Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rome's Version of Central Park in Black and White

Gaudi Pizzeria

Lee and I have been walking for the better part of four hours - to Piazza del Popolo, the Pincio which offers the most spectacular view of the city yet - from the Monument of Emmanuelle Vittorio to the entire Vatican to the Colosseum. Then, we snailed our way through the park, the first spring green leaves, the first purple blossoms on the apple, the first raisin-colored buds of the chestnut trees. It was very quiet. Sometimes we felt we had the park to ourselves. We followed the allee of magnolia to Villa Borghese, where we parked ourselves in the sun. Well, Lee did. I scouted around for a bathroom. Without any luck, we left the park to find a toillette di donne. And, running out of time, we decided to take the nearest restaurant. It looked dim from the outside - perhaps a brothel disguised as a pizzaria. Inside, it was lively with local businessmen and a couple of lovely women. The men were all in their business suits - looking a bit like "little boxes" - all alike. It was the banking district, we noticed. The meal was divine. Birra rosso and wood-fired pizza with macchiato after. Then, a brave decision to walk home. It seemed we were miles away. But our inner compass took us back to Piazza del Popolo, where we took the straight path home down Via Di Ripetta to our neck of the woods - all in about an hour.

This was now our second day of just lovely meandering and what Lee calls "present time magic" - coming upon just the right thing at the right time. These are some photos from the day. This is our favorite way to travel and get to know a city. We aren't so good at standing in crowded lines to get into a museum or on a tour.

We are falling in love with Rome. Not the gilded dripping beauty - but the quality of space and light, the sounds of heels clipping along the pavers, how you move in the city, the schedule, the grand scale and magnificent accident of it all. How could anything this good actually be planned by mortal men?

Women, maybe....:-)


Ask and You Shall Receive - a FIAT for America!

Last week I posted a photo of an old Fiat Cinquecento (500) that reminded me of one I had in about 1976. (See right. I said I want one of these again!)

This week Fiat announced that it is coming back to America!!!

Yippee! A new Cinquecento. I'm kind of tired of our Asian car. Its just not fun like an Italian car.

Here's the article:


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Detour - not about Assisi. Today it's all about Rome - Without a Map

At the exhibit of Karl Lagerfeld's photos at Chiostro del Bramante today. From the series "Portraits." Lee next to his alter-ego.

Photo by Karl Lagerfeld. I must have a chair like this! (or is it the room?)

I will write about Assisi later. Today...it's all about Rome. And we did it without a map. We did it with our senses and it was the greatest feeling!

Last night, we were invited to the apartment of some people we met last week - a lovely Australian couple who have lived and worked here for 8 years - both artists. She is a furniture designer and journalist and he is an animator - and creative director. They are darling and I can't tell you how excited I was to get into a Roman apartment. It was fabulous - a palazzo circa 1600 - owned by a principesse -who has restored the building beautifully and lives on one of the floors. It was a one=bedroom - but certainly larger than our apartment in NY. All white stucco walls, parquet floors from the 18th C, old tile floors from the 17th C and filled with a wonderful mix of antique casepieces, the ghost chair, modern slipcovered sofa and chair, refurbished Louis XV chairs and her uber modern lounge chairs in lacquered bent ply wood. All lit by candlelight, with casement windows the size of a door, it FELT Roman.

We had dinner at 9;30 at Osteria del Pegno just west of Piazza Navano. The feeling reminds us of Lucia's, very local, it feels as if you are going into someone's private home for dinner. Huge bouquets of fresh flowers in pitchers. We arrived home at our apartment at 1:00 a.m. The city was still throbbing with people. (We, however, were not throbbing. We'd had too much food and were dragging!)On the way home, we passed through a very lively neighborhood on Via Della Pace that reminded us of the Lower East Side at 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning - the leftovers of a Sat night. Wall to wall 20 - 30-somethings, mingling on the cobblestones - you couldn't tell where one bar ended and the next began. We also passed, by accident, a museum that is exhibiting a show of Karl Lagerfeld's photographs. I had to return. (Karl Lagerfeld is now 83 years old, continues to be the designer for Chanel, re-created himself as a photographer in the last 15 years or so and is a creative muse for me. He also may have the best taste of any one in the whole world!) They pointed out their favorite bar - one that serves gin and tonic!

Today, we awoke at 11:00 (we talked last night about the rhythm of life in Rome being so lovely!) read the Times online, had our coffee and went to find the museum with the Lagerfeld exhibit - Chiostro del Bramante. Well...we walked to it like we had GPS! The building was magnificent. Probably 16th Century, but I am not certain. It was that wonderful simple architecture (NOT Baroque, where suddenly everything is dripping with putti (cupids) and gilt. At least that is my impression of Baroque decoration.) This is just so purely about form and material and seems so modern to me. The steps were old gray, pitted flagstones, the railing iron no larger than 1" in diameter, the walls pure stucco - one in a deep raisin color. It made me swoon.

We were the only ones in this beautiful museum! It was such a treat. His photos reflected his work in fashion, often using his models to set up the scene. It was also clearly informed by a romantic sense of the past, of old cinema, of French film noir, of a Monte Carlo from another era.

Then, there are the architectural photos - reminiscent for me of some of Alec Soth's earlier work. Seen above of the chairs and here and then the more muscular architectural pieces like Paris below.

Photos of Paris

And then..the portraits. Wow. A wall of portraits all displayed together without identification of the subject. And, of course, that gets to be the game...who are these people? Well, one jumped right out at us! You see it above!

After the exhibit, we found the bar that served gin and tonic. I had a bira. Lee broke his streak and had a real live Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic while sitting in the sun on the cobblestones, blissing out over the day, over the fact that we are in Rome, over the people in this part of the city who exhibited some style, and over the effect of the exhibit, an experience of potentia, that which is still possible. We were "vibin' with the city. Our favorite day yet.

And all without a map!

The scene up the street - Via Della Pace - the church is Santa Maria della Pace with a Raphael inside.

This great old Porsche wiggled its way through the pedestrian traffic while we were having drinks.

As Lee said, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Apparently the gin and tonic was very good.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tomorrow: I will write about Assisi.

First I have to absorb it.

Nuns from the lineage of St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi standing on the steps of the Basilica di San Francesco.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Buon Appetito!

Now that we’ve found our way around a bit (and I do mean a bit. Rome is mind-numbingly convoluted!) we are buying produce at Campo Di Fiori. I have heard from Romans – "it is good / it is not so good." But, we find it much preferable to the mostly unpleasant supermercato with grumpy employees. Besides, eating out is expensive with the exchange rate - 70 euro for most of our dinners – over $100 with the exchange. I get sick of spending that every night – especially when the food is just okay, but not great. I am still looking for anything as good as Lucia’s petite tenderloin or Broder’s pasta, meatballs and sugo – honestly! The bread is mostly horrible and dry so we don’t even eat it. We’ve had one good serving of bread the whole trip. But that is it. UNO!

So, we have taken to these lovely simple meals at the apartment – whatever looks good at the market we pick up, then stop at the salumeria for a nice salami and some divine gorgonzola dolce and it is a meal! Well, with wine, of course.

BTW – my husband is drinking wine with me! He’s a tried and true gin and tonic guy and hasn’t had one since we arrived – preferring to do as the Romans do (though this is very unusual for him – flexibility around his drink of choice and access to plain yellow mustard is generally non-negotiable.) It is great to buy our bottle of wine daily for the evening. We have not had one bad bottle of wine! It is all delicious!

So here is one of our lunches – the freshest asparagus with oil from our host’s olive groves in Tuscany, unusually fresh eggs (notice how yellow the yoke is, and a salad of crisp rucula with pear, pine nuts and parmeggiano.

Here is what we’ve learned about Italy so far (and a couple more images from meals in the apartment)

Last time we were in Italy, we decided to adopt the Italian stovetop espresso pot. We’ve never gone back. Don’t even own an electric coffee pot.

This trip? I am switching to only the best olive oils for salads. (Cooking – not to worry – I buy Broder’s, which is very good for that.) But for salads – I’m spoiled rotten now! I am ordering some oils from here and having them shipped. Let me know if you’d like some! The prices are very cheap compared to the states.

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The seat of western civilization - and genius

Genius: late 14c., tutelary god (classical or pagan), from L. genius "guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation, wit, talent; also "prophetic skill, originally "generative power, from root of gignere "beget, produce" (see kin.)

This gets really complicated for me - the dance between Western Civilization and Christianity. And today, after years of mostly uneducated opinion about it all - I am even more confused.

I went to the Vatican - that tiniest country in the world - the only true monarchy left in the world - with the largest private art collection in the world.

FYI - the Vatican museum used to house the popes, but now is simply the collection of art amassed over centuries. The pope now lives in a 1,000 room building next door. The museum is separate (but only steps from) St. Peter's church / basilica - or whatever that magnificent piece of architecture is! It has to be the largest church in the world? It is definitely (by law) the tallest building in Rome at 40 stories high - and the dome was designed by....who else? Michelangelo. The genius himself.

It was a spectacular tour - from the Borgia apartment left untended since the 15th Century - the original Renaissance porcelain tiles are still on the floors - some cracked away to reveal the terracotta beneath to the Cistine Chapel (the painting of "the Creation" is smaller than I expected) to the Raphael rooms to the hall of maps.

As beautiful as the museum itself is the one solitary piece that took our breath away and literally sent tears to my eyes - is the Pieta in St. Peter's. Michelangelo, at 23 years old.

A mother holding her dead son.

No one believed it could have been done by a 23-year old, so he sneaked into the Vatican one night and carved his signature on the ribbon across Mary's body. "Michelangelo Buonaroti, Florentine, made this." He never signed another piece of his art. He didn't need to.

I am in awe of genius. At 23, he had studied less than 10 years the art of sculpture and drawing. If I had studied for 100 years, I could not have done this. This is genius. Who are our geniuses now???

St. Peter's Cathedral. The Egyptian obelisk is pagan and 4,000 years old.

The dome designed by Michelangelo

Inside the cathedral - the alter.

Detail of the alter.

A marble head of Ceasar from the pagan times - this "head" inspired the David.

Marble floor inside the museum was pillaged from around Rome

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day for Domestics

My biorhythms were really off today. I am sleeping on my Minnesota schedule. This is kind of embarrassing. I've been here for almost a week and I can't fall asleep until - like - 4 a.m.! (10:00 Central time.) Either that or I am really embracing the European way - staying up until 4 a.m. - sleeping late. But, Lee reminded me that the people who do that are out at clubs, partying, drinking and probably having wild sex. We are home by midnight at the latest after dinner.

So, we both just took the day off. Domestics - laundry, marketing, cleaning the apartment and writing. I felt a little bad to waste a day in Rome locked in our apartment, but it is cold and gray outside and I am feeling off my game.

Yesterday, we did take a fantastic walk to the river - crossed over Ponte di Sant'Angelo, an amazing bridge with Bernini angels on each of the ten piers. It was originally the only way to St. Peter's. The heavy traffic of pilgrims literally caused it to collapse in the middle ages, so it was rebuilt to carry more traffic and other bridges were added. The angels are mesmerizing. They make a landing spot for the seagulls, too.

Castel di Sant'Angelo and the bridge bearing its name - lined with Bernini's angels.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spanish Steps and Via Condotti - as good as I imagined.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on the Spanish Steps in "Roman Holiday"

It really is as chic and romantic as you might expect. Our first walk to the Spanish Steps, then onto Via Condorti didn't disappoint. (Although no Audrey or Gregory!)It was Saturday and, just like in NY, families were out en masse - babies in strollers, fathers and daughters together, old people, young people. This really did remind me of New York. The only difference is that the streets were mostly free of cars- people were just meandering in the street - fare una passegiata - into and out of the beautiful Italian shops lining Via Condorti. It was a celebration of the best of Italian design. Valentino, Armani, Prada, Loro Piano, Alberta Ferretti, Gucci, Ferragamo. Rather sweet, really - it seemed that there was something proud about it.

In Prada, I saw the best men's ties. I want to get one for Lee before we leave -skinny - the Italian men wear them and they look great! But we will go back to shop. This was what we call a scouting day. Here are some scenes:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Last Night's Stroll after Dinner

19 marzo 2011

Dear Mayors of the US,

Please build more fountains where people can gather.

Lee and Alecia Stevens

At the Trevi Fountain

Friday, March 18, 2011

Developing a complex here

The Metrodome shouldn't feel so bad about losing it's lid. This colosseum isn't looking so good either. It's got a few years on us, though.

We went to the ruins today. Took 2 -3 hours of leisurely walking (fare una passegiata) We didn't do any tours or use guides, just walked - mostly with our mouths dropping somewhere near our knees.

After, we had our Pizza ZaZa, per usual. (I am not a fan of trying to out-do a place that is perfect, so I will probably have it everyday that I am in Rome.)

We napped. We woke up from our nap and began to talk about the day - the history of Rome (and of the Greek influence on it - all which Lee teaches to 6th graders in a Waldorf school.) We talked about the Roman Gods, all the temples to these gods long before Christianity. I tried to get my head around the timeline. We are in an apartment in a 17th Century palazzo. It was built 1600 - 2000 years AFTER most of the things we saw today!

Last night, we had a glass of wine with our charming hosts, Alessandro and Jace, before they left this morning for Cuba and sailing in the Carribean (good life!) Alessandro's family is from Rome going way back. We met them because they used our apartment in NYC in exchange for our using their apartment now. I began to think....

When they were in NY and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which I personally think is the grandest of buildings in all of the US) what does a Roman think???? Do they think....oh, those Americans and all their money - plundering our art and sticking it in a new building like this.

I'm suddenly paranoid that the Met is just a suburban mall in Roseville to a Roman. (No offense to Roseville. I could have said Southdale, Ridgedale, or any of the dales - perhaps it could be called Metdale!)

I just can't get my head around a place where people LIVE in 15th - 17th buildings and that is the new architecture! The real stuff is 2000 years old! The Roman sculptures were done here! And, yet, I see them in the Met in NYC - and lucky that I do! The Greek and Roman Hall is one of my favorites.

It is kind of messing with my mind, though. I still think I am just on a movie set and the people walking around are the extras. I'm certain even the seagulls are being paid to be so good at what they do. And the moon! It's paper, right? I'm like Alice down the Rabbit Hole - spinning and spinning.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pantheon and Distress

We visited the Pantheon yesterday in the rain - which seems perfect, somehow - with that big hole in the top. It really does open to the sky-the only source of light in the temple built in 162 AD by Emperor Hadrian. Yep - 162 AD. Lee points out this is 1300 - 1400 years OLDER than the buildings we were admiring in Florence a few years ago. AND, not only that - it has been in continuous use since it was built!

"Pan" means "all" and "theos" means "god". (Don't you just love etymology!)
It was built as a temple to all the gods of Rome during this time - then changed into a Catholic church in the middle ages.

Anyway - here's the thing that really got to me. The dome is made of CONCRETE! I thought concrete loft floors and counter tops were sort of very cool and concrete was maybe first used a couple hundred years ago. I was so wrong.

This was in 162 AD! It is still standing! (Think about that engineers of the bridge in Minneapolis!) It is not only sound, it is so beautiful. How did they do it????

The distress part? Well, this kind of architecture, materials, decoration, quality is simply impossible today. We can't even plow our streets and fill potholes in Minneapolis. Chances are slim that we're going to build a new park (or piazza) and hire a Bernini to sculpt a fountain. Chances are slim that any of our clients / us can afford to do the terrazzo tile floors that are smooth and cool under my feet in this 17th Century apartment. Few can even do a plaster wall now. It's sheetrock, sheetrock, sheetrock. And, the windows - these gorgeous casement windows - with built-in shutters. And, the artistry - the mosaics, painted surfaces, drawings and gilding.

It is of the past. And I don't know why but that makes me a little sad. Have we lost something that makes us human when we lose this quality and craft?

Nice door. The door to our palazzo - Santa Chiara 49. We are on the 4th floor (though they call it 3rd in Italy because the first floor is just the ground floor.)
They don't make doors like this where I come from.

Interior of our apartment - kitchen - just the loveliest windows with built in shutters opening to the inside.

The occulus of the Pantheon built into the ceiling - concrete panels form the dome built in 162 AD. Go figure.

A bit more of the Pantheon interior.

From the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. We stumbled into this lovely basilica yesterday. This is a fragment from a wall - decorative marblized painting on the wall. Works here! Somehow this treatment loses its punch on sheetrock in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More on Rome - hope this doesn't start to sound evangelical

Our hosts made dinner reservations for us tonight - but we were so lame, out of it, jet-lagged, that we never found the place - the cabbie couldn't get there because it was only accessible by foot, which is lovely, but we couldn't find where we were supposed to be and ended up at something not only horribly mediocre, but with an attitude. Teaches you a little something about humility. I tried my best to speak Italian and the guy didn't give me a chance. I swear the asshole increased the velocity of his speaking just to bug me. I ordered the dinner that we wanted, but he kept saying that we had to order more. (We didn't want more? Hello.) But, I found something else and ordered it, but I couldn't even eat it. Veal. I thought I might spontaneously become a vegetarian it was so pasty tasting. Besides that, the "vino di casa" sucked.

So we came home and opened the bottle of wine that Alessandro and Jace left for us and tried to have a civilized, intimate conversation about our future. I have a feeling we sounded pretty stupid, we were so loopy by now on the accumulated cocktail of lack of sleep, xanax for flying across that very large lake, wine and Rome. But, the wine they left us was magnifico! Will take a photo of the label tomorrow.

Here are some scenes from walking home from dinner and they more than made up for the attitude of the dumb waiter! Let him try to maneuver New York City. I would never be mean to him!

This was in an antique store on the street, above. So beautiful!

SO, what I want to mention now is the sound of Rome. It is so lovely! While we walked home from the restaurant, it was almost silent - much of the city is closed to cars. Now, from our apartment, there is a lively bar a few doors down and the occasional scooter, but it is mostly so beautiful and quiet. And we think 81st Street in NY is quiet. This city raises the bar on quiet.