Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mosaics and Trastevere

Apse of Santa Maria di Trastevere
When we were planning our trip we realized there were places that we'd have to skip - popular places, cities that held treasures that we'd love to see. Limited to three weeks we had to make some choices.  One of the towns I was sorry to miss was Ravenna because of the reputation of their mosaics.

So I was thrilled when my friend Christina told us that her favorite church in Rome was the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere.  She said they had gorgeous mosaics.  We set out for a nice walk from our apartment, ambling along the Tiber River for much of the time.

The church is one of the oldest in Rome, some of it dating back to the third century.  The spectacular thirteenth century mosaics in the apse were done by Pietro Cavallini - they are really breathtaking. Maggie and I spent over an hour there sketching, taking pictures, walking around and looking at all the beautiful details.

Mosaic Studio
Afterward we looked for and found a small mosaic studio where classes are taught.  I have a friend who did some mosaic work for her church and saw how difficult it was to cut the small tiles into the right sized pieces.  I liked the logs on end with a wedge of metal to cut them - don't know if that is easier than a pair of cutters, but they look impressive!

During our walk to Santa Maria we had passed the Villa Farnesina and promised ourselves to stop in on our way back. The villa was built for Agostino Chigi, a Sienese banker, who was said to be the richest man in Europe at the time, which was the early 1500's.  He chose the best painters he could find to decorate this home.  There are magnificent paintings and frescoes by Raphael and his pupils and Il Sodoma.

Ceiling Frescoes by Raphael and Students, especially Giulio Romano

And that was what we did before lunch!  Around four we headed over to the old Jewish Quarter  to see an interesting exhibit that one of Maggie's professors had of the work he'd been doing during his summer residency. That area is now filled with fascinating little galleries and artist's studios.  That evening was when we revisited the Vatican Museum to look at the contemporary art.  Such a full day.  We collapsed at the end of it!  Maggie's step calculator said we'd walked about 9 miles.  Enough to easily earn a gelato!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rome Treasures - Borghese Gallery

Borghese Gallery
As I post these short pieces, my intention is to recollect for you your own delights , if you've already been there; to highlight a few of the things that stood out for me (editing down from such rich collections is nearly impossible to do fairly); or to introduce readers to some of these venues.  Maybe you will look up something in more detail and become intrigued enough to consider your own trip!

Places like the Vatican Museums have so much to see that it would be like going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and trying to cover it in a day.  You'd be dizzy and exhausted.  The Borghese Gallery, by contrast, is much more manageable.

To begin with, the grounds are lovely - the house is accessed via broad tree lined walkways or carriage roads.  There are plenty of benches where you can sit and have a cool drink, watch people, listen to musicians, and soak up the atmosphere.

You have to have advance tickets, at least this time of year, and you are given a time to enter; there is a two hour limit and then you have to exit and another group comes in.  It means that the rooms are not crowded.  You can see things, walk up to them easily and look closely.

David by Bernini
The art was collected by Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V.  Apparently the collections were  larger at one time, but Napoleon induced Borghese to 'sell' some of the works and they are now in the Louvre.  Look up more information on the history here or google the gallery and look at the professional images of the rooms and art!

I've always been more interested in paintings than sculptures or mosaics, but that was before experiencing some of the things I saw on this trip.  The Bernini sculptures are particularly wonderful.  I loved the set of David's jaw, the dynamic posture as he prepared to deliver the fatal blow with his sling. 

Apollo and Daphne
Even more, I loved this one of Apollo and Daphne.  Do look for other images of this so you can see some of the details.  Apollo has fallen in love with her and gives chase; she tries to escape and when she can't, she transforms herself into a laurel tree.  You see her hair and hands sprouting leaves, bark covers much of her body, her feet begin to root into the ground.  It is the most beautiful sculpture!  And you wonder how anyone can get such fine detail out of marble.

There are other outstanding sculptures, many fine paintings, including artists like Raphael and Caravaggio; and then there were these mosaics by Marcello Provenzale that caught my attention.  The pieces were not that big - maybe something like 18" by 24".  I've seen gorgeous mosaic that are very detailed so that from a distance you see the shadings as though they were paintings.  But these were so much smaller - the individual pieces didn't seem to be much bigger than plump pieces of rice.

Orfeo by Marcello Provenzale
Two hours goes by quickly in this magnificent gallery and that's certainly not enough time to focus on much.  The ceilings and floors deserve close attention as well.  But you do come away with a sense of having had a very full meal; sitting on a bench in the shade afterward to compose yourself and digest is recommended.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Rome Treasures - Vatican Museums, Contemporary Art

George Rououalt - Miserere, 1939
As we ended our first visit to the Vatican Museums we passed the area that displayed contemporary art and knew that we were too fried to enjoy viewing it.  We decided to make this area a priority when we returned on Friday evening.  Again, there was so much to see!  These pieces were arranged chronologically from the late 1800's to a 2011 piece by El Anatsui.

Some of my favorite artists had pieces in the collection - George Rouault, Vincent VanGogh, Odilon Redon, Gaugin, Chagall, Matisse, Diego Rivera; there were not many women represented, which surprised me, especially as the dates moved into the 20th century.  I saw nothing by Kathe Kollwitz.  And, of course, I saw many works by painters and sculptors who were totally new to me.

Carlo Carra  - The Daughters of Lot, 1940

This one by Carlo Carra was very moving.  The listless expression on the young women's faces, the sadness, seemed to reflect the devastating changes in their lives, the loss of their mother, the way they have been used by their father.  It is a painting that could generate a lot of discussion, anger, and empathy.

I was intrigued by Fernando Botero's Trip to Ecumenical Council.  I suspect there is critical commentary going on, but am not sure what it is.  Pope Paul VI was leading the church at that time and made it a priority to consider the conditions of those who live in poverty - perhaps the look on this plump cardinal's face is one of worried anticipation.

Fernando Botero - Trip to Ecumenical Council, 1972

      And there were several pieces by Matisse - drawings, cut outs, sculpture; we looked forward to visiting his museum in Nice and the chapel in Vence that he'd designed.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rome Treasures - Vatican Museum

We were travelling in the busiest tourist season so advanced reservations for some key sites were necessary.  While that locks you into a schedule, it saves you from LONG lines in the hot sun.  We'd gotten tickets for the Vatican Museums for Wednesday afternoon and again Friday evening and for the Borghese Museum on Thursday.

I had no idea what to expect at the Vatican, other than the Sistine Chapel.  The museums are huge, opulent, with hall after hall of magnificent paintings and frescoes, sculptures, tapestries, manuscripts, vestments, architecture. It's really a series of museums, collections of various popes.  It's crowded but there is so much to see on every surface, that it would be hard to go away feeling cheated!  Even the floors are filled with art!

We'd met my friend Christina Carlson, who suggested that the map gallery was of special interest to her - and I was glad she'd pointed that out.  It is easy to be glazed over by the time you get there, but it was fascinating - a long hall filled on both sides with maps of Italy as they were known in the late 1500's. Look it up online for more photos and the ceiling - extraordinary! The details in these panels were so interesting - you could spend much time deciphering them.
detail from map in gallery of maps

Laocoon and Sons
There are rooms and courtyards filled with ancient sculptures, including the Laocoon and Sons which had such an impact on later artists. 

I really loved the animal room in the Pio Clementino Museum; the sculptures were so lifelike, so lively.  And this was an area where the floors were particularly beautiful.

Floor Mosaic in Pio Clementine Museum
The Borgia apartments  were filled with frescoes, including gorgeous ceilings by Raphael. I couldn't get photos that would do them justice so I encourage you to look them up.  There are a number of sites, including Wikipedia.  Here's one:

Just before we got to the Sistine Chapel, which they put at the end of the tour, we noticed the contemporary galleries - and decided that we'd focus on that when we returned on Friday evening. 

The Sistine Chapel was impressive, of course.  But it is hard to appreciate it when you are packed in like sardines looking up.  Guards were frequently asking people to be quiet, and there were strict admonitions to not take photos.  I was glad to see it, and enjoyed it more on Friday evening when there were fewer people.  You could find a seat along the wall and look up more easily. If you have a chance to go there, I would recommend going off season or toward the end of the day so that you can really look more closely.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saint Anthony and Legos

When I was in the beautiful church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, there was a statue of Saint Anthony that struck me because it looked so much like my grandson Marcus.  I took a picture of it and also bought a small magnet with the image from the gift shop.  Once home, it went on my refrigerator.

Ethan was over the other day and saw the magnet.  He wanted to know why I had a picture of Marcus dressed up like that.  I told him it was a statue that I'd seen that looked a lot like Marcus.  And I told him a little about where I'd seen it and why the statue had so many little pieces of papers tucked in around it.  I told him that Saint Anthony was someone that many people asked for help when they'd lost something.  "You know when you lost your Lego people that Nana had bought you?  Well, that's a situation where someone might say, 'Ask Saint Anthony to help you find them.' "  And we went on about our day. 

I had forgotten about that conversation.  But the next day, Teah told me that the boys had received a package in the mail that afternoon from their grandfather's wife.  It included several Lego sets!  I LOVE that kind of serendipity!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rome in the Ordinary

Seeing the "major" sites is wonderful when travelling, but I also love spending time doing ordinary things: shopping for food, walking through neighborhoods, listening to conversation - even when I can't understand much of it.  Those times help me make bonds with places and people. For a little while, I am not just a visitor, but someone who is sharing a moment of our lives.

Even doing laundry in another city can be interesting.  Maggie and I had a washing machine in our apartment in Rome.  A nearby store sold detergent in large boxes.  We only wanted enough for a load or two so we stopped in a Laundromat down the street and asked the owner if we might buy a small amount of detergent.  He was very accommodating and we came away with more than we needed.

Maggie put the clothes in and got it started.  A little bit later I saw her parked on a chair in front of it, watching it closely. She was quite taken by how it worked - different from our machines, even front loaders.  We laughed - "So what did you do in Rome?"  "Oh, we had the most marvelous time watching our washing machine!"

We spent a morning in a market, looking at all the gorgeous produce, the fresh fish, the meats and cheeses and eggs so attractively displayed.  You could get wine our of barrels; the man would pull a spigot and pour it into a clean plastic water bottle. The breads and pastries!  Flowers and plants!

Art is everywhere.  A lovely mosaic icon was displayed on the side of a building.  Doorways, windows, balconies, fountains, offer opportunities to display creativity and beauty.  There is graffiti, too - some whimsical, some darker.

And there are always signs of poverty, difficult situations - beggars, homelessness, hunger.

One of the things I really loved in Rome was the abundance of fountains - the water is almost always safe to drink and delicious and cold.  It is available to everyone.  Some people even set out little dishes next to the fountains for animals to drink.

People ask me what I found to be highlights of my trip.  It is hard to answer.  How do I compare my awe in the Sistine Chapel with the delight of good clean water on a hot day?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Other Mornings, Other Places

I have just returned from a most marvelous trip.  For the past three weeks I've been in Italy and France, moving around from city to country, seeing art, architecture, eating wonderful food, soaking up memories that will become a part of who I am.

My friend Maggie and I discovered a couple of years ago that we would both celebrate decade birthdays this year.  When we found this out, we said, "Oh, we should do something to celebrate!"  At first, our vision was small - maybe go out to dinner.  Then it expanded: "Maybe we would go to the city for a weekend."  And then one day, Maggie asked, "Have you ever thought of going to Europe?"  When I replied, "Oh, I've always wanted to go to Italy!"  she asked, "How long could you be away?"  I said that I couldn't stay longer than three weeks.  And the planning began.

We decided to divide our time between Italy and France.  She particularly loves Paris.  Since I'd never been to either of these countries, I was up for seeing whatever we could see.

We met many times and talked about how to arrange our time, how to focus.  We knew that we primarily wanted to see art and eat local food.  We knew that we didn't want to cram our days full of running from one site to another.  We wanted to have time to sit and draw, to watch people, to walk neighborhoods, to experience flavors.  Gradually, we realized we had to whittle down some of our ambitions - we skipped Venice; we added time to Sienna.  We asked friends for suggestions of their favorite surprises in the areas where we would stay.  We made reservations for our lodging and transportation ahead of time, and did get some tickets for big things like the Borghese, Vatican, and Uffizi Galleries. And then we drifted.

What a fabulous time we had! I'll write posts about some of our adventures over the next couple of weeks. 

The morning after I returned home, I lay in bed, listening to my neighborhood birds, watching the day come.  It occurred to me that after this trip, I now know what morning looks like in eight different places.  I've heard the birds, the garbage trucks, the Vatican bells, the neighbors chattering.  I've seen the light changing, smelled the pastries, felt the warm humid summer air becoming sticky.

What I hope to share is the excitement of discovery, that my experience might encourage you to plan such a trip for yourself.  Where have you been longing to go?  What mornings await you?