Sunday, 29 August 2010

BBC Radio World Service

I was posted to Cairo in 1989, I had a Sony short wave radio which I would put in my car a VW Jetta. It picked up the BBC World Service signal quite easily no matter where I went in Cairo or Egypt. The theme is a popular song or military march that Henry Purcell adapted and called Lillibullero, it played on the hour for the news broadcast. This was the old BBC not the sad British CNN it has become today due to budget cuts and shortfalls. In many ways it was that Britain between Churchill and Thatcher, years before the buffoonery of Tony Blair.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

What is wrong with this picture

by John Cole, Scranton Times Tribune.

Today in Washington DC, on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where 47 years ago the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech, I have a dream, what is being described in European news broadcast as extreme right wing activist who wish for a White Christian America and a whiter White House gathered to protest and listen to speeches.

Fascist leaders 70 years ago made similar speeches in Europe, offering simple solutions to anyone and everyone's problems or perceived problems, always invoking tyranny of Government, freedom and liberty under siege, endangered birth rights. In the USA the Religious Right wing which forms a good 40% of the Republican Party, if not more and the new extremists the Tea Party are the same people who in the past have been against desegregation of schools in the USA, voter registration for blacks, against the abolition of the death penalty, abortions, women's rights, sex education in schools, against all who are not white nor Christians, against other religions, Gay rights, in other words against the advancement of society in general because it attacks, according to them, their rights as White Christians to dominate the political agenda in the USA and control all leavers of society.

It is strange to see a country which loves to tell everyone that it is the land of the Free and the home of the Brave holding such a rally. The message here being delivered by persons like Beck and Palin is simple, we want to deny basic citizens rights to other American citizens we do not like and who in our minds offend us. Beck and Palin and others are not Civil Rights activists and did nothing now or back then, if they were alive in the 1950's and 1960's to support such rights. The extremist Republicans, Abraham Lincoln aside, are not in favor of Civil Rights. Unfortunately the level headed and moderate Republicans are swept aside here as the latest primary results showed.

How can this be in a democracy that one part of the citizens can deny other citizens their rights as citizens. It is not about controlling government excess or stopping tyranny. You have a freely elected Congress and Senate representing the people, that's their job. The extremists would like to deny basic health care to other citizens because they are unable to afford decent care, or deny some citizens the right to marry because the extremists have a fantasy view of marriage inherited from the Victorian era, or deny due process to people who entered the USA without legal means and the list goes on.

To me this is nothing more than the Klu Klux Klan modern version minus the bed sheets. All this opposition to President Obama is simply because he is not white, racism is well and alive in the USA and embraced by scores of White Christian Americans as a virtue.

The debate about the Islamic cultural centre in Manhattan near ground zero is based on ignorance, racism and hate. What if a Mosque is built on ground zero incorporated into the design of the new Freedom tower, it is a place of worship, of prayer to God, the same God of the Old Testament. You do have freedom of religion in the USA, not just freedom to worship Christian values, which by the way are the same as Jewish and Muslim values, as anyone who studied these 3 religions know. No it seems that the White Christians, politicians and commentators on FOX and in other media outlet feel it is OK to vent their ignorance in public if it brings in notoriety, votes, etc...

In the end it is very dangerous for the USA as a democracy and a society, a country deeply in debt to the People's Republic of China, a country which has lost much of its prestige by loosing both in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, a great power on the decline with many of its citizens unable to face reality and what is happening within their own borders.

It is all very sad to see, I only wish that reason prevail in the end, but that is probably wishing for too much.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Back to work

Today was my first day back at work after my summer vacation, I did not sleep well last night and was a bit tired today. Well summer is ending and amongst my emails today waiting was "The List" , yes the list of choices for the future, for summer 2011, where will we go? This time around, I do not know what to make of the list, not many choices of interest to me, after all these years and all the travel. There are so many things to consider. The names have changed I do not know most of the people on the list, new recruits, so few familiar faces left, all retired. Our life in Rome is fairly comfortable, despite the fact that Rome can be a difficult city to live in at the best of times, with its high density, traffic,noise,chaos, tourists. Where do you go from here, what other city compares. I have lived in Beijing,Cairo,Mexico City, Chicago,Warsaw, Amman, all have their qualities but Rome is unlike all others, probably because it is the city that symbolizes western cultures like Athens is the symbol of western democracy and values. But Rome also has that style, la bella figura that you do not encounter anywhere else.

I am also tired of moving and soon enough we will have to think hard about the move and all that it implies. Well for the time being let's keep on smiling and enjoy Rome.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

On a quiet Sunday in Rome, August 22.

We returned yesterday morning from our vacation on the east coast and central part of Italy. Contrary to many who go to Tuscany, we have so far pretty much avoided it and concentrated instead with other provinces of Italy, such as Le Marche, Umbria, Emilia-Romagna and Lazio. In the summer heat, places to avoid are Florence,Verona and Venice where everyone and their uncle will be. Best to see those cities in early Spring, Fall or Winter, when few people are around and the climate is cooler.

On this trip we visited Pesaro, Rimini, Urbino, Assisi and Perugia. We had very nice weather except for one day of rain. Driving was not too stressful but you have to remember that in Italy on the highway there are 2 lanes one for drivers going 90 Km an hour and the other lane going at 160 to 200 km per hour. There is no in between and I am not always comfortable going at high speed, though the roads are excellent and well maintained, it’s the other driver and the tourist who rented a car that make me nervous.
at our hotel in Assisi.

On our way home from Assisi, in the last 40 km before entering Rome, on the opposite side of the highway going out of Rome, a huge column of cars stopped in a massive traffic jam, ISO Radio 103.5 was giving out traffic bulletin. It seems that the highway A-1 towards Florence is always blocked by some kind of incident.

This was a very nice vacation, we had excellent meals at half the cost of Rome, we bought wines from Le Marche, met some nice people, stayed in nice hotels, had a quiet time, one of the 3 operas I liked, mostly because the staging in the other two was far too experimental and was distracting and annoying at times. By far La Cenerentola by Rossini is my favorite of his compositions.

We also went shopping for shoes and clothes, found some great items on sale 50 to 70% off, end of season.
Fall fashion is already out, in this hot weather, it puts me off just to look at the window display.

We bought wines in Pesaro from the Accaj Sisters at their Enoteca which is housed in a 12 century chapel with a great underground vaulted brick cellar. All the wines are different from last year’s selection. We tasted some of them and others we bought at the recommendation of the sisters. Funny thing happened, we had the cases delivered to our hotel, they were kept at the Reception desk and on departure, the bellhop put it all in the car. I thought nothing of it, all was in order, when we arrived in Rome at home, I suddenly realized that one case was not a case at all but a big ledger book of all the hotel’s business correspondence and accounts for August. It was put in the car by mistake, no wine bottles missing.
Wines from the Marche region of Italy.

I phoned the hotel to let them know I had the ledger, they were much relieved as they had been looking for it everywhere and could not understand what had happened to it. It will be returned promptly to them by post.

In Assisi what I liked most was not the Franciscan church or the tomb of the Saint or the Giotto frescoes, no it was the excellent restaurant we went to 3 times, the food was that good and really well presented. I was a little uncomfortable in Assisi, as I said to W. it has an air of Christian Taliban, many people walking in a religion induce daze like drug addicts, Marx was right, religion is an opium.

They also have these so called international centres for dialogue, supposedly inter-faith, what it really means is, we talk, you listen. The other thing I noticed in Assisi is the lack of poor people, beggars or anyone seeking refuge. The Papal police (actual Vatican security see badge) patrol and anyone loitering is taken off the street pronto. Also at night the monks come out in group of threes and sit here and there watching the crowd, apparently to offer spiritual guidance, it looks more like the Inquisition about to pounce on anyone having too much fun.
Restoration work of Giotto frescoes in San Nicolo chapel.

The Giottos in the Basilica, must have been nice a long time ago, they are being restored now but the colors are terribly faded and they come out flat. It is interesting as a period painting technique but not much more. All of it is also a cycle of religious stories, martyrdom, last judgement and death. Painted in the Middle-Ages when life was short and brutal, full of diseases and dangers, in a repressed world, the message is or was life here is short and awful but wait until you die, it should get better. In fact I said to W. the whole place looks like a movie set for Lord of the Rings.

We were ready to come home after being on the road for about 12 days as nice as it was. Puppies were happy to see us and we found Rome, quiet and deserted, streets free of traffic but with oppressive heat. Arrived just in time to buy a few things at the grocery store before they close at 2pm. With most stores closed for the holidays, streets are deserted, only a few restaurants are open but largely empty of customers, this is how I like Rome the best, quiet.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Perugia, Umbria

This morning after breakfast we decided to spend the day in Perugia which is located about 21 km from Assisi. At first we thought we would take the bus over since it is so close. We quickly found out that the bus runs only 4 times a day at odd hours so we opted for a taxi ride instead. In Perugia we went straight to Piazza Italia in the centre of town and took the Perugia City tour open air mini-bus, it’s a wonderful way to see the whole city from one end to the other. Though it is not an extended city and distances between two points are not that far, the city is built on a hill and again going from one area to the next means a lot of walking on very steep streets, up long staircase of 100 steeps or more and everything is on an incline. The open air mini-bus takes you everywhere, you have commentaries in 4 languages it is informative and fun all in one, without being exhausted in the hot summer sun.
The Council Chamber or Room of the Notaries, where city council meets in Perugia. The Coats of Arms on the walls show that the city supported the Holy Roman Emperor against the Pope in Rome.
The Palace of Notables in Perugia's in the Piazza del Duomo.

Perugia or Perusia as it was known by the Etruscan some 3000 years ago as always been an important city in Umbria because of its geographical position, access to fresh water from the mountains, hot mineral springs and being on major trade routes in a very fertile valley. It was also the last place where the Etruscan language was spoken and written until the final defeat of the supporters and friends of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra at the hands of Augustus, nephew of the late Julius Ceasar. The main city gate proclaims AUGUSTA PERUSIA, clearly indicating that the city fell into the hands of the imperial army and all supporters of Mark Anthony and most of the Etruscan nobles were killed in a final settling of scores. In later history closer to us, you have the continual battle between the people of Perugia and the army of the Pope. The people wanted to be independent but the Pope wanted to be their ruler for economic reasons. The Salt war of 1453 saw the defeat of the people when Pope Paul III Farnese conquered the city and imposed a salt tax. His tax was 6 cents a pound of salt instead of the 3 cents a pound people had been paying to Siena for white and clean salt, compared to the black dirty salt the Pope was selling. To this day the bread made in Perugia has no salt. The Pope also had an enormous fortress ‘’Paolina ‘’built on the highest point of Perugia, it was demolished by the people at the Liberation of the city by Garibaldi in 1860.
The Etruscan gate of Perugia with the inscription Augusta Perusia.
The deconsecrated Church of Saint Dominic, today the museum of archeology.

Perugia has the oldest university in Europe established in 1308. Beautiful museums and churches including the massive Duomo of San Lorenzo which has in a side chapel the wedding ring of the Virgin Mary.
This is our last day on the road and tomorrow we return to puppies and our home in Rome.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The trip continues, now in Umbria.

We left Pesaro, loaded with excellent wines from Le Marche and drove to our next stop about an hour away in the mountains, the road is one of beautiful countryside and panoramic vistas to Gubbio. Unfortunately on arrival we discovered that this small town was the setting for a motorcycle race, lots of visitors and a massive traffic jam. Gubbio is very small, you blink, you missed it, it is an old town with walls, gates and narrow streets made for ox carts not cars, little or no parking. So after 30 minutes we decided to push on to Assisi, which is only a short distance away. This is the birthplace of St-Francis, his family were well to do people, he lived here and died here, not a long life, he was about 45 yrs old when he died in 1226. The city is located on a steep hill, again lots of stairs and very steep narrow streets, little alleys all shared between a few cars and all the tourists in town.
Basilica of St-Francis of Assisi.

The big attraction is the Papal Basilica, lower and upper sections, of St-Francis with its many frescoes painted by Giotto. One chapel, that of St-Nicolo is currently undergoing major cleaning and we were able to visit by special permission the site. An interesting story about this chapel involves the Orsini family, who are amongst the famous princely families of Italy. Cardinal Prince Napoleone Orsini managed to have a rule changed allowing people to be buried in side chapels of major churches around 1292. His younger brother Gian Gaetano had died after falling off his horse, the Cardinal used this new rule to have his brother and later himself buried in the side chapel next to the tomb of St-Francis.
Giotto decorated the walls and ceiling with various biblical stories but also with two major frescoes of the brothers being introduced to Christ by other saints and the Virgin Mary. The Orsini coat of Arms also appears 56 times on the walls and windows, so that you could not forget who was buried here. This new rule was widely used afterwards by the mighty and the powerful to have themselves buried next to Saints in Churches, a practice not open to ordinary mortals given the expense involved.
a street in Assisi.

Assisi is built of stone and has undergone massive reconstruction and repair after the devastating earthquake of 1997. The frescoes of Giotto had been severely damaged, many collapsing on the floor of churches, the restorer had to use the technique of the giant puzzle to put them back together, an extremely difficult task. This year marks the 800 anniversary of the creation of the Franciscan order.

Assisi like many sites devoted to a major Saint has its busload of tourists, cheap restaurants and souvenir shops, however it is not gaudy. It also has a lot of legends and myths surrounding the saint, it is all open to interpretation and it is largely a question of faith. Reality is mixed in with fantasy, like the love affair between St-Clare (Chiara in Italian) and St-Francis, who is another major saint in Italy, she too came from a wealthy aristocratic family. For the period Claire was an assertive woman and she left her mark on the Church.

Other Saints like Ruffino, Bishop of Assisi and Damiano also appear mixed into the story of Assisi. As for the Franciscans, they confine themselves to their cloister and the basilica, you will not see many on the streets. The order today has little to do with what St-Francis practiced or preached, it has grown into a wealthy congregation, owning multi-million dollar properties and priceless works of art. The same can be said for the order of St-Clare, also known as the Poor Clares, who despite vows of poverty are an extremely rich congregation.
Assisi vista from our hotel room window.

Assisi also has one excellent restaurant, the Nuova Osteria La Piazetta del’Erba on Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, we had 2 very good meals, imaginative cuisine, beautiful presentation, pleasant garden setting, excellent wine list and the owner and staff are very knowledgeable. All being said, you can do Assisi in one day and one night and then move on to Perugia or Spoleto both visible from Assisi and are at opposite ends of the valley.

Tomorrow Friday, we go to Perugia which is only 20 Km away and clearly visible across the valley from our hotel room window.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Rimini by train

This morning we walked to the Pesaro Train station after our breakfast at the Vaccaj sisters Enoteca and bought tickets to Rimini, which is just 20 minutes away. I wanted to see Rimini because of the movie by Federico Fellini, Amarcord (1973). It is my favorite movie of all times, I have seen it about a dozen times at least and I never tire of it. The storyline is simple enough, it’s Fellini’s boyhood recollection of the town around 1926 to 1938, just before the war, when Mussolini was still popular, for some, in Italy. The story revolves around his family and his friends at school, the local priest, his mother, his crazy uncle, the lady of the tobacco shop with the generous bossoms, his old grandfather and his father who was a communist. Fellini laughs at the Fascist and their simplistic ideas for a better world and the Royal house of Savoy for their pretentions. It is also a goodbye to an Italy that no longer exist, an Italy of poverty, when life was still pretty basic, a small close world. The best a the pretty local girl could aspire too, was to marry a Carabinieri and move to Rome.

The train to Rimini is the Regional train which starts somewhere south and ends in Venice with many stops along the way. Rimini station is rather pretty, a belle époque building, circa 1890. We followed the old town circuit first stopping at the Tempio Malatestiano, a church built but never completed by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, Podesta (chief magistrate) of Rimini 1453 to himself and his family. It is unfinished due to the fact that the Malatesta where excommunicated by Pope Pius II in 1460, this church was originally a Franciscan church and Sigismondo took it over, robbed marble from another Christian saint tomb to built his memorial church to himself and his lover Isotta. Inside the usual memorials to the Malatesta family, their symbol was an elephant, the motif appears everywhere, Pope Pius II so much hated Sigismondo that he declared the church to be a Pagan temple, despite this pronouncement it is today the Cathedral of Rimini.

Cathedral of Rimini, Tempio Malatestiana.

Rimini is also famous for Francesca da Polenta da Rimini, who was promised in marriage to one Malatesta brother, the good looking one, Paolo, only to find out on her wedding day that she was to marry the ugly, deformed and older brother Giovanni who in 1285 had her and his brother murdered because he discovered their affair, Dante captures the whole thing in his Divine Comedy. The Malatesta lost it all in 1500 when Cesar Borgia, a good and strong supporter of the Pope defeated them and gave their estate Rimini to the Pope to rule.

We continued to walk towards the Augustus gate C. 14 AD which marks the end of the Flaminian way which starts in Rome on Piazza Venezia. We then crossed the old town towards the Bridge of Tiberius made of Istrian stone and built between 14 and 21 AD, it is still in use and very solid, accommodating cars and people. We then walked towards the Malatesta castle which is a very big ruin in the centre of town, the Popes used the castle for centuries as a jail for their enemies, then on to the old Piazza Cavour which reminded me of the movie scene where they have a snow ball fight and also a motorcycle race around the square, the Piazza is not exactly like in the movie, but then again the movie is just a recollection of souvenirs nothing is exact. On the Piazza a pretty fountain from the Renaissance and a rather stern statue of Pope Paul V, Borghese, not a nice man wearing his Papal Imperial crown with raised hand as if to cast an evil spell.
Tiberius Bridge.

We then walk towards the seashore to the Grand Hotel built in 1908 by a south American architect Paolo Somazzi, this palace hotel figures in the movie as the place where the Prince, was it Amadeo or Umberto, comes to stay one night. In the old days the hotel was closed in winter and only opened from spring to fall. We had a lovely lunch in a grand room of marble columns and crystal chandeliers overlooking the gardens and the sea. It is an hotel where old gentleman still sleep off the afternoon with a newspaper over their faces in the salon of the lobby, the rooms are decorated in period French antiques of the 18th century. It was designated as a National Monument in 1994. Am glad we went to Rimini for the day to see it and put all these movie scenes in a physical space. Though I am sure a lot of Amarcord was in fact filmed on a sound stage at CineCitta in Rome.
Grand Hotel Rimini

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Legacy of Augustus

Today we celebrate in Italy a holiday which had its origin in the time of Augustus, first Emperor of Rome, a fertility feast which was part of the political program of Augustus to augment the population of Rome. Christians then took this most popular feast and gave it a make over, fertility turns to Virgin Mary, who is the Christian Venus or Minerva or both.

Ferie (Feast) of August, FerrAgosto, the Feast of the Virgin Mary ascending into Heaven upon her death. In Napoleonic times, the 15 August was Saint Napoleon I.
The French invaded Italy in the pursuit of Revolutionary ideals to abolish the superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church and most religious holidays were modified to fit a more modern agenda, as the saying went, War conquers Peace. In keeping with the general idea of the prestige of France, Napoleon wanted to do away with the influence of the Pope over life in Catholic Europe, Napoleon had Pope Pius VII arrested and carted off to Paris, to live under house arrest. He was a modernizer, his era was one of confrontation of the old order of the Princes in all Europe against that of the will of the people under the direction of one man.

Napoleon was all too aware of his humble origins, so he married his sister Pauline into the Borghese family, who is remembered for her naked pose immortalized in marble reclining as a Roman empress. The Borghese an ancient and powerful family, with at the time one of the most prestigious art collection in Europe, was for the Bonaparte family a prize catch.
His son l’Aiglon was created at birth King of Rome and the Bonaparte family palace is on Piazza Venezia in Rome between the Palace of Prince Doria Pamphilij and Prince Colona, good company all around.
Upon Napoleon’s exile to Elba and then St-Helen, the popes were quick to do away with all modern things and bring back the holiday to the original idea, but the deed was done and Italians had other ideas and despite the Popes repression and persecution of the general population, the holiday had taken on a different meaning. By 1860 unified Italy turned the holiday progressively to one of vacation and leisure for the whole family. August becoming a month of vacation, everything is closed and everyone goes to the beach, the countryside, the mountains, even if you live in the countryside you go on vacation somewhere with the family. No one in business would think of being open during FerrAgosto. Thus we find ourselves in Pesaro on the beach. Though this year because of the financial crisis in Italy, the beach is quiet, restaurants are not so busy, but the sun is shining and we are enjoying a large glass of Proseco.
Buon FerrAgosto a Tutti!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Urbino on a rainy day

Ducal Palace Urbino.

Today, Saturday is a rainy day and this morning with the beach at Pesaro deserted and a light rain falling we thought what can we do today. Urbino is only 26 Km from Pesaro and the whole city is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. So we took the regional bus and off we went to visit Urbino this most famous of Renaissance city. The story of Urbino is that of Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza who were the no.1 Renaissance couple. Urbino is also the birthplace of Rafael, the much love painter of the Renaissance. The city is on a hill top and its grandiose Ducal Castle-Palace with the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary and Santo Crestimento dominates the surrounding area. When the line of the Montefeltro dies out another famous family Della Rovere take over in governing the Marche Region. The Della Rovere family have their famous Pope Julius II, initiator of the building of the new Basilica of St-Peter in Rome. Under other Popes like Clement XI the city will be protected and its art collection, enhanced. The Palace is reached by crossing under the main triomphal gate of the city and then up a steep ceremonial street, Urbino is much like San Francisco, all steep climbs, some streets are narrow and very steep, the pavement to prevent slipping has a design of raised bricks to stop the foot and stop the walker from slipping. It is an impressive city, built to showcase the power and the magnificence of Federico da Montefeltro. Who surrounded himself with scientists and artists, nothing but the best, making of Urbino a renowed city in Europe.

Federico da Montefeltro Duke of Urbino and wife Battista Sforza.

The rooms of his palace use to be decorated with large frescoes to the glory of his family and himself, presenting scenes of his life. Only one room now has these magnificent colorful frescoes. This type of decoration was very much the style of the early Italian Renaissance, rich and powerful people wanted to impress anyone visiting them and on the walls you would have their life story. The frescoes are vibrant in color and a great deal of attention is paid to detail, artists also presented their patrons dressed in magnificent clothing, the ladies in sumptuous jewels, life was a parade.
Another room that attracted my eye was the study of Federico, all made of rare woods, different essence, the walls are trompe oeil, they appear to show bookshelves and cabinet doors with books or musical instruments inside, all of it is marquetterie,
a small intimate beautiful room to use for reading and working, the upper part of the walls lined with paintings of great men, poets, musicians, philosophers and popes.
Work Studio of Duke Federico.

Urbino a city dedicated to one man who had vision and wished to leave a legacy of his time, his family and dynasty.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Pesaro, Le Marche, Italia

We have been spending our days either shopping or walking around or eating here and there in restaurants on the seashore. Got myself a nice pair of purple moccasins, sort of easy wear shoe. We also went back to our little beach café H2N0, same chef in the cuisine and same good seafood, had some ravioli, spinach ricotta with a creamy white fish sauce and some thyme, very nice, Andrea the owner, a young fellow, as kind and smiling as ever.
Peaches are in season now; they are very good, sweet and juicy. Sleeping a lot too, I think I was more tired than I thought after the drive from Rome but also after a day out in the sun. Bad storm yesterday in Treviso near Venice, strong gale winds, heavy rain causing flooding. Today after lunch, the sky got dark; the storm has come down the coast to us from what I can see on the satellite photo. The locals tell me that today and tomorrow Saturday we should have rain, Sunday will probably be sunny.
Recent purchase, new moccassins.

Opera last night, Sigismondo King of Poland was not very good, the design and production by Damiano Michieletto was not well received at all. It made for a lot of confusion; the storyline was already convoluted, so it left the public in an ugly mood. Rossini composed this opera before he composed Barber of Seville, you recognize in the score very similar music, Rossini basically lifted part of the score made a few changes and voilà. The singers were excellent, Daniella Barcellona, Olga Peretyatko, Antonino Siragusa, Maestro Michele Mariotti conducted. At intermission and after the show and at breakfast this morning, we spoke with other people about it and everyone was confused, some had left at intermission, a big disappointment and I wonder to what extend an Opera house can charge for a questionable presentation by a stage director who had obviously lost his way. We apparently live in the age of the Stage director.

We also found on Via Mazzolari a 12th Century old chapel, which has the Christian IHS inscribed in stone on the facade of what is now a lovely wine bar. The delightful Vaccaj sisters run it, their parents, until their retirement recently had the business for 30 yrs. In the cellar below, which you come upon by descending a stone staircase is where all the wine is kept, it use to be a place to hide for the clergy during raids by the Turks on the Adriatic coast in the middle-ages. The old Synagogue of Pesaro is located just 2 blocks away in an ancient stone building, there are no Jews in Pesaro, there were only 12 in total in 1931, the community had been moving for years south to Ancona mostly for reasons of shifting business opportunities. The building is maintained as a museum by the Jewish community of Ancona and by FAI the historical society of Italy who looks after important heritage sites. You can visit the Temple on Thursday’s from 4 to 7 pm.
It has a communal bath, an oven to bake unleaven bread, a fountain for ritual washing of hands, wonderful baroque decorations.

Pesaro is a city full of Art, artists, art nouveau architecture, music, good wines of the Marche region, excellent food. Rossini was born here 1792, closer to us the great soprano Renata Tebaldi, also a Pesarese. A quiet and pleasant vacation destination.
One of the many lovely houses in Pesaro, c.1900

On our way to the Adriatic coast

The Oreste Ruggieri House in Pesaro, c.1900 Art Nouveau style.

We left Rome around 10 am and it took us about 2 hours to make it to Ancona on the Adriatic coast, most of the highway across (west to east) of the Italian Peninsula (A24) had very light traffic. We turned off unto the Adriatica Highway (A14) just North of Pescara. We stopped for lunch in Ancona at a restaurant we went to last year. Very good food, many awards and friendly owner. See

Ancona is one of those cities, a seaport, where you need a GPS to find your way unless you are very familiar with the city.

Afterwards we were just 66 km south of Pesaro so we took the SS16 towards Fano and then Pesaro. On our way to the coast, I got a phone call from the hotel we had booked our suite. The receptionist tells me that our room is really too small for what we reserved would we mind moving one block away to their other hotel the Vittoria, same price, etc. I knew the Vittoria, it is owned by the same family who owns several hotels in Pesaro and Urbino. The family of Count Alessandro-Ferruccio Marcucci Pinoli are old Papal nobility stock and related to the Duke of Montefeltro and Della Rovere. His web site The families ruled the Marche region at the time of the Renaissance. The hotel Vittoria is small about 38 rooms and suite, formely a private noble house on the seashore. It is very much a 1900 style hotel, formal, quiet, elegant. It is I am told amongst the 20 best hotels in all Italy. It has all the services any one would want, pool, sauna, gym, the restaurant has haute cuisine and all dishes served have a calorie count so if you are watching your weight, it’s very useful, no fast food or children menu here, waiters in dark suit, silverware, linen tablecloth and fine porcelain.
The view from our room.

I like the hotel because it is so quiet, you hear nothing even in the lobby or the restaurant. The parking is interesting, they have exactly 4 parking spaces for small cars. The other hotel, a block away, were I am parked has space for 8 cars total. They expect their clients to arrive by train like in 1900. Their site
The most common language spoken or heard in Pesaro after Italian is German, the Rossini Festival brings a lot of fans from German speaking countries.

Monday, 9 August 2010

interlude musicale

Maurizio Pollini at the piano, Debussy l'ile joyeuse.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Flora Romana

While we were visiting the water gardens at Villa d'Este yesterday in Tivoli, we saw in Cardinal d'Este Palace a painting exhibit called Flora Romana or Roman flowers. The naturalistic genre of flower painting became established in Rome towards the end of the 16th century. A nice change in painting styles brought about by the Renaissance, I do get tired of Virgin in Child.
By the end of the 16th century, Rome became one of the most important centres of medical experimentation and botanical research of the time. During those years books were printed in Europe containing only images of flowers, the passion for botanical collection was spreading. It was around 1583 that never seen plants from the New World started appearing in Europe, painters indulge patrons, Jan Breughel the Elder was a master of the genre and he was copied in Italy.

Mario Nuzzi began to compile a vast archive of drawings of the most rare flowers in Roman gardens at the request of the Cardinal nephew of Pope Urban VIII. The great Princely families of the Court of the Pope started to compete amongst themselves to have the most beautiful gardens and rarest blooms. This led Mario Nuzzi to develop art markets for floral paintings and great artists would compete for commissions from patrons and art dealers. This way families could show off the product of their gardens and give paintings as gifts to distinguish and powerful friends they wanted to please. Some of the painters who found favor with wealthy patrons, Abraham Breughel, Francesco Mantovano and Jean Baptiste Mannoyer.

It was very interesting to see these paintings of flowers and plants we take for granted because they have become common in our gardens today, forgetting that 500 years ago, these flowers and plants had never been seen in Europe and were ''new'' to European eyes.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

long Weekend

August 1 weekend is a long weekend for us, as we celebrate not Switzerland but that Canadian Province Ontario.
Beautiful day, it is also the first weekend of the start of the month long vacation holiday season in Italy and in other european countries like France.
We drove about 35 minutes from Rome to Tivoli today to visit the water gardens of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli.

The Villa d'Este was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of Pope Alexander VI. He had been appointed Governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III, with the gift of the existing villa, which he had entirely reconstructed to plans of Pirro Ligorio carried out under the direction of the Ferrarese architect-engineer Alberto Galvani, court architect of the Este. The chief painter of the ambitious internal decoration was Livio Agresti from Forlì. From 1550 until his death in 1572, when the villa was nearing completion, Cardinal d'Este created a palatial setting surrounded by a spectacular terraced garden in the late-Renaissance mannerist style, which took full advantage of the dramatic slope but required innovations in bringing a sufficient water supply, which was employed in cascades, water tanks, troughs and pools, water jets and fountains, giochi d'acqua or jeux d'eau. The result is one of the series of great 17th century villas with water-play structures in the hills surrounding the Roman Campagna, such as the Villa Lante, the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Villas Aldobrandini and Torlonia in Frascati. Their garden planning and their water features were imitated in the next two centuries from Portugal to Poland.

Drawing inspiration and much of the marble used for construction from the nearby Villa Adriana, the palatial retreat of Emperor Hadrian, and reviving Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering to supply water to an unexampled sequence of fountains, the cardinal created an elaborate fantasy garden whose mixture of architectural elements and water features had an enormous influence on European landscape design.
Pirro Ligorio, who was responsible for the iconographic programs worked out in the villa's frescos, was also commissioned to lay out the gardens for the villa, with the assistance of Tommaso Chiruchi of Bologna, one of the most skilled hydraulic engineers of the sixteenth century; Chiruchi had worked on the fountains at Villa Lante. At Villa d'Este he was assisted in the technical designs for the fountains by a Frenchman, Claude Venard, who was an experienced manufacturer of hydraulic organs. The organs plays on the hour, renaissance Court Music.

Cardinal Alessandro d'Este repaired and extended the gardens from 1605. In the eighteenth century the villa and its gardens passed to the House of Habsburg after Ercole III d'Este bequeathed it to his daughter Maria Beatrice, married to Grand Duke Ferdinand of Habsburg. The villa and its gardens were neglected. The hydraulics fell into disuse, and many of the sculptures commissioned by Ippolito d'Este were scattered to other sites. The picturesque sense of decay recorded by Carl Blechen and other painters was reversed during the tenure of Prince Cardinal Gustav von Hohenlohe; the Cardinal hosted Franz Liszt, who evoked the garden in his Les Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este and gave one of his last concerts here. Villa d'Este was purchased for the Italian State after World War I, restored, and refurnished with paintings from the storerooms of the Galleria Nazionale, Rome.
The grounds of the Villa d'Este also house the Museo Didattico del Libro Antico, a teaching museum for the study and conservation of antiquarian books.

Me standing on a tower with the water jets some 30 meters below me. Yes that is a real Borsalino Panama I am wearing.

After our visit we went to a very nice restaurant for lunch just a few steps away from Villa d'Este. We had roast lamb, it was delicious. The restaurant is called Ristorante Angolino di Mirko, there is the pastry shop attached to it Antichi Pastai on Vicolo della Missione and a B&B La Fontana di Pegaso, all just outside the Villa D'Este. Tivoli is a small town but it has a lot of nice things to see, not to mention the panorama.

The narrow gate of the City of Tivoli. The streets are wide enough for one car, so drive slowly.