Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Six months a wife and an illuminated manuscript

Half a year of married life! It’s hard to believe…

Every month on the 29th, I have been writing a post about my wedding, but I’m having so much fun writing about the back-story, which goes as far back as the 1860s, that I haven’t actually arrived at the wedding itself! I’m still stuck in the 1800s! Last month I wrote about my inspiring great-grandmother Faith who moved to Florence in the 1890s to teach German. One more word about her before I get to my own story.

A few years ago, around the same time I serendipitously discovered the wedding ring of my great-great-grandmother Susan (Faith’s mother), my father proudly showed me another family heirloom. He brought out a big leather-bound seemingly ancient book and carefully lifted the cover. It was a collection of German fairy stories and folktales. But this was no ordinary book, it was an illuminated manuscript, hand painted in gold, blue and red, with pages that unfolded to reveal intricate and spectacular illustrations. I wish I had a photo of it, but it is all the way on the other side of the ocean. The photos I have included are not my own, but the manuscripts in them are similar to Faith's.

My German is very poor, so I could not understand much of the book, much less read any of the stories, but I marveled at it nonetheless. I also have no expertise in dating books, so for the time being I have no idea how old the book is, or whether it is an original or a copy. But you want to know the best part about this book? It was a wedding present. For Faith, from what I imagine was one of her closest friends.

I seem to have a knack for finding inscriptions and dedications, because I discovered a tiny envelope tucked between two of the richly decorated pages of the massive tome that seemed to have been ignored for over a century. Inside, on a small card was written the following note:

“Dear Faith,                                                                           April 23rd, 1895
I wish you all the greatest possible happiness in your upcoming marriage, but not so much that you lose your love of the German language.
Much love…”

Just as the inscription in Susan’s ring is worth so much more than the gold it is carved into, so this note is more precious to me than the book itself. It makes me proud to think that even over one hundred years ago, my great-grandmother and her girlfriends got that being a good wife does not mean abandoning one’s passions. Anzi! (On the contrary!)

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Words, words, words: Piagnucolare

Piagnucolare- to whine, to whimper, to snivel

I have been meaning to look up this word for a while. You can also say frignare which means basically the same thing, but I prefer piagnucolare because its a bit more onomotopoeic. You almost have to whine just to say it.

Happy Giorno di Ringraziamento (Thanksgiving) sweet bloglings, and if there isn't enough pumpkin pie to go around, please, non piagnucolate!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Streets of Rome - Vicolo della Spada d'Orlando

When I first found this tiny street, it got me so excited that I had to admit once and for all what a huge dork I am. Vicolo della Spada d’Orlando: Orlando’s Sword Alley. Now, if there isn’t a good story behind this street, then I don’t know my Rome!

Orlando, or Roland in English, is both an historical figure and later legendary character. A Frankish military leader and trusted side-kick of Charlemagne, he was later immortalized in medieval and Renaissance literature, perhaps most famously in the 11th century French epic poem, Chanson de Roland and later in Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso by Matteo Maria Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto respectively. He even makes an appearance in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Detail of train station in Metz, France.
According to these poetic sources, Orlando possessed a mystical sword called Darundel, a horn called Oliphaunt and a horse called Veillantif. The tiny alleyway that bears his name can be found between Piazza Capranica and Via dei Pastini in Rione Colonna, just around the corner from Piazza della Pietra. The unusual name comes from the base of an ancient column that sits along the tiny street, pierced by a deep gash. But what does this have to do with Orlando? We’ve got two possible explanations:

First, during Orlando’s many travels, he found himself at Rome at some point, and upon being set upon by Roman soldiers (not very likely in the 8th century, but let’s suspend our disbelief for the moment), he defended himself with his trusty sword which fell upon this truncated column, leaving the mark that can still be seen. Even less believable is the more commonly accepted story that tells us how, moments before his defeat, to avoid allowing the sword to fall into the hands of the Moors, brave Orlando attempted to destroy it by smashing it into a column. Never mind that this last event took place during the Battle of Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees Mountains. The column, it can be explained, was transported to Rome at a later date. Never mind that the base of said column is a fragment of the Temple of Matidia, built on this spot in 119 AD by Emperor Hadrian in honor of his deified mother-in-law. Let’s not let history and archeology get in the way of a good story!

Which street names have we discussed so far?

Photo sources: 1, 2
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Words, words, words: Aiuola

Today’s word is aiuola (flowerbed) which I love simply because it feels so good to say. It’s like a diction exercise in one word! If you’re an actor or a singer and need to get your facial muscles warmed up, just repeat this word several times and you’re good to go! I also love that, even at only 6 letters and 2 syllables, it has 5 vowels! (This is particularly good to remember for the next time you play Scarabeo (Italian scrabble).)

The aiuola in front of the Vittoriano on occasion of the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification.

The other day I mentioned that there was a certain person in my life who inspires my passion for the Italian language. Just in case you were wondering, Maritino means little husband, and this is how I refer on this blog to the man I was lucky enough to marry nearly six months ago. Not, as my mother thought, the name of an ex-boyfriend who used to write me Italian poetry! She was quite scandalized! Must remember to refer to him as The Maritino to avoid confusion in future.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Words, words, words: Parannanza

Last night I was at a dinner party and made some new acquaintances. One of them was a very cute two year-old Italian girl. Just before it was time to eat, her mother tied a tiny red apron on her, which I thought was much sweeter and more grown-up than a bib, which a big girl of her age might have resented. When I complimented her style, saying “Mi piace la tua parannanza!” (I like your apron!) her mother was impressed by my vocabulary and asked how long I had been in Italy.

I was a bit surprised, thinking to myself that ‘apron’ wasn’t such a difficult or unusual word to know. But I did a bit of digging today and discovered that parannanza is not the only word for apron. Grembiule is the much more commonly used word, and it seems that many Italians have never heard of the word parannanza! Even my trusty Word Reference site didn’t have it in their dictionary, although a Google search proved I hadn’t just made it up. Strange, I thought...

Until I remembered from whom I had learned the word: Maritino. This man is fanatic for the Italian language and writes and speaks it as if every phrase were a line of poetry. In fact, back in our courtship days, he actually wrote me poems, and it was from these that I learned words like leggiadria (gracefulness, loveliness) and bramare (to long for, to yearn for). He has awakened in me a desire to deepen my understanding and appreciation of this beautiful language. I've been reading in Italian much more these days, realizing how much I still have to learn.

Since my two favorite things are memorizing random bits of information and impressing people I’ve just met (usually by reciting said random bits of information), I’ve decided to look up and memorize one new (and hopefully impressively unusual) Italian word a day, and share it with you, dear bloglings. Then I will try to use that word in a sentence at least three times that day, even if it is only to the Maritino.

I can already think of one for tonight…

Amore, mettiti la parannanza e lava i piatti!!  (Love, put on an apron and wash the dishes!!)

(Just realized that grembiule should actually be the word of the day, as I already knew parannanza, and just discovered grembiule...)

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Numa Pompilius and his calendar

Since our Roman King of the moment, Numa Pompilius is credited with reforming the calendar, I figured it would be an opportune moment to discuss what the months we still use today actually mean. Although the calendar was reformed two more times after Numa, first by Julius Caesar and much later by Pope Gregory XIII, Numa made the most significant changes.

Before Numa’s reign, the calendar had only 10 months. (Some say it was Romulus himself to invent the first Roman calendar!) This explains why the last four months of the year seem to be named after the wrong numbers: September, the seventh month, October, the eighth month, November, the ninth month and December, the tenth month. The calendar year was 304 days long and winter, oddly enough, was considered a monthless period.

In 713 BC, King Numa had the bright idea to add two months to the calendar year, and these were January and February. Although it is certain that it was Numa (if he actually existed, of course) to add these months, there is differing among Roman writers as to who actually decided that January would be the first month of the year. Some sources claim it was the Decimvirs to do this in 450 BC, but others maintain it was Numa himself. I tend to go with Numa, simply because of the name he chose.

Januarius (January) was named after Janus, god of beginnings and endings. Also god of gates and doorways, he is depicted as having two faces, one looking ahead and one looking behind. This is an apt name for a month that opens and closes the year which is what makes me think it was Numa himself to make this change.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reading Italian Maps

Click here to read my interview over at Reading Italian Maps. Maja, the author of that fantastic blog, is starting a feature clevered entitled The X-pat Factor, in which she will be regularly interviewing expatriates living, working and blogging in Italy. I was thrilled to be her first subject! Check it out, particularly if you are considering taking the plunge yourself to move to Italy!
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Filippino Lippi in the Florence of Botticelli

The Madonna in Adoration of the Child, Filippino Lippi, 1478

We're spoiled for choice in Rome right now with all the great new exhibits on at the moment. The Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition is particularly fascinating, but the biggest new show is that of Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli at the Scuderie del Quirinale. The Scuderie plays host to some of the most important exhibitions in the city, such as the mind-blowing Caravaggio exhibit last year, and Lorenzo Lotti earlier this year, so everyone had high hopes for this exhibit.
Filippino Lippi (not to be confused with his better-known father Filippo Lippi) is not a household name. If you are not a scholar of 15th century Florentine art, you may never have heard of him. Luckily for this exhibit, there is a VERY big name in the title. When something has the name Botticelli in it, people line up. But there are very few Botticelli pieces on display, and only one truly famous one, The Adoration of the Magi, below. For this reason, some people I've talked to were quite disappointed with the exhibition.  In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with it, in fact, it was spectacular and extremely well curated. The only problem was the title.
Adoration of the Magi, Sandro Botticelli

I begin looking for exhibits two or three months before they open, so I can tell you that the original title of this one was Filippino Lippi in the Florence of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Sandro Botticelli. Quite a mouthful, and perhaps not as enticing. It was changed therefore to Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli in the Florence of the 1400s. That's better! Now more people will come.... only to be disappointed that the exhibit is about Lippi.
Yes there are Botticelli works, but their main purpose is to illustrate Lippi's development as an artist. Botticelli had studied under Filippo Lippi (father) and eventually surpassed him. Years later, Filippino Lippi (son) studied under Botticelli. Lippi the younger's early works resemble Botticelli's so closely, particularly the unmisktable oval faces and light curly hair and the flowing garments, that at first it is difficult to tell if it is the work of the master or the student. This is most noticeable in Three Archangels and the Young Tobias (below), painted when Lippi was just 20 years old. As he matured, he began to come into his own, and just a year later in The Madonna in Adoration of the Child (top) we see him developing his own style.
Three Archangels and Young Tobias, Filippino Lippi, 1477
I am in no way trying to suggest this exhibit isn't worth visiting. It is beautifully done, and the works displayed are exceptional examples of Renaissance art. Just don't go hoping to see the Primavera or The Birth of Venus. Lippi is the star of this show, not Botticelli.

A few highlights: the treating of the same subject, The Story of Virginia, by both artists; a set of unspeakably beautiful doors in inlaid wood by Il Franciano (Francesco di Giovanni) and Giuliano da Maiano, one depicting Dante, the other Petrarch; and an anonymous police report of Filippino Lippi's illegitimate birth, to Fra Filippo Lippi, a Carmelite monk, and Lucrezia Buti, a nun! Nothing like a little Renaissance gossip! See the Exhibits on now page for practical information.
The Story of Virginia, Sandro Botticelli

The Story of Virginia, Filippino Lippi

All images provided courtesy of Azienda Speciale Palaexpo

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Souls' Day

After the all-important Halloween on Monday, and the, for some, even more important Ognissanto (All Saints' Day) yesterday, how about a brief tribute to today's lesser-known holiday, All Souls' Day. If Halloween is the day the dead are permitted to walk the earth, and Ognissanto is the day we celebrate all the saints in heaven, All Souls' Day is the day to reflect upon and remember those we have personally lost, and (if you're Catholic) pray for their speedy passage through Purgatory and onto Paradise.

William Adolphe Bouguereau

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