Archive for April, 2010

Taranta Peligna

Taranta Peligna
Window + balcony of another abandoned building in Taranta Peligna

Well, as it were, Tony’s friend ended up not being able to go with us this morning, so Tony drove us himself. It’s roughly an hour and a half drive from Chieti Scalo to Taranta Peligna, the small mountain town where Maria’s great grandmother, Maria DiNardo is originally from. The country is beautiful, and the route took us along sharply winding roads through the Maiella mountains, through Fara San Martino (where the best spaghetti in the world is produced- according to Tony- using water from a mountain spring) and Casoli.

Taranta Peligna (the name has something to do with tarantulas – fantastic, no?) is a small, small town (population c. 500), nestled into the side of the Maiella mountains in the Aventino River valley. We rolled into town in Tony’s cobalt blue Fiat around noon and, in true Italian form, immediately pulled over to talk to someone. It turns out, Tony spotted three aging gentleman and immediately began explaining to them the whole situation: we’re three American girls, studying in Rome, staying in Chieti Scalo at his B&B and that Maria is trying to find her roots, here, in this town. He asked about Maria DiNardo, Maria’s great grandmother, and the three gentlemen hopped into their respective cars and we wagon trained 1/4 mile down the road to a small house on the hill. One of the gentlemen introduced us to the family – two aging siblings (in their 80s), and their daughter, explaining that these are the DiNardo’s and that they must be Maria’s distant cousins. After trying to sort through names and relationships from c. 1920, we were invited in for cookies and juice, and met the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of the siblings who might be Maria DiNardo’s brother’s children. We spent an hour trying to sort the whole thing out, to little success but great excitement. It was amazing to just show up at someone’s home as a long lost relative and be well-received, even invited in for an afternoon snack.

We made our way down to City Hall to speak to another DiNardo and check the ledgers of all the people and families in Taranta Peligna who emigrated to America. Not much luck, but we were pointed in the direction of a local man – Enrico Rosato – who was just returning from Rome this very afternoon and whose hobby it is to catalogue the family histories of Taranta Peligna. We stopped in at a small bar and got ice cream (oh Magnum bars, how I will miss you!), before the amateur biographer arrived, at which point, Gina and I wandered off in search of adventure.

And did we find adventure… We found the medieval castle/church/fortress near the Aventino River, and behind it, a small abandoned house. Technically, there was no breaking, only entering, but we definitely had to duck under construction fencing… oh well. The house itself was small (four rooms between two storeys, maybe 200 square feet in all) and was obviously used, at some point, as a local after hours hang out spot for high school kids. We were poking around, looking at things when Gina found a Rolling Stones album and I found the box of an original Diana+ camera…from the 1970s. Upon further investigation, all of the magazines and newspapers still on the floor also seemed to hail from this period and it was a little disturbing, this cute little house in the shadow of a church would be abandoned for 40 years.

We wandered our way back to the bar/cafe, only to find a half-dozen people crowded around the table with Maria, Tony and the biographer. They had found Maria Vincenza DiNardo, born in the 1890s. After another few hours and much discussion (during which time Gina and I ended up falling asleep in the shade by the river…oops.) it seems as though we may have found the right family. Maria (and Gina and myself) were introduced to another pair of aging siblings (also in their mid-late 80s), a granddaughter, a grandson and a great-grandson (although he was only two or three) and were able to see the ruined foundations of the house in which they think Maria DiNardo was born, way back when. All in all, it was a fruitful day, and the hour and a half car ride home seemed much less anxious in the fading afternoon sun.

Tony’s wife and our gracious hostess, Amina, offered to make us dinner – much easier than trying to find another open and nearby restaurant, we were thrilled at the offer. She made whole roasted spigola, a type of white fish about the size of trout, but which tastes more like mahi mahi or tilapia, with roasted potatoes, a green salad with sliced heirloom tomatoes, a local cheese (with bread), imported walnuts and a fruit salad for dessert. It was lovely and, if you know my eating habits well, you’ll be shocked and amazed that I dealt with a whole fish (admittedly, headless) on my own and actually ate almost all of it.

Tomorrow we’re off to beautiful, coastal Vasto for a day at the beach!

Taranta Peligna
Small masonry building just outside Taranta Peligna

Taranta Peligna
Houses in Taranta Peligna

Vineyards in Chieti
Afternoon view from our B&B towards a neighbor’s vineyard

Read Full Post »

From Palazzi to Chieti

San Marco at Palazzo Venezia
The Nave of San Marco, part of Palazzo Venezia

What a day! We started off with a class on Renaissance palazzi in Rome, primarily cardinals’ residences built in the mid-14th century. We began at Palazzo Venezia and examined the courtyard (albeit from a distance, as the palazzo now houses the office of the superintendent of monuments) and the interior, which is a unique juxtaposition of Classical forms (exterior) with Gothic elements (interior). In light of our reading, this juxtaposition seems to be a formal expression of the relationship between secular and religious spaces.

We next visited Palazzo Mattei in the Sant’Angelo neighborhood (right next to the Fontana della Tartarughe that I spent so much time trying to find a few weeks ago) just to briefly see another Renaissance palace – this one is outfitted with antique sculptures and busts, as well as parts of friezes and grave markers that have been incorporated into the architecture of the courtyard. Afterwards, we took a brief break at the Campo before walking over to the Cancelleria, another cardinal’s palace which incidentally abuts the Campo. One of the largest palazzi in Rome, the Cancelleria also juxtaposes Classical forms (used in the courtyard and exterior, although according to an Albertian ideology) with Gothic and Early Christian elements of the titular church enclosed therein.

After class broke up for the weekend, Gina, Maria and I grabbed a quick lunch and ran some errands before heading over to Stazione Termini to catch our train to Chieti. As it turns out, we had to connect in Tiburtina, which is the smaller train station on the outskirts of Rome, and then took a 2 1/2 hour train to Chieti where the wonderful owner of the B&B we’re staying came to pick us up! Tony and his wife, Amina, are a wonderful couple and incredibly hospitable hosts. Because of increased traffic this weekend (May Day and there’s a military event nearby), Tony and Amina ended up giving us their bedroom for the weekend – talk about above and beyond! Tony, evidently, was born and raised in Chieti but moved to Philadelphia when he was in his 20s and lived there for 35 years before marrying a childhood sweetheart and returning to Italy. They are the sweetest couple, driving us the short way into town to a restaurant for dinner and picking us up again so that we would not have to walk in the dark. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Taranta Peligna, a small town about an hour and a half away where Maria’s great grandparents are originally from – more details then!

Oh, and in other news – we got our midterms back today and my grade was a pleasant confirmation of how I was feeling afterwards AND I was featured on Everyday Intensity as one of Five Young People to Inspire You! Very excited! Thanks Lisa!

Palazzo Venezia
Staircase inside Palazzo Venezia

Palazzo Mattei - Busts
Busts along the Balustrade in the Courtyard of Palazzo Mattei

Palazzo Mattei - Windows
Windows into the Courtyard of Palazzo Mattei

Read Full Post »

Chiesa Nuova: A New Church

Federico Barocci’s The Visitation altarpiece in Chiesa Nuova

UGH. Okay, today had some serious problems. First of all, I slept really poorly and had really strange and creepy dreams (think tarantulas and Redmond Town Center, but in Italy. Yeah.) Next, we got to Chiesa Nuova and the Borromini facade of the Oratory that I was so unbelievably excited to see? Under construction. Completely covered in scaffolding, further wrapped in plastic – just to make sure you that I couldn’t see it! Serious disappointment here. We get inside and – lo and behold – the Caravaggio Entombment altarpiece is missing. MISSING. Okay, so it’s only a copy because the Vatican Museum has a death grip on the original -but still!

On the up side, we did get to see the amazing Visitation altarpiece by Federico Barocci, and the totally awesome Rubens altarpiece (for the high altar) which is painted on slate and contains a painted copper panel which slides away by some nifty mechanism to reveal a 13th century icon – but only on feast days. Barocci, as I have said in the past, is my favorite painter. I love Raphael, don’t get me wrong, but Barocci is where it’s at. One of my favorite things about Barocci’s paintings are the unbelievable details and layers of meaning embedded within each piece. Honestly, I could come back to this altarpiece day after day and – if my Christian theology/imagery were up to par for a Renaissance/Baroque art historian – still find something new each time. My favorite piece thus far, however, is his Madonna del Popolo, seen here:

In any case, after our class ended, Maria, Gina and I caught a bus to Termini to buy our train ticket to Chieti for tomorrow! I’m terribly excited to spend the weekend with these girls, away from Rome – and on the Adriatic Sea, no less! We’re staying at a cute B&B run by a man and his wife who both, evidently, used to live in Philadelphia and can’t wait to practice their English with us – oh, and he thinks my name is Sophia… you win some, you lose some. Speaking of, not sure about the wifi access this weekend so I may not be back until Sunday night – ciao!

Detail of Barocci’s Visitation

Polychromatic Marble Inlay of a Funerary Emblem/Tomb Marker

One of Chiesa Nuova’s Twin Pipe Organs – so cool!

Read Full Post »


Chicken Cacciatore
Chicken Cacciatore

Second midterm was defeated, destroyed maybe even obliterated. Admittedly, I don’t feel quite as good about this one as I did about last week’s (the difference between ancient art and Renaissance, I suppose) but I still feel pretty good.

Came home after the exam, took a nap, went to work at the library, came home and made myself penne pasta with pesto and grated pulverized Pecorino (a lot of ps, no?) while the girls made the chicken cacciatore, featured above. I’m not a big fan of dark meat, so I chose not to join them, but the stew itself tasted (and smelled!) amazing!

We’re heading to Chiesa Nuova tomorrow and I am so excited. Not for the Federico Barocci, or the Rubens altarpiece, or even the Caravaggio – no. I’m excited because next door (attached, really) is the oratory of the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri with the facade redesigned by Borromini! Cannot wait to see it!

Read Full Post »

Pink tea rose from the atrium at S. Cecilia in Trastevere

Today we had another long-ish day in the field – we met at the Gesù to discuss both the original 16th century structure and facade, designed by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta between 1568-1575. The Gesù, used as an architectural template for many future churches in the late 16th and 17th centuries, was designed and built for the Jesuits as their “home church” in Rome. The Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola, were confirmed into an Order in the 1540 under Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese) and it was Paul III’s grandson, also Alessandro Farnese*, who was the driving force behind the Gesù project.

Cardinal Farnese called upon the family architect, Vignola, to design and build for him (erm, I mean, the Jesuits) a great, impressive church with no aisles and a barrel vaulted nave. Now, this may sound like a great deal – the Pope confirms your order, then his wealthy grandson offers to build for you a church – unfortunately, the style of the Gesù wasn’t really their taste. Until this point, the Jesuits had favored more traditional church plans: long nave, a pair of side aisles and a flat timber roof. As we can see, the Gesù is not of that persuasion. Admittedly, all of the gilding of the dome and the ridiculous trompe l’oeil frescoes were later additions, even the basic structure of the church (essentially a Greek cross plan with an elongated nave) is very different from the basic basilica form.

After finishing up at the Gesù, we made our way to Trastevere, crossing the Isola Tiburtina (Tiber Island) and stopping at a bar for coffee along the way.We wound our way through Trastevere, back to Santa Cecilia, this time to see Stefano Maderno’s 16th century sculpture of the recumbent Cecilia. First, a brief recap of Cecilia’s story: she was a Roman noblewoman, living in Trastevere, martyred in the 3rd century (along with her husband, Valerian, his brother, Tiburtius and a soldier, Maximus). Evidently, she married Valerian but never consummated the marriage, and instead, converted him to Christianity – along with his brother. When the soldier Maximus was sent by Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander to execute her, he too was converted to Christianity and was quickly martyred himself. Another soldier was sent after Cecilia and they apparently decided to boil her to death in her own caldarium, restraining her in the tub and stoking the fires for 24 hours – naturally, she emerged, dry as a bone, and totally unharmed. At this point, the emperor has had quite enough and decided to have her decapitated – unfortunately, Roman law has a “three strikes” contingency and if, after three blows, the victim is still alive – oh well. This was the case with Cecilia – three blows to the neck, and she was still alive – and continued to be for three days, during which time she gave away all of her worldly possessions, blessed her house and her family and died singing the praises of God – thus, in the 16th century, she became the patron saint of music.

Now, legend has it that in 821, Pope Paschal I was called – in a dream – by Cecilia to go recover her remains from the catacombs outside the city and bring them to a place in Trastevere (the location of her former home) and there, build for her a church. So he did. In 1599, Cardinal Sfondrato (I don’t know why, but I always think of Dracula when I hear his name) wanted to renovate the church and, in seeking to establish a stronger connection to its Early Christian past, began excavations in hopes of finding St. Cecilia’s relics. Well, he was successful – and then some. He found the relic/bodies of Valerian, Tiburtius, Maximums and Pope Urban I (who baptized Cecilia) all beneath the altar – and of course, he also found Ceclia: “entire and uncorrupt…more than 1,307 years after her death” wrote Sfrondrato. Unfortunately, in all of their excitement at finding her body, they were too afraid to violate her modesty by touching the veils covering her body, so no one actually verified this claim – or even whether or not the body had a head. Oh, I didn’t mention it? Right, well, when Pope Paschal I interred Cecilia’s body in this new church, he apparently put her head in a separate reliquary and sent it to Santi Quattro Coronati – but if it ever was there, none of the nuns know anything about it today. So yes, the body/relic of S. Cecilia may have been headless – but Cardinal Sfrondrato and Pope Clement VIII were too concerned with Cecilia’s modesty to check. Um, yeah… about that… But it gets better: apparently, Stefano Maderno’s sculpture is said to be an exact rendering of the exhumed body/relic, as it was recovered in December of 1599 and before it was reinterred in January of 1600, complete with head and turban-veil, the first representation of its time.

Here’s where the art history gets interesting: in order to represent the exhumed body as it was recovered such that it could be present at the altar, the Maderno had to sculpt a recumbent Cecilia. This could have been a problem – because obviously, any prostrate female figure is an instant sexual object, didn’t you know? So in order to desexualize this representation, Maderno twists Cecilia’s head around at an unnatural angle, present the viewer with the back of her turban-covered head and the three wounds in her neck (which are still dripping blood, FYI). So, that’s the story of Santa Cecilia.

After S. Cecilia, Kristin and Lori took me to the Indian restaurant nearby and, I have to say, it was pretty good. It wasn’t great, but it was gluten friendly, fairly tasty (if not what I’m used to) and on the cheaper side. Breaking up after lunch, we parted ways to begin more test prep – I tell you, this has been just the longest week. Our second midterm (ART H 397 – Roman Art & Architecture, Ancient-Present) which covers everything from 6th century BCE Etruscan Tombs to the Column of Trajan to the apse mosaics of Santa Pudenziana – yikes. Wish me luck!

(*These names may be familiar to you if you’ve been keeping up with my thesis: Paul III began work on Villa Farnese at Caprarola and his same grandson, Alessandro, hired Vignola to complete it in the 1550s-60s).

Gesù Ceiling
A look at the barrel vault in Il Gesù

Il Gesù - Capella di S. Maria della Strada
Fresco of the Annunciation from the Capella di S. Maria della Strada in the Gesù – so beautifully rendered, check out the detail of the veil around Gabriel’s wings!

Sant'Angelo Window Box
Window Box in Rione Sant’Angelo

Rose from the atrium at S. Cecilia

Santa Cecilia
Stefano Maderno’s recumbent Saint Cecilia, 1599

Read Full Post »

Culinary diversity

Gnocchi con Pancetta e Salvia
Gluten free Gnocchi with Pancetta and Sage, baked in a Pecorino Romano-Cream Sauce

Today was another gloriously lazy day- we started studying for our second midterm on Tuesday, this time emphasizing ancient art and architecture. Gina and I both needed a few things from the market, so we ventured downstairs in the early afternoon – returning home quite successfully. I may not have mentioned it, but Maria bought a basil (bay-sel) plant last week and named in Basil (bah-zil), a popular 19th century British name. As it were, I needed sage to make my gnocchi recipe for tonight, and the cheapest way to go about it was actually to buy the plant – so I did, and now Basil has a friend: Sergio the Serbian Sage (It. Salvia). That’s right, we’re personifying our herbs – is that a problem?

Oh this gnocchi recipe. It was wonderful, amazing, delicious – I can’t stop thinking about it. And better yet, I don’t have to because I have leftovers (sometimes there are serious advantages to cooking for one). Now, I have never cooked gnocchi before and, as much as I would love to tell you that I made it from scratch, that would be a terrible, terrible lie. I bought it from a Norcineria of all places, and it is guaranteed gluten free and, in my excitement at seeing senza glutine I bought the small bag of larvae-like dumplings without a recipe in mind. Fortunately for me, my roommate brought not one, not two, but three Italian cookbooks with her and they are available for public consumption – thus, my gnocchi was reborn after weeks of sitting in the pantry.

This particular recipe calls for boiling the gnocchi, then baking with crispy pancetta matchsticks, sage, heavy cream and freshly grated Pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese. It is to die for – I mean really, with pancetta, cream, cheese and herbs, how can you possibly go wrong?

I’ll post the recipe soon, so check in at GlutenFree Seattle next week and I’ll see what I can do (once I finish my leftovers, of course!). And, I’ll warn you, the pictures are unfortunately deceptive – I hate our octagonal black plates, but with nothing else to work with, this is all I can do. So, the gnocchi did not photograph well (not for lack of talent on their part) but I shall endeavor to try again with better results in the future.

Gnocchi con Pancetta e Salvia

Read Full Post »

Material Girls

Fontana dell'Acqua Paolo
Fontana dell’Acqua Paolo on the Janiculum

Well, not really, but today, we shopped.

Honestly (as a non-shopper perhaps this doesn’t count for much but), I’m not thrilled with the Roman shopping situation – it seems like there are two options: touristy crap or over-priced psuedo-designer wear – obviously not ideal for a student on a budget! In any case, we walked up and down Via Nazionale, along Largo Argentina and around Via dei Giubbonari – to limited success. I did find a nice pair of loafer-esque shoes (no, Becky, they aren’t penny loafers) and a hot pair of black leather boots, handmade by the shop owner and super comfortable. On my “to-buy” list still remains a canvas-colored trench and a leather jacket – but I’m holding out on the leather until Florence at the end of the program, kill me though it may.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »