Memories of….

A few years back a well-known grocery store in Canada started marketing items – mostly sauces and condiments – under the name “Memories of….”.

The whole campaign suggested that the use of these products would revive memories of exotic places visited, grandma’s kitchen or delightful childhood events. I’m not sure how successful they were as aide-memories but as a campaign it was – and still is – successful. As I settle in to our new home I’m unpacking things that trigger memories of the past four years – exotic places visited, if not grandma’s kitchen then certainly some exceptional nonne’s kitchens that served up incredible food and again if not events from childhood then assuredly ones that fulfilled childhood dreams and gave delight.

I realized that with all the books, pamphlets, programmes and catalogues on hand plus the enumerable photos taken in the past four years I have enough material to do my own series of “Memories of …..”. That and a look at the Post List shows a fair number of pieces on sights and cities that I started but didn’t finish – perhaps completing them wouldn’t be a bad idea while I still have “memories of …”. Now I must admit this idea could also be viewed as a rather pathetic attempt to hold on to Italy and what amounted to some of the most wonderful years of my life. If that’s the case … so be it – I’ll also post a few things about life here in Bagdad on the Rideau as I once heard a Cabinet Minister call it.  That is – as Italy was for the past few years – my current reality so I’ll deal with it. I’m looking at a calender that is filling up with some interesting concerts, dance, theatre and occasions with dear friends. Plus there is always the joys of the frozen canal, snow and -35c (before wind chill) to look forward to and capture with camera clicking and teeth a chattering.

Coming soon to a grocery shelf near you a computer near you:  Memories of …..  Italy.

24 settembre/September – Beata Vergine Maria della Mercede

Sicilian Ceramics

It seems that no matter where you go here in Italy there is a regional style of ceramics: though many of the items – particularly those made for mass consumption in locations far removed from Italy – bear striking similarities there are colour, themes and designs that are specific to Umbria, Tuscany, the Veneto, Napoli or Sicilia.  Its hard to avoid the shops crammed with wall plaques, holy water stoops, pots, Christmas ornaments, jars, urns or table wear of dubious provenance.  However it is still possible to find the work of local artists that reflect the tradition of the region but with a twist that also reflects the approach of the creator.

Though, god knows, we don’t really need more things in the past four years the household inventory has been augmented by a few items, particularly the Christmas ornaments – yes I know as if we really need more Christmas ornaments.  However a wall plate, a Beaulieu-Hobbs name plaque and a large jar, all created by Valentina Pietrosanti in Sermoneta, will also be making their way back to Canada come July.

I’m pretty sure that Nicky thinks the sunshine that he loves so much comes out of this ceramic pot – and Nora is willing to let him do the ground work and she’ll just bask in the rays afterwards.  The pot itself shows the distinct style of ceramics from the Lazio region – particularly the lemon branches.  It was created by the very talented Valentina Pietrosanti at Labratorio Uscio e Bottega in Sermoneta.

And they will be kept company by a few little items that were picked up on the trip to Sicilia. The style there seems to be a bit more naive and colours at times more primary than in many of the other regions.  Having said that I saw a plate in Erice and a platter in Ragusa –  though both are the work of artists in Caltagirone, a town famous for its ceramics, on the east side of the island – that had subtle colourings and simple almost primitive designs but still, I find, had echos of some of the antique patterns of Siciliana.  

I bought this plate in Erice however it was produced by Giacomo Alessi in his workshop in Caltagirone near Catania.  The town is renowned for its ceramics and Alessi is one of the better known artists in the field.  What attracted me was those pomegranates – they are as exuberant and as light hearted as the island itself.
This piece is also from a studio in Caltagirone though again bought in another part of the island.  Francesco Boria is perhaps better known for his pieces in the antique baroque style so this subtle use of the green and simple line drawing is surprising when compared to much of his work.

Equally fascinating are the ceramics of Agosto Fiorito who works in miniatures as part of an artisan collective on Via Bara all’Olivella in Palermo. His ceramics have a charming naivety and his creation of presepi has led him to adapted the multitude of small items that fill the scenes of these traditional Nativity scenes and turned them into, of all things, fridge magnets.  Taking his inspiration from the rich world of the Sicilian kitchen he has platters of sea food, pasteria trays of dolci and paper cones of the fresh vegetable on the shelves of his clutter corner of this wonderfully atmospheric shop.

Agosto Fiorito’s miniature ceramics – a left click will show them in actual size – are tiny representations of the riches of the farms, seas and pastry shops of Sicilia.  Those vegetabls would made a wonderful caponata and the casatte and canoli look good enough to eat.

Fortunately Fiorito’s little gems will pack easy and may well find their way into various Christmas stockings as a reminder of the time spent here  The other pieces are going to require some special handling so I’ll have a few words with the movers and Sant’Anna, their patron saint, to make sure they arrive back in Canada in one piece.

28 maggio – San Just

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A Sunny Sunday Expedition to an Exhibition

Last Sunday was one of those glorious winter days we can get here in Roma: it had been cold at 0730 (around 0c) when I walked the Hounds from Hell but by 1000 when we set off for Piazza San Pietro it was sunny and warm – in fact it got up to around +18c.   I was surprised at how few people were in the square on a Sunday morning but it was not too difficult to pick out the tourists – many wearing short sleeves and – lord help us – some even in shorts while the locals were still sensibly wearing their scarves and gloves.   Experience has taught that it may be warm in the sun but those churches and old buildings hold the cold. The jaunt over to the Country Across the River was the first activity of a rather full day of exhibition viewing, pranzo with friends, a late matinee at the opera and a dinner with two of our dearest friends here.

Pope Sixtus IV Appoints Bartolomeo Platina Prefect of the Vatican Library, a fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, 1477.

Though it was formally established in 1475 by Sixtus IV – he of the Sistine Chapel – the Biblioteca Vaticana had existed as a loose collection of manuscripts and documents from the early days of the papacy. With its creation and the construction of a proper building to house the collection in 1587 – a building still in use today – the Library became one of the major repositories of the written and pictorial word in the modern world.

This stero-card from 1909 shows the Great Hall (Sistine Hall) of the Library, the photo below shows how little it has changed in the past 100 years.

The Biblioteca was closed in July of 2007 for renovations, remodelling and restoration of Domenico Fontana‘ s building to meet the ever expanding collections and modern library technology.  After three years of intensive work it was reopened this past September.

At its reopening the Library inventory held 1,600,000 printed volumes, 80,000 manuscripts and 100,000 archival units, 8,400 incunabula, about 300,000 coins and medals, 150 thousand prints, drawings and engravings, and over 150 thousand photographs.

The Library is not open to the general public but can be used by scholars for research and study.  Some 4,000-5,000 people access it every year under strict supervision and stringent rules – no food, no liquids, no pens.  Security measures are closely observed following the theft of pages of a rare manuscript in 1987.

The scope of the holdings covers manuscripts, incunabula, books, documents, periodicals, photographs, coins and medals from around the world – writings in Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Chinese, pictographs from Mesoamerica – some 2 million items.  As with any library the contents are constantly growing as new books, and in some cases collections, are acquired.  A sophisticated computer chip system was part of the three year project both to ensure security and to assist in filing.  The mere thought of attempting to find a miss-filed book in the 60 kms of shelving and storage would cause any librarian nightmares.

To celebrate the reopening the Vatican mounted Conoscere La Biblioteca Vaticana – which rather prosaically translates as Getting to Know the Vatican Library – at Il Braccio di Carlo Magno in Piazza San Pietro.  The Curators have fashioned a multi-media exhibition which highlights the collections, the collectors, the conservation and the history of the Library.  The use of facsimiles in the first room means that it is possible to leaf through beautifully reproduced copies of rare books adding the tactile to the audio and visual.  With the exception of a rather pompous introduction and a fair bit of revisionist propaganda – at one point I had to stifle laughter at both the pomposity and hypocrisy of the section on coins –  the audio guide provides clear and detailed information on the Library and the items displayed.

Well-known rare holdings along side little known gems in the collection are displayed behind protective glass with sufficient descriptions in Italian and English – though the curators could take a tip from the remarkably detailed carding used at the recent Bronzino exhibition in Firenze.  The logical progression moves us room to room and floor to floor from the earliest works on to prints, coins and photography.  Display rooms reproduce the frescoes from the Library and connecting passageways are lined with life-sized photos of the shelves and storage areas of the Library itself giving the displays an added context.

The exhibition has been extended until March 13 and despite any reservations I may have is well worth the visit.  One further caveat – the catalogue is available only in Italian – very strange given the number of foreign visitors through the Vatican on any given day.

In the next few days I’ll be posting photos I took of a few of the more intriguing displays – yes we were allowed to take photos as long as they were not flash.

10 febbraio – Santa Scolastica da Norcia