Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Procrastination and over-sharing: a blogger's dilemma

I woke up this morning to a love note (complete with stick-figure drawing) from the Maritino in honor of our nine-monthiversary. (I guess we're still in that annoying honeymoon phase.) In addition to making me giddy and teary at the same time, it reminded me it's time for another wedding post! (I missed this little tradition last month).

When I first got the idea of sharing little tidbits of my wedding on the 29th of each month, I thought I would be creating light-hearted posts about my many Rome-inspired DIY projects, or at most sharing funny anecdotes about the challenges of planning a bi-cultural wedding. But as usual I started over thinking it. I thought it would be cool to tell the back story of what brought me to the altar (alongside the greatest man alive), and this included the telling of what brought me to Italy, since if I hadn't moved to Italy, it's highly unlikely I would have met said greatest man. Before I knew it I was writing about my great-great-grandparents and the hand of fate that led me to come here, and if any of you have been following this ambling string of posts (anyone?), I'm sure you're wondering when I'm going to get to the point.

Well, I've been putting it off actually. You see, despite writing a blog (and we all know only narcissists who love revealing all of the vile and personal details of their lives to total strangers write blogs), I've been hesitant to begin to reveal what I know will not just be musings about garters and flowers, but what is actually a deeply personal and probably excessively sentimental story. It's a story I want to tell, but part of me feels incredibly silly, revealing my girlish ideas about destiny and love. And beyond that, does anybody out there actually care to read it?

Ah, it's been a long day, and the hour hand is sneaking closer and closer to twelve... I am about to let myself off the hook for this month. Just too sleepy to open up my diary for the world to read tonight. Besides, I've got to post on the 29th, haven't I? (Excuses, excuses.)

So, dearest bloglings, I apologize for the lack of content in this post, but it has given me the courage to tell you a story, so stay tuned and you'll hear it next month (that is, unless I can think up another story about my ancestors to tell you instead). I thank you for your patience with me. Goodnight.
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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Antique Italian Maps at the Vittoriano

Le speranze del Bepi pel prossimo cinquantenario, Anonymous, L'Asino. 1911

I warn you now, dearest bloglings, the Pines of Rome is going to get a bit exhibit-heavy in the next few days. There are just so many amazing mostre on right now! One in particular, free of charge and hosted at the Complesso del Vittoriano, took me three weeks to see because of two weekend snowstorms in Rome that saw nearly every site in the city closed all weekend.

Italian Panorama, Anonymous, 1861

I finally had a chance to visit this small but lovely exhibit weekend before last, Antica Cartografia d'Italia. Beautiful detailed maps dating from the 1500s onward are on display, making for a lovely and enjoyable pre-lunch outing. In addition to maps, illustrated cover pages of antique atlases are also on display.

Sexta Europae Tabula, Silvano Bernardo, 1511

This exhibit was a real treat for me due to my life-long love of maps. I inherited this passion from my father, and I can spend hours pouring over them. My favorite are city maps, especially when they allow me to study how that particular city has changed and expanded over time, as well as how they have stayed the same. Alas, very few city maps are to be seen at this exhibit, but the region and country maps are nevertheless absorbing.

Italian Unity, Map of Italy, Pinot and Segaire. ca 1861

By far the most amusing and enlightening maps on view at this exhibit are the comical ones, most of which depict Europe during World War I, although some date back to the late 1800s. We've all seen and laughed over the clever and often spot-on images like the ones below by Yanko Tsvetkov that depict Europe or the world according to specific groups or nationalities.

Europe according to Italians, by Yanko Tsvetkov

Europe according to Americans, by Yanko Tsvetkov

Europe according to the Vatican, by Yanko Tsvetkov

But who knew this type of satirical map dated back at least 150 years? The main difference is that the old Italian ones are even more astute and more artistically rendered. (Please forgive the quality of the next four photos, I took them myself.)

Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark! Johnson, Riddle and Co. 1914

The map above depicts Europe at the onset of World War One with the various countries depicted in canine form while Russia literally steam-rolls in. Germany and Austria are tethered together as Britain releases his mighty fleet of ships. Spain is still bullfighting and Italy is a pistol-weilding carabiniere.

Europe in 1914, B. Crité, 1914.

The map above is dominated by the Tsar of Russia. I love that nothing is going on in Finland except a few bears prowling around, while Sweden and Norway look on calmly and the Austro-Hungarian Empire is already a graveyard (literally).

Kill that Eagle, Anonymous, European Revue, 1914

Kill that Eagle shows a female but nevertheless fierce France attempting to pierce the German eagle, with Britain rolling up his sleeves to join the fight. Austria, depicted as a clown, is torn between Germany and Yugoslavia and looks in terror as the Russia literally bears down upon him. Spain and Scandinavia are nothing but idle spectators while Italy appears to be either singing or reciting poetry. Typical.

John Bull and his friends, Fred W. Rose, 1900

In the map above dated 1900, Russia is a menacing octopus strangling Poland and Siberia with tentacles reaching from Finland to China. France, Spain and Ireland are depicted as women while the rest of Europe, a choatic mess, are weapon bearing military leaders. The cleverest detail is the red Salwar pants that illustrate Turkey, who is literally leaning on Greece.

But this one below is by far my favorite. It sums up perfectly the Unification of Italy with triumphant Giuseppe Garibaldi ousting Pope Pius IX (Sardinia) and his Papal Tiara (Corsica).

Italy, Harvey Williams, 1869

This exhibit ends 4 March, so don't tarry! Find practical information at my Exhibits on now page.

Photo sources: 5, 6, 7 by Yanko Tsvetkov
8, 9, 10, 11 by author
All other images provided courtesy of Comunicare Organizzando press office.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Twelfth Night: Shakespeare in Rome!

There's absolutely nothing like a night at the theatre, especially one as intimate and cozy as Teatro Belli in Trastevere. (The added bonus that it's five minutes walking from my house also makes it quite attractive.) Last night I had the pleasure of seeing a dozen or so talented and mostly amateur actors treading the boards in Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare's lesser-performed comedies.

Eternal Lines is a small English-language theatre company in Rome that puts up a few shows a year, with usually at least one by Shakespeare. For any of you out there who have seen Shakespeare translated into Italian (almost as bad as Woody Allen in Italian) you'll know how vital this company is for us Anglo-Saxon expats here in Rome. Lucky for us we can count on director Douglas Dean, veteran Shakespearean actor and regular performer at the Pendley Shakespeare Festival, to give us our at least once-yearly injection of iambic pentameter to keep our pulses steady. The fact that Dean took a part in this production was an added bonus.

Michael Fitzpatrick as Malvolio

Highlights of the show were the perfectly played combination of prissiness and ridiculousness of Michael Fitzpatrick as a besotted Malvolio, Rishad Noorani's smug yet likable Duke Orsino and Carolyn Gouger as the saucy and scheming maid Maria. But hands down the most brilliant and enjoyable moments of the night were brought to you by James Butterfield as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and director Douglas Dean as Sir Tobias Belch. Dean and Butterfield's combined energy electrified the stage, their timing was impeccable and their delivery spot-on, every time. They played off each other marvelously and it was a shame every time they walked off stage.

James Butterfield, Douglas Dean and Shane Hartnett up to no good
James Butterfield as Sir Andrew

A few commendable Italian actors, notably Francesca Albanese as Olivia, are to be congratulated for giving credible and fluent performances. In the realm of Shakespeare this is no easy task when English is your first language, much less your second.

Francesca Albanese as Olivia
The most surprising performance of the night was by Micky Martin playing Feste, the rambunctious fool who, I must admit, began the show by grating on my nerves with his over-the-top antics. He astonishingly went on to play the mandolin and even the harp with skill and musicality, his singing voice surprisingly clear. By the end he had won the audience's hearts with his passionate playing, off-color jokes and boisterous physical comedy, which, when you think about it, is exactly the role a fool is meant to play. I was doubly impressed when I learned all three of the songs he performed were also his own compositions.

Micky Martin as Feste

Hartnett, Dean and Carolyn Gouger as Maria
Angelo Esposito as Sebastian and Emma Lo Bianco as Viola.

A marvelous night was had by all, and really, with cross-dressing, mistaken identities, forged love letters, pratical jokes, dueling cowards and unrequited love, how could you expect anything less? Twelfth Night may have closed its run, but there is more to come from Eternal Lines. Their next production, Waiting for the Parade will be playing 17-22 April at Teatro San Genesio in Prati.

All photos by Julia Charity and posted with permission.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Tintoretto arrives in Rome

I'll never forget the first time I saw a Tintoretto painting. I was in Venice for Carnival with an old friend nearly ten years ago, and we decided to visit the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. I was blown away by the immense output of this prolific painter. His works seemed to cover every wall and ceiling in each one of the countless rooms. The drama, the color, the detail; it was dazzling. Now, I have to admit, all those years ago I was not the formidable Italian art expert I am today (I would put a winky face here to insure that my written sarcasm was recognized as such, but I cannot abide emoticons in anything but text messages, and not much there, so I'll just have to hope my facetiousness came across nonetheless).

Susanna and the elders, Tintoretto, ca 1555. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Embarrassing as it is to admit, at that time I had only ever heard of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco because of Woody Allen. In one of the lesser acclaimed (but perhaps my personal favorite) of his films, Everyone says I love you (1996), Allen travels to Venice where he tries to impress a beautiful art historian (Julia Roberts) by showing off how well he knows her favorite painter, Tintoretto. In reality he just rattles off some lines he has memorized from an art book. I know that must sound like a pretty lame plot (it's just a sub-plot, I assure you) but it was executed with such classic Allen style that it makes me laugh just thinking about it. The scene in question takes place at, you guessed it, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and as a life-long Woody Allen fan, I made sure to visit. Little did I know how right Julia Roberts('s character) was about Tintoretto...

Self portrait as a young man, Tintoretto, 1548. Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The newest exhibit in Rome, opening tomorrow at the Scuderie del Quirinale, is also the first major monographic exhibition of the works of Tintoretto in Italy. Like Guercino, Tintoretto was also nicknamed for a peculiarity: his father was a dyer, or tintore, hence Jacopo Robusti (or Comin, as his true last name has recently been discovered to have been) became known as the "little dyer". Not unlike Michelangelo, who claimed to have drunk in his talent for cutting stone with his wet nurse's milk (she had come from a long line of stone masons), perhaps Tintoretto's brilliant use of color was born of his learning the art of dyeing at his father's knee. In fact, when Tintoretto was only 14, his father noticed his natural ability at painting and sent him to toil in the great Titian's studio. He only lasted ten days and the master kicked him out. Some say he was jealous of the boy painter, others claim it more likely he saw his work as so radically different that there was no point in him taking the younger artist on as a student. Tintoretto turned out to be a mostly self-trained artist, perhaps due to this early rejection.

Jesus among the doctors of the church, Tintoretto, ca 1542. Museo del Duomo di Milano
 35 of Tintoretto's works are displayed, along with several others by his mentors and contemporaries, such as Titian, Parmigianino, Veronese and El Greco. The majestic (and enormous) work below opens the exhibit. It tells the story (taken from Jacobus de Voragine's medieval Golden Legend) of a slave about to be martyred for venerating the relics of a saint. St. Mark (patron saint of Venice) intervenes and renders the slave invincible. All weapons used against him are seen broken to bits. It is a powerful work to open the exhibit, but I feel that it might have been better saved until the end, as nothing else in the exhibit matches it.

The Miracle of the slave, Tintoretto, 1548. Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice.
A question that struck me when I saw this: Are there any other works (before the 20th century) that depict a saint (even a gloriously intervening one) in this position? Literally head over heels? I know Chagall got into that, but I don't think I've ever seen it in any of the great Italian masters' work (or Dutch for that matter!). Please illuminate me if I'm wrong!

Venus, Vulcan and Cupid, Tintoretto, ca 1550-1555. Galleria Palatina, Florence.

About halfway through my visit, the exhibit's curator Vittorio Sgarbi sauntered past with a gaggle of journalists in tow, each one straining to get close enough to scribble down his every word. Not too keen to join the crush, the only thing I was able to hear was him calling one particular work (Vulcan surprising Venus with Mars, not pictured) as Berlusconiano, because it was about "sex and not love". Not exactly an inspiring comment! So without the tutoring I was lucky to get at the Guercino exhibit, and with a lack of much scholarship on my part of the work of Tintoretto, part of me is tempted (simply for entertainment value, of course) to quote Woody Allen quoting that art book:

"The rapidity of his brush strokes, the chiaroscuro, outbursts of color, his capacity for controlled gesture..."

"How could I not appreciate a man who was short in stature but with a proud obstinate nature who painted outside the academic conventions of 16th century Venice?" (what I can't transcribe is his proud little giggle at his own brilliance; you'll just have to see the film for that gem). By the way, I have scoured the internet for a clip of that scene but I could only find it in Italian, and another thing I cannot abide is Woody Allen dubbed in Italian. So I will spare you. Oh, right, I'm supposed to be writing about Tintoretto, not Woody Allen. Where was I?
Meeting of Tamar and Judah, Tintoretto, ca 1555-59. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

This action-packed Last Supper was recently restored on occasion of the exhibit, and it is fascinating (although I preferred the other version on display next to it, not pictured), but my question is, who is sleeping through all this ruckus under Jesus' left arm?

Last Supper, Tintoretto, 1568-69. Chiesa di San Polo, Venice

Unlike most of the other paintings, I didn't particularly like the one below. To be honest, the only thing that came to mind when I saw it was, I really hope heaven won't be so crowded! (I realize this is doubtless a blasphemous thought in many ways.)

The Crowning of the Virgin or Paradise, Tintoretto, ca 1588. Musée du Louvre, Paris

This formidable artist's work can possibly best be summed up in his own words, by the sign he had hanging over his studio, "Il disegno di Michelangelo e il colorito di Tiziano" (the design of Michelangelo and the coloring of Titian). He apparently didn't think too little of himself!

Self Portrait, Tintoretto, 1587. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

If Woody Allen's and my words have left you thirsting for more substantial insight into the work of this "deep genius (the deepest)", there will be four opportunities to hear a real expert talk about some of the works on display. On 9 and 23 March as well as 4 and 18 May (all Fridays) at 7pm, lectures will be held in situ to explore four different paintings (one per lecture) by art historian and Tintoretto expert Anna Maria Panzera (who may or may not be played by Julia Roberts!) Admission to the lecture is included with purchase of exhibition ticket. I wouldn't miss it! Find information on visiting the show at my Exhibits on now page.

All images provided courtesy of the press office of Le Scuderie del Quirinale

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Carnival in Rome: Commedia dell'Arte in Piazza Navona!

Just a few more days until Carnevale is over and interminable Lent will be upon us! In fact this is the last weekend, and as rain is predicted for the next few days, I recommend you hurry to Piazza Navona or one of the other spots in the city where festivities are taking place today, while the sun lasts!

I happened upon this troupe of Commedia dell'Arte players yesterday afternoon and was thoroughly enchanted. Watching them ride around in their horse-drawn cart, singing Neapolitan songs, presenting puppet shoes and putting on theatrics with baroque palaces as a backdrop was enough to make me feel I had stepped back in time. Their play is called Gli innamorati immaginari (Imaginary lovers) and you can see it today at 10:30am and 4pm. Don't forget your mask and confetti! Arlequino, Pulcinella and Colombina await you!

All photos by author

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The lost art of writing by hand

For the past few weeks, my laptop has been in the shop, leaving one computer to share with the Maritino. As a result, I've had to go back to doing something I haven't done in ages: writing on paper. And not just grocery lists or post-it reminders, but actual blog posts and articles (including this one!), written out longhand to be typed up later. At first it seemed impossible. Without a keyboard in front of me, I almost couldn't remember how to write, but now that I've gotten used to it, I'm not sure I want to go back.

There's almost nothing that makes me want to write more than a neat row of freshly sharpened pencils, the sound of lead dragging across paper and a desk littered with eraser dust. What is more rewarding that seeing a blank page fill up with your own handwriting?

So perhaps it's not a coincidence that this week I also happened to write three letters. That's right, letters. Not emails, not IMs, not Facebook messages. LETTERS. For my younger readers, or those with short memories, a letter is a handwritten message on one or more sheets of paper, folded and placed in an envelope with a stamp attached. After writing the home address of the recipient on the front, you place it in something called a mailbox, and as if by magic, in just a few days, it will arrive at the recipient's home.

With all of the exceedingly convenient and instantaneous modes of communication available today, it seems pointless to send a letter in the mail, not to mention expensive (it now costs €1.60 to send a letter from Italy to the US). But there's just nothing in the world like it.

A smallish envelope amongst the bills and statements catches your eye. The handwriting is so familiar. You flip it over: it's from her (your oldest friend/your globe-trotting cousin/your favorite professor) [insert favored pen pal here]. Some people don't even wait to get inside, but tear it open on the spot, hungrily eating up the words off the page. Others, the pleasure-delayers out there like one longtime correspondent of mine, save it for later, when they can put on some Chopin and sit with a cup of cocoa and savor it. I do both, depending on my mood.

But I haven't done much of either lately, because hand-written letters are quickly going the way of the Betamax. They are too expensive, too time consuming, too slow. In this virtual world, where events are summed up in 140 characters or less, who has time to get out pen and paper and compose an entire letter? And more to the point, who would ever write back?

Well, I took a leap of faith and wrote three letters this weekend. One to an old friend and longtime correspondent in Seattle, one to a former colleague and kindred spirit in London, and a third to my 12-year-old niece and future prima ballerina in Idaho. At first it felt odd, just like my paper-and-pencil article writing, but I was soon back in the swing of it.

A stack of letters from my 12-year-old niece
The missives have been successfully deposited in the mailbox. Now let's see if any of them write back!

Any other letter writers out there? Do you like to write by hand or has it truly become a thing of the past? Am I the only one?  I'd love to hear your points of view!

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8: by author

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy (belated) Saint Valentine's Day, lovers!

I meant to post yesterday, something informative and well-researched  about the origins of Saint Valentine's Day and just who St. Valentine was, but somehow the day got away from me, so that post will have to wait until next year. I did, however, write a Valentine's day post for the blog of the wonderful Beehive Hotel, right here in Rome, recently named the No. 2 hotel in the world!! Linda, the owner and a friend of mine, asked me to write a post about my experiences getting married in Italy, and you can find it here.

But I can't resist sharing a photo, even though it does give away Maritino's real name, that I have tried so diligently to keep private! But as I said, I can't help but share this:

These adorable scrabble cookies were made by the newest baking sensation to hit Rome: Calliope Cakes. I will do a more thorough post about this amazing cake- cookie- and cupcake-baker soon, but these Valentine's day cookies were just too wonderful not to share. Here are a few other too-adorable-to-eat but too-yummy-to-resist Valentine's day cookies by Calliope Cakes:

These cookies are so intricate and skillfully done, I just can't get enough of them!

Valentine's day may be over, but guess what, people, it's Carnevale! If there was ever an excuse to stuff yourself with sinful treats, this is it!

Photo sources: 1, by author; 2, 3 by Calliope Cakes.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Eat, drink and be merry! Carnival in Rome!

Today is the first day of Carnival, and we all know the celebrations in Rome can't rival those Venice. In fact these days no one associates Carnival with Rome. But just a few hundred years ago (the blink of an eye in Rome-time), Rome was the place to be to celebrate this raucous, bacchanalian late-winter event.

Carnival is a ten day period (in the past it was much longer and sometimes began right after Christmas, on St. Stephen's day) that directly precedes Lent, the 40-day period in the Catholic liturgical calendar that in turn precedes Easter. In the Catholic religion, Lent is a period of sober reflection and abstinence from the earthly pleasures of life. Although today most Catholics try to give up one or two things they particularly enjoy (I always try to give up sugar or chocolate), traditionally it was a time of general fasting, during which alcohol, meat and rich foods were not consumed. Carnival was the last hurrah before this strict period of restraint, and in fact the name, Carnevale in Italian, derives from the phrase "farewell to meat" as this was the last chance to eat it for a while. It could also be translated as "farewell to the flesh," and in fact, part of the reason masks were worn was to facilitate marital infidelity and other no-nos.

Detail from Carnival in Rome, Johannes Lingelbach, ca 1650

In Rome, a city that was at times repressed due to papal influence (I say "at times" because certain popes were more lascivious than kings), Carnival was celebrated with particular exuberance. (Carnival celebrations have also been linked to pre-Christian winter festivities such as Saturnalia.) In addition to masked balls, theatrical spectacles, bull fights and general carousing, the most popular pastimes took place on Via del Corso.

Roman Carnival, Ippolito Caffi

Previously called Via Lata, this wide straight road leading from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo has been an important thoroughfare in Rome since ancient times, connecting with Via Flaminia and continuing into northern Italy. During the Renaissance and beyond, it became the place to be seen during Carnival. Horse-drawn coaches would drive up and down the street, with people in garish costumes and elaborate masks greeting each other and often playing pranks. The wealthy citizens would rent rooms in the palaces that faced Via del Corso to watch the spectacle from above.

Carnival on the Corso, Ippolito Caffi

More exciting still, Via del Corso was also the site of many races (in fact, the street's name was changed for this very reason, corso in Italian means race.) Most famous was the corso dei berberi, the Race of the Berbers, when riderless Berber horses would race from the top to the bottom of Via del Corso. The empty saddles of the unfortunate creatures were studded with nails to make them run faster.

The retaking of the Berbers, Achille Pinelli, 1832

Much more hideous was the Race of the Bi-peds, in which the city's Jews, handicapped and other disadvantaged members of the population were forced to race the same street while objects were thrown at them from the jeering crowds. These barbaric traditions were outlawed in the 19th century and the 17th century respectively. The celebrations culminated on Mardi Gras, just like they do today in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, but the Roman grand finale was a candle race down Via del Corso in which the goal was to keep your candle lit while trying to snuff out the candles of everyone around you. No wonder there were so many fires in Rome!

The Candle race on Via del Corso, Ippolito Caffi, ca 1850

Today Roman Carnevale has become mostly a holiday for children when they dress up in costume, throw confetti and are paraded around town by their proud parents. But Rome is trying to revive the ancient traditions (without the cruel races, thankfully!) and this year a record number of events are on offer, from exhibits, to dance and music performances to balls, and most notably several equestrian shows. Events kick off tonight at the historic center of the Carnival action, Piazza del Popolo, with a performance by the orchestra of the Opera di Roma.

Visit the official site of Carnevale Romano, with a detailed list of events.

Photos 1 and 7 by Robbi Huner and Barbara Roppo, courtesy of Zétema Press Office
Other photo sources: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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