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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Last Day in Italy

Today is bittersweet.  I can't deny I'm looking forward to going home but all the beautiful art, the tripe, the lovely people, and the fun of spending it with my sister is now finished.
On the last day, I went out alone to check out the Castel Sant'Angelo, near the Vatican. It was originally Hadrian's mausoleum but got usurped by the Popes to use as a secret way out of the Holy city. Did Bernini design, build, sculpt, this bridge? I wasn't sure cause I left my guidebook at the apartment. But it was a nice bridge with statues of angels and it led back to the small narrow and surprisingly quiet street that suddenly burst into the Campo de Fiori, an open marketplace by day and a bacchanal by night, at least that's what I read.
Now I'm packing, trying to squeeze a whole miniature gladiator costume into my luggage for a certain 5 year old.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Daphne and Apollo

This is one of Bernini's most beautiful works: the moment when Apollo reaches out to grab Daphne who doesn't want to be grabbed and she begins to turn into a tree. You can see branches and leaves sprouting from her finger tips,  roots growing from her toes and the bark creeping up her body. Maybe she could have given Apollo a chance; he looks like a nice young man. Not like the guy in the other room, smirking Pluto who is making off with a tearful Proserpine, digging his hands into her flesh to hold her. Gee, two depictions of glorified, diefied, rape.
This was at the Borghese Gallery, one of the superstar museums of Rome. It's hard to get tickets for, hard to get to, you only get 2 hours to look at the art and when you get there you have to leave all your bags and purses behind. Yet they let you bring you camera in. I really appreciated that but it seemed so 21st century.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Death In Rome

Carmen and I were wondering if we were dead and condemned to cross streets in Rome for all eternity.  Maybe not, but the fleamarket in Trastevere,  might be Purgatory. It seemed to go on forever and there was no way out. Lots and lots of stalls of junk, although we did find a plastic drain cover so our bottle caps will stop falling down the bathroom sink. Also buses don't run the way they should on Sundays,  so we found ourselves stranded in front of a pyramid,  age unknown.
After the fleamarket,  we crossed the Tiber to see the Bocca della Verità. Carmen had so looked forward to seeing it bite my hand off, but the line of tourist was way too long and too silly. They just don't know they are dead!
Further proof of our demise: the waiter where we ate brought the pasta and the osso buco at the same time. One was doomed to cool while we ate the other. It was a hellish thing to do.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is it a Pig? Is it a Chicken?

No, it's Bernini's Elephant obelisk,  but it was called by those names for many years. Supposedly,  the pig elephant is waving his tail to the side as a rude salute to one of the priest in the monastery who messed with Bernini's design.
All of this is going on behind the Pantheon,  technically a church but in my eyes still a Roman temple of perfect proportions. 

Today was a church day. Carmen gorged on the sight of 3 Carravaggio's, all in one church, and I snuck in some over the top ceilings. Went home early. It's getting time to pack.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Elusive Art of Doing Nothing

We still haven't mastered this art form. Instead, with only 6 days left to our Italian trip, we are hungry to get the last bits of Rome, before we go. At the top of the street, near the Coloseum, is Hadrian's Column, the first graphic novel, with Hadrian's adventures spiraling up from the base. Then, after a harrowing adventure of our own, called "Crossing the Street", which involved a lot of arm pulling across Piazza Veneto, we went to the twin Palazzos that make up the Capitoline Museum. There we saw more Carravaggio's, a writhing Medusa head by Bernini,  and many Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  After that we returned to our favorite restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto.  Today, Silvio recommended Puntarelle, a chicory like green with garlic and anchovy dressing. We plan to go back there on our last day. Maybe by then we'll be better at nothing.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Capuchini e Cornetti

Every morning since we have been in Italy we have had a capuchino and croissant,  called cornetto here. Here's Carmen having breakfast at the cafe on our street. The owner looks like Roy Schneider but I haven't worked up the nerve, or vocabulary to tell him this. After breakfast this morning,  we stopped first at San Giovanni in Laterano,  which is right up the block and is a big deal with big statues. Then we went to Palazzo Barbirini, to look at the Carravaggio's and other artistic goodies. I can't show you dinner because we were starving and forgot to take pictures till we had finished eating.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Piazza Navona

We had a big day planned as our Italian trip winds down, but somehow we never got out of the Piazza Navona area. Two Bernini fountains (ok, he just touched up one) and the Piazza itself is majestically shaped. It was quite serene, till the tour groups showed up. Luckily we had come early and spent quality time with Berni, enjoying his writhing dolphins and cavorting sea creatures. Afterwards we wandered the narrow dark streets around the Piazza and discovered this porchetta place, a whole roasted pig, stuffed with herbs. We had to share a panini.
More wandering. More promises to eventually get around to all that is on our to do list. Maybe we will. Maybe we won't.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Our day with Papa

No, not our Papa, everybody's Papa. We went to the Vatican today but we knew he was busy so we'll chat another time. Instead we did the Vatican Museum marathon: room after endless room of masterpieces of Greek and Roman art. We saw our favorite gods and beautiful works by Raphael. The main attraction was the Sistine Ceiling but no photos allowed there.

After, we ate at Trattoria Spinosi, where you don't order your food, you negotiate.The cook looks you over and tells you what you are having, in our case, it was a huge plate of pasta with meat sauce and a delicious salad with mozzarella. Place was recommended by our Airbnb host. Thanks Edourdo.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cacio e Pepe

Today we wandered around Trastevere, which is now Carmen's new favorite Roman neighborhood: narrow,  twisting streets, old decrepit but quaint buildings AND another ecstatic Bernini lady. This one had the most sensual and fleshy folds in her marble gown.
We fed our own decrepit flesh with an antipasta of ham and grilled veggies, succulent grilled lamb chops and cacio e pepe,  pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper. Delicious and unfinishable, even for Fagins

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Via Appia Antica

Today we wandered out of Rome to walk on the Appian way, a road built in 312 BC, from the city all the way to the heel of Italy. Here are the original cobbles, that we hobbled over. Along the way are ruins and catacombs, multi - leveled crypts for early Christians.  The one we visited had over 19 kilometers of tunnels and it was quite spooky wandering through the dark stone passageways, carved out to hold the bodies of the dead.
That road to the coast is beautiful but very long, and we finally returned home, just in time for the evening passiagiato which rhymes with gelato, of course.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Old in Rome

Today was part two of ancient Rome with a visit to the Coluseum. Is it fun to imagine Romans enjoying the sight of naked people being torn to bits by animals? If you were a Roman in those days you got a free ticket to the Coloseum, so really, with nothing better to do on the weekends you might as well go and watch the gladiators fight to the death, or vote with your thumb and let them live.
Remember, Coloseums don't kill people. People kill people, as do hungry lions. Afterwards, I finally found wood fired pizza and it really was crispy and delicious, made all the more so by the free limoncello our waiter gave us, along with a good bye kiss!
For cultural dessert, we went across the street to the Capuchin crypt,  where dead monks and their bones were artistically arranged. Carmen found it a bit too Christian, but I was really into it.
And the topper, better (and sexier) then the waiter's kiss, we also happened upon Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa. An angel smiles down at her swooning body as he plunges an arrow into her heart.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Caciofa Jewish Style

Usually I write first about what we saw and did but today I will just cut to the chase and talk about the food. This amazing flower is an artichoke, Jewish style. It is deep fried and opened like a flower. You eat every crunchy leaf, like artichoke potato chips, right down to the delectable heart, the hairy parts are mysteriously not there. We ate this at a great restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto,  Trattoria da Giggetto. Also had pasta with portobello (it's mushroom season) and tripe roman style with a hint of mint.
Before this, we spent hours wandering around the Forum getting dehydrated and culturally clobbered. Arches and columns and temples, all strewn along the Via Sacra,  where conquering heroes paraded in glory. Afterwards we jumped on a bus, ANY bus and that's how we found ourselves in the Jewish Ghetto. Rome is a whirlwind of ruins and monuments and crazy decadent art produced for supposedly religious folks like these centaurs at Galleria Spada.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Trying to do nothing in Rome

Today was a day that we planned to do nothing. We were going to just get on a bus and ride around the city. But our plans went awry before we even got to the bus stop.
As we were walking down the street we passed a nondescript little church. Really nothing to look at from the outside. I don't know why Carmen said we could go in. She's gotten very strict about how many churches she will tolerate. But it was her idea. It turned out this was San Clemente,  a 12th century church with intricate mosaics, on top of a 4th century church, on top of a temple to the Persian god, Mithras from the 1st to 3rd century. Thank god Carmen had her cane.
After that we continued on our way to the Coluseum but it was a madhouse there, all the buses stuffed with tourists and people going to work. We decided to take the subway instead to an unknown stop.
But I guess there are no unknown stops in the center of Rome. We ended up at the Piazza del Poppolo,  where another church, this one Baroque to the gills held two significant Carravaggio's that were on Carmen's artistic wish list.
After a very expensive lunch of Salimboca, penne arrabiata and salad, all squisiti,  we had to see the Trevi fountain, all the more amusing for being dry and covered with scaffolding....and handsome workmen chipping away at it.
On the way to the metro we happened upon Bernini's Triton Fountain, by accident of course.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First Fountain of Rome

We were in Siena and the most perfectly medieval place to be, accept the wifi was also medieval, so we were out of touch for 2 whole days!
Now we are in Rome and this was the first fountain I was able to get up close and personal with, risking my life to step 3 inches into the traffic zone. It is at the base of an Egyptian obelisk at piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano. We are staying down the street,  in an apartment near the Coloseum.
The traffic in Rome was pretty scary made worse by the fact that there was some sort of transport strike today. Our cab driver drove in a style....let's just call it sinuous.
We stopped for a light dinner of bucatoni all'amarticiana which is a light tomato sauce with porky bits, and cannolloni stuffed with ricotta and spinach. And gelato of course.
Our Airbnb hosts were so nice and actually made some reservations at galleries for us so tomorrow we have to start to get organized. I think Carmen is in culture shock.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pitti party at the Palace

Today was our last day in Florence so we were feeling low. Decided to go to the Pitti Palace, which is like deciding to go to the Louvre on your last day in Paris. But it was a hard decision; there are still many, many beautiful palaces, churches and museums to see in Florence that will have to wait for another day. Not to mention all the tripe stands we never tried. I'm sure there's a life lesson in that but it eludes me.
As for the the Palace, it was Pittifully over the top. Stuffed with paintings by Rafael,  Botticelli, Rubens, tons of others all crammed together in ornate rooms with humongous chandeliers and ceilings painted with fantastical scenes.
Later, with my keen eye for gourmet cooking, I was drawn to a place with a statue of Pinnochio in front. I had promised to send a photo of said wooden boy to my friend's son. This restaurant,  Osteria Toscanella, had great homemade pasta with wild boar sauce and a dish called Peposa, pieces of beef in wine and peppercorn sauce. We tottered home, pausing only for our last gelato (in Florence). Carmen's was tangy mango and peach and mine was Vin Santo with crumbled biscotti. We should be packing but we are ruminating instead.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

No Tripe

Today we went in search of one of Carmen's tripe stands. This one served 'nervetti', which are beef tendons.  Alas we never found it.  But by accident we came upon Santa Croce,  a great mass of a church with a statue of Dante outside. Who puts a writer like Dante outside of a church? Inside it was chock full of the famously dead. I've combined the tombs of Galileo (on the left) and Michaelangelo (on the right) onto one photo. Machievelli is there, as is Rossini, as well as paintings by Giotto's and Taddeo Gaddi. Good stuff.
After what Carmen called a light lunch: mozzarella and grilled vegetables and salad nicoise, we did manage to find Vivoli, a renowned gelateria, where we indulged in two scoops each. Carmen's chocolate with pepperocino was the best.

Friday, September 26, 2014


To avoid the crowds,  and take a little break from Florence, we took the #7 bus today to Fiesole, a little town outside of Florence. One of its claims to fame is that you can look right back at Florence from a beautiful panoramic viewpoint. 

And it has Roman ruins, including this theater, still used today.  Carmen was more interested in the vomitorium and the ancient WC. To each her own.

Afterwards we had a light lunch of chicken liver pate on crostini,  spaghetti with oil and garlic and spinach  to be virtuous.  And to save room for gelato when we got back to Firenze. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tanti Aguri a Te

Today was Carmen's birthday and we started off by climbing to the top of the Doumo, 463 steps,  her idea I assure you.
Beautiful views of all of Florence,  even the little garden apartment where we are staying. Got her to take this selfie.
Tired and jelly legged we went in search of a restaurant and decided on one in a quiet little street where we could have Ribollito, the Tuscan bread soup. At a back table,  the restaurant staff were having their own meal, and when it was over, I saw a lovely cake with a candle. As luck would have it, it was the owner's birthday too. When I told his wife, they shared their ice cream cake with us. Of course she asked how old Carmen was and she was so impressed with Carmen's age that she loudly told everyone in the restaurant. Carmen gilded the lily by saying she had climbed the Doumo that morning. Shocked Admiration! And laughter when Carmen told them she would be dead by tomorrow from exhaustion.
Enough Carmen worship. Tomorrow I'll be back to dragging her into churches against her will.