Things I dislike . . .

Here’s an example. I send out a email to the faculty list serve about a burning issue on campus. A professor of philosophy (you know, those people who hide behind the pretense that they use language more precisely than everyone else) sends me an individual response with the phrase “I’m confused about the claim . . . .” Maybe he disagrees with my claim, but I find it really hard to believe that he’s so clueless that he is confused.

Gosh, I hate the rhetorical tricks philosophers play in class and with adults. In my (individual email) response, I compared his move to the standard Freudian tactic of declaring their opponents to be in denial.

I wish academics could play more honestly. But I fear we can’t – weaseling seems to go with the territory. Most of my interventions in this email stream are in the spirit of mockery. Maybe the earnest philosopher is indeed confused? Other folks have been appreciative.

Fixed Semester + Moveable Feasts + National Holidays = Problems

Easter is always a problem for the Rome semester. This year seems especially acute! We should have started a week earlier, I expect.

Here’s the problem – Easter Monday (Pasquetta) is a national holiday in Italy, but falls in different weeks every year. April 25th, which falls on the Friday after Easter this year, is Liberation Day – a national holiday (the end of the Nazi occupation). Next week is our last week counted by weeks of the semester – and we lose TWO days. Yikes. Now we can do some things, but not others. But nothing much will be open Monday. And a lot of our students – against our counsel – are using the 4 day weekend to travel (would you go to Spain the weekend before finals?).


San Carlino and Sant Andrea

S Carlino domeBorromini – San Carlo alle quattro fontane – dome. Teaching under this . . . life doesn’t get much better.

Tuesday I got to do one of the great comparison questions live. Borromini’s San Carlo alle quattro fontane and Bernini’s Sant’Andrea al Quirinale are a five minute walk apart. So we visited both of them. I prefer San Carlino, but there’s is lots that is great about Sant’Andrea – especially the broken pediment with St Andrew being carried up to heaven on a cloud. Still, the interlocking coffers in decreasing size as the eye runs up the dome at San Carlino? Magic.

S Andrea DomeThat second opening close to the bottom of the photo – a little cupola designed to light the altar. One of Bernini’s habits – and quite a good one.

This could be a poster for Layers of Rome

Layered CapitolineWow am I happy with this photo – Saturday I was all over the Centro enjoying the sun and taking photos. This is a view from the via Fori Imperiali – street of the Imperial Fora. Mussolini called it the via del’Impero, the street of Empire, to celebrate the conquest of Abyssinia. So the name changed, but not much.

We’re looking across the Forum of Julius Caesar – the standing column is from his temple of Venus Genetrix. Then as we look up the Capitoline Hill, to the left we can see the back of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. That’s where the Franciscan friars were singing vespers and set Gibbon off on his quest to prove that IT WAS ALL CHRISTIANITY’S FAULT. Nothing like a failed convert to write history, hunh? You do remember that Gibbon was a brief convert to the Church at Oxford who was shipped off to Lausanne for deprogramming, which left him at least agnostic, if not atheistic, for life.

It was Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.

If you squint, in the upper left you can see an arch or so of Michelangelo’s Renaissance exterior for the pre-existing Palazzo dei Senatori on the Campidoglio – Medieval and Renaissance Rome’s re-setting for the Capitoline, turning its back on the Roman Forum to face papal Rome. Then over to the right is the Vittoriano – the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, Father of the Fatherland. It’s still fashionable to dislike it, but I take it as it is – an expression of the 1890s – that febrile fin de siècle. Italy’s was triumphalist, whatever was up in Vienna. And to bring us up to the 21st Century, the green glass extrusion on the back of the Vittoriano is an elevator up to a new viewing terrace with a 360 degree vista of Rome. They charge €7, and I’ve never bothered – but maybe this spring!

I’ve seldom taken a photo that sums up so well what I love about Roma.


Armes Abendland! Rom ist zu teuer für Bücher

Poor West! - Rome is too expensive for books!

I’d walked by one of my favorite bookstores in Rome once or twice this semester but had failed to google until this morning (I’d jotted a note to remind myself, finally). Herder has closed! It’s not the only recently dead bookstore, but it’s one I’ll miss. They had great Patristics stuff in every language (actually it was the best French bookstore in town for my interests, too).

Herder was on a corder of the Piazza Montecitorio facing the Parliament (one of the reasons I hadn’t been by much – they’re exercising somewhat more security on the Palazzo, which couldn’t have helped Herder!). One might have thought it was just a matter of the rent – but the store is still vacant, and the article from Die Welt is datelined September 2012.

Present friends

The Spring 2014 Rome Program has the pleasure of hosting Walter Bowyer, next Fall’s director, this week. He’s spending his spring break scouting for next semester.  He joined us this afternoon for a visit to an interesting (really interesting – I’m still thinking about it) multimedia-meets-archaeology site in the basement of the headquarters of the Province of Rome (really – Domus Romanae). This evening Christine, her family, and I took him out to dinner. Well, the budget took him out to dinner. Thanks, Tom!

“Italy is nothing but a geographical expression.”

Metternich said something along those lines (I wanted to confirm the wording and found several different versions online, but also claims that he wrote several different versions to different correspondents over the years). He’s still right.

Monday started with a lecture on the multiplicity of Italies – the students had read a book chapter by John Dickie called “Imagined Italies.” The news cooperated with us splendidly – the Veneto began voting Sunday on secession from Italy. It’s a non-binding resolution, but they seem to be interested in creating alternative avenues of taxation. Venice was the last big part taken from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (however sentimental the Italians got over Trieste). Now, La Serenissima wants out?

Even better, one of the students had read BBC online and knew about it – so she got to tell the class!

Another thing that’s kept me busy is the Counter-Reformation Print

Also, over the last 2 weeks my partner Christine and I executed what I think is one of the most interesting class units I’ve ever devised. I worked it up for the 2011 program with my 2-time partner Nick. This time it went a little more smoothly (practice!).

Here’s the set-up. Nick and I taught Inventing Rome, Inventing Romans in 2008 and 2011. Not all of our units really worked in 2008 – including one close to my heart centered on Cola di Rienzo and the mid-14th Century. So for 2011, we decided to replace it – probably with something that engaged print making. It helped that Nick’s second medium is print making, so he can do a History Of lecture with ease. We flailed around looking for something to center the unit around – an article, a set of prints, something. I stumbled across (really, trolling JSTOR with search terms) Kirstin Noreen’s “Ecclesiae militis triumphi: Jesuit Iconography and the Counter Reformation.”* It may sound a little dry, but things get better.

S Stefano Rotondo Int

The Early Christian church of Santo Stefano Rotondo was, in the late 16th century, the site of the German Hungarian College, a Jesuit-run college for students attending the Roman universities. In 1585, the rector had the church redecorated, complete with a cycle of more than 30 paintings of martyrdoms circling the walls – all to encourage the young men to go back to Calvinist Hungary, for instance, and do battle with Protestantism – even at the risk of death. Within five years, the frescoes had been copied in a pamphlet of prints, completed with the addition of four Allegories (Vita, Mors, Peccatum, and Gratia – handy topics for getting at the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism).

All of this was interesting enough, and certainly on the right track. Then I noticed that the photo credits were to the Biblioteca Angelica – which is closer to the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci than Sto Stefano Rotondo! So we made some inquiries and the Biblioteca Angelica folks were happy to have us come see the pamphlet with our students.

Day one, we visit Santo Stefano, discuss the transformations the church has been through (handy for Layers, too!) and see lurid paintings like these.

Boil oil CatherineOn the left, a group of martyrs being boiled in oil; on the right, Catherine’s wheel breaking and killing some of her executioners. And in case you were confused, the painters included labels — the panels below have explanatory texts, keyed to capital letters in the paintings. They are especially handy for the assorted scenes of martyrdom and mayhem in the middlegrounds! So we also talk about the technology of fresco, the medium per se and as a communications device, the limits of things that are in only one location, the reliance on the memories of the students to carry the information back North of the Alps.

Day two, in the classroom, discussing Noreen’s article. She helps a lot by explaining the kind of practices Jesuit colleges followed and how they correspond to cycles of saints – like the regular recitation of the Litany of the Saints. She also reproduces a lot of the engravings.

Day three, we meet at the Library. The vice-director gave us a tour, including the splendid 18th century reading room (unfortunately, no pictures – they were busy filming a t.v. commercial and wouldn’t let us). Then she brought out a trolley of books and talked about the history of book-making as a medium for information. She showed us a 10th Century Evangelistary from Chur with gorgeous decorative pages; a 14th Century theology book with some elegant capitals (but otherwise in a very difficult to read gothic hand); side-by-side the first book PRINTED in Italy (a Cicero) and an almost contemporary manuscript Plautus; and our 16th Century pamphlet of engravings. She let the students TOUCH the pages – explaining rough (hair) and smooth (interior) sides of vellum. They could feel the impressions of the plates in the engravings, even after 400 years.

They really got a sense of the changing technologies, from hand made (manuscripts, frescoes) to multiples (prints) – and I suppose we will see how well they understood it when their assignments come in Thursday!

*The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol 29, no 3 (Autumn 1998), 689-715. .


What have I been doing with my time? Midterms!

Well what’s killing my incentive to post is that I can’t post from Flickr! Grrr. I have to upload pictures individually here before posting.

FB 2 TemplesSo – why was I so busy this week?


Here’s what I do for the midterm in Layers of Rome — I give the students a relatively constricted neighborhood and expect them to be able to talk about any monument (building, fountain, etc) during a half-hour individual interview. I chose the Forum Boarium / Forum Holitorium, roughly from San Nicola in Carcere to Santa Maria in Cosmedin and from the Tiber back to San Giorgio in Velabro. That area includes all those churches, an ambiguous excavated area in front of Sant Omobono, two Fascist Era office buildings for the Commune of Rome, the Temple of Portunus (above), the Round Temple (above), and the so-called Arch of Janus (below, with San Giorgio and the Palatine beyond).

The students have about 10 days to read, visit, and learn about the monuments. Then we meet one on one (that’s why I was so tired – 13 appointments will take it out of you!). They choose the monument with which we start – and we talk about it for about 15 minutes. Usually the student explains what we can still see and I ask some questions to probe understanding. Then we move to a 2nd monument – my choice. So if the student starts with a church, I shift to a Roman monument. After #2, monument #3 is back to a student choice.

I have found this a great way to figure out how well they are doing to work – can they explain what’s obvious? Can they push beyond the obvious? Can they draw useful comparisons to other things we have seen? Can I hear anything that suggests they’re doing the reading and retaining what they read? Very time-consuming, but a lot more relevant to a semester abroad than any written exam can be.

Arch of Janus Giorgio

Flavian Amphitheater. Colosseum. Whatever.

Christine, my colleague, asked me some day this week if there was anything in Rome I was over (though she put it more gracefully). I had to admit that I don’t go to the Colosseum except with students. You come visit me in Rome, I’ll point out that the Metro stop is called “Colosseo” and that admission to the monument costs €12 – but your ticket will get you into the much more interesting Forum and Palatine.

Flavian Amphiteater Long axisI dunno – it’s structurally very interesting, if you’ve never thought about that kind of thing before; Romans had been building things like this for more than a century, since the Theater of Pompey. The gladiator shows and beast shows tell us a lot about the unpleasant side of the Romans (human sacrifice and animal-torture?). The only thing that really interests me are the legally established seating arrangements – if you walked into the Flavian Amphitheater you would see senators (and Vestal Virgins) down front, the Equites (Knights) behind them, and then regular citizens. Slaves and women to the rear!

I could explain that at any number of sites, but I will say that everyone seems to enjoy at least one visit to the Colosseum. I just kind of wish I didn’t have to go, too! I hope that didn’t come across – unlike the poor fella at Rutgers who explained he was not teaching the “Human Aggression” course voluntarily, because it isn’t really his field. Never admit your weakness! You always know more than they do. God knows I know more about the Flavian Amphitheater than I care to tell my charges. On to the Ara Pacis tomorrow! THAT I care about.


A cranky start to the day.

NOW I’m cranky. I woke up at 5.30 this morning with a dry mouth. I had a drink of water and went back to bed – having noticed that it was not raining. My alarm went off just before 7. I was still lying in bed when the DOWNPOUR began.

7.32 and it’s still raining hard – and I have a rendezvous with my class at 9 a.m. at the foot of the Vittoriano to walk around the Imperial Forums. Couldn’t it have waited until 11, when I would be home and Christine’s INDOOR class would be in session?

Everyday life

DishesFinished with the – the glasses in the sink are all rinsed and can wait till tomorrow. I had everyone (all 17 students, my co-director, and her 2 year old) over for aperitivi – prosecco and finger food. We had fun, lots of them finally had Italian cell numbers to give us, and we satisfied the administration’s request that we have a formally designated assembly point for evacuation in the wake of national disasters. So, come the fall of the EU, they know how to get to my apartment. What we’ll do then is anyone’s guess. Hike across Umbria to the international airport in Florence singing “Climb Every Mountain”? I think there are too many Peace Corps returnees in our office for abroad programs!