Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Holding Things Together

From Wikipedia:
Duct tape is a vinyl, fabric-reinforced, multi-purpose pressure sensitive tape with a soft and tacky pressure sensitive adhesive . . . Duct tape was originally developed during World War II in 1942 as a water resistant sealing tape for ammunition cases. This is when it was first created, as duck tape, due to the revolutionary waterproof features; it is still commonly referred to by this name . . . Duct tape, in its guise as "racer's tape", has been used in motorsports for more than 40 years to repair fiberglass bodywork.

I saw this car on my way to the bus stop. It's being held together with packing tape. Maybe you can't get duct tape in Italy.

SPQR: Fontana delle Anfore

Today on my way home, while passing through Piazza dell'Emporio, I noticed SPQR on the Fontana della Anfore.
This fountain was completed in 1927 by Pietro Lombardi after he won a competition the city of Rome had in the 1920s for new neighborhood fountains. This fountain is in Testaccio, below the Aventine Hill near the Tiber River
These cobblestones are around the base of the fountain. Two weeks ago I fell while crossing the Piazza. The result was an injured knee that took me to the emergency room. Nothing was broken, but I had to stay home from work and rest my leg for seven days.

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. Today, 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, of course, fountains.

Blooming in January

This lily has been blooming in my classroom since the beginning of December. It warms up our student-made calendar of snowflakes and snowmen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


On our way home from the Marche we stopped in the Umbrian town of Gubbio. It is a walled medieval city, set against the side of a mountain.

On a wall inside the cathedral there is a painting of St. Francis and the wolf.
I remember a small phonograph record that I had as a child with this story of St. Francis narrated by Mary Martin, the original Peter Pan.

This is the original story as written in 1276 by Brother Ugolino di Monte Santa Maria.
Little Flowers Of St. Francis
Chapter XXI

At the time when St Francis was living in the city of Gubbio, a large wolf appeared in the neighbourhood, so terrible and so fierce, that he not only devoured other animals, but made a prey of men also; and since he often approached the town, all the people were in great alarm, and used to go about armed, as if going to battle. Notwithstanding these precautions, if any of the inhabitants ever met him alone, he was sure to be devoured, as all defence was useless: and, through fear of the wolf, they dared not go beyond the city walls.

St Francis, feeling great compassion for the people of Gubbio, resolved to go and meet the wolf, though all advised him not to do so. Making the sign of the holy cross, and putting all his confidence in God, he went forth from the city, taking his brethren with him; but these fearing to go any further, St Francis bent his steps alone toward the spot where the wolf was known to be, while many people followed at a distance, and witnessed the miracle.

The wolf, seeing all this multitude, ran towards St Francis with his jaws wide open. As he approached, the saint, making the sign of the cross, cried out: “Come hither, brother wolf; I command thee, in the name of Christ, neither to harm me nor anybody else.” Marvellous to tell, no sooner had St Francis made the sign of the cross, than the terrible wolf, closing his jaws, stopped running, and coming up to St Francis, lay down at his feet as meekly as a lamb.

And the saint thus addressed him: “Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God without his permission; yea, not animals only hast thou destroyed, but thou hast even dared to devour men, made after the image of God; for which thing thou art worthy of being hanged like a robber and a murderer. All men cry out against thee, the dogs pursue thee, and all the inhabitants of this city are thy enemies; but I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, is so be thou no more offend them, and they shall forgive thee all thy past offences, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee any more.”

Having listened to these words, the wolf bowed his head, and, by the movements of his body, his tail, and his eyes, made signs that he agreed to what St Francis said. On this St Francis added: “As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”

Then the wolf, bowing his head, made a sign that he consented. Said St Francis again: “Brother wolf, wilt thou pledge thy faith that I may trust to this thy promise?” and putting out his hand he received the pledge of the wolf; for the latter lifted up his paw and placed it familiarly in the hand of St Francis, giving him thereby the only pledge which was in his power. Then said St Francis, addressing him again: “Brother wolf, I command thee, in the name of Christ, to follow me immediately, without hesitation or doubting, that we may go together to ratify this peace which we have concluded in the name of God”; and the wolf, obeying him, walked by his side as meekly as a lamb, to the great astonishment of all the people.

Now, the news of this most wonderful miracle spreading quickly through the town, all the inhabitants, both men and women, small and great, young and old, flocked to the market-place to see St Francis and the wolf. All the people being assembled, the saint got up to preach, saying, amongst other things, how for our sins God permits such calamities, and how much greater and more dangerous are the flames of hell, which last for ever, than the rage of a wolf, which can kill the body only; and how much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear.

The sermon being ended, St Francis added these words: “Listen my brethren: the wolf who is here before you has promised and pledged his faith that he consents to make peace with you all, and no more to offend you in aught, and you must promise to give him each day his necessary food; to which, if you consent, I promise in his name that he will most faithfully observe the compact.”

Then all the people promised with one voice to feed the wolf to the end of his days; and St Francis, addressing the latter, said again: “And thou, brother wolf, dost thou promise to keep the compact, and never again to offend either man or beast, or any other creature?” And the wolf knelt down, bowing his head, and, by the motions of his tail and of his ears, endeavoured to show that he was willing, so far as was in his power, to hold to the compact. Then St Francis continued: “Brother wolf, as thou gavest me a pledge of this thy promise when we were outside the town, so now I will that thou renew it in the sight of all this people, and assure me that I have done well to promise in thy name”; and the wolf lifting up his paw placed it in the hand of St Francis.

Now this event caused great joy in all the people, and a great devotion towards St Francis, both because of the novelty of the miracle, and because of the peace which had been concluded with the wolf; and they lifted up their voices to heaven, praising and blessing God, who had sent them St Francis, through whose merits they had been delivered from such a savage beast.

The wolf lived two years at Gubbio; he went familiarly from door to door without harming anyone, and all the people received him courteously, feeding him with great pleasure, and no dog barked at him as he went about. At last, after two years, he died of old age, and the people of Gubbio mourned his loss greatly; for when they saw him going about so gently amongst them all, he reminded them of the virtue and sanctity of St Francis.

SPQR: Urbino

During our January trip to Urbino I discovered SPQR on a soldier's shield in a 15th century wall painting of the Oratorio of San Giovanni Battista. The scene is set on Golgatha, where a crowd has gathered for the crucifixion of Jesus. The presence of Rome in Jerusalem is very evident.

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, not only in the city of Rome, but everywhere in the world under the influence of Rome. Today, 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.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Starting the New Year in the Marche

On New Year's Day we drove almost four hours northeast of Rome to the town of Urbino in the Marche region. The Tom-Tom GPS guided us along the Via Flaminia, the route chosen in 220 BC by the Roman politician and consul Flaminius to be one of the most important roadways of ancient Rome, connecting the capital to the Adriatic Sea.

It was dark when we arrived in Urbino, after driving through rain and fog in the mountains. We parked our car outside the old city and walked through the Porta Lavagine up to Via Raffaello.

This building housed our bed and breakfast and was just down the street from the birthplace of Raffaello.

This is the roof of the Church of San Francisco,
outside our B&B window.

Here are men hanging out in Piazza della Repubblica on Sunday Morning.

A statue of a bishop stands guard outside the Duomo.
The Ducal Palace of Federico di Montefalcro, designed by Luciano Laurana, holds many treasures. One of the rooms is a studiolo, a small room for study and contemplation with walls of trompe-l'oeil wooden inlays, depicting shelves, benches and half-opened cabinets. The palace also houses the National Gallery of the Marche with an amazing collection of Renaissance art.
San Crescentino is the patron of Urbino. (I confused him with St. George when I first saw this statue. They are both legendary slayers of dragons.) Crescentino was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded during the persecution of Diocletian in 303 AD.

La Befana in Urbania

We took a small drive from Urbino and go to the medieval town of Urbania for dinner while we were in the Marche region. When we arrived we discovered the national Befana Festival.
We purchased a small bag of chestnuts that had been "roasting on an open fire," and began exploring the town. We strolled between buildings that had large stockings hung to celebrate la Befana.
We saw images of Befana sitting on balconies
and flying over streets.

Adults of all ages, female and male,
were walking the streets dressed as la Befana.
Children were enjoying street performers, ceramic workshops
and a marketplace just for chocolate.

There was actually a chocolate kebab stand!
At the end of the street of chocolate vendors there was a place to get carbone, the coal that la Befana will leave for naughty boys and girls.
The house of la Befana was a special attraction for kids. They could go inside and give her a hug or sit down and listen to a story. She had a mail box for the letters that are sent to her from children all over Italy.

Urbania has also been an important center of handmade Italian ceramics since the 15th century and there are still several ceramics workshops. We purchased a gift for a friend from the workshop of Monica Alvoni.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

La Befana: Night Visitor

Before Christmas the students at Ambrit Rome International School had their stockings hanging in the school atrium. The students are expecting that the stockings will be filled with candy by La Befana when they return from break on January 7th.

La Befana is an old woman in Italian folklore who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5th) similar to the way that Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus delivers gifts in other parts of the world. Her name is probably derived from the Feast of Epiphany or in Italian, "La Festa dell'Epifania." Children expect that their socks will be filled with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. Being a good housekeeper, parents say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. The child's family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a little bit of food for the Befana. Many Italian kitchens will have La Bafana, portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick, wearing a shawl and smiling.

This is our Befana.

A Christian legend of La Befana says that at the time of the birth of the Christ Child, Befana was spending all of her time cleaning and sweeping. One day the three wise men came to her door in search of the Holy Child. Befana turned them away because she was too busy cleaning. Later Befana noticed a bright light in the sky and thinking that this was lighting the way to the Christ Child, she left her house with some baked goods and gifts for baby Jesus in her bag. She also took her broom to help the new mother clean. Thus Befana began her search for baby Jesus. She searched and searched but never found him. Befana still searches today. On the eve of the Epiphany, Befana goes to houses where there are children and leaves gifst. Although she has been unsuccessful in her search for the baby Jesus, it is said that she leaves gifts for good children because the Christ Child can be found in all children.

A popular tradition says that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, because she doesn't want to be seen. This is probably said to keep children in their beds while parents are distributing candy (or coal) and sweeping the floor on Epiphany Eve.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year 2010

In Rome, families, friends and neighbors (often wearing red underwear to bring good luck) gather together on New Year's eve to welcome the new year. At midnight fireworks are ignited all over the city from balconies and terraces. We joined friends from work to celebrate 2010, and the rainy night cleared just at midnight, allowing us to go out on the terrace and enjoy the fireworks in the nieghborhood. (I had on red socks. Does that count as red underwear?)