It May Not be Lunedi But…

… It’s Lunacy!

As difficult as it is to believe it’s been over five years since we left Italy and there are times when I still miss that wonderful country.  Chiefly I miss my beloved friends there, but also the cuisine, the culture, the climate, the chaos, and the confusion.  Yes I honestly sometimes miss those last two defining characteristics of that mad beautiful country. What I do not miss is the sheer lunacy of bureaucratic moves such as this:

Some one painted this little scene on a wall just off Borgo Pio near the Vatican.  I don’t know about you but I find it charming and also telling – Peace has won the day in the game of Xs and Os played by the Bishop of Rome.  And frankly I can almost see this happening – spying Swiss Guard and all.

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However someone at the Vatican or  Roma Capitale (or both) thought otherwise and within a matter of a day or two sent out a crew to remove the “offending” art.

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Would that they were so quick in rid the glorious buildings and monuments of the mindless graffiti that covers so many structures in the city.

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As one Roman friend said when they saw this:  Perhaps they should send these guys to do something useful like pick up the garbage that litters the streets – or maybe fill in a few potholes – or even clean the gutters so that street won’t flood during winter rains.

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Many thanks to my friend Robert, a long time resident of the Eternal (and eternally surprising and maddening) City for posting this originally on Facebook.

On this day in 1813: The Battle of Leipzig concludes, giving Napoleon Bonaparte one of his worst defeats.

Osservazioni di Roma

Well its been two years since I wandered the streets of Rome and the past few days have been like many homecomings after a time away – much has stayed the same and much has changed.  Somethings for the better other things not so much.

Sidd, knowing how bad a flier I am, thought it would be a laugh to count down the “klicks” left during the trip.  Little bugger snickered every time we hit turbulence too!  He keeps that up and he will be traveling with the luggage not in Club Class!
  • For over two years I would keep a medical appointment in Trastevere every Tuesday at 1400.  And every Tuesday at 1350 I would drop into a cafe-bar in Piazza Piscinula and have an espresso – it got to the point where Paolo the bar man would see me coming and start making my coffee.  On Sunday afternoon we sat on the wooden terrace there and Paolo came over – greeted me as if I had never left and brought me my espresso.  We exchanged pleasantries – he joked about the new waitress as being the love of his life and as I left we shook hands with the assurance that we would meet again.
Being a Nature Worshiper it was a bit difficult to explain to Sidd why there are so many churches in Roma – right outside our window was St Pascale Baylon.  Fortunately the church bells didn’t disturb Sidd’s sleep too much, nor did the midnight Jazz concerts at the cafe below us.
  • The number 8 tram, which ran through Trastevere and ended at Largo Argentina has been extended down to Piazza Venezia.  A big improvement and makes getting into Centro so much easier from where we were.
    After the church stuff it was even more difficult to explain the whole Kosher food schtick to Sidd; however he took one look at the roasted tomatoes and grilled chicken at Taverna del Ghetto and decided it was a good thing!
    • Tropical Ice – our favourite Gelatoria – is still open and the wonderful fresh flavours are still being served up by the charmingly handsome owner.  And he remembered that I take my coppetta neat – no whipped cream.  The sad news is that he has sold the business and will be moving on to other things.   It seems to be a story that is repeating itself over and over again here.
    Okay now this was a bit more to Sidd’s taste – just some of the wonderful flavours at Tropical Ice.  And they were just as delicious as I remember them being – and with the intense taste that only natural ingredients bring to Marco’s gelati.
    • It looks like other businesses in our old neighbourhood have closed:  Stella Maris, so often our Friday night local, has been replaced by a pizza chain.  And where the Bifteka, a very good streak house, once stood is now a very large McDonald’s.  A few other stores have disappeared as have several of the coffee shops – fortunately none have been replaced by Starbucks.
    Sidd gets his first taste of water from one of Roma’s famous Nasone or water fountains.  As they have done since Roman times they deliver cold, pure water to refresh the local populace.  Who would bother with the bottled tap water they sell in stores under fancy names when you can get this for free?

      • There are more beggars on the streets and not just the regular crew of gypsies – though amongst the lame, the halt and the maimed most of the faces were familiar ones.  Older people here have seen their pensions cut and, in a repeat of something I recall from Poland in the late 1990s, some of them seem to have taken to begging.  Hunger has no pride.
      Sidd admires the Mostra della Acqua Felice which I wrote about extensively a few years ago.  He noticed that though it was only cleaned three years ago, the exhaust from the traffic is starting to blacken the stone already. 

        • Many of the restaurants in our old neighbourhood stood mostly empty on Monday at lunch time though I was happy to see that by Wednesday business had picked up at Checco e Lina, an old haunt of my friend Dario and I.  It was the fullest I had ever seen it at pranzo.  The food is still dependable solid cucina Romana and the service as welcoming as ever.

        November 3 – 1868:  John Willis Menard was the first African American elected to the United States Congress. Because of an electoral challenge, he was never seated.

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          Neve, Neve, Andare Via!*

          I know its been over six months since I left Roma and Italy but I realize that my friend Rebecca was right when she said “give it a year”.  Every so often I get an wave of homesickness for the place and, most especially, the people and today when I received photos of Roma in the snow from those people  was one of those “oftens”.  Yes I know we have snow here in Ottawa – boy do we have snow, and freezing rain and -35c days – but its not the same.  Here snow is a daily thing and a bother, there its a rarity and romantic.  Well okay its romantic except for no buses, no trains, motorini buried under snow, icy cobble stone streets and the mess when it turns to slush.

          Today for the first time in many years – though I do remember a brief snow storm two years ago – it snowed in Roma and snow is forecast for the next few days.  North of Firenze it has been dire – temperatures in the minus teens and snow.. lots and lots of snow.  Not that snow is an unknown in these areas, just that this past few days have been exceptional – but understand there is no climate change!

          But I digress – often according to some of the finest psychoanalysts a sign of denial.  I awoke this morning (afternoon his time) to these photos that my friend Marco sent as he attempted to get home from work – his being the motorino buried in the snow.

          Piazza della Repubblica looks even more romantic in that half-light you get
          with falling snow and cloudy skies – and its almost devoid of traffic.
          I’m not sure as Marco didn’t identify the venue
          but I think this is the main station at Termini – equally devoid of traffic???

          Then later in the day – evening his time – cher Lionel sent this photo of Piazza Navona in the evening snow.  If I read his posting correctly – and from what I’ve heard from other people about buses having problems getting up those Seven Hills of Rome – he walked the 3.5 kms from our old neighborhood to Centro.  Such an athlete!

          Piazza Navona as captured by our friend Lionel this evening – sensible Romani stayed in doors but our Lionel walked from our old neighborhood to take it.  Not exactly next door but then he always was the athletic sort.

          And finally young Simon – who is either in London studying hard or in Roma cheering on Lazio, or perhaps in London just “studying” and cheering on Lazio – put this wonderful photo up on Facebook.

          From the Cappidocia overlooking the Foro towards the Colesseo and San Giovanni.  Snow covered for the first time in 28 years – a sight not many of us will ever see, and how I wish I were there to see it now.

          Sorry how the hell could I not be homesick?

          *Snow, snow, go away!

          03 February – 1815:  The first factory dedicated to making cheese opens in Switzerland. 

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          On the Last Day of Christmas

          Just a reminder that a left click will enlarge the photos – particularly the last two panorama shots.

          Well theoretically I guess the last day of Christmas is the 6th of January but in my old parish we celebrated octave days – a practice whereby a major feast could have an additional celebration on the following Sunday. So to celebrate the Sunday within the Octave of Epiphany we joined Olivia, Tora and Diana for a walk around a few of the presepe in Centro. Most of them will be dismantled today (Monday) though a few will stay up until February 2 – the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

          I wasn’t able to get a photo of the Presepe on permanent display at Santi Cosimo e Damiano and have taken this from another website. It was taken by James Martin at Europe Travel.

          Though our journey started with the Neapolitan Presepe at Santi Cosimo e Damiano at the Fori Romano the purpose was to see presepe with a Roman flavour. However it was a fitting place to start as it combined the two historical links of the presepe in Italy – its introduction as a major fixture in the Feast of Christmas by San Francisco (the church is Franciscan) and the artisans of Napoli who created, and still create, some of the most elaborate Nativity scenes imaginable. Commissioned by King Ferdinand in 1780, it led to an entire industry being built up around it including porcelain manufacturing and the silk factory in San Leucio in the Caserta region near Napoli. It became a favourite pastime of noble women to work on elaborate costumes for the various characters that populated the every growing scene. As beautiful as it is unfortunately it needs a good cleaning and a surer hand at lighting and display.

          At one time the presepe at Santa Maria in Aracoeli spilled over into the nave of the church. Though the backdrop has all the marks of the 19th century scenery painter the figures themselves are naturalistic. I particularly like the young man who is staring out at us almost defiantly – a Roman ragazzo with a chip on his shoulder? And for some reason that bull reminds me of Ferdinand the Bull – no fighter he!

          Tradition plays a great part in the visit of the Kings – the gospels tell us that simply that they were “wise men from the east” but the number was set at three because of the three gifts they gave. In this presepe they were are identifiably from Africa, Ethiopia and the Caucasus. I particularly love the rather jolly sheep who seem to be enjoying themselves immensely and almost laughing at the spectacle.

          At the Church of<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_in_Aracoeli&quot; target="blank
          “> Santa Maria in Aracoeli the presepe is traditionally set up in a side chapel and on Christmas Eve the miraculous Santo Bambino is placed in the manager where it remains until the 6th of January. Legend says that the statue of the Bambino was carved from a piece of olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane and that a wild storm struck the ship that was transporting it back to Italy. In an effort to lighten the ship everything that could be had to be thrown over board including the carving. Miraculously the ship made it to home port and equally as miraculously the Bambino followed in its wake and was retrieved from the harbour waters. It (a copy I might add as the original was stolen in 1993) had already gone back to its chapel and had been replaced by a plaster Bambino on Sunday.

          <a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_fVa9EgBoOqg/TSuCpk0NeEI/AAAAAAAAKqk/d5MrCxJc6uI/s1600/san-marcello.jpg&quot; target="blank
          ” imageanchor=”1″ style=”margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;”>
          This Bethlehem at Chiesa San Marcello bears a striking resemblance to the country side just outside Rome. I only wish I had been able to get a clear picture of the very 19th century light fixture hanging in the farm house at the right. This was part of a movement, initiated by the Franciscans, to bring the Nativity to a more human and less remote level.

          As the Kings present their gifts life goes on along the banks of the Tiber in this year’s presepe at Santa Maria di Via. Though I’m not entirely sure it almost looks like the dome of San Giovanni dei Fiorintini in the background. Despite the momentous events taking place in the next street the fisher woman in the background has fallen asleep against her boat.

          Two churches along the Corso have presepe that leave no question as to where their Nativity is taking place. At San Marcello al Corso the ruins of the aqueducts tower in the background and the pines are decidedly Roman. There was a symbolism to setting the birth of Christ amongst the ruins of the old civilization – the old ways had been destroyed but the new faith flourished out of them. Santa Maria in Via is unusual in that the setting of their presepe changes from year to year. Last year Castello Sant’Angelo was silhouetted against a star light sky – this year they have moved to the other side of the Tiber and the shores of the river can be seen in the background. It gives a picture of Roma when there was not embankment and the Tiber was still the life blood of the city with buildings built right to its edge.

          On New Year’s Eve it has become the tradition, if you are celebrating at the Spanish Steps, to give your true love a rose which she then throws at the Presepe on the stroke of midnight. I’m not sure what it signifies but I’m sure the rose sellers in the area are happy with this custom.

          The presepe on the Spanish Steps was once a more elaborate affair with dozens of figurines portraying life in Rome. However vandalism and financial attrition has wheeled down the number of terra cotta inhabitants of this quartiere of the city. It once reflected early 19th century life, as indicated by the uniforms of the Papal Guards, in the area surrounding Piazza Navona (one of Roma’s famous talking statues, Pasquino, can be seen at the far right). Sadly the friggiteria, which once would have had elaborate examples of their fried foods, looks like it has been stripped of all its wares and no one seems to be drinking at the Locanda either.

          At Sant’Eustachio the Nativity is a small – almost insignificant – part of what is going on in the daily life of the parish including a fat priest bustling out of the church and some of the fluffiest sheep I’ve ever seen. Though many local landmarks are visible the famous coffee shop is nowhere to be found.

          The day before we had been down in the area of Piazza Navona for a visit to the newly restored Museo di Roma. That had been followed by a stroll over to try and get one of the legendary coffees at Cafee Sant’Eustachio however 40 or 50 other people had the same idea so we gave it a pass. However the presepe at Chiesa Sant’Eustachio was a perfect example of the Nativity within the context of familiar surroundings. The scene is a replica of the Piazza in front of the church including a view of the distinctive bell tower of Sant’Ivo.

          Today we followed the local custom and took down our presepe and stored it away just as most of the parishes throughout town have done with theirs. Unlike the churches here when ours is next set up it will be in a different place but like theirs it will be the familiar retelling of the Christmas story.

          10 gennaio – Sant’Odilone