Thursday, October 31, 2013


Four weeks from today -- on Thanksgiving -- I'll head home.  I'm trying to focus on the positive.  There are lots of upsides.

I obviously miss all my friends and former colleagues in California.  After 9 months away, it will be so good to see them.  I also miss being closer to the fam in NY.  Can't wait to be only 3 hours from their time zone.  Plus, because I'm a responsible I.P. lawyer who has not illegally been watching U.S. cable series while in Italia, I have full seasons of Mad Men, Homeland, Veep, and Boardwalk Empire (as well as a Larry David movie from August) to catch up on.  I'll be able to get back to my normal scrupulously-healthy eating and workout habits.  I'll manage, simply by returning to domestic shores, to remove my emails and texts from the watchful eyes of our beloved NSA.  (OK, maybe not.)  I'll get to start my job search in earnest!  (Wait.  This was supposed to be things to which I'm looking forward.....)  And I'll be able again to follow U.S. sports in real-time.  Indeed, there are reminders all over, even in Roma, about the NFL season that is at its mid-point, and the NBA season that has just begun.  Can someone please beat LeBron this year???

Returning to the here-and-now, Buon Halloween to all!  It's not really a big deal here.  Everyone tells me that it is really an American thing.  But some Romans seem into it!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Another Movie Review: 8 1/2

Our market research has long indicated that film reviews are one of this blog's most popular features.  And you gotta give the people what they want, si?  It's therefore time for our latest review: Fellini's 8 1/2.  My one word assessment: genius.

Until about a year ago, I'd never seen a Fellini movie.  I always heard snobby film fans mention him.  But I'd never watched a single one of his movies.  Last year, while readying for this anno sabatico, I did watch La Dolce Vita.  To be honest, I didn't love it.  It was clearly an impressive work.  But I didn't enjoy it much.

Still, my Italian cultural education cannot consist solely of Sergio Leone's brilliant opus.  I had to give Fellini another chance.  8 1/2 was the natural choice.

I now understand what Felliniesque means.  I also now appreciate some of my favorite American directors a little more.  I see that Woody Allen owes a debt to Fellini.  And, do you like Charlie Kaufman's flicks????  OMG.  All of them share a lot with 8 1/2.  Indeed, one of Kaufman's best -- Synecdoche, New York -- is practically a retelling of 8 1/2 just transferred to a different country and different era.  Much of Kaufman's brilliant self-referential mind-bending style comes right out of 8 1/2.

OK, back to the movie.  The plot is simple.  A famous Italian director is supposed to be finishing up his latest masterpiece.  Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- is waiting for it.  The money people, including the producer (who is great in this movie), are all impatiently waiting for its completion.  The critics are chomping at the bit.  The pseudo-intellectuals and socialites and lovers and former lovers and scientists and clergy and foreign press all clamor for the film's release.  The actresses and actors want to know how big their parts (roles) will be.  But there is one problem.  The director, who is supposed to be an oracle for all of society, suffers from a mega-existential writer's block.  He cannot get started.  He is filled with ennui and doubt.  The director, obviously, is supposed to be Fellini.  The movie is this one.

My description may not sound funny, but I thought that the banter in 8 1/2 was hilarious.  Fellini takes down everyone.  He is scathing, and the wit of his dialogue came through even through the subtitles and my cultural ignorance.  I laughed out loud several times.  There are also the signature dream sequences, flashbacks, and fantasies that take place only in the director's head.  It is sometimes difficult to tell what is real and what is not, but that is part of the fun.

BTW, how cool is Marcello Mastroianni as the director Guido Anselmi?  Even though Guido is struggling through epic doubts and is obviously lost at sea, he epitomizes cool.

This movie is a delight.  See it!!

The Latest

My relative dearth of postings over the past week or so might make it seem like I haven't been doing much.  Au contraire!  There has been lots going on.

I am approaching the home stretch now, and the past two weeks in Roma have been lots of fun.  With no trips since Anna and Danny left, I have had time to catch up with friends at a more leisurely pace.  I have spent several evenings seeing friends that I had not seen in a bit, going to a party or two, and getting to neighborhoods that I had not yet seen.  In addition to my ex-pat friends here, I've also gotten to spend some quality time with my handful of Italian friends -- and these may be the events that I appreciate the most.

I've also recently gone to a few churches and museums that I had on my "to see" list, but that do not allow photos.  (I really hate that, btw.)  Yesterday was the Palazzo e Galleria Doria Pamphilij -- a private palazzo and art gallery that houses an amazing Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X, a couple of early Caravaggios, and loads of other atmospheric paintings.  It is not simply the art that make this venue so splendid; the palace itself is awesome too.

Speaking of Caravaggio, I'm also trying to finish a scintillating biography of my brother Ira's favorite artist.  Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane is a fantastic book.  (Fear not -- I'll post my review as soon as I finish.)  And given that so many of Caravaggio's greatest works are in churches and museums right here in Roma, reading the book while here allows you to go see the works right as you read about the real-life events that were going on in Caravaggio's life when he painted them.  I went today to the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi (the Church for Rome's French community since 1589) to scope out 3 Caravaggio masterpieces, and I went last week to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo (just a few minutes from my pad) to take in 2 others.

All of the food, art, vino, and friends are helping me to recover from the soul-crushing defeat suffered by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night (Rome time).  Could America's Team possibly find more painful ways to lose?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Picture And A Poem

The poem is short -- so, it is bearable.  And behold that picture!  Look at that face!

More NYT Rome Coverage

The NYT and other prominent US periodicals have covered Rome a lot lately.  And it has not all been about Erich Priebke or Papa Francesco.  Longtime reader, recent travel companion, and sometime guest blogger Matt Glickman sent in the following 2 pieces:

In the first, a NYC restaurant owner offers her tips of best things to do in Roma.  If Gabrielle Hamilton's tips are a benchmark, I'd say I'm doing pretty well.  I've been to her favorite coffee shop -- Sant'Eustachio -- many times.  It's great.  I've also gone to one of the 2 restaurants she mentions (Trattoria Monti) 3 times.  A couple of friends had recommended it, and I loved it each time.  As for Negroni's at sunset in piazzas like Campo de 'Fiori and Piazza del Popolo, check!  Many times over.  And I've looked at St. Peter's through the keyhole at the Knights of Malta up on the Aventine Hill.  That leaves just one restaurant in Trastevere that I need to hit.  (I don't think I have any need to go to the perfume shop she lauds.)

The second is an opinion piece that speaks of Italy's alleged decline.  It paints a bleak picture.  It's hard for me to react.  On the one hand, everyone seems to be saying these sorts of things about Italia.   I suppose they know what they are talking about.  At the same time, I've had nothing but the best experience in my almost-8 months.  Of course, I am not getting a realistic picture.  This is an anno sabatico with no real responsibilities and no work to do.  Italy is pretty easy to love in those circumstances.  The article is interesting nonetheless.  

Grazie, Matt.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nazi Atrocities In Roma

Paola and I took in some fascinating WWII history yesterday.  This history has been in the news lately -- including in the U.S. -- because of the recent death in Rome of the 100-year old convicted Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke.  The story is a chilling one.  (See;;;

In March 1944, members of the Italian resistance killed 33 German soldiers who were stationed in Rome.  The Third Reich immediately ordered reprisals.  The record is unsettled, but some historians believe that the order came directly from Hitler.  The upshot is that the Nazi SS officers stationed in Rome were directed to kill 10 Italians for each Nazi who had died.  There were initially talks of killing up to 50 Italians for each Nazi life taken, but the number in the end was 10.  Erich Priebke was the SS chief at the time in Rome.  He was in charge of the massacre that would follow.

The SS drew up a list of 330 Italians to murder.  Most of the Italians chosen for slaughter had been charged previously with some crime against the Third Reich.  To be sure, most of the charges were likely false or trumped up.  But, on the actual written list, a crime was listed next to the name of the Italian to be killed.  Among the 330, the list contained 75 Italian Jews.  There was no crime mentioned on the list, however, for these 75: next to each of their names, the list simply said "Jew."

The Nazis took these 330 men and boys to a cave outside of the city center, just off of the Appian Way.  The victims were then taken in groups of 5, their hands bound behind their backs, and shot in the back of the head.  Many of the victims were kneeling in front of already-shot compatriots when they were shot.  In the melee, an extra 5 Italians were killed, bringing the total of slaughtered victims to 335.

Erich Priebke led this effort.  He escaped prosecution after the war by fleeing to Argentina, traveling under cover of a passport that the Vatican provided.  Priebke lived in Argentina for 50 years, where he was a respected member of his community.  He ran a deli, and was known to be a gregarious fellow and a tireless dancer.

In 1994, Sam Donaldson and a team of ABC journalists confronted Priebke.  After years of legal wrangling, he was extradited to Italy and convicted of war crimes.  Because of his age, the court sentenced Priebke to house arrest.  Priebke died at his home in Roma earlier this month.  He was 100.

To the end, Priebke never repented.  He admitted his conduct.  He even did so with Sam Donaldson.  But Priebke claimed that he was just following orders.

There is a somber but well-done memorial and little museum at the Fosse Ardeatine in Roma.  Paola and I visited there on Wednesday.  The most moving section of the memorial is an enclosed but outdoor cave (of sorts) that has a coffin for each of the 335 murder victims.  Each coffin bears a cross or a Jewish Star of David.  There are inscriptions at the sight in Italian, some Latin, and some Hebrew.

A 15-year old Jewish victim.  (A Star of David is faintly visible up at towards the top of the coffin.)


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"They Just Lie There, And They Die There"

I know there is lots of excellent street art throughout the cities of the world.  But there is one guy in Roma whose work I love.  Earlier this year, I admired a huge sidewalk version he'd done of the "Girl With a Pearl Earring."  I watched him last night work on his "Mona Lisa."  It's fab.  And it's right down the block on Via del Corso.  I don't know who he is (and I'll try to find out), but I like his version better than the one at the Louvre.

The Foro Italico: Roman Sports Venues After The Colosseum

Now that I'm back to and settled in again in Roma, I'm continuing my efforts to see some of sites beyond the major tourist attractions.  I went to a good one on Sunday.  It combines sports and more of the grandiose architecture from the Mussolini Fascist period.  (See, e.g., my report on EUR from August 27th.)  Sports in Rome did not stop with the gladiators.

The Foro Italico is a sports complex that was built between 1928 and 1938.  Mussolini commissioned the complex, and it was originally called the Foro Mussolini (or "Mussolini's Forum").  There have been modern additions made to it in recent decades, and major sporting events like the Olympics in 1960 and annual international tennis tournaments are held here.  All in all, strolling around the Foro Italico on a sunny mid-70s fall Sunday was a delight.

The interesting architecture starts when you cross the Tiber on the newest of Rome's many bridges that span the river.  To get to the Foro Italico, you cross over the Ponte della Musica.  This might be Rome’s most controversial bridge; it is at least the most unique.  And it’s no surprise that this bridge caused controversy when it was built from 2008-2011: to my knowledge, ALL modern architecture in Rome is controversial.  Here’s how different the Ponte della Musica looks:

Right after crossing the bridge, you enter the Foro Italico.  The first neat venue is a very modern tennis stadium.  The place was virtually empty when I walked by – but it was also open.  And when I walked up the stairs, I saw that it was not completely empty.  Two older guys were hitting strokes and working on their serves.

There is then a ceremonial-type area lined with big marble statues of athletes, and a modern-looking stadium where many concerts are held.  

But the highlight of the Foro Italico is clearly the Stadio dei Marmi.  This track/little stadium is ringed by a whole bunch of statues of hyper-muscular athletes.  The huge white marble statutes give the place a magnificently grand -- although ostentatious -- feel of which I’m sure Mussolini approved.  The Stadio dei Marmi in particular is worth seeing.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

D-Day Approaching

It's finally happening.  The day is on the horizon.  This anno sabatico has to end at some time.  It looks like I will fly back home to the Bay Area on Thanksgiving Day (November 28).  That'll be just about 9 months after I arrived here in Roma.  It will also mark 52 weeks since my last day at work.  I'll leave with a heavy heart because this has been the best adventure ever.  And I'm not sure what will happen after I return -- but I look forward to finding out.  We will keep blogging for you right until the end.

Saudis In Roma

There was an interesting little exhibition in Piazza del Popolo two weekends ago.  To celebrate 80 years of diplomatic relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia, the Saudis put up a temporary exhibition just a stone's throw from my pad.  It was worth a few minutes.  In fact, the dates they were handing out were so tasty that I kept going back for more.  I thought about getting a henna tattoo as well, but the hand-written "no uomini" sign suggested that that was not a good idea.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Up & Down The Amalfi Coast 'n Back To Roma With Anna & Danielle

Wow, the last 3 days are a blur.  Anna, Danny, and I saw so much -- and ate and drank so much -- that it's difficult to get it all down.  We had lots of laughs!

We spent Monday in Amalfi town, which is down at the sea, and in Ravello, which is perched up above.  On Tuesday, our driver took us on a tour of the villages south of Amalfi town.  In addition to my shave-and-a-haircut, we strolled through Minori, Maiori, and Cetara.  Cetara is a fishing village that is known for its excellent food.  At a friend's recommendation, we lunched at Acquapazza -- and it did not disappoint.  Incredible antipasti, mains, and dolci.  It might have been our best meal of the trip.

We headed back to Roma on Wednesday morning, where we spent the day picking up gifts for the Erickson White girls, eating porchetta (pig), trying on glasses, having cocktails with Patrick and Federico at Barnum, and then eating dinner at Il Gocetto, one of Rome's best enotecas (wine bars).

Anna and Danny got on a plane this morning to return to Palo Alto.  The week went by in a flash and I was sad to see them go.

A relaxed couple enjoying the sights at Campo d'Fiori
The only way our driver Marco coulda been better is if he'd driven us around in these wheels.  

Campari + Fresh O.J. = Awesome!

Lunch at Acquapazza in Cetara

The cathedral in Amalfi town