Saturday, August 31, 2013

Skies over the Bay of Naples

Sunset over the Bay of Naples, view from the terrace of my B&B in Ercolano
 Just a few words about my travels so far:

Rome was intense! Three days of basically non-stop activity, culminating in a loooong wedding feast in the Alban Hills. Today I arrived in Ercolano, and it's a much different scene here. I'm staying at a B&B on the slope leading to Mount Vesuvius, and there's an incredible view of the Bay of Naples from the terrace outside my door. I'm the only one using the guesthouse this weekend, so it's like having a large apartment to myself, complete with a full kitchen, a dining and living room area, and a huge terrace overlooking the owner's grapevines.

Tonight I witnessed the production of some 30 pizzas, as the owners of the B&B, Alessandra and Vincenzo, prepared a meal for me and a group of five families, with eight children among them. Earlier in the afternoon, I saw several women in the kitchen, preparing the pizza dough in small spheres and letting them rise. The father and son duo got the fire started in the outdoor oven, and as the pizzas were prepared, the son slid them into the waiting oven to bake.

Into the oven they go!
3 minutes for a simple margherita pizza, with slices of mozzarella, a handful of sliced cherry tomatoes, and a few leaves of basil. Add a sprinkling of homemade olive oil, and the pizza is ready to fire. It's not the pizza that Americans tend to eat, heavy with sauce, cheese and meat. But this is the pizza I enjoy: simple and incredibly tasty. YUM!

La pizza margherita
Before coming to Ercolano, I had to change trains in Naples, and decided to take the time to leave the train station so I could buy some sfogliatelle....the many layered pastry that Naples is famous for. I bought two kinds: one that has a limoncello filling, and another with a pear and ricotta filling. I've saved them all day for dessert, but now I'm too full to eat them! A domani!

Sfogliatelle Napolitane
There was also an incredible feast at the wedding last night, but I managed to eat lightly, even though there were many courses and the food was delectable. Tonight, the B&B owners prepared two kinds of pizza for me, and I felt as if I couldn't refuse....but it was too much!

Dinner under the pergola
It's 11 pm and the families are still going strong, under the pergola of grapevines. But it's time for me to hit the hay. Tomorrow I'll spend the day visiting ruins in Ercolano and Pompeii....hopefully I can walk some of the pasta off. Let's hope so! And sometime soon, I'll post stories about my time in Rome.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A bit of Rome in Kansas City

Fauno rosso, Roman, 2nd century C.E. Red marble, 66 inches (167.5 cm).
During my recent visit to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City to see an exhibit of Frida Kahlo's work, there were several other exhibitions that we went to see. The most impressive was the statue of the Fauno Rosso (Red Faun), on loan from the Capitoline Museum in Rome. It was created in the 2nd century B.C. and it's the first time the statue has crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The statue, sculpted from red marble, was originally found in 1736 at Villa Adriana (Hadrian's Villa) in Tivoli, Italy. There were only a few pieces of it at the time, and shortly after its discovery, two Roman sculptors were hired at the newly opened Capitoline Museum to fashion a sculpture out of the found pieces. Since I've been to both places, Villa Adriana and the Capitoline Museum, it was a pleasant surprise to be reminded of those visits by the presence of the Fauno Rosso in a place of honor at the Nelson.

Fauno Rosso

Another exhibit that I was eager to see was this:

Rodin: Sculptures from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation

It seems as if they have a different Rodin exhibit every year at the Nelson, and I've seen quite a few. But now I'm spoiled! After visiting the Rodin Museum in Paris last fall, the bronze casts simply pale in comparison to the original marble works that I was able to view in Paris. Many of the sculptures at the Nelson were small, bronze casts from replicas of Rodin's originals, so the real majesty of Rodin's work is lost. It made me realize how fortunate I was to have had the chance to see Rodin's original works in Paris, and that I'm eager to see them again! Sigh: now only the real thing will do!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

All roads lead to Rome!

photo by Greenery
Summer is winding down, you say? Well, here the heat has returned in brute force, pushing the thermometer steadily towards the 100's. Students have returned, adding 20,000 + to the population of our city. The streets are crowded with young adults and their inattentive, aggressive driving habits. Ugh! The garden is waning, the outdoor pool is closing, and schools are in session. A good time to head for Italy!

My first stop is Rome, and I've been looking at options for what to do during my three day stay. I often stay with friends, but they'll be out of town this time, so I'm on my own for most of my stay. On the final day, however, I'll be attending a wedding, and will spend the afternoon and evening at that event, visiting with my friends from Modena. Their son, Tiziano, is marrying a Roman woman, and she also happens to be a famous rock singer (in Europe and South America), so it could really be interesting. As for what to do the other days, I have a few options:

Doria Pamphili Gallery, one of the larger and better art galleries in Rome that I've not yet visited.  It has an immense gallery of art from a family collection, and is housed in the palazzo where a member of the family still lives. The ornately decorated rooms are beautifully maintained and many are recently restored.

museo doria pamphili

Castel Sant'Angelo is giving night tours, which could be interesting, and there's an English language tour at 10:30 pm the day I arrive. Though I've spent a lot of time in Rome before, I've rarely been out at night, and never on my own. So this could be an interesting course to follow. And there's a great view from the terrace! The fortress was built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (AD130-139), but it has also been a prison and a papal residence. Some Popes even hid there for protection in times of danger. There is a covered passageway which still connects Castel Sant'Angelo to the Vatican, and this would be on the evening tour! Castel Sant'Angelo now houses a museum with a variety of exhibits, including Renaissance paintings and pottery.

Castel Sant'Angelo, 2012
Cinecittà, the famous Italian movie studio, is giving tours of their facilities south of the city, and it'd be fun to see where Fellini and other famous Italian directors made their movies. Many American and British productions have also been filmed there, including Ben Hur and Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Unlike Universal Studios in the U.S., it's NOT a theme park.

Via Appia Antica
I've yet to visit the Baths of Caracalla or Palatino Hill, so they add a few more options. Another trek I'd like to take would be riding a bike on the Appian Way, which I attempted  walking in 2012, but only made it through the first few miles of a 20 mile round-trip journey to the Aqueduct Park outside of Rome. When I have more time and someone to do it with, I'd like spend a day riding the cobbled road. But  this time I may take the metro to the park, and see the other end of the road. Here's more information on this ancient road, which was built in 312 B.C. and originally extended from Rome to Brindisi (on the Adriatic coast), a length of 350 miles.

Via Appia Antica

Aqueduct Park

As always, I'll probably spend time wandering around favorite spots in Rome: the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Pincio Park, the Spanish Steps and Trastevere. While I was housesitting for several years near Rome, I had the chance to spend many days hanging out in the eternal city, but they were mostly day trips. I'm looking forward to being there in the evenings and at night for a change. Should be an adventure!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Frida Feast

Frida Kahlo, self-portrait
One of the highlights of the summer was going to an exhibit featuring the works of  Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and other modern Mexican artists at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City with my son Jesse. I've long been interested in Frida's work, tortured soul that she was. She painted 60 self-portraits during her lifetime, most of them with a surrealistic flair and powerful iconic images. Her obsession with painting herself was one way to assuage a sense of loneliness and fears of being forgotten. She suffered from polio as a child, and later, was in a horrific accident that broke her back, pelvis and legs. She started painting during long bouts of lying flat in bed, due to body casts and recovery from more than thirty surgeries. Many of her paintings are painful to view, but impressive at the same time, as they give some insight into her difficult experience of life.

Nude with lilies, Diego Rivera
During the next week, we borrowed the DVD Frida from the public library, and made a Mexican feast to enjoy before watching the movie. I made tacos and guacamole, while Jesse was more inventive, creating Stuffed Nopales (cactus) with Black Beans, Cheese, and Roasted Red Peppers (supposedly a favorite of Frida's) and Limones Rellenos de Coco (Coconut-stuffed limes) for dessert. YUM!!!

a Mexican feast
"Feasting" on Frida was a nice way to round out the summer with images and food from Mexico before I head off to Italy again. I'm taking some condiments to make Mexican food while staying with my Italian friends, a unique treat that is often hard to come by in Italy.