Ho Visto*

Every Tuesday afternoon I head over to Trastevere for an appointment. Trastevere literally mean “across the Tiber” and encompasses a large area south of the Vatican on the west bank of the river. The northern area of the Rioni (Rome proper is divided into 22 districts or Rioni, Trastevere being number 8) is a warren of cobblestoned streets, alleyways, old palazzi, palazetti, churches and other buildings some dating back to the 12th century. It’s also a beehive of trattorie, bars and trendy clubs some catering chiefly to tourists and others to the better heeled youth of the area.

I’m not working these days so I often leave a bit early, have a coffee at a bar just off the Lungotevere – I don’t even have to order now just wave at Cisco, the barman, and my Caffè macchiato is made – and wander around the back streets. It is still an area I am not all that familiar with and I only get over there on those Tuesday jaunts. It’s odd, but I think only normal, how once you get settled in a city you tend not to leave your own area most of the time. So Trastevere is mostly uncharted territory to this stranger from the Upper East side.

This past Tuesday as I was approaching the Piazza de’Mercanti I noticed this gentleman unloading his truck.

Firewood? In the middle of Rome? Why would he be unloading firewood? Sure our wealthy neighbours on the ground floor have a fireplace but I don’t suspect many people in the palazzi in that area do. Then I realized it was in front of a trattoria that had been a favourite haunt of many film stars in the 60s and 70s: La Taverna de’Mercanti. And of course this would be for their famous wood burning pizza ovens.

And as I walked along the side of the building I noticed a screen door leading directly down into their kitchen and took a quick shot of one of the staff preparing for the evening onslaught.

When I mentioned it to my doctor, he gave that famous Roman “BOH!” and suggested that I come over one evening and take night time pictures as according to him it is quite lovely. But then he suggested I go and eat elsewhere – too many people looking for the table that Gregory Peck sat at!

*I Saw

03 novembre – Santa Silvia

Madrid Nights – Christmas Lights – I

At the best of times I’m sure that the centre of Madrid at night is a fascinating sight but over the Christmas season the imaginative use of lights gives it an added magic. And its not just the main avenues and well known boulevards; back ways and side streets are strung with lights to celebrate the holidays.

Plaza de la red de San Luis had this modern skyscraper of lights as its centre piece and Gran Via was strung with matching festoons. It gave the appearance of a modern city receding into the night.

Whereas Passo del Prado was all multi coloured wreaths suspended in the darkness. And the pedestrian boulevard that runs down the centre dotted with trees of lights.

And a small side street was a bit more traditional with candles and holly.

Plaza de La Cibeles was very modern with abstract patterns surrounding the fountain and a forest of suspended light icicles heading down Paseo de Recoletos.

Around our hotel at Plaza de San Martin, on the Arenal and Alcala Christmas balls and abstract clouds led down to the gigantic tree at Puerta del Sol.

05 gennaio – San Giovanni Nepomuceno

Enhanced by Zemanta

Images of Athens

This distinguished looking member of the Orthodox clergy was sitting at the table near to mine at the Metropole Cafe in Cathedral Square this morning. I thought he had that sort of, at the least, Old Testament prophet look if not, at the most, “God the Father” himself from a few of the paintings I’ve seen around.

But I was not the only one impressed – an North American couple (that is the gentleman in white) of East Indian origin off one of the cruise ships were fascinated by him. There were some desperate attempts to communicate and some intriguing pantomimes and finally Spiros, one of the waiters was dragged into the little scenario playing out beside me.

“Tell him he has a divine look,” the woman commanded in a tone that was not to be denied. “Tell him he’s divine!”

The message was convey to the rather bemused clergyman who accepted it with a gracious nod – am I just imagining that his wife giggled a bit?

“We want his blessing,” said the husband while making a vague sign of benediction in the direction of his wife and himself.

“No I want him to place his hands on my head,” insisted the wife. “I want a proper blessing!”

Poor Spiros communicated this rather unusual request as the husband pulled the priest up to his feet, grabbed his hands and placed them on his wife’s head. The priest muttered something in Greek – it could have been a blessing. Then repeated it for the man. The wife kissed his hand as did the husband and faces beaming they took their leave, turning to wave several times as they headed towards the Cathedral.

The priest sat down, gave me a “I’m not sure what just went on here” look and dipping his napkin in some water wiped off his hands. I am not at all sure he was that happy but there were two radiant people basking in the glow of his “blessing”. And, no doubt, this evening, at dinner, they’ll be recounting the experience to their table mates.

21 ottobre – San Gaspare del Bufalo

Images from Pesaro

I’ll be writing a bit more about Pesaro, our rather strange hotel here and the Rossini Festival in the next day or two but I just had to share this.

Along Via Rossini and just off the side streets are some verrrrryyyy high end shops. This was in the window of one of the them.

Not sure where exactly a dress like either of these would be worn in Pesaro but ……

11 agosto – Santa Chiara

Quote … Unquote

I was put on to Jan Morris’s Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by a comment from David at I’ll Think of Something Later and then again by my friend Simonetta. Both assured me that it was a brilliant piece of writing and as always both were right.

Morris began life as James Morris and first visited Trieste as part of the British Forces of Occupation after the war. I won’t go into the details of his becoming Jan and the incredible career that has led her to prominence as a writer. Morris has said that Trieste is her last book and if so it is a touching farewell to a city and perhaps for Morris a life that is rich in memories.

The overwhelming tone of Morris’s Trieste is one of nostalgia but my own few days there lead me to believe that is a constant in that often forgotten city in the middle of “Nowhere”. Here are a few quotes from the book and pictures I took on our visit there.

Trieste is a historical chameleon which is reflected in its architecture. Small alley ways (like the one above down which a drunken James Joyce often wended his way home) lead into piazzas lined with facades adorned in the Austro-Hungarian style. And decorations bear the stamp of so many influences.

Across the world we may see famous old havens now neglected or debased, sometimes simply because modern ships need deeper water or different facilities, but sometimes because their fundamental purpose has been lost. Everywhere once vigorous waterfront areas have been emasculated or mutated, with reconstituted flagstones and fancy fittings, warehouses turned into trendy apartments, novelty shops smelling of pot-pourri, dry docks filled in for more office space. The quays where the lovely clippers berthed in Manhattan now form a maritime museum. The docks in London where the East Indiamen unloaded their jutes and spices have been turned into Docklands, a grim, modish city of corporations. Bristol and Liverpool, one great bases of the Atlantic trade, now find themselves on the wrong side of Britain for the European markets, just as one day Hong Kong may wish it were on the mainland of China after all. Nearly everywhere the jumble of port life, with all its stinks, noises and clashing colours, has been removed from the city centres, and so from the public consciousness.

Trieste is still very much a city of the sea. Morris is right, in that the waterfront has become gentrified and, at least when we were there, was often deserted during the day. In the evening the cafés and trattorias were very much alive but not with seafarers. Simonetta and Sheryl tell me that the Grand Canal – that juts into the city from the sea – was very busy one Thursday evening when they were there.

One evening I heard music in the street, and looking out of my window I saw two strange figures passing. One was a young man in a tall brown hat, blowing on a shepherd’s flute. The other was attached by complex apparatus to a variety of apparently home-made instruments – bagpipes, drums, cymbals, a triangle I think – and in order to bet the biggest drum he had to move in an abrupt but creaky shuffle. Slowly and sporadically these engaging characters pottered down the pavement below me, tootling and drumming as they went.

In Trieste that day they were like visitors from another, less inhibited world. They brought a touch of the maverick to this ordered cit. They were musicians from the Karst, strollers from the wild side.

On one side of steps leading from the water to the Piazza is a carabinari bravely entering the Piazza flag flying and on the other side these two women engaged in what appears to be sewing. I wish now I had photographed the plaque explaining it but it seemed to me it had something to do with the World War – the first of that name.

There are places that have meant more to me than Trieste. Wales is where my heart is. A lost England made me. I have had more delicious pleasures in Venice. Manhattan excites me more than Trieste ever could, and so does Sydney. But here more than anywhere I remember lost times, lost chances, lost friends, with the sweet tristesse that is onomatopoeic to the place. What became of that innocent young man I escorted to the brothel on page 123? Dead and gone, and all his horses too, from an English countryside that is no more. The friend who came with me to the schooner on page 69? Still sailing his yacht about the seas, loaded with rank and honour now, but no longer the lithe young bravo who clambered on board with the prosecco that evening. Otto, my natural Triestine, was stabbed to death in Arabia long ago. The woman who slept one dreadful night at the Risiera has gone to her peaceful rest at last. And the stranger I bumped into that day at the Savoia Excelsior? What swinging door is he passing through today, with what arthritic difficulty, and what tender lies is he telling now that he is old and grey?

The ecclesiastical heritage of Trieste is as varied as its history. The Cathedral of San Guisto was built on the site of a Roman basilica and is now a mixture of the modern – a very ugly mosaic over the high altar – and ancient – the very lovely 12th century mosaic (above). The Anglican Church (3rd photo)only holds 6 services a year and the rector comes over from Venice. There is a very strong Orthodox presence – both Greek and Serbian. The Greek cathedral is being restored and extensive work done on its fine fin-desciecle mosaics.

Now that I’ve discovered Morris, Amazon.UK will be showing a profit – I’ve already ordered her book on Venice, the Pax Britanncia trilogy and Conundrum – her story of her gender dysphoria. And of course I still have much of the Benson books to finish – I really shouldn’t be pursuing a job all that seriously when there’s so much to read.

Note: All excerpts are from Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris, Published by Faber and Faber.

07 luglio – San Pancrazio di Taormina