Friday, August 19, 2011

Cool Italian and Russian gardens and pools

keeping cool in Pza. S. Egidio 
 The summer heat wave is again upon us... and since we are no longer  youngsters we have had to say "no" to the many invitations and  happenings  this weekend.

When its this hot we get up early (6 a.m.) like the local farmers do then by  10:30 a.m. its time to  stay indoors, behind the wooden shutters (persiane) which along with the  ancient, thick walls keep  the heat out.  
no need for air conditioning 

  A plus  during these hot days is that there are finally  lots of parking spaces, for the town is almost deserted.  Most people head for a  one of the nearby  lakes (Lake Vico, Bolsena  or  Bracciano)  or   perhaps the grassy lawns at this ancient Roman swimming hole.   

This  circular  pool is actually  a frigidarium   dating  from Roman times at  Le Pozze  di San Sisto half way between  Viterbo  and  Vetralla. Its  icy  waters are  balanced  by an  adjacent  hot  pool  caldarium  and another   luke warm  one.   

For    tourists and visitors  here are some  more of  the  coolest places  around: 
  • If you  are a cruiser   docking  at  Civitavecchia you  could   trade  a hot, exhausting  day in Rome  for  a visit  to Tarquinia  where the  Etruscan tombs  and   quiet churches  such as  S. Maria in Castello provide  welcome respite.  For  a  glance of  this magnificent church  see  Dietmeyer's website.
fountain in front of Tarquinia's city hall

fountain of  the Moors, Villa Lante, Bagnaia 
River  god  fountain, Villa Lante, Bagnaia
(photo  by John Ferro Sims) 

  • Garden lovers  will love   the historic gardens of Villa Lante  where  the  trickle of  fountains  and  mossy pools  give  welcome  relief from the heat. 
grotto , Villa Lante 

water gurgles  down the rope fountain, Villa Lante
 In  the hill town of  Soriano nel Cimino another   fountain comes  complete with a   waterfall. Perfect  for  a cool walk  is  the   Faggetta, the mountain top  forest located   above  Soriano.
Papacqua   waterfall, Soriano nel Cimino

 Here are a few of the  romantic, cool spots I have enjoyed  discovering  in these past  years while lecturing aboard cruise ships.  
  • in Montenegro the fiord   (Bocche  di Cattaro) leading  up to  the  port of  Kotor

  •  The gardens of Peterhof,  outside the city  of  St. Petersburg , Russia are another perfect  place to catch some coolness. 
    Grand Cascade and canal to  the gulf of Finland, Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia
    The majestic fountains and gardens  overwhelm visitors

    Peterhof fountain, St. Petersburg , Russia 

    the Pyramid fountain, Peterhof gardens, St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Oia on the  Greek  island  of Santorini is famed for its  whitewashed  houses  and blue domed churches 

The  same  turquoise color  can be found here  in Vetralla in a   romantic  pool  inside  a grotto. 

a private pool half in, half out of  a grotto 

 Read more about our local wash house on  my article on  Italian Notebook 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ferragosto with Mozart and layer cake of history

 Its Ferragosto,  the  mid-summer holiday  that closes  down most of Italy. 

Unlike many  Italians  we chose  to stay close to home  away from the  beach, the crowds and  the  traffic.

American  musicians   participate in the Ferragosto concert 
H.Kim from Manhattan warms up

musicians before the concert  and Fulvio 's balcony seat 

warming up   in the town hall

Concerts featuring  the Vetralla  town band and an evening of Mozart   by  the Tuscia OperaFestival   were all the entertainment needed. 

A special  lunch in  our neighbor’s garden with a few good friends followed  by a stroll  around   town, camera  in hand,   made for  a perfect  holiday   at home  -“a kilometro zero” .   

Photographers  have discovered  that  doorways  and  cats  are  icons of  picturesque Italy  that   sell  calendars and  postcards.
 But  with cats, as well as doorways, there is more than meets the eye. 
During   our  afternoon walk  I noted dozens of doorways  worthy of  a photo and  also some interesting insight  into  the  town’s  history.

 Our town's old doors and  ancient  walls remind us that  Italy is a layer cake of history  which allows  intimate glimpses into  the past, how  previous  inhabitants lived and what was  important to  them.
terracotta "plumbing" solution of a medieval house

Time  goes slowly  in central Italy's  Etruria  area where  the past  is naturally  recycled and reused .  
Where else  can you see  Roman paving stones  inserted  into 17th century buildings? 

Roman paving stone  basolo inserted  in 17th century wall

And   what about  the  primitive  plumbing  which consisted  of  a terracotta pot inserted  just  beneath the window, making  it  easy to empty  the chamber pots.

Instead of doorbells, there are  gorgeously detailed  bronze batocchi  to decorate the  doors .
door knocker   batocchio   of  18th century 

 Besides the practical use of resounding a hearty knock , they  reflected  contemporary  fashion  and family  status.
different  door knockers reflect a past theft
my front door 
 The sphinx-like heads from this door in Viterbo’s center dates  back to  the Napoleonic  invasion of Egypt, 1798-1801,while the Renaissance- style  bronze  batocchi on my front door reflects their Tuscan provenance.

Egyptian style  batocchi date this door   in Viterbo

The problem  is that  not every solution is  compatible  with  aesthetics.

Renaissance doorway  with   industrial  shutters
Take for example this  magnificent  doorway  decorated  with angels. It  was once  the seat of  a 17th century confraternity before being  converted into a soft drinks factory .  Nowadays  it is  empty and for sale but  the metal industrial shutter definitely  has  destroyed   its charm.

This narrow  alley  holds  another example of  "speaking  walls"  where   blocked up doors and  insertions  show the passage of time.
What a shame that  the electricity  and gas companies had to add their  contributions.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dante to Dianne Hales -love poetry and popular sayings

    Years ago  while I  was a young teacher  at one of Rome’s prestigious  international schools,  I  found myself  teaching   Beginning Italian to a  class of  adolescents.   As newcomers to Italy, they were  learning the language by osmosis and not  just in the classroom.

 Juicy, descriptive  expletives were learned daily on the soccer field while dialogues  pertaining  to  food  and transport  were  next  in order of importance  as these  teenagers  went out to  explore  the Eternal City and interact with   their Italian counterparts, especially those of  the genteel sex.
 But what about   “la bella lingua”  Dianne Hales describes  in her  bestseller ? What about  a bit of culture and history?  
  Italian actor  Roberto Benigni ‘s successful  theatrical  readings  of  La Divina Commedia  are proving  to modern audiences  that  la lingua di  Dante  has  never  gone  out of  fashion.  Hopefully  my former  students  are  still  using   this poem they learned    to impress  the ladies.  

Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare
la donna mia, quand'ella altrui saluta,
ch'ogne lingua devèn, tremando, muta,
e li occhi no l'ardiscon di guardare.
Ella si va, sentendosi laudare,
benignamente d'umiltà vestuta,
e par che sia una cosa venuta
da cielo in terra a miracol mostrare

Mostrasi sì piacente a chi la mira
che dà per li occhi una dolcezza al core,
che 'ntender no la può chi no la prova;

e par che de la sua labbia si mova
un spirito soave pien d'amore,
che va dicendo a l'anima: Sospira.

 If  you  are not up to memorizing  a quatrain   or two  in the   13th century Tuscan dialect  which later became   Italian,  you can settle  for   a few of these   simple   rhyming   quotations  to impress your friends  with  your knowledge  of  Italian language  and culture.

Here are  a few popular sayings   still  in daily use among  my neighbors here in central Italy.  Perhaps  few city dwellers  remember  or use  these  snippets of country wisdom, but  in  the Viterbo   province also known as Etruria or Tuscia, they are still understood and used…for  country wisdom  is   graphic and  funny  as well as  being  time-less.   

·         Quando Montefogliano mette il cappello, non uscire senza l’ombrello
When  Montefogliano  (local  hill)  puts on  its hat (clouds), don’t go out  without an umbrella.

·         Il gatto nella dispensa quello che non fa, pensa
What  the cat  doesn’t do in  the larder, he thinks about.

·         Il letto è una rosa, chi non dorme si riposa
The bed is  a rose  (comfy),  if you don’t  sleep, you  rest.

·         Latte e vino, veleno fino
Milk  together  with wine  is  a fine poison.
(in other words, no cappuccino  after  a meal with wine)

·         La scolatura alla più bella di natura
The last drop of wine   - to the most beautiful
(in  homage  to  a beautiful dinner companion, while emptying   the wine bottle )

·         Il mondo  è fatto a scale: chi li scende e chi li sale
The world is   like a staircase,  some  go down and some go up.

·         Monache, preti e polli non sono mai satolli
Nuns,  priests  and chickens are  never  full  /satiated.

And, since  it  is August,  
·         Ad agosto, moglia mia non ti conosco