Porphyry Column of Constantine

My life story – I walk up to famous, tall thing only to find it scaffolded (see Freiburg Münsterturm).

This elaborate scaffolding surrounds Constantine’s Porphyry Column, now known as the Burnt Column – Çemberlitas in Turkish (and I can’t get the little thingy to come out on the final s, sorry). From a distance I could see the porphyry surface, at least.

The Romans carefully placed it on the main street, running along a ridge top, from forum to forum. The elevation – along with it’s own enormous height something like 110 feet – means that it is visible from the Sea of Marmora and the Golden Horn. Constantine topped it with an enormous statue of himself as the Sun. That’s Constantine all over.

I walked around it several times, then finally spotted the inconspicuous entrance to the Çemberlitas Hamam. Gosh that was pleasant, but it was all for knowledge – Sinan designed the building! Click here and look at the images of the dome.

Airport Blogging – Ataturk Airport

Free wireless! More than one can say for many airports!
The food prices are extreme, though – trying ot drain the last Turkish Lira out of us. It’s working – I totaled up my last few bills and all the change and managed to afford a döner kebab and then small cappuccino at Gloria Jeans (yes, them – they’re all over the place in Istanbul).

Blue Mosque – muqarnas capital

Sulemaniye Mosque

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

You know, the trip might have been worth it for nothing more than getting a quick immersion in muqarnas, the omnipresent honeycomb decorative technique in Islamic architecture after the year 1000 or 1100; you might compare it with acanthus motifs in Greek architecture and forms derived from that. I have seen lots of pictures, and examples in American museums, but the only other predominantly Muslim country I have ever visited is Malaysia.

People (both officials and folks you meet) are always asking “are you here for business or pleasure?” My short answer is “pleasure,” since looking is a pleasure for me. But really I’m always on duty.

Forza Italia!

Separately Sunday, the captain of an Italian cruise ship said his security staff fought off a pirate attack in the region Saturday with pistols and a water hose.
Commander Ciro Pinto told Italian media the ensuing gunfight damaged the ship, but the 1,500 passengers were unhurt.
He said six armed pirates attacked the ship from a small speedboat in the Indian Ocean, off the Somali coast. After the attack, the ship continued toward its destination, the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

Until someone looks at international law and decides that ships under attack may respond with force this is not going to stop.

The weirdest building in Europe?

The Mole Antonelliana, my entry for the weirdest building in Europe. Keep looking up and it keeps getting odder.

Inside is the National Museum of Film, which was splendid and strange, too. The enormous central hall is filled with lounging sofas. Visitors lie back and watch one of two screens (yes, the image of the anaesthetized consumer who can’t choose is intentional) running almost continuously. This month there’s a Rudolph Valentino show up, so one screen was continuous excerpts from his movies and one was from related movies showing his influence or documentaries from his period. Exceptionally well done.

In side chambers around the main level are permanent exhibitions devoted to emotions stirred by film and tv, like horror, suspense, love, familial fondness – in other words, a way to explore genres.

Then a giant ramp climbs the interior – kind of like the Guggenheim. That’s where a massive exhibition of Valentino stuff was. Then in galleries opening off the ramp (again, like the Guggenheim), were incredible exhibitions of the technical aspects of film making and a movie poster collection.

The entire place was spectacular and a spectacle. There is a viewing platform which one (not me) reaches with a glass elevator running through the center of the great space. Periodically, always when an elevator is ascending or descending, all the films stop, all the shades on all the windows around the central Aula rise, the room slowly floods with light and then sinks back into darkness. The soundtrack, which has been a low babel of all the other sound tracks playing, comes together from every speaker in the building with the theme from Bladerunner when the elevator is climbing the side of the Tyrell Corporation. It took me a second or two to remember what it was.

Now I like movies, but I am far from being a film buff or serious or anything – and it took me an hour and a half. Like many public buildings the exit wound back into the same hall as the entry. As one starts down the steps one looks up to a shelf-like area invisible to those entering (well, unless one stops and turn 180 degrees and look, but who does that while walking INTO a museum?). There grinning at us is a golden calf.

Blogger Luncheon

Sorry the photo is of the wrong time of day – but the church on the horizon is Ss. Domenico e Sisto, the chapel of the Angelicum, the Dominican University. Catho-Bloggers may be able to guess who I’m talking about – yes, I got to take Fr. Philip Neri Powell to lunch! I really did live just the next hill over, but we were both busy. I’m thinking about a book, he’s almost finished with one. Here – go preorder Treasures Old and New: Traditional Prayers for Today’s Catholics, Fr. Philip’s reflections on novenas.

I even got to tell him about a novena practice he hadn’t come across – the Flying Novena. Many years ago and not so far away I was visiting Saintes Marie de la Mer, the great fortified Romanesque church on the French Mediterranean coast with Tom Lyman and an Emory group. It was some kind of holy day (perhaps St. Mary the Egyptian? Wikipedia claims for Saint Sarah, but I’d prefer something better sourced) for the Gypsies. Lots of ladies were coming in one door, heading for an altar, saying a prayer and lighting one candle, heading out a different door, coming back in the first door, and repeating.

I asked “What on earth are they doing?” Tom told me they were doing Flying Novenas. Since they wouldn’t be able to come to the church for 9 consecutive days, the usual way one handles these things, they were packing it all in.

Father Philip Neri was sceptical about the licitness of this devotional practice, but then he’s a Dominican and that’s what they do.

We had a lovely lunch – pasta and laughter. It doesn’t get much better.

Farewell, Roma!

Piazza Navona

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

Off again!

I had a good visit – shorter than the last few, but long enough to get some serious work done. I’ve looked, drawn, and thought a lot, read some, and even – gasp – written. I’m not a natural outliner, but the Santa Prassede material is so disparate that I’ve had to be a better planner; I think I’ve got a pretty good working outline going.

I’m headed to Turin today. Why? Because I need to get to the North and because I’ve never been! Why not? Thence to Frankfurt and from there to Istanbul!

The economy and art in Las Vegas

Last year saw the closure of a Guggenheim outpost in the Venetian Hotel-Casino and the decision in 2007 by Steve Wynn to convert a gallery at his Wynn Las Vegas resort into a Rolex shop.

And not just any Rolex shop, a very successful one. Let’s not forget that Las Vegas resorts are businesses, after all. Read the article.

Wynn, who for a time showed his private collection of Monets and Picassos in a gallery at his resort, boasted last year that the Rolex shop he replaced it with grossed $16 million in sales the first year.
The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum at the Venetian is now a restaurant.

The article then cites as a ray of hope:

Also, the 10-year-old Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has drawn 7,000 paying visitors in the first two months of its latest show featuring works by Lichtenstein and Warhol; and First Friday, a festival in which several downtown small galleries and antique shops stay open late, draws thousands each month.

Wait – 7,000 over two months is a few more than 100 people a day. Pretty slow. I’m afraid that people go to Las Vegas for something other than beauty.

A show I haven’t seen

I’m sorry that the big Vespasian show is mounted in the Colosseum. Since I got here after spring started the lines for the Colosseum have been unbearable – and as far as I can tell there’s no separate entrance for the exhibition.
The show looks splendid, and is curated by Filippo Coarelli, a really important Roman archaeologists. But I hate standing in line, sometimes so much that I’ll skip a show.

An antidote for the Burden of History

Sometimes walking around Rome can get to be a little much. I find that modern music helps – in 2003 I listened to a lot of Verve: Remixed as an antidote. This year I haven’t been in much of a music mood – and my walk has been really short – the joy of living close to what one needs to look at.

Thursday, though, I kind of snapped. I woke up, walked to Termini, and checked departure times for Latina and Orvieto. An InterCity train stopping in Latina left 30 minutes sooner than anything to Orvieto (and I think that was a Regionale and hence criminally slow when you’re taking a mental health day and paying less than €10) so there I went!

I had driven past (or maybe even through?) Latina a couple of times when my sister and family lived in Gaeta – the via Appia runs past – but I had never been there.

Latina was founded in 1932 by Mussolini as Littoria, capital of the newly-drained Pontine Marshes. The Agro Pontino is an enormous area of Central Italy that was swampy and malarial since time out of mind. So Latina is thoroughly planned. Click here for the Italian Wikipedia article – look for the plans. Latina is one of the great examples of Rationalist (i.e., dirigiste Moderne, i.e., Fascist) architecture. There’s a street named after Corbusier for a reason.

Once he drained the Pontine Marshes, Mussolini moved a bunch of peasants from Friuli and the Veneto (North east italy) to the new agricultural territory. They were not particularly grateful, from what I’ve read. But Mussolini was dead set on Italy becoming self-sufficient agriculturally – hence the Wheat-fountain.

I wandered around and took lots of photos – here are some of them on Flickr.

The city is a little much in its type, but it looks pretty liveble. It has the second largest population in the region of Lazio (after Rome), which may or may not tell us anything. It was certainly an antidote to the burden of the past – I came back feeling much better, ready to dive back into the 9th century.

Giotto and the 14th Century

Of course the title in the show is one of those cross cultural problems – “Giotto e il Trecento.” That’s 1300s, not 13th Century. Always confuses beginning art historians. Big show – and at a big venue, the Vittoriano. All in all I didn’t learn as much as I did from the Futurism show, but the exhibition itself was much better done – lots of explanatory text, clearer juxtapositions by hanging. But really, Giotto was better at fresco than at panel painting, and they only had a couple of detached Giotto frescoes.
Amazing, though – they had a panel painting out of the Arena Chapel, the Enthroned God the Father, which is painted on a shutter. That was splendid! Some of the loans were pretty amazing!
Again, I’m having trouble finding a link to the show itself.
I was amused at the scientific committee for the exhibition. Every single professor, including the American (Herbert Kessler at Johns Hopkins) is a medievalist. Though there were lots of claims of novelty in the wall text, the show made it very clear how Giotto is transitional from Gothic, not so much revolutionary.
Oh – and Giotto’s hands are pretty unconvincing up close. His martyr saints hold palms convincingly, evangelists hold books pretty well, but St. Peter always looks like he’s about to drop the keys. This problem is more conspicuous when you move into room fulls of paintings by followers, many of whom paint convincing hands. So – all volumetric bodies, little emphasis on hands.

All you have to know about the decline and fall of Britain…

is right here:

Procol Harum’s hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” with its haunting organ melody and largely meaningless lyrics, is the most-played song in U.K. public places in the past 75 years, the London-based Times reported, citing PPL, which licenses music for public use on behalf of more than 3,500 record companies.
The song, recorded in 1967, beat out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” into second place with the U.S. Everly Brothers harmony duo coming third with their 1958 recording of “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” the newspaper said.
The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley could only manage seventh place with his 1957 hit, “All Shook Up,” while Abba’s “Dancing Queen” took the eighth slot and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was 10th; the Beatles’ highest placing was 11 with “Hello, Goodbye,” and the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women” was the 19th most-placed, the Times said.
PPL defined public places as including radio stations, sports stadiums, jukeboxes, elevators and supermarkets, the Times added.

The Daily Fashion Bulletin

A constant about visiting Italy is that one feels one missed the memo – today, for instance, there is an explosion of seersucker jackets in the streets. And the women? I swear they are ALL wearing light cotton dresses, a kicky jacket or cotton sweater, and heavy boots. All of them. None of them were wearing this last week that I noticed. Today?
Maybe the Fashion Bulletin runs on RAI 2 – I usually watch channel 1 in the mornings? Maybe it’s an email listserve? I dunno – I don’t get the memos.
Now I was wearing traditional ethnic dress today – blue oxford shirt, khakis, and penny loafers with no socks. The last, though, is because all my clothing other than what I had on was at the laundry. Now I have clean socks galore! Sadly, I didn’t bring a seersucker jacket – so I’m still in tweed.

The Mother of All Vigils

I met my colleagues leading our program in Rome this year at Sta Prassede for the Easter Vigil. Luckily for my overall liturgical tourism mood I was early enough to catch the Exultet in Latin next door at Sta Maria Maggiore while waiting for them, because the Vallumbrosans were not all thhat on the ball. Not the Exultet – which, though in Italian, was full-length and lovely. But they didn’t use the schola at all except for a little incidental music during the eucharist. I wouldn’t be surprised if they quit. They also turned on the lights WAY too early – that church could stand some candle light.
But hey – it was the Vigil! And there was incense, and solemnity, a fine organist, and enough readings to take the whole affair seriously. Still and all, they need a real MC.
I spent Sunday wandering around and today has been about equally useful – actually more seems closed today for Pasquetta, Easter Monday, than yesterday!