Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 18- Parma Ham

Got up to a very nice breakfast at our place, the Hotel Giglio, which has been in use as a hotel there since 1912. Our hostess was a very helpful woman whose whole family helps out with running the place. The dining room really reminded me of places I stayed in on my first trip to Europe with my family when I was 15: a well lit room with white cloths on the tables, a nice selection of fresh baked breads, tarts and rolls, that weird Tang-style OJ they seem to prefer there, yogurt and fresh fruits. The guests were all older Italian tourists, with some real characters.

We took the train back down to Parma to see the sights, first walking along the river where a class of art students were busily sketching the view across the way. Pretty cool! Our first stop was the Pinacoteca (art museum) in the massive Palazzo Pilotta. Actually, the first part of the museum was an unexpected stunner. The Teatro Farnese, a baroque space built for the Farnese family in 1618. It was almost completely destroyed in WWII, but was quickly rebuilt using as much of the original as they could salvage. It is gigantic- they actually had dramas there with floating barges on the flooded floor space, and the stage area, said to be one of the first using a proscenium arch (as opposed to a fixed stage facade) is large enough to fit any modern drama of today. The oddest part of the stage is the floor, which tilts fairly severely towards the front. Makes "hitting your mark" even more critical- or you'll end up in the orchestra! There are still some pretty good traces of the original trompe l'oeil painting on the wooden parts, though you can't go up in the seating areas right now.

Immense space of the Teatro Farnese as seen from the stage.

The theater led into the art museum, which had a large collection of medieval and Renaissance art, including an exquisite oil sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, and a healthy dose of paintings by Coreggio and Parmigianino, two artists who are well represented in the churches and palazzi of Parma. Very interesting work by both of these artists, who injected a strong dose of playfulness and sexuality into the usual subjects of religious scenes, mythology, and portraits. 

Da Vinci's small oil at the Pinacoteca. Incrdible softness!

After that we had lunch at a nice local place full of both tourists and non, then wandered out in the wet to try and find the Camera di San Paolo, one of Correggio's masterpieces. Sadly, we missed their open hours by a half hour, so we clomped over to see the Duomo and the Baptistery, which were also closed, though reopening in half an hour. We finally found one of the target spots, Santa Maria della Steccata, a church decorated in a very unusual style. It was very dirty and a bit tough to see at first, but then it began to emerge, especially when someone put a Euro in the coin box to illuminate it with the artificial lights. The place has a very painterly touch, with much less trompe l'oeil ornament than what you see in most other churches in Italy, instead graphic black and white panels on the walls and pilasters, and colors on the ceiling, with many figures that come in front of the architectural elements, including many that are very large scale. Both Correggio and Parmigianino worked on the church, though Correggio did most of the dome area.

Looks like Moses is about the spank that ass! At the Church of Santa Maria della Steccata, in Parma

By this time the Duomo had opened, so we went in there for a second shot of Correggio and were not disappointed. Again a very different feeling to the decoration of this church. Correggio gets credit for some the first "swirling sky" heavens murals, but it was the scale and decoration of the main apse that really caught my attention. Figures in the roundels were huge, and seemed to really be looking down at the interior, and the use of dark greens and golds with black and white fills were quite unique.

Ceiling of the Parma Duomo

Decided to pass on the interior of the pink and white baptistery (for 6 Euros), and so we slowly went back to the train station, feeling like we had probably missed some of the better parts of Parma on this rainy and closed down day. Would also really like to rent a car in this area to take in some of the many local castles and villas, including the Castello Fontanellato (another magical Correggio mural of Diana and Acteon) and Torrechiara, which has some really good grottesca work.

C'mon, can you really take a pink lion seriously? In front of the Duomo.

Got back to Salsomaggiore and tried a different bath, which cost half as much as Berzieri, but was again not hot enough (with the exception of the Turkish Bath, which was nice and steamy hot). Seems like most Italian spas are still somewhere between a hospital and a relaxation center, not quite decided on where they want to be. Went to bed after deciding we'd spend the next night close to Malpensa Airport so that we could get over there early in the morning for the flight home. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 17- To Salsomaggiore Terme

Got up the next day, packed our gear, said our goodbyes, and did a quick pit stop at the Bargello museum, where the one thing I knew Marianne wanted to see (the Della Robbia room) was closed for inexplicable reasons. We got over it though, and said one more goodbye to Erling before jumping on the train to go to Salsomaggiore, a spa town outside of Parma. Took 3 train changes to get there, and we got into town around dusk in the rain. We stopped at a cafe that had wi-fi and found what looked like a good deal in a small hotel, and trundled our bags through the wet streets with only a couple of wrong turns. As we approached the center of town, the looming hulk of the Berzieri Terme came into view. 

Berzieri Thermal Baths cover an entire city block.

Around the turn of the last century, spas and thermal baths were all the rage, with large sanataria where people went to be cured of everything from tuberculosis to gout, and plenty of things even less mentionable. There was undoubtedly a healthy amount of quackery in some of these establishments, but the warm waters do heal, and the facilities they created were often luxurious and comfortable. The Berzieri spa was actually a bit of a latecomer- only finished in 1923- but it is massive! It has a large institutional look from outside, softened by a crazy Stile Liberty decoration that includes reference to all kinds of exotic architecture from around the world, done in a number of materials, including tile, brick, stone, iron, and glass. The insides are equally done up, with all kinds of beautiful decorations. Most of the work was directed by Ugo Giusti, the architect, and Galileo Chini, the artist.

The Berzieri Terme decoration combines equal amounts of Greek, Chinese, and Meso American motifs... oh yeah, and some East Indian for good measure.

Entry to the baths.
Unfortunately the timing wasn't that good, with WWII lurking around the corner, although the Fascist regime did support the baths, and even built a yet larger facility that sits unused now right next to the beautiful Art Deco train station. Bathing sort of fell out of favor in the 60's, and now it is mostly old people that go to the places, though it seems to be experiencing a small revival. Walking the immense hallways of massage rooms at the Berzieri feels like walking through a ghostly hospital, though it's still really beautiful in the darkened halls. 

We went to the baths hopefully, but were a bit disappointed to see that the facilities downstairs had all been modernized, with LED lighting and modern decor. The pools were great to look at, and had some very good hydrojet massage, but unfortunately the temperature was just shy of hot, which left us really wanting a bit more. Still, we stayed a good hour and a half, felt nicely pummeled by the jets, and went back to our very friendly B&B satisfied and tired. 
Crazy colored lightshows in the recently remodeled baths were nice to look at, but not hot enough for us. 

Day 15 and 16- Say Goodnight, Florence

Back to being able to post as of tonight in our new spot in Salsomaggiore. I accidentally used up Erling and Lynne's whole internet capacity when I uploaded the last post, so I hope you read it! And looked at all the pictures!
View at breakfast from Lynne and Erling's place.

Marianne made it back without a hitch (as you may or may not know, we fly on standby tickets, making every move non-warranted.) She found her way to the Palazzo degli Artisti unassisted, for which she gets major kudos on navigation. After coming in at about 11 am, she was willing to head out with us to go peek at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, a large townhouse built for Cosimo Medici starting in 1444. The house has two great courtyards and a number of well painted rooms, including the recently restored Magi Chapel, painted by Bennozzo Gozzoli in 1459. There is also a very cool dining room with painted mirrors and a large allegorical ceiling in it, but it was holding some kind of meeting, so we couldn't look in.
You might be crabby too if you had a big block of stone balanced on your head for 500 years!
The day was kind of short- did some errand running, ate with Lynne and Erling at a place that had gluten free pizza (yay!) and went back to the flat where everyone passed out after watching some pretty good lightning. Next day was Monday, when many things are closed around here, but we thought we had a couple of destinations going, only to find that they were both actually closed also. We stuck our noses in to see the Pontormo Deposition at Santa Felicita, then decided to attempt the bus ride to Poggio a Caiano, where there is a very large Medici Villa that has a famous lunette by Pontormo also. 

cluster of hands in Pontormo's Deposition at Santa Felicita

By the time we got out there we were starving, and a nice English woman who worked at the ticket office told us where we could get lunch in the back room of a pasticceria down the street. Always nice when you get away from the major tourist centers in Italy; prices are lower and people are a lot more relaxed. They don't speak as much English either, so you have to be ready for that, but they're generally pretty patient. 
Entry to the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano. Magnificent place!

After filling our bellies with lovely soup, pasta, and salad, we headed back up the little hill (Poggio means "knoll") we headed into the park surrounding the house. Everything there is totally free, which was a nice surprise, and we had it all to ourselves again. The house is a magnificent chunk sitting on this knoll, still surrounded by the gardens that were remade when the Italian monarchy took up residence here in the 19th century. We entered through the ground floor into a hall, the ceiling of which had some of the most convincing trompe l'oeil work I've ever seen. Say what you will about 19th century decorative work, when they got it right, it was superior, especially the trompe l'oeil. 

Lousy photo taken through the window of the entry hall ceiling. Completely trompe l'oeil ornament!

We then entered the billiard room, which I had seen in pics before, but had forgotten about. An absolutely drop dead gorgeous trellis ceiling (also 19th century) with all kinds of realistic looking flowers and a complex structure that looks like woven bamboo. I was dying to take some photos of it, but since we were the only ones there, it would have been impossible to get away with it. Behind that was a couple of rooms that had originally been used by Bianca Capello, Francesco de Medici's mistress and wife, that had been repainted with some exquisite ornamental work. 

Quirky ornamental work from 1865
We were then led upstairs to the main floor (the piano nobile) where there is a mix of both Renaissance and 19th century work. The villa was built up by Lorenzo de Medici in the late 1400s, and occupied by the Medici for about 100 years. Francesco and Bianca both died there in 1579, under somewhat suspicious circumstances. It was either malaria, or arsenic. There are only two big rooms left from this period, everything else having been remodeled when Vittorio Emanuele II lived there in the middle of the 1800s. 

Pontormo's end wall was much larger than i had imagined- the bottom of it is almost 20 feet off the ground.

Fortunately they saved the grand reception room with it's murals by Andrea del Sarto and the magnificent end wall by Pontormo, which was much bigger than i had expected from the photos I'd seen. By this time, the guards were distracted and I had a a chance to take a few pics of the place, and then we went out and cruised the slightly overgrown garden accompanied by a friendly tortoise shell cat. They had an orangerie full of dozens of citrus trees all laden with fruit. Wish ours would do that!

This little guy followed us all through the garden. Must have been bored in the off season!

Back to town on the bus and had our last dinner with Lynne and Erling at the incredible palazzo, watching the ever changing Florentine sky do light shows on the Duomo and the Campanile. I'll leave off here, since I can't seem to finish a sentence any more. Tomorrow I'll tell you about today and yesterday. 

Dinner with a view!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 11, 12, 13, 14- Catching up!

Ah Firenze!

Back in Florence, and the crowds have already begun to build! I've been here for four days now, but the internet at the house is very limited, so I haven't been posting of late. Time to catch up a bit tonight, since my hosts Lynne and Erling are out seeing some music. 

View from the breakfast table. Upstairs you see even more of the roof line.

It has been interesting to see how once it gets warm (and it is getting warmer- 70's at mid day) the hordes of tourists arrive from all over. Spring break teens are the most obvious- not only Americans, but loads of Italian kids in packs, coolly touring by day, boisterously wandering by night. The streets around here are almost as loud as Campo de' Fiori was in Rome. Fortunately, we're a little higher up here, but I'm still using my earplugs. 
This is a shot of Lynne waving from the window of the dining room, taken from the top of the Duomo. That's how close it is. 

Staying with Lynne and Erling has been great. The house is absolutely jaw dropping and very central- right between the Duomo and Santa Croce with a view of the Duomo and Campanile that is literally unreal looking. It looks surreally large as I look at it right now out the window of the room they are using as an office.
Inside the Duomo things are not so rosy! Especially if you've been naughty!

Been doing my usual series of photographs this time around, but a little less manic than the first time, since i hit a lot of the big places last time and don't feel quite as compelled to get every bit of info. I did get a double dose of the Palazzo Vecchio yesterday and the day before, including a pretty exhaustive shoot going room by room taking lots of closeups, which are the most challenging to shoot and are the most rewarding for us painters to look at, especially as they are rarely included in what little printed matter there is on the subject of grottesca and ornamental painting. 

Inspecting the secret passageway that runs through the attic of the Room of the 500, designed by Giorgio Vasari., part of the hidden tour at teh Palazzo Vecchio

Chronologically, here in Florence I've seen the Duomo (up close and personal from the climb to the cupola, which goes via a catwalk that rings the inside of the dome,) the Bargello Museum, which not only has excellent sculptures, it also includes some really good examples of Majolica ceramics with very nice grottesca decorations, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, the Palazzo Vecchio (twice- once on the hidden tour of some of the lesser known nooks and crannies, and again to take more photos and climb to the top of the tower, where there is also a tapestry restoration lab), an excellent show of Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino at the Palazzo Strozzi, Santa Felicita to see a bit more Pontormo, and finally today revisited the Brancacci Chapel. Plus loads more bits of sgraffito on the exteriors of buildings around town. 
This guard at the Brancacci Chapel would wake up every few minutes to tell the crowd to be quiet. Disturbing her sleep no doubt.

Had a great visit with Alison Grace Woolley, a Canadian painter who has lived here for quite a while and does beautiful grottesca work. She's working on a harpsichord box for a French maker, and it should be exquisite. Also met up with a French painter who lives in Pordenone (near Trieste) and just wanted to talk shop with Lynne and me. Had a nice lunch with him near Santo Spirito and afterwards drooled on handmade shoes at a shop next door to the restaurant. When I get to be a big art star I'm going to order a pair of these dreamy looking brogans- they start at $2,000 and up! But they look so great, and I'm sure they fit like a glove. Or a shoe. 

Lynne's foot got sore, so Erling and I wandered around and stumbled into an interesting little exhibition about a Catholic priest nick-named "Don Cuba", who jumped on a motorcycle with a buddy and rode it all the way to Mt Kilimanjaro, where he gave a mass. They had the bike, and a little suitcase altar that he brought, and a ton of great photos and info in both Italian and English. 

Don Cuba's moto- made it most of the way down Africa overland with his buddy Steve.

Marianne is actually coming back here after going home for a week, and will be here for about 5 days. We fly for almost free (thanks to her aunt, who used to work for United airlines) but it still seems totally nuts to me. But she wanted to do it, so she'll be here tomorrow night. I'll wrap this up now so I can post it and hopefully put a couple of photos with it. ciao for now!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 9/10 Up and Down, but not out

Travel has its ups and downs!

Days 9 &10 have been a mixed bag. Started out #9 with Marianne heading back to LA because her work won't let her take her accumulated sick days contiguously with a holiday. In other words, any other time of year she could take 5 weeks off, (that's how many days she has saved) but if she takes this week before her spring break off, they'll dock her two weeks pay! Ah, bureaucracy! So she left at the crack of dawn, and from what I heard, she made it home just fine.

Gothic screen in Viterbo

After she left I packed my own stuff, ate breakfast with a new guest (a nice guy from Omaha Nebraska- or was it Tulsa Oklahoma?) who used to be a professional football player. He cashed out after about 10 years. Some of you big fans might know his name, Sage Rosenfels, Said he was a backup QB for 5 different teams. Anyways, after that I got myself up to Termini Station and got a train for Viterbo, where i had a reservation for the night. I missed the 1 o'clock train so I had to leave at two, meaning I got there around 4:30, via the regional train. Once I got out, I managed to find my place by sheer luck (and a good navigational sense.)

Chimney pots in Viterbo

The B& B was very nice, in the heart of the old medieval city center, and the owner gave me a nice guided tour map to see some of the sights around town. Only bummer was I was just a hair late to see anything other than exteriors and a couple of churches. It does look like good place to return to though, especially since it has a variety of hot springs, which is what Marianne has been dying to find here (without luck, so far.) The next morning I  got up early-ish to take the bus up to Caprarola, where the Palazzo Farnese's siren call beckoned. I got on the regional bus packed with Italian high school kids. These guys make American high schoolers look pretty limp! They were singing, flirting, talking (yelling), and generally having a good time as the bus wove up the windy hilly streets to the hill town of Caprarola.

Main Street of Caprarola is steep! 

Pretty much the only reason to visit Caprarola is to see the Palazzo, and this time of year there's hardly anyone. Even in summer,  not many Americans come here; it's not that well known, and it's definitely a bit of a challenge to get to, unless you have your own car. But oh, is it worth it! It is actually a pretty cute little hill town, with loads of medieval houses and crazy narrow streets, but the Palazzo is the shining star. I won't bore you with too much history, but basically it started as a fortress, thus the five sided design by da Sangallo (five sides are easier to defend than four) then it was turned into a residence for Cardinal Farnese by famed architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, and it is his masterpiece.
The Palazzo Farnese from the lower entrance.

Naturally, I came more for the painting than the architecture- great as it is- and I was not at all disappointed. There are fourteen rooms (eighteen, if you count the inaccessible guest rooms downstairs,) of the most exquisite ornamental painting, all of which survived WWII pretty much intact. I was told they have done some restoration recently, and it's seamless. On top of that, they recently added an excellent system of lights (that point at the ceiling! Take a hint, all you other fancy old Italian palazzi!) AND they have no problem with taking all the photos you want! Heaven! I had a guide all to myself, which was cool. He told me more than I could understand about the characters, and he was very patient with my snail-like pace. Actually, I was a tad faster than usual, since I had misplaced my extra camera battery and was trying to be judicious about only taking closeup details of stuff they usually don't have in the books.

On the stairs of the Palazzo Farnese

The garden is pretty fab too, and spring is just starting to spring here, so the woodpeckers were pecking and the japanese magnolias (biggest ones I've ever seen!) were covered in purple blooms. You walk up through the formal gardens (where they filmed part of the better series on the Borgias) to a less formal path that leads up to the Casina, a smaller house used as a summer getaway by the Cardinal, featuring a lovely cascading fountain and  a house with loggias on two sides (covered in grottesca ornament also!)

Really nice to be there first thing in the morning- had the place completely to myself!

Needless to say, I felt pretty satisfied by the end of all that, and my battery had held out too. I walked back down the steep hill to the place I caught the bus, thinking that they returned every hour on the hour. Not so, I was informed later; there are no busses at midday! So, after being a bit annoyed, I bought an apple and some tomatoes and walked back up the hill to the house, where I ate my picnic (I already had some cheese and crackers-and some fresh baked almond cookies.) It was nice to be forced to just sit for a while and absorb this phenomenal site.

Dragon's head in the Zodiac ceiling.

Got the bus back to Viterbo (with the same  bunch of rowdy teens) and jammed down to the B & B to pick up my stuff and hustle a mile down to the train station to get the train to Florence. Got there all sweaty, with about 10 minutes to spare, though of course the train was 10 minutes late so I could have taken my time. The only train available from there was the regional, so I took it. It took 4 hours to get to Florence, so I busied myself with copying a design  from the book on the Palazzo that i bought up there. 

It would seem (maybe you're hoping) that my day would be through now, as I arrived in Florence at the four hour mark, but after I walked the mile or so from the train station to the Palazzo that my friend Lynne had invited me to stay in, I couldn't find the address and telephone number that I swear I wrote down somewhere in my notes. I thought I knew which building she meant though, from a picture she had posted a few days earlier, so I went in and climbed the 6 flights of stairs with my bags, which i had not realized (until then) weigh a ton (each!) I sat at the top of the stair landing trying to see if i could figure out which of the cryptic apartment names she might be in, wishing I could find the paper where I had written her phone number, etc. 

Finally, I got tired of waiting and recalled that she had said there was a nearby cafe that had free wi-fi,  thinking i could get her that way. Well, I eventually found the cafe, but they were having  an LBGT open mic night, and for some reason that meant I couldn't use the wi-fi. So I trudged back over to the Palazzo, mad at everyone, but especially myself for not putting things where I could find them easily. I can hear Marianne cackling right now, though had she been here, she would have been fuming. I got back up to the top of the stairs, determined to wait it out, and that's where I wrote the first part of this missive. Right as I got to the part about the garden, I got a text. From Lynne! Doh! I forgot I had communicated with her the day before and that her number was already in the phone! She said she was just starting to eat at a restaurant a few blocks away, and would come meet me. Turns out I had even screwed up the place- so i had unnecessarily climbed the 6 floors there (twice) when her actual place was a block and a half away!

Anyways, I joined them and their friend Madeline for dinner, and then came back to their real place, which is also at the top of the building, though this time I only had to carry one bag. OK- I know this one has gone really long, and it's getting very late, but I have to tell you about this place! Lynne and Erling have been here since February, working on a couple different things, and they rented the top two floors of a 16th century  palazzo for less than a one bedroom in San Francisco, where they live the rest of the time. People, this place is unbelievable! First of all, it's huge; five official bedrooms plus kitchen, LR, 4 baths, 4 terraces, and the most incredible views of all the local landmarks that you can imagine! I'm sitting in the "office" right now looking at the Duomo and the belltower, and they are filling the view of the very large window. The terrace on the top floor (technically the 3rd floor of the flat) has almost a 360 degree view of the city. It's a jaw dropper without a doubt.

View of the Palazzo Vecchio from Lynne's terrace!

ok, I think i'd better post this before I go too late, since we're supposed to get up early tomorrow to go see the Duomo before the crowds descend. There are already massive hordes of tourists (mostly spring breakers) that have cropped up like weeds since the rains stopped about two weeks ago. Anyways, I'm going to bed, and I'll put this up without photos for now, but I'll add them tomorrow. Ok, maybe just one.  good night!

Mermaids need love too!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Day 7- The Ides of March!

Beware! Today may make you so tired that you have to post the next day!

Started out the day with coffee with our friend Erica (fellow blogger-read it at  with her daughter Xanthe at the Palazzo Braschi. Erica's the one who lent us her flat while she and her family were up north scouting the wilds of Saint Moritz for a review. Tough job! Actually, we had already gotten a coffee rush going at our new B&B, which left us refreshed after a nice quiet night (actually still as a tomb- it's weird to be in the middle of town and have it be so quiet!) Our new host is a chatty and friendly Roman woman named Michela who runs this two room place and served us a nice breakfast. You can find her rooms at  It's a great bargain, recently redone, in a central locale close to the Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori.

Xanthe models the latest in Roman fashions! Oversized is IN!

After quick coffees, we headed to the nearby Largo Argentina, which is a modern transport hub and cat sanctuary, but a also a cluster of 4 republican era temples that were located near the Theater of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was actually killed. There, a historical group was reenacting the event, which we only caught the tail end of, though we did get to see the costumes, which was fun for Xanthe. Chatted at their flat for a little, then Marianne and I walked up to visit the Vatican museums, always a favorite spot for me. 
Erica, Xanthe, Brutus and Marianne. Et tu?

Spent quite a while in the Hall of Maps there, four hundred feet of ornamental bliss! There is not a square inch of that hall that has not been lovingly caressed with a paint brush! They're still working on some kind of exterior renovation with scaffolding that covers a significant portion of the interior, but there is nevertheless many square feet of things to look at, even if you skip over the main narrative panels as I mostly do. The maps are exquisite- with all kinds of fascinating details, from sea monsters to landscapes, with beautiful legend cartouches interesting insets showing what the cities looked like at the time (1580's roughly.) I could easily spend a month in this room just perusing and copying things- it is so rich!

Just a little mascheron in the gigantic Hall of Maps at the Vatican, yet look at how skillfully it is painted.  Not one square inch of this room is wasted!
But we had to move on, so we went through Raphael's Stanze (rooms) with their amazing images of artists, philosophers, and religious images, and the earlier rooms by Pinturicchio, painted for the notorious Borgia pope Alexander VI in the late 1400's. These are interesting to me as one of the first places that grottesca work is seen after the uncovering of Nero's palace, the Domus Aurea, in about 1490. They also have intricate majolica tile floors and 500 year old graffiti that is all over if you look closely at the walls. 

Pinturicchio's ceiling in one of the Borgia apartments is a very early example of modern use of grottesca ornament, inspired by the uncovering of the Domus Aurea

Then we entered the holy of holies, the Sistine Chapel. This is the third time I have visited this room, and it just gets better each time. It was a tad less crowded this time of year, though the guards are still doing their "Shhhhhh!" act and shouting "no photos!". I usually don't shoot in there, as there are very good books that have wonderful details of most of it, but someone had asked me to try to shoot the painted curtains that run around the room, so i took a handful of those, and got scolded accordingly. There is no doubt that this room is one of the great wonders of the world in so many ways, and the fact that Michelangelo was able to pull it off in four years (at age 33!) is enough to make any artist walk away from their brushes!

After the Sistine, the rest of the museum is a denouement, but there are still some real treats. The room of the Aldobrandini Wedding, which has a small collection of Roman fresco panels and mosaics, is a stand out. The panels of landscapes based on Homer's Odyssey are remarkably atmospheric for their time, and the room itself has panels by Guido Reni on the ceiling that are also outstanding. The Sistine Library, which was recently closed off to the public, has yet more amazing grottesca work. 

Naturally, I am completely pooped after this experience, but I agreed to go inside St Peter's on our way back to our place. Again, as always, it is an uncanny experience. Michelangelo's Pieta is so moving! The way Mary's left hand releases the body on her lap, and seems to be forming the expression of "why?" is absolutely wrenching! Michelangelo had such an uncanny ability to get inside of the emotions we portray through our body language, in a way that is both natural and artistic. Right as we got there a ceremony  at the main altar was wrapping up, we just barely caught some of the smoke and singing, and Marianne swears she saw the Pope (and JFK, and Elvis) on the little balcony, even though everyone we talked to said it was just a regular Saturday evening service. We had a good laugh about it as we ambled away on our way home.

St Peter's at dusk
We made a vain attempt to get our phone service in order (it's working now!) and then stopped at a fun little fish restaurant near Largo Argentina where I had my second great octopus dish in as many weeks! Cruised back here and crashed hard. 
Got up for Marianne's last day here (at least for the week- she has to show up at work this week- long story!) and went over to see the interior of Sant'Ivo, Borromini's corkscrew topped church. The interior is elegantly plain (not severe, but unpainted), and then we went to see the inside of the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, a beautiful old house that is only open once a year, in celebration of the brief resurrection of one the Massimo family's ancestors. The family still lives in the house, and while we were there they were also receiving a variety of Rome's hoi polloi, including a Cardinal in his red propeller hat, and a woman who was having her hand kissed in a very regal manner. It was dark and cozy.
This fellow was waiting in his period costume to allow us into the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne. That was the real deal- not a copy.

After that we fixed the phone problem and headed back for a light lunch and computer time so I could keep you up to date.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 6- whole lotta nuttin!

Didn't have much on the agenda to begin with today, which was a good thing, since moving our base took up some time, then checking back on the dog (our friends don't get back until late tonight) and making sure all the laundry and dishes were done. 

Told you we were close- this is the view from our window looking down on Campo de' Fiori

The new place we found is very nice- about 6 blocks away on a much quieter street (won't miss that noise!) It's a 5th floor walkup - puff puff! -but it's a newly renovated old building with plenty of charm and a super friendly owner-it's a B and B. At 75 Euro per night it's a steal, with breakfast and a jacuzzi tub too!. After we settled there we did some more wandering down by the Tiber, which supposedly was very high a couple weeks ago, as evidenced by the many plastic bags adorning the trees on the banks.

I took this one because it reminded me of a Maurice Utrillo print my parents had in our den for many years.

We crossed over into Trastevere (which name translates as "across the Tiber") and went down to Santa Maria in Trastevere, the old church in the heart of that part of town. It's a very pretty church, with a big 13th century mosaic above the altar, and columns that were recycled from the Baths of Caracalla. The fountain outside is a great gathering place (when will the US ever have public spaces that work as well as here?)
Fountain in front of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Like so many great places to hang out all over Italy.

Grabbed a gelato and ate it crossing back over the river on the island that is connected by the oldest bridge in town- there since Roman times- then checked out a few more Roman era ruins- the temples of Portunus, Hercules, and the 4 way Arch of Janus across the way. Just a block away is San Nicolas in Carcere, a Christian church that incorporated the columns of an earlier Republican temple right into its walls, which are now exposed. This connects to the Theater of Marcellus, the Temple of Apollo Sosianus,and the Portico of Ottavia (and the knee bone connected to the thigh bone…) taking us right back to our friends' apartment to walk the dog one last time and put away the dishes.
Ponte Fabricio is an original Roman bridge, created in 62 BC!

Temple of Hercules Victor

We got dinner at a cute, very Italian place called "da Tonino" that was inexpensive and old school. Then we wandered around the outer edges of the Piazza Navona looking at the pumping night life and wondering if we're really getting old. Decided we'd better have another gelato to prove that it's not so. Came back here and wrote this down. There you have it.

Spring is springing!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 5? Filling in the voids.

Totally lost track of what day it is- that's the best thing about travel IMO. No clock, no phone, no news channel. Love it!
"Hail! What year is this? XXV? Thank you!"

Having checked off a lot of the best selling attractions on the trip last summer, this time around is a bit more wandering, mopping up some of the b-list places that slipped through the cracks at first. Today started with a brisk walk to the Church of San Clemente, but we did miss their underground tour by about 5 minutes. Oh well, you see one underground 3rd century burial chamber, you seen them all. Besides, the nasty no-photo police were in effect there, so forget it! The church did have a nice side chapel done by Masolino, who helped Massacio complete the Brancacci chapel in Florence. Good early Renaissance frescos.
Scaffolding on the Colosseum. Going up!

Then on to the magnificent San Giovanni in Laterano, beginning with the very cool baptistery that is around in back. The baptistery is an octagonal building with columns made of porphyry, a very hard deep red stone that is very rare and tough to work. It also had a two story columned interior the was mysterious and dark. It had a couple of chapels with some very nice details too. Then we entered the main church through a side entry that puts you on the cross axis of the nave. In most churches you'd know that right away, but this one is so big it takes a minute to realize it. It was almost completely rebuilt by Borromini in 1650, and it is much lighter on the interior than St Peters. The center section features a lot of decoration, but the side aisles are almost completely white, with high windows that bring in quite a bit of light. 

"Hello God? Yes, it's me. Can you hear me now?"

We picked up some lunch at a supermarket after that, and sat in park opposite the Porta Maggiore (Main Gate) of the old Roman walls, picturing the characters from HBO's Rome series as they returned from defeating the Gauls, and  thinking of how big this gate must have looked to country folk who were used to nothing much more than a couple of stories high in those times. This city must have seemed almost infinite to anyone who came from outside it, with six story apartment blocks common in the central areas, and immense public buildings that towered many feet high. The coliseum has scaffolding all over it right now, and if anything, it makes it appear even taller than usual, since you can see how many levels the elevator has to have to get the the top. 

You can almost hear the hobnailed sandals as the triumphant Roman soldiers returned to town through this main gate in the walls to the North.
We passed by the Temple of Minerva Medica, a fourth century building that was once thought to be a temple, but is now considered a Nymphaeum, a place having to do the spirits of water. It's a cool ten sided building that was once part of the grand tour, and even though it also had scaffold all over it, the scale of it was still impressive. From there (Termini station), we caught the Metropolitana (subway) up to see the Church of Santa Costanza, another very early and circular building that was originally a funerary chapel for Constantine's daughter Costanza. It was built in the 4th century too, and like the baptistery we visited earlier, was dark, cool, and tranquil. It's built around a central drum that has windows high up in it, and there's a round ambulatory (like a donut around the bottom of the drum) with a vaulted ceiling covered in early mosaics that are in very good shape. We had it all to ourselves for a bit, then a few shutterbugs came in and started manically snapping away, so we left. 

Interior or the Mauseoleum of Santa Costanza, made much lighter by digital camera tricks. 

Came back home through the Forum area again, stopping in at a couple of the churches that have been on the edge of it since antique times, filling in a few more blanks in the story of the fascinating and intricate space. As the sun was setting we crested the Campidoglio in the company of some very boisterous Italian students, who must have been the ones that were walking by our place at 3 am last night. The Campo de Fiori seems to be a collection spot for drunken rowdy people late at night. It's funny, for an inner city place, it has very little traffic noise, but it has an amazing amount of human noise late at night. I don't know how our friends can stand it in the summer! Bad enough with all the (double insulated) windows closed!
In the Roman Forum at dusk.