Thursday, 30 July 2009

Tivoli, Italy

We went to Tivoli just south west of Rome in the Spring for the first time, we visited the Summer Villa of Emperor Hadrian which is one of the great wonders of the ancient world. Then we climbed the hill to Tivoli to visit Villa d'Este built by Cardinal Hyppolito D'Este between 1550-1572 with the famous
water garden designed for his pleasure. It has all been restored by UNESCO and it is beautiful and amazing, including the famous water organ which plays a musical air on the hour, I am not quite sure how that was done in the 16th century, the fountains work on the principle of gravity and pressure and the organs keys are operated by water pressure to make music, I am willing to bet that a lot of calculations went into the design. The gardens were and are to this day famous, they became the model for numerous other great Royal gardens around Europe, like Versailles.

The second time I went to Tivoli was for an official function recently, much less fun. In late afternoon as the sun was setting a colleague took this photo from the hotel Torre Sant-Angelo with the town of Tivoli behind me. You can see how it is built on a cliff overlooking the Latium valley below, in the far off distance is the Tyrrhenian sea. Will probably return in the fall when the weather is less hot. The Villa d'Este gardens can be visited at night, with lighted torches and the fountains playing, it is magical.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Good spelling is important!

True story, you probably heard of the Swedish couple who drove from Sweden down to Italy using their GPS. Well they wanted to go to the Isle of Capri and see the blue grotto. So they entered the data into their GPS and off they went. Only problem is they ended up in an industrial town near Modena some 600 Km North from where they wanted to go.
On the main Piazza of CARPI,(see photo) they asked someone where the blue grotto was, the fellow thought they meant a restaurant of some kind and could not remember such a name. The Swedish lady said to him, but it is famous all over CAPRI. Suddenly the fellow realized what she meant and said to her you are not on an Island lady this is CARPI. They had misspelled the name of the Island and the GPS took them where they said they were going CARPI. Anyway they made it to the blue grotto in CAPRI. It apparently never occurred to them that they had not crossed water to get to where they were. The blue grotto is famous because of the vivid blue colour of the water and you can only get to it by boat at certain hours of the day.
This bit of news made my day, I laughed.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

taxi drivers in Rome

Yesterday we took a taxi to go to our appointment at the eye doctor. It was an area of Rome, that is well known but we had never been there. The Janiculum hill where the gardens of the Villa Doria Pamphilij are located in the Trastevere, in other words the other side of the Tiber River where the Vatican State is. So the cab arrives, we always call the same company and while you wait for confirmation that your cab is coming they play as background music Over the rainbow. What amazes me about taxi drivers in Rome is that no matter how obscure the street address is they know it. Now not all of them are completely familiar with all the numerous streets of this city and some do use a GPS to get around, but they will get you to your destination. Each cab also has a name printed on the door and a number, like ZARA 40 or Livorno 23, this way if anything should happen the taxi company knows when and where you were picked up and where you were left off at what time etc.... Taxis are white and big and spacious, so 3 to 4 passengers can ride easily without feeling like sardines.

The distance we covered yesterday was about 7 Km in Rome from the North to the South of the city. I had never heard of the street FONTEIANA and the office was in front of the Basilica of Saint Pancras where the Carmelites have their main office.
Because this is the beginning of summer time vacation, Rome is starting to feel empty, little traffic and few people around, many shops have now close for 5 to 6 weeks while everyone is on vacation. Remember in Europe, Europeans enjoy on average 4 to 8 weeks of vacation annually, beats the silly North American version of 2 weeks tops.
The driver heard me tell him where we wanted to go and off we where, no fuss and we arrived at our destination in about 15 minutes. Usually during a normal time of year, it can take up to 45 minutes to get this far on the other side of town.

What we did not realize is how beautiful the area is and the views of Rome from the Janiculum are impressive. There is also a feel on that side of the river of being in the countryside, you are not in Rome in some fashion. The ride over and back was very nice, Rome has views and more views, scenic Piazzas and monuments, fountains, ruins, great parks all evocative of its history and the families who shaped the city. We will have to return to the Janiculum and the Villa Doria Pamphilij.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Anniversary yesterday

Well yesterday 21 July was our second wedding anniversary, we have actually been together 31 years. I phoned our friends Larry and Vincenzo and we went to the Garbatella neighborhood of Rome for dinner. It is an area of Rome built during the Fascist era of public housing for single men, couples, people who could not afford living in Rome could find a decent place in this area. Every house has a little garden and the whole place has the feeling of seaside resort town.

We went to a trattoria Pe' Manga, a very simple restaurant but the food was so nice and so well prepared. Fresh home made pasta, very light to the taste with a sauce of mushrooms and radicchio, as a Segundo I had polpete (roman meat balls) with cooked chicory with a bit of garlic, so nice. A very nice house white wine and water. It was a nice evening and a quiet way to celebrate with good friends. All part of our memories of Rome, we will carry with us.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Concert in Corinth

On Saturday night we drove with friends from Athens to Corinth about 80 Km to attend a concert of G.F.Handel arias, this year 2009 marks the 250th anniversary of his death. The artists were friends of the people we drove down with and we got to speak with them and the Maestro after the concert at dinner. The backdrop was the 2800 yrs old archaic style Temple of Apollo in Corinth, god of music and we also had a view of the gulf of Corinth. The sky was clear and we could see so many constellations out in the country side, I was thinking how the ancient Greeks has assigned names and stories to the constellations, which have come to us.

It was a very nice evening and it was only 29C in late evening instead of the 34C in Athens. A gentle breeze just made things a little cooler. After the concert we had dinner at midnight on the old square of Corinth surrounded by the ruins of the temples and other antique buildings, everyone was having dinner as is the fashion in Greece, very late, probably because any earlier would be too hot to eat anything.

As I listened to the music, I thought what a wonderful setting for a concert and such a unique one. We had been to Corinth about 10 yrs ago early on a Sunday morning and it was quiet then and you could walk amongst the ruins, nowadays you have to follow a clearly marked path to avoid damaging the ancient monuments, it is the same for all other sites in Greece.

Of course on the way to Corinth you cross on the highway the Canal of Corinth which was started by Emperor Nero in 67 AD and then abandoned as too technically difficult for the time despite more than 6000 slaves working on it. It was only completed in 1895 with great difficulty, it has a lenght of 6303 meters, making of the Peloponnese an island.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

I remember some 40 yrs ago today when Apollo landed on the Moon, we watched it on TV in the backyard of my uncles house, we were having a Bar-B-Q. It was amazing almost hard to believe that men where on the moon walking. I remember thinking that the Moon would not be the same after this landing. It would no longer be so mysterious, so much the stuff of dreams. On this anniversary I am in Athens and will be looking at the moon tonite thinking of that evening when I was a boy in my uncle’s backyard in Montreal.

What a wonderful time it was.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Wonder of wonders, new Acropolis Museum Athens

Today I went to see the new Acropolis Museum in Athens which opened 3 weeks ago. It is entirely devoted to the Acropolis and to the Temples on this rocky hill in the Centre of Athens.
I learned a lot today and it made my day. It is very well presented, beautifully displayed and the artifacts are truly unique, some pieces come from the temple prior to the Parthenon we know today. Presented to you on 3 floors is the history of Attica and its people and how they developed a worship of the Goddess Athena some 2800 years ago.

I was in awe just walking through this museum, to see things I had heard about all my life and finally being able to look at them up close. Artistically it is very refined and it also tells you the story of a people through heroic epics, myths and legends. There are also rare objects and some I was surprised still existed, like the dedication tablets of the temple. I also learned how people through the ages until fairly recently vandalized the Parthenon and other temples because they had forgotten their own history and what this site represents for humanity. Ignorance is a terrible thing. Today the Acropolis and the Parthenon are as majestic as ever and the conservation work enhances these treasures.

If you come to Athens and only visit the Museum of the Acropolis, the visit itself will be worth the trip.

Sunday, 12 July 2009


I arrived this afternoon in Athens, the weather scattered clouds and sunshine. My previous post had Melina Mercouri singing and now sitting on the balcony of my hotel room I am looking at the Olympian Zeus Temple and the ancient Olympic stadium behind. My hotel is in the Plaka and behind it is the Acropolis. Could not be better, well maybe if Will was here too.

To listen to her sing, her monument is just a few steps away, and looking out at Athens is really great.
Many people say they prefer Rome, but you know that when you look at the ruins here, this is the original stuff and it is more evocative.
Going for a walk now to see if I can get tickets for the New Acropolis Museum, only 1 Euro.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Giotto as in G-8

The name of the early Renaissance painter Giotto is pronounced in Italian like G-8 and today the meeting of the 8 industrialize countries forming this group opened in the devastated town of L'Aquila where 25,000 people still live in tents amid the ruins of their old city. The leaders are housed in the army barracks of L'Aquila spared by the earthquake of this winter which destroyed a good part of this city.

So the running joke in Italian has been the question; Are you going to the G-8 ? Pronounced as Giotto as if you meant are you going to the exhibit of paintings by Giotto which was on show here in Rome until a few days ago.

Giotto di Bondone was born in Romignano, 1267 and died in Florence, 8 January 1337. He was a painter, sculptor and architect whose work were at the origin of the renewal in western art which led to the Renaissance movement in Italy.

An interesting photo also today in the newspaper La Repubblica which showed the Via Veneto in Rome being blocked by police.
The caption says: Protesters blocked by Police. If you look at the picture what you see are people with big cameras, tripods, big lens and other photographic equipment, now what kind of protester would have all that to carry around with them? As for the protesters none seen so far in Rome.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

a favorite song

I am going to Athens for work in a week's time and I always enjoy my trips to Greece. It is such a wonderful country and there is so much to see. The scenery of the geography makes it spectacular, the food, the people. And then there is the unforgettable Melina Mercouri, actress, singer and politician.

She died many years ago but remains immortal, a woman of ideals, intelligence and of great beauty, who in her life had so many achievements.

To my upcoming trip to Greece.

Spoleto the Festival of the Two Worlds, 52 Edition

We drove to Spoleto on the A1 North highway direction Florence on Saturday. It's a 90 minute drive the last 25 minutes is in the mountains as you climb up on a two lane road full of curves. A pleasant drive, traffic was light.
Spoleto has a festival in late June and early July founded some 52 yrs ago by GianCarlo Menotti, it's an international music festival with great and not so well known names featured. It was linked as a Festival for many years to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, N.C. but this has gone by the wayside following a dispute years ago.

Spoleto is a beautiful ancient small town, per example there is a gate on one of the small hillside street where 2500 yrs ago Hannibal and his elephants were stopped by the Roman Army and defeated. The City today is a medieval town with a huge castle newly restored to its former glory above the town, a great Cathedral and many ancient churches, convent and cloisters.

Spoleto is also truffle country, local dishes have truffles in everything, simply beautiful and so good, excellent white wines by the Cantina Baldessari company and good cheeses also with truffles.

We parked just outside the old walls and simply walked around, it is so small that the whole city can be seen in one day, though 2 days is better is you wish to appreciate what you see and try out the food in one of the many excellent restaurants. We returned to one such restaurant for lunch prior to the theatre. Giving ourselves a good 2 and a half hours to enjoy our wonderful lunch in a old garden surrounded by ancient walls and climbing roses. I had a frittata with truffles and a bruschetta with truffles, so good and has a main course some good Tuscan beef sliced on a bed of rucola and thin slices of Parmesan and roasted potatoes with rosemary.

After lunch to the play we go, it was written around 1925 by Sacha Guitry, the great French playwright of the XXth century for his wife Yvonne Printemps, who in the 20's and 30's was a great and famous Boulevard Music Hall actress and singer in Paris. There's a full orchestra and dancing and singing to accompany the dialogue. The play is somewhat a strange affair, it is about a visit by Mozart as a young man to a French Baron's house in Paris around 1900. The link is that Mozart as a child visiting Paris with his father Leopold 100 years previously, had played on a harpsichord in the Baron's house. Mozart is a tiresome genius, self-centered and seduces all the ladies of the house with his entreaties.
This is very implausible as a plot line but in the end you realize that this visitor has made the different couples in the house appreciate their love for each other and realize that Mozart's was a sort of spirit who appears and teases mortals to show them the folly of their ways.
The play was in French with subtitles in Italian. It was not a piece of fluff as it might at first glance appear, it had a serious theme underneath.

The play was presented in the chapel of an ancient cloister San Nicolo built in 1191, the walls had remnants of medieval frescoes of Saints and other biblical scenes.
After the play we wanted to walk around Spoleto, unfortunately for us a thunderstorm appeared and we had to retreat to a cafe for drinks, but like all cafes in Italy, the drinks came with nuts, olives, pickles and white peal onions, bread sticks with prosciuto, etc... after 90 minutes we decided to drive back to Rome. Of course the minute we got into the car the rain stopped and blue skies appeared.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Dominion Day in Canada and in Rome

This week was the 142 Anniversary of Dominion Day or as we call it today Canada Day on 1 July. I like to think that Canada in fact started in the summer of 1534 when Jacques Cartier landed in the Gaspé off the Gulf of St-Lawrence. My family has been in Canada since 1682 so to me this is more like 475 yrs old. Canada is not really a young country, in terms of modern political nation it is one of the oldest. Italy as we know it today was born in 1861, Germany 1870, and many other countries in Europe are younger.

For this Canada Day in Rome, we were invited to the Residence of the Ambassador of Canada to the Italian Republic at Villa Grandi just above the ancient Terme di Caracalla a spectacular site. It was a beautiful reception and the Ambassador gave a short but very good speech. We had a tenor from Vancouver to sing the National Anthem and the food was great. About 100 people were invited.

Canada as a Kingdom (Dominion) has 2 anthems one Royal and one National, I always like it when they are played together.
Happy Canada Day!