Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rome diary: . . .on the other hand

Overflowing garbage bins like this are a daily sight on residential streets in Rome. Garbage pickup seemed quixotic, but I'm sure it happened sometimes.
I've written several posts about the many beauties and delights of Rome. In one, I described the care bakeries take to ensure even six cookies go out the door looking like a million dollars -- gift wrap, bow and all. But the downside is that the wrap -- along with everything else that goes into creating the bella figura (great impression) so prized in Rome -- tends to produce garbage. 

The Romans do recycle. Or at least households have bags into which they are to carefully divide paper, glass, tin and plastics, then deposit them in the matching containers on the curb. How much recycling actually goes on -- well, who knows even in Vancouver? In Rome, there's not even a pretence with  kitchen garbage, which goes into that wonderfully generic non-recyclable bin. Over the day, the bins fill up. And up and up and eventually out over the sidewalk, the mess swelling with the hours. 

We were astonished at our first sight of this. But eventually it became part of the scene, like cars double-parked on a busy street or halfway up on the sidewalk. I don't recall seeing any messes like this on the downtown streets where the tourists roam. Like everywhere, I guess, Rome knows when to hide its dirty laundry.

Car parking in Rome was as chaotic as the traffic. Wherever there was a spot, it seemed, it was okay to leave your car. I never saw a ticket warden.

Here we have the car and the garbage, just being Roman together.
Graffiti was common on the exteriors of residential buildings like this.

Buildings and walls like this one surrounding the Doria Pamphilj park  get a colourful coating. 

A longer view of that park wall. It took a lot of paint to cover every inch of it. 
Behind the parked cars, more evidence of graffiti artists at work. The pull-down shutters of the shops are an inviting target.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Rome diary: To market, to market

An extravaganza of taste and colour was ours during our time in Rome. This major farmers' market, open six days a week, was a five-minute walk away.

We suspected cooks from the many restaurants in our area took advantage of the market; seafood was often on the menu.

Pork roast with spiced flavouring in the middle was still warm from the oven when we bought it. You order how much you want, and voila!

To North American foodies, it would be a dream come true. Walk three blocks up the street, and every single day (except Sunday), shop at a big farmers’ market of the best Italy has to offer.

 Strawberries, ripe through and through, in April. All kinds of sea life, so fresh and glistening you could envision it being pulled into the boat. Spiced pork roast still warm from the morning oven, ready to be sliced to order.  That much? This big?  Crusty bread, buns, cookies and tarts. Cheeses sold by people who know them; probably even make them. Piquante, please. A sea of green beans, artichokes, lettuces and spinach, dotted with flashes of carrots, tomatoes, and peppers. Itinerant garlic sellers, offering big globes from their hands. Fruits of all colours and shapes, arrayed with the Italian eye for design. Nuts, all types. Olives, all colours. Flower stalls glowing with lilies, lilacs, roses and peonies, with hanging baskets and potted plants for good measure

Besides its convenience and freshness, the best thing about our market -- the Mercato San Giovanni di Dio, just across from the tram stop -- was that it was real. The stalls were a warren of elderly cages, all closed up like an old warehouse by mid-afternoon. The merchants were Italians who grew, made or were connected with what they sold. The customers were our working-class neighbours, and probably the cooks from the area’s many restaurants, basing that night’s menu on the best from the morning market. No flash, no glitz. Not a tourist in sight.
The downside was my lack of Italian in a setting where that’s all most people spoke. But when beautiful food is concerned, it’s amazing what you can do by pointing.

My friend Mariken, who could make herself understood in Italian, did most of the shopping. Here, she looks on as a merchant pares artichokes.

If you're not going to get the freshly cooked pork, there are many other choices.

Beans, greens and fruits -- it's hard not to make a beautiful display when everything is so colourful.

The fruit counter.

Ah, decisions, decisions.

Mariken with greens.

The ground display of potted plants at the flower stall. Many Italians keep flowers on their balconies, so there is probably a good business in selling plants that will last for the summer.

These extremely large lemons drew my eye.

There are always clothes for sale on the street in Rome. Our local market had its own section for clothes, but we didn't indulge.

All done. When the market closes up in the early afternoon, it's a far different scene -- you could shoot a bleak movie in a setting like this. But at 7 a.m. the next day, it will explode back into colour and life. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Rome diary: My marble compass

There's a reason I liked the Vittorio Emanuele II monument in Rome. One clue: It's the highest, most noticeable thing in this photograph.

My, how the white marble of the Vittorio Emanuele stands out against the duller colours of the Roman Forum. The monument is the farthest thing away in this picture, but especially with the distinctive statues on top, it's a clear landmark.

As a directionally challenged person, I am always grateful for the North Shore mountains; from Vancouver, they are always so wonderfully, reassuringly north. But Rome, well. Built, rebuilt and rebuilt again through millennia of fires, wars, sackings, floods, earthquakes, emperors and dictators, it’s understandable that things got jumbled. Streets curve and meander, with sudden hills, ancient walls and a winding river dictating their course. Names change at any point and change again, with no guarantee they will appear anywhere in real life. Numbering of buildings is quixotic.

Despite paper maps, Google maps, guidebooks and intense study of same, I could still get off a bus in broad daylight in Rome and feel like I had just landed on Mars.

It took awhile, but eventually I realized that the Vittorio Emanuele monument – derided by the Romans as an over-the-top white pile disfiguring the ancient part of the city   had become one of my favourite buildings.

From the Janiculum hill across the Tiber, from the Spanish Steps, from Trajan’s Market, from the Palatine hill and the Roman Forum, it shone out in a blaze of white marble with its chariots and horses galloping sky-high on top. You could see it from anywhere!  Not only that, but the buses and trams that would take me home – and I knew their numbers, oh yes – all stopped nearby.

 The Romans, the tourists, may call it a giant wedding cake or a typewriter, but to me, it was glorious. It was my own  personal North Shore mountains.

I am probably the only tourist in Rome who didn't take a proper picture of the Vittorio Emanuele monument, which photographed full-on does in fact look like a wedding cake or typewriter. But there was a parade of figures from Rome's history going on beside the monument one day, so here are some shots taken from the side.

The monument, built as a tribute to the first king of a united Italy, required the clearing of the northern slope of the Capitoline Hill, destroying many Roman ruins and medieval churches. It was inaugurated in 1911, at the 50th anniversary of the kingdom. 

Eighty metres high and 120 metres wide of sparkling white marble makes the monument really hard to ignore. The statues that fly from two points on top, visible from many points of the city, are of winged Victories representing freedom and unity.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Rome diary: Beauty

From the smallest piece of pastry to the largest villa, Romans know how to create beauty. Here's the display at a chic coffee place in the downtown area
The entrance to the museum at the Baths of Diocletian. A central fountain, statues, and bowers of roses turn this into a stunning garden visit before you even get to the museum doors.

If you buy six cookies in Rome, they are arranged carefully on a colored cardboard tray. A strip of cardboard goes over them lengthwise to keep them in place. Then they’re wrapped in the bakery’s own gift paper and tied with a complementary ribbon, complete with bow.

It’s an example of what John Hooper, author of The Italians, calls the “sheer enthusiasm for beauty that infuses life in Italy.” Italians, he says, have always excelled in anything “that has to do with what is visible, be it the art of the Renaissance or modern car design.”

His observations are borne out at every turn in Rome, in ways large and small. Six big oranges in a tall glass cylinder lend colour to a coffee bar’s front counter. The centre median of an ordinary highway to the Roman suburbs billows with purple malvia, yellow-blooming mustard and decorative grasses so high they obscure oncoming traffic from a bus window. The villa near my rental apartment in Rome had not just an elaborately decorated mansion but a meticulously clipped ornamental boxwood garden and water features too numerous to count.

Here are a few examples of the beauty I saw in Rome, including those cookies:

The little gift-wrapped parcel of cookies, appropriately posed in front of a flower arrangement by my artist roommate Mariken. 

Note the restraining strip of cardboard and the gilded tray.

Carefully arranged to maximum advantage, instead of being shoved in a paper bag.

The mansion of the Villa Doria Pamphilj park, which is part of a large public space well used by city residents. The mansion wasn't open, but you could roam most of the garden areas freely. The water feature and the elaborate boxwood garden were behind a wall. 

A stairway on the villa grounds, with an artful tree arrangment.

Many of the museums in Rome were stunning works of art in themselves. This new one is in the EUR section of Rome, which was rebuilt by Mussolini before the Second World War.

The view from a window in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

One of the many paintings in the Capitoline Museum. Big, beautiful -- and gruesome. The foreground figure has its head chopped off.

Wisteria falls over an entrance gate along the Appian Way just outside Rome.

Ivy falls over the old facade of a building in Trastevere, the medieval section of Rome.

Everywhere in Rome are churches, some more elaborate than others, but all beautiful.
A room in the Capitoline Museum, with a stunning ceiling and marble floor.
The view over Rome from near the Spanish Steps. Romans were smart enough not to destroy the look and feel of the main city area with high-rise towers. The domes still dominate.

This seemingly rural scene is within 10 minutes of a busy Roman street. The elaborate canal, with fountains and walking paths on each side, is part of the Doria Pamphilj park. Birds and turtles love it, and so do people.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Making foxes

My grand-niece Emi decided on Sunday that it was time to turn into a fox. Her mom Aya did the favours with facepaint -- the result is above. Then Emi figured her mom should be a fox too, so Aya patiently allowed her daughter to wield the paintbrush on her. Photos of the process below; the first one is by John. 

With the first daubs on her forehead, Emi gets into character; she thinks foxes must be quite fierce. Meanwhile, her mom checks the Internet for how to create a fox face.

Lots of gloopy stuff goes over the eyes and nose.

With a dot to the nose, the animal face takes shape.

With the ears outlined in black on her forehead, Emi ramps up the fox imitation.

The swooping eyes and black upper lip are the final touch.

Turning the tables, the yellow-faced fox uses the paint on her mom. Photo by John.

Intense concentration is required. Photo by John.

A patient Aya awaits the next daub. Emi has given her heavy eye makeup, little black forehead-ears and various colours around the mouth. A fox would be quite bemused.

Emi surveys her creation. She looks like she thinks her mom will be a pretty good companion in the fox den. (Yes, the brown stuff on the table is imitation poop. Emi got it during a recent trip to Las Vegas and has been enjoying the reactions it evokes.)
Facepaint and poop!