Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Alicia de Larrocha, Adios!

On Friday 25 September the great Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha died in Barcelona. She is one of two pianists I have always loved, Claudio Arrau of Chile is the other one. Both were great and wonderful pianists, the had a fluid touch on the ivory and were true masters of the classical genre. Alicia de Larrocha had the talent to make anyone appreciate the piano pieces she played. She made it accessible to all. It was just beautiful and you could enjoy it for the sheer pleasure of it. She was a great master, someone who understands music and knows how to communicate all those notes and harmony to an audience, simply and easily.

Gracias, Alicia, por tantos años de música genial, de pasión y de sinceridad !!.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


We were in Florence last weekend for a few days. Wonderful food, the specialty since antiquity is Tuscan Beef, great steaks, very good restaurants, thanks to our Gambero Rosso guide book (the Italian Michelin). The hotel was fine but the internet was not, you can never tell in Italy with the internet, it is very spotty in most cases and hotels do not seems to understand this new technology, they can either offer it for free or charge upwards of 22 Euros a day for the service, which will still be poor or non existent. You see the internet interfere with good old fashion socializing according to the Italians.

Florence has an incredible array of museums and art collections thanks to the Medici Family who as Grand Dukes of Tuscany and Lorraine had the power and the influence to set the tone for centuries in the art world. The family died out in 1743 but by that time their work was done and they were related by marriage to the Hapsburg of Austria, so their legacy lives on. We visited some churches and cloisters and the Pitti Palace built by Luca Pitti and bought by the Medici as their seat of government for their Duchy. They had other palaces and villas everywhere including here in Rome, the famous Villa of Cardinal Medici at the top of the Spanish steps also known as the seat of the French Academy in Rome. Many famous people lived in Florence, Dante the great Italian Poet has his house near the Duomo, Dostoyevsky wrote L'idiot in Florence, Elizabeth Browning is buried in Florence, and of course Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote the celebrated book The Prince around 1500, worked in Florence. The list of the famous artists and noteworthy persons goes on and on.

We did not try to enter the Uffizi or the Academy of Fine Arts because the lines and waiting time was far too long, 3 days in some cases, far too many tourists in town. Will and I were saying there is just so many classical paintings you can see in one's life time, we will wait for February when no one is around and return to Florence, it is only 90 minutes away from Rome. So we can go for lunch if we want.

As part of the Pitti Palace, the Boboli gardens which is the hill behind the palace is beautiful and has breathtaking views of the city. One exhibit which sort of freaked me out in the Pitti Palace, was fashions and costumes for the last 500 years, all very interesting until the last room, in it was displayed the burial clothing of Cosimo the First Medici, his wife Eleonora di Toledo and their son.

At first I did not understand what it meant or what I was looking at, I read the information sheet and it explained that in 1947 for purely ethnological reasons, the tomb of the Prince was opened, the researchers wanted to know if he and his wife and son had been buried in clothing designed for a burial or if it was simply everyday clothing of the Medici Court. What I was looking at was the clothing they wore in their mausoleum for 450 years. The clothing was removed from the corpses and is now on display or what is left of it, it is all a bit ghoulish, though it shows that it was not special clothing for the occasion of their death. The Medici family are buried in a sumptuous mausoleum of colored marbles and semi-precious stones by the Church of San Lorenzo in the center of the city. I liked the tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent by Michaelangelo Buonaroti, beautiful, simple and un-finished, the artist left for Rome never to return to work on other projects like St-Peter's Basilica.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Patience is always rewarded!

Today Will surprised me, he went to my favorite toy store in Rome on Piazza Reppublica near the Massimo Museum and bought me a complete set of the Carabinieri Marching Band. I had been thinking about it for a while but these little guys at 54mm painted figurines are expensive. They are beautiful, each one has a different facial expression, consider that their faces are about 1mm total that is very small. Their uniforms are detailed and each detail is carefully done, even the brass instruments have a well used look. Will said that he bought them to thank me for being patient. He is so sweet. Lead soldiers are my idea of a perfect gift.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Escorts train for flag raising CCTV-International

Escorts train for flag raising CCTV-International

Shared via AddThis

I was looking for the upcoming celebration of the New China 1949-2009 anniversary. CCTV Central China TV channel 9 which I use to watch has lots of items and this one I thought interesting. I also scored high on the quizz on my knowledge of Chinese Military Parades.

I remember how precise the soldiers were in marching formations. This also applied to many other facets of the image given of the State. CCTV also has items on Taiwan, continuing the propaganda of reunification.
CCTV in its coverage of the up-coming celebration puts the emphasis on the Sacred mission for the Party and the people.

It will demonstrate the positive image of China as a country seeking peaceful development, the military power of China's army to safeguard national security and uphold world peace, and boost the self esteem and pride of the Chinese nation," said Senior Colonel Guo Zhigang, deputy head of the training camp preparing the units that will march through Beijing.
Officials are taking no risks with their A-list performers, who have been training for months in the specially-built parade village beside an old runway on the outskirts of Beijing, where the elite group drills for eight hours a day, rain or shine.
"The mission to participate in the parade is a sacred mission, given by the Party and the people," Guo said, adding that many had given up comfortable jobs and good salaries for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The troops - unusually tall for China with a minimum height of 180 cm (5 feet, 11 inches) for men, and 165 cm (5 feet, 5 inches) for women - are almost ready for the parade after months of preparation. They have not been allowed off the base even once.

The zeal found only in Totalitarian State like China. North Korea the little brother to the East is also good at this type of imaging.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

On a Sunday afternoon in Rome

Today we went for a noon hour concert at the Parco della Musica to hear the marching band of the Carabinieri. This police force is the National Police of Italy, they guard officials and Embassies and also perform work similar to the FBI. They are also a para-military organization and have in time of war participated in battles. Today we listened to a concert of operatic work performed by the marching band, there is also the horseback version for those who prefer mounted music bands. They were accompanied by the Choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, whom we have heard many times before and is an excellent choir.

This concert was in the annual series entitled Belcanto offered by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. They played several pieces including the Carabinieri March "La Fedelissima'' and closed with the great Italian patriotic aria from the opera of G. Verdi Nabucco, Va' pensiero. The concert was dedicated to the 6 Italian soldiers killed this past week in Kabul, Afghanistan. Canada also lost 2 soldiers this week, up to 132 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan so far, our mission ends in 2011.

What I love of the Arma dei Carabinieri is their 1800's uniform with all the details of great military uniforms of times gone by. It is not unusual to encounter Carabinieri officers with their oak and laurel silver tread uniform collars, great capes and white gloves and great cavalry sabres on duty. The whole idea is that the respect inspired by the Carabinieri is such that any criminal would give up just at the sight of such a person.

On this video, the Carabinieri play their march on the steps of the Church of the Gesu built by Cardinal Farnese in Rome. This Jesuit church is the parish of the people of Rome.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

the weather has turned

Fall is in the air, violent thunderstorms and rain, humidity from the sea shore and the chaos that is Rome.
Cleared a lot of files in the last few weeks and made a lot of progress on many old files that needed a final resolution so we could turn the page.
I heard yesterday quite by accident that a person who had given me quite a lot of troubles and grief in 1995 at work had been fired 3 yrs ago for malfeasance. I could hardly believe it. I had blown the whistle on what was going on but no one was listening or so I thought. It turns out that someone was listening and quietly went about looking into the matter. But like all things you have to catch them at it. That is what happened. I feel vindicated after all these years. It only goes to show, what goes around comes around. She probably never thought she would get caught.

This is not the first case I see of people who behave badly and are finally caught, it may take years but Fate finally intervenes, in a way that is my idea of justice. Not a big administration and a process but simply events unfolding to their conclusion.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Orvieto, Umbria

Last weekend for Labour Day we drove 120Km to Orvieto which is just north of Rome in Umbria, known as Tuscany's little sister.
Orvieto is on a hill top like most small cities in Umbria. It is a fairly small town with one spectacular Cathedral far too big for such a small place. The story goes that in 1290 there was a miracle in the town next door. The priest saying Mass at consecration dropped the host unto the cloth on the Altar, the host bled real blood said to be that of the Savior. Needless to say the story reached Rome and the Pope in no time at all. The bishop of Orvieto was most anxious to see this Altar Cloth for himself. So he arranged to have the cloth brought to his church in Orvieto and invited the Pope at the same time to come up for a visit. So the Pope came with Cardinals and all the Court of the Vatican to see this miracle of the said real blood of Christ. While the Pope was examining the Altar Cloth and the blood stains, the Bishop suggested to the Holy Father that a Cathedral should be built in Orvieto as a shrine for this miraculous cloth.

The Pope none the wiser that the cloth actually belonged to another church in another town agreed. By doing so he started a pilgrimage industry in Orvieto which continued for centuries into the Renaissance period. So Orvieto got to keep the Altar Cloth and for 300 years a new Cathedral lavishly decorated was constructed to house this precious relic. You can see it today in the side Chapel. The Church itself has wonderful fresco paintings illustrating the scenes of the last judgement and other biblical passages relating to the childhood and life of Christ. Orvieto also has great wines, truffles and cheeses and other fine buildings and it is a beautiful town to visit. From a distance the Cathedral with its coloured mosaic front stands out as you approach the city. Today tourists come to Orvieto for the architecture and the beauty of this small town and it's great church art. The blood stain cloth is still displayed above the altar but I could not help thinking that it did not mean much to us today in this cynical world compared to the days of old in the Middle-Ages.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Jewels from Boulgaris to Bulgari

This weekend we went to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni on Via Nazionale in the centre of Rome to view a retrospective of the creations of the famous jeweler Bulgari. The Boulgaris family came to Italy from Epirus in Greece in 1881, they quickly became a well known name for beautiful designs in jewel pieces. On show some 400 million Euros worth of diamonds, sapphires, rubies and other precious gems mounted in platinum or white gold or other precious metals. White and yellow gold Snake bracelets hiding a watch in the mouth of the serpent. Bouquet of flowers brooch made from various coloured gems in cut diamond vases. Rings with huge precious stones, necklaces of pearls and gems, etc... each piece more dazzling than the other.

The exhibit displayed by decade the progression of fashion and changing taste for expensive jewelery, the 1920-30 the 1940-50 and so on. Elizabeth Taylor, Mrs. Revson (Revlon Cosmetics) and Anna Magnani's Estate allowed their personal collection of magnificent necklaces, bracelets, rings and other jewels to be displayed. Amazing what a bunch of little rocks can do and the price they can fetch. Richard Burton use to say that he taught his wife Liz Taylor to drink beer and she taught him how to buy precious jewels for her. Apparently it was a kind of therapy for Liz to receive jewels, the more magnificent the piece, the happier she felt.

Many of Bulgari designs and jewellery pieces appear in movies or commercials of the last 60 years, the exhibit had screens mounted amongst the displays, playing bits of well known movies and commercials focusing on Bulgari jewels worn by models and actresses.

Bulgari today is run by the third generation and is still synonymous with luxury, beauty and extravagance. I only wish I could afford one piece of Bulgari but even a watch is out of price for my budget. One can always dream.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Dining in Rome

Last night we went to a restaurant in the old Jewish Ghetto of Rome. The area is alongside the Tiber and by the Teatro di Marcello (nephew of Augustus) and the Portico d'Ottavia (sister of Augustus). The area in antiquity was built by Augustus outside Rome, it was considered the Suburbia (suburb), though it is immediately next to Roman Forum. In the middle-ages the area was the fish market of Rome and until the 20th Century it was thus. The Jews lived inside this precinct surrounded by walls and gates and were locked in at night. Today the area is quite beautiful and surrounded by a lively neighborhood. Only a few Jewish families still live in the shadow of the great Synagogue of Rome. Many shops and Kosher restaurants maintain the Jewish traditions of this old Roman neighborhood.

We went to La taverna del Ghetto, Via Portico d'Ottavia 8 (, the food was wonderful with a good wine selection and friendly service. We ate outside on tables set-up on the sidewalk surrounded by the ruins of the Portico. The area is charming and has a lot of character. The menu is kosher and offers many dishes of fish, meat mostly lamb and poultry. Many dishes are also both Roman and Jewish in character, Jews have lived in Rome for 3000 years, as a community, they are part and parcel of this city and its evolution through the ages.

I had an antipasto of Spiced Chicken liver pate and then a grilled Tuna steak with a side dish of spinach in lemon juice and garlic.
Will had an antipasto of oven roasted tomatoes in olive oil, with chopped garlic and parsley and as a main veal goulash with a side dish of roasted potatoes. Quite a good meal.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Dog training

Well school started today for Nicky and Nora those two lovable killer attack wirehair Dachshunds. We were despairing given their pedigree, Hungarian-Italian hunting dogs of ever being able to go out in public with them. So we hired a trainer to come to our house to give them some lessons on proper behaviour. This also involves us learning about dog psychology and what humans need to do to get respect from their hounds. Lesson one, it is all about status. Did you know that dog respect authority and hierarchy, you got to know your place in this world for things to go better.
Lesson two it is all about calm and patience and using a low voice, no shouting or throwing things at your dog or hitting the dog.
Teacher was adamant about that. She demonstrated and I have to say I was speechless, wild animated dog becomes in a flick of a second obedient and quiet dog, mesmerize by the trainer's voice.
3. Dogs can be bought off, using treats and command and a bit of psychology. We practiced with her in the proper language and command and body posture, really easy and amazing, it works. We were able to stop in minutes annoying behaviour. Nora loves to bark at noise in general, well by using clanging keys and a word of praise, no more barking. When we walk both of them they love to pick up just about anything on the streets and given the filth on the streets of Rome, it can be dangerous for the dog. Again the clanging keys, stops the behaviour. Next week we will go to other training lessons on walking and coming at voice command and walking without a leash, etc.... Maybe next few months they can go to hunting school and learn like their moms how to become European Hunting Champions in wild boar hunts. Think all the free meat for roasting we would get this way. They are so cute.