Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Horse Meat Markets and Restaurants

After New Years Day we found ourselves joining our friend Maria in Catania for a meal of horse and donkey meat. She took us to a street that boasted half-a-dozen macellerie equina e trattorie, "horse meat butchers and restaurants."
On the street and sidewalks butchers displayed their meats while cooks prepared meals on outdoor grills. People young and old, most arriving on motorcycles, pulled up and ordered dinner.
Some stood and ate on the street, others sat at tables on the sidewalk. We went inside to enjoy our meal.

From left to right:
Vincenzo, Larry, Maria, and the staff of Trattoria n'ta za Cammela

Graffiti in Catania

I took this picture at the beginning of January while visiting Sicily.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lunedì Letterario

The American Library Association (ALA) announced the John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. Neil Gaiman, author of The Graveyard Book,  illustrated by Dave McKean and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, is the 2009 winner.

My friend Dee, who teaches at an independent school in New York City, told me about The Graveyard Book this fall and said it was the "hot read" in her 5th grade class. When I was in New York last November I picked up a copy and started reading it as soon as I got on the plane to return to Rome. It is a story about a boy who is raised in a cemetery by ghosts after his family is killed in the opening pages of the novel. (The author was inspired by The Jungle Boy.)

In announcing the winner, the ALA said:  A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose. A child marked for death by an ancient league of assassins escapes into an abandoned graveyard, where he is reared and protected by its spirit denizens.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Throwing It Away In Rome

This is a sign attached to the wall of a building
between Piazza Navona and Largo Argentina.

By order of the Most Reverend Monsignor, President of the Streets (probably referring to Pope Clement XIII):
For everyone, rich or poor, it is forbidden to throw out (or to direct someone else to throw out) any kind of garbage on this site. Most of all, it is forbidden to make this place a dump. If you make this place a dump, you will be fined 15 scudi for each offense. The Monsignor has the discretion to impose a more serious penalty.
Under the authority of the law, August 30, 1765.

Garbage has always been a problem in cities. Near this sign you can find one of the many trash receptacles that are throughout Rome.

"Taking the trash out" at home means taking our garbage outside to a designated location in the neighborhood. In our condominium of 60 apartments the only trash containers are in our individual apartments. There are no communal trash cans for our buildings. We must go outside the complex and go around the corner. There are white bins for paper and cardboard, blue bins for plastic and glass and green bins for everything else. All Romans are serious about sorting the trash. They know that there is a long tradition of garbage disposal regulations that are enforced by "the president of the streets."

Our neighborhood trash bins

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It used to be called a Temple of Vesta

When I was a university student in Rome in 1970-71, this round structure was identified as a Temple of Vesta. After centuries of being know by this name, because of a mistaken comparison with the circular Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum, it is now correctly called the Temple of Hercules.

It was built in the 2nd century BC and is the earliest known marble temple in Rome. According to the legend of the twelve labors of Hercules, as he was passing through Rome on his return from stealing the cattle of Geryon, the monster Cacus made off with a few cattle and hid them in a nearby cave. Hercules located them and slue the monster Cacus. To celebrate his victory over Cacus he made a sacrifice of some of the bulls at or near this site. In the days of ancient Rome this area was named the Forum Boarum, the cattle and meat market. Note: Hercules was considered to be the protector of butchers and cattle dealers.

In front of the temple is an 18th century fountain inspired by Bernini's Triton Fountain (1642-43) in Piazza Barbarini.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Epiphany Blessing

This Epiphany season I received the customary hand-made house blessing from Will and Lorna in Secaucus, New Jersey.

For several years, two now in Rome, their Epiphany letter of news and family happenings has been accompanied by a blessing plaque designed by Will. It is based on a European tradition of using blessed chalk and writing the year and letters over the front door at Epiphany. The letters C M B represent the traditional names given to the three wisemen: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. The note from Bill and Lorna suggests that the same letters C M B can also stand for the Latin phrase "Christus Mansionem Benedica - Christ Bless this Home!"

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lunedì Letterario

New Movies from Kid's Books

This season there are two movies out that are based on novels for young readers.

by Stephenie Meyer

Young Adult Novel

A couple of girls in my class are really caught up in the movie hype and the text of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. (They are reading it in Italian.) I read it in English over the New Year holiday, and while I enjoyed the plot with it's unfolding storyline, it did not grab my interest enough to want to read the other three books in the series. One volume of a teenage human and vampire love story set in 21st Century rural Washington State in the US was enough for me. I don't anticipate seeing the movie. However, throughout the book, the values of family, respect, integrity and purity are all very important. I suspect that the author is a Mormon (she graduated from Brigham Young University and has three sons with Old Testament names) and these are values that are at the core of her tradition.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
Young Adult Novel

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has been called a parable by the author John Boyne The jacket blurb states: "When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences." 

I encourage everyone over the age of 12 to read this novel. It is a fast read and will give you many things to ponder. I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Presepio in the Pantheon

Last week I saw an interesting presepio in the Pantheon and I returned this Sunday with my camera. The Christmas figures will remain in most Roman churches until Candlemas Day, February 2nd, which marks the end of the Epiphany season.
"The Crib" was made by the students of Leon Wyczòtkowski State School of Fine Arts in Bydgoszcz, Poland. It is about 3/4 life-size. My friend Will described these figures as having the influence of Social Realism left over from the days of Communism that still echos in certain schools of Polish art.

A trio of saints accompanies the shepherd to the manger. They appear to be the Jesuit St. Stanislaus Kostka - 1550 to 1568 (who studied at the Collegio Romano around the corner from the Pantheon), Isidore the Farmer - 1070 to 1130 (the first Polish Church in New York was named afetr St. Isidore), and St. Therese of Lisieux - 1873 to 1897 (the Little Flower). Will also pointed out that the Bambino Gesù bears a striking resemblance to the figures of Botero.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Flushing in Rome

When you walk into a bathroom in Rome, you never know what to expect when it comes time to flush. In both homes and public places you can encounter many different ways ways to get the water to take it away.

Often you will find a button on top of the tank to activate your flush.

And occasionally you can find the button UNDER the tank.

There are times when the flush button is on the wall.

The bigger button gives you more water.

And sometimes there will even be arrows
to let you know where the button is.

When you finish using some toilets
you have to reach up and pull a chain to get your flush.

And every now and then
there is a pedal on the floor
for a "hands free" flush.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christmas Decoration Awards

Epiphany brings the Christmas season to a close. I want to share with you my Christmas Decoration Award winners from Taormina.

For the best use of Poinsettias...

For the best use of oranges on an altar...

For the best use of oranges in a garland...

For the best use of cut paper plates on top of a baroque pulpit...

Taormina: Greek, medieval, baroque and alive today!

Our “Capodanno” (New Year’s) visit to Sicily included a visit to Taormina. Originally a Greek outpost, and then a Roman possession, Taormina hangs on a mountainside with breathtaking views of the rugged Mediterranean coastline and the sight of the snow-capped Mt. Etna in the distance.

Walking through this tourist destination in the “off season” gave us an opportunity to enjoy the town’s medieval character and baroque embellishments. Taormina first became a resort in the 18th century because word of the town’s beauty was spread by three German artists. J.W. Goethe wrote in his 1787 novel “Italian Journey” that Taormina was a “patch of paradise.” Otto Geleng (1843-1939) sparked interest in this Sicilian destination with landscape paintings he exhibited in Paris art galleries. The Prussian photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden settled in Sicily in 1880 and made Taormina famous among the European cultural clubs with his artistic portraits of nude shepherd boys.

The ancient Greek theater

In front of the 13th century cathedral of St. Nicholas

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tonight: La Befana!

As children go to sleep tonight in Italy, they have the same anticipation that American children have on Christmas eve. Tonight Italian kids are expecting a visit from La Befana. When they wake up in the morning there will be sweets and treats in their stockings and maybe a gift! (Or, there might be some coal!)

This is La Befana in our home.

There is a legend that La Befana was approached by the Three Kings a few days before Christ's birth. They asked for directions to where the baby Jesus was, but she didn't know. She gave them shelter for the night. (She was considered the best housekeeper in the village with the most pleasant home.) The Three Kings invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she said no because she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had changed her mind, and tried to search out the Three Kings and Jesus. She was not able to find them. Even to this night, La Befana is searching for the baby Jesus. While she is searching, she leaves all the good children toys and candy, while the bad children get coal.

Stockings have been hanging in the Ambrit Rome International School atrium throughout the holiday season. When students return on January 7th they will discover that La Befana has left treats in their stockings.