Puglia: slide show set to a famous song

Pulgia set to Volare

Volare, oh oh
Cantare, oh oh oh oh
Let’s fly way up to the clouds
Away from the maddening crowds
We can sing in the glow of a star that I know of
Where lovers enjoy peace of mind
Let us leave the confusion and all disillusion behind
Just like bird of a feather, a rainbow together we’ll find

Volare, oh oh
E cantare, oh oh oh oh
No wonder my happy heart sings
Your love has given me wings
Penso che un sogno così non ritorni mai più
Mi dipingevo le mani e la faccia di blu
Poi d’improvviso venivo dal vento rapito
Ed incominciavo a volare nel cielo infinito

Volare, oh oh
E cantare, oh oh oh oh
Nel blu, dipinto di blu
Felice di stare lassù
E volavo, volavo felice più in alto del sole ed ancora più su
Mentre il mondo pian piano spariva lontano laggiù
Una musica dolce suonava soltanto per me

Volare, oh oh
E cantare, oh oh oh oh
No wonder my happy heart sings
Your love has given me wings
Nel blu, dipinto di blu
Felice di stare lassù
Nel blu, dipinto di blu

Written by: Domenico Modugno, Francesco Migliacci, Mitchell Parish

The song was recorded by numerous artists, among them Dean Martin, Bobby Rydell, Marino Marini (UK), Al Martino, David Bowie (in Italian), and more. It was played endlessly in the US in the late 1950’s.

Lecce: A Baroque city with a long past

Puglia plaza
Piazza del Duomo

Dating from the time of Jesus, Lecce features extensive baroque architecture, uniformly made with Lecce stone. Lecce stone is a kind if limestone, still a main export because it is easily worked.

lecce church2
Chiesa San Matteo
lecce church
lecce gate
Main gate of Lecce

Like so many locations in Italy, Lecce sits on a treasure trove of artifacts, which Museo Faggiano clearly illustrates. The museum is located in a house owned by the Faggiano family. We were met at the door by the oldest son Andrea. His father Luciano bought it in 2000 for the purpose of opening a trattoria. Following reports of a leak he looked for a broken sewer line. Down he dug until he began to unearth pottery, coins, toys, a bishop’s ring and other artifacts from the middle ages back to prehistoric times.

He hid his activity from his wife, not wanting her to know that he was lowering his then 12 year old son deep into pits to dig. The dirty clothes eventually gave him away. They carted off the dirt by surreptitiously putting it in their car and hauling it to their farm. Neighbors eventually noticed, and reported the activity to the city government. The family spent the next 10 years uncovering artifacts and structures under the supervision of the town’s archaeologists, whom they’d been unable to avoid, humorously portrayed a Andrea as “you work, you pay, we just watch and take what you find.” The discoveries are now in the local museum, largely still in boxes.

We learned from that in the 14th to the 15th centuries the building was a Franciscan convent, inhabited in the middle of the 12th century by a Templar community as they prepared to invade the Middle East. The structures we see to this day were built on foundations from the Messapic (pre-Roman) era. We know little about these presumably indigenous peoples.

faggiano 1

The house is now attractively arranged with multiple livable rooms. On the roof there are views of the surrounding buildings, flat roofs with sharp angles, tubes for this and that, and jutting trees.

faggiano 1
View from the roof of the museum

Afterwards we had lunch at a delightful by the slice place. You pay by the weight, not yours, but that of the pizza. There is a price list on the wall. You pay more for more expensive toppings. There is beer and wine. The crust is light and crunchy., a real pleasure of a place in a hole in the wall joint with wooden chairs and tables, and a pleasant woman deftly slicing pizza with scissors.

lecce pizza 2
Pizza by the slice

As you walk from one area in town to another you find art treasures as well as more architectural gems. These metal sculptures are among my favorites.

lecce scultp 2
lecce sculpt jazz band
lecce sculpt

That night we found another trattoria, sampling more local specialties, the best of this place being the bread crumb stuffed mussels.

stuffed mussels
Stuffed mussels

Puglia: Italian cuisine you’ve never met

After a visit to the grotte (caves) in Castellana Grotte we wiggled the car through the narrow narrow streets of the town to find Trattoria Arco Persi. https://www.trattoriaarcopersio.it/men%C3%B9 A trattoria is so named because it’s supposed to feature local cuisine. This place lived up to its title.

We ordered antipasto. Out came seafood risotto, a baked breaded mozzarella slice with parmigiano in a sauce, seafood in a vinaigrette, bruschetta with tomato and basil, buratta (like a fresh mozzarella but with cream), breaded cheese croquettes, roasted artichoke halves, shrimp vinaigrette, breaded zucchini, octopus salad and more. It was enough for lunch and everything was tasty and well presented.

Baked mozzarella

Not knowing how much food would be coming as antipasto, I’d ordered fave e cicorie, white beans and cicoria, a bitter green. When we lived in Rome I learned a Roman dish called pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) so I assumed fave e cicore would be a pasta dish. It is not. I also assumed the beans would be whole. They are not, as you can see. Not just the beans are blended, the cicorie is as well.

fave e cicoria
Fave e cicorie (white broad beans and cicorie, a bitter green)

It’s not all that pretty but I think it’s a great combination. See a recipe at https://www.greatitalianchefs.com/recipes/fave-e-cicoria-recipe-fava-bean-dip. The people at this website label the dish as a dip. It is not. It is included among the primi piati, “first plates” literally, but “first course” is a better translation. All pasta dishes are listed in this section of Italian menus, called ‘cartas’ in Italian (and thence we get the term “a la carte.”) The cicorie they use for this dish is a wild form. This leaf is not jagged while the Roman is, and it does not seem to be as bitter, unless the chef changed the cooking water several times before adding the greens to the beans.

I could not eat it all so they made a to go package. We’d stopped earlier in Alberobello. There we ordered a panino de porchetta (panini is the plural of panino). Porchetta is a roast baby pig stuffed with garlic and herbs. I’d only had it previously in and around Rome, it being a specialty of Aricia, a small town in the Albani Hills just outside the city. I was thinking I was about to try a Puglian variation. I asked the guy behind the counter if it was a local version. No, he said, it is not different from the one you find in Aricia, in fact, he said, what he serves comes from there. I was disappointed in not finding a new version, but it was excellent, and we are while looking at the Trulli houses lining the piazza. Even though I only ate half of the bread of the panino I was still not terribly hungry for lunch three hours later.

I’ll report on more of the local cuisine as we proceed. I can tell you right now, however, that orecchiette (little ears) is THE pasta shape of the region.

Domus Aurea

View from the hillside approximately where the entrance to the Domus Aurea now sits

Domus Aurea

The Domus Aurea – The Golden House –  now sits beneath ground level just above the Coliseum on the Via Celio Vibenna side. It was buried after the death of the Emperor who had it built, the infamous and wildly unpopular Nero.  In its glory it was a vast entertainment palace surrounded by extensive and gorgeously landscaped grounds.   When the underground are was discovered in the early 1500’s by a farmer whose shovel broke through the ceiling of one of the immense galleries, it was explored by Raphael and other artists, who were infatuated by the art they found, and so the Domus came to influene European art for the next 500 years.  Thanks to the high tech 3d goggles included with the entrance fee, you get a good sense of its beauty and scale. 

One of the domes galleries of the Domus Aurea
One of the domes galleries of the Domus Aurea

The complex extended to the Palatine, Esquiline, Oppian and Caelian hills, although the exact extent of the development is not known.  It included a man made lake in what was before a marshy valley, located where the Coliseum is now; the latter was built to replace the lake.  There were groves, vineyards, and pastures and a huge bronze of Nero, called Colossus Neronis, last mentioned in the 4th century.  It was placed at the end of Via Appia, about a kilometer from the current visitor’s entrance, but later moved to where the Coliseum is now located, and to which it gave its name.  

There were some 300 variously designed rooms, none of them sleeping quarters, and neither were there kitchens nor latrines. Nero’s residence remained on the Quirinali Hill.   The walls were covered with polished white marble.  Openings lit the pools, fountains and the frescoes that fascinated Raphael and his colleagues 15 centuries later.  An interesting tidbit-   Nero’s chief artist for the complex was called Fabulus ( presumably from Latin fabulosus “celebrated in fable;” also “rich in myths,” from fabula , story or tale) or Famulus.  This suggests that our use of ‘fabulous’ was changed from having to do with fables to being wonderful, as a result of the discovery of Domus.

Fabulus and his assistants painted on wet plaster,  a method we call ‘fresco,’ meaning ‘fresh, that yields such permanence that we still have good images from 2000+ years ago.  The exposure to the cool (you need long sleeves even in summer) damp air of the caverns caused significant deterioration to the frescoes once the dome was opened.  The massive numbers of 20th century visitors just about finished them off.  Now they severely limit the numbers by allowing only weekend visits, to preserve what is left.

When Domus was rediscovered at the end of the 15th century in the farmer’s field on the Esquiline hill, artists climbed down ropes into the richly frescoed caves- grotta in Italian.  They called the frescoes grottesche, from which we get the word ‘grotesque,’ which we now use to describe something ugly but these frescoes were anything but.   The impact on the artists was powerful.  You can see it best in Raphael’s work in the Vatican, their influence spreading from there.

Some of the wall frescoes: 

Artist's rendition of portion of Domus Aurea complex
Ceiling fresco

Artist's rendition of portion of Domus Aurea complex
Wall fresco


There is a slide show during the tour and we managed to get a couple of photos from it:

Artist's rendition of portion of Domus Aurea complex
Artist’s rendition of portion of Domus Aurea complex

Artist's rendition of portion of Domus Aurea complex
Artist’s rendition of frescos in the complex


Walking around the interior can be disappointing as it is dark, there are few frescoes to see and they are not in great shape. However the 3d goggle production, in addition to the slide show and the guide’s comments, make the visit one of the best.  The goggles show you the chamber you are in as it was at its peak.  You look up, right, left or ahead to see the dazzling white walls and their frescoes, statues and other wonderful decorations. The most stunning moment comes when they virtually take you outdoors, through what is now a filled in opening, but what then was a beautiful terrace with a massive view of the artificial lake, the forum and the Capitoline Hill.  From the latter a huge temple overlooked the area, as its ruins still do, below the Roman city senate building, from whence you gaze through the ancient columns over the forum.  

View from the hillside approximately where the entrance to the Domus Aurea now sits
View from the hillside approximately where the entrance to the Domus Aurea now sits

For those who are fans of antiquity, or who would like to see what the brouhaha is all about, a visit to the Domus Aurea is a must!



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. 


A Summer of Music in Rome’s Fabulous Venues

Barcelona Gipsy balKan Orchestra

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!