Sunday, June 27, 2010

Barcelona with Brother


My brother, John, arrived in the Eternal City on the 13th of June. We were going to have an adventure. We fled the Roman humidity for Espana! I booked us on a 6am jet plane to Barcelona. He was NOT happy with me when we had to get up at 3:30 in the morning to make our flight. It was worth it. Barcelona was incredible. We stayed in the Bari Gotic at a hostel - had not done that in a while - so we were centrally-positioned to take in all that BCN had to offer. Our first day was a bit of a mindless stumble through the streets. We were both exhausted from our early early morning, John was getting over jet lag and a cold. We took it easy. We got to know our area, walked down to the port, and eventually took a nice long nap in our bunk beds. That night we had the first-moments-in-a-new-city-don't-know-where-to-eat blues. We finally got desperate and stumbled into a place that was showing the soccer game. We caught up with the hunger just before John got hangry. Whew.

Our next day we went to the fantabulous Picasso Museum. Picasso lived in Barcelona during different periods in his life. A large part of the collection are his almost obsessive musings on Velasquez's Las Meninas. There were over 40 paintings studying the 17th century masterpiece. John and I both enjoyed works from his Rose Period. I'm just going to say it, Picasso's art is pretty sexy. It just is.

We then headed to Antoni Gaudi's Casa Mila, an early 20th century apartment building in the Eixample neighborhood. This place was unlike anything I'd ever seen. From the outside it undulated and swelled, from the inside it swirled and ascended. The most spectacular moment was stepping out on the rooftop terrace. The surface was tiered and sloped and covered in a peach stucco. Gaudi designed a series of quasi-anthropomorphic sculptures that looked like a cross between a blob and a storm trooper. The views out over the city were boggling. We spent a good amount of time leisurely taking it all in. My pictures and words cannot do this place justice.

Wednesday was another Gaudi day. We spent the majority of our time at Park Guell, another brain child of the prolific architect. It felt as though we had stepped into the American Southwest on acid. There were desert slopes covered in cacti and mountainous peaks that looked out over the whole city. This natural landscape was paired with more strange undulating constructions covered in brightly covered mosaicked tile. John and I brought picnic lunches and read our books (me: Oscar Wilde's the Picture of Dorian Gray, him: Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian - the heaviness of both our literary picks were a stark juxtaposition to the cheery Dr. Suess-like landscape). We lounged in the sun. My brother and I have a great travel pace. Slow and steady.

Thursday we resigned ourselves to the beach and only the beach, Barceloneta. Wow, sol, mar, playa, si. We had another picnic, drank San Miguels, people-watched and read. The people watching was certainly interesting as there were all kinds of states of undress. This was mostly distracting for mi hermano. Our most memorable moment was the two dudes strutting slowly down the beach together, buck nekked. Way to work, guys.

Friday was our last day in BCN and we finally made it to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, or as John preferred to call it, the Evil Under the Sea Witch Castle. I like John's title best. The Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) has been under construction for almost 100 years. Gaudi began it in 1882 and many other sculptors and architects and builders have worked on it since. It is a sight like none other - and I've seen A LOT of churches. Outside it looks like those drip sand castles I used to make at the beach as a child (good analogy, Mom). Inside it is a cross between a cave of stalagmites and an insect hive, but on a scale that is humbling and impressive. There is something overwhelmingly organic about this massive man-made structure. Construction is still going on in the central nave, but the tourists are able to mill around the edges and through dust. Again, the pictures and words can hardly tell the story.

All through our time in Barcelona, John and I were able to catch World Cup games. We had some really good times chatting with other fans, drinking copious amounts of sangria and enjoying the futbol fervor that we just do not have in the U.S. We met some fun people and had some late nights. Particularly our last night - to bed at 2am (not late by Spain standards) and awake by 5am to catch our flight back to Rome. Worth it.

Brother, I had a marvelous time traveling with you. I'm glad you are back in SLC with the mountains and rocks at your doorstep. Here's to more adventures together. Next time, you get to choose the destination.

Adios amigos.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dirty Thirty

Well gang, this is it. The last few moments of my twenties. It's 11:18 Thursday, June 24 and I'm sitting on an amazing terrace, listening to familiar sounds (guarda!) and gazing out at a spectacular cupola that just happens to be St. Peter's. I'd say I'm rounding out this decade just as I should - in my favorite place surrounded by some favorite and dear people (I'm missing quite a few of you favorite dear people here, don't worry). I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a lucky girl.

I'm reflecting on the last ten years and three important categories of my life come to mind.

First, my family. I could not be what I am without them. We are hard on each other sometimes, but that love runs strong and deep and true. I adore these people. They are funny and smart and creative and crazy - in the most wonderful of ways. You are a dream family and I am privileged to call myself one of you. My gratitude to you will last my whole life.

Second, my friends. What in the freaking world would I have done without you people??? You are my rock and my guide and my inspiration. You are jokers and artists and creators and bakers and musicians and architects and builders and photographers and designers and magicians and cooks and painters and fashionistas and readers and writers and riders and educators and lovers and listeners and counselors and laughers and smokers and eaters and drinkers and revelers. And you are teachers. My friends have handed me each their own little version of the world and I am better for it. I love each and every one of you with all my heart. My world would be far less bright without all of you.

Third, my international experiences. To learn that I can navigate the world has been one of the greatest gifts of my twenties. There are still many many places to explore and adventures yet to have, but this gaining of my own independence has been a priceless. My few stints living abroad have turned into a kind of infection of which I'm afraid I'll never be free. And I'm totally okay with that. Bring it.

Looking forward. I have some goals for the next decade:
1. Look for the good - in people, situations, places. It's always there.
2. Take care of myself (floss).
3. Scheme - adventures!
4. Love - goes with number one.
5. Let go - the past is ruins, so say the Romans. Acknowledge it and move on.
6. Continue to write.

I've got 12 more minutes of my twenties left, so I'm going to sign off, enjoy the view, raise a wee glass of limoncello and have a little alone time with that cupola before heading to bed. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Affair

Forgive me in advance, for this post will likely be flowery. I just cannot help myself. I had an affair. Yes, I cheated on Rome with Venice. It has been a few weeks. I think I can talk about it now. I have always thought Venice was something, but this visit was different. The weather was a tumultuous tempest peppered with glorious sun breaks. The clouds puffed and swirled and the world was suddenly made only of water and sky. This was the perfect recipe for plays of light that went beyond imagination. It danced under the bridges as though it were alive and inhabiting some unseen upside down otherworld. It glowed inside the water, illuminating the waves in a jade green that I only thought possible in the pigments of the paintings with which I spend so much time. What could have been a stressful and crowded romp hustling 22 students through the tourist clogged back streets of mucky cobblestones, was instead viewed through the rose colored glasses of romance that can only be felt between a person and a city.

I am being abstract. Let me elaborate. I began my Venetian romance with a night-time private visit to San Marco. This is a traditional excursion for the Art History program, so this was my second time enjoying some quasi-alone time in this Byzantine masterpiece of a religious space. The inside of San Marco is covered in gold plated pieces, making up a vast program of mosaics. To play up the drama, the custodians of San Marco turn down all the lights and slowly, slowly illuminate the gold interior. The effect is breathtaking. What is at one moment a dark cavernous interior, becomes a glowing rich gold haven that warms the spirit and is apt to turn any non-believer into part of the flock. Such was the first encounter of this trip with the seductive Venetian light. We all left the church feeling wooed and special and slightly smug at our amazing good fortune. My infidelity began right there.

My previous experiences with the city had been jam-packed gauntlets of art and sights and bad restaurants, all swarming with mobs of tourists complaining about the damp, pigeon infested piazzas and confusing mazes of passages. Venice, although certainly awe-inspiring, was slightly tainted in my mind. This time was different. While our mornings were filled with visits to churches and museums, our afternoons were our own time. I used these precious moments to find a new Venice, bathed in that light I had seen in San Marco that first night. I fled the claustrophia of the Rialto, lined with its fluorescent lit shops of crap, and found myself alone in the backstreets watching the shapes on the water and the colors on the buildings. I was motivated by nothing else than to cross the next little bridge and sit in a new sunny spot where the water lapped up against the buildings and the city felt finite and fleeting. Venice threw a few curve balls in the form of torrential downpours that emptied the streets, soaked the clothes and made the light that much more impressive when it came back out and reflected the drenched cityscape in its own surfaces.

Venice stole my heart for that weekend. I found myself fantasizing about running away and donning a thick scarf and galoshes for a wintery season of melancholic dampness and gloom, pierced by occasional sun breaks and flirtations with the ephemeral dancing light. It occurred to me in these special solitary moments with Venice that although I think of Rome as a home away from home, only a true Seattle girl would fantasize about a sinking wet city, where the promise of color and light are enough to flutter the heart and delight the eyes. Venezia, until we meet again.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Art Bomb

This is what they should call Florence. The Art Bomb. You feel bludgeoned over the head by all the culture. Somehow Florence's small size and centuries-specific collection make you feel like your are drowning in a sea of quattrocento (1400's) and cinquecento (1500's) art. Rome has just as much history, much much more in fact. But the homogenous Florentine spirit overwhelms me and I run looking for some crumbling marble or gilded bronze. Don't get me wrong, Florence is incredible in every sense. Just store up your energy. You gonna need it. I'm a Roman at heart.

Our group has officially disbanded from Rome and we took our act on the road, arriving in Florence last Friday. Traveling with 25 people is a feat. But we did it - with surprisingly few snags. Our hotel was right by San Lorenzo - conveniently located near Michelangelo's Medici Chapel. Our three days in Florence were about art and only art for me. I didn't shop at all. I repeat, Lauren didn't shop. In Florence.

The one art-respite is worth a tell. On Friday night our professors took us out the Tuscan countryside to a restaurant that is very near their research institute. We walked through the hills as the sun was setting with cyprus trees all around and the light radiating off the green countryside. It was breathtaking. We had dinner at a family run restaurant at the base of one of the hills. This could have been one of the best meals of my life. No joke. We had pappa al pomodoro - Tuscan unsalted bread mixed with tomatoes and olive oil. We had farfalle made with pressed olives - it was tangy and savory at the same time, incredible. We had roasted pork with baked tuscan potatoes. To top it off, simple, pure vanilla gelato. Every bite was better than the last. Simple and epic. Just epic.

The next few days were filled with, you guessed it, art. Any iconic major Italian painting or sculpture you can think of is probably here in Florence. Botticelli, Cimabue, Giotto, Titian, Parmigianino, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Da Vinci (all four ninja turtles), Bronzino, Pontormo, Durer, Caravaggio, Gentileschi, Masaccio, Ghirlandaio, Giambologna, Cellini, Ammananti, Bandinelli, Barocci, Fiorentino, there are more, but this list is getting boring. We covered a lot of ground both with the program and during our own free time. Two things I had never done before that I did this time. The first, hiked to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato - up a very steep Tuscan hill on the edge of the city rewarded by spectacular views. The second, saw Michelangelo's David. Finally.

As I write this, I'm sitting in my hotel on the Grand Canal in Venice. T'will be another adventure to regale you with as my time on the program winds to a close. Abbracci da Venezia.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fête galante


Here's a little story for you. Three friends get tickets to a piano concerto. And not just any piano concerto, a concerto performed by 19 year old musical prodigy, Augustin Voegele....okay, none of us had any idea who this kid was and honestly we didn't really care. The concerto was being performed inside Palazzo Farnese - also known as the French Embassy - read: impossible to get inside unless you are one of les Français. Palazzo Farnese is one of the many vast palaces that litter Rome, built for a prominent family who happened to have a pope within their ranks in the 16th century. It is home to one of the most amazing ceilings in all of the history of art (secondo me). Now don't get me wrong, it wouldn't exist aesthetically or iconographically without the Sistine ceiling, but I would not be hard pressed to say that Annibale Carracci's Loves of the Gods outdid Michelangelo on this one.

I love this ceiling. It taunts me. The palazzo is located just one piazza over from the UW Rome Center. I sit on the bench outside the building almost everyday to eat my lunch. I lounge at the cafe across the way and stare up at the facade. I pass by the carabinieri constantly stationed outside, giving them flirtatious looks, hoping it will get me somewhere with an entrance. I was elated when I learned that our group was supposed to get a special permission to go inside the embassy to view Annibale's 17th century masterpiece. But alas, the French were feeling a bit ornery that month and denied our visit request. We were all crushed.

On Thursday my friend Lisa calls and says she has three tickets to go to a concert inside Palazzo Farnese. I tell her I'm in. I don't care what the concert is, I'm in. We show up, go through security and are promptly whisked into a room with vast ceilings and copies of famous antiquities. We are then treated to 2 hours of beautiful classical music from the jeune Augustin. The whole time I'm fidgeting in my seat, trying to enjoy the beautiful music, but antsy to know what parts of the palazzo this post-concerto reception are going to open up to me.

Finally it ends. Bravo, bravo. We follow the crowd down the hall. My heart is pounding, I know where we are going. We are in the Galerie des Murano - beautiful Venetian chandeliers are above us; lovely little hors d'oeuvres are set out all around; glasses of champagne abound. I book it out of there and I'm taking off down the hall. I'm looking for Annibale's ceiling. I head around the corner and I'm in a sumptuous sitting room wth tapestries and brocade wallpaper. I keep going and find myself on the terrace of the palazzo. The terrace juts out over the Via Giulia - a street I walk by everyday; it's a terrace I look at everyday. I'm dumbfounded to be standing on it. But no ceiling out here. I head back inside, take a right, then another right....and I've found it. And I'm all alone! Other guests are milling about in the Galerie, oblivious to this specimen of fine art. For a few minutes, I have this fantastic masterpiece all to myself.

After craning my neck for a good long while, I finally catch up with my friends, who had been wondering what the heck had happened to me. It suddenly occurs to all of us that we are starving and we begin wolfing down the lovely culinary offerings as daintily as we possibly can. Why yes, I will have another glass of champagne...and back to Annibale's ceiling I head. One. Track. Mind. Bubbly + art = all set. I will not go into the art historical significance of this work - it could (and does) fill books. All you need know is that it is important and fascinating and marvelous and I love it.

We spent the next two hours looking at the ceiling, wandering the sitting rooms and strolling the terrace - all the while trying to pretend like, yes, we totally belong here. Of course. I take pictures at every embassy party I attend. Don't you? Finally after consuming an unsavory amount of raspberry tarts, we tore ourselves away from the lovely occasion, determined not to be the crazy foreigners - which we pretty much were anyway.

Walking home across the Tiber river with St. Peter's dome glowing in the distance and wafts of jasmine in the air, I couldn't help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I know how I sound - I'm gushing and it's a bit nauseating. However, this lofty high is tempered with the knowledge that tomorrow someone on a scooter will try to run me over, and I'll step in some hot garbage, and a tiny old lady will elbow me out of the way at the bakery. And the cycle will be complete. This city can chew you up and spit you out and then scoop you back up in a loving embrace and give you the greatest gifts. Wow, that sounds dysfunctional when I say it like that. Aw Roma, what other adventures are in store?


Monday, May 10, 2010

Un respiro

The last few weeks have been non-stop action. This weekend I finally felt like I had a moment to stop, sleep, and breathe.

The craziness began the previous weekend. I went to Milan and Lake Como (details later) and then barreled into an intense week of program activities. Looking and thinking, thinking and looking. On Monday we had a day trip to Orvieto and Civitavecchia del Bagnoregio. Orvieto is so lovely. So lovely. It's one of my favorite Umbrian hill towns, complete with a funicular, medieval walls and a black and white striped duomo. The highlight of going to Orvieto this time was viewing Francesco Mochi's Annunciation group (an angel and the Virgin Mary) for the Duomo. The sculptures have been moved to a museum, so we were able to walk all around them, really taking the opportunity to view them from all angles. These works were early in Mochi's career and are dated just a few years after "my" Saint Cecilia. They are utterly amazing. The folds of drapery that this sculptor was able to achieve almost tell a story in and of themselves. There are sharp folds and spiraling angles that all make the sculptures look as though they are dynamically taking flight. You get the sense that the angel has just descended up on us in a torrent of whipped wind that has suddenly entered the room.

The first time I came to Italy, I had so many emotional moments. I would see a Michelangelo or a Bernini and burst into tears - dramatic, I know. But I was really young, really excited and really captivated by Italian art. Since then I have felt like my relationship to these works has softened ever so slightly (and is less hysterical). I'm still fascinated by them, but in a much more analytical way. However, seeing those Mochi sculptures brought back that feeling in me from so long ago. I got very emotional, I will admit. I'm happy to know that's still in me somewhere.

Moving along...Civita di Bagnoregio, the City that is Dying. It is literally built atop a precarious-looking mesa. The sides of this mesa are said to be crumbling right out from under the city above. Only a few people actually live here. They are no cars, only a foot bridge that takes you across the valley, up a steep hill, to the town above. We made this trek to take in the breathtaking vistas and visit the bruschetteria - a lovely family-owned hole-in-the-wall serving bruschetta made with fresh-pressed olive oil. The restaurant is built into the side of the rock and is constantly warmed by a small fire, giving the space that wonderful smell of burning wood and an atmosphere of home. We were all reluctant to pull ourselves out of this haven when it was time to go. The ride home to Rome was very subdued after such a relaxing sojourn in the "dying city."

On Wednesday we spent nine hours in the Vatican. NINE. It was a productive day and I was able to see important works with a fresh eye. I realized that it had been almost 10 years since I had been back to these museums. They are vast, overwhelming and humbling. It's mind boggling to consider the papacy's collection of art. The Sistine Chapel is still going strong, constantly mobbed with hoards and hoards of people. The booming voice of a guard calling SILENCIO is still echoing around in my brain.

Thursday was a two-part Caravaggio day. In the morning we had a classroom session to set up the polemics regarding this artist. In the afternoon we actually attended the Caravaggio show currently held here in Rome. Caravaggio has become such a household name that crowds are waiting outside this exhibit for hours everyday just to get in - fortunately we had made a group arrangement two months ago and got to breeze right in. The collection was fantastic - the figures in Caravaggio's paintings seem to breathe and move across the surface of the canvas. The dramatic lighting allowed the bodies to almost protrude into the space of the viewer. I think Caravaggio would probably have been pleased.

On Friday morning, I arranged a special treat. Sister Margaret, of Sta. Cecilia in Trastevere (my church, if you haven't been following along) took me and my professors into the Cappella del Bagno - the area of the church where it was believed that Saint Cecilia was initially boiled. She then took us down into the scavi (excavations) below to see the remains of the Roman insula (apartment block) underneath. This was believed to incorporate Cecilia's home. She allowed us to go all the way to the crypt. I actually got to see the sarcophagus where the remains of the saint are believed to be kept. Of the areas we got to see, only the scavi are open to the public. Sister Margaret was so good to us.

I don't usually narrate a week's activities, but this last one was so rich, yet so exhausting that it seemed appropriate to share. No doubt, it will not be the last of such experiences. We can only hope. Speriamo!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quick and Dirty

Ciao all. This post is going to be quick and dirty because I want to communicate, but I'm so short on time these days. The students have taken two midterms in the past two weeks and I'm up to my occhi in tests and presentation papers. Ah, the life of a TA.

I'm realizing that while I'm discovering things about this city that I never knew, I'm also reminded of many things that I had forgotten in the six years since I left. I have been jotting these things down in a little notebook as they have come to me. Here are a few:

1. There is a cannon that goes off at precisely noon each day. It is shot off the Janiculum hill right above my apartment. I'm not sure that there is a real cannon ball shooting out (doubtful), but the sound can be heard from most anywhere in the city. It's a nice reminder about the time as I am always without a watch. Who says the Italian aren't precise about timing?

2. The women who collect the garbage - they are so made up! They are wearing these bright orange jumpsuits that can get dirty. However you imagine that as soon as the work day is over, they rip off the jumpsuit and they have some slinky number on underneath, ready to hit the clubs. Their make-up and hair is always immaculate.

3. Groups of Italian school kids - they are usually teenagers and they are totally checked out. Their teachers are taking them to amazing sites: the Ara Pacis, the Vatican Museum, etc. And they could not be less interested. They gab, they flirt, they hold hands, the chew gum, they do anything but look at the art. They drive me nutso.

4. Dog poop - there are no scoop laws in has to quite literally be on their toes whilst walking around the Eternal City. You might get some dog doo eternally stuck in your treads.

5. The intricacy of doors and locks and gates - it's always a challenge to figure out how all the different portals operate in this country. It might be a button, or a lever, or a pulley, or lock that looks completely foreign and non-sensical to us, but has a rhyme and a reason all its own. Some of them are positively medieval and quite intricate.

6. Nespole - little orange bruised-looking fruits that are a cross between an apricot and a cumquat. They are tart but sweet and have this wonderful skin that you can bite right into. They are coming into season now and I plan to eat many more before my stay is up.

I'm including a few recent pictures that do not have anything to do with this quick and dirty post, but I hope you enjoy them all the same. Off to Milano this weekend. Adventures abound.