Friday, October 31, 2008

Lunedì Letterario

Hotel De Dream
A New York Novel
by Edmund White

I am in New York this week, so I thought it was a good time to mention a book that I read this summer in Sicily.

Hotel de Dream is a fictional account of the final months in the life of American author Stephen Crane.  (Every American high school student read Crane's Red Badge of Courage.) Crane is in Sussex, England, dying of tuberculosis at age 28 and he is being cared for by his wife Cora. In the midst of the confusion and tragedy of his last days, Crane dictates a strange novel called "The Painted Boy," set in seedy New York City at the end of the 1890's. Edmund White's novel flows back and forth between the words of the dictated tale and the narrative of Crane's final days in the English countryside. "The Painted Boy" is the story of a boy prostitute and the married man who ruins his own life to win the boy's love. Hotel de Dream presents two love stories: Crane and his wife, and the painted boy and his banker lover. This novel-within-a-novel has both the style of Crane and White and was a book that was difficult to put down.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 31st

Click on the picture to see a bigger image.

Happy Halloween
Here are some of the pumpkins created by my students.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lunedì Letterario

Being a 5th grade teacher gives me a lot of contact with children's literature. I enjoy reading aloud to my class and we began this school year with Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. It was followed by Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me? by Louis Sachar, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Susan Creech. Because the World Series is happening now in the United States, we are currently reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Boa Lord.

On my own, I have recently enjoyed reading two new mysteries for young readers. 

The 39 Clues:
The Maze of Bones
by Rick Riordan

The 39 Clues is a series of fantasy adventure books, the first of which is titled The Maze of Bones and was published in September. (Future books in the series will be written by different authors.) The story line involves relatives of Grace Cahill, a fictional character, who are challenged by her will to find 39 clues around the world. The winners are told that they will become the "richest and most important people in the world." Simultaneously, the series publisher, Scholastic, has launched an online game with players able to win prizes.

The Calder Game
by Blue Balliett

The Calder Game is the third novel by this author to combine art and three students solving a mystery. This one begins with a class field trip to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and takes the reader with the three kids to England and the maze at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock.

Italian Politics

Recently these posters were all over the city of Rome announcing an upcoming rally.

Last April Silvio Berlusconi (People of Freedom Party) was again elected as Italy's Prime Minister. In American elections, the defeated candidate usually disappears into the woodwork. Not so, here in Italy. Walter Veltroni, (center-left Democratic party, PD) the former mayor of Rome and the defeated candidate, can be seen on TV every day, on talk shows and in the news, continuing to campaign for the ideas of his party.
This Saturday I was attempting to go into the center of the city and encountered tens of thousands of demonstrators making their way to the Circus Maximus for a rally and to hear a message from Walter Veltroni. The first reports were that 2.5 million people were there, proclaiming that "Another Italy is Possible!" The official police count was 200,000. Either way, it was a large rally for a recently defeated party.

Demonstrators going past the medieval Porta San Paolo
Marching past the ancient Aurelian Wall

Pumpkins: Waiting for the Knife

These pumpkins were in the Ambrit Rome International School atrium on Friday, waiting to go home with students. For €10 a family could take a pumpkin and participate in a pumpkin carving contest. The proceeds will go to the the Haiti Cherie fund to feed street children in Port-au-Prince. You can check back on Friday to see a posting with some of the carved pumpkins, Italian stlye!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

il Vittoriano

A monument known to all who visit and live in Rome is the one to King Victor Emmanuel II. When I was in college and lived in Rome during the early 1970's we referred to it as a large white Olivetti typewriter. Today it is called a big wedding cake. It's "proper" knickname is il Vittoriano. It is also the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Altar of the Country, the Regimental Colors Museum, the Central Museum of the Risorgimento, and exhibition space for changing shows. (I once saw a great show of portraits by Modigliani here.)
On Sunday I went to the top of the monument, the Terrace of the Quadrigas, so named because of the bronze statues of chariots drawn by four horses. The panoramas of Rome were wonderful.
This is the view looking to the west, towards St. Peter's Basilica. You can see the dome of the Gesu Church in the foreground, and to the left of it is the rounded dome of the Pantheon.

This is the view town the Alban Hills with the Collesium and the Roman Forum in the foreground.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fig Tree for the Balcony

On Sunday Vin noticed a fig tree for sale at our corner flower stand. On the way home from church he bought it and it is now enjoying a life on our balcony. Maybe the birds of the air will come and make nests in it's branches.

Here are some pictures of the one-block journey from the flower stand, up the stairs and onto the balcony.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lunedì Letterario

The Smiles of Rome
A Literary Companion for Readers and Travellers
Edited by Susan Cahill

The Smiles of Rome is a anthology of writings on Rome by various authors (from Pliny to Fellini) organized by different periods in Roman history from Ancient Rome to contemporary Rome. It was interseting to read descriptions of the city from many points of view, including selections from St.Paul's Letter to the Romans in the New Testament, and other authors including Eleanor Clarke, Sigmund Freud, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Updike and Susan Vreeland. After each selection, Susan Cahill has included a mini-travel guide to assist the reader explore the parts of Rome that the passages incorporate into their narrative. This book is a wonderful preparation for someone planning a visit to Rome, and a great companion to enjoy while living here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bruckner's 6th Symphony in the neighborhood

This evening the Vienna Philharmonic performed Bruckner's 6th Symphony at the Basilica of San Paolo. I usually change busses at the Basilica, so on my way home from work this evening, I stopped by to see if I could get in. A group of young German priests had an extra ticket that they gave me. Benedict XVI was also there, and I am sure he got in without a ticket.

The basilica is the principal church of our neighborhood, so we often stop in. But, there is a special excitement when you enter and the Swiss Guards are at the door and are posted at locations all around the basilica.

This picture is a stock photo I found online. (I left my camera at school.) I was seated in the group just in front of the second pillar from the right, in the side aisle. I had a good view of the conductor, and about 20 seats to my right I could see the Bishop of Rome with his white cap, among all of the cardinals with their red caps and the bishops with their purple caps.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lunedì Letterario

La Bella Figura
An Insider's Guide to the Italian Mind
by Beppe Severgnini

This book presents a tour of Italy that is partly geographical and partly conceptual. Over the course of 10 days, reader is taken from from Milan to Tuscany to the far south: Sicily and Sardinia. But the places are merely excuses for little essays on beaches, restaurants, cellphones, airports, condominiums, piazzas, gardens and offices.

An examination of traffic signals is an example of Severgnini's guide to the Italian mind. He explains that in Italy, red lights come in many varieties. A rare few actually mean stop. Others, to the Italian driver, suggest different interpretations. At a pedestrian crossing at 7 a.m., with no pedestrians around, it is a “negotiable red,” more like a weak orange. At a traffic intersection, red could mean a full red, but it might, with no cars coming, be more of a suggestion than a command. It all depends. The red-light mentality explains volumes about Italy and the Italians. We think it’s an insult to our intelligence to comply with a regulation. Obedience is boring. We want to think about it. We want to decide whether a particular law applies to our specific case. In that place, at that time.”

I found this book to be full of insights that help me understand the Italians around me.

The Quirinale Palace and Stables

The Quirinale Palace was built in 1573 by Pope Gregory XIII as a papal summer residence. It served as a papal residence and housed the central offices responsible for the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. Today it is the residence of the President if Italy. 

The stables for the palace are across the piazza and were built between 1722 and 1732. In 1999 they were converted into a gallery called The Scuderie del Quirinale.
This is the passage from the entrance to the upper level for the galleries. It is a ramp, built to allow horses to get to the upstairs stalls.

Situated on the highest of Rome's seven hills, there are great views from the Scuderie del Quirinale. After visiting an exhibition you can pause at the window near the elevator and enjoy the Roman skyline.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


In Italy, Bellini can be different things. It is a 20th century drink, a 19th century composer and a 16th century artist.

Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835) was a Sicilian opera composer.

The Bellini cocktail consists of puréed white peaches and Prosecco. The original recipe was made with a bit of raspberry or cherry juice to give the drink a pink glow. The Bellini was invented sometime between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry's Bar in Venice. Because of its unique pink color, which reminded Cipriani of the color of the toga of a saint in a painting by the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, he named the drink the Bellini

Today we enjoyed a visit to the Scuderie del Quirinale for a wonderful exhibition of Giovanni Bellini, 1430-1516. There were 70 paintings which make up about 75% of his known works, both sacred and secular. The exhibit allowed us to experience large altar panels and small devotional paintings. The expressions on the faces depicted by Bellini were mesmerizing, and I found myself enjoying his treatment of landscapes, with detailed flora and fauna. The galleries were painted a very dark red and the lighting was focused only on the paintings, making the intense colors seem almost alive.

I was not able to take photos in the exhibition, but here are two reproductions so you can appreciate this exciting early 16th century artist.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lunedì Letterario

The World According to Bertie
a 44 Scotland Street Novel

by Alexander McCall Smith

For my birthday in September I received this book as a gift and enjoyed reading it on the bus as I travelled across the Tiber River to and from work. It is a series of snapshots presenting the lives of people living in the same building at 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a captivating depiction of Edinburgh at the beginning of the 21st Century. The Sunday Express said: "A joyous, charming portrait of city life and human foibles, which moves beyond its setting to deal with deep moral issues and love, desire and friendship." While reading The World According to Bertie I could not help but think of Armistead Maupin's series Tales of the City which depicted the lives of the residents of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco from the mid 1970s to the late 1980s. Both authors guide the readers into the personal lives of a group of people who are acquainted with each other because of where they live, with unexpected crossing of plotlines in unexpected places.