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 »

Cecilia, you’re breakin’ my heart

S. Maria di Trastevere
An altar in Santa Maria di Trastevere, covered with notes, prayers and offerings – reminding me of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

We met at S. Maria di Trastevere, a nice change of pace as the basilica is only two or three minutes from our apartment (whereas the Campo is almost 2km away). The basilica was founded in the 340s CE (built on the site of a 2nd century church) and is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The basilica has undergone several remodels, including a 17th century renovation by Carlo Fontana and 19th century interior renovation under Pope Pius IX.

We convened to discuss both the use of spolia (the column capitals were taken from the Baths of Caracalla) and the 13th century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini. According to Paul Hetherington, this particular mosaic cycle (Scenes from the Life of the Virgin, including six narrative scenes and a donor panel) is preeminently important as it shows the stylistic evolution in Cavallini’s work. Hetherington established a chronology of Cavallini’s works, situating the S. Maria mosaics between Cavallini’s fresco of The Last Judgment for S. Cecilia and the apse paintings in S. Giorgio al Velabro. Based on some high-quality detective work, Hetherington arrived at a new date for the S. Maria mosaics (1298 vs. 1291) based on Cavallini’s progression as well as period specific (1300-1308) minutia present in the donor panel.

Afterwards, we grabbed coffee and headed over to the basilica of S. Cecilia. On the way, we passed this amazing little pasticceria (confectionary) and I couldn’t help but stop and take a few pictures. Anyway, back to S. Cecilia: we were there to view the remains of Cavallini’s partially destroyed Last Judgment, accessible from the nun’s choir loft at the back of the basilica. The frescoes were amazing, and Hetherington’s argument about Cavallini’s maturation was apparent, but the highlight of our visit was definitely the wedding. That’s right, this week we have seen a funeral (S. Pudenziana last Tuesday) and a wedding – featuring a young bride decked out in a classic cake-topper dress. Seriously, this girl was sporting at least 30 yards of train – she had to have six (6!) cute little girls walk her down the aisle and, I’ll admit, watching her stand, sit, kneel at the altar was almost amusing – in a beautiful, sentimental kind of way.

Pasticceria Trastevere
Pasticceria in Trastevere

S. Cecilia - Cavallini Fresco
An angel from Cavallini’s Last Judgment in S. Cecilia

Read Full Post »

Buon compleanno, Roma!

Fireworks from Piazza del Popolo

Well, we had our first midterm this morning – the hard one (ART H 497), we think. Unlike most art history exams, there were no slides/images to identify, no “compare and contrast these artists/works/periods/styles” questions and nothing unexpected. The exam was structured in the form of three short answer and two essay questions, and a time limit of an hour and a half. Because of my learning disabilities, I take my exams separately from the rest of the class, but because there are no faculty offices or broom closets to lock me in, you know what that means? I got to take my exam in a 13th century fortified brick tower. That’s right. The test went very well, I’m feeling really really great about it and it’s apparent (to me, at least) that all of my studying over the weekend paid off, and then some.

In other news, today is Rome’s 2,763rd birthday! Every year Rome’s birthday is celebrated during settimana della cultura (Italian Culture Week) with a city-sponsored fireworks display at Piazza del Popolo (Piazza of the People, appropriately). Have some fireworks pictures!

Roman Fireworks

Roman Fireworks

Roman Fireworks

Read Full Post »

Early Christian Art: 5th Century Mosaics

Santa Prassede Courtyard
Courtyard of the Basilica di Santa Prassede

We spent today in the 5th century, visiting Santa Maria Maggiore (430 CE) and Santa Pudenziana (422-432 CE), both basilicas built after the time of Constantine, with a pitstop at the Basilica of Santa Prassede (780-822 CE) which contains the Chapel of St. Zeno and the Column of the Flagellation. Our focus today was 5th century mosaic and representations in Early Christian art – examining the nave mosaics of Old Testament scenes at S. Maria Maggiore and the apse mosaics in S. Pudenziana.

We were especially fortunate at S. Pudenziana to be afforded a privileged view of the mosaics from the choir/organ loft – an area not open to tourists, but the gentleman – Mario – in charge of the historical aspects of the basilica, led us up the narrow, winding stairs to this unbelievable space – we were less than a meter from 5th century mosaics – how cool is that? Admittedly, our discussion went a bit over time (…by almost two hours) leaving us less time to study for tomorrow’s impending midterm exam. By the time we finished up, everyone was exhausted, hungry and more concerned about the exam than ever.

As it stands, our apartment took a collective (albeit staggered) nap and we have been diligently studying since this afternoon. One of the many things I love about the Profs. Lingo is their exam style: no slide ideas, just three short answer and two essay questions based on the scholastic articles we have read, the discussions which we have had, and the themes which we have covered. It’s super intense and extremely difficult to study for, but at the same time, you really have to know your stuff in order to succeed – I always remember much more from their courses than from those in which I just have to memorize a bunch of flashcards.

5th Century Mosaics in the Apse of Santa Maria Maggiore

Basilica di Santa Prassede
Funerary Monument in S. Prassede

Basilica di Santa Pudenziana, mosaics
5th Century Mosaics in the Apse of the Basilica di Santa Pudenziana

2nd Century Brick Stamp
2nd Century Imperial Brick Used to build S. Pudenziana

Read Full Post »

L’Angolo Divino

L'Angolo Divino
Three Italian wines, waiting to be tasted

Today we met for class at the usual time, in the usual place, before venturing on to the Oratory of the Gonfalone confraternity. The Gonfalone are Rome’s oldest confraternity, established in the 1260s, and dedicated to the Madonna della Misericordia (Virgin of Mercy). The name of the Order, derived from the Italian confalone (meaning banner), refers to the prominent role of procession in the ritual practices of the Order. Confraternities developed in Rome during the tenth century as a congregation of lay men who wish to remain “in the world” (that is to marry, have children and work in their given profession) and yet still live a pious, religious life. The Gonfalone in particular were a flagellant confraternity who, from 1490 to 1539, processed to the Colosseum (from their oratory near the Campo de Fiori) during Holy Week and enacted plays depicting the Passion of Christ. In 1539, the play incited such fervor and violence in the spectators that they stormed out of the Colosseum and stoned to death both the actors who had played as Jews and Pilate’s soldiers in the play, and also Jewish citizens in the area. Paul III reacted swiftly and revoked the Order’s privilege of performing during Holy Week, immediately acting to prevent any further outbreaks. In any case, the Oratorio we visited is in the original location, but redecorated after a fire in 1555. The new altarpiece, surprisingly, does not depict the Misericordia, but the Crucifixion – and by a Spanish painter, Pietro Roviale Spagnuolo (Pedro Rubiales, the Spaniard), no less. The whole oratory was also decorated with 12 large frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ in high Mannerist style – one of few remaining examples from the brief period (ending in the late 1570s).

After class, I wandered home, stopped at the grocery store for more yogurt and oranges (two new foodie obsessions) and took a brief nap before our group wine tasting at L’Angolo Divino, right off the Campo. Ordinarily, I would start describing the epic wine tasting – but first, a brief interruption to discuss the meteorological situation in Rome at 16h00 on Monday, 19 April. It was pouring. It had begun by sprinkling delightfully against the bright, sparkling sunlight when I laid down for my nap. I woke up at 15h45 to huge, pregnant raindrops that were crashing to Earth with such force as to splash several feet up into the air and proceed to soak everything. 16h00, the rain lets up – only to be replaced by pieces of hail the size of fresh chickpeas. And then the rain resumed. Now naturally, I have to be at the Campo at 16h25 and it takes approximately 15 minutes to get there, and it is still hailing and raining like you wouldn’t believe. So, I don my Naot sandals, roll up my jeans, grab my umbrella and set out. Fortunately, five or so minutes from the apartment, the sky clears and the only sources of water are now overflowing gutters and flooded storm drains.

Now, the wine tasting. Administered by Massimo at L’Angolo Divino (the Divine Corner), we spent nearly three hours learning about Italian wine: what are the different classifications and why, how to quickly differentiate between regions, the three elements of wine tasting (color, aroma and taste), the four elements of wine tasting (tannins, alcohol, acidity and body) and how to properly test and taste wine. I’ll be honest, it was a wonderful experience but Massimo’s English was difficult to understand at times, and the conversation tended to be very technical.

Read Full Post »

Glorious Sunday

Dabney’s Bruschetta

Today was a glorious, lazy day. I wish I could have slept in a little longer (we didn’t get home until 3h00 this morning, remember, and I was up before 9h00) but it’s not a big deal. I set myself up at the kitchen counter and worked on photos for all of you, did some research for my thesis and finished the readings for tomorrow. All in all, I was incredibly productive – albeit, housebound. That being said, this is really the first day since moving to Rome that I have honestly done nothing but take care of myself. It was glorious.

Earlier in the evening, four of us from the apartment decided to cook dinner together: Pasta Carbonara and Insalata Greca. While Greek salad is pretty straightforward, I had never made Carbonara before and it was an interesting experience cooking a split batch: half gluten-free tagliatella, half whole-wheat spaghetti noodles – in different pots, of course- and using the gluten-free pasta water to both cook the egg and add starch to allow the sauce to be, well, a sauce.

Gluten free pasta carbonara!

Read Full Post »

A Night Tour of Rome

Detail of the Trevi Fountain at 2AM

I know, it’s technically Sunday, but I had to wait – we just got back from a night walk adventure, seeing the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps lit up and crowded! We didn’t even leave the apartment until 12h30 and the streets were filled with bar-hoppers, partygoers and Romans having a good ol’ time. There was a birthday at the Trevi, complete with champagne and wishes made into the fountain; every bar and gelateria was packed, crowds flowing into the streets as we made our way to the Spanish Steps. Now, I’m a terrible tourist and had not yet seen the Steps – by day or night – and this was quite the novelty for me. It was 02h00 in the morning, and the Steps were crowded, mostly with locals taking a break from the bars, or stopping to hang out before parting ways. Street vendors peddled their normal wares: over-priced neon LED toys that spin into the air and cheap keychains – but tonight, they also toted coolers filled with cheap beer – yours for only €3 a can. Gross yes, but also hilarious (worse, people were buying it – ugh!). In any case, we made our way home a little bit ago and the streets were still crowded with people – mostly in their 20s and 30s, drinking on Ponte Sisto, hovering outside bars and clubs, wandering home through the narrow, winding streets.

Detail of the Trevi Fountain

Detail of the Trevi Fountain – Neptune

Read Full Post »


Villa d'Este - Le Cento Fontane
Le Cento Fontane (Avenue of 100 Fountains) at Villa d’Este

So… tired…

Kit and I met up at 9h00 this morning to head out to Tivoli, a small town 40km from Rome
This required catching the autobus 87 from Largo (di Torre) Argentina to the Colosseum, taking the Metro linea B to Tiburtina, and then a treno regionale for an hour and a half out to Tivoli. It was kind of ridiculous. So, at 11h30 we finally roll into the station – a teeny little building, two tracks, and one platform – which you have to traverse (by way of plywood planks between the gaps) to navigate between the platform and the station.

We head out of the station and immediately see signs for Villa d’Este (our destination) and also Villa Gregoriana, pointing the same direction. We get to a roundabout and, of course, the signs are conspicuously absent, so we walk over to a picturesque little lookout and voila, the Villa Gregoriana.

Now, “villa” is a loosely applied term. For €5 you are granted access to a beautiful park-space (in the style of well-preserved wildlife parks in the states, sans wildlife) with defined trails leading between different sublime (in the 19th century sense of the word) panoramas and picturesque locations. One particular element is the Grand Cascade (Aniene Falls) which drops 120m, diverting water from Aniene to the valley below. The Villa pivots around the Aniene Falls, part of an artificial diversion of the river constructed in 1835 at the behest of Pope Gregory XVI in response to the devastating flood of 1826. While the falls are lovely, the route to reach the lookout necessitates 95 steep, travertine stairs down, and the breath-taking (in the unpleasant, impending pulmonary embolism sort of way) 95-steps back up to the main trail. We did it – and it was lovely.

Other features include the Bernini Cascade – and no, it’s not what you’re thinking. Literally, Bernini constructed an early subterranean canal between the Aniene and the Valley of Hell (the valley upon which villa Gregoriana is perched) which culminates in a cascade – thus, the Bernini cascade! Anti-climactic, I know.

There are close to a dozen waterfalls, mostly natural, which funnel water down into the valley to join the small lake (and river) at the base of the Aniene falls. Around these cascades are natural caverns, formed by water rushing through the porous tufa stone, creating really cool looking formations and interesting passages of water. Two of these caverns were named in the 19th century by Romantic (French) poets: the Mermaid Grotto and Neptune’s Grotto, both worth seeing, but unfortunately, no mermaids.

The problem with Villa Gregoriana is this: once you hike your way down to the Mermaid Grotto, you’re feeling alright – perhaps you’re a little tired, but there’s tons to see and the air is nicely cooled by the mist from the grotto. Unfortunately, you look up and realize that you are at the bottom of the Valley of Hell and must make your way back up to the top – either back the way you came, or up towards the temple ruins and the gift shop. Half way up, you reach the Grotto of Neptune and are refreshed, but the last third of the trek, the pathway now consisting of eroded tufa instead of dirt, you stop wondering why they call it the Valley of Hell.

We finally made it to the top, passed through the irritatingly air conditioned bookshop and wandered our way back to the main road. The signs direct you to the uscita (exit) through this little alley, but that’s it – one sign, taped to a building, and you’re on your own. We make it back, cross the small stone bridge spanning the valley and find ourselves back at the unmarked roundabout. Heading in the only other possible direction, we walk for another 15 minutes (uphill, on a two-lane road, with no sidewalk) before reaching another roundabout with a distinct lack of signage. We guessed correctly, as it were, and after another 10 minutes of uncertain wandering, we found a sun-bleached sign that indicated that the Villa d’Este was to our right. 10 more minutes and we arrived – along with every other tourist in Lazio. Seriously. (Okay, maybe not). You see, today kicked off settimana della cultura – Italian culture week – which, in addition to hosting a ton of cool events, provided free entrance into state-run museums, archeological sites, etc. So, in addition to ourselves, there were a half-dozen senior citizen groups, a dozen or so different school groups (kids between ages 8-18 running about bored) and dozens upon dozens of tourists. Yikes – but so worth it.

Now, as many of you know, this is one of the principal sites I’ve been dealing with in my research. My honors thesis relates three gardens – the Villa Giulia in Rome, Villa Farnese in Caprarola and Villa d’Este in Tivoli – to both each other and the larger picture of garden design and aesthetic theory in the late Renaissance. All three villas were constructed circa 1550 and are all near Rome (Caprarola is a little under 70km northwest of Rome and Tivoli, 40km east) but each embody different aspects of Renaissance, and particularly Mannerist, ideologies concerning aesthetics, architecture and the role of the villa. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the garden in person, and I was not disappointed. Admittedly, the Fountain of the Pegasus was under construction, and the Fountain of the Tivoli (also known as the Fontana dell’Ovata) was drained due to hydraulic problems, and most of the catena d’acqua were fountains were not running, it was still unbelievably cool.

We meandered around the property for almost four hours before heading back, realizing a much more direct path back to the train station, and arriving just in time to catch the 16h26 train back to Rome – fortunate because the next – and last – train back to the city didn’t leave until almost 18h00. On the upside, transportation is cheap – €3 for the bus rides to and from the metro station and the metro rides to and from Tiburtina, then only €4.60 roundtrip to Tivoli (total of $10.26 USD) so it really wasn’t anything to complain about. That being said, I am exhausted. Villa Gregoriana was a hike and in our four hours at the villa, Kit and I probably walked the whole thing three times over. I would be foolish to estimate distance, but I’m not that out of shape and the only thing I can think of is sleep.

Stay tuned for more adventures al’Italia.

Villa Gregoriana – Cascade through the Valley of Hell

Villa Gregoriana – Grand Cascade

Villa Gregoriana – Grotto of the Mermaids

Villa Gregoriana – Temple of Vesta

Villa d’Este – The Fountain of Neptune and Bernini’s Water Organ

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Goddess Roma with Romulus + Remus and the Shewolf

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Skyline of Ancient Rome

Villa d’Este – Fountain of the Dragons

Villa d’Este – Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Medusa Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Diana of Ephesus, the Goddess of Fertility // Mother Nature

Villa d’Este – Wisteria-covered Walkway

Villa d’Este – Wisteria

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »