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blog Blog 2020

A masked Mario at the wheel

As we prepared to leave for Rome, their pandemic numbers spiked, the country closed down bars and restaurants after 6 p.m., there were clashes between the police and those protesting the new restrictions. On the plus side the Ryan Air flight from Valencia landed 15 minutes early. And we know our way around.

Ciampino Airport is about 15 kilometers/9 miles from Termini, Rome’s central train station from whence you can get just about any where in Rome. You can get a bus from the airport that takes you directly to Termini. It had already left when we arrived and another was not due for over an hour, as they have reduced their frequency significantly given reduced demand. We knew what to do – get a local bus ticket which we needed to do anyway in order to get around town. Then you can take the public bus to the metro and get to Termini that way. Since public transport passes are available in weekly form, and we knew that, we ordered that at the window, which we got to after explaining to the policeman at the door why we wanted in. Apparently you now need good cause to enter. It helps to speak a least a bit of Italian.

There are two buses that take you to the metro, one takes you to the Metro A at Anagnina and the other to Laurentine on Metro B. The Laurentine was just leaving as we arrived. We waved him down. He let us in as he’d only moved a meter or two. We knew we could go to either of the metro stations. Off we went into the dark narrow streets of the countryside between Rome and Ciampino, not just an airport but a city on Rome’s southwest side.

The driver wasted no time imitating Mario Andretti, the famous Italian American race car driver who dominated the circuits over three decades. We lurched around the curves, then forward and back when he tromped on the brakes. Windows and doors rattled on the rough rode, a cacophony making conversation nearly impossible. He screeched to a stop in the middle of nowhere to pick up a lonely passenger. As we proceeded in the blackness I tried to put in our route to our apartment near the Borghese Gallery. It was quite a challenge just to hold onto the phone. I got far enough along with the task to see where we had to get off in order to ride the metro to Termini.

It was a piece of cake from then on. We even knew to take a bus from Termini to get to the flat, although our host recommended that we take a taxi or walk. We ended up with a 5 minute walk versus 20 from Termini. This gave us time to shop for dinner.

We would have to cook for ourselves without any restaurants to choose from, as we could not be sure if any offered takeout We shopped at the Coop on the way, just two minutes from our destination. The procercy stores sell great bread, quite inexpensive and about as good as what you can get in a bakery. You get it at the meat/cheese/deli counter that almost all of them have. There are fresh pasta shops but in the grocery stores you get just a few choices. There are lots of choices for sauces in the pesto category, as tomato sauces are not the be all they are in the US. Red pepper sauces has became one of my favorites after stints in Italy.

As we were nearly ready to check out, we realized we’d forgotten garlic. I walked through the checkout line to go more directly to the vegetable section. Surprisingly there was no garlic. Or maybe not a surprise. They use it a lot. So I returned to the register where Peggy was placing items on the belt, and started messing with the bag. The woman at the register gave me such a look, like who am I to steal this bag. I laughed and told her, “Siamo insieme.” She laughed and did the rest of her job speaking English. It was a friendly “goodbye and thank you for coming.”

At our digs it was all in Italian. Anyone could figure their way through it though.

Tomorrow another visit to St Peter’s, from whence the Pope announced his support for same sex civil unions. It’s an improvement, and I could care less about what he thinks the difference is between so called sacred ceremonies and civil arrangements. Legally they are the same. Take the same ingredients and just add woo and you have a church wedding.

And that’s what it was like on our fist day in the land of Bunga Bunga – yes, Berlusconi is still holding an elected position, escaping prosecution still, as under Italian law elected officials are immune.

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blog blog 2017 Rome 2017

Photos from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum, and a bit about the Vatican

Some background

Small (as in Vatican City) can be beautiful and that the Vaticano is.  The Vatican Museums house some $15 billion in art, although some of it is way beyond a monetary evaluation.  The popes who built the art collection, as well as the Basilica and the rest, were scoundrels who engaged in deception, fornication, thievery, hypocrisy and much more including the sale of what I call ‘get out of purgatory free’ cards:  you contributed in some fashion and in exchange the Church guaranteed you would be more leniently treated by the celestial powers that be.  But no one can deny that the legacy they left us is a storehouse of treasure that has enriched the world.   As much as I detest those people and hate to admit it, but we are indebted to them, yet own allegiance to their means. 

Vatican City is a country officially recognized by treaty between the Vatican and the Italian government since 1929 when Mussolini and the Pope came to an agreement.  Before the reunification of Italy in 1861, the Pope ruled much of Italy from the Vatican,  but the Risorgimento, as it is called in Italian, reduced the papal state to a mere 44 hectares, and it remains the smallest country in the world both in size and population.  

You may have heard the term “The Holy See” and wondered about the meaning.   The Holy See governs the religious life of the world’s 1 billion Catholics.  It is the arm of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) that has diplomatic relations with other countries, not the Vatican City.  It’s an odd arrangement, indeed,  but there you have it.  Another tidbit-  the word ‘see’ in “Holy See”comes from the Latin ‘Sede,’ meaning ‘Seat,’ so has nothing to do with seeing and thus not as presumptuous as it seems. 

Many people confuse the Museums (there is just one entrance to all of them) with St Peter’s Basilica.  Each has its own entrance-  if you standing on line in front of St Peter’s you are not going into the Museums.  The Museum is not free except for the first Sunday, while the Basilica is always free, though given the costs involved I would not blame the church if it decided to charge.  It’s houses amazing art, including Michelangelo’s Pieta, completed when he was just 23 years old. 

There is additional background information following the next section.

About the art of the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was completed in 1477 by Sixtus IV, for whom the chapel is named.  It remains the setting for formal deliberations naming the next pope.  Michelangelo, primarily a sculptor, was hired by Julius II to paint the ceiling, which he did from 1508-1512.  He started with the center piece, The Creation of Adam shows Yahweh, surrounded by his buddies, injecting life into Adam. Once Michelangelo completed this section he realized the scale was too small, and it would take him too long to finish the immense project.  Therefore the remainder of the work is in larger scale.  He painted nine scenes in all from Genesis, and also painted the Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall.  

Here’s a view of the hall.  Photos are not permitted but people manage to take ones anyway.  I found this one on the internet, one of the better and more interesting ones.  The chapel is hard to photograph well due to its size and the side lighting.

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

 

The Creation of Adam, one of the most famous paintings of all time, and the first to be painted in the ceiling project:

The Creation of Adam
The Creation of Adam, one of the most famous paintings of all time

This next is one of my favorite paintings in the Chapel.  From the far side of the hall his legs appear to be dangling in space.

 

A little more background

Pope Julius II, aka Giulian della Rovere (1443-1513), aggressively sought to unite Italy, to the point where he led troops in battle on at least two occasions.  He engaged in an active building program, most remarkably the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica, and invested heavily in the arts, such as the decoration of the ceiling of the Chapel.  His uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, had first made him a cardinal, assuming the position his uncle had vacated to become Pope.  Although unmarried Giulian fathered Felice della Rovere in 1483.  

He began the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica in 1506, the same year he conceived of the ceiling for which he would hire Michelangelo.  Michelangelo was not interested in the project, saying he was a sculptor not a painter, and besides he was already at work on the Pope’s own tomb.  The latter project was set aside and remains uncompleted, housed in St Peter in Chains near the Coliseo and Domus Aurea; more about this in a coming article.   The Pope prevailed but went to war for the next two years, delaying the ceiling, during which time Michelangelo continued to work on the tomb, giving us what we have today, the Moses in St Peter in Chains, the center piece of the installation in that church. 

Michelangelo wanted no restrictions imposed on the project and he was granted complete control.  He eventually painted some 300 figures over the course of the four years it took to complete the ceiling.   He worked standing, not laying down as most people believe, using wooden scaffolding.  The scaffolding was held by brackets extending from openings at the top of the windows, and allowed for work on half of the ceiling at a time.  A lightweight screen below to prevent damage to the artwork and flooring below.  The openings were employed for the scaffolding used in the recent restoration, which turned a much darkened ceiling into a brightly colored one we see today.

At first he encountered mold problems in the plaster, into which paint was mixed to produce what we call ‘frescoes,’ coming from the Italian for ‘fresh.’  (I often hear Italians using the word ‘fresh’ for ‘cool’ as in ‘temperature.’)  An assistant developed a formula that is mold resistant, after the first applications had to be removed.  This formula is still in use.

Fresco painters employ a detailed drawing into which small holes are punched to transfer the design to the plaster. Michelangelo, however, drew directly on the plaster.  Each day a new section of plaster was laid, the edges of the previous day scraped off, being too dry.  As a result you can still see the daily progress of the work.

The final result is greeted by some five million visitors a year, paying about 15 euros each.  The Pope’s grandiose plan appears to have paid off, but I yield nothing to his immorality nor the Church of his time. 

 

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Art blog blog 2017 Rome 2017

St Agnes at the Track – Piazza Navona, with pen and ink drawings of Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

Chiesa Sant’Agnese is a small domed church designed by Boromini, a contemporary of Bernini and a rival who never made it to his competitor’s stature.  In my book he had nothing to be ashamed of, he just had a competitor that was outstanding and well connected.  The work he was assigned was smaller in scale but he did a magnificent job of making the interiors zoom in space.  

Chiesa Sant’Agnese is often termed “St. Agnes in Agony’ but this gives an incorrect translation of ‘Agone.”  Agone means ‘games’ and also refers to the stadium built by Diocletian starting in 80 AD, with a circle track.  So perhaps we should say “St Agnes at the Track,”  as irreverent as that may seem.

The church sits on what we now call Piazza Navona, originally called “Circus Agonalis” (circus is a circle, just like Circo Massimo, Circus Maximus).  Apparently the name Agonoalis morphed into Navona.  Aside from the track shape of the plaza and the buildings facing it, the main feature of the plaza is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).  

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blog blog 2017 Rome 2017

A Summer of Music in Rome’s Fabulous Venues

Every summer the Italian government sponsors outdoor music events as part of a broader cultural initiative. The Polo Museale del Lazio (Museum Center of Lazio) put together one hundred activities for this summer’s entertainment.  See http://art-city.it

To date we have attended three concerts, one at Castle St Angelo and two at Piazza Venezia.  The former is in Vatican territory and the latter overlooks the Roman forum and the ‘centro historico’ of Rome.  Two more fabulous venues would be hard to find.  

From the Castle you have a great view of St. Peter’s Cathedral as well as the River Tevere and it’s many summertime tents, where patrons sip cold beverages or have a plate of pasta while sitting on the banks of the river that divides Rome.  

St Peter's from Castle Sant'Angelo
St Peter’s from Castle Sant’Angelo

 

We were privileged to enjoy the Barcelona Gypsy balKan (sic) Orchestra seated on the upper levels of the monument, erected circa 139 as Hadrian’s tomb.  You too can watch the performance we did, without the venue unfortunately:

Barcelona Gipsy balKan Orchestra, pen ink brish, mini done in audience
Barcelona Gypsy balKan (sic) Orchestra, pen ink brish, mini done in audience

Barcelona Gipsy balKan Orchestra
Barcelona Gipsy balKan Orchestra, pen ink brush, done in audience

Their lively performances fuse Roma and Klezmer.  Klezmer is a musical genre created by Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe.  The groups are called klezmorim and originally it was largely dance tunes and instrumentals that they played for weddings and other celebrations.  It is every bit as energetic as Roma music and likewise there are dances that go with some songs.  When we were in Budapest one summer we watched a band and dance group performance, men in traditional black hats and suits dancing on an outdoor stage along the Danube.  It was impressively athletic, including bottles balanced on heads.

The concerts at Piazza Venezia take place within the monument to Vittorio Emannuel II, made king of Italy at the time of unification in 1861.  (You may recall that in 2000 Peg worked with the nephew of Lampedusa, who wrote the Leopard, a novel about Sicily at the time of reunification-  Gigi was working on a novel).  The monument overlooks Piazza Venezia on one side with great views of the historic center, and portions of the Roman forums on the others.  You can easily see Trajan’s column.

While waiting for the concert to begin, I sketched Trajan’s column.  The column recounts the conquest of Dacia, in what we now call Romania.  Romanian is a romance language, adopted as a result of the conquest depicted here.  The sculptors who did these columns came to be called columnists, from which we get our use of the word.

Trajans Column from Vittorio Emanuelle
Trajans Column from Vittorio Emanuelle, sketch

Romans are not fond of the monument, pejoratively calling it The Wedding Cake for its many layers. That you have to climb 260 stairs to get to the terraces does not make it any easier to like.  They say it is two floors to the terrace, which is true I suppose, it’s just the ceiling height that kills you.  There is an elevator to the highest level but you pay for those amazing views, but there is no stop on the level where they hold the concerts.

One evening there was a jazz band that whose offerings were too far from melodic for us.  The second night was Bach.  There were a flutist and a violinist, each accompanied by a virtuoso pianist, and a cellist who joined the rest for a third piece.   Fortunately I am a Bach fan, but if I were not, there would have been far too many notes for comfort.

 

These concerts and other events continue until September.  What a pleasure!