Monday, 28 December 2009

Madrid, Espana

Tomorrow Tuesday we fly Vueling to Madrid for a few days to celebrate the New Year in Spain. The weather for the whole time is rain,rain, what can you do, it is winter.
We are staying in central Madrid at Plaza San Martin near all the major attractions and the Gran Via. Looking forward to this vacation, also to hearing and speaking Spanish with my Mexican-Cuban accent, the food, the style and the elegance of Spain. Happy New Year, Bonne Année, Feliz Ano Nuevo to all!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The last days of the year

Well it has been an eventful Christmas in Rome, at home we had 10 people for dinner on Christmas Eve and Will out did himself, he made a 4 kilo meat pie, that's about 9 lbs. With beef,chicken,veal,pork and vegetables, it was delicious. The recipe can be found at, recipe number 134315 Lac Saint-Jean Pie or Cipate, it beats turkey any day in my book. It is a dish that has as much historical significance in French Canada as the Thanksgiving turkey for the American pilgrims. Some photos of the wines and champagne we had and our dining room, a very festive affair and lots of fun.

While we were at home, unbeknownst to us the Pope had been assaulted at the central door of St-Peter's basilica as he surrounded by Cardinals walked down the main aisle to the great Altar. Same crazy women as last year who had tried to pull the same stunt but had failed. She was tackled by a security guard before she could actually get to the Pope but in her fall grabbed his vestments and he fell also. The midnight mass is great State Ceremonial at the Vatican a whole section of the basilica is reserved for special guests and the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. There has been a midnight mass at least since 340 AD if not at St-Peter's Basilica then at the Cathedral of St-John Lateran. One may disagree with the Pope and with the Roman Catholic Church or even not like the whole institution, but the Pope is 82 yrs old, he is elderly and tired, the schedule at this time of the year is hectic for him, he is a Head of State, such an attack is a serious matter and all the more sad on such an occasion. The Pope continued down towards the Altar and then proceeded with the service but he was shaken by this unpleasant experience. Complete security is not possible given his role and given that he is a religious person. There is already a lot of security at the Vatican and it is relatively new, I would say since 1999.
That too is unfortunate, after all it is a place of prayer and a sacred site, but too many forget that or do not understand what Sacred means anymore. What a sad little world we live in, let's hope this does not happen again. Photos by the Associated Press.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Omnibus salutem plurimam

Is nothing sacred, from the Vatican Museum the first century bronze statue of Emperor Augustus, Father of the Nation as Santa!

Omnibus salutem plurimam dicit Divus Augustus Santa Clausius.


A wonderful Canadian Christmas story

VIA Rail and good Samaritans to bring Fred the dog from Vancouver to his Montréal family

MONTRÉAL – VIA Rail Canada is happy to be contributing to the repatriation to Montreal of Fred the dog. Found November 30 in British Columbia, at the side of his deceased owner, Fred was much featured in the press during the month of December. VIA will provide the train ticket from Vancouver for Fred and two accompanying adults, residents of the Montréal region who have volunteered to take care of the dog during the four day journey starting January 1st. The dog will be united with the family of his deceased owner upon arrival in Montreal.

On December 8, a Montréal daily, The Gazette, ran an article on Fred, a rugged aboriginal Malamute (Kugsha). Many animal lovers were moved by this story, including some VIA Rail employees. The latter were moved to ask VIA to put the dog on the train, while volunteering to take care of him during the trip. But VIA could not jeopardize the quality of customer service to passengers by assigning train employees to take care of the animal. The solution, as explained by Steve Del Bosco, Chief Customer Officer at VIA, was suggested by a resident of Beaconsfield, Frank Palumbo.

"This bighearted person decided to pay the Montréal-Vancouver airfare for his wife, Mélanie Pellerin, and one of her friends, so they could bring Fred by train to his new Montreal home. With these two taking care of Fred during the trip, the train ride became possible, so we offered them free tickets for the trip. VIA accepts pets on its trains as long as passengers onboard can take care of them", explained Mr. Del Bosco.

Ms. Pellerin said she was very moved by VIA's offer. "I am really happy to see that such a large corporation could be so sensitive to our request. The management and employees displayed generosity and kindness!" For her part, Lynda Roy, sister of Fred's deceased owner, Cyril Roy, warmly thanked all involved: "Thanks to VIA Rail, Mr. Palumbo, the media, and all the staff at the animal shelter in Nanaimo (BC), including Stephanie Walker. My family and I will be reunited with a precious piece of my brother. I am really looking forward to seeing Fred. It will help ease our sorrow. My brothers and sister, Karen, Yanic, Ann, Stephen and Fred himself will be forever grateful for everything that people have done for us!"

About Fred

On November 30, Cyril Roy, 58, was found dead in his trailer, near Nainamo. His dog, Fred, who stayed by his side, was taken to a kennel, and then to an animal shelter. The family of Mr. Roy, in Montreal, tried to recover Fred, but ran into difficulties because of the dog's imposing size and the complexity of a winter trip. Subsequently, Max Harrold, a journalist at The Gazette, wrote an article on Fred's uncertain fate, eliciting dozens of offers by caring individuals wishing to transport the dog. But nothing concrete was achieved until the interventions of VIA and Frank Palumbo.

About VIA Rail Canada

As Canada's national passenger rail service, VIA Rail Canada's mandate is to provide efficient passenger train services, that are cost effective and environmentally friendly, both in Canada’s busiest corridor and in rural and remote regions of the country. Every week, VIA runs 503 intercity, regional and transcontinental trains that connect 450 communities over a network of 12,500 kilometres. The demand for VIA's services is increasing, because more and more passengers are choosing the train as a reliable, practical and environmentally friendly means of transportation to avoid congested highways and airports. For further information on VIA's services across Canada, customers can visit

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

December 23

Did all my Xmas Shopping today, the stores were not crowded, one thing I like is that store owners do not feel obliged to play Xmas music, you can shop in relative quiet. Even on the radio there is very little almost no Xmas music, it is all reserved for the 25 Dec. one day a year that is all. A real blessing when you think of it, I get so tired in Canada with all the Xmas schmaltz from November 15 onwards. It was a warm sunny day after 2 weeks of freezing weather. In the last 48 hours it was -17 in Milan, -11 in Bologna and -2 in Rome. It snowed in the higher altitude all around us, the mountains are snow capped now. Milan, Florence and Bologna had snow which is not unusual for Milan in winter given that it is located at the foot of the Alps but Florence and Bologna? Good thing Copenhagen was a monumental flop, because there is no climate change.

Bought all kinds of nice things for Will, of course I cannot tell you what it is because it is a surprise for Xmas. Did all the grocery shopping and walked the puppies all around the neighborhood so they had to have a nap afterwards. This evening I polished the silver ware and set the table for tomorrow, we are having 10 people for dinner. Will got busy in the kitchen and prepared the main dish, which is a Cipaille, an old Canadian recipe which dates back hundreds of years when my ancestors were running after the natives in the woods to make good Christians of them or hunting. The recipe calls for 4 kinds of meat, beef,pork,veal and chicken. Of course in the old days c.1685, you would have wild game and wild birds to make this meat pie. It's layered with vegetables, mushrooms, celery, carrots and potatoes. He also made roasted tomatoes.

So we are pretty much set for the big day. The city is quiet tonite, no cars, no one anywhere, it looks like everyone left Rome, which is so nice for a change. Rome should be quiet at least until 3 January.

Monday, 21 December 2009

My favorite Christmas music

A few years ago I was visiting Denmark and went to Roskilde Cathedral, it sits high on a cliff overlooking a fjord where the vikings once use to built their boats, a museum is dedicated to them on that site. The Cathedral itself is gothic and beautiful, full of light, it is now a Lutheran church but was prior to the Reformation a Roman Catholic church, the kings and Queens of Denmark are buried in this great church. On Christmas morning 1620 Michael Pretorius presented his composition for Christmas morning mass. I really like this work and it is one of my favorite of the Season.
Here is the last hymn of the mass, Puer nobis nascitur, to us a child is born.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Panetone, Xmas tree, decorations and the Weather

I find that the variety of Panetone in Italy is almost endless compared to back home with its standard dry and commercial Panetone. I look in Enotecas (wine merchant stores) for good chocolate 70% cocoa + and for other delicacies including original panetoni, I found one made with figs and beautifully wrapped. It is basically a big soft bread but it is so good with coffee.

The Christmas tree is up, it takes up to 8 days to make our Xmas tree, this is faster than in the past when it took 2 weeks to set it up. The tree is only 7 feet tall or 2.14 meters and all the lights are already in place, this is why it is faster now to set-up. What still takes time is the polishing of the 30 (1978 to 2008) Nieman Marcus sterling silver balls and the Towle flower ornaments.
We were concerned that the puppies might want to jump on the tree, but so far they have totally ignored it.

The weather is changing and so is the climate, now in Rome we often have in winter -3 C at night and around 5C in the day time with a lot of cold humidity. It use to rain in winter in years past and the temperature was never under 6 C at night and 11C in the day time. The buildings are not properly heated and there is no insulation, floors of marble and walls of concrete make for a cold house. So we dress up and use one room. The kitchen is really cold if the oven is not turned on, there is no heat in that room of the house. Also by law we can only heat from 6am to 10am and from 6pm to 11pm. The rest of the time there is no heat, the building concierge turns the furnace off. We can also only have heat in buildings as of 15 November until 15 April. It is usually cold as of 30 Oct and at least until 1 May. Many people do not have clothes dryers so they use the radiators to dry their clothes or hang them on the balcony and it usually takes about 5 days to dry. You got to be resourceful but with the changing climate it makes things harder.

So we are having 10 people for Xmas Eve dinner, Will is responsible for the main course, he wants to do a Cipaille, which is a layered meat pie, of chicken, beef and pork, very old Canada. While I will do the starters or Antipasto, I am serving a carpaccio of smoked fish, tuna, salmon and sword fish, very thinly sliced with a bit of green and some nice cucumbers and those little sour pickles. Our friend Lionel is doing two desserts a bûche de Noël with a cream of chestnuts filling and a Vacharin. Got all the white and red wine stocked up and also the Proseco and Champagne.

What is left to do now is a bit of gift shopping but since I am on vacation now I can do that in the coming days.

I do hope that you will all have a wonderful holiday Season with friends and family.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Roman Painting in the ancient world

A beautiful exhibit of 100 works of Roman decorative paintings is on show currently at the Scuderie Del Quirinale (stables of the Quirinale Palace). The Scuderie built in 1722 by Pope Clement, is a palace of brick and stone across the square from the Quirinale Palace to house the coaches and horses of the Popes. The ground floor was used to park the coaches and equipment, the second floor was for the horses stalls, a gigantic staircase was especially built to allow the horses to walk up to their stalls, the third floor was for staff lodgings. The Scuderie was built on top of the ruins of the imposing Temple of the Egyptian Goddess Serapis.
The view from the top of the Quirinale hill is beautiful, in 1870 the new Government of United Italy confiscated the palace and the stables from the Pope and used the Quirinale as a Royal Palace for the Savoy family and the King. Today the Quirinale is the Presidential Palace of the Italian Republic and the Scuderie was refurbished 10 years ago and turned into a museum.

This exhibit of Roman paintings before 79 AD is very complete and gives a very good idea of how Romans decorated their houses, temples and public buildings. The 100 example of paintings represent the best preserved and the most detailed of this art form. After 79 AD (time of Emperor Titus) and the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius which buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculanum, paintings in houses was still popular however today little has come down to us. The ancient world was a coloured world, where historical, mythological events but also aspects of the nature and the daily life, were reproduced using realism and poetry.
All public monuments, statues and marbles were nearly always coloured: white marble was always inserted within a complex chromatic scheme. Sculptures and stuccoes were lively and charmingly painted.

Nevertheless, it has become commonplace to identify the “classic” with the transparency of white marble. Time cancels colours, destroys wood, washes and cleans so that all that is left is white marble and white stone. Of paintings and decorations in the houses and monuments very little is left and practically nothing painted on wood remains today.
This is why it is difficult to imagine the ancient world as a coloured world. The discovery of Pompeii and Hercolanum in the middle of the seventeenth century could have changed this attitude but under the influence of a classicist theory the ancient world has continued to be imagined as a white world.
This is very far from a historical reality: for Romans as for Greeks before them, real art was painting not sculpture: this is what this show is about.

Roman Imperial Painting is an exhibition that documents the development of roman painting through the centuries: born out Greek art, it will in turn be a model for the following centuries. At the Scuderie the visitor will be able to appreciate the quality of roman art in its highest form as well as the close but distant relationship between ancient and modern art: from the Renaissance to Impressionism all we know is linked to the ancient world.

Roman painters, for instance, like our modern impressionists, used a fast painting technique, in spots, with touches of color based on a subjective interpretation. Not only is this technique already present in roman times, but the qualitative level of some frescoes seems to anticipate artistic solutions of the 1500's and through to the 1800's.
But ancient art also diverged from modern techniques: we can see this in the spatial conception of a roman painter. Romans were not interested in the system of linear perspective which will be “invented” by Italian architects in the first decades of the 1400's: Roman distributed objects freely in space, without rigid perspective constrictions. In such a way there is no fusion between space and objects, who seem to be flanking one another, or one over the other, leaving an impression of instability.

The exhibition will first focus on landscapes, views of villas and rural sanctuaries populated by little figures that remember the Neapolitean presepi (crèches), followed by a choice of imagery from Greek mythology: Amore and Psiche, Polifemo and Galatea, Ercole and Telefo, Perseo and Andromeda just to name a few. But the exhibition will also highlight scenes of daily life, erotic images and still lives which abounded in roman imagery.

The Romans conquered Greece around 90 BC and turned it into a province of Rome called Achaia, however Greece was the mythical homeland of Rome and many of its most famous sons like Julius Caesar and his nephew Augustus claim direct Greek descent, through the heros of Troy. So the cultural influence of Greece on Roman art and education was enormous.

The Greeks loved art and poetry and decorated their houses with wall paintings a bit like we do today. The Romans wanted more, taste was for lavish and garish, bold bright colours, art was fine but it was more important to tell visitors how much you had spent on decorating the house. This was expressed by using expensive colors and elaborate themes. Some color shades like black or purple or red where extremely expensive, so if you wanted to impress you did a whole wall or walls, that way your visitors would be impressed with how filthy rich you were. A bit crass if you asked me but hey, that was the fashion.

Pompeii was a city of the new rich and many of them were also freed slaves or Liberati, the houses and their decoration reflect the new wealth. It was fashionable to paint the walls of your dining room black because it absorbed the light from outside and the heat of the sun. You added on top motifs of temples and deities or pastoral landscapes to comlete the whole. Garlands, cornucopias, dwarfs or satyrs or erotic scenes. There was also no division between private and public space, it was an unknown concept to the Romans, a house was not just the place you lived in, it was also a place to receive clients and visitors from dawn to dusk, so it was important to decorate the walls as a reflection of self.

Portraits are separate chapter. Visitors can admire a direct comparison of roman portraits on fresco, mosaic or on glass, unearthed in Italy, with the most celebrated roman portraits from the Egyptian oasis of El Fayyum near Cairo.

It was the fashion to have one's portrait made, usually at an age when you would be youthful looking. This portrait was then used after you died for your funeral, mixing beauty and virtue, the Romans believed that beautiful people, physically handsome people had beautiful souls, it went hand in hand. Ugly people were of course bad people, they had dark souls. It was also interesting to see that male figures in the paintings are always a bronzed skin color, where as women are a pale white color, pale color was a sign of weakness. Women are also shown with nice plump behinds, this was much prized in Roman culture, a big ass meant beauty and fertility, very good qualities in the Roman world.

A great exhibit and i am glad I saw it, the bookshop of the Scuderie is also very nice with lots of wonderful books on art and history.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Carmen, the Opera

The French composer George Bizet wrote the music of the Opera Carmen in 1875 from a story written by Prosper Merimée and it has become one of the best known operas in the world and is also much loved. This week the Scala Milan opened it's new season 2009-10, this is one of the big events of the social calendar in Italy. The President of the Republic comes from Rome to preside opening night with special guests, usually the Head of State of a country, tickets for this special night usually sell around 1000 Euros a seat or more. It is broadcasted live on RAI television and every one watches.

This year the cast of Carmen featured a new sensation from the Republic of Georgia, mezzo-soprano Anita Rachveslishvili and also a new design and production by a famous theater producer from Sicily, Emma Dante called the new Spirit of the South (Italy) Dante had never produced an opera before and introduced many new concepts to her production of Carmen. Unfortunately for her, the Milan public, which can be very harsh booed her loudly off the stage, live on RAI Television in front of the President of the Italian Republic, the venerable Giorgio Napolitano and the world watching. It was painful and sad for her and you could see on Dante's face how she was on the verge of tears. Even the European ARTE TV channel presenter did not know what to say at this very vocal, loud and persistent criticism. But it happens in Italy, Opera is deadly serious business and be prepared to be attacked if you displease the public, there is no forgiveness. The Conductor, Maestro David Bareboim was visibly angry at the reaction of the audience, but the public is master, right or wrong. Other singer were Jonas Kaufmann (Germany) as Don José and Ervin Schrott (Uruguay) as Escamillo. I did not like the production either as being to Broadway, however it did one thing that of illustrating how all the characters are prisoners of their world.

You often hear from different people in the opera world how Carmen, the character is a free women, how she does what she wants, she is a wild Gypsy, she chooses the men she wants etc... some of the Arias give this impression but it is all bravado. Carmen is a factory worker, a brawler, a leader in her group, the tough girl who throws her weight around, but all this is constrained by the little world she lives in, a very limited confining world, she is poor and belongs to this under world of beggars and thieves. In the Seville of her time, Carmen would have been held in contempt by society, there was no social upward mobility and she was condemn to live in poverty, dreaming of a better life.

What liberty does she have really, not economic, not as a women in a repressive society where people like her are kept down. She sleeps around, we are told, but is this true or is it part of the prejudices and gossip of the society around her, who assigns her this role, or does she, in the hope of catching a rich lover someone who might bring her up in the world, Don José as a the soldier is a possible good catch for her and then Escamillo a far better one. But all this is for naught, she is oblivious to the danger of rejecting male dominance, of not accepting her position as a subordinate and for this she is brutally murdered in the street.

As for the 2 other characters in this opera, Don José the lowly officer soldier, he too is in a low social position, he has an elderly mother who calls for him from her death bed but he ignores her, he is a bad son, something Seville society would frown upon, he lacks judgement, is dissolute and immature, he also has a poor image of himself as a man and needs to assert his manhood by murdering Carmen because she rejects him for Escamillo. Don José is arrested after the murder and being an army deserter, it ends badly for him too.

As for Escamillo, he is the super star, a bullfighter, he has fame and money, for him Carmen is a play thing nothing more and he despise Don José as no good, again a prize winning bullfighter had in Seville a much higher profile than a poor soldier. Escamillo in this love trio will do better because of his status in society, but his job brings him face to face with death everyday in the ring, the bull does not always loose.

I do not see love in this opera, the characters do not love each other, they are posturing, feeding off each others insecurities, they know that theirs is not a pretty life. So you have sex and lust and people running after illusions. This production by Emma Dante had a very gritty side to it, it was not pretty, the music of Bizet is beautiful but tragic with a very sad ending.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Almost run over by Pope motorcade, call my lawyer!

If you are a Christian you will have heard of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Pope Pius IX proclaimed that Mary was born without sin and therefore was pure enough to be the mother of Jesus. Up to 1860 this was a Catholic belief, you could subscribe to it or not, however in 1860 the Pope was feeling a little insecure, the Italians had revolted against his rule as Head of State of central Italy and Garibaldi was marching on Rome with his army. So the Pope did two things, first he proclaimed that he was infallible, meaning that when he speaks he is never wrong, it is the same as if God himself spoke. Not a bad trick really when you think of it. The second thing he did was to make the Immaculate Conception church dogma, so you now have to believe it, it is dogma, no discussion period.

So today 8 December is the Immacolata, a major Roman Catholic Church Holiday, it is the first day of Xmas shopping for Italians and the day all the religious congregations in Rome gather on Piazza di Spagna at the Spanish steps to put flowers at the foot of the column to the Immaculate Virgin Mary, sex should be this clean in other words. The column itself is located between the designer Valentino's HQ, the Sacred College for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Royal Embassy of Spain to the Holy See (see photo) with banners bearing the Coat of arms of His Most Catholic Majesty the King of Spain and the Pope. At the foot of the column you have statues of these nice Jewish patriarchs deep in reflection, Ezechiel, Moses, King David, Isaiah who are considered de facto Roman Catholics.
So we went to Piazza di Spagna to see the congregations and other religious orders with their banners and hear them sing and pray to the Virgin Mary on top her column, noticed that FIAT the car maker had sent a large bouquet of flowers, so did other large Italian manufacturers and also the Rome bus and metro company ATAC. We went to lunch and at 3:30pm we walked back towards Piazza Torre Argentina however there was one small problem, from the Tiber River all along Via Tomacelli and through Via Condotti barricades had been set up by the police of Rome. The Officer informed us that we could not cross at all, the Pope's motorcade was coming. So I looked down the street towards the river at Cavour bridge and then look up towards Piazza di Spagna and saw at the end a wall of humanity in the Piazza and all up the grand staircase, thousands all waiting for the Pope to arrive. The streets in this area of Rome are large enough for a big carriage and 4 horses, a narrow area. We still had 30 minutes before the Holy Father would pass by, so we decided to walk towards the river, in front of the Mausoleum of Emperor Augustus there was a break in the barricades and few people around, would the Pope stop his motorcade at the mausoleum to bless Augustus who was made a God by the Senate of Rome, he lived at the same time as the Virgin Mary, not likely, but we did cross the street quickly while the police was not looking and avoiding the approaching Pope mobile with the 6 beefy Swiss guards running alongside.

Now when Jean-Paul II was pope he use to get into the cherry picker basket and he was hoisted all the way to the top of the column to deposit his flowers, nowadays Pope Benedict sends a nice Vigili (firemen) up to do the job. We did make it to the theater on time.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

American Academy in Rome

Many countries have academies in Rome, the French Academy is housed in the park of the Villa Borghese in what use to be the Palace of the Medici family, a spectacular building. The British, Roumanians, German and others also have cultural programs and academic pursuit bringing scholars to Rome. The American Academy is housed in a building first built as a pleasure palace in 1650 by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, later Pope Paul III on the Gianicolum hill, this is the hill in Trastevere next to the Vatican Hill.

The American Academy at Villa Aurelia is the oldest overseas centre for independent study and advanced research in the arts and humanities. Each year the academy offers 30 Rome Prize fellowships in the following disciplines: architecture, design, historic preservation and conservation, landscape architecture, literature, musical composition, visual arts, and humanistic approach to ancient studies, medieval studies, Renaissance and early modern studies and modern Italian studies.
The Academy was founded in 1894 and was chartered by an Act of Congress in 1905. The web site

The Palace and grounds are spectacular beautifully restored in 2002. The palace itself was purchased in 1885 by the Heyland family after knowing a period of many famous owners. It was donated by Ms.Clara Jessup Heyland of Philadelphia, a wealthy american lady in her will to the American Academy. J.P.Morgan purchased much of the grounds next to the Villa Aurelia to allow for future use, See the website

Will was invited to attend the concert recital at Villa Aurelia by the soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, whose international career has paired her with the world's leading conductors including Claudio Abbado, Andrew Davis, William Christie, John Mackerras and Riccardo Muti. Ms. Antonacci sang songs of the Belle Epoque, she was accompanied on the piano by Donald Sulzen. The Concert was part of a 2 day conference entitled ''Performing voices between embodiment and mediation''. The audience was very small maybe 60 people all together, in a beautiful room of the Villa. Ms. Antonacci had given the same concert a few days prior in London and it was recorded by the BBC. This was really a privilege moment and a very nice way to end the week.
Will took me along to this beautiful concert, we also met Professor Philip Gossett of the University of Chicago who also lives and teaches in Rome. Philip Gossett is one of the world's foremost experts on opera. A music historian, Gossett specializes in 19th-century Italian opera, specifically the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. Will had a nice conversation with him and I listened.

The songs covered the period 1865 to 1925, by authors Gabriel Fauré, Reynaldo Hahn, Alfred Bachelet, Paolo Tosti, Pieradolfo Tirindelli, Pietro Cimara, Arturo Toscanini, Ottorino Respighi and Riccardo Zandonai.

The recital was followed by a champagne reception, the view of the city from the top of the Gianicolum hill is breathtaking, I had never really seen Rome from that vintage point.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Food Holiday

On Sunday morning we drove to Riano just 20 minutes outside Rome, we went to Wendy Holloway's B&B located on a hill which has an amazing panoramic view of the Lazio Province and Rome in the distance, truly breath taking. Wendy has been living in Italy for 25 years and for the last 10 years has developed her business which is called ''Flavor of Italy'' see her wonderful website at

It is a very easy drive from Rome on the Flaminia, you can also take the metro and then transfer to the regional train, getting off at Montebello, no more than 25 minutes from Piazza Flaminia in central Rome.
The Canadian Club of Rome had organized a cooking class for Sunday morning, Wendy thought up the menu and it was fun and wonderful.

We made several dishes, fresh anchovies, a wonderful little white fish marinated in orange juice, red and yellow roasted bell peppers in a sauce of anchovies, capers and olive oil, fresh pasta ravioli with a stuffing of ricotta and zest of lemon, the sauce was a light butter and cream with lemon zest, Salmon steaks Sicilian style, which is sweet and sour sauce, raisins and balsamic vinegar, Risotto with chanterelles mushrooms and mild Italian sausage meat, and a fig torte. She picks hundred of figs off her trees and then removes the stem and simply freezes them during the winter, so she can use them in recipes and they are as delicious as if just picked off the tree. We had a nice white wine from the Lazio region to accompany.

Each one of us made one dish and others then help out or observed with Chef Wendy encouraging us along.
Will and I have done many cooking courses around the world, the most memorable being in Vietnam 3 years ago in different cities, Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Saigon, and also in Thailand. It is always nice to learn how to do a dish and to learn the different flavors and mix of ingredients. You learn to appreciate the culture of the country, not just by visiting sites but also how food mixes with the culture and what is important to the people. Rice in Asia is very important as bread is in Western culture, olives to the Greeks and olive oil to the Italians, dates to the Arabs. You gain a better appreciation all around.

Will is good at making pasta and he made the ravioli. The anchovies though most people think that it is a salty unpleasant fish is in fact if fresh, a very nice white fish and very good grilled or eaten as we did marinated. The caper and anchovy sauce I made for the roasted peppers, I washed the salt off the capers and simply added them in the blender to the olive oil and anchovies.

Pasta has a range of cooking time from 8 minutes for raviolis and spaghetti to 12 minutes for bigger pasta like fettuchini, of course in Italy all pasta is cooked aldente (to your teeth), which is the way we like it now.

We are planning to return to ''Flavor of Italy'' B&B on 31 January for a weekend of cooking classes and olive oil tasting.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Italian, Italy Modern history

I am currently reading a book on Italy which is very interesting, the writer is Paul Ginsborg a fellow who is a scholar on Italy and who lived in Italy and was a fellow teaching at the University of Turin. The book is an account of contemporary Italian history from 1943 to 1980. It is fascinating, all that we assume about a country or think we know and in the end see that we know in fact little except for the clichés. The story starts on July 1943 when Benito Mussolini fell from power after a vote of no confidence by his own party, dismissed by the King of Italy and arrested after 20 years of absolute power. Hitler is furious orders his troops to invade Italy, the King makes a deal with the allies for Peace before he flees Rome, the allies are marching up from the South, there is no government and civil war starts.

Ginsborg then goes on to tell the tale of the different factions who will fight for power and then go on to rule a very poor country of mostly illiterate people, many forced to immigrate to Argentina, Canada and the USA and also internally within Italy seeking jobs in the North and tales of discrimination and hardships. A passage in the book about southeners arriving in Turin in winter wearing summer clothing and being bewildered by what they see in a big industrial city, all they knew was the poverty of small villages or towns south of Rome. The Vatican is also very present in all this, trying to influence events and doing all it can to regain its political hold on the country and the people which it had lost in 1870.

The USA also has a very large role pumping millions of dollars into Italy, so much so that Italy becomes the no. 1 friend and ally of the USA in Europe. In Rome the Palace of Queen Margherita is given to the US Government and becomes the new US Embassy on Via Veneto, Naval bases sprout all over the coasts. Most of the Fascist administration in government is retained so great is the fear of a communist takeover. The pope tries and succeeds in part in influencing elections in the late 1940's and 1950's. In 1955 only 7% of all households in Italy had electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. Most Italians did not speak Italian but dialects from the region they came from, living in isolation in small villages, no highways, few cars and poor communications generally. The Central government in Rome had to institute rules in education which made Italian mandatory for all. This explains why so many people I know in Canada whose parents and grand parents immigrated prior to 1960 speak regional or city dialects but no Italian.

I am currently reading about the economic miracle in the period 1955 to 1970 when the country transformed itself into a modern State. This book is fascinating, with a wealth of details and anecdotes on people and their struggles, it gives me a far better understanding of Italy today and why things are the way they are.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sunday in Rome with lunch

We got up early this morning and took the puppies for a long walk on the grounds of the Villa Torlonia which was prior to 1943 the residence of Prince Torlonia and for 20 yrs that of Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini. The Palace and all other buildings have been restored to the splendor of the time when the Torlonia family used the grounds as their summer residence outside the walls of Rome. The park is quite large and has hills and ravines and statues and ponds and fountains, numerous trees of all kinds and fake roman temple ruins. The puppies love to run and walk all over and smell the grass. They also met other dogs, all are on leashes, this is a rule in this park. It is important for them to get to see other dogs to socialize them. They will be 9 months old this coming week.

We then went to Piazza Spagna (Spanish Steps) to have lunch at what Frommer's and Fodor's describe as one of the best Enoteca restaurant in Rome. The Antica Enoteca (1860) at Via della Croce 76B belongs to a friend of ours a fellow Canadian who has lived in Rome for many years. See web site

I had smoke salmon with lemon, then a first course of a Crepe stuffed with ricotta and spinach in a creamy tomato sauce. My second was leg of lamb with roasted potatoes, dessert panna cotta. We had a bottle of Taittinger Champagne, tomorrow is a big anniversary for me and Will. Will had an antipasto of cured meats, cheese, olives, red peppers and artichoke, chicory. He only had a second dish of roast chicken, he skipped the first dish of pasta.

Then we walked back along the Corso which runs between Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Popolo, looking at the stores, we stopped at Schostal which is a men's store, near Palazzo Chigi which is the Italian Prime Minister's office. Shostal has been at this location since 1870 and sell only pyjamas, shirts, ties, gloves, handkerchief, sweaters and scarves, all products are 100% cotton,wool, cashmere or silk. All classic wear and beautiful, service is also old fashioned. I bought a shirt and was given an extra pair of cuffs, so I could change the cuffs should the original wear out before the shirt.

We then went to the Ferrari store, they have all the accessories to go with your car, should you own a Ferrari, there is so much that goes with that look. The store is near the Mausoleum of Emperor Augustus on Via Tomaselli. We have a friend who wanted something from the store and so we went to get it for him. They also have a kid section a bit like GAP kids though this is Ferrari kids.

We came home and within minutes the power went off, we were about to go for a walk with the puppies but found out that we could not open the 2 meter high gates of the driveway since they are electric, it is impossible to scale them and the only other gate at the back is locked and I did not have the key to open it. The portiere is off on Sunday's and the administrator is no were to be found. Luckily a neighbor on the ground floor had a key to the back gate and he opened it for us. When we returned from our walk with the puppies the electricity had returned.

Beautiful day today in Rome about 18C and sunny.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A walk in Rome

This Saturday Will and I went to the Vatican State on the other side of the Tiber to mail a letter at the Vatican State Post Office.
They have better service than the Italian Post Office at least it is faster.

So we took the no. 62 bus from Porta Pia all the way down and across to the Vatican. Not a very long ride considering you are crossing Rome, only goes to show that this is a very compact city. Then we went to this little restaurant run by two elderly brothers on Via Borgo which is a little street that runs along the long defensive wall between the Palace of the Pope and Castel San Angelo. They have the best Spaghetti Carbonara in all Rome, without exaggeration, I think this is because it is a family restaurant and it is made by another relative of the brothers who wait tables. We also had a secundi, (second dish) I had liver and chicory and Will had Veal Saltimboca alla Romana with roasted potatoes in rosemary.

After lunch we walked back across the Tiber to Rome and crossed at the Castel San Angelo Bridge which was originally built to connect Rome on one side with the gigantic tomb mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian on the other. Then we took Via Dei Coronari,
The street was open in 1475, by Pope Sisto IV, with the name of “ via Recta ” that is to say “straight”, to allow pilgrims to reach the old Saint Peter Basilica without passing through the labyrinth of alleys; it partially repeated the line of an ancient roman street which in the imperial epoch connected “ Via Lata” to a bridge “Ponte Nerone”.

It is nearly 500 meters long and ends at Piazza Navona, it is lined by 15th and 16th century beautiful buildings. At number 156/7 you see the XV century house of Fiammetta Michaelis, Cesare Borgia's preferred mistress.

The present name of the street derives from the many merchants who sold here sacred images and crowns (in Italian “ corone ”) to pilgrims until the 19th century. After Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II was opened, the street became deserted, but in the 1950's it became a center of little antique shops, restorers and artisans of many specialization. Many beautiful shops line the street today. At one point you arrive at an arch way standing 5 meter below today's street level, it was the main entrance to the Stadium of Emperor Domitian which is known today as Piazza Navona.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The word Pineapple is brought to you by the letter P

For some unknown reason we eat on average 2 pineapples a week in Rome. The only other fruit we eat in large quantities are bananas about 8 a week and apples, I really like the Pink Lady variety, 3 on average per week. I do not remember any other time in our lives when we ate pineapples on a regular basis at all. In fact it was not a fruit I would eat at all. Here in Rome, you find freshly cut pineapple on the menu of every restaurant, it is the dessert par excellence. Huge quantities of fresh pineapples are consumed every week in the Eternal City. They come from Central America from the tiny republic of Costa Rica, not from Hawaii as I first thought, too far away my Sri Lankan fruit vendor told me. I think the reason why we eat so much of it is because it is fresh. I notice that you cannot find canned fruits here, all fruits are fresh, maybe this is why so much fruit is consumed. Since they have them on display in the glass case of the dining rooms instead of cakes, people go for it. There is this tradition that only the wealthy could afford to eat fruit in the past, they owned the orchards and fruit gardens and had gardeners to look after their fruit trees, you see this in classical paintings and in frescoes of old castles, so eating fresh fruit today is a symbol of prosperity for the average person.

Pineapple must be a new import to Italy though, I say this because until 1965 Italy was not a very rich country or the wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few, so such import of exotic fruits would have been difficult if not prohibitive. Previously in largely agrarian Italy, most people lived in the countryside until the 1950's, the poor ate what they could and worked on large Estates to bring seasonal fruits to the markets in the cities, again only people in the middle class, the clergy, civil servants and the few who owned land could have access to this type of food. Italy grows a large variety of grape, melons and watermelons in summer, apples, pears, persimmons and pomegranates in the Fall, a variety of oranges, tangerines and chestnuts in the late Fall and Winter and in Spring berries from the woods, strawberries are plentyful.
All this makes for a healthy diet today and a sensible one at that too. Children do not grow obese, in fact children here tend to be slim. They also do a lot of physical activities, it is encourage, luckily TV here is still fairly mundane if not downright boring.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

restaurant Berlin

During our weekend in Berlin we went to restaurants and enjoyed the food scene. Berlin has very good restaurants, many specialize in Berlin or Brandenburg specialties like boulette (meat balls) or fish dishes like wild trout or smoked barbel, a Carp like fish or a fricasse of chicken served with crayfish. There are also more substantial foods, like stuffed oxtail simmered slowly in wine served with a sirloin steak and spring vegetables, Braised pork knuckle served with cabbage cooked in champagne. There is also the famous Curry wurst, spicy curry sausage invented in Berlin, you eat it with a pretzel and a glass of beer.
Lots of soups also on the menu, Beetroot with cream, creamy potato soup and Brotsuppe made from brown bread enriched with cream and served with crispy bacon and croutons.

Not to forget wonderful desserts, cakes and pastries. We really enjoyed them with a good coffee. Berlin has so much to offer, there are also the ethnic restaurants, Berlin has a very large and old Turkish population, who came to Germany in the last 50 years as guest workers and stayed on. Indians are also now a sizable population. Then you also have the Poles, Berlin is just a few kilometers from the Polish border, but Slav and Poles have lived in the Brandenburg region for 1000 years.
You will find a lot of Slavic influences in the food and many dishes are Polish.

We went with friends to one East Prussian restaurant, what is since 1945 the Russian enclave of Koenigsberg. The restaurant is at the Savigny Platz station on Mommsen Strasse 9. Marjellchen (pronounced Mar gel Ken) features typical heavy cuisine of eastern Poland and Eastern Prussia, Pomerania. Very good food for fall and winter, dishes of pork,beef and fish, lots of heavy soups with cream, you need a good appetite. I had a wonderful dish of chicken livers, the way I like them, sauté in a bit of wine. We also had appetizers to start beetroot soup with cream. Wonderful salads in between and a good white Riesling.

We also went to another restaurant which use to house the Trichter restaurant just around the corner from the Berliner Ensemble theatre where Bertold Brechts worked for so many years, he was often at Trichter, now it is redecorated and renamed Brechts (, the food was wonderful. Love the decor also with its large windows on the Spree River by the Friedrich Strasse train station, wood panel and high ceiling, very nice service. I had venison, another favorite of mine.

For the pastries and cakes we went to the OpernPalais Cafe, Unter den Liden 5. It is located next to the Stadt Opera and inside what use to be the Crown Prince Palace. The selection of cakes and pastries makes your head spin, so beautiful and so much choice all fresh and rich.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Berlin Weekend uber alles!

Last weekend was a return visit to Berlin, I had been there last for a week in 2002. What a beautiful city, everything is either new with spectacular architecture or restored as in old 18th century palaces and museums as in the Museum Island in the centre of the city.

It is truly a city reborn and refashioned as the capital of Enlightenment of the great philosophers like Schiller, Goethe and Humbolt. The Wall is gone, so don't wax nostalgic about it and also the Nazis, after all they only amounted to 12 years in the history of a city which is 800+ years old. The New Canadian Embassy is built on top of Hitler's bunker which is now sealed off and flooded. Art and culture are everywhere, concert, symphony, opera, art galleries and not to forget fine dining with excellent German wines. The public transit alone of over (U) and under (S) ground and the many train stations is a marvel by itself and makes travelling throughout the city and the region so easy.

We visited the newly re-opened Neues Museum (1855) built to house the ever expanding collections of the Prince of Brandeburg and the Royal Family of Prussia. The whole island is now complete for the first time in 70 years and all the museums are open to the public, beautiful collections and very impressive. The Island on the Spree River was sort of private domain for the Royal Family of Prussia, the City Palace, the Cathedral and the museums are all located on this small island. The bridge is guarded by the Armoury, Zeughaus, now the Museum to German history and the Commandatur where the commander lived. All of it is either Rococo architecture or a fantasy on Greek revival temples, quite beautiful and more on a human scale. We also walked on Unter den Linden towards the famed Brandenburg Gate built in 1788, which imitates in its architecture the Propylae of the Acropolis of Athens. This symbol of Berlin was buit as a Gate to Peace and was the ceremonial entrance to the heart of the city. This is where the ambassadors would gather on the day when they were invited to meet with the King and then escorted down the avenue to the Palace. Unter den Liden created in 1647 was also used as a riding path towards the Tiergarten forest where the Princes would hunt. At one end of the avenue is the equestrian statue of the greatest of all Prussian Kings, Frederick II the Great,1712-1786, riding down on his favorite horse. A little known fact about him was that he spoke excellent French and very poor German, he use to do small talk with his soldiers but he always needed help. He also spoke a little English but not much since his uncle George II of England was the German Prince of Hanover and he also spoke French and little english or let's say badly.

There is so much to tell about this city, so many interesting things to see and do and none of it has anything to do with the period 1934-1989.
If you want to visit Europe, I suggest you go to Berlin and look up the web site

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Visit to the Synagogue of ROME

Today we went to the Portico d'Ottavia near the Tiber River and the old Roman Forum. This is where the Ghetto of Rome was from 1550 to 1870. The Jews in Rome have been here for 2200 years, they are the oldest Jewish community in Europe. Jews and Palestine are of course part of the fabric of old Rome. Palestine was a Roman Province and part of the career path of any Roman aspiring to high office. After the destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem by Emperor Titus in 70AD, all the treasures of the Temple including the Arch of the Covenant were brought back to Rome and put inside the Temple of Peace in the Roman Forum where they remained for centuries, they are all lost today unfortunately.

The great Synagogue was built in 1901 and is part of the project of Garibaldi to make of Rome the new capital of the unified Italian Kingdom. The ghetto was demolished and the Jews freed and made full Italian citizens. What you see today was built after 1870, a modern neighborhood with water and electricity service and clean wide streets.

The Jews in Rome have an interesting history, they operate not as a congregation but as a community as a whole, you have Sephardic and Ashkenazy,Roman and Italian traditions. This is unusual for people visiting from outside Italy, they do not always understand how you can have all this in one building. The jews in Rome follow the Orthodox rite. Rome has a population of 14,000 jews today, there were about 15,000 before 1943. Some 2000 where deported by the Nazis between September 1943 and Spring of 1944, the rest took refuge at the Vatican State and in Churches and hospitals and in the homes of fellow Italians.

The Synagogue itself has an organ which is played during services, that is unusual and the decor inside the building is Babylonian and Egyptian and has some Art Deco touches with colors of Red and Gold, Imperial colors of old Rome. That is to say if we cannot have the Temple in Jerusalem we can have this one in the Eternal City.

The ceiling is painted in blue with little gold stars and the windows are stained glass with colored flowers. It is imposing and joyous all at once.

The museum has many beautiful textiles given throughout history to the community. Many silver objects for the Torah and other religious objects for the service. They have 850 covers for the Torahs, so they can change them daily. Services are held in the morning, afternoon and evening. Visitors in our group from the USA where amazed at this wealth of religious artifacts.

Our guide works at the Synagogue and was knowledgeable and a diplomat all at once. Some of the questions puzzled him, they came from American jews who asked in the way a rich relative asks about your well being, feeling a bit sorry for you and curious about how you are getting along.

One lady wanted to know about mix marriages between jews of different rites,let's say Sephardic and Roman, our guide told her simply we do like everyone else and go to the Hilton. Same lady wanted to know if there was a Jewish hospital, Yes there is one just across the street on the Island.

Another lady wanted to know who turned on the lights inside the Synagogue for Sabbath services. Are all the lights electrified or do you use candles. Our guide just told her, we turn them on, just before the service. The lady was a bit surprised and asked if they asked a non-Jew to do this for them. Our guide said no we don't.
But you are Orthodox Jews are you not, she says. Yes we are said the guide but you can call us Orthodox Italian Style.

Our guide did explain that Judaism for a long period was transmitted by oral tradition, the Popes forbade teaching the Talmud.
It was only with the liberation of Rome by the troops of Garibaldi in 1870 that the Jews finally could once again study. This explains the special tradition of Jewish Roman heritage where the practical joins the reality of everyday life. You also will notice that in and around the old ghettos are Churches set up by the Vatican as reminders to the Jews of the errors or their ways. Inscriptions on the front of the building in Hebrew and in Latin calls to them as unbelievers to accept the teachings of Jesus and the authority of the Pope. Viewed today, this historical legacy helps you understand the politics of religion. Our guide pointed out that it was Pope Jean-Paul II who on a visit to the Synagogue, said that the Jewish Faith was the big brother to Christianity. An interesting perspective after centuries of persecution by the Popes.

We had lunch at the Taverna del Ghetto,
We have been there several times and the food is great, with many Roman Jewish Specialties. We took a walk along the Tiber to help us digest on the old Tiberina Island. The photos here are of our walk on the island, where an hospital has stood for 2000 years. In one photo you see me touching part of the marble remnants of the boat shaped hospital dedicated to the God of Medecine.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween in Rome

What are you doing on this Halloween night? We went to a concert at the Auditorium Renzo Piano to hear 3 works by Russian composers played by the Orchestra of the Accademia Santa Cecilia, the best orchestra in Italy basically. The concert was over by 08:15 pm just in time for dinner in Rome. When we got out of the auditorium near the Tiber river, there was a definite chill in the air almost winter like. The auditorium is located on the Via Flaminia and this area is just below a hill in a flat area, the river bends at this point and you feel the chill.

Halloween is not a holiday in Italy, it is unknown and considered pagan by the Vatican. People do not dress up and no one carves a pumpkin, they eat them instead in soups or stuff ravioli with pumpkin, it is very good by the way.

I carved my pumpkin, I ordered one from our fruit and veg seller, I told him I wanted a big one as big as he could find at the warehouse. I also bought a second one which Will carved for the office party on Friday. Here the holiday is November 01 which is all Saints Day when people remember their dead and place candles on their graves. I took pictures of my pumkin and places one of those candles in a container which is usually used to light a grave.

Of course this being Halloween, I read an interesting story today about St-Dominic and those fun Dominican friars. They use to be in charge of the Inquisition in Rome, devising all manners of exquisite tortures to make people repent for their heresy against the Pope before burning them alive on a public square, in Rome that was Campo di Fiori. The most famous person to be burned there after years of torture, is Giordano Bruno, 1450, his statue dominates the Piazza. To this day the Vatican wants it pulled down, the argument, he deserved his fate because he questioned the authority of the Pope to act as a temporal sovereign.

Another famous person who also fell into the hands of those Dominican friar was Galileo, who claimed that the Earth was A) not flat, B) was not the centre of the universe but rotated around the Sun.
Galileo had to recant and apologize to the Pope for his errors, everyone knows the Earth is flat and is at the centre of the Universe, so say the Vatican. It took Jean Paul II to admit that the Church was wrong, only 500 years later.

This year is the Anniversary of the invention of the telescope, so the Vatican decided to have a special exhibit on Galileo, now declared to be one of the great Catholic scientist in the service of God. The Vatican explains today that, Galileo got into trouble because, some priest misunderstood what he was saying at the time. A simple misunderstanding, no harm done.

So there you go, that is my Halloween stories from Rome. Stay clear of those Dominican friars in dark alleys, near the Pantheon that is where their HQ is located at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

Friday, 30 October 2009

first haircut for Nicky

Today was the first time Nicky went for a trim, he is now 8 months old and had never been to the salon for what is call a stripping. Wire hair Dachshunds have a type of fur that requires that the coat be stripped of dead hair, so it is not just a cut.

He went in one color and came out another, you can judge by the photos before and after. His coat underneath is a blond brown color with some black in it. He is very slim at 8 months but our Vet says that for his size he is the right weight at 4.2 Kg.
He was very good about it all and got biscotties as a reward.

Monday, 19 October 2009

House of Augustus, Palatine Hill, Rome

This week I went to visit the Palatine hill in Rome, it is a very interesting area, the original hill was made larger by the building of huge platforms which extended the overall total surface of the hill so more and more, palaces and temples could be located on the hill, after all the Palatine was the prime neighborhood of Rome. It was originally a small hill but as we can see today, huge arches in concrete and brick were built as foundation so palaces could be built. The Palatine has been inhabited since the earliest time, Romulus and Remus are said to have had their thatched huts on that very hill, today you can still see the foundations markers of those huts built some 2800 years ago. 

This visit took us to the newly re-opened house of Augustus, about 18 months ago, the house in which Gaius Julius Octavius lived as an adult was re-opened to the public after 50 years of restoration.  Gaius Julius Octavius who became known as Augustus first Emperor of Rome was born in September of 63 BC and died at Nola near Naples in 14 AD at the age of 76 from eating too many figs, his favorite fruit. He was the nephew of Gaius Julius Caesar and his heir. He was not in Rome when his uncle was assassinated on 15 March 44 BC but he was waiting for him with the legions in Greece for a new military campaign near what is Iraq today. The reading of the will of Julius Caesar on the Rostra of the Roman Forum declaring Octavius sole heir started his political career and ascension to power.

The house we see today is connected to the larger official palace. This house is very cleverly situated, next to all the sacred site of the foundation of Rome, it is next to the hut of Romulus, the house is also above the grotto where the She-Wolf suckled the twins Romulus and Remus. The grotto recently discovered in 2008 still has to be excavated. It is also next to the temple of the Cybele the Mater Magna, (Earth Mother) and between the Lares, protective spirits of good and evil and the Temple of Apollo, god of music and poetry and so many other things.

The house is small and not the sort of Imperial Palace you would expect. Augustus lived modestly, his wife Livia made his tunic from a rough wool, simple and practical, he ate simple food, slept in a simple little room all his life and wore thick sole sandals to give himself a boost, he was a short little guy, though very good looking. You first enter the house by a service door at the back, you are at the foot of a great staircase which connected the larger palace above, to your left, a door gives into a large room for audiences, capacity about 30 people maximum and next to this room his study, a rather small room with enough room for 5 people no more, one desk and a chair. The rooms are beautifully painted with scenes from mythology, Pompeian red very much in fashion then, dominates, you can see that the best artist worked on the decorations and motifs of those rooms, money was no object. The floors of the most beautiful colored marble. The house was a great political project for Augustus, it was started even before he became Emperor and August, Father of the Country, everyone in Rome knew of the house and its symbolism, all was thought out, no detail was left to chance. It is wonderful to be able to visit for a few minutes these rooms and imagine that Augustus who left his mark on his world, also left us with a large legacy, in laws and concepts that still influence our society, lived and worked there. To me this was by far the best visit ever of any ancient site, a priviledge moment.  
The only photos are by special permission only, I found only these 2 photos of the ceiling in the entrance and of the north wall of the dining room, the paintings on the walls and ceilings are still fresh and vibrant, even after 2000 years. 

In November, Rome will celebrate the 2000 birthday of yet another great Emperor, Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty which succeeded Nero in 69AD who was the last of the Julio-Claudian family. Vespasian was born in Rieti near Rome in the year 9 AD. He is the emperor who built the famous Amphitheater of the Flavians, also know as the Colosseum, for this reason the Forum is alive with his memory and many teams of archeologists at this time busy working on digs everywhere, tourists seem like an unwanted distractions.   

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Returning home

So today I flew back from Tirana, Albania to Rome, a short flight 60 minutes across the Adriatic and up the boot of Italy on Alitalia. On their flights they have either an all male crew or a mix crew with a higher ration of male staff. Their staff all look like models on a catwalk. 

When we entered Rome from Fiumicino airport via the E.U.R. and Porta Capena, I noticed a lot of police everywhere around the Teatro del'Opera and Santa Maria Maggiore. It's Rome and we were having our weekly demonstration. If you live in Rome you come to accept that there will be strikes and demonstrations almost weekly or bi-weekly and the police will come out and the demonstrators will block central Rome, meaning Piazza Venezia and Piazza Reppublica by the train station Termini, this means that if you want to drive across the city it becomes difficult. The demonstrations are always peaceful, it is not about violence or anger, but coming out and marching and flying flags, usually of the CGIL the main trade union and the Communist party, balloons and banners.  The police stand by, smoking cigarettes and drinking espresso and talking amongst themselves while the demonstrators walk past. It is a little like a social event, the left has lots of demonstrations. The right and the Fascists have rallies, where speakers go on and on for hours, usually in some stadium built by Il Duce. Denouncing the left and all they stand for. Today the rally of the Left was to mark Anti-Racism day. 

The weather is much colder now, must be around 9c this evening in Rome. The puppies were happy to see me much yapping and jumping and then this evening Nicky did something he has never done before, he jumped on the sofa snuggled up against me and fell asleep next to me while I was reading. 
Will says he was looking for me all week. When I came in, he came really close to my face and just stared at me for the longest while as if he wanted to say something, like where have you been. 

Glad to be home, I find travelling to be such a chore now. Probably will go back to Albania at end February or early March, work again. Sorry no pictures, there is not much to show. 

Monday, 12 October 2009

Old Aqueduct park, Rome

We took the metro this morning to the outskirts of southern Rome and got off at Giulio Agricola station, this area of Rome was built up in the 1970's and is composed mostly of a very pleasant neighborhood of low condo buildings. At the end of the street in front of us stretches the park with its gigantic aqueducts stretching across the landscape, the low one is the Aqua Felice and Marcia, the tall one is the Aqua Claudia whose arches have a height of 28 meters. It was started by Emperor Caligula and completed by his uncle Emperor Claudius, I still drink water from that spring every day.


The old Via Latina also comes by there, in ancient times you would use it to go south towards the Pontine Marshes, the Via Appia antiqua is also part of this park. We also saw an old Roman Villa which in the year 900 was transformed into a fortified farm house. The Villa is very ancient and no one lives there now, but several others have been bought by wealthy people who turn them into luxury homes, imagine owning a 2000 yrs old house. People are proud of a 150-year-old house back home. It is quite marvelous to see those old aqueducts, at one time Rome had 11 of them stretching 750 Km bringing water to the city. The first one was built in 330 BC and 2 aqueducts still function today, the Aqua Marcia and the Aqua Vergine feeding fountains like the famous Trevi fountain. It is thought today that more clean water was available to every citizen of ancient Rome than today. Enormous cisterns were built everywhere to store water and even wealthy individuals could build their own cistern for their private homes. We saw one near by built by a man who made an enormous fortune selling bricks, the ruins of one of his villas is in the park with the enormous cistern next to the aqueduct. We also heard of the army of slaves needed to clean, maintain and repair the aqueducts, quite the workforce. Considering that mathematics and other sciences were in their infancy, it required quite a lot of ingenuity to devise such a system. The Romans simply built big and solid arches so the aqueducts could carry the load of all this water rushing towards Rome. What we see in the open air is only 70 Km of the whole system, everything else was underground. The Aqueducts functioned until 537 AD and then bit-by-bit the system disappeared, by the year 1000, the system no longer worked and the knowledge was lost. We would have to wait until 1500 to see the system partially restored.


On our way to the park, we passed one metro station called Porta Furba, I thought this was a very odd name, it means traitors gate, I asked Nancy our guide why was it called that, she tells me that Coriolanus, the same fellow who has a play written by Shakespeare, was a hero of ancient Rome, he turned against Rome and went to help the Volci, a people who lived south of Rome about 2300 years ago, when Rome was still a small city and an emerging power. He brought the Volci army to this gate and as he was about to attack the city, his mother appears, she said to him: who am I meeting, my son or the enemy of Rome?

Apparently Coriolanus was so ashamed of what he was about to do that he listened to his mother and turned his army away from Rome. A fitting story for Italy and the power of motherhood. 


Sunday, 11 October 2009

Canadian Thanksgiving 12 October

Auguri! Happy Thanksgiving to all. This is the long weekend of my favorite holiday of the year, I always enjoyed this holiday no matter where I am in the world. In Canada it is a harvest festival, a very ancient feast day, which goes back to antiquity. In Italy, we are into the season of olive tree harvesting and olive oil pressing which will continue until december. Chestnuts have also started to appear on the market and different varieties of apples. Thanksgiving or l'Action de Grace as it is called in French, is a time to reflect on what we have and how we should be thankful. Thankful for being the Citizen of a country which is govern by the rule of laws, by a Parliament and by a modern civil service dedicated to the public good. We may as Canadians complain often and feel we are hard done by and gripe but in the end if you take a good look and reflect on it, you come to understand that we have it good in terms of quality of life. Also in terms of family, friends and my spouse of almost 32 years, I have been blessed. So on this day I have a lot to be thankful for.

We had Sunday lunch, nice half turkey about 4.5Kg just enough for some left overs but nothing substantial. The stuffing was made with prosciutto sausages and a hard grain bread, very good. The bird was moist not one dry part in it. The bird came from southern Tuscany and they are left to roam around, so the meat is nice, plump and light. Nice apple pie for dessert with home made cinnamon gelato. We also had Will's famous Smokey pumpkin soup with smoked ham. This year he added to the soup Madeira wine instead of Marsala wine, it was much better and not so sweet.

Our friends in Italy came to lunch, we were 6 all together on a lovely day, the weather was sunny and around 22C with that blue sky we only get in Rome. Tomorrow we are going to visit the park of the ancient Aquaducts, those great elevated waterways which brought all the water to Rome and allowed the city to become one of the wonders of the ancient world, millions of gallons of water every hour to feed the fountains and the great bath houses, they were destroyed by the barbarians in 410 AD. It will be nice to enjoy the fresh air outside the city.

Enjoy the holiday!