Monday, February 28, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Though I'm sure this is a staged call I have a sinking feeling that it is within the realm of possibility.

28 febbraio - San Romano di Condat

Sunday, February 27, 2011

L'Opre dei Pupi

I've been fascinated by puppets since I was about 4 years old when my brother bought me my first glove puppet and my father made me a theatre so I could bore present puppet shows at family gatherings.  I remember that theatre to this day - a Punch and Judy-like affair, three sided, painted blue with a curtain made from an old apron of my mother's.  I graduated to more elaborate affairs which led to fully staged plays - The Emperor and the Nightengale was a favourite - where I bored entertained  at church socials.

A few of the many rod puppets - knights, Kings, Saracens, Ogres and Spirits that make up the characters of the traditional Tales of Orlando presented by the Cuticchio family at their puppet theatre in Palermo.
I became enthralled by the world of puppetry - marionettes, shadows, rod and glove - though I was never able to master the marionettes: all those strings and coordination was never my forte. Since those days I have never missed an opportunity to see a puppet theatre - Salzburg, Bangkok, Hanoi - anywhere that it was considered part of the national tradition.

The great hero Orlando (Roland) is girded for battle and since the Risorgimento has worn a sash bearing the tri-colour of the united Italy.
Another one of my early fascinations were the Crusader myths of Orlando (Roland) - I still have in my library a copy of a translation of the Ariosto's Orlando Furioso that I read in my early teens.  Those Italian adaptations of the doings of the French knight and his cohorts as they battled Saracens, Demons and Evil Enchantresses in the East were great adventure stories and had everything - battles, daring deeds, sex, romance and even a touch of religion. I only wish I could read them - and La Comedia Divina -  in the original Italian  for the full poetry

The three main characters of the Paladin stories: Orlando (Roland) Brademante (the most powerful of the female Christian Warriors) and her brother Rinaldo. Since the 1850s their plumes have reflected the tri-colour - green, white and red.
Those two  interests meet in the Pupi tradition of Sicily - the elaborate rod puppets that tell the story of the Frankish hero and his co-horts.  The tradition of the "cunto" or story teller is an old one in many cultures - the bard who passed on the legends and stories of the past.  Sicily was no exception and there it evolved into the stories being retold with the help of rod puppets.  Eventually the puppets became more elaborate and the role of the cunto diminished.  In the 1950-60s the traditional art of Sicilian rod puppetry was in danger of disappearing.  However the Cuticchio family - which had passed the tradition down from father to son - kept it alive and their Teatro dell'Opera dei Pupi on via Bara all'Olivella in Palermo is now recognized as a national treasure.  Massimo Cuticchio has revived the art of the "cunto" and often in his presentation the story teller is the focal point of the pieces and is surrounded by the puppet characters.   Though he has branched out into other stories the traditional Paladin plays are still central to the Teatro's work.

Massimo Cuticchio - both a master cunto or story teller and puppeteer - repairing a Christian knight in his workshop near his family's Museo and Teatro in Palermo.

The Making of a Paladin Knight

The puppet body and head are carved from hard wood following a traditional pattern always with the right hand in the position of grasping a sword and fitted with an eye to hold the second control rod, the left, which hangs loose, is carved to hold a shield.  The heavy central rod is inserted through the head with a hook to attach it to the torso.  Limbs are joined to the torso with metal at stress points and with fabric to give flexibility and allow for the traditional movements of battle. 

Meanwhile armour has been cut out of  a heavy gauge tin again to a traditional pattern.  The 52 pieces required to make a complete set are then bent, tooled and embossed with heraldic devises that indicate the personage they represent.  The fighting can get athletic and often fierce in the stage battle so armour is often dented or even cut and is constantly being repaired or replaced.

Elaborately designed and colourful clothing - again design and colour are used to signify the character being portrayed - are made in the theatre workshop. Notice that only the parts that will not be covered by armour are clothed - both for the sake of flexibility and economy.

Finally the rod that controls movements of the sword arm is put in place.  Though there are only two major control rods strings are used to manoeuvre the shield and leg positions.

The positions and movements of the puppets are as dictated by tradition as the costumes and action. There are four basic attitudes that characters assume as the story is declaimed by the puppeteers sometimes in the voice of the character but more often as the "cunto" or story teller.

Most of the photos are from il teatro di Mimmo Cuticchio by Chiara Andrich, a marvelous book published by the Associazone Figli d'arete Cuticchio, recounting the history of the Teatro, the family and the new directions that Mimmo Cuticchio has taken the tradition of Sicilian puppetry.  And many of the details were gleaned in conversation with a charming lady at the small Museo connected to the Teatro.  She promised me that when I return to Palermo in May there would be a good chance I would finally get to see the puppets in action and hear Massimo recount, once again, the story of Orlando, his love for the faithless Angelica and the adventures of the Paladin knights.

27 febbraio - San Gabriele dell'Addorata
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Auguri Fantastico!

As I explain almost two years ago when we decided that our darling Cecilia was right and the new pups should be called Nick and Nora we ran into a small problem. For the month of February the registration names with the Italian Kennel Club had to begin with E or F - not that anyone could tell us why just that they had to begin with E or F!!!  Nora was no big deal we simply registered her as Eleanora della Casa Degli Orsi; Nicky, however, was a problem (as he often seems to be) - which we solved by registering him as Fantastico Nicky della Casa Degli Orsi.

Anyway, today is Fantastico Nicky's birthday - though they are from the same kennel the Hounds from Hell are not from the same litter. And as poor Nicky has discovered its not always easy being the younger one. And though they fight like cats dogs and dogs Nicky seems lost when Nora isn't around.  Nora on the other hand like, many older kids, seems blithely indifferent to his presence or absence unless he's bothering her and then its all-in wrestling.  But I noticed that last night when he was in his kennel - there had been some territorial issues - she did sulk for a little bit. I guess like us, the little  bugger is growing on her.

Himself really doesn't like that thing with the red light and the flash that the one with the shiny eyes is always pointing at him.  So its best if you just ignore it or better yet do something to make sure he'll say: Damn can't use that one! 

Regardless of his status as chief Hound from Hell - love you lots my little Nicky.  Happy Birthday Nickster!

23 febbraio - San Policarpo
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

The "Self-Operating Napkin" is activated when the soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C), which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow the pendulum with the attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin.*

I always loved Rube Goldberg - and when I saw this video posted on Facebook by my friend Yannis I immediately thought: Lunacy but inspired! And obviously the guys at OK Go - who know a bit about inspired lunacy - thought the same thing.

Indeed anything inspired by Goldberg and his wonderful, ridiculous machines is bound to be lunacy.

*This is from the cover of a postcard book, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang and compiled by Maynard Frank Wolfe from the Rube Goldberg Archives.

21 febbraio - Sant'Eleonora
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Buon Complianno Nora

The official 2nd Birthday Photo - regal but still approachable.
Its hard to believe that Eleanora della Casa Degli Orsi (that would be our Nora) is two years old but time, except for dogs they tell us, flies.  Our little boar hunter was one of 5 pups in Mama Lucy's litter and has inherited all of her mother's tracking instincts.  Even in the middle of the city she's busy tracking, if not wild boar then certainly, neighborhood cats. 

And sometimes a girl just looks into the future and seriously ponders ...  when will I get the next biscuit?

19 febbraio - San Corrado Confalonieri

Friday, February 18, 2011

Great Artist - Bad Citizen

Not so long ago his paintings could be had for a song - and a dance too I would think - but now Caravaggio is among the hottest painters in the world.   It seems every time I turn around in Rome there's another poster advertising another Caravaggio Exhibition.  Last year we had the big blockbuster at the Scuderie del Quirinale - people were lining up for 4 to 5 hours in the hot sun to get in - you'll notice there was no first person in the statement.   Then we had La Notte di Caravaggio on July 18 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death - notice the use of the first person for that event.  Yes I did the rounds of two of the three churches that boast Caravaggios and lined up for three hours to get into the Villa Borghese then tromped home at four in the morning which for the Master, if tales that are currently being told are true, would have been early.
Now the Archivo di Stato di Roma (Archives of the City of Rome) have mounted an exhibition that reveal some of the dire and dirty deeds surrounding Michel(I'm no Angelo) da Caravaggio.  Deeds  that heretofore had only been whispered about in dark alleyways and smokey taverns.  Documents from the archives detail a criminal dossier that would make lesser men blush.  Here's the short list of his police file:
  • May 4 1598: Arrested at 2- 3am near Piazza Navona, for carrying a sword without a permit
  • November 19 1600: Sued for beating a man with a stick and tearing his cape with a sword at 3am on Via della Scrofa
  • October 2 1601: A man accuses Caravaggio and friends of insulting him and attacking him with a sword near the Piazza Campo Marzio
  • April 24 1604: Waiter complains of assault after serving artichokes at an inn on the Via Maddalena
  • October 19 1604: Arrested for throwing stones at policemen near Via dei Greci and Via del Babuino
  • May 28 1605: Arrested for carrying a sword and dagger without a permit on Via del Corso
  • July 29 1605: Vatican notary accuses Caravaggio of striking him from behind with a weapon
  • May 28 1606: Caravaggio kills a man during a pitched battle in the Campo Marzio area
The good people over at the BBC have a great inter-active article on a few of the police files and documents on display at Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza.  He really was the bad boy of Renaissance art. 

18 febbraio - Santi Massimo, Claudio, Prepedigna, Alessandro e Cuzia

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C'est trop cool l'amitié*

I posted this Pat et Stanley clip a few years back and then the video was pulled. As we prepare to move on I've been thinking a great deal lately about friendships and thought it was time to post it again.

For non-French speakers here's a rough translation:

Stanley (the dog): You still feeling down Pat?
Pat: Yes
Stanley: Come on buck up, I've arranged a little surprise.
Pat: Wow! That's great! How did you do that?
Stanley: Its nothing. Just a little imagination and lots of friendship.
Pat: Its real cool - Friendship.*

You got that right Pat!

18 febbraio - San Flaviano di Costantinopoli

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Lovelist Girl in Vienna

I was looking up some information on Alban Berg's Violin Concerto that we heard last month in Salzburg which had been composed by the ailing composer as a memorial to Manon the 18 year old daughter of architect Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler-Werfel.  As often happens with these searches serendipity led me to a ballad  devoted to the story of Alma.  The much bedded and oft wedded muse for most of artistic Vienna in the early part of the 20th century was not an unknown to me but this little tribute to her charms by satirist Tom Lehrer came as a happy little surprise.

By way of explanation here is Lehrer's introduction to "Alma":
Last December 13th (1964), there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary that has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady name Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe, and, among these lovers, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which was what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry.

One of the leading composers of the day: Gustav Mahler, composer of Das Lied von der Erde and other light classics. One of the leading architects: Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus school of design. And one of the leading writers: Franz Werfel, author of The Song of Bernadette and other masterpieces. It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years. It seemed to me,  as I'm reading this obituary, that the story of Alma was the stuff of which ballads should be made so here is one.

There's no question that conductor Bruno Walter's assertion that she was "the loveliest girl in Vienna" was on the mark but her story suggests that Alma had more going for her than mere beauty. After all she fascinated Gustav and Walter and Frantz - and Oscar and another Gustav and Alex and most of Vienna.

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

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Going Postal

I received two packages today - one from Canada and the other from Padova. I'll talk about the one from Canada first.

It was from our good friend Cathy and she had mailed it back on December 6, 2010 - that's 71 days ago. So it took 71 days for a parcel to get from Ottawa to Rome.  I can't tell from any of the post marks as to when it arrived here but my friend Mark has suggested it has been held in the tender hands of Poste Italiene for perhaps a little while as he has found the same thing with parcels from New Zealand. Now part of my astonishment at the length of time that it took to get here is that a week ago Tuesday I sent a parcel from Rome back to Canada and Laurent's father received it by Monday - 6 days including a weekend??  Now I will admit that I had gone over and mailed it from the Country on the other side of the River and there is a chance that Pope Post has special wings but really??? Rome to Montreal - 6 days; Ottawa to Rome - 71?????? Strano as we say here, molto strano!

The other parcel was from the Hotel Beludi 37 in Padova and I was equally astonished but this time in a more than good way.
Hote Beludi 37 - Entrance
We had stayed at the hotel during our all too brief stopover in Padova on the way up to Austria. Two days was not enough time to see all the wonders of this fascinating city nor to experience the warm hospitality of the Beludi. The hotel is located a block away from the Sanctuary of Sant'Antonio - we had a view of the Basilica from our bedroom window - and close to all the sights.  It has a good breakfast, allows pets and has free wi-fi in the rooms - I'm still trying to figure out how a small hotel can do that when a big hotel charges €20.00 a day for internet. The first morning the hand shower was causing problems so I mentioned it to the front desk. Being a Saturday they weren't able to get a repair man in so they moved us to a better room - with that great view - and presented us with a bottle of Prosecco, snacks and a small fruit basket. All that for a broken shower! But it didn't end there.

Our very comfortable room with windows overlooking the Piazza Santa at the highly recommended Hotel Beludi 37 in Padova.
Saturday night we had dinner at a restaurant in Centro and in a moment of abstraction - not infrequent these days it would seem - I left my small change purse on the table - with change and more important the only copy of a combination number in it. When I remembered it on Sunday the front desk called the restaurant but it was closed for the day. At that point I gave it up for lost.  The next day as we sat at lunch in Innsbruck the cell rang - it was Tomas from the front desk at the Beludi. He had contacted the restaurant, they had the change purse, he would go over at some point and then send it on to my home address.
The view towards the Sanctuary of Sant'Antonio from our hotel room window at the Beludi 37 - you can't get much closer than that!

That was the parcel I received today - I might add 5 days after he posted it by Poste Italiene - complete with all the change and that important number.  There is no way to sufficiently express how impressed I am with that sort of care and service.  1000 grazie to Tomas, and in fact to all the wonderful staff, at the Hotel Beludi 37 - your hotel may be listed as a two star (I'm still trying to figure that one out) but the service is ***** all the way.

16 febbraio - Sant'Elia e Compagni

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Its been a while since I posted any sort of lunacy of a Monday but its not if though there isn't plenty around. Normally a walk around Centro of a Sunday afternoon produces something to snicker at if not outright laugh. Yesterday was no exception and produced these little gems.

Now Church's is one of the most respect names in English footwear - I have a beautiful pair of velvet slippers that I bought from them over 20 years ago - and normally I love, even if I can no longer afford, their shoes but....

... when exactly the occasion would arise to wear either Royal Stuart or (I believe) Black Watch Regimental tartan shoes, I'm not sure. However should it ever become necessary I now know where I can get a pair for only €350.00 (roughly $470.00 CAD or USD).

Being on the practical side Laurent's first thought was: how do you clean them? My first thought? Why would you wear them unless you want to get beaten up?

14 febbraio - Santi Cirillo e Metodio

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Hearts and Puppies

Normally on Valentine's day I have posted things perhaps a bit unromantic, nay even cynical. But when we received this card from our friend Cathy I knew I just had to share it.

14 febbraio - San Valentino

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Special Sharing

Normally when I get an e-mail from my friend and former colleague David its something to make me laugh or if its about his beloved Ottawa Senators something to snicker at.  But yesterday I received a note from him that brought me close to tears with happiness that I want to share.

David with a half glass of Guinness in his hand - something I never thought I'd see - normally its an empty glass!

My oncologist said to me today that my blood work and x-ray's were all clear ...

AND ... he said that after 8 years, there's little chance that the cancer will be back ...

AND ... he gave me the golden handshake, and doesn't wanna see me ever again ...

Here's hoping!

Dear friend that is such wonderful news and if I were around I'd buy you a Guinness - or two - to celebrate. I second your oncologist's wish. Complimenti and auguri.

And just for you David:  GO SENS! GO!

12 febbraio - Sant'Eulalia di Barcellona

Friday, February 11, 2011

La Biblioteca Vaticana - Musical Manuscripts

An engraving from 1578 by Etienne Duperac of the Sistine Chapel shows the full pomp of a papal religious ceremony with the singers in their "cantoria"  (lower right) gathered around a lectern.  The bottom of the hand coloured engraving has been cut off but other copies show that  every important participant is identified by a number corresponding to a legend at the bottom of the page.  (From the V&A website)
There was a time when the finest composers and musicians were attached to the Papacy. Music at both Saint Peter's and the Sistine Chapel were of a quality equal to any in the world. Many great composers are recorded to have been associated with the music making in the Papal chapels and court: Dufay, Ninot le Petit, Festa, Josquin, Palestrina, de Morales,  Landi - a roll call of the major talents of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  The development of Western music can be traced through the records of the Vatican Library.

The earliest complete extant constitution (1545) of the Papal Choir outlines the duties, privileges, and code of behavior for members.  It offers detailed rules for their daily personal and professional life and the fines levied for lateness and absence . The beautiful illuminated full-page opening miniature portrays Pope Paul III presenting the constitution to the master of the papal chapel, with the singers of the chapel kneeling behind him.

This collection of hymns and Magnificats by Costanzo Festa (ca. 1480-1545), an Italian who served as a singer in the papal choir from 1517 until his death in 1545, is prominently displayed among the illuminated manuscripts in the Library exhibition. A holding from the Sistine Chapel it is the earliest folio by a single composer in the collection.  Festa was born in Piedmonte and prior to joining the Sistine Chapel choir had studied and worked in France and in Firenze. He was strongly influenced by his travels and he brought that influence with him into music of the time.

The opening of the polyphonic Advent hymn Conditor alme siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night) by Festa. The exact date of composition of this piece to the 7th century text is unknown but the compiled manuscript dates from 1538-1539
Giovanni Parvo, a scribe at the Papal Choir College began work on the manuscript in November of 1538 and he completed the copying by October of the following year. His colleague Appollonio de'Bonfratelli was charged with the illuminations and decorations before it was presented to Pope Paul III. The two men were to work together on many of the choir books used in the Papal Chapel.

 The parts are set out with the Cantus firmus - a pre-existing melody, Gregorian chant (as in the case of Festa's hymn) or a secular piece - that is the basis of the hymn.  The Tenor, Aultus and Bassus lines would then elaborate and expand on the cantus and by the time of Festa often take over the main melody. As shown in the engraving at the top of the page the singers (lower right in the engraving in a box like enclosure) would gather around a lectern on which rested a common choir book.

De'Bonfratelli decorated the pages with a red ribbon marginalia adorned with celtic knots worked in gold leaf.  The part indications are fancifully set out as enamel plaques attached to the page by trompe d'oiel  ribbons.

The Initials (Q the first letter of the second strophe: Qui condolens interitu) are composed of identical garlands enclosing the various coats of arms of and a dedication to Paul III.  The dedication shows that the manuscript was produced in the 5th year of his papacy. 

It is believed that the coat of arms at the bottom of the right hand page may well be the personal arms of Costanzo Festa himself.

11 febbraio - San Benedetto di Aniano