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.