Getting Tipsy with the Etruscans

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Etruscan couple depicted on their sarcophagus

Etruscan couple depicted on their sarcophagus

When in Rome…I drink wine. Lots of wine. So I was excited to take a Context Travel tour at the Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum recently that focused on Wine and the Estruscans (and included a wine tasting). While I initially signed up for the tasting, it turned out that learning about the history of wine and the Etruscans was as tasty as a fine Primitivo. I got drunk on new knowledge.

Vino!

Vino!

It turns out the first wine came from Iran and Georgia around 5,000 b.c.

Early cradle of civilization map

Early cradle of civilization map

The production of wine likely started simultaneously in what is now Italy with the Etruscans, an ancient civilization that has since disappeared. The nearest comparison I can think of to describe the Etruscans is the Aztecs. They were a robust civilization whose people eventually got absorbed into the rest of Europe.

For the Etruscans, wine was a status symbol. And the upper class had a very specific way of drinking it. They never drank it straight, but watered it down. Drinking un-watered wine was considered barbaric and low-class. Instead, they mixed it with water or various spices and sometimes even cheese.

Etruscan wine bowls and casks

Etruscan wine bowls and casks

The cups and wine casks were strongly influenced by Greek designs. Most don’t look like what we think of as cups, but more like shallow bowls. One fun fact: the back of some cups are painted to look like a face, so when the drinker raised the cup, his face would be covered by the mask. Like this one…

Bowl with mask-like design.

Bowl with mask-like design.

The inside design of most cups reflected the person’s life, showing athletics, music, or some other interest for which the drinker was known.

Drinking bowl, decorated for a guy who may have been a musician. He was very proud of his instrument!

Drinking bowl, decorated for a guy who may have been a musician…or a “player!” He was very proud of his instrument!

Generally, they drank wine at big parties called “Symposiums” (which originally meant “drinking together”). Influenced by the Greeks, the Etruscans would get together at these symposiums and have a feast. After the feast, they would enjoy wine. The symposiums often included poetry, music, dancing and more. They were very refined banquets, not like the Homeric feasts of excess.

Rare fresco depicting an Etruscan symposium.

Rare fresco depicting an Etruscan symposium.

The Greeks wouldn’t allow women into their banquets but the Etruscans did — at least very privileged women. They often enjoyed their wine reclining on divans (or at least the men did), much like we think of the ancient Romans, lying back and eating grapes. The tradition, according to our guide, was oriental in origin and another sign that you were a part of the aristocracy if you drank your wine while reclining.

Drinking bowl showing a man reclining to drink wine.

Drinking bowl showing a man reclining to drink wine.

Among the women at the Symposiums were Geisha-like girls who served the wine (as you can see above). In Greek, they were called Hetaera. They were professionals, trained to entertain with dance and music. Not simply prostitutes (although most were), they were educated to carry on conversations, sing and dance. And they were hired. They weren’t slaves.

A dancing girl at a Symposium.

A dancing girl at a Symposium.

Aspasia bust, From Torre della Chiarrucia (Castrum Novum) near Civitavecchia.

Aspasia bust, From Torre della Chiarrucia (Castrum Novum) near Civitavecchia.

Our guide told us a fascinating story about how these girls often had been abandoned as babies, since girls were not as desirable as boys. But some who grew up to become wine servers, started their own businesses and took in other abandoned girls to train in the trade. It was a way for a woman to be more independent.

The most famous of these women was Aspasia, the companion of Greek statesman Pericles. A bold, independent thinker (or so it’s said, very little is documented about her), she was a philosopher who may have influenced Socrates’ writing. In Athens, she became a Hetaera and ran her own business. And paid her taxes.

Etruscan couple's sarcophagus. Once upon a time, they held actual wine cups.

Etruscan couple’s sarcophagus. Once upon a time, they held actual wine cups.

Because it was a status symbol, the nobility were buried with wine casks to show their place in society. And the tombs represented the wish that the afterlife would be a continuous symposium.

I’ll drink to that! Salute!

Bad Boys of the Baroque

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Pieter Jacobsz self-portrait

Pieter Jacobsz self-portrait

Caravaggio, with his dark masterpieces and epic, troubled life, is the quintessential bad boy of the Baroque. But as I had a chance to learn recently, he wasn’t alone. He may have paved the way but there were a whole passel of tricksters, flirts and provocateurs who followed in his trouble-making footsteps.

At the Villa Medici in Rome, until January 18, 2015, you can see an exhibit titled I Bassifondi del Barocco: La Roma del Vizio e della Miseria (Slums of the Baroque: The Rome of Vice and Poverty). The exhibit costs 12€ without a student discount but it’s worth the price.

The show highlights a group of painters I wasn’t familiar with (I’m not an art historian) but since I’m always Searching for Bernini, learning about these bad boys made me giddy, especially since my 400-year-old boyfriend was hardly a bad boy. He had his moments — like that time he hired someone to slash his cheating mistress’ face. But as far as the establishment and his patrons were concerned, he kept them happy with his gorgeously idealistic sculptures, paintings and grandiose architecture — all for the glory of the Mother Church.

Animal House poster, 1978

Animal House poster, 1978

But these guys, mostly Flemish and Dutch painters and engravers who’d flocked to Rome in the early 17th century, weren’t interested in toeing the party line. They were known as the Bentvueghels (“birds of a feather” in Dutch — see, they really did “flock” to Rome).

This society of artists had a tradition, much like a modern fraternity, to take a nickname (or “bent” name) when they joined, after much hazing and drinking — bacchanals that could last 24 hours.

Pieter van Laer

Pieter van Laer

Their erstwhile leader was Pieter van Laer, known as “Il Bamboccio,” or “ugly puppet,” since apparently he was no prize to look at. He initiated a style of painting — and earned followers of his style — that became known in Rome as I Bamboccianti.

The painters, who included Jan Both, Karel Dujardin, Jan Miel, Johannes Lingelbach, Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Bartolomeo Manfredi, among others, revelled in painting scenes of daily life, often capturing the disintegration of ancient Roman ruins, while normal life went on around it, paying the old world no mind.

Dujardins' Commedia dell'Arte

Dujardin’s Commedia dell’Arte

And, just as Caravaggio had done a few years before, they painted and revered the figure of Bacchus, the god of wine.

Caravaggio's Bacchus, c. 1593-94

Caravaggio’s Bacchus, c. 1593-94

But they didn’t worship Bacchus only because they were party animals who liked to drink. As the exhibit explains, drunkenness could be seen as a source of creative frenzy and secret knowledge (in vino veritas), and these men wanted to capture that in their art — and they did through a prolific outpouring of work.

Part of what they wanted to show was not just the declining, disintegrating beauty of their adopted home, but the Truth of life in the Eternal City. So they focused on commoners, prostitutes and violence, which was a side of Rome that hadn’t been previously captured on canvas so boldly.

Lingelbach's Bathing Gypsies

Lingelbach’s Bathing Gypsies, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A favorite setting was the local tavern, a place these painters knew well from personal experience. Excessive drinking, gambling and eroticism were the name of the game in these tavern. They even went so far as to put explicitly insulting gestures in their paintings (think of the modern “flipping the bird,” only more sexual!).

Manfredi's Tavern Scene with a Lute Player

Manfredi’s Tavern Scene with a Lute Player

As the exhibit points out, their paintings evoke in the viewer a feeling of both horror and fascination: Essentially these bad boys liked to paint train wrecks to draw in the rubberneckers. But they didn’t just do it for fun — they had a higher purpose. They wanted to show within the safe confines of “fiction” all the thrills and dangers of a dissolute life, to give the viewer a safe window with which to experience some of what they themselves had experienced.

When not painting the wild life inside taverns, they ventured onto the streets and into the slums to capture the underworld of Rome: Gypsies, pickpockets and courtesans plying their trade. In the two paintings below, Manfredi’s, and Caravaggio’s earlier rendition, a gypsy seems to read the palm of an aristocrat…but what may really be happening is the gypsy is stealing a ring off her victim’s finger.

Bartomomeo Manfredi's Fortune Teller

Bartomomeo Manfredi’s Fortune Teller, 1616

Caravaggio painting of a Fortune Teller

Caravaggio painting of a Fortune Teller, c. 1954

Or they put these characters within a bucolic rural scene. In this way, they also helped promote the idea of the dignity of poverty. They turned the spotlight on the little person.

In this way, the Bamboccianti subverted the traditional codes of art admired in Rome at the time, as well as the accepted standards of beauty, and instead showed life as it truly was: filled with slums, nightlife, danger… and a terrible beauty all its own.

Thomas Wyck, Italian Street Scene

Thomas Wyck, Italian Street Scene

Book Review: Household Saints by Francine Prose

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Household Saints

Household Saints

 

After a long break, I’ve returned to Italy and am slowly gearing up again with this blog. My first entry is a book review that bridges New York (my home) with Italy, where I’ll live for a while. It was originally written for Open Road Media, an e-book publishing company that makes some print-only or out of print books available for download on various devices. I loved the book, and am now a die-hard Francine Prose fan. I hope you enjoy the review, and if you do, you can purchase it here.

Here’s my original review:

Household Saints, by Francine Prose

For anyone who’s read light-as-panna cotta romance novels, Francine Prose’s Household Saints, originally published in 1981, begins with what seems like a genre staple: Italian-American butcher Joseph Santangelo wins his wife in a card game. But within a few pages it’s clear that what Prose has created is not just a meet-cute but instead a colorful meditation on luck and love, family and faith, set against the backdrop of New York’s Little Italy in the years following World War II.

Joseph lives with his domineering and superstitious mother, who makes the much-in-demand sausage sold in his shop. While it seems Joseph is at first ambivalent about winning young Catherine Falconetti, who’s put up by her father (which only adds to her family’s reputation for bad luck), the proposal is accepted by a bewildered and naïve Catherine, and evolves into a long-lasting love match.

The marriage infuriates Joseph’s traditional Italian mother, however, and soon the new family is struggling to blend domineering Mrs. Santangelo’s superstitions with Catherine’s evolving sensibilities, such as her love of celebrity rags, or failings; she’s a terrible cook. Joseph is left to referee.

Once their daughter Theresa is born, the vivid novel moves farther from the delicious details of the Santangelos’ neighborhood streets—where old-school advice clashes with the modernizing New York around them—into the otherworldly mind of a girl obsessed by living a life that emulates her own name-saint, Theresa. Their daughter’s severe and single-minded spirituality at turns irritates and confuses her parents.

The novel builds to an unexpected and shocking conclusion that, while as satisfying as a home-cooked meal, nevertheless leaves one wondering about the meaning—or possibility—of miracles. —Lisa Chambers

Fantasy Italian Dinner Party Part 3: Mary and Philip Doria Pamphilj Landi

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This third entry on my fantasy Italian dinner party will be quick and sweet—kind of like dessert.

Panforte_in_paper_gift (1)

I met Mary Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, and her husband, Prince Philip Andrew Doria Pamphilj Landi (another mouthful of a name!), in Rome at the Palazzo Pamphilj, which is where, as I wrote previously, I also met the formidable Olimpia Pamphilj—Philip’s ancestor.

Prince Philip Andrew Doria Pamphilj Landri by DisdÈri, albumen carte-de-visite, 1860s © National Portrait Gallery, London

Prince Philip Andrew Doria Pamphilj Landri by DisdÈri, albumen carte-de-visite, 1860s © National Portrait Gallery, London

There isn’t a lot of information out there about this couple that I could find, but during a tour of the Palazzo, with an audio guide narrated by Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, I learned that Mary and her husband were devoted to each other. One of the rooms in the Palazzo is still decorated in the way it had been when the couple lived there in the mid-1800s in tasteful blues with their portraits on the wall.

Homeopathic meds today

Homeopathic meds today

And there’s this interesting side note about their interests: Philip and Mary and her father John, the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury in England, were friends with a man named Francesco Romani—an Italian doctor who opened one of the first homeopathic clinics in England.

Mary and Philip brought Romani back to England in 1839 shortly after their marriage where he opened his clinic, and Mary’s father was perhaps one of the first people in England to have a homeopathic doctor.

Presumably the couple was happy and homeopathically healthy for nearly two decades together, but then, as the Pamphilj tour related, tragedy struck. Mary died in 1858 of a tooth abscess. Her husband was distraught.

But as a way of honoring her memory, at the couple’s country estate: the Villa Pamphilj near Rome, he had a box hedge, visible from his bedroom window, cut into the letters of her name so that he could see it every day. He outlived his love by eighteen years.

Villa Pamphilj

Villa Pamphilj

Villa Doria Pamphilj (c) Country Life

Villa Doria Pamphilj (c) Country Life

So that fills out my dinner invite list, which came from learning of these interesting people and their stories in my last few weeks in Rome. But looking back, maybe the list needs to open up a bit—heck, I’ll invite all the men, not just the love-struck Prince Philip! So imagine enjoying antipasti, several pasta courses, a little veal saltimbocca and copious amounts of wine along with the conversation to be had at a dinner table surrounded by Olimpia Pamphilj and Pope Innocent X, Anita and Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Philip and Mary, Olimpia’s descendants. And, of course, I can’t leave out Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Ciao!

Fantasy Italian Dinner Party: Part 2—Anita Garibaldi

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My first fantasy dinner guest—the imposing Olimpia Pamphilj—would no doubt be a fascinating, if intimidating, presence at the table, as I wrote in my earlier post. Imagining her questioning my second guest about her adventures, over pasta con sarde (sardines, a Sicilian fave) and a bottle of vino, makes me giddy.

Anita Garibaldi wasn’t Italian, but she married an Italian hero and fought bravely for her adopted country’s independence. I met her on the Gianicolo hill, overlooking Rome, where I’d taken a walking tour with the conversation exchange group, Friends In Rome. A daring adventuress, she’s revered as an Italian hero in her own right. Her dinner conversation would be gripping, filled with stories of war…and love.

Anita Garibaldi, circa 1839

Anita de Jesus Ribeiro, circa 1845 (painting by Gaetano Gallino)

Ana Maria de Jesus Ribeiro di Garibaldi, a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty, was born in 1821, in the southern Brazilian town of Laguna, to a poor family of herdsmen and fishermen. Anita’s family arranged for her to marry at only 14 years old, but her new husband soon abandoned her to join the Imperial army.

The dashing sailor Garibaldi

The dashing sailor Garibaldi

Not long after, a dashing 30-year-old Italian sailor-turned- revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi, showed up in her world, changing it forever.

Exiled from Italy in 1836 (along with several other Sicilian revolutionaries I wrote about in my Sobbing Women entry), Garibaldi proved to be a real military man. A restless fighter in search of a war, he joined a group of rebels struggling to preserve a separatist republic in Brazil. When he met the 16-year-old Anita, he reportedly told her, “You must be mine.” It didn’t take long for her to agree.

A skilled horsewoman, Anita joined Giuseppe in his revolutionary battles in Brazil. During a battle in Mostardas, as they fought for the independence of Rio Grande do sul Republic, Garibaldi was away from camp when they were attacked. Anita escaped by jumping on a horse—while carrying her first baby, born just a few days earlier; the couple would have three more—and galloping away. This memorial on the Gianicolo hill in Rome, created by sculptor Mario Rutelli, captures that moment:

Anita, on horseback, carrying her baby and brandishing a gun

Anita, on horseback, carrying her baby and brandishing a gun

At other points in her daring life, she even led some of Garibaldi’s troops out of danger, as depicted here…

Anita leading Garibaldi's troops away from danger

Anita leading Garibaldi’s troops away from danger

One of Garibaldi’s comrades described her as having “the strength and courage of a man and the charm and tenderness of a woman,” along with “extraordinary eyes,” so it was no mystery why Garibaldi fell so passionately in love with her.

She went with him to Montevideo, Uruguay, where they married.

Montevideo, Uruguay today

Montevideo, Uruguay today

Garibaldi took command of the Uruguayan fleet in 1842, raising an Italian legion to help Uruguay defend itself against the encroaching Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. By all reports, Anita fought alongside her husband in several battles, brandishing her sword with “daring and vigor.”

In 1848, Anita and Giuseppe returned to Italy, where a new revolution was stirring, and a year later they fought for an independent, united Italy against French forces. But here’s where it becomes tragic.

The war turned in favor of the French and their troops pushed Garibaldi into the hills of Lazio outside of Rome. At this same time, Anita suffered a bout of malaria—fairly common, and deadly, at that time. On the run, without adequate food and rest in the summer heat, and pregnant with their fifth child, Anita was fading fast.

Garibaldi carrying his dying Anita through the swamps of Comacchio (oil on canvas), Bauvier, Pietro (1839-1927) / Museo del Risorgimento, Brescia, Italy / The Bridgeman Art Library

Garibaldi carrying his dying Anita through the swamps of Comacchio (oil on canvas), Bauvier, Pietro (1839-1927) / Museo del Risorgimento, Brescia, Italy / The Bridgeman Art Library

Garibaldi must have been desperately worried as he carried her in his arms to a farm near Ravenna—a romantic scene captured in many paintings like the one above. With the French close on their heels, they’d finally found a doctor, but Anita was so weak from the malaria that it was too late, and she died with Giuseppe by her side on August 4, 1849.

Garibaldi, who saw his dream of a united Italy come true, seems to never have forgotten his lost love. In 1860, when he rode out to hail Victor Emanuel II as king of the new republic, he wore Anita’s scarf over his South American poncho.

She’s surely a woman worth inviting to dinner—and remembering.

Anita_Garibaldi_Photo_BW

Anita

Ciao!

Fantasy Italian Dinner Party, Part 1: Olimpia “The Papessa” Maidalchini Pamphilj

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This week I met three women in Rome who have fascinating personal stories. Ok, I didn’t meet them literally, since they all lived a century or more ago. But I learned about them and they brought to mind that old college application question: With which historical figure—alive or dead—would you want to have dinner? Of course, my first choice is Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but beyond that, how interesting a dinner party would be with these three women in attendance. Meet my first guest:

Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj…

Olimpia Pamphilj bust by Alessandro Algardi

Olimpia Pamphilj bust by Alessandro Algardi

The Pamphilj family is an old Roman one, and they rose to their greatest heights with the election of Giovanni Battista Pamphili as Pope Innocent X. (He also became a patron of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, albeit reluctantly since he didn’t want to show favor to an artist who had been so tight with his predecessor, Urban VIII).

Palazzo Pamphilj courtyard

Palazzo Pamphilj courtyard

I visited the Pamphilj palazzo this week on Via del Corso, and was blown away by the old-world charm of the place, and the fact that some members of the family still live there today—the audio tour is conducted by Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj with a friendly warmth and in his upper-crust British accent. From the tour I learned quite a bit about the palazzo and the artwork, and especially about his ancestor, Olimpia—one of the most revered, feared and, at times, hated women in Rome.

Donna Olimpia: apparently she loved her capes

Donna Olimpia: apparently she loved her capes

When Giovanni was a Cardinal, Olimpia married his brother, Pamphilio Pamphilj. But according to Jonathan, she may have been the lover of the Cardinal and she was instrumental in promoting him for pope. Pamphilio died in 1639 and when Giovanni was elevated to the pontificate in 1644, Olimpia is credited with essentially using her political savvy to steer him through the dense hierarchy of the church. And she remained, more or less, by his side throughout. In fact, she gained so much power that she became known as “la papessa,” or, even less flattering, “la pimpaccia.”

Palazzo Pamphilj's hall of mirrors

Palazzo Pamphilj’s hall of mirrors

She was reportedly a woman with very strong political and financial ambitions and while some sources I’ve read say—and even Jonathan Pamphilij admits—she wasn’t the most pleasant person, I have to wonder how much of the animosity around her is because she was a strong, powerful woman who was not willing to stay in her place.

It seems even the artist commissioned to create her bust, Alessandro Algardi, didn’t like her very much: or at least wanted to show the “real” Olimpia, in his scowling, bloated portrait (above). But she nevertheless still looks pretty powerful!

Innocent X by Bernini

Innocent X by Bernini

When the pontificate turned over and Bernini had to cozy up to Innocent in order to make sure he still received his lucrative commissions, he knew who to call on: Olimipia (according to Franco Mormando’s Bernini: His Life and His Rome). Ever a wily politician, Bernini wrote a play for her in 1646 that shockingly poked fun at his former patrons, the Barberini (which included Pope Urban VIII) and was filled to a “candal-raising degree with sexual double entendres,” reports Mormando.

Jonathan Pamphilij gives this example of Olimpia’s own clever political maneuvers—which also shows her greed: She convinced Pope Innocent that it was immoral for the Vatican to collect taxes from brothels, and instead, he sold her the right to collect the taxes. She even went so far as to hang the Pamphilj family coat of arms over the doors of her brothels so that the police, who might otherwise harass and raid them, would leave them alone. No one had the guts to go up against the Pamphilijs…or Donna Olimpia!

Olimpia may even have been instrumental in ensuring that Bernini got the commission for the Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Navona.

Quattro Fiume (Four Rivers) Fontana in Piazza Navona

Quattro Fiume (Four Rivers) Fontana in Piazza Navona

With Francesco Borromini—Bernini’s great rival—also in the running for the commission (which involved diverting water channels in Rome to Navona), Olimpia reportedly made sure that Innocent saw a model of Bernini’s proposed sculpture for the fountain one night at dinner by placing it prominently in an area by which the Pope would pass. And apparently, that was all it took! (Poor Borromini, foiled again.)

But her power finally ran out when visiting dignitaries began calling on her first, before greeting Innocent X, and he kicked her out of court. She outlived Innocent X and reportedly refused to contribute to the payment for his funeral. She definitely sounds like a piece of work, but how interesting that she managed to gain such power, against all odds, in such a patriarchal society.

Stay tuned to meet my second fantasy dinner guest…

Sobbin’ Women: Sicilian Tombs

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Tomb in San Domenico, Palermo

Tomb in San Domenico, Palermo

Tell you about them sobbin’ women
Who lived in the Roman days…
Oh, yes, them women were sobbin’
Sobbin’, sobbin’ buckets of tears
Mighty sad!

—“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
lyrics by Johnnie Mercer

Ever since I visited Sicily, this song from the übersexist but irresistible 1954 movie musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” has been going through my head. As much as I’d prefer “O Sole Mio” or some other appropriately Italian earworm, this is what I got. Here’s why…

San Domenico

San Domenico cathedral, Palermo

Arriving in late May, we visited the church of San Domenico, a baroque cathedral that, like many buildings in Palermo, looks a little run-down and rugged on the outside. Inside, however, we found a treasure trove of Sicilian history.

This cathedral is where many of Palermo’s noblemen and famous artists are buried, and each of the tributes, created by different artists, depicts a beautiful woman crying, mourning or generally mooning the guy buried there. Each figure has a romantic, ethereal and adoring vibe, but also a kind of trashy-novel sexiness that I just couldn’t resist. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t ID the one above.)

I started humming “Sobbin’ Women” (aka Sabine women) and wondering who these guys were who wanted to have gorgeous young women adoring them for eternity (what man doesn’t, I suppose). Clearly they were men of means, but were these women glorified representations of their wives? Or mistresses? Or just symbolic representations of some facet of the men’s lives? I really hoped it was the former, because how fun would that be?

I started researching. And now I wish I’d had a more detailed guidebook to tell me about these tombs when I was snapping the pics. Still, rather than sobbing buckets of tears about that, I wrote this down. So, here you go: Six “brides” for six Italian brothers-in-arms (or not) from Palermo, and beyond…

1. A Lover and a Fighter: Rosolino Pilo, 1820-1860

Rossolino Pino

Rossolino Pino

Pilo was a suave Sicilian revolutionary who had been torn between love of country and love for a woman. A younger son in a noble family, he’d initially been set to join the church but then opted to enter politics. The Bourbons ruled Sicily at the time and he got caught up in the 1848 fight for Sicilian independence. The revolution succeeded for sixteen months and he became part of the provisional government, which included a progressive constitution calling for a confederation of Italian states. But soon, the Bourbon army returned triumphant and Pilo fled Sicily, winding up in Genoa. And that’s where it gets juicy.

Terzaghi_F.lli_Lit._-_Rosolino_Pilo_-_litografia_-_1861

Che bello! Pilo circa 1861(Litografia edita dai Fratelli Terzaghi)

The social, handsome Pilo attended parties and balls and scandalously fell in love with another man’s wife, Rosetta Borlasca. According to letters he wrote to a friend about her, she was “an oasis for the outcast,” and he loved her madly. Her wedding band was about as much a deterrent as a red stoplight is to drivers today in Palermo—it’s only a suggestion! He wrote, “you know how it happens”: She had an arranged marriage; she doesn’t love the other guy; then one day she meets “a Sicilian with eyes of fire,” with ardor and elegance (if he does say so himself). If you were Rosetta, he asked his friend, what would you do?

Rosetta fell hard, and her husband’s rage knew no bounds. So inflamed was he that Rosetta’s father convinced Pilo to retreat to Nice to let things settle down. But before he did, the husband sent Pilo an insulting letter—calling the revolutionary hero a coward and a villain—and demanding satisfaction with a duel. But the husband never showed up. Rosetta promised her fuming father that she wouldn’t see Pilo anymore, and eventually Pilo got caught up again in Sicilian independence fighting. Their passionate love expressed itself only through their letters. She begged him not to go to war. He professed his undying love—then went to war.

When the Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Palermo with his troops, Pilo was among them. And he fought until he was killed in a dramatic hail of bullets when Bourbon troops surprised the guerillas he led on the mountains of Monreale, near Palermo. Francesco Crispi, who became the premiere of the united Italy, recounted his death in a letter: “a ball struck him in the head, and [he] fell without being able to utter a word.” Garibaldi ensured that Pilo’s funeral would be paid for by the state. Nobody knows what became of Rosetta. Perhaps she’s looking over his tomb.

2. A Romantic Poet: Guiseppe de Spuches, 1819-1884

Giuseppe de Spuches

Giuseppe de Spuches

I was an English major, so I probably should’ve heard of Guiseppe, a Sicilian poet—but I hadn’t. And it turns out Google hasn’t either! Although I searched for some info on his life, what I found was that he was likely married to Giuseppina Turrisi Colonna (I can only hope he loved her as madly as Pino loved Rosetta).

I also found his poems. And he definitely had a romantic temperament. His poems are titled, “For Her,” “Loneliness,”  “The Dove,” among many others.

“Loneliness” begins:

Virgin beautiful and dear,
The white pallor of her cheeks,
Oh! How melancholy,
Your face sculpts the altar of my heart!

Or something like that. My Italian isn’t quite up to translating 19th-century romantic poetry.

The woman looking lovingly over his grave is likely the muse of poetry.

3. A Scholar and Politician: Domenico Lofaso Pietrasanta di Serradifalco, 1783-1863

Serradifalco

Serradifalco

Say that name three times fast. The weeping woman on his grave isn’t quite so sexy, and since he was an architect, scholar and wrote several books about ancient and medieval Sicilian monuments, she’s probably a muse. Serradifalco, too, came from a noble Sicilian family, and studied architecture and archeology in Milan. After the 1848 revolution and for the brief period Sicily gained independence, he served as Speaker of Peers in the parliament and the country’s foreign minister.

Like Pilo, he was forced into exile after the Bourbons returned, and he fled to Florence. But when Garibaldi liberated Sicily, he returned to become President of the Commission of Antiquities and Fine Art.

On his tomb it reads: “He promoted Sicilian arts and letters with his mind and his inheritance.” So he put his money where his mouth was.

4. A Lover of Dante: Francesco Paolo Perez, 1812-1892

F. P. Perez

F. P. Perez

I love this lady, sculpted by Domenico Delisi, and I like to think she’s Beatrice, from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Information is scarce (online!) about Perez’s love life, but Beatrice definitely played a part—Perez was a Dante scholar.

The Salutation of Beatrice, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Salutation of Beatrice, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I discovered that the F.P. on the tomb stands for Francesco Paolo, and that he was a mayor of Palermo. He, too, was involved in the 1848 revolution. Like the other men, he went into exile and returned to a political career in Palermo after 1860, becoming the Minister of Education. He wrote several books related to Dante, including The First Allegory and Purpose of the Divine Comedy and one titled Beatrice Unveiled.

From Palermo, we traveld through Sicily and wound up in Catania, where we found another interesting tomb:

5. An Opera Maestro: Vincenzo Bellini, 1801-1835

Vincenzo Bellini

Vincenzo Bellini

Here’s one man I had heard of: Vincenzo Bellini, an opera composer whose works are still performed today—the Metropolitan Opera includes three in the coming season, “La Sonnambula,” “I Puritani” and “Norma.” (See Anna Netrebko in a clip singing from “La Sonnambula” here.)

Bellini had been a child prodigy (just like my 400-year-old boyfriend Bernini). Legend has it he began studying music theory at age two, piano at three and wrote his first works at the age of six. It’s a good thing he got started so early because, sadly, he died at 33 from an acute inflammation of the intestine.

Vincenzo_belliniApparently he was quite a dandy, and the woman on his grave is obviously the muse (or angel) of music, because: 1.) she has wings; and 2.) Bellini, reportedly, was gay. His “central relationship” was with Francesco Florimo, and after Bellini’s death, one source I read says Florimo, a music historian, was treated as Bellini’s “spiritual heir,” whatever that means!

6. Tragic Knowledge: Cardinal Domenico Pimentel, 1584-1653

Cardinal Domenico Pimentel

Cardinal Domenico Pimentel

Though this isn’t from Sicily—it’s found in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome—the tomb of Spanish cardinal Pimentel is one of my favorites because Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the original design—although other artists carried out the production of the work.

Sad Knowledge

Sad Knowledge

No scandalous love life for the cardinal that I could find, so the sarcophagus is adorned with four allegorical figures: Charity, Justice, Knowledge and Faith, with the deceased Cardinal kneeling on top. But just look at the figure on the right (I think that’s Knowledge), sobbing with her hands over her face.

The anguish is palpable. Even in a work ultimately produced by other artists, Bernini’s ability to depict emotion that reaches out and grabs you by the throat is astounding.

Just when I was wondering where the women’s tombs are with hottie men standing over them, guess what I found? Also in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, hidden in a dark corner near the entrance is the tomb of Virginia Pucci.

Virginia Pucci

Virginia Pucci

Who was Virginia? Well…I can’t find anything about her online so until I dig a little deeper, she’s a 16th-century noblewoman, with lots of cherubs mourning her passing (no life-size weeping men for her).

I know what figure I wouldn’t mind overlooking my sarcophagus someday (a really, really long time from now)…

Bernini's David

Bernini’s David

Ciao!

Orvieto Celebrates Corpus Domini

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Medieval Times

On June 1, I traveled to Orvieto, to check out the annual historic and religious procession in this ancient Umbrian town for Corpus Domini (also known as Corpus Christi). In 1264, Pope Urban IV established the holiday from Orvieto, where he was living at the time, which is one reason why the event is the most important to the Orvietani, following Christmas and Easter.

Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) and Ted Neeley (Jesus) in "Jesus Christ Superstar"

Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) and Ted Neeley (Jesus) in “Jesus Christ Superstar”

I’m not a Catholic, so once again this was a great learning experience (and for any Catholics who may read this, mea culpa in advance for anything I get wrong! I never went to Sunday school. Instead I got most of my religious education from Andrew Lloyd Webber: “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”—religion seems to me a strange thing, mystifying).

Pope Urban IV

Pope Urban IV

So back to what I learned on this search (and sadly, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, my 400-year-old boyfriend, doesn’t have much to do with Orvieto, so he doesn’t really figure in this search): Pope Urban IV established Corpus Domini as a holiday to encourage commemoration of the Eucharist, established at the Last Supper, when Jesus reportedly consecrated bread and wine and gave them to his disciples, saying, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood,” and urged his followers to repeat the rite in his memory.

Pope Urban hoped the new holiday would stanch some of the “heretical” movements at the time and reinvigorate deference for the Eucharist.

A tapestry depicting the Miracle of Bolsena

A tapestry depicting the Miracle of Bolsena

This year, 2013, marked the 750th anniversary of the Miracle of Bolsena, which seems to have prompted Pope Urban’s idea to create the new holiday. The miracle occurred in 1263, when a doubting priest, while celebrating Mass in Bolsena, looked down and found his hands covered in blood. The blood had begun to drip from a consecrated statue of Jesus. The parishioners delivered a cloth used to collect the blood to Pope Urban in Orvieto, who absolved the shaken (and presumably now-committed) priest.

(The journey of the cloth from Bolsena to Orvieto is recalled with a midnight walk during Corpus Domini, which my friend and newly minted Orvietana, Toni DeBella, completed this year. All six hours of it. In the pouring rain and through muddy forests in the pitch black. Arriving around 6 a.m.—for Mass. You can check out her story about it on Italian Notebook.)

And so, as part of Orvieto’s Corpus Domini procession, the holy cloth—which is kept safely protected in the duomo the other 364 days of the year—is accompanied through the town by a parade of citizens in jewel-toned costumes.

Men carrying holy candles and representing one of the quarters

Men carrying holy candles and representing one of Orvieto’s four quartiere

It’s a true living history event. With some dramatic entrances:

Insert your "Men in Tights" joke here.

Insert your “Men in Tights” joke here.

On Saturday afternoon, the festivities begin with the Corteo delle Dame e dei Popolani (Parade of Ladies and Peasants). They’re accompanied by drummers and the occasional bagpipe.

Orvieto was (and is) divided into four quarters—Corsica, Serancia, Olmo and Santa Maria della Stella—each represented by different flags (I don’t believe these below represent the four, but it gives you the idea).

corpus flags

Flags in Orvieto

Unlike the Corteo delle Donne, which included some men, on Sunday, the parade consists exclusively of men (natch!). But some of them were just as pretty to look at.

Ciao bello!

Ciao bello!

The procession includes representations of the municipal courts of the time, coats of arms and weapons of the noble families of Orvieto.

Also represented are the various guilds of the town, from barbers to ironworkers, bookmakers and vintners. They all have their own colorful banner.

At the duomo, at the end of the day, priests ceremoniously return the sacred cloth for safekeeping—accompanied by a crowd of devoted citizens who form a candle-light parade inside the magnificent cathedral, while the impressive organ booms out notes from what I think is Handel’s “Messiah.”

Orvieto duomo

Orvieto duomo

If you want to hear a tiny snippet of the organ music, click here! Ciao!

Paper-making In Rome

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How To Judge A Book By Its Cover

diary

Did you ever wonder how that beautiful decorative Italian paper is created? No? Well, in all honesty, any curiosity I had didn’t keep me up at night either, but I am searching for new experiences and knowledge in Rome. So one day after Italian class recently I wandered into Il Papiro, a decorative paper and stationery store near Rome’s Pantheon that’s part of a chain originating in Florence. My friends and I were treated to an impromptu demonstration of how the gorgeous designs are made and preserved on paper.

First, a thick gel is used. It’s like wallpaper glue, explained the woman giving the demonstration:

She starts with the glue-like gel as a base

She starts with the glue-like gel as a base

Then, she tapped the chosen colors of paint from a brush onto the glue so that it looked somewhat like a Jackson Pollock design in the making.

Tap the paint into the glue

Tap the paint into the glue

Once the desired colors were resting on the glue’s surface, she took the end of a brush and ran it gently in a zig-zag fashion through the glue so that the colors were evenly spread in lines but not blended all together.

Streaking the colors

Streaking the colors

She wanted to show us different traditional patterns, so next she took a comb-like instrument and gently drew it across the paint.

Combing the colors

Combing the colors

Again taking the pointy-end of a brush, she made some more finishing touches to perfect the shell design:

A shell game

A shell game

Almost ready for transfer to paper

Almost ready for transfer to paper

Next, she carefully laid a piece of stiff parchment on top of the glue and then oh-so-delicately dragged it along on top and out of the glue…

The paper lies on the glue for mere seconds

The paper lies on the glue for mere seconds

And eccola—it’s miraculous!

It takes about an hour or so for the paper to dry

It takes about an hour or so for the paper to dry

The finished product

The finished product

From some quick research, I’ve since learned that paper-making began to flourish in Italy in the middle ages, and grew into an industry in Florence and the surrounding territories. According to A Brief History of Paper, by Neathery Batsell Fuller (yes, that really is the author’s name!), the rich and powerful Fabriano family held a monopoly on paper making, to the extent that fines of 50 ducats (about $225 in todays dollars) were levied against those who tried to open factories within 50 miles of Fabriano buildings.

The marbling design of decorative paper originated in the Middle East but made its way to Europe around the time of the Renaissance, where the Italians developed their own flourishes. Many of the same traditions are still followed today.

Italians (and Europeans in general) fell so in love with the colorful designs they not only began using them in book binding but in lining trunks and shelves, wallpaper and much more. I’m keeping my Italian diary in an Italian paper-bound notebook: No matter how illegible my handwriting or mundane my thoughts are on the inside—it’s elegant and intriguing if you judge it solely by its cover. Ciao!

Secrets of Piazza di Spagna—Part II

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When to eat, what toilets to visit…and Bernini’s biggest rivalry revealed in stone!

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

I love to eat. Who doesn’t? And I’ve been fortunate, here in Rome, to meet all kinds of real food and restaurant experts who’ve shared tips and information about cuisine and restaurants in Rome and the wider world as a whole. (If you’re interested in learning more about them, I’ve added links to their blogs and sites at the end of this post.)

On Paolo’s tour of the Piazza di Spagna area, we learned a little bit about dining in Rome, and then we got to the real meat (for me) of the tour: a delicious discussion of my 400-year-old boyfriend, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and his bitter rivalry with another artist and architect, Francesco Borromini. But first, food….

Aperitivo time!

Aperitivo time!

1. Avoid eating like a tourist. The Romans, Paolo tells us, dine at fairly specific times. True Italians eat lunch between 1 and 2:30 p.m., have their aperitivi (beverages and small snacks, like olives, potato chips, formaggio) around 5:30-6 p.m., and dinner around 8:30-9:30 p.m. So, all the people sitting at cafés at three in the afternoon on the quaint, cobblestone streets around Piazza di Spagna are almost certainly tourists.

What’s more, at the off-times, the food is different—and not as high quality—as that served during the Roman lunch or dinner hour, when the restaurants whip up their best meals. For those tourists sitting down for a late lunch at 3 p.m. (of which I’ve been one, many times—guilty!), the food is often second-tier. Oops.

Otello alla Concordia

Otello alla Concordia

For a good, traditional Roman meal, Paolo directed us to Trattoria Otella alla Concordia, which lies beyond the madding crowd. This is a real Roman restaurant—the kind of place the locals frequent, and when we walked by, at around 3 p.m., it was deserted. The restaurant has been family run for 70 years, but goes back as far as the 1700s, when it was an inn that hosted artists, novelists and poets. I went back a few days later for a delicious lunch of rigatoni all’amatriciana. Buonissimo!

Rigatoni all'amatriciana at Trattoria Otello alla Concordia. You can check out their menu here.

Rigatoni all’amatriciana at Trattoria Otello alla Concordia. You can check out their menu here.

Via dei Condotti

Via dei Condotti

2. How Via dei Condotti got its name: Condotti means “channels” or “ducts” in Italiano, and underneath Via dei Condotti are pipes that carried the water to the Baths of Agrippa. Today, there are still pipes beneath the street that carry water to parts of Rome, like Piazza Navona and Campo dei Fiori.

Antico Caffé Greco

Antico Caffé Greco

3. Rome’s oldest coffee bar is Caffé Greco, operating since 1760, at Via dei Condotti, 86. Artists and writers like Stendhal, Keats, Shelly and Casanova enjoyed a coffee here. One tip from Paolo: Order a coffee at the bar inside to the right of the front door (if you can make it through the crowd), and then walk back through the café to use the toilets—it’s a good way to see the place without paying the exorbitant prices charged at the tables (although your coffee will be served in white-gloved fashion by elegant waiters, if you choose to pay).

Bernini, self portrait

Bernini, self portrait

4. Bernini vs. Borromini, the big rivalry, summed up in one building. Now, the really good stuff! Pope Gregory XV founded the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, or the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (how’s that for a mouthful?) in 1622 as a center where the Church arranged missionary work. It was, and still is, based in Palazzo Ferratini. Pope Urban VIII developed the site into the Collegio di Propaganda Fide, for training missionaries, and in 1634 he commissioned Bernini to build a chapel and spruce up the palazzo.

Palazzo di Propaganda: Bernini's facade

Palazzo di Propaganda: Bernini’s facade

Bernini got started, and the façade is a Baroque design that is more restrained than might be expected; with classical lines, it stands with quiet dignity along Via di Propaganda and looks out over the edge of the Piazza. But Bernini really wanted the commission to work on St. Peter’s, and when that finally came through, he abandoned the Propaganda building and left it to his rival, Francesco Borromini, to finish.

Paolo, a fount of information on Bernini, walked us around to the side of the building where you can see visible evidence of how the two men’s perspectives on the Baroque, and their philosophies regarding life and politics, diverge. Bernini, as I wrote in an earlier post, was a consummate politician and courtier—earning the respect (and commissions) of popes and keeping them happy by always saying the right thing (or sometimes saying nothing, which turned out to be the right thing!). Borromini, on the other hand, was more emotional, could be histrionic, and ultimately committed suicide. He had the stereotypical artistic temperament.

Bernini vs. Borromini, written in stone

Bernini vs. Borromini, written in stone

Here, you see where Bernini’s work ends and Borromini’s begins. Bernini believed art should express reality—his sculptures reveal this, especially—they are so lifelike the marble looks as soft as human flesh. In his architecture, in this case, Bernini opted for a celebration of rationalism—organized, restrained, where every line makes logical sense. His philosophy of religion (and, perhaps, life), said Paolo, was, “If I follow the rules, I’ll go to heaven.” Full stop.

Borromini

Borromini

Borromini, on the other hand, was more of a mystic. His emotional philosophy tended more toward, “Please save me! Hey, I’ll try this with my building! Do you like it?” His eventual arrival in Heaven was not, for him, destined merely by following “the rules.” Salvation had to be earned, and was not determined by a clear path.

Borromini’s part of this palazzo, therefore, looks like a separate building. Not only did he use different materials, he also created round windows, and added pilasters and architectural flourishes that are nowhere to be seen in Bernini’s design. As much as I love my boyfriend, Borromini’s part of the palace is more fun to look at, I think!

5. Palazzos can move—literally! The final “secret” Paolo shared with us is this: When Via Nazionale, a main street that connects the main train station, Termini, with the city center, was built at the end of the 19th century, the street passed through parts of Rome where numerous palazzos sat. So what did they do? They moved them out of the way! It must have been quite the enterprise, but instead of destroying the structures to make way for modernity, the palazzos were lifted and moved back, to make room for the street. What a feat of engineering! Ciao!

Here is the list of Foodies I promised:

Katie Parla, an American who’s been in Rome for 10 years, she’s a restaurant critic and writer who contributes regularly to the New York Times and works with other women in Rome to produce The Rome Digest, an online magazine about food, wine and happenings in Rome. She has an app: Katie Parla’s Rome, which I’m finding invaluable (available on iTunes).

Rachel Roddy, a British writer, blogs about food from Rome. Her recipes are irresistible and they’re helping me (a non-starter in the kitchen) improve my cooking! Check out her blog.

Hande Leimer, a Turkish sommelier, hosts wine tasting events through her company, Vino Roma. She’s incredibly knowledgeable and experienced and her tastings are not to be missed! She works with Katie Parla on The Rome Digest.

Elizabeth Minchilli, an American who’s lived in Rome for years, writes about food for numerous publications and on her website, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome. She also has an app: Eat Rome.

Simran Sethi, an American who’s in Rome researching a book on the biodiversity of seeds is one of the most impressive women I’ve met here. She’s an expert in her field and if you want to learn more about her work, check out her website.

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