Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rome Prepares

There can be no doubt as to who is being celebrated this coming Sunday - though I must say that many of the photos seem to be of the period when his Parkinson's was becoming apparent which I find a bit odd. For some reason this side of the Piazza always seems to be deserted but believe me the crowds were there.

Now I know I said that I would not go anywhere near the country on the other side of the river during the carry-on over J2P2 but needs must sometimes makes us backtrack. I had promised a friend in Canada that I would send him a ticket for one of the concerts we will be missing when we head off to Sicily next month. He'll be here visiting and as he's a singer I knew he would enjoy hearing Benjamin Brittan's War Requiem.  However as I have often mentioned in past postings I am not all that confident of the good services of PosteItalia. So when I have something I want to reach its destination in a timely manner I head over to PopePost at the Holy See.

Though rain is being predicted for Sunday the chairs are already been set up in the Piazza for the Beatification.  This morning when I arrived at 1130 the line up to get into the Basilica was half way across the Piazza.  As the week progresses it will get worse.

Now any jaunt over to the country across the river means going through Centro which was a zoo and then to get to PopePost a trudge through Piazza San Pietro, which though it may look empty relatively empty is a nightmare to manoeuvre when you have a goal in mind.  Though the event is still four days away the Piazza was filled with eager groups of pilgrims, cruise boat tour groups, beaming nuns posing for pictures in front of the huge images of J2P2,  souvenir hucksters shilling your red hot Beatification t-shirts and tour guides offering to help the punters avoid the line up to get into the Basilica. Looking at the line I figured the wait was about 35-45 minutes to get through security.  But then in true fashion they only had two stations open!  I honestly haven't seen that much activity in the four years we've been here except maybe during Holy Week.

Red, ready and waiting for the thousands that are predicted for Sunday's event.  Interestingly all the services are provided not by the Vatican but by the Commune di Roma: security, sanitation, clean-up all paid for by the citizens of Roma.

I quickly got my stamp - having pushed through crowds at the Post Office - mailed my letter and escaped on the #62 bus back to Italy. I shall not pass that way again for a while!

28 aprile - San Luigi Maria Grignion de Montfort

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BOH! Ramblings of an Elderly Curmudgeon!

Well this coming Friday is going to be pretty exciting - all sorts of wonderful things happening this weekend. Yes, you guessed it! We are finally heading up to Siena to spend the weekend in one of the glories of Renaissance Tuscany. Strangely despite the fact that it is a major tourist destination there are no direct trains from Roma - you have to change from an EuroCity to a regional train at Grosetto. So we will get to see the stations in Citavecchia, Grosetto Montepescali, Sticciano, Roccastrada, Civitella-Paganico, Monte Antico, Buonconvento, Monteroni D'Arbia and before arriving in Siena.  On the way back on Sunday we'll add 12 more stations to the list.  Strano as they say here. Molto strano!
Used by permission: Boston Public Library, Print Department
Now apparently by being in Siena we will miss a few things that have been making the papers lately.  Friday is some sort of nuptial things for the Windsor-Mountbatten family in London- yes I am a royalist but frankly all this carry on is starting to get on my nerves.  I remember the last big one and getting up at some ungodly hour to watch it.  We had mimosas and blueberry crepes with the whipped cream done in the shape of the Prince of Wales' three feathers - no I'm not making this up!  I remember that our friend Jim wouldn't let us touch the champers until the magic words had been spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury:  Those who God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.  Well we all know how that turned out don't we?  Several men and women were putting things asunder all over the place.  We should have started drinking earlier!

The New Yorker can still, on occasion, come up with a witty observation of world events - and for me this week's cover by Barry Blitt pretty much sums it all up.
And there has been so much publicity of the tabloid sort - even on the BBC - that the whole thing could be mistaken for a popularity grab by a moribund institution or a tourism campaign during a period of economic decline.   So I will not be taken in by the "night before" interviews of the happy couple, the breathless description of the wedding dress or the red carpet gushing over the guest list or whatever else the media has up its sleeve.  I wish them all happiness and sincerely hope it is a good and successful union - I just don't particularly want to be caught up in it.
I think, like the ceremony itself, I'll give this John Paul II Beatification souvenir T-shirt a pass.

And being in Siena also means we will be missing the Beatification of John Paul II  this weekend here in Roma.  Posters have been appearing all over town, I spotted a group of giddy nuns putting one up on a wall in our neighbourhood yesterday.  It is expected that several hundred thousand people will be crowded into Piazza San Pietro for the Mass on Sunday.  There have been some rumbling about the rather unseemly haste in process in making J2P2 a saint but that would appear to be a minority opinion at both the Vatican and in Roma.  The hotels are full, the restaurants are doing a thriving business and the souvenir sellers are smile beatifically.  Again one would almost think that it was a popularity infusion for a troubled institution or a jolt of prosperity for a slightly flagging tourist industry.

Or perhaps I am just turning into a cynical old curmudgeon who finds little joy in another Royal Wedding or the smells, bells and dreadful singing in the big church in the country across the river.  I'll leave these events to those who do find joy in them with all my best wishes.  But this weekend I think I'll just make my way through Castelnuovo Berardenga, Sinalungo and other equally exotic sounding towns, climb the Tour di Mangia, gaze in awe at the frescoes of The Good and The Bad Government and drink some of the remarkable local wines. That will be enough excitement for me.

27 aprile - Santa Zita

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Quote .... Unquote

To honour (?) the birth of William Shakespeare (April 23 is the date set by tradition) my friend Jenn posted a YouTube clip by Rowan Atkinson on Facebook .  Now I am probably in the minority amongst my friends in not fully appreciating the talent that is Atkinson.  I don't mind him in small doses but after a while find him irritating beyond all belief and playing mostly on one abrasive note.  In the Black Adder series he did what any sensible comedian who had pretty much one tune to his fiddle does - surrounded himself with actors who had a few more strings to their bows:  Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Tim McInnerny, Patsy Byrne, Hugh Laurie (I fell in love with Hugh Laurie when he appeared as the Prince Regent in his bath) and the brilliant Tony Robinson as his faithful dog's body Boldrick.  All exceptional performers - more actors of comedy than comedians.  Yes I know the fiddle, tune, bows thing was a stretch but I've been away from writing for the past while so give me a chance!

You will notice that I have not posted the YouTube clip, even if it does feature Colin Firth; a pox on Mr Atkinson I say, but you can find it here.  The premise is that Shakespeare is responsible for all the deadly dull days we spent in school listening to his work being murder by droning pedants who strove to enlighten us whither we wanted to be or not.  Now I don't know about anyone else but I had a wonderful English teacher during my high school years.  Mary Firth was one of those educators who knew that you had to capture the imaginations of a student to make plays, poetry, literature and language a living thing.  Certainly in my case she succeeded.

Though I admit that I loved Shakespeare long before my high school years and the influence of Miss Firth. My father took me to my first live performances - The Tempest followed by The Taming of the Shrew the next week - back in 1957 or 1958. And I saw much of what was performed at our Stratford from 1959 onward - a young Christopher Plummer as Benedict that year!  Lately I've attended performances mostly in Italian - there is after all a school of thought that says Will was actually Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza from Sicily. It should be noted that there are more performances of plays by Shakespeare/Crollalanza or what you Will than any other playwright during the theatre season here in Italy.  Whereas, I might also mention, very few people here know who the hell Rowan Atkinson is.

All of this by way of introducing a quote I came upon from Bernard Levin the witty, wise and highly quotable British journalist/writer/broadcaster.

"If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is farther to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise -why, be that as it may, the more fool you , for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness' sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare."
Sorry Jenn, and I guess Mr Atkinson, but  I think that's a more suitable way of celebrating William Shakespeare.

25 aprile - San Marco Evangelista
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cristo è risorto! Alleluia!

Veramente è risorto! Alleluia! 
Buona Pasqua

Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!
He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Happy Easter

In answer to Will's question: This shot was taken in one of the side chapels of the incredible Cattedrale di Montreale.  It is one of the great glories of the art of the mosaic and this is just a very simple example.

24 aprile - La Pasqua di Resurrezione
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Marco's Mother's Pastiera - Day 2

I was so exhausted from all my culinary efforts - and you will notice there are no photos of the disaster area that was the kitchen or the pastry that had to be scraped off the walls - that though this was meant to be posted yesterday (Friday) I only got around to it today.

In the old days, back when I was an acolyte, I would have been at church by 0900 this morning if not earlier. This morning I was up at 0900 attempting to make short crust pastry for the next step in Marco's Mother's Pastiera. I was using lard rather than butter - good old fashioned pork fat that they sell in the stores here not the "vegetable" shortening that we get back in Canada. I had forgotten that it does have a "porcine" smell until it has cooked. That was my first surprise of the morning.

Once the pastry was made and set in the fridge to chill it was time to pick up Marco's Mother's recipe where I left off yesterday. The Good Friday portion of the process if you will.

The ingredients for the filling:  6 eggs - seperated; 2 bottles of fiori d'arancia; the ricotta/sugar mixture and the boiled grano prepared yesterday; candied fruit and 4 packets of vanilla powder.
Preheat the oven to 180c. Remove the ricotta-sugar and boiled grano mixtures from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.Separate 6 eggs.Beat the yolks and incorporate them into the ricotta-sugar mixture.

Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer - surprise #2: I couldn't find our electric mixer, I'm sure we have one but... so I used the whisk - until they form soft peaks. (It only took 7 or 8 minutes with the whisk and actually did wonders in releasing a few aggressions I'd built up.) Fold them well into the ricotta-sugar-yolk mixture. Add the boiled grano-cream and mix well.
Add 4 sachets of vanilla, 3 bottles of fiori d'arancia - surprise #3 just before I started this step a blast of Robin Hood's horn on my iPhone announced that I had a message from Marco.  He had seen yesterday's post and noticed I was using the large size of fiori d'arancia and hold off on 3 bottles - just make it 2 and see how strong the smell of orange blossom was.  If I felt it needed more than add the 3rd!!!! Mix well.  Then add the candied fruit and mix well. Note to self:  next time maybe toss them in a bit of flour so they don't sink to the bottom!  Mix well.

Roll out the pastry (thin) and fit into a baking dish that has been buttered and floured lightly. Make sure you have enough pastry to cut the decorative strips that are essential for a proper Pastiera. Pour the batter in - during cooking the pastiera will grow so it's important not to overfill the pan. Surprise #4 - I had a whole lot of batter left over!!!! A quick message to Marco to ask exactly how big a pastiera his mother's recipe makes? The reply: one or maybe two pans of normal size. Thank you Marco! Thankfully I had made enough pastry for two but ended up making another lot as its seems that maybe just maybe Mother Marco's recipe can make three!!!!

Cut 6 strips of pastry and make a diamond pattern - if they sink in a bit don't worry it is okay!

Bake in preheated oven for two hours (more or less). Do not open the oven - surprise #5 he tells me this in an e-mail after I've opened the oven twice to look!  Once they are cooked - you can tell because the filling will be puffed up and golden brown, mine only took about 90 minutes - turn off the oven and do not - repeat - do not remove until the oven has completely cooled down!  Surprise #6 - this came in a message just before I was going to remove them.

By this time the entire apartment was filled with the smell of orange blossoms, Lionel and Laurent said they could smell it in the lobby downstairs.  Surprise #7 - they came out looking like pastiera!

Now of course they have to be left for 48 hours - covered but not in the refrigerator - NEVER in the refrigerator!!!!! - and presented at pranzo on Easter Sunday.

That will be surprise #8 - will it actually taste the way it should???  And the tasters will be a table of Italians including at least two Napoletani!!!!!!

23 aprile - San Giorgio
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where There Is Love and Charity

Tonight is Maundy Thursday the beginning of the Easter Triduum in many Christian churches. For me it was always the most emotional of the observances of those three days that formed the climax of Holy Week.

At my old parish church, St Thomas, Huron Street, in Toronto the evening brought the celebration of the Lord's Supper and after the homily the ancient custom of the Washing of the Feet would be enacted. While this ritual, which has its roots in the traditions of hospitality, was taking place the choir would sing one of the loveliest and most loving of ancient hymns - Ubi Caritas.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

This setting by Maurice Duruflé - perhaps the most famous version - was one of his Four Motets Based on Gregorian themes.

This was the only picture I could find of the inside of St Thomas, Huron Street, my old parish church in Toronto.  As the observance of Maundy Thursday drew to a close the glorious Arts and Crafts interior became shrouded in black and darkness - the wonderful carvings, brass work and decorations cloaked until the first Gloria of Easter.
At the end of the Mass the Sacrament was processed out of the main body of the church to a temporary chapel in the crypt.  Then as the unaccompanied choir, the organ remained silent until Easter Eve, intoned a series of antiphons the sanctuary was stripped bare. Altar coverings were removed, the huge pavement candelabra were cloaked in black and the candles removed.   The beautiful carved reredos and gleaming brass candles of the retable were covered by a full length black drape. The sanctuary lamps were extinguished and it became a dark and empty place,  not to spring to life again until two days later with the jubilant Gloria of the first Mass of Easter. 

21 aprile - Giovedi Santo

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Marco's Mother's Pastiera

I first encountered Pastiera, the traditional Napoletano Easter dolci, when we were doing an "Italian theme" Easter dinner back in 1990.  My friend John was delegated to make it using a recipe from the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Back in those days many of the ingredients were hard to find and the "wheat berries" had to be bought in a health food store and the lengthy process of cooking them followed. John wasn't too confident that this such a great idea for a desert and made an angel food cake as well. As I recall the "pastiera" was considered to be a bit on the exotic side.

I wasn't to encounter it again until I moved here four years ago and then only really became familiar with it after meeting my friend Marco, the Napoletano.  Two Easters back he talked about it - and how he had learned how to make it from his mother, whose pastiera was the best in Napoli.  Last year he snuck a piece from the family table and brought it back to Roma for me to try.  This year he shared the recipe with me and I'm attempting to make it myself.

As with most family recipes it is big on description and cautions but a bit short on details.  Measurements are by the eye, to taste and experience.  I've had to send him several e-mails asking for clarification about instructions such as "whip the egg whites, then incorporate them into the mixture" - good but whip them until what consistency?  Now Marco would have seen his mother do it, who had probably watched her mother do it - so the eye - and finger - had learned when the time was right.  My own thoughts were until they "form soft peaks" - turns out I was right.

Marco's Mother's Pastiera (sort of)

Half kilo of good quality cow's milk fresh ricotta
Half kilo of sugar (fine but not icing sugar)
1 small jar of pre-cooked grano* or about 300 gr
1/2 litre of milk
Candied fruit (little but some is required)
6 eggs
5 Vanilla packets
4 bottles Fiori d'arancio (Orange blossom essence)
A portion of short pastry (say that you will need a pound)

*Grano is whole grain that has been soaked in repeated changes of water - sometimes for as long as seven days, though 3 days is more the norm - then cooked.  It can be bought precooked in jars and cans in supermarkets here and Italian food stores in other countries.

Making pastiera is a two day job and once baked it should ideally sit - though I've been cautioned never in the refrigerator - for a day or two to let the flavours blend.  So it is traditional to start it on Holy Thursday, complete it on Good Friday and service it on Easter Sunday.

So this morning - Holy Thursday - I started the easiest part of the cooking.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta and the sugar.  When it has become creamy cover and let rest in the refrigerator for a day.

Boil the grano in the milk for about 20 minutes.  During the cooking add 1 tablespoon of lard, a packet of vanilla and a bottle of orange blossom essence. Allow to cool and then cover and store in the refrigerator for a day.

So far so good though I had worried about the consistency of the grano but Marco assured me that it would all balance out and not to worry.   I'll be making the shortbread pastry tonight - using lard not butter - though according to Marco in a pinch even frozen pastry will do!  I'm not sure but I think that may be his own addition as a bachelor cook.  As I say the recipe is passed down and its not unknown for people to make small changes for taste, availability and convenience.

So tomorrow - Good Friday - and Part 2 of making Marco's Mother's Pastiera.

21 aprile - Giovedi Santo

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gratuitous HFH iPhone Photo

God lord, Debra may have been right in her comment on the previous post - I'm taking photos with my iPhone like some teenager called Ashley.   Here's one of the kids first thing this morning.

Nicky loves the sun and I'm sure he thinks its hiding the ceramic jar in the alcove. As with much that happens in our house Nora lets him do the work and she'll bask in it once he's found it.

20 aprile - San Teodoro Trichinas

The New Boy Toy

Don't get all excited I said "Boy toy" not "toy boy". Big difference. Though at my age I get more excited over the former than the later!

Here she is - don't ask me why but if you have to allocate gender, and my generation does, she's a she - posing with her bigger relatives in my little MAC family.

Last week I went to the only Apple Store in town out at the Roma Est shopping mall - I really must write one day about how I get overwhelmed in shopping malls - and picked myself up an iPhone4. Yes I made Steve Jobs a bit richer but I've also greatly enriched my life - yeah I know hyperbole but then when you become a Mac freak no hyperbole is too hyper.

The service at the Apple Store was quick, friendly and a normal Italian bureaucratic nightmare was solved in two minutes!!!! I was sent out into the milling mall crowds within 10 minutes of arriving, my Apple bag clutched firmly in my hot little hands.

And that was a dead give away when I walked into the Vodaphone shop up the next level. Diego, the very friendly sales person, gave me a big smile, put his hand to his forehead like a fortune teller and said, "You have just bought an iPhone and are coming to buy a new SIM card and have your number switched over." "The bag gave it away, did it?" I asked. "That and your smile, sir" he said with a smile as big as mine.

Again the processing was done quickly and in the friendliest way possible. When I said I didn't need a long term plan because I was moving back to Canada, Diego's face assumed a sympathetic look. "Oh, I am so sorry," he said "that means you will have to deal with Rogers." For the third time in less than half an hour my jaw dropped. "How do you know about Rogers?" I asked. "Everyone in the business knows about Rogers" was his quick reply with a shake of his head.

So new SIM in place, iPhone activated I headed out into the world of Apps and Notifications. I've been playing with it ever since - amazing and boring all my friends with the bells and whistles of my new boy toy!

20 aprile - Santa Sara di Antiochia

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights, we eat either unleavened or leavened bread, but tonight we eat only unleavened bread.
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs.
On all other nights, we do not dip [our food] even once, but tonight we dip twice.
On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline.
I posted this beautiful Passover plate when I wrote about the synagogue in Pesaro; it is an example of the ceramics that were created by Jewish artisans in the region in the 1600s.  

To all my friends who will begin their seder meal with that question and those answers I wish the Happiest and Holiest of Passovers.

Chag Pesach Sameach.

18 aprile - la prima sera di Pesach
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Brendan O'Carroll's Mrs Brown's Boys was generally badly received by the critics in both Ireland and England when it appeared earlier this year. In the Irish Times Bernice Harrison thought "The whole thing is entirely predicated on viewers finding a man dressed as a foul-mouthed elderly woman intrinsically funny, ... but if you don't .... then it's a long half-hour." It would appear that enough people found it "intrinsically funny" for the BBC to order a second series. Though I do find most of the humour on the puerile side this little vignette with Agnes Brown (O'Carroll) and best friend Winnie McGoogan (played by O'Carroll's sister Eilish O'Carroll) struck me as funny in its honesty.

It reminded me of my own mother's reaction back in the early 70s to a workplace discovery. Bear in mind that my mother was born in 1902 in post-Victorian Ireland: she came home one night from the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, where she worked as a patients' aid, quite perplexed. She had been told that one of the male patients - a "really lovely boy" - went to bed with other men!!! Could I imagine that? And what would would they do with each other in bed? I tried to hide my amusement and feeling that it wasn't my duty to broaden her sex education that late in life, said nothing. Looking back on it now I'm sure her reaction would have been a mixture of disbelief (a son lying to his mother about a thing like that!) and Mrs Brown and Winnie's discomfort. Comedy, they say, reflects life.

11 aprile - San Satnislao di Cracovia
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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Thoughts - A Century Apart

For some reason the First World War has always held a fascination for me - since I first picked up A.J.P. Taylor's book of that name. That "war to end all wars" was, of course, no such thing but it did set the major path for the 20th century socially, politically, geographically and militarily. For some countries, including my own, it was viewed as a coming-of-age as troops were sent to help "the Mother Country".  I won't go into the right or wrong of it all, the death toll or the lost generation that it engendered - it is always easy to do that in hindsight.  Today - April 9th - is observed in Canada as Vimy Ridge Day - a day to remember the sacrifices (3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded) of the Canadian Corps on that Easter Monday in 1917.

My friend Debra has a very moving tribute to the day and the monument that stands at Vimy Ridge today.

Italy is no stranger to earthquakes - some of you may remember that two years ago April 6th we experienced a devastating one here in Italy.   Though it pales in comparison to the quakes that  have taken so many lives and destroyed so much in Japan over the past month I was touched to see this poster on a billboard in our neighbourhood.   I don't think it needs translation and it shows that the people of Italy understand.

09 aprile - Santa Casilda da Toledo
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Friday, April 08, 2011

The Palms of Rome

Doesn't he mean "the Pines of Rome" you may well be asking yourself. Well yes the stately Pines are the first thing that come to mind when you mention Roman greenery but it is also a city of wasteria, oak and palm trees. Though that is fast becoming the past tense "was" in the case of the stately palms.  Devastation has struck palm trees of every kind throughout the southern Mediterranean over the past  30 years and has now worked its way up to the Roma-Lazio area.  A recent report indicates that  over 700 palm trees have been destroyed just outside the city in Ostia; the entire palm tree population of Villa Torlonia and up to 30% in the Lazio region have also been wiped out. Mind you that is nothing compared with the 30,000 palm trees that have been destroyed in Sicily in the past six years.

This stand of palm trees is in the front garden of the former residence of the Saudi Ambassador on Via Regina Margherita. They appear healthy but only today an infected tree was removed that stood beside them. It was first stripped of all its dead fronds, then the top cut off and the trunk cut into pieces. Hopefully it has not infected the other trees but by the time the trees show distress it is normally too late to save them.

Palms are not native to the area but were imported in the 19th century as an exotic plant for the gardens of the villas that surround Roma.  And since 2004 more were being imported into the coastal towns by municipal governments eager to sell their areas as lush tropical tourist destinations. And those trees - most imported from Egypt - served as a Trojan Horse (if I may mix historical metaphor) for a small, well concealed but dangerous enemy. The culprit is a little insect known as Rhynchophorus ferrugineus or the red palm weevil. And it is proving deadly for those palms ( Phoenix canariensis) that line the streets and grace the villa gardens and parks throughout the city.

So far this tree in an apartment yard on the Aventino (top) has not shown any signs of infestation and appears to be healthy as does this tall palm near our house. It has become a host but to a wisteria that is climbing its way up - perhaps ultimately as destructive as the weevil but more easily controlled.

As with many insects it is not the adult weevil which is the destroying agent but the larvae which burrow their way into the heart of the palm. A female weevil lays as many as 300 eggs and the hatched larvae then tunnel through the plant feeding on the soft interior fiber. In a serious infestation if you put your ear against the trunk it is possible to hear the crunching sound of the feeding larvae.

As recently as last year this palm in our neighbour's yard (top) was gloriously healthy looking - it has now been in its present state for about 6 months. The law requires that people report infected trees on their property but infestations often go unreported because of the cost of removal etc. The palm in the second photo, at a house just down the street, is showing the first stages of the handiwork of the weevil larvae. It is probably too late to save it now.

By the time the top leaves show signs of drooping it is already too late to do anything. In a little as three months the palm will be dead.  Because it is not indigenous the weevil has no natural enemies in the region and few of the eradication/control methods used have proved successful. It would appear that the best way is the most drastic: cut down and shred all the palms, including the healthy ones, in areas where infestations have been found. Though the law requires that people report sick trees on their property many people neglect to because of both the drastic measures necessary and the cost involved.

Though the situation is a serious one quite often plants have a way surviving.  This palm has taken root on a long dead tree on a nearby street - another example of the remarkable tenacity of plants.

Italian scientists are attempting to find a solution but the fight is an unequal one.  The Trojan Horse was willing dragged in from the outside world, it disgorged its troops and caught the inhabitants by surprise.  The original story had a sad ending - it may well be the same for the beautiful Palms of Rome.

08 aprile - San Dionigi di Corinto
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Roman Spring of ....

... well definitely not Mrs Stone. But spring is definitely here.

06 aprile - Santa Prudence

Monday, April 04, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Ever stopped to think why our grandparents and great-grand parents had such fond memories of their childhood? Why they thought of them as golden, dreamlike days of blissful happiness? Well frankly its a wonder they remember anything at all.

Here's some of the cool stuff they gave kids (and adults) back then.

A bottle of Bayer's Heroin. Between 1890 and 1910 heroin was sold as a "non-addictive" substitute for morphine - and highly recommended to cure a child's strong cough!

Coco wine was a great favourite with Metcalf's and Mariani being only two amongst a meriade of cocaine infused concoctions which if they would not exactly cure you were guaranteed to make you very happy.  Why Pope Leo XIII carried a bottle around with him - and even awarded Angelo Mariani with a Papal gold medal.

Maltine did Mariani nine better and got ten gold medals for its coca infused wine.  Suggested dosage for an adult was one glass before or after each meal to aid digestion.  For children?  Only half a glass - you don't want to over stimulate small appetites.

This paperweight was a friendly reminder that Boemringer und Soehne had the distinction of being the world's largest manufacturers of Quinine and cocaine products.  A dubious honour today.

And for the asthmatic what could be better than 40% alcohol mixed with 3 grams of opium - is it any wonder their breathing became relaxed?

And no actor, singer or preacher would be caught without their box of throat lozenges.  How could it no make them "speak the speech .... trippingly on the tongue". 

And for your little one's aching tooth these drops promised "instant relief" and pretty much guaranteed a happy child.  And you can forgiven if you read "druggies" rather than "druggists". 

And finally for the colicky or teething baby Stickney and Poor's gentle mixture of 46% alcohol and 1 3/16 grams of opium would guarantee they would sleep through the night. 

And you ask why they were called "the Good Old Days"?????

Many thanks to Elaine for these insights into the "happy" if slightly stoned days of yore.

04 aprile - Sant'Isidoro di Siviglia