Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Sunday in Rome

As the Eucharist began at Caravita, the priest's white vestments were an announcement that it was the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. Next Sunday would be the beginning of Advent. (I have to remember to get purple candles.) The congregation of about 50 people was smaller than usual. Was it because of the Thanksgiving holiday or the consistory this weekend when Pope Benedict XVI created new cardinals?

After Mass, Vincenzo and I each had a panino for lunch and then set off together for a little exploring. We found a store that sold water from around the world. We browsed around a bookstore, Vin looking at psychology books while I checked out children's books and art books.

Our wandering took us to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four principal basilicas in Rome and one of the seven medieval pilgrimage churches. (Many have heard of my New York City seven church pilgrimage on Holy Thursday. This tradition is based on the pilgrimage to seven churches in Rome.) Santa Maria Maggiore has long been famous for the acheiropoieton (not created by hand) picture of the Madonna, the relic of the holy crib, and a precipio that was described by English pilgrims in 721.

The best part of the afternoon was visiting the small Basilica of St. Prassede, down the street and around the corner from Santa Maria Maggiore. Georgina Masson is her "Companion Guide to Rome" describes St. Pressede as "one of the most moving and appealing of Roman churches. It is rich in art treasures, but on entering it is not so much this that strikes us, as the sensation of being in a well-loved parish church, where for the last eleven centuries people have come with their load of cares and sorrows, and gone away refreshed.° The small side chapel of St. Zeno has some of the most amazing mosaics I have ever seen. It is an intimate space and we were captivated by this beautiful expression of faith created in the Ninth Century. This church should not be missed when one visits the city of Rome.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving at Home

Vincenzo and I celebrated Thanksgiving together at home. Because there was a turkey lunch at school, I decided to cook an "All American" meat loaf. We had cranberry sauce, too, that I was able to find at a store on the Via Flaminia. When I got home from work, Vincenzo had prepared a turkey antipasto plate. He wrapped shrimp, artichokes and olives in thin slices of turkey from the market. They were very tasty! Here is a picture of our turkey platter.

Thanksgiving at School

We celebrated Thanksgiving at school today with a special assembly and a traditional "Thanksgiving" lunch of turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin ravioli (we are in Italy!) and apple pie. It was served with table cloths, cloth napkins and nice centerpieces. Here are a couple of my students enjoying their lunch.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pines of Rome (and Palms!)

When leaving the home of one of my students, his mother remarked to me: “Isn’t Rome a wonderful place? Where else can you see pines trees and palm trees together?”
This is a photo of pines and palms outside of my classroom window.

Ottorino Respighi wrote a symphonic work called “Pines of Rome” in 1924. Each movement portrays the location of pine trees in the city during different parts of the day. (It doesn’t seem that he paid any attention to the palm trees.)

The first movement portrays children playing in the pine groves of the Borghese gardens. The music depicts children marching and playing.

The second movement represents pine trees close to a catacomb. Lower orchestral instruments represent the subterranean feature of the catacombs. The three trombones chant like priests.

The third part, a nocturne, is set at night, near a temple of the Roman god Janus on the Janiculum hill. A nightingale is heard, giving Respighi the opportunity to include real life bird sounds in his work, a feat unachieved before. (I understand that the score mentions a specific recording that can be played on a phonograph.)

The final movement portrays pine trees along the great Appian Way at dawn. A Roman Legion advances along the Via Appia in the brilliance of the newly-risen sun with the sound of trumpets.

Weekend Celebrations

On Saturday we were at dinner in the apartment of friends as they celebrated 32 years together. There were eleven people at the dining table and it seems like there were eleven courses of food! On Sunday afternoon we traveled about 30 km south of Rome, near the sea, to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday. Everyone contributed song to the evening. I was asked to sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a song by the Beach Boys.

Monday, November 12, 2007


This past weekend we went to Naples for an overnight visit. In July we were there to catch a ferry to Sicily, making my view of Naples one with lots of traffic and a bustling port. Walking the streets and strolling the piazzas as we explored the center of Naples has given me a very different feeling about this city.

On Saturday afternoon we made our way to Via San Gregorio Armeno for the Christmas Market. This long narrow cobblestone street is filled with little shops and bancarelle (stalls) that are filled with terra cotta and plastic figures Nativity scenes.
There are stables and empty village scenes for people to buy and fill with the Holy Family, angels, shepherds, wise men and animals. The street was crowded with tourists and Neapolitans who have come to buy new pieces to add to their precipio displays at home.

Several years ago I started my own small precipio with parts I bought in New York City. In 1990, while visiting Mexico City, I got an Italian made figure of two children with a mother, representing my two kids and their mother. Two years ago in Rome, I added a musician for Vincenzo and last year I added a small rabbit for his pet, Zic. This year, on the Via San Gregoria Armeno, I have added figures representing three special people in New York. My friend Paul is a nurse, and I found a figure holding a touch, making me think of Florence Nightingale. I found two figures as images for John and Michael: a young shepherd for John and a slightly older shepherd for Michael. They are a very caring couple, like shepherds. (And then for me, I found a chubby guy sitting down with his pants rolled up.)

Dinner on Saturday night was at a fun restaurant.I have never seen so much buffalo on a menu. Our appetizer was buffalo mozzarella served with sliced cherry tomatoes and basil. My main course was a buffalo fillet with a mixed salad and potatoes. I ended the meal with a dessert of buffalo cheesecake. (It was not a New York cheesecake, but with the buffalo ricotta it was delicious!)

On Sunday we made our way to the Church of Santa Chiara. For me the cloister behind the church is a real jewel of Naples. It was built in 1740 and was part of the enclosed convent of the Poor Clares. The columns and benches are covered with colorful majolica tiles. While the frescoes on the inner walls of the cloister (from the 1600's) show scenes from the Bible and the life of the Franciscans, the tiles in the cloister represent what happens outside the monastery.

On the benches and walls there are rural countryside scenes of hunting, work and play. There are also mythological episodes depicted on some of the tiles. The tiled columns that are decorated with vines, oranges, lemons, bananas and figs enhance the restful nature of the cloister.

Let me close with an Italian song from the 1940’s. In the refrain an immigrant talks about the Santa Chiara monastery. He says that his heart is sad and heavy because every night he thinks about how his city used to be.
Go to:'Santa_Chiara.htm
It reminds me of the American song "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tomatoes and Kiwi

One morning while shopping in the open-air market I counted nineteen varieties of tomatoes!

Did you know that kiwis are grown in Italy? The farming of kiwis started in Italy in the 1980’s. Today, Italy is the world's largest producer and exporter of this fruit. The average Italian supply figures are around 380,000-390,000 tons per year, followed by New Zealand (280,000-290,000) and Chile (150,000). Source: The Italian Institute for Foreign Trade

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Macchiaioli

Recently I was exploring a small neighborhood in Rome just across the river form the Castel SantAngelo. (I often use Georgina Mason's "Companion Guide to Rome" when I am wandering around the city. It was originally published in the 1960's. I had it as a text book for an Art History class that I took while a student at the Loyola Rome Center my junior year of college. I now have an edition that was revised in 2003.) I discovered the Piazza Santa Maria della Pace. It was late afternoon and the church of Santa Maria was closed. However a beautiful cloister designed by Bramante, the architect of St. Peter's Basilica, was open. This cloister has been recently restored and now houses art exhibitions. As I wandered through the galleries of the current exhibition, I discovered the "Macchiaoli" or Tuscan Impressionists.

The following is adapted from "In Italy Online"

The Macchiaioli (pronounced "mah-key-ay-OH-li") were probably a direct consequence of the Risorgimento, a movement whose dream was to unite the Italian peninsula under one government. These Tuscan artists were veterans of this movement and they would hang out in the Caffè Michelangiolo in Florence. Redirecting their rebellion away from the state and toward the artistic establishment of the day, they retreated into the country and developed a style of painting that focused heavily on landscapes and scenes of simple daily life. This, they declared, was the "Italy" they had dreamed of. Unable to contribute to its political birth, they created it in their canvases.

The Macchiaioli had developed their technique of capturing the moment, by means of bold strokes and "pools" of color. Because the term for these areas of color was macchia (meaning "stain" or "spot"), the Tuscan artistic revolutionaries soon came to be known as Macchiaioli.

Most people tend to focus on the Italy’s other two millennia of artistic output, so few ever actually see a work by Giovanni Fattori, Giuseppe Abbati (one of the very best of the bunch, despite having lost an eye fighting with Garibaldi), Telemaco Signorini, Giovanni Boldoni, Cristiano Banti, Odoardo Borrani, Adriano Cecioni, Raffaello Sernesi, Vito D'Ancona, Vicenzo Cabianca or Silvestro Lega. The problem is compounded because the vast majority of their many, many canvases is in private hands.

This show at the Cloister of Bramante brought together dozens of works from private collections as well as museums.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Back to School

My 5th Grade Class

Today was back to school after a one week Autumn break. My students are surprised that I speak only one language. About 1/3 of my students have Italian as their first language, 1/3 have English as a first language and the other third have other languages as their first language. They all speak at least two languages. Many speak three languages and some speak four languages!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Torre Argentina

Largo di Torre Argentina is a square in Rome that hosts four Republican Roman temples, and the remains of Pompey's Theater. The temples on this site were excavated in the late 1920s. Torre Argentina is also a Roman cat sanctuary, staffed by volunteers seven days a week, and caring for more than 250 cats. Sylvia and Lia, are the two organizing volunteers who have given their hearts to this project. When I first visited the Cat Sanctuary in October, Lia introduced me to a newly arrived blind kitten named Emily Bronte. In honor of my daughter Emily, who is a 4th grade teacher in Jersey City, I "adopted" Emily Bronte. Each month I make adonation that covers the cost of the kitten's care and food. Here is a picture of Emily Bronte that I took this afternoon.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Singing in Rome

Last night was the culmination of hours of rehearsal time for Vincenzo and I when we were part of an International High School Choir. (We volunteered because they needed extra tenors.) The concert was presented in conjunction with the annual conference of the Mediterranean Association of International Schools that took place this week in Rome.

The performance was at St. Stephen's School on the Aventine Hill. The repertoire included:
Salve Regina from To the Mothers in Brazil by Lars Jansso
La Musica by Jay Althouse
Sing Me To Heaven by Daniel Gawthrop
Band of Angels by Andre Thomas
Fa Una Canzona by Orazio Vecchi (d. 1605)
N'kosiSikelel'i Africa (Pan African National Antem)
Freedom is Coming

Friday, November 2, 2007

All Soul's Day

Cimitero Acattolico (the non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome)

This afternoon we stopped at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Wall to remember our beloved who have died. The Benedictine abbot of St Paul has pastoral care with ordinary power (like that of the diocesan bishops) over a part of Rome that includes our neighborhood of Garbatella. So, it was like stopping in at our local Cathedral.

Today I am especially remembering Madeleine l'Engle who died on September 6th. I first encountered Madeline as an author while reading "A Wrinkle in Time" in a drive from California to New York in 1979. I have enjoyed many of her books, both fiction and non-fiction. One of the last books my mother read, before her own death, was Madeline's "Glorious Impossibe," a reflection on events in the life of Christ with illustrations from Giotto's frescoes in the Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua. It is a book I have read over and over again. I got to personally know Madeline when we were at All Angels Church together in New York City. I have many memories of meals together in restaurants and her home during this time and the work we did together on the vestry of the parish. She was a treasured friend and wonderful "significant older person" in my life.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

All Saints Day

Cathedral in Monreale, Sicily

Today the world wide church celebrates All Saints Day and Italy has a national holiday. Throughout the day the children's hymn "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" has been in my mind. It is one of the favorite hymns sung at Mustard Seed School during the month of November. It is also the playful recessional on November 1st at the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York.

I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and his love made them strong;
and they followed the right for Jesus' sake
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
and there's not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
In church, or in trains or in shops or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.

Lyrics: Lesbia Scott

Vincenzo and I are singing in the Interntional High School Choral Festival here in Rome this weekend. Today was busy with rehearsals and a mini-concert at the opening reception of the Mediterranean Association of International Schools Conference. It has been fun working with 50 high school students from Marymount and St. Stephen's Schools here in Rome, as well as kids from Tunis and Lisbon.