Wednesday 28 December 2011

What the well-dressed Roman is wearing this season.

Hooves and horns are optional, as is the goat side-kick with the second outfit (to follow.)

Please note the elegant drape of the lion skin and cunning display of claws.

Here, we see two paws draped with a certain insouciance, across the Roman man's chest.

And the lion's head and teeth add a jaunty touch at the top!

This faun may be young, but look how he exhibits his bold fashion sense with the cloak styled from a horned goat (as his sidekick looks on.)

But I think the tail really makes this outfit!

The visitor on the right can look through GQ all he wants; these boys are too fashion forward to even be in print!

Again, hooves and horns are optional but this more mature satyr is going all out!

In addition to his full-fur thighs, the satyr has selected a small animal (perhaps a cougar) as his minimal shoulder wrap. Perhaps the furry thighs keep this satyr warm enough as is.

Photos taken today at Rome's Capitoline Museums

Monday 26 December 2011

Boxing Day sales in Trajan's Markets!

Okay, the Mercati di Traiano have been closed for many, many centuries so there were really no Boxing Day sales to be had. Forgive the lame joke; perhaps I got too much sun today clambering among the ruins!

But it was interesting to have a good look around these markets, which are located conveniently close to my house. A relatively new museum, the Museo die Fori Imperiali, was opened a few years ago over part of the ancient markets, to display artifacts found during various excavations.

Trajan's markets were built in AD 100-110 for the Emperor Trajan, as part of an entire Trajan's Forum; which was, in turn, part of the system of Imperial Forums. Those included the fori of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, and the Templum Pacis.

And, of course, there's the magnificent Trajan's Column, which tells the stories of the Emperor's exploits and great victory in the Dacian Wars, in a spiraling series of figures. Better than a comic book or graphic novel!

Sunday 25 December 2011

The Pope and me: Christmas Eve at the Vatican

It was quite a show: St. Peter's, perhaps the largest church in Christendom, packed right up to the mosaics with devoted laypeople, awestruck priests and pretty young nuns, dignitaries, a few babies, and me. A cafeteria Catholic, by my brother's description (because I pick and chose what aspects of the Catholic faith I can accept, and what I must reject.)

We were all there to join the Pope in celebrating Christmas Eve Mass, in the splendor of St. Peter's Basilica (photo above from Reuters.)

I just thanked the Lord, in all sincerity, to finally have a seat in which to place my tired old self. Almost three hours queuing in the Piazza San Pietro was more exhausting than I had expected. The line was enormous, snaking twice around the vast piazza as those of us who had been fortunate enough to get a ticket waited to actually get inside.  

First, the wind came up. Then, the rain began -- not heavily, just enough to give us all a chill. My feet began to really hurt.

Fascinated, I watched as two young priests -- one Irish, one French -- moved up and down the line, trying to find a couple of spare tickets so they could get inside for the Papal Mass. A woman from Austria asked me where she could find the Vatican.

And when officials finally opened the doors of St. Peter's Basilica, it was like some midnight madness sale at an electronics warehouse. People actually sprinted through the security area and raced up the enormous steps to get inside and grab a seat. Many were still left standing at the back throughout the two-hour long Mass and many, many more were left outside.

The music was divine, the setting so very beautiful. The Pope, who entered to applause, was wheeled up to the main altar of St. Peter's while standing on the motorized platform that he now uses. According to media reports, the Vatican explains the platform helps the Pope to conserve his strength, allows more people to see him, and protects him from attacks such as one two years ago when a woman jumped at the Pope on his way in to Christmas Eve Mass, knocking him to the floor.

The Pope delivered his homily in Italian, lamenting the commercialization of Christmas. Rather than reducing the occasion to a shopping experience, people around the world should rediscover the true meaning of Christmas in the humble birth of the Christ child.

According to media reports, Christmas Eve Mass with the Pope was moved up to 10 p.m. from midnight several years ago to spare him a very late night that is followed by an important Christmas Day speech.

I had a long walk home after Mass, about an hour through the still-bustling streets of Rome. It felt so good to be there, and to still be here today, and to know that I'll be here tomorrow.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Christmas Countdown at the Vatican

I popped over to the Vatican on Friday, the day before the night before Christmas, to pick up my ticket for Christmas Eve Mass with the Pope.

Everything was bustling outside St. Peter's. Workers were erecting a very large nativity scene beside the enormous Christmas tree in the centre of Piazza San Pietro. However, it was top secret, it seems; screens blocked almost all of the work from prying eyes, thought I caught a glimpse....

Folks waiting in line to pass security to enter St. Peter's were shedding their coats as December 23 was very sunny and warm -- at least 15 degrees C and likely more in the marble-enclosed piazza. Beautiful!

Inside the massive basilica, large areas were roped-off and chairs set out for the massive crowd due to arrive as early as 6 p.m. for the 10 p.m. Mass.

I plan to arrive at least 3 hours early to be sure I get a chair. Helpfully, the Vatican staff warns that having a ticket to Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's is no guarantee that one will actually get inside! Such crowds are expected that many ticket holders will still have to stand outside in the piazza, watching Mass on giant screens.

I suspect that would NOT be comfortable. On the other hand, I may end up peeing my pants before this is over -- not from the excitement of Mass in St. Peter's with the Pope, but simply because of the very long wait. (I'll be there alone so I won't risk losing my seat by leaving it!)

A lively manger scene is also in place in a side chapel of St. Peter's, featuring a lot of animals that one would expect to see around a manger.

I had to smile at this poor shepherd, blown away by the glory of the angel bringing the Good News! The sheep looks rather surprised as well.

And, of course, the tiny cradle for Baby Jesus lies empty, waiting for tonight.

Merry Christmas, Buon Natale, happy holidays to all!

Thursday 22 December 2011

Cicero and me

Gathering his toga tight against the December chill of the Colosseum's uppermost tier, the great Roman orator Cicero cautions gawking visitors -- including me -- to not judge his peers harshly for the bloody spectacles they once enjoyed in this ancient site.

“Come, come see the arena,” he says, with a sweeping gesture towards the great arena. “This is Rome!”

Okay, so it wasn't really Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was last seen in the Colosseum more than 2,000 years ago. But the actor who plays Cicero did a pretty good job of surprising a group of us on a special “Archaeology at Christmas” tour.

I tagged along for a news feature I wrote earlier this week about the program, which pairs actors and archeologists at four of Rome's museums -- collectively, the Museo Nazionale Romano -- plus the Colosseum to give visitors some different insights into Rome's history.

The Colosseum tour includes a rare visit to the uppermost tier, which was very interesting to see with some great views (though a tough climb up.) For an interview about the program, I met an archaeologist at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, which I'm sorry to admit I had never visited before (even though it sits right outside the Rome's main Termini train station. Impossible to miss!)

The Archaeology at Christmas program includes a special tour around the Palazzo Massimo that ends among the frescoes from the dining room in the suburban villa of Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus. Actors there perform short excerpts from Shakespeare's Italian plays.

The life of a second-century female fishmonger is translated by an archaeologist from ancient inscriptions displayed in the Museo Epigrafico alle Terme di Diocleziano. There are also events at the Crypta Balbi, on Via delle Botteghe Oscure near Rome's Largo di Torre and at the Palazzo Altemps.

There really is something new to learn and see every day in Roma!

Sunday 18 December 2011

Friends and feasts in Foligno -- oh my!

Lucky me! On Saturday, I took the train from Rome out to Foligno for the day. For lunch, I met my friends Mary, Letizia, Ruurd and Tea for an absolute feast at the Osteria del Teatro. As if spending time with my friends wasn't delicious enough, Mary then gave me a bottle of the Sagrantino which she and her husband Maurizio produce; then, Letizia gave me a bottle of her very own olive oil -- produced from her own olive trees growing in the hills above Assisi. It tastes incredibly young and vibrant. 
Lucky me!!!

Saturday 10 December 2011

A festival in my neighbourhood

On Thursday, the feast day marking the Immaculate Conception, I stepped out of my apartment to hear the sound of drums coming from the nearby Piazza Madonna dei Monti. A medieval festival had broken out!

I don't know if it was related to the Immaculate Conception -- celebrated on that very day, December 8th -- or to a particular event in my neighborhood Monti. In any event, the exhibition involved the "Sbandieratori di Musici di Castel Madama." This refers to a small medieval village south of Rome, that held an annual competition within its four districts. Apparently, they now take their exhibitions on the road and came to my neighbourhood.

The morning was sunny and beautiful, and the flag throwing events against the backdrop of the medieval piazza was so colourful and seem completely natural. Bravi!

Thursday 8 December 2011

A stroll around the edges of the Forums

After school the other day, I did a few chores and then took a stroll from my apartment near the Colosseum, around the edges of the Forum. I didn't feel like paying to actually enter the Forum; it was getting late and in the afternoon and the sun was setting.

Instead, I spent some time looking more closely at the brilliant white marble Arch of  Septimius Severus (which, in Italian, is the Arco di Settimo Severo.) This triumphal arch was dedicated in 203AD to commemorate the victories of the emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons. And so, the wars in Parthia and the celebrations afterwards are the main themes of the arch. 

The arch is at the northern end of the Forums and very near the Capital Hill, which celebrates the founding of the city of Rome. According to legend, the city was founded by twins Remus and Romulus, who were kept alive by a She-wolf. This image is very popular in Rome.

Monday 5 December 2011

My first day of school and already, I'm running with a bad crowd.....

I should have known better. My first day of language school in Rome, and I've already fallen in with a bad crowd.

Women who eat too much and who enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love.

It all seemed so innocent, at first. After my placement test Monday morning, I was assigned to a beginner class that had begun its studies a few weeks before me. Okay, I thought -- I'm not an absolute beginner, but my language skills are erratic: some vocabulary, some verbs, many bad habits. It should be a decent fit.

Right away, there were a few misunderstandings. I could have sworn that our young teacher, Valeria, was referring to the older of the two nuns in my class as "Mother Teresa." I thought it was a little joke between the teacher and the nuns, who are from Ghana. (And yes, I realize Mother Teresa worked in India, not Africa. I thought it was joke, not a geography lesson!)

Thank goodness, my new Russian friend Olga cleared that up quickly. "No, that would be a terrible joke. Her name is Maria Teresa -- no one is calling her Mother Teresa, it's Maria! Open your ears!!!"

Well, Olga didn't say "Open your ears," but she should have. My ears are in terrible shape; it's going to take a lot of careful listening to Italian and concentrating on what's really being said, to get into linguistic shape.

Meanwhile, I'll have to be careful around Olga, who is a stunning young blonde woman, and Katerina, who is also young, blonde, German, and whose butterscotch  Tod's tote bag of the creamiest leather should have been a tip-off. These are young women who love to shop, discover wonderful restaurants, and try many different dishes. Too many!

A very bad crowd --during our three-hour lunch with a third student from Azerbaijan, we spoke little Italian, ate way too much (I actually couldn't finish all of the soccer-ball-sized piece of bufala mozzarella that was part of my caprese salad) and then began shopping.

But not before I admitted that I was a writer. "Eat, Pray, Love!" all three women cried out. Eat, Pray, Run, I thought. So, I did.

Saturday 3 December 2011

December in Rome

December in Rome is very pleasant -- even oranges are growing in the trees near my apartment! I'm longing to try to jump up and grab at one, to see how it might taste. Bitter, perhaps? I'm not sure that Rome is actually in the orange-growing belt! But, for a girl from rural Alberta, seeing anything bloom in December is nothing short of a miracle.

I noticed these trees on Saturday, my second full day of life in Rome, as I was walking home from an exhibition of Renaissance painting at the Scuderie del Quirinale. Translated, that refers to the Stables of the Quirinale Palace, an important site that is now the residence of the President of Italy. The Quirinale palazzo once belonged to popes, and when the palazzo and beautiful, large piazza were first constructed, during the 1600s, stables were still a necessity.

Today, the Scuderie, or stables, is used for all kinds of exhibitions and events. The exhibition I saw today, "Filippino Lippi e Sandro Botticelli nella Firenze del '400" focused on the works of Filippino Lippi, illegitimate son of the more famous Fra Filippo Lippi and a nun. I wasn't extremely impressed by the exhibition, unfortunately. There was a lot of information about the times, and about important patrons of Lippi including the Medici and Strozzi clan. But to me, it simply didn't hang together.I couldn't really discern a story line.

But no matter -- it was interesting to visit, and I set quieter pace than I experienced Saturday morning and the day before. (I even had time to explore some random ruins near my place!)

I have put so many kilometers on my feet in the last few days that I have blisters. Oh, how I miss my summer sandals (with orthotics to support my long, elegant feet.) These are what I usually wear in Rome, because I'm usually here in the summer; and they're perfect for long walks up and down the hills of Rome and over the cobblestones.

Friday, I had a fantastic time meeting Slow Travel friend Kathy, who blogs under the name Trekcapri. She was just passing through Rome on her way home to California from the Amalfi Coast -- and Capri! We strolled around the Piazza Navona area, had a few drinks in the very cool Bramante Cloister, and dinner at favourite Sagrastina. It was such a treat to meet Kathy and wander around central Rome together.

Sunday 27 November 2011

A big shout-out to my fabulous roommates!

I can't say enough great things about my truly fabulous friends Jason and Michael, who opened their door to me for the entire month of November -- the stressful interim period after I left my apartment but before my departure for Rome.

Their incredible generosity and support made it much easier for me to shift away from my old life and make room for something new. I have truly been blessed with fantastic friends.

One of the great bonuses of staying with J+M (and their roommate Anthony) was the immense joy I found in living with their two dogs: Baron and Murphy.

Baron is an adult; Murphy is roughly 16 weeks old. The pleasure I felt in coming home from work each night to their furry faces was remarkable.

I'm going to miss them all. (Oh, and to be clear, Baron and Murphy are the fur-covered duo!)