Gelato therapy

To console myself today I had gelato at what may well be the best gelateria in Rome – Alberto Pica in the via della Seggiola. I combined rice, hazelnut, and a flavor of their own called something like Profumi d’Italia – fig, mandorlino (which I’m assuming is almond flavored something) and something else. I got a brief smile from the otherwise dispassionate scooper – I must’ve been eating something right.

Free museums

Yow! My feet hurt!
This is the Settimana della cultura, the week of culture, an annual extravaganza of free museums. I hit 3 today – the Palazzo Venezia, the Cripta Balbi, and the Forum/Palatine. I couldn’t get into the House of Augustus – maybe tomorrow. Yesterday, Pal Massimo al Terme (another visit to the Pompeian paintings) and two temporary shows at the Palazzo della Esposizione.
This event is aimed at internal tourism, so it comes up almost unannounced – no one seemed ready for it (though I’m sure the museums were). I’ve been running around like crazy all week, and tomorrow I’m only taking some of a break because it’s Monday (so museums will be closed, though archaeological sites are open) and because we’re having a team-grading event, my colleague and I. The semester is drawing to a close for us!

Fritzy morning

I’m having a very fritzy morning with my internet connection, so I’m not going to try to upload the pictures and write the two entries I have in mind right now – but soon to come, Walter Benjamin and the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius followed by yet another example of why I’m leery of the idea of sending important ancient art back to Italy just because they say it’s theirs.
Oh – meanwhile – this morning we’re meeting at Sta Maria in Trastevere and I give out the schedule for final exam presentations. I expect some wailing and gnashing of teeth.



Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

Have you ever heard an Italian say “I just don’t understand people from [the South/the North/Naples]?” Here you go – evidence that they’re not making it up.
I was at Termini on Saturday looking at the travel section in the books store there and came across this shelf in the midst of the Italian language instruction section – dictionaries – or word lists – for Bolognese, Friuliano (NE Italy – between Venice and Slovenia and Austria), Genovese, Milanese, Napoletano. These are pretty substantial books, though less densely printed than a full scale dictionary. The two I picked up (Milanese and Napoletano) are single-column-per-page lists. I need to go back and look at their introductions to see what plan of assembly they’re following.

Religious Holidays, National Holidays, and Weather


Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

Pasquetta, Easter Monday, is a national holiday in Italy. I warned the students to stock up on groceries, because they couldn’t be certain that anything in their neighborhoods would be open. I haven’t been out for a walk yet, but the centro storico is so shut down that there are open parking spaces on my street. That’s just not normal!
Something else that wasn’t normal – yesterday’s weather. It’s been rainy all week, but yesterday was a doozy of weird. It reminded me of nothing so much as Houston. I know that everyone everywhere says “if you don’t like the weather wait 15 minutes,” and people in the Finger Lakes say that a lot, but in Houston we regularly had an inch or two of rain fall in an hour framed by absolute gorgeousness. I occasionally took off my shoes and waded home to Hanszen College barefoot (aided by my militant refusal to wear socks with penny loafers). Once that happened while I was in a bookstore – I never even knew it was raining! A friend and I walked to the Village to buy books for the fall, spent an hour in a (mainly) used bookstore, and came out to streets full of water. I learned that day why the sidewalks in the Village were elevated about a foot off the street level.
Rome had that kind of rain yesterday – and in three bursts. It rained enough all morning that I carried an umbrella to 11 a.m. mass at the Chiesa Nuova (Gregorian chant, but Italian ordinary – the reform of the reform). During the sermon we started to hear thunder, and by the time we were leaving the streets were flowing streams. I dodged across the street relatively dryly. By the time I finished lunch it had cleared up – downright blue skies. I went out for gelato and a walk and got trapped by the next storm at the Pantheon. Things could’ve been worse – I could have been soaked in the streets or, for instance, in Geneva, where the predicted high was 24. Good people watching – and the canons had a row of reliquaries out on the altar, so there was something to pray about. So then I continued my walk (successfully procrastinating grading until today; I observed the glorious feast of Easter by refusing to do any academic work). The centro was bustling with tourists; I think every Italian with living blood kin who wasn’t employed in the tourist trade was home fixing or eating dinner. While it was Spaniards everywhere you looked during Holy Week, the Germans seemed especially thick on the ground yesterday.
So I was strolling home around 4 and thinking of swinging a block out of my way for an espresso at Gerri’s Bar (my current fave – on the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II and definitely worth stopping – on my side of the street between the Cancelleria and the Chiesa Nuova – good place to sit, even, which you can’t say about most caffe in Rome) when it started to get darker. Much darker. So I decided to make my own espresso anyway (I need to use up the can before I leave, after all) and was rewarded by getting home just before an absolute gullywasher came down. It was raining so much and blowing so hard against the front of my building that the red paint (or whatever it is they use – it’s really more like a whitewash, only colored) ran down over my windows. Really. Afterwards the marble windowsill was rosy. Streams of water were corkscrewing off the Chiesa Nuova – where the gutters were backed up by the flow the water was trying to cascade off, but the wind was so strong that the streams got blown back up into the air. Really amazing weather.
I’m hoping for a slightly drier week, since we’re supposed to go to Ostia for drawing and photography (and perhaps a little impromptu lecture from me? you think?) on Wednesday! However, it’s currently (9:11 a.m., Monday, 3/24/08) HAILING. If I were pope I might call for another round of penitential processions, even though we’re supposed to be past that for awhile.


He is Risen (ssshhhhh…)

Originally uploaded by Wojar.

So here in Rome it’s already Sunday, and He’s risen. Yay!
They baptized two babies at the Oratory – and that was quite enough! For a recessional the organist broke into the “Hallelujah Chorus.” I suppose I was the only person in the building who knew all the words in the original, for once.
For the more visual than aural among us, I offer Piero della Francesca’s version – the greatest of all Renaissance resurrections. If you don’t believe me just click and enlarge.

Those darned Italians!

I may have been here almost long enough this time – or not quite long enough.
I’m having one of those week of little annoyances that add up. For instance, I’m walking around this week just certain that people on scooters and motorcycles are revving their engines at stop lights just to annoy me – and then peeling out to maximize the noise. Come to think of it, I’m not sure the latter isn’t true. By the way, I learned this week that the old joke about vehicles like this being chainsaws on wheels may be true – Husqvarna makes motorcycles! I never knew.
Then there’s the insouciance of neighborhood shops. So I need something best bought as a casalinghi – kind of a hardware-for-the-home store. Not a hardware store, really, but all that other stuff. So I go back to the shop a block away where I bought my door mat and they’re closed. Now I knew they were the kind of place that still closes for lunch and riposo – it’s tiny, they’re elderly, I’m fine with that. But it was already 3 p.m.! And do they have their hours posted where you can see them when they’re NOT there? No! It’s a neighborhood shop, after all – everyone knows when they’re open, don’t they?

Sebastiano del Piombo exhibition

Yesterday I made it, finally, to the Sebastiano del Piombo show at the Palazzo Venezia. His painting best known in America (and actually in America) is the Christopher Columbus portrait at the Met (strange, the linked image is black’n’white). Sebastiano was indeed an amazing portraitist, and the portraits were the highlight of the show, however much the curators wanted us to look at some other works. A friend of Michelangelo and a rival of Raphael, Sebastiano did well as a portraitist and well-enough as a chatter-up of his papal sitters to be named keeper of the papal seal – il piombo, and hence, del Piombo. Portraitists had to spend a good bit of time with their sitters, and it shouldn’t surprise us that personable artists like van Eyck, van Dyck, and Sebastiano del Piombo did well.
The exhibition space was splendid and dim – and a little strange. They had installed a wall covered with a velvety fabric. The paintings were hung about two feet behind this wall surface, framed by a window. The lighting was VERY dim in the gallery, though the paintings themselves were well-lit by lamps concealed in the false wall. It’s hard to describe, but it was effective – certainly not a white wall with paintings jostling each other! There were about 20 drawings on display as well – I didn’t spot any studies for paintings that were also on display, but I didn’t linger long – that room was the only one that felt particularly crowded.
Sebastiano experimented with painting on slate instead of on canvas or wood panel – and in at least two of those paintings on show he used the color of the slate to leave figures floating in a kind of darkness – the head of Clement VII looked amazing that way.
My favorite comparison was stepping back and forth between the Met Columbus and the portrait of Andrea Doria. The great papal admiral made a much more interesting subject – the deep shadow and his gesture towards the piece of classical carving in front of him almost demands interpretation – and I don’t know how to read it. Very disquieting.
My favorite portrait was the similarly ambiguous “Portrait of a Man in Armor,” completed in 1512. You can find it on the slide show linked below – the Wadsworth Athenaeum owns it, but I can’t find a version of it on their site. Sebastiano was fond of the quarter view – the sitter with a turned head – but this one is exaggerated in its playfulness. At least I found the figure playful. All in all, a good show!
Here’s a review in the International Herald Tribune with a useful slide show.

Class prep + Holy Week = Credit towards Heaven?

Bring on the Doctrine of Works – I’m having a good week!
So I’m previewing my favorite mosaics on the Quirinal Hill this afternoon for class tomorrow – I run by Santa Pudenziana, check on Santa Prassede, and hit Santa Maria Maggiore last – and just in time for the Wednesday after Palm Sunday Stational Mass with Penitential Procession. The presiding bishop was a little frighteningly doddery – I saw him holding his chest at one point while the procession was coming back up the aisle, and I’m not sure he was clutching his pectoral cross. The music was splendid – the kind of thing that having a college of canons can do for you! I made use of one of the Dominicans in the college of confessors, too, while I was at it. Is there a plenary indulgence on offer here? Readers?
I’ve told my students that unless they really want the vast sea of devotion thing they should evade St. Peter’s this week and go to the other great basilicas – especially for the Easter Vigil. For the Easter Vigil myself I’m torn between going to Sta Prassede, as I did in 2003 (when, to be sure, it was within easy walking distance of my apartment) and going next door to Chiesa Nuova. I’m really not much of a church hopper when it comes to mass – I tend to go to the same place over and over anyway. Living next door to Chiesa Nuova has been very nice!