Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday June 30, 2015

Come on in!

Well, our bags are packed and we're ready to go! That's a song, isn't it? We spent a good portion of the day packing and needlepointing. Also fretting. Actually we did do something fun this afternoon which was walk to San Pietro in Vincoli as I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to do. It wasn't far from the apartment and I am glad we did it.

Moses is lower center. Julius II is immediately above.

The church is one of the oldest in Rome (circa 450 ad) but very little of the original structure remains. The main attraction aside from the 16th century frescoes and a 680 ad mosaic of St. Sebastian are two statues done by Michelangelo. One is of Moses and one is of a recumbent Pope Julius II. Moses is depicted, strangely, with two satyr's horns. Not sure what that is all about but it's amazing how Michelangelo's work stands out from the five other statues surrounding it in the monument. It seems more luminous (as if that's possible) and also more detailed/virtuosic.

Before 1€
After 1€

Speaking of luminous, I'll tell you that I was so impressed by this statue that I even splurged for the lights! This is something that is done here (in churches) where they put the spotlights for artwork on a timer and you have to insert money to light it up for a minute or two. I suppose whatever it takes, right? No one else was doing it, so I decided to go ahead and once I did man you should have seen how quickly they all came toward the light! Like moths to a flame.

In other news, we had another mediocre meal tonight. Never thought I would long to go to Switzerland for the food but we've got to break this losing streak somehow.

Not sure what all this is about. A little unusual.

Seriously though I am sad to be leaving Rome and I look forward to coming back. I bought a book on the Masterpieces of Rome today and I spent some time this afternoon looking through it. Plenty of places we have not seen. Yet.

Ciao Roma!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday June 29, 2015

Roman Forum this afternoon 

Just a quick post to let you know we are still alive and well in Rome. Its been a quiet couple of days. Lots of needlepointing and walking, some shopping and of course eating. Unfortunately we showed up for a scheduled walking tour this afternoon ("Forgotten Places and Spaces") only to discover that the reason no one was at the meeting place was because the tour was yesterday as it clearly stated on the tickets. Oh well. So we decided to walk around for awhile and hang out. Today was a holiday of some sort in Rome so there was a relaxed atmosphere and lots of people in the streets. Good people watching. Dinner on the other hand wasn't so good. Neither was our lunch come to think of it so it's been an off day food-wise.

The meeting point for our walking tour
We were there but no one else was!

Speaking of which, yesterday we made a special effort to go to this cafe around the corner that has good ratings on Yelp for their Sunday brunch. We had tried to go there earlier in the week to get coffee to go. We were unsuccessful because although they serve coffee they don't serve it to go. So, here we are trying the place for a second time and we've done our research and it says online that they open on Sunday at nine thirty. So we show up at nine forty and they are obviously still getting ready to open. "Ten minutes" the girl says so we ask if we can sit and wait. "No" she says. Excuse me? "No" she repeats while escorting us to the door which she then promptly closes in our face. Unbelievable. But not altogether surprising at the same time. We went across the street to the grocery store and bought some supplies for breakfast in the apartment. So much for Sunday brunch out.

Lots of people out and about today
Santa Maria in Trastevere
Mosaics date from 1150 -- unbelievable!

Later in the day, we had another experience where we went to this place where we've gotten good connolies before. We had checked once again online whether they were open on Sunday or not. It said they were, so we went out of our way to go to this place and sure enough -- you guessed it -- they were closed. Rrrrg. Don't get between me and my sweets. I asked Russell how people can live with stuff like this happening with regularity and it occurred to me that when in Rome you always need to have a Plan B. If this restaurant is not open, then we will go to that restaurant. If the buses aren't running, then we will take a cab. If the store isn't open, then we will grab a drink and chill out. Believe me it helps to have a Plan B.

Shopping by the Spanish Steps on Saturday 
Interesting presentation for Russell's Caprese salad at lunch on Saturday 

Speaking of plans tomorrow is our last day here so we will spend most of our time packing. I am hoping we will be able to get one more decent meal and a visit to Michelangelo's statue of Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli which is located near here.

Shoppers out in force on Saturday 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday June 26, 2015

As if the Vatican wasn't enough, I dragged Russell to a couple more churches today. The first was San Giovanni in Laterano. This church was the seat of the Pope prior to sixteenth century. So for over a thousand years it was the center of Catholicism in Rome. The church is still the official seat of the Pope in his capacity as Bishop of Rome (whatever that means). It's an impressive church as you can well imagine it would be. Large but not monstrously so and of course decorated with lots of marble, frescoes, gold leaf and mosaics. It's actually quite a mishmash in terms of style. One part looks Byzantine, another part neo-Classical and yet another part looks Baroque. I enjoyed it though. Certainly it was more pleasant to visit a church about which I had no expectations and also a church that was not ludicrously overwhelmed by tourists.

The second church we visited was Santa Maria Maggiore. This was another impressive church with an early Christian feel to it due to the simple layout with early mosaics and patterned marble floors. It seems that they have more successfully brokered a truce between the tourists and the faithful with this church. They have set aside a chapel that is quite lavishly decorated but reserved only for the faithful where photos and tourists are not allowed. Smart I think. Visitors can't begrudge the locals setting aside a place for themselves and locals have a space where they will be unmolested by the great unwashed.

After Santa Maria Maggiore Russell and I walked to a restaurant that had been recommended by our food tour company. It was called La Carbonara and it is located in the Monti neighborhood. We arrived fifteen minutes before it opened for lunch and they had a bench outside so we decided to sit and wait. But then we got to reading some of the signs posted out front. One was the symbol for Trip Advisor with a slash mark through it and something in Italian about no more bogus ratings. Ok so they don't like Trip Advisor. Then there was another sign in Italian mostly with some English that talked about how this restaurant was not a fast food place and that there were no MasterChefs in the kitchen (a reference to the successful BBC program). No Gordon Ramsey either it went on. In fact no reality TV shows at all. Instead what you have here is a real live genuine Roman osteria and blah blah blah. 

Okay so now I am beginning to waiver. Do I really want to eat at this place? Finally I notice a sign that says "quiet people are educated people" with another sign that seems to say in Italian "shhh, keep your voice down". Okay well now this is enough. I mean it's bad enough that you go ahead and assume the worst about your customers-- that they are all reality TV show watching ignoramuses who want only fast food but then to judge people based on the volume of their speaking voice is downright insulting. I myself speak softly but I have also spent a good portion (entire?) life with people who speak loudly and well you know what? They are not bad people. They are not uneducated people. They just happen to speak more loudly than you do. That's all. And you know what? I think that you've got this whole restaurant concept a little mixed up. I am the customer. You (the restaurant) work for me. I don't work for you. If you want to hand pick your guests then don't open a restaurant, serve people in your house. Then you can tell them to lower their voice. You know this whole lower your voice thing is getting on my nerves. If you are out in public honestly I think you have very little right to get upset with other people speaking loudly or to police the speaking level of complete strangers. Get over yourself. You are not in charge of the world and hey -- news flash -- some people talk loud. Doesn't mean they are bad people it just means they talk louder than you do. Oh well.

I guess I've got that one out of my system for now. Needless to say we didn't eat at La Carbonara and I'd like to suggest that you don't either. We had lunch at a place that was a little less conflicted about being in business. I say a little less conflicted because really a lot of Italians are none too keen on serving customers. They don't like it. And they sure don't like to do things any way but their way. And if you do something that annoys them (like make them do something your way) they will make sure you know it with lots of head shaking, deep sighs, argument, etc. They just have to let you know that they are not happy. Maybe I've been here too long. Or had one too many waiters not say "Prego" to my "Gratzia".

On a different (and more pleasant) note, tonight was spent "Cooking with Nona". 
This was a cooking class that I had rescheduled from earlier in the week. I really didn't feel like going this afternoon. I am not sure what my problem was as we had a very good time and I knew I would but still I didn't want to go. It turned out Nona's apartment was quite near our apartment so that plus the money we had spent on the tickets made it so we had to go.

The class was a group of eight. One family of four from the Southeast US and another couple from Washington, DC that we had met earlier in the week on one of our food tours. Nona bore an uncanny resemblance to my mother had she been shorter and Italian so that was kind of strange. The menu was unfortunately very similar to the meal we cooked with Francesca in Naples, that is brunschette with tomatoes and basil, Pasta Amatriciana and tiramisu. For the main course we prepared meatballs with stuffed zucchini. Let me just say first off that these European food tour companies have got to get their act together because Americans are a lot better informed when it comes to food than they seem to think. I mean bruschetta for an appetizer? We are not brain dead. I get that the simplest things are best and all that but honestly teach me something I don't know.

Still we had a good time which wasn't a sure thing when the evening started as Russell mixed it up with the family (a mother/aunt and three cousins). They pulled up in a taxi when we were waiting outside. We hadn't rung the doorbell yet because the appointed time had not arrived and Russell said something jokey and I am not sure they liked it too much and then we noticed that they had shopping bags from Louis Vuitton and I began to wonder what had we gotten ourselves into. Four hours with these gals? Well once we got inside and the other couple that we knew arrived everyone seemed to loosen up and by the end of the evening I really enjoyed meeting them. So there you have it, you just never know.

Now, as for the food, well the bruschetta was good and actually I did learn a little something with regards to how to make it. The appetizer was quite good as was the pasta. Of course how I am going to make the Amatriciana sauce in America without guanciale is beyond me. I mean all the distinctive flavor is in the guanciale (which for all you reality TV watching, Gordon Ramsey loving ignoramuses out there is pig cheek). As for the entree, well that wasn't terribly good. Russell called it inedible. I thought that was harsh but let's just say I was the only person (and I mean the only person) to ask for seconds and the only reason I did it was because I didn't want to hurt Nona's feelings. Sad but true. The tiramisu (which means "pick me up") was very good but isn't there any other dessert in Italy besides tiramisu?

Well I am going to stop now because I've been extra opinionated tonight and I've really got to stop writing so much because you are very busy and although you are interested you are not that interested. I'll try and do better (read briefer) tomorrow.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday June 25, 2015

Well, we visited the Vatican today. My oh my that's all I can say. No, wait -- I can say more.

We got up and out early (7:00 am) so we could join the hundreds of other people who paid more to access the Vatican Museum before it opens to the public. Supposedly our tickets entitled us to "skip the lines" but in reality that wasn't true because we got there at seven thirty five and the museum doesn't open until eight so that's a good twenty five minutes of waiting. Then there is the security line. And we had to wait while the guide bought our tickets. 

And then once all those things happened we waited some more while our guide explained some background information to us. At the time I thought she was crazy but then I looked at my watch and it was approaching eight thirty so it would seem that the Sistine Chapel itself doesn't open for another half hour after the museum opens. So, if my math is correct it was more than an hour of waiting and still no Sistine Chapel. But finally after going up steps to go down steps and around this corner and down this hall we were there and wow! Amazing.

You are not supposed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel but unbeknownst to me Russell was clicking away like a mad man. I almost feel like a co-conspirator using them. But you don't have to worry -- there is no such thing as a co-co-conspirator!

Of course it was crowded as I knew it would be but the guide assured us and she was right that a lot of the groups would leave quickly and by the time nine o'clock came around the place was not that crowded at all.

So what to say? Well, there is certainly nothing like being there. And it was bigger than I thought it would be but smaller than Russell thought it would be. The colors were quite vibrant and interestingly they left some sections uncleaned so that you could get a feeling for how it looked prior to the restoration. Also I didn't know that the ceiling was damaged by an explosion that happened nearby in the nineteenth century I believe. So, there is one part of the ceiling that's been lost but it's not too noticeable. What is interesting is to see how Michelangelo divided the space up, creating panels in the center complete with lots of trompe l'oeil architectural details that are so realistic it's hard to tell the real moldings from the fake (I suppose that's the whole point, right? Duh).

Of course it's difficult to strain your neck and look up for an extended period. Fortunately we were able to sit down for awhile. Toward the end of our visit some guy announces over a microphone that this is a place of worship and then he starts droning on in some language I don't recognize and I think "Will you please be quiet" and "Really? A house of prayer? Tell that to the thirty thousand people who will be paying 16€ to stroll through here all day long." I mean honestly it's not like there are pews or kneelers or anything of the sort. To me this showy attempt at prayer was really all about the Church trying to establish control over the situation and reminding people of just who sets the rules. Oh and speaking of rules -- no exposed shoulders or knees. Can you imagine? What is this the 1950s? Or should I say 1850s? I had no idea knees and shoulders were so ... offensive.

Well I better stop before I offend too many people (especially since I have another zinger to dispense later). The organized prayer initiative does bring up some interesting points. How do the art enthusiasts and the true believers manage to co-exist on such a scale as this? It's an issue at churches all over Italy of course. But it's at a whole different level at the Vatican. Another interesting question is does the fact that the Sistine Chapel is great art help or hinder when it comes to fulfilling the mission of church art which I assume is to bring the faithful closer to God? In short, does artistic greatness bring people closer to God? I would be inclined to say yes but then the memory of what the chapel looked like later in the day (we had to walk through it again to get to St. Peter's Basilica) when it was wall to wall people pops into my head and I think "Ain't nobody getting spiritual in that mob scene."

The mob scene was certainly an interesting aspect of the day and surprisingly it would come and go. For instance Russell and I took a few moments during our breakfast break to visit the cars and carriages area and there was no crowd there. And when we went through the picture gallery also very light crowd-age. However on the Belvedere gallery (famous sculptures) and in the Raphael rooms (frescoes by Raphael) the crowds returned. And then of course in the Sistine Chapel and again  in this one corridor on the way to the Sistine Chapel the crowd was very bad. Of course that didn't prevent some jugheads from pushing their way through the crowd. I guess they really really needed to get to the Sistine Chapel. Unlike the rest of us. Honestly some people!

Anyhow the Vatican Museum was very impressive. There is a lot there and it seems from what I saw to be very well displayed and cared for. As for St. Peter's there isn't much to say except that it's big -- as in monstrously large. Also, I now know where all the marble in Rome went! I was surprised to see a crypt for John Paul II inside the basilica on the main floor no less. Prime real estate. I had no idea the mania for that guy had reached such an absurd level! Yikes there it is -- the other zinger that I said I had up my sleeve.

Wore my mint pants today

Seriously though the church is really just big. Very very big. And that kind of seems to be the whole point. There are marks down the main aisle to demonstrate how all these other large churches could easily fit inside this church. Because it's so big. Okay I get it. Enough already.

Now that's a big cherub!

Strangely St. Peter's Square didn't seem quite as large as I had expected. Of course having just been inside this enormous church what's an obelisk and two fountains?

You will see from the pictures that of course the square (which isn't a square at all but rather an ellipse attached to a trapezium -- put that in your pipe and smoke it!) is quite large.

Speaking of quite large -- this blog post is getting out of hand. So I better bring it to a close. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday June 24, 2015

A quiet day spent re-visiting sites in the Trastevere neighborhood which you may remember we visited on a food tour the other day. What were we in search of? Well for Russell (and for me too maybe just a little bit) it was porchetta and for me it was books. Porchetta and books. Of course we got some other things too. Like cookies and gelato.

Starting the day nice and comfortable 

Russell says that I had a slip today with my "book addiction". Me? I prefer to look at the positive side. This is the longest period of time in many a year that I've gone without purchasing a book. So there you have it, same situation -- different perspectives.

It was nice of him to take the time to go to this bookstore with me. Also I don't think I would have found it without his help. We saw this place, the Almost Corner Bookstore, during our food tour and when the tour was over I wanted to go back but it was closed for "siesta". Don't even get me started on the whole siesta thing! Anyhow that's the way it has been with me and bookstores lately. There was an English language bookstore on Santorini. Looked really cute too but it was closed (with no explanation even though according to the posted hours it should have been open). Then there was the bookstore at the Coloseum. It was closed because the cash register was not working. I've tried to console myself by saying that I don't have room in my luggage for books.

Bookstore on Santorini. Look how cute. And closed. For no good reason.
"Our register is not working" -- Bookstore at Coloseum 

No need for consolation today though. On my way to the Almost Corner Bookstore we happened upon the Open Door Bookstore which also offers books in English. And, joy of joys, it was open. R agreed to stop and I found some good stuff. Titles that I might not find readily at home (or at least so I told myself) -- such as Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma, Pasters & Masters by Ivy Compton-Burnett and Walter Scott's Ivanhoe). Eclectic I know. So that was good. Then we went to the second shop and I found some books on Rome (one by Robert Hughes and another by Elizabeth Bowen) and one on Byzantine history that looked interesting.

Our lunch spot. We both decided children are cuter in a foreign language.

Now all I have to do is get these books to Switzerland and then I can ship them home (oh and I suppose I have to read them as well). I don't dare ship them from Italy because I am told that they would never make it.

After the bookstores R and I went to the porchetta place, bought some and sat in the park in the shade and ate bread with roast pork. For dessert I had strawberry gelato with white wine (don't tell anyone) and lemon. That's the flavor -- strawberry with white wine and lemon. I did not have white wine and lemon with my strawberry gelato!


A quick stop at the cookie store and then back over the bridge to the apartment. It was comfortable today but when I got back to the apartment The first thing I did was strip off my shirt and undershirt and hung em out to dry. Honestly I wonder how I would survive if the heat was really brutal which it hasn't been at all.

I read some in the afternoon in a book I have on St. Peter's Basilica in preparation for our visit to the Vatican tomorrow. Also needlepointed. Unfortunately, the Lilliputian chairs are not getting any more comfortable.

Cars are so small here even a Mini looks maxi!