Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Job Description: Pasta roller in window


I'm trying to decide how I feel about this woman (the one in white) who rolls pasta for hours and hours each evening, in the window of Osteria da Fortunata, just off Campo de' Fiori in central Rome.  
Here's what one Yelp review says: There is a little 4 foot tall Italian woman sitting in an archway right in the middle of all of the customers making pasta.  She just sits there with a big smile on her face, day and night, and makes all of the pasta fresh that they use in their dishes. How cool is that!?!?!?!  She seems to love to watch everyone in the restaurant enjoying her pasta.  On my way to the restroom, I saw that there was a doorway to the kitchen slightly ajar, so I peeked in and snapped a picture of the pasta maker needing the dough.  Every now and then, the little woman would hobble back there and grab more dough, take it to her table and hand make the pasta that went into the dishes.  It doesn't get any fresher than that!

Hmmm.  Seems like heavy labor to me.  The woman helping her in the photo above also seemed to be the boss, and was coming and grabbing lots of pasta from her.  It seemed she had trouble keeping up with the demand, which was unceasing.  She IS a smiler.  And, below at end of post, she seems fine with being in tourist photos.  I still feel like she's being overworked and displayed in a way that makes me feel a lack of respect by the osteria's owners.  Enough that I slipped her a reasonably large (for Rome) tip; she smiled at that.
Osteria da Fortunata does get very good reviews, on both Yelp.com and Yelp.it.  We found it a good Italian trattoria - not better, not worse.

Via del Pellegrino 11
06 60667391

Dianne




Friday, January 23, 2015

A Cynic Abroad: Mark Twain in Rome

Twain, 1871, photo by Mathew Brady
In 1867, Mark Twain toured Europe and the Holy Land.  His usually acerbic comments were published two years later in The Innocents Abroad--to this day his best-selling book.  Rome was on the itinerary, but by the time he reached the Eternal City he had seen other Italian cities, including Genoa, whose palaces he found rather stolid and ordinary, making "no pretensions to architectural magnificence," and where he discovered that Italian "vagabonds" were sure to pounce with glee on his cigar butts. There as elsewhere, he found too many churches and too many "well-fed priests."  "These worthies suffer in the flesh and do penance all their lives, I suppose, but they look like consummate famine-breeders.  They are all fat and serene."
The itinerary
Genoa
Perhaps with some justification, he was suspicious of the relics he found in every church.  "As for the
bones of St. Denis," he wrote, "I feel certain we have seen enough of them to duplicate him if necessary."  While acknowledging Genoa's historic greatness, it was to Twain a thing of the past, having "degenerated into an unostentatious commerce in velvets and silver-filigree work."

Milan fared better, or at least its enormous cathedral did.  "Surely," wrote Twain with nary a jot of irony, "it must be the princeliest creation that ever brain of man conceived."  Da Vinci's "Last Supper," on the other hand, was a "mournful wreck," "stained and discolored," something akin to a
Da Vinci's Last Supper. Were the disciples Hebrews, or Italians?
"decayed, blind, toothless, pock-marked Cleopatra," indeed, so awful that for Twain any of the 12 copies being made while he visited was superior to the original.  So damaged that "the spectator cannot really tell, now, whether the disciples are Hebrews or Italians."  "After reading so much about it," Twain concluded, "I am satisfied that the Last Supper was a miracle of art once.  But it was 300 years ago." 

Lake Como?  Disappointingly small and narrow, and its waters "dull" in comparison "with the wonderful transparence of Lake Tahoe," where, Twain claimed, "one can count the scales on a trout at a depth of a hundred and eighty feet," and whose reputation suffers only because of an unfelicitous name: Tahoe means "grasshopper soup."

Italy's interior?  Populated by peasants and their children, "idle, as a general thing" and the "home of priest craft--of a happy, cheerful, contented ignorance, superstition, degradation,  poverty, indolence, and everlasting unaspiring worthlessness."

Tintoretto, Finding the Body of
St. Mark
Venice?  A shadow of its former self, "her piers [are] deserted, her warehouses are empty, her armies and her navies are but memories.  Her glory is departed, and with her crumbling grandeur of wharves and palaces about her she sits among her stagnant lagoons, forlorn and beggared, forgotten of the world....a peddler of glass beads for women, and trifling toys and trinkets for school-girls and children."  It was in Venice, too, that Twain began to experience something like tourist burnout.  "We have seen famous pictures until our eyes are weary with looking at them and refuse to find interest in them any longer.  And what wonder, when here are twelve hundred pictures by Palma the Younger in Venice and fifteen hundred by Tintoretto?"  The same, he thought, could be said of all-too-frequent depictions of martyrs:  "...it seemed to me that when I had seen one of these martyrs I had seen them all."

Florence?  The required visit to the Pitti Palace and the Ufizzi, where "we tried indolently to recollect something about the Guelphs and Ghibelines and the other historical cut-throats whose quarrels and assassinations make up so large a share of Florentine history, but the subject was not attractive."  Twain admired the city's mosaics.  Of the Arno, he wrote, "it would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it.  They call it a river....They even help out the delusion by building bridges over it."

Civita Vecchia?  "...the finest nest of dirt, vermin and ignorance we have found yet, except that African perdition they call Tangier, which is just like it."  "All this country belongs to the Papal States.  They do not appear to have any schools here, and only one billiard table."  "We are going to Rome.  There is nothing to see here." 

Rome was for Twain an intimidating place that threatened to deny him the joy of discovery,  His introduction to his first experience of the city begins with a long discourse on discovery, "the noblest delight."  "To be the first," he adds, "that is the idea."  And therein lay the problem.  "What is there in Rome," Twain lamented, "for me to see that others have not seen before?  What is there for me to touch that others have not touched?  What is there for me to feel, to learn, to hear, to know, that shall thrill me before it pass to others?  What can I discover?--Nothing.  Nothing whatsoever.  One charm of travel dies here."

There's hope in that last sentence--"One charm of travel dies here," for it implies some knowledge of travel's other charms, as if Twain might slough off his despair and dig into Rome's other charms.  No.  So invested is he in the city's denial of discovery that he immediately reverses the field and imagines himself a modern inhabitant of the Roman Campagna--slothful, superstitious, ignorant--traveling to wondrous America to experience the joys of discovery.  In a passage long enough to make me wonder if the man was sane, Twain describes what his Roman peasant would see, for the first time:  a nation with "no overshadowing Mother Church, and yet the people survive; common country children actually reading books; cities where people drink milk but the streets are not crowded with goats; houses with "real glass windows"; fire engines and fire departments; newspapers, printed by "a great machine...by thousands every hour"; common men who own land not rented from the church or nobles; and Jews "treated just like human beings, instead of dogs." 

St. Peter's.  Just too damn big.  
Emerging from his Rome-induced depression, Twain visits the Vatican, only to experience more disappointment.  St. Peter's is big, yes, but despite its mass it "did not look nearly so large as the [US] capitol, and certainly [was] not a twentieth part as beautiful, from the outside."  Inside, the building was on such a vast scale that "there were no contrasts to judge by--none but the people, and I had not noticed them.  They were insects,"  "lost in the vast spaces."  He tells the story of an army officer, searching for 10,000 troops he knew to be inside the cathedral--and failing to find them.  From the dome, he finds the distant Coliseum, only to describe it as the place where ignorant Romans killed Christians in order to "teach the people to abhor and fear the new doctrine that followers of Christ were teaching."  And this lesson--we're still apparently in the Dome--segues into an indictment of the Inquisition, for Twain an even worse phenomenon, the product not of Roman "barbarians" but of "civilized people."

Later, perhaps in a state of regret, Twain visits the Coliseum.  He's still intimidated; "Every body knows the picture of the Coliseum."  But he's also appreciative of the structure's "reserve," "that royal seclusion which is proper to majesty," in sum a building that "more vividly than all the written histories...tells the story of Rome's grandeur and Rome's decay."  Then, oddly, swept away by his own ruminations on the pomp, pageantry, and drama that once characterized the "theatre of Rome," Twain imagines discovering the only extant playbill for one of those Coliseum productions, then adds the discovery of "a stained and mutilated copy of the Roman Daily Battle-Ax, containing a critique upon this very performance."  Page upon page follow, of what can only be called drivel.  Faced with a city that thwarted his desires for original experience, Twain had found a way to "discover": he invented historical documents, then writes endlessly about them.  He concludes this exercise with self-praise for not using the clichéd phrase "butchered to make a Roman holiday." 

There is more to this section on Rome.  More pages are filled with a rant on Michelangelo: "I did not want Michael Angelo for breakfast--for luncheon--for dinner--for tea--for supper--for between meals.  I like a change, occasionally." "In Rome, especially, Michelangelo is a force, designing St.
One of too many Michelangelos
Peter's, the Pantheon, the Tiber, even the Roman sewer known as the Cloaca Maxima--which of course he did not design."  Funny, perhaps, but also a sign of the novelist's failure to find a way into a real Rome that he could enjoy.  Another rant follows, this one about their Roman tour guide, whom they befuddle and mock by asking him if (for example) the Roman Forum was a work by Michael Angelo.  "This guide," he writes, "must continue to suffer.  If he does not enjoy it, so much the worse for him.  We do."  At the Vatican museums, the same guide is again victimized, this time by an exaggerated boredom: "we never showed any interest in any thing." 


There's some serious relief from the well-intentioned but failed, and revealing, humor.  A visit to the catacombs of St. Callixtus, under the Church of St. Sebastian, finds Twain attentive and moderately involved, if again overwhelmed at the scope of the phenomenon: 160 catacombs under Rome, he observes, and 7 million graves.  Similarly, the spectacle of bones at.the Capuchin Convent elicits a kind of wide-eyed awe, if also some good-natured ribbing of their Monk guide, for whom
The catacombs of St. Callixtus.  Too many graves.  
this skull or that femur identified Brother Carlo or Brother Thomas.  Twain is serious, too, when he observes on a return to the Vatican, that despite all the Raphaels and Guidos and other old masters, "the sublime history of Rome remains unpainted!  They painted Virgins enough, and popes enough and saintly scarecrows enough, to people Paradise, almost, and these things are all they did paint."  (Twain as social historian, lacking material.)  The church comes in for criticism again at the Scala Santa, where Twain observes that "the Saviour...seems to be little importance any where in Rome"; it's all about Mary or the Popes, especially St. Peter. 

As the long chapter concludes, Twain confronts Rome's ghosts.  "I wished to write a real 'guide-book' chapter on this fascinating city, but I could not do it, because I have felt all the time like a boy in a candy-shop--there was everything to choose from, and yet no choice."  And that was that.  He was done.  "The surest way to stop writing about Rome," he wrote, "is to stop."  And he did.

Bill



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Folk Art and Fascist Architecture Treasures in EUR

Main stairway up to display rooms in the Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari.

In EUR, the southern "suburb" of Rome built originally by Mussolini, but now a thriving business center, are several unusual state museums.  One we had not been in for years is a museum of folk art (basically), or the Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari.
We were enticed to see it this summer by a talk on 1940s frescoes that we had not seen before.  These are in the process of being restored, and that process is well on its way (see photos below). 
The building, classic Fascist excess, is a treat in itself.  The displays are few; many of the rooms have little in them.  But what they have is fascinating.  Photos that follow are examples of the displays - the Macchina of Santa Rosa, a creche from Sicily, folk art puppets, as well as more views of the building, inside and out.  Likely you will be wandering the halls and display rooms alone.

One wall of frescoes.  The blank spaces aren't a degradation or failure to restore.  This is how the painting looked when work on it was stopped because of Allied bombing near Rome in 1942.
The listed hours (but don't count on them): 8:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, Euro 4.  On Facebook (in Italian).  Web site (not in English but use a Web translator): http://museonazionaletradizionipopolari.tumblr.com/museo
Dianne
Scaffolding and restoration continuing on the opposite wall in this hall.


Another painter - these were painted by several different
artists.


 
Close up in one of the paintings, showing folk festivals


Traditional dress.  This from my family's
home area in northern Italy, the Sondrio province.



A piece - only - of a the "Macchina di Santa Rosa," the
30 meter (100 foot) high tower carried through
the streets of Viterbo (a town in Lazio, about 40 miles
north of Rome) each September 3.  A new one is built every 5 years.
This one apparently is from 2003-2008.  You can tell how large
it is compared to my height.

From this poster, you can see that the piece of the Macchina is only just that - a piece.



A close-up of an elaborate creche from Sicily.



Puppets








Chiaroscuro ceilings.
External vie of the Museum - part of the enormous Fascist complex
that was supposed to be host the 1942 Exposition (E '42)
More architecture than objects.





Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Art in unlikely places - Pericle Fazzini in the Piazza dell'Independenza

Detail from Fazzini's frieze
Piazza dell'Indipendenza is a few blocks from the central train station, Termini, within the confines of Rome's Aurelian Wall, but fairly modern in its appearance.  It's primarily a large transportation piazza these days, and we've mainly scootered through it with our focus on successfully exiting the other side, but sometimes taking time to observe the supposedly Mussolini faces (they don't look like him) on one of the government buildings on the piazza (photo at end).

One day this year we stopped to look at another, what seemed to us fairly nondescript mid-century (as in mid-20th-century) building that looked like it had an interesting brass frieze on it.  And so we discovered the work of Pericle Fazzini.  The frieze depicts agrarian themes, as one can see, to honor the building which was then the offices of an agrarian agency, and still bears that name: Palazzo della Federconsorzi (short for Federazione dei Consorzi Agrari).  The building was constructed in 1952-57, and we assume the frieze dates from the 1950s as well.
The Palazzo as it looks today - offices for rent.  The Federconsorzi apparently went down in a scandalous blaze in the 1990s.
It was at its peak in the 1950s, when this was built, and when it was, apparently, privatized, but received public money (Welcome to Italy).  Information on the scandal is given in detail on the Wikopedia Italian Web site.
More detail - the title of the frieze is sometimes given as "Work in the fields."


Fazzini was a noted scuptor at the time he did this frieze.  He went on to do more monumental works, including the "Resurrection," for the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall, where Benedict XVI used to give his weekly audiences.  That work shows Christ arising from a nuclear crater in the Gardens of Gethsemane.  Monumental it is.

Fazzini to us is another "find," among "modern" artists in Rome.  Like our discovery of Amleto Cataldi's sculptures in the weeds of the Olympic Village, we discovered Fazzini's piece by accident, accidental discovery being one of the great joys of Rome.  Fazzini died in 1987, known by then as a "Vatican sculptor."  The Peggy Guggenheim Museum Web site has a nice biography of him.

Dianne


Pope Benedict XVI with Fazzini's work behind him.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

VIno B? Vino R?

The abbreviations Vino B and Vino R, for vino bianco (white) and vino rosso (red) were new to us when we saw them at a Rome cafe.