - to say rentals were astronomical is an understatement - but had chosen a very elegant and festive mask evoking the spirit of Carnevale.
I'm also pleased to say we had a good bit of fun. Though Carnevale in La Serenissima has a highly artificial flavour in small doses it can be great fun. And Venice? Well, particularly in the areas away from San Marco, it is still one of the most magical places in the world.

Many thanks to GB and his contributors at Italian Notebook for many of the links to photo essays on many of the celebrations here in Italy.
11 marzo - San Constantino