Saturday, October 31, 2009


It's Halloween in Rome!
This is my third Halloween in Rome, and each year it has become more popular among school aged kids. This year there were many more Halloween items for sale in the neighborhood stores.
At Ambrit Rome International School we had a pumpkin carving contest. The Italian pumpkins have very hard shells, so some entries were creatively painted instead of carved.

My class decorated several dozen pumpkin shaped cookies for a bake sale to raise money for an orphanage in Haiti. (I think the kids bought back more than half of the cookies that they had decorated!)
All but two of my students wore costumes to school.

Calcata: a town that used to be the home of Catholicism's "strangest relic"

A recently published book by David Farley, An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town, was a birthday present in September and the motivation to take an October weekend trip to Calcata, about 45 km north of Rome. We did not arrive in the town until after dark, and had to walk in to the medieval strong hold after parking our car about .5 km away. We were greeted by a lively village just settling in for dinner. We found ourselves in the Grotta dei Germogli, a mosaic filled cave serving delicious food in an atmosphere filled with friends and folk music.
After dinner we enjoyed some time in the pizza listening to music (and dancing) until about midnight. We were able to get a very comfortable room for the night from Marijcke van der Maden, a Dutch puppet-maker, who came to Calcata in the early ’80s. We had cappuccino with her on Sunday morning and met some of the other "locals."
Before lunch we explored the narrow winding cobblestone streets. Calcata is actually a heavily fortified village, sitting atop of rock column. The only entrance into the town is by foot, and after entering the gate you ascend a winding passageway to the small piazza and town center. People say that it is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy.
The town was condemned by the goverment in the 1930s because it was deemed to be unsafe because of what could happen in future earthquakes danger, After many delays the inhabitants were moved in the 1960's to a new town about 1 km up the adjoining hill. In the late 1960's and 1970's bohemians (from Italy and around the world) started to inhabit the empty medieval structures and the town was reborn as an artists haven with restaurants and art galleries. (The new inhabitants even convinced the government that the assessment of earthquake danger was wrong.)
Today there are about 75 inhabitants in Calcata and it is a popular weekend destination for young Romans. There were probably 200 visitors wandering around the town on Sunday.
David Farley wrote about searching for the Church's strangest relic. The story goes that after the Sack of Rome in 1527, a German soldier, running away from Rome, ended up in Calcata with a relic he had stolen from San Giovanni Laterano. It was nothing less than the Santo Prepucio, the foreskin of Jesus. But, the Holy Foreskin mysteriously disappeared 4 centuries later in 1983. (Marijcke told us that she had seen the reliquiry in processions when she first moved to Calcata and she suspects that the Vatican took it.)

Churches of Calcata

The town of Calcata has three churches. The Church of Santissimo Nome di Gesù, dating from the 14th century and restored in 1793 is on the piazza in the old town. Paolo Portugese designed a new church for Calcata Nuova that was dedicated this year to St. Cyprian and Pope St. Cornelius. In between these two churches is a small chapel dedicated to Santa Maria della Cava.
Chiesa Santissimo Nome di Gesù
Interior with a reproduction of a painting of Christ by Antonella da Messina in the space formerly occupied by the reliquiry of the Santo Prepucio.

Chiesa Santa Maria della Cave
Floral offerings (real and plastic) before the image of the Madonna behind the altar.

Chiesa SS. Cornelia e Cipriano

Patrons of Calcata
St. Cyprian of Carthage and Pope St. Cornelius were contemporaries and allies, and they share a feast day, September 16. They also share the job of being the patrons of Calcata. Pope St. Cornelius died in exile at the port of Rome in September, 253. Because he suffered so much as pope, he is considered a martyr. St. Cyprian died five years later during the persecution of Valerian. He was beheaded at Carthage on September 14, 258.

These are the statues of the saints in the old church.

These are the statues in the new church.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Postcards in Rome

On Monday I went with my brother and his friend Jean to visit a private postcard collection on a hill above the Colosseum. Enrico Sturani welcomed us into his home and opened up his collection of 140,000 postcards. This two hour experience was the highlight of Jean's visit to Rome! (She is a member of a post card collector's club in Austin, Texas.)
Mr. Sturani was born in Torino seventy years ago but has been living in Rome for many, many years. He keeps his postcards in boxes, portfolios and albums on shelves and in closets throughout the apartment. He began by showing us some of his German Art Deco cards. Then he shared several dozen of his Mussolini postcards. (He has 3,000 of them.) I asked if he had any cards in a futurismo style.
He presented highlights of this art style that are part of his collection, including "100th day cards" sent when a soldier has 100 days remaining in his military service.
It seems that every subject and time period is represented by cards in his collection. To illustrate the breadth of his collecting, he showed us an album of postcards depicting Turkish movie stars from the 1960's. (Right now he is searching for 1953 post cards that show the atomic mushroom cloud in Arizona.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CATS in Rome

There have been cats in Rome for thousands of years.
Tonight more cats came to Rome!
As the poster says:
The most famous cats in the world
are in Rome for the first time!

Another Litman in Rome

This last weekend my brother Dennis and his friend Jean visited us here in Rome, arriving Friday morning from Austin, Texas. We enjoyed Italian food, some of the sights of Rome and lots of conversation before they left on Tuesday for a cruise across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to New York City.

Here we are at the Spanish Steps.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SPQR: Piazza Iside

SPQR on a fountain in Piazza Iside, a site that was once part of a sanctuary to the Egyptian goddess Isis. The cult came to Ancient Rome with Greek sailors and Egyptian immigrants and was popular with women and working classes, including slaves. You can see the ruins of the sanctuary behind the fountain, on the slopes of the Esquiline Hill, near the Colosseum.

SPQR are the first letters of the words in the Latin phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus, "The Senate and the People of Rome." It originally referred to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and used as an official signature of the government, appearing on coins, civic inscriptions, and on the standards of the Roman legions. SPQR is the motto of the city of Rome and appears in the city's coat of arms, the city's civic buildings, manhole covers, billboards and fountains.

Museo della Mura

Third Saturday Field Trip or "Birdwalking" with Mr. Litman
Twenty one Ambrit students (with parents) met me at the Porta San Sebastiano on Saturday, October 17. We had a guided tour of the Museo della Mura, the Museum of the Wall. After climbing winding steps to get up into the wall, our guide showed us a model of the entire Roman Wall system and explained the history and different features of the wall's construction using graphic panels.We got to climb up to the very top of the west tower and enjoyed great views of the city of Rome. We could see the Via Appia Antica to the south and to the north we spotted the sculptures of the chariots on the Terrace of the Quadrigas, on top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument.
We were also able to walk along a part of the wall towards Via Cristoforo Colombo.

While waiting for the students and their families to arrive, I noticed an image of St. Michael the Archangel, carved into the side of the wall. During the Middle Ages, Christian images were often put on the wall for spiritual protection.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Teacher Treats

When I arrived at school this morning I saw that a colleague had brought in "treats" for the staff from her garden. Throughout the day we enjoyed fresh picked grapes. They were so delicious!