Monday, 30 April 2012

La Reine

Joseph Haydn composed a series of symphonies called Paris Symphonies and this one no. 85 was dubbed La Reine because it was a favourite of the unfortunate Marie-Antoinette, married at 14 to Louis XVI and died at the young age of 38, leaving behind 2 children. Only her daughter will survive the revolution living in exile with other Bourbon Family members.

Played here by the Orchestra of Saint-Martin in the field under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Chinese restaurants in Canada

Like many immigrant experiences in Canada, the Chinese who came to Canada 120 years ago in search of a better life while the Manchu dynasty in the Middle Kingdom was crumbling invented a new Chinese cuisine. The Chinese migrants were not cooks or chefs but poor migrants coming to Canada as labourers to work on the construction of the railway, often performing dangerous tasks. Chinese workers would cook for the crew and attracted the attention of non-Asian workers, it was exotic and looked good.  Thus the Chinese cuisine has a long history in Canada dating back to 1880 during the period of the National Dream, the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The first restaurants to appear were in Western Canada from the Yukon to British Columbia to Alberta. However though the restaurants had Chinese owners the dishes on the menu were not necessarily Chinese but dubbed Chinese, they were largely inventions of the Chinese owners to suit the palate of Canadians who had never heard nor seen Chinese food, thus Chow Mein, Chop Suey or General Tao's Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken balls and many other migrant Chinese cuisine dishes were invented. The Chinese restaurant is present in every Canadian town from the small village to the large metropolis. In fact there are more Chinese restaurants in Canada than fast food restaurants combined. Often one family will sell their restaurant to the next Chinese immigrant once they move upwards on the social ladder.

The restaurant like the laundry service common in cities like Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal became a way for the Chinese migrants to establish themselves and to allow the next generation to move up in society. Up to 1968 the total Chinese population of Canada was about 28,000 persons, today it stands at 1.5 million individuals. 

My grandfather who worked in Montreal in the 1930's, had in the Old Chinatown around rue St-Urbain and rue Clark his favourite Chinese restaurants, I remember going to them as a child, to my child eyes they were very exotic places, far removed from anything I knew. The food was good and it was always an adventure to go to such places. 

However when I lived in China I discovered real Chinese cuisine, which is different depending on the region and involves complex recipes, Cantonese, Mandarin, Szechuan and many others which are virtually unknown to us in the West. Beijing has its own dishes which are typical of the Capital, so now I have become very discerning and am not willing to put up with the Canadian Chinese dishes anymore, maybe I have been spoiled in a way. I find the Canadian Chinese dishes to be full of MSG and very bland tasting, lacking the subtle flavours I found in China.  It is probably true that each ethnic group who comes to Canada as migrants bring with them their food and tradition but will modify them to suit their new surroundings and conditions often creating new foods and dishes, it is certainly true of the French, the Irish, the Scots, the English, the Jews, the Italians and many other immigrant groups who have come to Canada since 1608.

A little music for a Sunday evening

I have just completed 400 postings on this blog since I started in Beijing in 2007, with 583 comments so far and about 2000 clicks-view per month. Am happy with this result, I keep this blog mostly for my memory so as not to forget what I see, visit and read.

Here is a little bit of music, a waltz by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936), performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under the baton of Nikolai Alexeev.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Concerts at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa

We have season tickets with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Pinchas Zukerman. For several years we have been subscribing first in Rome at the Accademia Santa Cecilia to the symphonic season at the Auditorium del Parco della Musica off Via Flaminia, now back in Ottawa we continue with our attendance at concerts.

This past Thursday 26 April, the night of game 7 between the Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, we went to the concert. It was presented by Eric Friesen, who has been a host of several musical programs on the CBC. Eric has one of those melodious voices of the classical radio announcers of years gone by and is a very good interviewer and an elegant presenter. On stage with Maestro Zukerman, he interviewed him asking about the pieces we were about to hear. Zukerman did a wonderful job of speaking about the pieces and what to look for in each one. It made the experience all the more interesting. We heard, a first for the Orchestra, Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no.70 in D major, followed by Mozart, Piano Concerto no.9 Jeune Homme played by Garrick Ohlsson. During the short interview by Friesen of Ohlsson, the pianist explained that the titled Jeune Homme is not correct, apparently Mozart wrote this piece for a lady who was probably Hungarian and whose family name was spelled something like Gynomie and it became with time Jeune Homme.

Finally we had Mozart's symphony no. 36 Linz which was composed in 3 days. A letter written from  Linz by Mozart to his father in Salzburg explains that since he had no symphony music with him, he decided on the spur of the moment to simply compose this symphony in four movements and present it to Count Thun at a concert a few days later in November 1783. According to Maestro Zukerman, this was a novelty at the time and showed how Mozart was a forward thinker, probably 100 years ahead of his time.

We plan to also get Ballet and theatre season tickets for the Fall. So we should be quite busy all around.
But this is what you have to do here in Ottawa. We are also members now of the 3 big museums, The National Gallery, The Museum of Civilizations, The War Museum.  

Charitable causes and luncheons

This week has been busy with dining out for charitable causes. First there was the luncheon in Aylmer for the Heritage Association, not a charity per see, more of a conservation of our early heritage in the Gatineau Hills-Ottawa valley area. It is important to remember that without such groups there would be precious little heritage to talk about or look at.
Italian Peonies imported and given to me by Will

Then on Wednesday night we participated in ''A taste for Life'' which was supported by the Toronto Dominion Bank and by hundreds of people attending the event throughout Ottawa with 45 restaurants in the Capital giving 25% of the nights proceeds to Bruce House and Snowy Owl Foundation. We went to Absinthe on Wellington Street West which as the name implies has a lot of drinks on its menu made from Absinthe. It is also a very good restaurant, they have knowledgeable staff and Chef Patrick presents an imaginative cuisine in a modern zen décor. The turnout was very good our friends A and R were the hosts at Absinthe. The goal of Bruce House which opened in 1988 is to provide supportive housing and care to people living with HIV-AIDS. This service is unavailable through any other agency in Eastern Ontario.  Their belief is that everyone is entitled to live and die with dignity.

Snowy Owl Foundation's goal is to establish and maintain a financial resource available to organizations dedicated to HIV-AIDS education and prevention.

It was a very enjoyable evening and all for a good cause.

Today I participated in the Writers Festival ( luncheon given at TABLE 40 at Fraser Café on Springfield Road, in the New Edinburgh area of Ottawa. Vincent Lam, winner of the Giller Prize for his first book Bloodletting and Miraculous cures was presenting his new book The Headmaster's Wager published by Doubleday Canada. I know Vincent through his parents, A & R who were on posting with me in Beijing a few years ago. Vincent is an Emergency Room Physician in one of Toronto's largest Hospital and a writer, he also plays the violin. He was raised in Nepean a suburb of Ottawa and his parents were Boat People from Viet Nam who came to Canada at the end of that war.

His book is based on his grandfather and grandmother, who were Chinese national living in Saigon in South Vietnam about 80 years ago. As he explained some parts of the character are real to life and other parts is fiction.  The critics are raving about this book and it seems like he may very well get another award. I was very happy to meet Vincent, who is charismatic, with an easy manner and very approachable.
Vincent Lam, author, medical doctor, musician

The Writers Festival is in support of Children's Literacy and events like this one provide funds for various programs on literacy. It also brings writers like Vincent to schools to engage children and give a positive image of reading and books. A chilling statistics was given, the rate of literacy in children in Ottawa, the Capital of Canada is lower than that of children in Cuba.

I knew that Cuba had better health care for its population compared to the USA but this one on literacy I was unaware of, though I notice all the time how children have no vocabulary, cannot spell, cannot put a sentence together or read without stumbling on every word and have problems with critical judgement in general.

The restaurant Table 40 ( is a unique place, the tables are made of Western Maple fished out of rivers in British Columbia, the trees where cut diagonally and the wood was finished to give this high polish rough look showing all the variation and gradation of colour in the wood. The light fixtures are antique with naked filament bulb, lots of natural light and the kitchen is a modern lab setting at the back where the brothers Ross and Simon Fraser, both Chefs cook.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

a luncheon

We went last weekend to the Royal Ottawa Golf Club for lunch given by the Aylmer Heritage Association. This is an annual event held in the Spring by the Association, usually about 60 to 70 people attend. Since Aylmer is known for its numerous golf course, we had our lunch at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club (1891) which is the premier golf club in the National Capital Region and an historical site. The Club house is stately, built in Tudor baronial style, with crystal chandelier, oak paneling, massive fireplaces, oil paintings, real silverware, monogramed china and fine linen. A dress code is enforced, gentleman must wear a jacket and jeans and denim clothes or shorts are not allowed. You are always invited by a committee upon recommendation to join the Club, you cannot simply buy a membership. In fact cost of membership is not mentioned anywhere, if you have to ask obviously you do not belong. The Club has its own Crest and Flag bestowed by  Royal decree from the Office of the Chief Herald of Canada at Rideau Hall.
King George V in 1911

The membership is a whose who of Canadian Society, Governor Generals, Prime Ministers, Ministers and Justices of the Supreme Court, Bank Presidents, old wealth, etc....
The Governor General of Canada, the Duke of Connaught

It is called the Royal Ottawa though it is on the other side of the river in Aylmer, Quebec because the club started on 50 acres of land on Gladstone street near the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, only after the city expanded did the club decide to move to more open spaces on the Quebec side. The title Royal was bestowed on the Club by the King Emperor George V who was the nephew of the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, upon his recommendation during his mandate as Governor General of Canada in 1912.  The golf course has 27 holes and is beautifully designed to give any golfer the most out of the game. The course was designed by Tom Bendelow and champion golfer Willie Park Jr., it is beautifully maintained, they even have a formal flower garden.

I had never set foot in this august Club and took the opportunity when I saw that the Aylmer Heritage Association to which we have belonged for many years was meeting there. The food was quite good and the service was as is expected in such a place.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Musica Italiana

A friend of mine brought this to my attention, I remember this song from a long time ago.  An Italian classic.

A very famous song by Renato Carosone, a 1957 hit. 
Una de las más famosas canciones de Renato Carosone es ésta de 1957.

Mi farò prestare un soldino di sole
perchè regalare lo voglio a te
Lo potrai posare sui biondi capelli:
quella nube d'oro accarezzerò...

Questa piccolissima serenata
con un fìl di voce si può cantar
Ogni innamorato all'innamorata
la sussurrerà, la sussurrerà

Mi farò prestare un soldino di mare
perchè regalare lo voglio a te...
Lo potrai posare sugli occhi tuoi belli
nel tuo sguardo azzurro mi tufferò...

Questa piccolissima serenata
con un fìl di voce si può cantar
Ogni innamorato all'innamorata
la sussurrerà, la sussurrerà

Mi farò prestare un soldino di cielo
perchè regalare lo voglio a te
Lo potrai posare sul bianco tuo velo:
quando sull'altare ti porterò

Questa piccolissima serenata
con un fil di voce si può cantar
Ogni innamorato all'innamorata
la sussurrerà, la sussurrerà

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Restaurant recommendations in Rome

While in Rome in March for 10 days I returned to many of my favourite restaurants. Many Roman restaurants are family owned, often the mother or father are the cooks and the waiters are relatives or people who have been working with the family for decades. Being a waiter in Rome is a profession not like in North America something you do waiting for a better job. The waiters are often mature men, no there are no waitresses, a women can be at the cash or cooking but not waiting on tables, this is a man's job.

The decor is simple in most restaurant, you have tablecloth and cloth napkin, the cutlery is polished, the restaurant is your dining room and the atmosphere most be conducive to dining in a relaxing, convivial, leading to conversation, no jarring background music. The emphasis is on quality food, well prepared, fresh ingredients, something that is sorely lacking in North America where often the food prepared is frozen or from industrial quantities bought from large corporations who deliver to restaurants. In Italy, the cook still goes to market everyday and will buy fresh, fish, seafood, meat, vegetable and fruits.
Desserts are the usual torta, a crust with jam, or a torta with pecans or almonds, a mont blanc cake in winter, or a chocolate mousse cake, maybe a tiramisu if you are in a touristic area with lots of foreigners around. The tiramisu is a home made dish prepared and eaten at home not something an Italian would have in a restaurant. But it has to be understood that desserts in general are not really an item on most italian menus, an espresso is decaffeinated in the evening. Fresh fruits, a cup of wood berries simply with lemon juice or a bit of sugar is usually preferred, no whip cream, don't ask for it, they do not have it. Besides milk products are not found usually after 11 am on any menu. Each neighbourhood has a baker and the cakes and pastries come usually daily for that bakery and are delivered to the restaurant. Again quality is everything and so is personal reputation.

On any menu you will find the antipasto first, then the pasta dishes there is no meat in such dishes usually fish or seafood is a common ingredient in the sauce and again the sauce is accompanying the pasta in other words your pasta will not be drowning in pasta. If the sauce is based with tomatoes it is usually whole tomatoes used and cooked as is, usually a small cherry like tomato or a sauce made with a tomato base and other ingredients.  The second part of the  menu will have meat, usually, lamb, steak filet, veal. Again chicken is a rare menu item because it is considered the food of the poor. Do not forget to ask about accompaniment or contorno, otherwise your meat dish will be lonely on the plate.
Many people unused by this tradition are taken aback that the meat dish is served without any garnish. Ask your waiter for a contorno. Usual vegetables found on most menus and this is true of most restaurants are roasted potatoes with rosemary, sorry no french fries, spinach, chicory, not creamed but sauteed in a pan with a bit of garlic, green beans, in season you will have Porcini mushrooms, braised radicchio  or a green salad. Olive oil replaces butter, so again do not ask for it, they will not have any.
Another nice tradition I really like is instead of bread, you are offered pizza bianca which is the thin crust of the pizza taken pipping hot and crunchy from the oven and served with rosemary and olive oil.

As for wine you can have a glass or a quarter or a half liter, after that they will bring a bottle. Every restaurant has a house wine which is usually made by the family owning the restaurant and will be good table wine or a wine from a local vineyard. The difference in price is not enormous, table wine is a few euros and a good bottle of wine will be about 10 to 12 euros. You can of course have very expensive wines but again in Italy that usually means 20 to 25 euros a bottle, but this will be exceptional wine.

Now here is my very own personal list of restaurant and caffè I like in Rome, been there many times to each one and know the waiters and the family owning the place.

For dinner around 8:30pm, note good restaurants are not open prior to 8 pm. I am so use to eating late now at night that I cannot imagine having dinner before that time. Rome is more formal in the evening and you have to remember that this means dressing up, no jeans or T-shirts.

In front of the Opera house in Rome, La Matriciana owned by the Crisciotti family, this trattoria on Via del Viminale 44 has been around since 1870 and the decor was updated in the 1930's art deco style and has remained since. Again the waiters have been serving tables for at last 40 years. You need reservations if you go on a night the Opera house across the street is open, diners will come in around 11pm for late supper after the show and it will get crowded with the artists and members of the orchestra.

Anatra Grassa on Via Savoia 68 across from Villa Albani is an excellent restaurant with great nouvelle Italian cuisine.   Again reservations are recommended. The Chef a young man is a genius, he arranged a very special menu for an important anniversary I gave 2 years ago and I am still thinking of the excellent food.

For dinner or lunch

I limoncini, Via del Giuba 12, in a quiet neighbourhood off Via Asmara in the Afrika neigbourhood, so named because all the streets name are after cities in the former African colonies of Italy.
Cristiano runs the restaurant and his mother is at the cash, the staff is Philippino and the chef Egyptian but this is a very Roman restaurant, very good food and atmosphere. In the summer and early fall you can have dinner outside and it is very pleasant.

Stella Maris, Viale Regina Margherita at the corner with Via Nomentana. A Sardinian restaurant, specialty seafood dishes Sardinian style. The family running this restaurant are very pleasant, the food of good quality and reasonable prices. A very good white wine is the Vermentino di Gallura to go with your fish.

Da Giovanni, Via Antonio Salandra 1 at the corner with Via XX Settembre. Basic but brilliant, the chef is the old mother of the owner, she has been cooking since 1948. You have to go down stairs to enter the restaurant, the walls are covered with wood paneling and simple checkered tablecloth. The menu is Roman dishes, they also have in winter the best Mont Blanc Cake I have ever tasted. In March they also have the Roman Stuffed artichokes. The waiters are in their 60's and the restaurant attracts a lot of famous people in Italian society who come for a quiet meal, so try not to stare if you should recognize someone.

For a simple quick lunch or your second breakfast at 10am

My personal favourite is the Antica Gelateria on Via Alessandria at the corner of Corso Trieste, this place is also known as the Australian Bar because many years ago the Australian Embassy was across the street. Massimo runs the caffè with his very distinguished looking mother who is always impeccably dressed at the Cash. Massimo's father comes in several times a day and he looks more like a prosperous banker than a caffè owner. They are charming people all. They also have a very good Italian breakfast which consist of Tramenzino sandwiches with tomato bread or sage bread or simply plain white bread no crust. Their coffee is quite good and they also have croissants (corneto) stuffed with apricot jam.

Their cook Judy prepares light lunches, excellent salads and hot dishes. One of my favourite is her yellow curry Gnocchi.   For dessert ask for Caffè affogato from the verb affogare to drown. It's a cup of espresso coffee with a single scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream, the idea being that the ice cream is drowning in the coffee, absolutely delicious.

Rome Eternal City for rent temporarily.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Afternoon at the National Gallery of Canada

We recently became members of the National Gallery of Canada on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, this modern building is the work of Moshe Safdie and was completed in 1988. I remember when the spot it occupies Nepean Point, a high cliff above the Outaouais river was just a park of wild grass, then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau decided that the National Capital deserved a proper National Gallery building with architecture that would befit the important collections being shown. Prior to that the collections were housed in a old Lorne building in Ottawa on Elgin street, now demolished, a rather sad affair. The original National Gallery of Canada was created in 1880 by then Governor General of Canada, John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. It was housed at that time in the old Supreme Court building at the western gate of Parliament Hill at Bank and Wellington streets, that building was demolished in 1962. The Gallery then moved in 1913 to the Victoria Memorial Museum on Metcalfe street, known today as the Museum of Nature. Most of the collection are gifts from the Sutherland Family and the Vincent Massey Family and many other people. Some important acquisitions have also been made by the Gallery with great public howl despite the fact that it came from important known artist. There is that sad element in Ottawa in the popular press and amongst politicians of a certain stripe to be anti-culture no matter what. A few years ago the same popular press started a movement to bring Art in general and the collections in the museums to the lowest common denominator, the argument being that if the Museums wanted to make money, it seems it is always about money for some people, then the art presented cannot be intimidating. The public will not go if they do not know or understand what they are looking at. Luckily that idea did not catch on. One idea that did catch on and was well received was to propose to various social clubs that their members come to the museum and would be met by a docent who would present a few selected works, here people who had never been inside a museum were invited to come and see for themselves and at the same time have selected works explained to them. Participants went away happy and enjoyed their visits by all accounts, better it cost nothing.

The National Gallery has in its collection some of the most important works by Warhol and other contemporary artists, great Canadian and European artists. The Canadian Group of Seven paintings are my favourites. It is a very interesting museum to visit not only for its art collection but also for its architecture.
National Gallery of Canada on Nepean Point seen from Parliament Hill

The great hall of the Gallery, copies the Library of Parliament across on the other hill. All glass and granite.

I walked around the Gallery, looking at everything and getting myself re-acquainted with the museum. I had not been in 10 years. Many new pieces were on display. A very interesting installation was the Janet Cardiff, Forty Part Motet in the old Rideau Street Convent Chapel. When the Rideau Street Convent was destroyed the Chapel was saved by Friends of the Museum who raised enormous amounts of money to ensure that architectural treasure would not perish. It has been re-assembled inside the Gallery. Janet Cardiff arranged a series of speakers in the chapel, the impression if you stand in the middle of the chapel is that you are part of a singing choir, you hear people next to you breathing as they sing and you hear every voice of the choir. It is the most stunning effect, you are part of the choir not part of an audience listening.  Being in the Rideau Chapel to hear this is quite beautiful.

The other exhibit I enjoyed is entitled Monuments of Paris by Hubert Robert who was a landscape designer and decorator, great admirer of Giovanni Panini and Giovanni Battista Piranese, he went to Rome in 1754 to study art. He returned to Paris in 1765. Robert was appointed garden designer at Versailles. His tableau Monuments of Paris juxtaposes seven significant Parisian structures in an imaginary setting. It was first shown in 1789 in Paris, the composition shows Porte St-Denis erected in 1672 to commemorate the French Army's victories on the Rhine, directly facing the gate is an equestrian statue of Louis XIV erected in 1692, it was destroyed during the revolution in 1792. To the right the Fountain of the Innocents it was commissioned in 1549 in honour of King Henry II.  The Medici column  dedicated to Catherine Medici, wife of King Henry II. The panorama is obscured by the Eastern Facade of the Palais du Louvre built in 1665 and completed in 1672 when the Court moved to Versailles.
In the background is the Fountain of the Four Seasons 1736 and looming over the composition is the Church of St-Geneviève commissioned by Louis XV, the church was not quite completed in 1791 when the Revolution under the Assembly decided to dedicate the building to French national heroes and it became the Pantheon. Retrospectively this masterpiece appears as a tribute to the master builders of the Ancien Regime.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Here is a second offer of waltz music, this composition is entitled Très Joli by Emile Waldtuefel.
Strange name really Waldtuefel means Forest Devil.

Intermède musical, Emile Waldteufel, valse Flots de Joie, Auf Glückes Wogen

Brimming with joy, Flots de Joie, Auf Glückes Wogen

Emile Waldteufel (1837-1915) born to an Alsatian Family in Strasbourg, he went to study music in Paris and spent the rest of his life there. He had a very famous orchestra and was Court Pianist during the Second French Empire, often playing for Empress Eugénie. After 1870 he became a favourite of the French Presidents and often played at the Elysée Palace. He also had admirers in England in Queen Victoria and her son the Prince of Wales. His style is said to be more languid and anthem like very different than the style of Johann Strauss who was more robust in his waltz composition. Pianist are said to like Waldteufel's work because it is easier to play. He is well known for his most famous Skater's Waltz, a favourite in winter everywhere.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Wisdom to achieve

Here is a list of 15 things which, if you give up on them, will make your life a lot easier and much, much happier. We hold on to so many things that cause us a great deal of pain, stress and suffering – and instead of letting them all go, instead of allowing ourselves to be stress free and happy – we cling on to them. Not anymore. Starting today we will give up on all those things that no longer serve us, and we will embrace change. Ready? Here we go:
1. Give up your need to always be right. There are so many of us who can’t stand the idea of being wrong – wanting to always be right – even at the risk of ending great relationships or causing a great deal of stress and pain, for us and for others. It’s just not worth it. Whenever you feel the ‘urgent’ need to jump into a fight over who is right and who is wrong, ask yourself this question: “Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?” Wayne Dyer. What difference will that make? Is your ego really that big?

2. Give up your need for control. 
Be willing to give up your need to always control everything that happens to you and around you – situations, events, people, etc. Whether they are loved ones, coworkers, or just strangers you meet on the street – just allow them to be. Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are and you will see how much better will that make you feel.
“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” Lao Tzu
3. Give up on blame. Give up on your need to blame others for what you have or don’t have, for what you feel or don’t feel. Stop giving your powers away and start taking responsibility for your life.
4. Give up your self-defeating self-talk. Oh my. How many people are hurting themselves because of their negative, polluted and repetitive self-defeating mindset? Don’t believe everything that your mind is telling you – especially if it’s negative and self-defeating. You are better than that.
“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.” Eckhart Tolle
5. Give up your limiting beliefs about what you can or cannot do, about what is possible or impossible. From now on, you are no longer going to allow your limiting beliefs to keep you stuck in the wrong place. Spread your wings and fly!
“A belief is not an idea held by the mind, it is an idea that holds the mind” Elly Roselle
6. Give up complaining. Give up your constant need to complain about those many, many, maaany things – people, situations, events that make you unhappy, sad and depressed. Nobody can make you unhappy, no situation can make you sad or miserable unless you allow it to. It’s not the situation that triggers those feelings in you, but how you choose to look at it. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.
7. Give up the luxury of criticism. Give up your need to criticize things, events or people that are different than you. We are all different, yet we are all the same. We all want to be happy, we all want to love and be loved and we all want to be understood. We all want something, and something is wished by us all.
8. Give up your need to impress others. Stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not just to make others like you. It doesn’t work this way. The moment you stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not, the moment you take of all your masks, the moment you accept and embrace the real you, you will find people will be drawn to you, effortlessly.
9. Give up your resistance to change. Change is good. Change will help you move from A to B. Change will help you make improvements in your life and also the lives of those around you. Follow your bliss, embrace change – don’t resist it.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls” 
Joseph Campbell
10. Give up labels. Stop labeling those things, people or events that you don’t understand as being weird or different and try opening your mind, little by little. Minds only work when open. “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” Wayne Dyer
11. Give up on your fears. Fear is just an illusion, it doesn’t exist – you created it. It’s all in your mind. Correct the inside and the outside will fall into place.
“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
 Franklin D. Roosevelt
12. Give up your excuses. Send them packing and tell them they’re fired. You no longer need them. A lot of times we limit ourselves because of the many excuses we use. Instead of growing and working on improving ourselves and our lives, we get stuck, lying to ourselves, using all kind of excuses – excuses that 99.9% of the time are not even real.
13. Give up the past. I know, I know. It’s hard. Especially when the past looks so much better than the present and the future looks so frightening, but you have to take into consideration the fact that the present moment is all you have and all you will ever have. The past you are now longing for – the past that you are now dreaming about – was ignored by you when it was present. Stop deluding yourself. Be present in everything you do and enjoy life. After all life is a journey not a destination. Have a clear vision for the future, prepare yourself, but always be present in the now.
14. Give up attachment. This is a concept that, for most of us is so hard to grasp and I have to tell you that it was for me too, (it still is) but it’s not something impossible. You get better and better at with time and practice. The moment you detach yourself from all things, (and that doesn’t mean you give up your love for them – because love and attachment have nothing to do with one another,  attachment comes from a place of fear, while love… well, real love is pure, kind, and self less, where there is love there can’t be fear, and because of that, attachment and love cannot coexist) you become so peaceful, so tolerant, so kind, and so serene. You will get to a place where you will be able to understand all things without even trying. A state beyond words.
15. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations. Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media think is best for them. They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling. They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations, that they lose control over their lives. They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need….and eventually they forget about themselves.  You have one life – this one right now – you must live it, own it, and especially don’t let other people’s opinions distract you from your path.

Monday, 9 April 2012

on the second walk to Church of Trinita dei Monti

Trinité des Monts is a French Church at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, it was built by the King of France, Louis XII in 1502 and housed the French Order of the Minimes which in French is the diminutive of Minor, an order founded by a Calabrian Monk, San Francesco da Paola,  known for his severe and austere life who thought St-Francis of Assisi had gone soft. Napoleon got rid of these good fathers when he arrived in Rome in 1797, many of whom where mathematical or scientific geniuses. Napoleon looted the church and then turned it into an artist colony, renting out space to painters and their muses. After the fall of Napoleon, the Bourbon were restored to the throne in France and Louis XVIII restored the church and had an aristocratic order of French Nuns, Les Dames du Sacré Coeur take over the Church and the convent, they still live there to this day. The order is semi-cloistered, you can attend the prayers of the Nuns and hear them sing at noontime. The composer Felix Mendelssohn thought their singing divine. The Church Trinita dei Monti is not very interesting as such, it is in need of restoration and cleaning, what is interesting to visit is the convent but that is not open to the public, we got in by ''Special Permission'' obtained by Nancy di Conciliis our friend and known historian and archeologist in Rome. In antiquity a fabulous villa occupied the site, it belonged to Lucullus it was such an incredible place with gardens and a spectacular view of Rome that Emperor Claudius's wife the evil Messalina forced the owner to commit suicide so she could then confiscate the villa. If you read Suetonius, he mentions Messalina, not a nice person at all, she held famous orgies in that villa with her numerous lovers. All Rome was talking, so much so, that her husband Claudius who was elderly, got very angry and sent the Pretorian guards to put an end to her and the party. Messalina was dispatched in the garden which are part of the convent complex and quite beautiful.

Medici Palace next to Trinita dei Monti
The convent has a bilingual school (Italian-French) program, it is a beautiful setting for the children to learn, the nuns are very devoted. The convent shares the garden with the Palazzo Medici next door which is the seat of the French Academy in Rome. Now while visiting the convent, the nun guiding us explained (tours are in French) that while the trial of Galileo (1632-33) was on-going the Minimes Fathers would meet with him strolling in the garden.
Galileo appearing in front of the Court of the Holy Office in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Dominican order)

The Medici Family where the protectors of Galileo. He was on trial because of his theories on the Cosmos and Pope Urban VIII had been accused by the Spanish Cardinals of being soft on Heretics. The Pope felt insecure and fell victim of Vatican Palace intrigues led by the Dominicans. He was led to believe that Galileo was a threat to his authority by presenting a new theory based on tides, movements of planets and stars as observed by Copernicus with the newly invented telescope. The Earth was not the centre of the Universe as presented by Aristotle in antiquity but a planet rotating around the Sun. The theory of Galileo involved a lot of scientific arguments and this went way over the heads of the Pope and the Cardinals conducting the trial, all they saw was a challenge to official church teachings on Creation and a challenge to the absolute power of the Pope. Galileo was an old man at the time and famous for his writings and scientific achievements. Nonetheless Pope Urban VIII was sufficiently alarmed to ask that he be tortured if need be so he could recant his pronouncements. This trial also happened at the time of the Reformation with its implication for the Papacy in Rome. The Reformation was a very serious threat, Northern Germany and part of Switzerland had gone Protestant, England followed suit, so did the Scandinavians and the French King was also musing about changing camps.
It's 11:45 on the sun clock

The Minimes fathers were developing a universal sun clock inside the convent, one floor was devoted to this experiment, aligned on the Sun and oriented in such a way to get maximum exposure to Sun light.  The Minimes were very interested in what Galileo had to say and in his calculations on the movement of planets etc.... So they invited him to help them, this way if Galileo was to die on the pyre at least his work would survive for posterity. Funny to think that those priests worked quietly in the Pope's back, understanding that the Church Hierarchy did not comprehend the scientific facts being presented too concerned with politics and power. The exhibit currently on show at the Capitoline Museums at the Campidoglio, LUX in ARCANA, shows the Galileo trial papers of the time.

The clock is painted on the ceiling of a large passageway in the convent in a locked area. The nun opened a little space in the window to allow a sunbeam to hit a small mirror disk, projecting unto the ceiling the exact time 11:45 am in Rome. The clock also shows the time in Paris and in Jerusalem. Other major cities in the then known world are also displayed giving the time in each. The clock can only show the time in a precise window from 10 to 14 daily.

The parrot's room in the Convent

The other room which is closed and opened only if you specifically request it is at the top of the convent its usage is not known, it is called the room of the parrot or in French Perroquet, all the walls and ceilings are painted to show a romantic ruined room, it was done in 1754. We were strictly instructed not to touch the walls, no backpacks and stand well away from the walls so as not to damage them by brushing against them. The only light comes from a large open window.
 Dining hall of the Convent at Trinita dei Monti, scene Wedding at Cana
 Christ turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana

To complete our visit we then went to the dining hall of the Convent decorated entirely to look like the Wedding at Cana with Christ changing water into wine and at the other end the King of France posing with his musicians. It should be remembered that this was suppose to be an austere convent which does not mean that you cannot have beauty.

This was such a delightful visit, to a secluded spot in Rome, I will certainly not look at the Trinita dei Monti Church in the same way now, knowing of its secret rooms and garden.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Walking in Rome

For the many years we lived in Rome we often took part in the organized walks with a friend who is an historian, archeologist who has lived and worked in Rome of over 40 years. We became good friends with her.
So on my most recent visit to Rome I consulted her calendar to see what she was offering in terms of walks. I always enjoy those ''By special permission'' entry to sites never open to the public. Many Palaces or convents are still private and fully functioning and the public is not invite to enter. Per example Prince Colonna still lives with his family in his 900 room palace in the centre of Rome just off Piazza Venezia and only opens the State Rooms on Saturday morning for 2 hours.

So I was very happy to see 2 walks on the 26 and 27 March. On the first walk we met in front of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio at the top of the Jianiculum hill or Jianicolo, this hill is across the Tiber opposite Rome itself and next to the smaller Vatican Hill, it is not part of the 7 hills of Rome. The ancient Romans thought that the war like god Janus, keeper of doors, of going and comings lived on this hill, thus the name. The Jianiculum Hill is were the family of Prince Doria Pamphilij had their summer residence, it is also the site of the most bloody battles between the French and Papal armies against the Italian army commanded by Garibaldi in the fight for the liberation of Rome and Papal theocracy 150 years ago. From the Jianicolo you have a commanding view of the whole city. So we met at this little church of San Pietro in Montorio, built and owned by the Spanish Crown, the inscription makes it clearly a Spanish Royal Church and next to it is the Spanish Academy in Rome and across it the Residence of the Ambassador of His Most Catholic Majesty the King of Spain.  Next to the church is the Tempietto del Bramante, the story goes that Ferdinand and Isabella of Aragon and Castille wanted a male child and promised to build a little temple or Tempietto, their wish was granted by God but the child did not live beyond childhood. The Tempietto is rarely open to the public it is a small building in its own courtyard, quite beautiful to look at.
San Pietro in Montorio, Jianicolo
Scourging of Christ by Del Piombo
Balustrade with cherubs

Tempietto del Bramante

There is also a story that the Tempietto is the site where Saint Peter was crucified thus the name San Pietro in Montorio, the word Montorio is a distortion of Monte d'Oro or golden mountain because the soil has a lot of yellow stones and sand mixed in. Though it was established a long time ago that Saint Peter was actually crucified in the Circus of Nero next to where St-Peter's basilica stands today, for the crime of murder and preaching heresy, he apparently had killed a magician.

The church itself of San Pietro in Montorio is richly decorated with many side chapels, the first chapel on the right has the painting of the Scourging of Christ by Sebastiano del Piombo, a friend of Michelangelo.
The next chapel has the Madonna and Child by Niccolo Pomarancio, this painting is said to be miraculous. The beautiful balustrade with putti or cherubs is by Bartolomeo Ammannati and it is said that Michelangelo had a hand in the design. The painting over the altar of the Baptism of Jesus is by Daniele da Volterra. The chapel dedicated to St-Francis was done by Bernini. This Royal church is well worth a visit.  If you want to see the paintings in a better light ask the keeper of the Church and for a small donation he will turn the lights on.

As we exited the Church, she asked me if I would stay for lunch, usually on her promenade we go for lunch afterwards around 1pm. I said yes, thinking we would go to a nice little restaurant in the area, nothing more was said, I was in for a surprise, but more on this later.

As we walked out of the church admiring the panorama of the City, we turn right and across the street is a Fascist era monument C. 1941, in a large park, a tomb to the fallen of 1849, 1860 and 1870. It is said that the ashes of the fallen soldiers are interred in this monument.  Continuing upward you will see the famous Fontanone or big fountain, built by Pope Paul V, Borghese, he completed the construction of the new St-Peter's Basilica as we see it today. This fountain is the end of a great Roman Aquaduct originally built by Emperor Trajan at the end of the first century, known then as Aqua Traiana today it is called Aqua Paolina. Trastevere in antiquity was outside Rome and populated by slaves and immigrants, only Roman citizens could live in Rome. Thus Cleopatra Queen of Egypt came to visit Julius Cesar but was not allowed to enter the City of Rome because she was a foreigner and lived in a palace on the Tiber across from Rome. Trastevere did not have like Rome an abundance of clean water and the Fontanone was the sole provider of clean fresh and abundant water. The Fontanone we see today was built by Flaminio Ponzio and Giovanni Fontana the son of Domenico Fontana who built the great Moses Fountain in Piazza Santa Susanna. The four central columns come from the old St-Peter's basilica and all the marble of the fountain was taken from the Temple of Mars the Avenger in the Forum of Augustus. Look for the Borghese family animals the dragons and eagles on the fountain.
The Fontanone of Pope Paul V

We continued to walk up and passing by Villa Spada and the American Academy in Rome and then by the Gate of San Pancrazio into the park where the Monument of Garibaldi and numerous statues of all the heroes of the war of Italian liberation stand and the equestrian monument and tomb of Anita Garibaldi who died at 28 years of age fighting alongside her husband. This park is truly a lesson in more recent Italian history and politics. In the distance you can see the dome of St-Peter and below you the entire city. If you are in the park at noon time watch for the noon day canon under the statue of Garibaldi.
Monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi on the Jianicolo
Noon Day gun on the Jianicolo hill.
Monument to Anita Garibaldi, clutching her baby and shooting her pistol.

After our walk we returned to Villa Spada for lunch, little did I know that today this very historic villa where Garibaldi and Luciano Manara, Commandant of the Bersaglieri stayed for 10 days while fighting the French and Papal armies just a few streets away is the Residence of the Irish Ambassador to the Italian Republic. Manara died on 30 June 1849 at the age of 24 while fighting the French, the Villa Spada itself was very badly damaged by cannon fire and savage fighting took place in the very garden where we had lunch. We were greeted by the Ambassador and his wife Pauline. She had made a lovely Irish stew and a wonderful salad and a Charlotte for dessert. Under the beautiful orange trees on a sunny afternoon it was difficult to imagine the fierce hand to hand combat which had taken part on this spot as paintings of the time shows.

Lunch served on porcelain bearing the crest of Ireland.

After lunch I walked back down the steep hill to the Tiber river, on the way down I passed a little park with ruins, Via Dandolo 45, the Syrian Sanctuary, known from early antiquity as a Sacred Woods, the area was dedicated to the Furies avenging deities who torment criminals. it is here that the first defender of poor Romans, Caius Gracchus committed suicide in 121 BC. His Conservative opponents in the Senate said that the Furies had called him to his death in their Sanctuary. It is a strange place or has a strange spooky look, I was happy the Furies were not after me.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Una Passeggiata alla Villa Torlonia

Villa Torlonia on Via Nomentana outside the walls of Rome near Porta Pia. This great estate was until 1945 the summer residence of the Princely Torlonia family, great supporters of the Fascist movement, like so many of the aristocratic families in Italy.
Porta Pia (in antiquity was known as Porta Nomentana)

As of 1926 Prince Torlonia invited Benito Mussolini to live in his palace, renting it out for 1 lira a year. The Prince who was elderly retired to a smaller pavilion in the park called Casa delle Civete, (house of the owls). When the Duce fell from power in July 1943, the estate was attacked by the mob and all the buildings were ransacked and burned. The wife of Mussolini and his children fled, the Torlonia family had moved to their other palaces. The Allied forces, namely the British army occupied the palace for a while as of 1944 but left in 1949, in the attic of the palace where army clerks worked, one wall is covered in rather beautiful pastoral scenes, drawn by a soldier. Villa Torlonia is not very far from the seat of the British Embassy at Porta Pia. The estate was left in a state of total abandonment until 1999, quite the eyesore in the centre of Rome.
Villa Torlonia entrance gate on Via Nomentana.

Then the mayor of Rome had the idea as a cultural revival and with the help of the European Union to restore the buildings of the estate. This restoration project has been on-going now for 12 years and is nearing completion.  I decided to take a walk around the Villa Torlonia to have a look and see the evolution of the project since we left Rome in August 2011.
the Moorish green house completely restored as it would have been in 1890
coloured glass, painted stucco and ironwork, an extravagant building for exotic trees.

The idea of this restoration of the estate on Via Nomentana was to show how a great family lived in the 19th century, with the commuting between the city residence and the outside the walls country residence.
The Torlonia family has other palaces in Rome, one very near the Vatican State now used as an administration office for their estates and properties in Italy, the other at Villa Albani, a baroque palace with gardens even larger than those of Villa Torlonia currently serves as their residence. They also have very large farm estate by the airport at Fiumicino with spectacular ruins of the ancient port of Rome which connects to the Tiber River.
The private theatre of the Torlonia family now restored, the column holds the ashes of Princess Torlonia who had this grand building built.

I took a walk around the park to see the main theatre built as a ballroom, dininghall and concert, theatre for the Torlonia to entertain large groups of friends. The other building I wanted to see was the Moorish house, an arabic style building which housed exotic trees and plants during the winter, a rather elaborate green house. The other green house, known as the lemon tree house is on the other side of the park, it is now a restaurant, this building once housed all the orange, lime and lemon trees during the winter. In the 1930's Mussolini used it to host the different officials of Italian colonies who came to Rome to pay homage to the King-Emperor of Italy Vittorio-Emmanuelle III. The large stables and carriage house is now used as administrative offices, the library of the Prince is used for exhibits of rare books and prints.
The Prince lived in this house on the grounds of the estate while he rented out his palace to Mussolini. Very eclectic style.

The main house which dominates the estate has been beautifully restored, though unfurnished, with the exception of one bedroom, the rest of the original furnishing long ago disappeared. The bedroom in question is that of Mussolini and his wife. He lived in the house for 20 years with his family. It gives the visitor a very good idea of how the wealthy and powerful lived. The estate also has fake roman ruins and temples, it use to have numerous statues, all gone except for a few. Villa Torlonia is only one of the many great estates that once graced Via Nomentana. The story of the Torlonia family is also interesting, a rags to riches story, commoner is elevated to Prince of Italy. If in Rome, I recommend visiting Villa Torlonia.