Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Another Moving Day

Today was another moving day.  This is by far the best of the 3 apartments I've had in Roma.  Not even close.  I'm not disclosing too many details for now about to where I've moved.  On this one, because of potential disputes brewing with the previous landlord, I'm going Dick Cheney for now -- I'll be in an "undisclosed location."

The information is available, of course, on a need-to-know basis.  If you want to send me all-natural cashew or almond butter, that awesome Glide dental floss, Cronuts, or some Taylor Swift tickets, I'll shoot you my address!  (I'm covered on the Purell for now.)  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ennio Morricone In Roma

There are some downsides to being in Rome during the swelter of summer.  But there are many upsides too.  One of them is that, in summer-time, the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma puts on outdoor concerts, ballets, and operas in the Terme di Caracalla.

The "Baths of Caracalla" were not the biggest public baths in ancient Rome, but they were the most opulent.  Now, a vast set of ruins remain, which I still need to visit during daylight.  I can say, however, that the ruins present a stunning and majestic setting for a night-time concert.  That's where a few friends and I watched 84-year-old Ennio Morricone conduct an orchestra on Thursday night that played 2 hours of some of his greatest hits.  The music and the venue were marvelous.

For those of you who don't recognize his name, Ennio Morricone is to Italian films what John Williams is to U.S. films.  And Morricone has had a huge mark on the American cinema as well.  He scored movies such as The Untouchables, Bugsy, and In The Line Of Fire.  Tarantino has also reused Morricone tunes in both the Kill Bills, Inglorious Bastards, and Django Unchained.

The orchestra on Thursday night played several of Morricone's greatest movie theme songs.  They played some of the scores from the Sergio Leone "Spaghetti Westerns" that starred Clint Eastwood (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, and Once Upon a Time In The West), Cinema Paradiso, and The Mission.  My only disappointment was that they did not do my favorite Morricone song of all-time: the main theme from the Sergio Leone classic Once Upon a Time in America.

Despite that, the concert was magical.  I left in awe over how one composer could have created so many excellent songs with such disparate styles.  The songs from the Spaghetti Westerns are so creative and novel and just different, while the songs from movies like Cinema Paradiso and The Mission are beautiful and moving in a more classical sense.  Wow.  

The iPhone does not do so well at night when there are bright lights.  My apologies.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Estate In Città (Summer In The City)

The heat and humidity have been insane for the past couple of weeks.  It is over 90 every day (I refuse to use that silly celsius system of which Europeans seem to be so proud) and incredibly muggy.  And I know that you all on the east coast recently had quite the heat wave -- but you at least have air-con everywhere you go.  We don't!

Anyway, we here in Roma are looking for any way we can to cool off!

A scoop of sunflower and a scoop of pear and gorgonzola from Fatamorgana.  Yes, I said a scoop of sunflower and a scoop of pear and gorgonzola!
Awesome iced coffee concoction

The first Manhattan I've had since the night before I left California in early March

Napoli Take 3: Don't Skip The Art And Archeology

There is one other point I want to share about Napoli.  Amidst the noise and congestion and grime, there are also some real high points of art and architecture.  You should try to see them if you visit.  Some of these places do not allow pictures, so I can't share any visuals with you.  For some, I have pics.

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is one of the world's leading collections of Greek and Roman artifacts.  These types of archeology museums often don't do much for me.  The archeology museum in Istanbul, for instance, is also considered one of the world's finest collections -- but I thought it was a snoozer.  It could just be that I'm more into Greek/Roman statues and relics, etc. than I am their Ottoman counterparts.  But I thought the exhibits I saw here (and many rooms were closed -- which I understand is a common phenomenon) were super cool.

The famous Toro Farnese (Farnese Bull)
The Farnese Atlante -- a statue of Atlas holding a globe
Ercole (Hercules)

The Museo di Capodimonte is also worth a visit.  It's on the grounds of a huge park/palace that is an oasis of green in the dense crowded city.  The art collection is huge and includes at least a couple of show-stoppers, including an impressive Caravaggio.

Massaccio's Crocifissione (Crucifixion)
Caravaggio's Flagellazione (Flagellation): this is the single piece that many people visit the museum to see.  It is set off at the end of a long hallway, such that you can see it in the distance as you approach.  The anticipation builds and you ignore all the other art around you that you pass as you get closer.  Nobody else was around when I got to the Flagellazione.  

Whatever you do, do not miss the Cappella Sansevero.  This is a very small church that is filled with wonderful sculptures.  The centerpiece of it all -- literally and figuratively -- is the Cristo Velato (Veiled Christ), a jaw-dropping depiction of Jesus covered by an incredibly realistic veil.  Downstairs, there are also a couple of spooky human bodies stripped of their skin, but with all their blood vessels preserved and intact.  I need to read up more on these bodies and on the man who created/preserved them, Raimondo di Sangro.  The church does not allow pictures.  Sorry.

Likewise, no pictures are allowed in the Pio Monte della Misericordia.  This small church houses another beautiful Caravaggio masterpiece.  When I visited, there was only one other person in the church.  You could just sit down and stare at Le setts opere di Misericordia (The Seven Acts of Mercy) for as long as you like.

Napoli is also sprinkled with churches and statues that are too numerous to mention, but that are cool to look at.  Keep your eyes open as you wander around.  The Duomo, in particular, is impressive.

I have no idea what this is all about, but I have never seen Moses and tablets with Hebrew writing on them over the entryway into a Catholic church.  I'm assuming it's Moses, BTW.  I believe that's what the rays of light emanating from his head indicate.  The tablets, I suppose, could be the 10 Commandments.  Anyone out there able to make out the Hebrew?     
Inside the Duomo

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Napoli Take 2: Grace Through Grime?

It's as gritty, grimy, and greasy as they say.  It makes Roma look as elegant as the most beautiful parts of Paris or Vienna.  I can see why loads of people don't like Napoli at all.  It is downright dirty and dingy.  On hot and humid summer days, the whole combination can be oppressive.

So, if that is a deal-breaker for you, don't go.  I can also, however, see the charm that Napoli holds for some.  There's no artificial gussying up.  There is squalor, for sure.  But the density of humanity is vibrant and frenetic.  And the food and the art and the passion and the noise and the graffiti also in their own way create a splendor of sorts.

There are, in addition, if you look for them, some small, quick moments of beauty. I tried to capture some of them.

Sculpture by William Kentridge:  "Il cavaliere di Toledo."

Galleria Umberto I shopping center -- opened in 1900.

Piazza del Plebiscito is a really vast and impressive square.  

Bay of Naples, with Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

[UPDATED] Napoli Take 1: Eat, Pizza, Luck-Out! (Pastries And Panini Too)

Few things in life live up to the hype, right?  How often are we disappointed by that movie which received rave reviews, those restaurants that everyone praises, and the museums that books recommend?  Lots of times.  So, what are the odds that the Napoli pizza restaurant that guidebooks hale and that Julia Roberts salivated over in Eat, Pray, Love (of all movies!) would live up to my expectations?  No way it could be that good.  Remember that Napoli is the world capital of pizza.   If Da Michele is that good, it might just be the best pizza on earth!  Well.....guess what?  It might be. 

The first hurdle is the wait.  Look at the line when I arrived at 1:30 pm after a morning of churches and art.  

You go in and tell them the number in your party. They give you a ticket with a number on it.  After 30 minutes or so, they come out and call your number.  Or they yell out the number of people they are looking for to fill a table.  If you're lucky, some Italian-speaking locals recognize the confusion on your touristy face, and they help you decode the dance.  If you're even luckier -- and you're a party of 1 -- they will seat you at a table for 4 where the three people already seated are 3 women philosophy majors from the local university. 

After exchanging pleasantries about Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and some Italian Marxist of whom I'd never heard, we got down to business.  The gals -- or at least the one who spoke good inglese -- confirmed what my all-of-a-sudden-not-so-Lonely Planet book said.  Da Michele serves just 2 kinds of pizza -- marinara and margherita.  I went for the latter with double cheese.  It's really a simple pie, consisting of just tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella on the dough.  It's big too.  Look back at the pies each of the ladies had.  That's the regular pizza for one. 

Now, I was a skeptic. Remember that I'm a New Yorker. I went to college and law school in Manhattan.  That's pizza.  Nowhere else in the US has pizza that lives up to those standards.  And, I honestly don't think much of the pizza in Roma.   It's mainly that pizza bianca with no sauce and no cheese.  Ehhhh.  But hold the phone. 

The Da Michele pizza was heaven.  Julia Roberts and her blonde Swedish friend were right to ooooh and ahhhhh.  I now see why it's called "Neapolitan pizza."  Among the styles that are widely available in the US, this most closely resembled NY style.  It was amazing.  The sauce is tangy and sweet.  The cheese is liquidy and silky.  The dough, well, I can't think of an adjective.  But the whole concoction is relatively soft and goopy. So, Neapolitans typically eat it with a fork and knife.

That said, the 2 ladies who specialized in German philosophy challenged me to try their method of folding up a big piece of pizza -- almost a whole quarter of it -- into a closed octagon and then eating hand-to-mouth.  I did it.  They were impressed....although what I think impressed them most was that I could eat the pizza with my hands and discuss Kant at the same time.  Here's what I had left at the end:

The pizza was just tip of the culinary iceberg during my 30 hours in Napoli. OMG, the street food.  All of it.  Other than the pizza, I didn't eat another real meal.   I just ate street food. Like these:

The arancini, the panino napoletano, the sfogliatelle, the gelato, the pastries I cannot name, and the fried dough noodle balls that might be the most unhealthy thing I've ever seen.  It's truly a good thing that this trip was so short.  My blood sugar, cholesterol numbers, and lipid count levels must right now be at all-time highs.  But it felt good.

[UPDATE:  In response to reader questions, here is the Da Michele scene from Eat, Pray, Love.]

Saturday, July 20, 2013

MAXXI: 21st Century Art In Roma

Rome is not exactly a haven of modern art.  That's clearly true.  But there is some.  The newest and hippest modern art museum is MAXXI (National Museum of 21st Century Arts) in the Flaminio neighborhood of Rome.  The museum opened in 2010.  Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid designed MAXXI, and her design has earned numerous accolades and awards.  I think it is stunning.

The art housed in MAXXI is another story.  I remember coming here in 2011 on my last trip to Rome and loving the look of the museum -- but not being all that jazzed about the art I'd seen.  But I was far less artsy then, si?  I wanted now to give MAXXI another shot.  

Same result.  I was wow'd last Wednesday by MAXXI's architecture and design -- even on a second visit.  But the art was blehhh.  Not exciting enough from a visual standpoint.  Too political.  Some of it was interesting, for sure.  But nowhere near what you'd expect given the cool structure itself.  I still overall recommend MAXXI if you have the time.  Just don't expect to see great art.   (There was one exception, discussed below.)   

The one temporary exhibit that I enjoyed was a multimedia installation by Francesco Vezzoli.  This had fake movie posters, a whole bunch of photos, faux-classic statues, and, most impressively, some very funny videos.  One video in particular was a mock E True Hollywood Story about the artist himself.  It was hilarious -- very much in the style of the zany and witty videos that those MoFo Palo Alto guys (and Craig Martini) used to make back in the day.  In this one, the documentary is about Vezzoli and his obsession with making a film about Marlene Dietrich.  (Hence the name of the video: Marlene Redux: A True Hollywood Story.)  I could only find this 2:55 segment available on-line.  The whole thing is really about 15 minutes.  It is El-Oh-El funny.   

P.S.  Going to Napoli (Naples) tomorrow for a quick 36-hour trip.  Might be off-line for a bit.  I've never been there before, but it's so close I can't resist: just a 1-hour train ride.  I keep hearing divergent views on Napoli.  Some peeps say it is awesome; some say it reeks and there is no reason to ever step foot in the city.  We'll see.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wrap-Up On Tuscany Weekend

Still wanted to finish up on last weekend's Tuscany trip.......

The B&B -- or agriturismo -- was in the small town of Casciana Terme.  Not much going on there, but when everything near the Andrea Bocelli concert is sold out, you gotta look elsewhere!  The agriturismo was humble, but quite cute.


Also did a quick stop in the small town of Lari.  The highlight here was definitely the tour of the pasta-making factory.  Martelli claims to be Tuscany's oldest pasta-making company, and I certainly wasn't going to argue with them.  The cool thing is that you simply knock on the door (once you find the place), and you just ask them for a tour.  They will (grudgingly) then show you around and explain it all!

And, finally, there was Lucca -- birthplace of Puccini.  Lucca is a walled city and it is fun to explore within the city walls.  Puccini and opera take pride of place, and we got to watch a 75-minute performance of varied opera numbers in a tiny church.  The performers were fantastic and the show was super intimate; there were maybe 20 people in attendance.  Definitely fun.  The cathedral is worth a visit too.  The only sad thing?  Missing Bryan Adams in Lucca by a few days.  What a trifecta that would have been -- BA, Bruce, and Bocelli on 3 consecutive days!


The Cattedrale di San Martino

I'm sure this was an incredible concert.  I've seen him once -- at MSG many many years ago -- and totally love his more recent live "Bare Bones" album.  
None of the above is a must-see.  But if you're driving around near Pisa, these are some options to consider.