Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Birdwalking on the Aventine Hill

Yesterday I took the opportunity for a couple of "birdwalks" on my way home from Sant' Anselmo on the Aventine Hill. (Birdwalking: a style of going from "A" to "B" in a way that is similar to a bird's zig-zag path as it picks at food while walking.)

My first "birdwalk" was to the the Piazza del Cavalieri di Malta and the door of the Priory of the Knights of Malta. Peeping through the keyhole you get of view of Michaelangelo's dome of St. Peter's Basilica.
My next "birdwalk" was into the courtyard and church of Sant' Alessio, originally built in the 8th century, but now mostly an 18th century building.

Leaving Sant' Alessio, I continued along the road until I came to the simple exterior of the Basilica of Santa Sabina. (The Pope gave this church to St. Dominic for his order in 1218. St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas were both residents of the adjacent monastery.) Like so many churches in Rome, Santa Sabina saw many architectural modifications over the centuries, but in the 1930's it was restored back to its 5-9th century appearance.
When I entered the church, I was captivated by the play of light coming through the windows, illuminating the beauty of marble Corinthian columns, the flat wooden ceiling and the decoration made of colored marbles on the clerestory.

The chapel on the left side of the nave maintains its' 17th century appearance. I caught a meditating Dominican in this chapel with his shoes off.

My final "birdwalk" before getting on the bus to go home was to enjoy the refreshing Bernini inspired fountain of the Tritons constructed in 1715.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dissertation at Sant' Anselmo

This afternoon I journeyed to the Aventine Hill to the Benedictine College of Sant' Anselmo, built in the late 19th Century. When I lived in Rome in 1970-71 I often went to Sant' Anselmo for Sunday Mass. (In that era, many of the celebrants were American and it seemed that they first wrote their sermons in English and then changed the words to Italian. It was very easy for me to follow.)
I went to Sant' Anselmo because a friend from Caravita, Daniel McCarthy, O.S.B., was defending his dissertation for a doctorate in Sacred Liturgy entitled "The Chair for the Gift-Office of Presiding in the Assembly and Directing the Prayer: Four Models and a Single Vision." The two hour event was all in Italian!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


A few weeks ago we took a Sunday drive to the Reiti Valley, about 100 km from Rome, to visit a friend who has a “country home” in the town of Cantalice. The Reiti Valley is special to pilgrims because there are four places that were important in the life of St. Francis of Assisi, including the town of Grecio on the opposite side of the valley from Cantalice. I remember first hearing about Grecio on a 45-rpm record I had when I was a child. On this recording, Mary Martin told the story of St. Francis gathering together people in the town of Grecio to make a living precepio, with animals and men and women dressed as Mary, Joseph, and shepherds. He used this tableau to instruct people about the mystery of the birth of Jesus.The earliest records of Cantalice date to the 12th Century, when it was part of the Kingdom of Naples. The town has a unique urban layout, developing vertically along a steep rocky cliff. There is a flight if steps that cuts through the entire town. The little village culminates with a medieval watchtower and the 17th Century Church of San Felice. (The town was the birthplace of San Felice, the first Capuchin Franciscan saint.)We were told that at the beginning of the 20th Century there were basically ten families living in Cantalice. After World War II almost everyone left the town for the larger city in the valley below because they wanted running water. Today there is running water and electricity, and the large homes have been divided up into many smaller apartments. However, there is no roadway large enough for a vehicle, so one must “walk in” to the village.

Larry, Maria (friend from Catania), Horst (friend & Vin's colleague) and Vincenzo

Summer Vacation Begins

The last two weeks have been very busy for me with the end of my first school year teaching in Rome. It has been a wonderful experience with a great group of students in a very supporting school environment. Here is a picture of my class taken this month.

Because I have been so busy with school, I have not had much time for blogging. But now, I will resume my activity with the goal of two postings a week. Enjoy reading my observations and reflections about my life in Rome, including the excursions that take me beyond the walls...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Saturday Night Folk Dancing

Click here to view a slide show with music.

The Cultural Festival continued in Garbatella on Saturday night with music and dancing under the stars and a crescent moon. I hope that these pictures can share some of the excitement and "magic" of people, young and old, being together and enjoying the folk traditions that are part of Italy.

A Roman Corner

On Saturday we were making our way to Piazza Navona and stumbled upon a couple of interesting places at the corner of Via della Scrofa and Via dei Portoghese, which is so named because the Portugese national church is there. An old fashioned barber shop first caught our eyes.

And then we gazed above to the medieval tower known as the Torre della Scimmia, the Tower of the Monkey.

Georgina Mason in her Companion Guide to Rome gives this account of the legend connected with this tower.

"According to an old story, the owners once had a monkey which climbed to the top of the tower, carrying their baby in its arms. The anguished father returned home to find his neighbors in the street praying to the Virgin for the safety of the child. Uttering a short prayer himself, he called the animal with his customary whistle, and after carefully rewrapping the baby in its swaddling clothes, it climbed down and entered one of the windows. As a thank offering for this miraculous escape, the father raised a statue of the virgin on top of the tower and vowed that a lamp should be kept burning in front of it in perpetuity. Electricity has made this vow easier to keep."

Across the street, the doors to the church of San Antonio dei Portughesi (17th century) were open, so we went inside. We encountered a baroque interior with walls covered in many different kinds of marble. There were several chapels with interesting altarpieces and an 18th century guilt organ. It was a feast for the eyes!

A Portugese national church would not be complete
without a statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friday Night in the Garden

Last night there was a concert of Mediterranean folk music "from east to west" in the giardino on the Via della Sette Chiese, across from our apartment building. Three singers and eleven instrumentalists presented an hour and a half of traditional music with lutes, guitar, accordion, strings and tambourine. About 150 neighbors of all ages gathered to enjoy the music. While listening to the music, it was fun to see young children (and even older people) dancing around the perimeter of the performance area. The musicians were set up in front of the chiesetta (little church) of Ss. Isadoro and Eurosia built in the early 1800's when our neighborhood of Garbatella was farm land.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Apartments by Adalberto Libera

In the Tuscolano neighborhood in the southern part of Rome (near Cinecittà) there is an interesting housing project (1950-1954) designed by Adalberto Libera. It remains the only single level (one story) apartment complex in Rome.

The entrance to the apartments as seen from the adjacent neighborhood.

When you first approach the apartments on Via Selinute, you encounter a long row of storefronts, in a single-level building. It is interrupted in the middle by an almost “monumental” entrance, formed by a vaulted roof that seems to float above the walls that support it. On entering, you leave the rest of the city behind and walk into a large garden with radial paths that take residents to their apartments.

After crossing the garden you enter the apartment grid. Each section of the grid has four parts. Three of the parts are apartments and the fourth part is a patio. This plan offers residents a new possibility for outside space, a semi-private patio.

While this views shows that the roofs are not attractive when looked at from above, it does reveal the open patios. Between the apartments and the freight train, visible in the distance, is a small river, and beyond the train are ancient Roman ruins.

In addition to the low houses, Libera built an apartment tower of five floors, each with a “ballatoio.” The building’s stairs led to outside walkways that gave access to the apartments, rather than to inside landings with the apartment doors. This was an innovation that has been often repeated in Rome. (The Italian word” ballatoio” is often translated as balcony, but it is really more like a suspended bridge, a place for walking, or maybe even dancing!)

Note: Libera designed many other projects in Rome, including a post office.