Friday, September 30, 2011

Viva VEneRDI: Addio al passato.

Why is it that a joyful song can never move us the way a melancholy one can? Why is nostalgia so sweetly painful? After listening to the frenetic and high energy 'Libiam ne' lieti calici' from La Traviata, the bacchanalian drinking song that opens the opera, close your eyes and savor the sublime and poignant third act aria, 'Addio al passato'.

Imagine a beautiful, dying ex-courtesan. She gave up the only man she ever loved so that his family would not be disgraced by her past. In order to make her lover leave her, she had to convince him that she no longer loved him. After suffering alone with her secret, her lover has finally learned the truth and is rushing to reunite with her, but she knows it is too late. Soon she will be dead and she spends a few moments saying goodbye to the happy memories of her past which will never return.

Maria Callas, Teatro alla Scala, Milano, 1953.
From La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

It all began with a ring

Just like the story of the founding of Rome, the whispers of which could be heard long before that fateful day in 753BC, so the story of my wedding truly begins on Christmas day, 1861.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Death of Romulus

Augustyn Mirys

After three weeks of "school," I realize that my initial idea to write a post about every lesson and every visit (a staggering 4 per week) was, as is so often the case with me, a bit over-ambitious. I generally finish class wrecked with my head full of a ton of information and zero creativity.

Instead I think I will continue with my original idea to follow the 3000-year history of Rome, in weekly installments. (I wonder how many weeks it will take to cover 3000 years?) 

Having deepened my understanding of the myths of the origins of the city, I have the desire to go back and tell a bit of the back-story, pre-Romulus, as it were. Rome may have been born in 753 BC, but the whispers of what would one day come to be stretch back at least to the 12th century BC. However, my bossy, slightly-OCD side is screaming that I have to go in order, so Aeneas and Lavinia and a whole cast of personalities are going to have to wait.

Let’s finish up with Romulus' reign instead so that we can finally move on! After beginning his career with banditry, murder and abduction, Romulus went on to have a brilliant reign, and became a benign and much-loved ruler. His co-ruler, King Tatius was killed not long after having come into joint power with Romulus, and the latter ruled alone until the end of his life. A few wars are described, such as those with with Veientines and the Fidenates, but no details of Romulus' reign survive beyond the very beginnings.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

So how did he die? According to legend (but this is all legend, right?), after a 36 year reign, one day as he was surveying his troops, there was an eclipse of the sun, followed by a hurricane (some less dramatic events have it as a thunderstorm) and Romulus disappeared into a fiery cloud. The interpretaion is that his father, the god Mars, returned to earth in his chariot to take his sun to heaven, who was then diefied as the war god Quirinius. He was 54 years old.
Yawn. The latter half of Romulus' life is not nearly as interesting as the first half. I must say I've always been disappointed with the story of the death of Romulus. Now, I'm not saying that the first half of his story is believable, but it could have happened. But this fantastical end seems to prove it was all just a legend. However, some sources claim that Romolus didn't disappear into the clouds at all, but was actually attacked by senators, who cut up his body into small pieces and carried them away, hidden under their robes. Not quite as romantic but equally unbelievable. I think the jury is still out on this one.

The ruins of a cave were discovered on the Palatine Hill in 2007 and are generally believed to be that of the famous Lupercal, where the she-wolf nursed the baby twins. Some now claim that this proves Romulus and Remus actually existed and that the legend of their upbringing is factual. All it really proves is that in the time of Augustus the myth was celebrated with ritualistic ceremonies, as the mosaics decorating the cave date to that period. Will we ever know if Romulus and Remus actually existed? Probably not, but as I've said before, just go with the legend. It makes life more interesting.

To be continued...
Next up: Numa Pompilius, second King of Rome

What have we covered so far?
Romulus, First King of Rome

Photo sources:, 12, 3
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Art of Hermès leather

Since starting this blog, I have been dreaming of an excuse to write about another one of my passions, Hermès, which unfortunately has nothing to do with the subject of my blog.

Until now!

On occasion of a second Hermès boutique opening on Via Campo Marzio, there just happens to be a very short-term exhibit dedicated to the leather of Hermès at one of the most stunning exhibition spaces in the city: the Chiostro del Bramante at Santa Maria della Pace, near Piazza Navona. It's a free exhibit that can be easily seen in 30-45 minutes, so it's just the thing for a post-lunch outing! It is only on for one more week (last day is Sunday, 2 October), and believe me, you don't want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime event. You can find out more information about it on the Exhibits on Now page.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Viva VEneRDI!

Happy Friday!

I must credit my officemate with the brilliant title of my newest blog feature: "Viva VEneRDI!" From today on, every* Friday, I will post about one of my favorite works by Verdi.... or Puccini, or Bellini, or Leoncavallo, or ANY Italian opera composer, actually. For the sake of those who aren't opera/Italian history/Risorgimento freaks (unlike myself), I will explain the connection.

Portrait by Giovanni Boldini

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Any publicity is good publicity!

Apologies for the week-long silence! My course, as much as I am loving it, has claimed the already insignifant amount of free time I possessed! My hilarously ambitious idea to post after each class or visit is proving laughably impossible. Perhaps once the course is finished I can come up with some kind of class-by-class summary.

This past Friday, I was surprised and delighted to learn that a journalist for the important Italian daily newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, had not only stumbled upon my blog, but had written about one of my posts on the official blog of the paper. When I read her post thoroughly and discovered she was critisizing me, I was no less delighted. You may remember my post about the article in the Daily Telegraph misleadingly claiming that Italian women are the most unhappy in Europe. Il Fatto Quotidiano's Marika Borrelli wrote a post about the same subject, taking a much different angle. She used the article as a launching pad to discuss the gender issues in this country. Most of what she wrote is very true, and the discussion she is opening is very needed right now. I, as you may have read, treated the subject a bit more lightly, which she didn't like very much.

Here's what she had to say regarding moi:

"In Italia le questioni di genere, nonostante la tragicità del problema che i dati evidenziano, sono trattate con indifferenza se non addirittura con sufficienza. Ho pure letto un post di una non-italiana (Tiffany Parks) che liquidava sbrigativamente la statistica riportata su The Telegraph. Ma la Parks parla da privilegiata, quasi stupendosi: non vive la vita delle precarie o delle donne-mamme-figlie-mogli alle prese con sanità, scuola, soldi-che-non-bastano, lavoro-che-non-c’è."

(Translation: "In Italy gender issues, despite the tragic nature of the problem that the data shows, are treated with indifference if not with disdain. I also read a post by a non-Italian (Tiffany Parks), which summarily dismissed the statistic reported in The Telegraph. But Ms. Parks speaks as a member of the privileged class, almost astonished: she doesn't live a precarious life, the life of the woman/wife/mother/daughter struggling with health, education, not enough money, and a job that doesn't exist.")

--and later--

"...non si parlerà mai abbastanza delle questioni di genere in questa Italia di oggi. Sono convinta che sia necessario un aumento di consapevolezza del problema, a cominciare dalle stesse donne al fine di modificare l’opinione comune generale. Tiffany Parks compresa."

(Translation: "...gender issues are not discussed enough in today's Italy. I am convinced that it is necessary to increase awareness of the problem, starting with the women themselves in order to change the opinion of the whole community. Including Tiffany Parks.")

I appreciated her mentioning my blog, and I must admit how surprised I was to come to the attention of a journalist at an important national daily. But I have to conclude that either she didn’t fully read my post, she didn’t completely understand it, or she intentionally misinterpreted it. I will not hazard a guess as to which, but I will plead my case.

I began my post not by “summarily dismissing” the statistics the Telegraph reported, as she claims, but by expressing my doubt that they were accurate, the quality of the “article” being blatantly shoddy. I acknowledged the difficult position that Italian women find themselves in, but chose not to focus on the larger gender issues, (mine is not a journalistic blog) but instead to address the one I find most perplexing (and the one most harped upon by the article): the unequal division of household chores in Italian homes. I will not reiterate what I previously wrote, but I adamantly deny I “treat with indifference” the problematic political and social position of women in Italy which was not even the subject of my post. My message was, if anything, more positive: that—perhaps—the solution for pampered men is simple: stop pampering them! Perhaps by putting some of the blame on the women for their drudge-like situation at home was offensive to Ms. Borrelli. I can only respond by reiterating that I was only referring to one small part of this large “gender issue” she writes of. I am hardly claiming the sexualization of women in the media (for example) is the fault of women themselves.

I love that she calls me a “non-Italian,” as if that in itself is an insult, barring me from being able to form any opinion about Italians. Even more amusing (and infuriating) is her assumption of my social and economic status. How in the world does she imagine she knows? Does being a foreigner and having a passion for Roman history and art naturally preclude me from having my own financial strife? And even if I had no financial worries, I hardly see how that should hinder me from recognizing the fact that Italian women tend to insist upon waiting on their men hand and foot, and perhaps that is why the said men don’t offer to do their share of the work.

Here is the response I left on her blog:

“Innanzitutto ti ringrazio per aver ritenuto di utilizzare anche un mio post (che tu non condividi, ma, come dici tu, siamo qui per “proporre e discutere, non scannarci”) come apripista di un importante dibattito in merito alla “questione di genere” che ci è tanto a cuore: la condizione generale delle donne in Italia. Ma, ci tengo a definire un paio di questioni, che a mio avviso si evincono chiaramente dal mio post, che credo tu abbia letto nella sua interezza. Innanzitutto ribadisco il mio generale scetticismo in merito alle cosiddette statistiche, fatte su un campione di donne non del tutto definito (l’articolo del Telegraph prima parla solo di casalinghe e poi di donne in generale) e condotte su un campione esiguo (4000 donne dovrebbero rappresentare l’intera Europa!) e poi dai…. credi davvero che il 70% degli uomini italiani non abbia mai usato il forno? E che il 95% non abbia mai svuotato la lavatrice!? Tu stessa da giornalista potrai convenire con me della poca affidabilità di fonti di questo tipo. Anche alcuni tuoi lettori, tra l’altro, nei commenti propongono la mia perplessità. Posso comunque dirti che anche io come te, come ho scritto nel mio post, nella sua seconda parte, sono ben al corrente delle problematiche che devono affrontare molte donne in questo “nostro” paese (si lo so, sono una NON-ITALIANA, ma amo così tanto l’Italia da definirla nostro paese, dal momento che ci vivo, ci lavoro, ci pago le tasse e mi ci sono sposata). Conosco bene la difficoltà delle mamme single, di chi ha perso lavoro dopo una gravidanza, di chi fatica ad arrivare a fine mese.

"Ma in conclusione, trattando il mio blog di aspetti prevalentemente leggeri, ho affrontato una parte in particolare del pezzo del Telegraph quella trattata nello stesso pezzo ai paragrafi 4 e 5, ovvero la collaborazione degli uomini nelle faccende di casa! Un po’ anche con ironia, come avrai letto. Quindi, Marika, io non tratto con indifferenza se non addirittura con sufficienza le questioni di genere, e se “liquido sbrigativamente” la statistica del Telegraph, come tu dici, è per i motivi sopra esposti. Non credo quindi io debba modificare la mia opinione, certamente ampliarla, rifletterla, ma non per mancanza di consapevolezza. Ti invito a rileggere il mio post con un po’ piu’ di ironia, e magari potremmo lanciare un messaggio positivo e di fiducia, come io tento di fare: sveglia ragazze, nelle nostre mani sono le redini della nostra vita! Scrolliamoci di dosso questo senso di fatalismo… all’italiana?

“P.S. non credo di essere così privilegiata, si, sono felice e positiva e propositiva.. anche se ho un contratto a tempo determinato!

(Translation: “First of all thank you for using my post (even if you don’t agree with it, but as you say, we are here “to propose and discuss, not be at each other’s throats”) as an opening of an important debate on the "gender issue" that is very near to both our hearts: the general condition of women in Italy. But I would like to define a couple of questions that are clear from my post, which I imagine you have read in its entirety. First, I reiterate my general skepticism about the so-called statistics, made on a sample of women not fully defined (the Telegraph article first mentions only “housewives” and then women in general) and conducted on a small sample (4000 women should represent the whole of Europe?) and then, come on, do you really believe that 70% of Italian men has never used an oven? And that 95% have never emptied the washing machine!? As a journalist you must agree with me about the unreliability of such sources. Even some of your readers in their comments echo my perplexity. However, I can tell you, as I wrote in the second part of my post, that like you, I am well aware of the problems that many women face in "our" country (yes, I know, I am a NON-ITALIAN, but I love Italy enough to call it “our country”, since I live here, I work here, I pay taxes here and I got married here). I am aware of the difficulties of single mothers, of those who lost their jobs after a pregnancy, and those who struggle to make ends meet.

“But in the end, using my blog for prevalently light discussions, I focused on a particular part of the piece in the Telegraph, specifically paragraphs 4 and 5, which discuss the collaboration of men in household chores, and with a bit of irony, as you will have read. So, Marika, I do not “treat with indifference if not with disdain” gender issues, and if I "brushed aside" the statistics of the Telegraph, as you say, is for the above reasons. I do not believe I need to change my opinion, although certainly expand and reflect upon it, but not for a lack of awareness. I invite you to reread my post with a little more irony, and maybe we could send a positive, hopeful message, as I try to do: Wake up, girls, let’s take the reins of life in our hands! Let’s throw off this sense of (Italian?) fatalism!

“P.S. I do not consider myself a member of the privileged class: I’m happy and positive and proactive… even though I have a fixed-term contract!”)

Whew. I promise never to write such a long post again. Goodnight, bloglings.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Streets of Rome: Via dell'Arco della Ciambella

Doughnut Arch Street

Right. This one requires a bit of explanation. But first, I discovered yesterday the precise terminology of something that gets me rather excited: toponymy, the study of place names. My particular strain of toponymyphilia (ok, that word I completely made up) is focused on, but not limited to, street names (as you may have already noticed). But back to the subject at hand:

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Seen in Rome: Graffiti Medusa

A strikingly familiar image caught my eye while out running errands in Trastevere this afternoon.

I had to stop for a closer look.

Now, where have I seen this before? Oh, yes.

Caravaggio's Medusa shield, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Photo sources: 1, 2: by author; 3

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Monday, September 12, 2011

New York in Rome, in honor of September 11th

A brand-new exhibition at Centrale Montemartini, un unususal museum that displays ancient Roman sculpture with a backdrop of early industrial age machinery, has been planned to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11th.

The exhibit, entitled Cities of New York, is presented in two distinct sections, the first with photographs by New Yorker Allan Tannenbaum taken in the aftermath of September 11th, as well as paintings by Susan Crile inspired by Ground Zero.

Even more inspiring perhaps is the bold photographic exhibition upstairs that focuses instead on New York's diversity, beauty and resilience, featuring the works of nine wonderfully contrasting Italian photographers over the past 15 years. A few of my favorites: Gabriele Croppi's arresting black and whites spotlight an average New Yorker with the pulsating city as a backdrop. Olimpia Ferrari finds double inspiration from New York's churches and works of classical music, superimposing distorted written music over photographs of the city's most awe-inspiring places of worship.

Since the exhibit is not extensive, you can easily explore the rest of the fascinating museum before or after. It is most certainly not to be missed! See Exhibits on in Rome page for pratical information.

© Copyright Gabriele Croppi

Nocturne in C Minor/Chopin/St. Patrick's Cathedral
© Copyright Olimpia Ferrari

All photos obtained from original Cities of New York press release.
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Friday, September 9, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Italian Office Life (musical version)

The downside of working in an Italian office: your boss makes fun of you for how pale you are at the end of summer, showing off his chocolate colored arm in comparison to your yogurt-colored one.

The upside of working in an Italian office: he does this by singing a 1959 hit single by the one-and-only, inimitable Mina, and you and your officemates sing Italian pop songs from the 60s for the rest of the afternoon.

Here are some of the lyrics, and I must admit, they do seem to apply to me:

Abbronzate, tutte chiazze,
Pellirosse un pò paonazze
son le ragazze che prendono il sol,
Ma ce ne una che prende la luna!

Tintarella di luna!
Tintarella color latte!
Tutta notte sopra il tetto,
Sopra il tetto con i gatti,
E se c'è la luna piena,
Tu diventi candida!

I tried translating this into English, but it is so silly (like so many Italian songs, unfortuanately), that I just can't bear to do it. For those of you who don't read Italian, it's basically a song about a girl who, instead of taking the sun and getting all splotchy and red-faced like most girls, takes the moon instead. She lies on the roof all night long so her skin is as white as milk, and when there's a full moon, she becomes white as snow...
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Back to School!

Today is the day all the little ones in Italy are heading back to school. Such an exciting time. A time of new backpacks, mechanical pencils and crisp blank notebooks just waiting to be filled up. A time to wonder what your new teacher will be like, if you'll get to be in the same class as your best friend, and what new friends you might make. Ah, those were the days.

Well, guess what? I'm going back too! Well, not exactly back to elementary school, although that would be fun too.

It's been a long time since I've been a student. In fact, it's nearly a decade since I finished graduate school! Yikes! Now, I haven't decided to go back to university (I kind of swore I would never do that again, but actually, never say never), but I am taking a course. A pretty in-depth course by the look of it. I won't go into the whys and wheres of it, but it will cover Roman history, from ancient to present as well as Italian Art History, and specifically works of art found in Rome. As you might have guessed, this course was made for me, and I absolutely can't wait for my first day: today!

The course meets four times a week for the next three months, so I'm warning you now that this blog may get a touch history-heavy for the time being. My plan is to post about every bi-weekly lesson and every bi-weekly visit, in order to make sure I am fully absorbing everything. Hopefully you'll bear with me, and come along as I learn even more about my favorite subject in the world: Roma.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rome's fountains under attack

According to news reports, early yesterday morning, the Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor), the southernmost of the three fountains in Piazza Navona, was attacked and severely damaged. Surveillance cameras nearby recorded a middle-aged man climbing into the fountain and violently smashing a stone ten times against the figures decorating one of the four maschere (masks) that grace the fountain. Three pieces broke off, but luckily were not stolen, but fell into the water of the fountain. A tourist nearby noticed not the attack itself, but the marble pieces in the water and alerted the vigili, but by that time, the culprit had fled.



The Fontana del Moro was originally conceived by the great fountain designer Giacomo della Porta in 1574, but many of the sculptures were added by Bernini in 1653. Luckily, when the fountain was restored in 1874, the original sculptures by Bernini were removed for safekeeping, and replaced with copies. Because the pieces have not been lost, the fountain is expected to be thoroughly restored.

But the story doesn't end there: just a few hours later, around 3pm, surveillance cameras spotted a seemingly identical man climb up onto the base of the monumental Trevi fountain and hurl a sanpietrino (Roman cobblestone) at one of its travertine figures. Luckily, he missed and the stone landed harmlessly in the water. The culprit was able to escape into the crowd, but authorities are almost certain it was the same man.

As expected, politicians are coming out to condemn the act, using phrases like "act of folly" and "great offence to our city."  The opposition is taking advantage of the opportunity to criticize the current mayor, saying "In Alemanno's Rome, there are no longer rules", and "Rome is out of control, from the legal point of view."

I can't help but agree, particularly when it comes to petty crime and Romans' seeming disregard for traffic, parking, littering, vandalism and other basic civic laws.  (These are the things I, as an ordinary resident, witness on a daily basis so they are more prominent in my consciousness.) But then again, can you blame the locals for not obeying laws that are almost never enforced? There is talk of a crack-down on acts of vandalism and it would be about time. The graffiti alone is a shameful example of the city's complaisance, but I wonder if anything will actually change.

To add insult to injury, a twenty-year-old American tourist was caught digging outside the Colosseum last night, on the Via Labicana side, collecting ancient fragments of the monument to take home as souvenirs. He was quickly apprehended, but is not the same man who went on a fountain-vandalising spree earlier. Maybe, in light of the day's events, he thought Rome was a free-for-all, with the city's greatest treasures just there for the taking (or the destroying). The city was, after all, founded on fratricide and abduction. Vandalism doesn't seem quite so bad by comparison.

Photo sources: 1, 2
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Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Being a Woman, by Dorothy Parker

On Being a Woman

"Why is it, when I am in Rome,
I'd give an eye to be at home,
But when on native earth I be,
My soul is sick for Italy?

And why with you, my love, my lord,
Am I spectacularly bored,
Yet do you up and leave me-- then
I scream to have you back again?"

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

This woman just got it. Perennially unlucky in love, she made light of her disappointment, never taking herself too seriously, and made us all laugh along with her. Short, sweet, with clever rhymes and immaculate meter, her poems are unmistakable, tripping of the tongue with a delightful cadence. Dorothy was sarcastic, witty and cynical to the extreme, but with such a charming touch of wistfulness and playfulness, you can't help but love her. And I can't imagine there's a woman alive who couldn't identify with her.

Here is one of my favorites:

"Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania."

Or how about this one?

"Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye."

When asked at the Algonquin Round Table to discuss Horticulture, she declared:
"You can lead a whore-to-culture, but you can't make her think."

Lastly, I present the very first Dorothy quote I ever heard. When I was growing up, our fantastic next door neighbor loved to quote it. I never knew who had said it until a close friend introduced me to the inimitable Ms. Parker. I advise you memorize it; it'll make you the hit of any party:

"I love a martini,
but two at the most:
with three I'm under the table,
with four I'm under my host."

 All quotations by Dorothy Parker
Photo Sources: 1, 2,

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