Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ireland and Italy share a common celebration

first printed map of Ireland, 1590

Over 700 million Irish -and those of Irish descent- scattered  in all corners of the globe  will be enjoying a   long weekend on March 17th  full of  festivities and  parades  in honor of St. Patrick’s Day .  For the first time Italy will be celebrating the day too,  for  March 17th  has been proclaimed  a National Holiday  in honor of the country’s   150th anniversary of   unification .  
Italy and Ireland have shared  connections for a long time. 
Irish pilgrims, saints and scholars gravitated  toward Rome while   legend tells us that even the patron saint of Ireland -Patrick-was originally from Italy.   In  the ancient basilica of St. Stefano Rotondo set in  the quiet of  Rome’s Caelian hill  there are curved

walls  frescoed with  gory scenes of  martyrdom and   also  a plaque

 commemorating  Brian Boru’s son, King Donnchadh of Munster, 

who died during a pilgrimage to Rome and was buried here in 1064.

  Monumental graves in front of the altar of  St. Pietro in Montorio

 on  the Janiculum    are  testament to a  group of  exiled  Irish Earls

 led by Hugh O’Neill who fled to Rome  in 1607.
model   St. Patrick's Brigade  uniform 1860

The first printed map of Ireland appeared in “Le Isole piu famose del mondo” in 1590 where Venetian cartographer Tommaso Porcacchi showed Hibernia laying on its side. In the 18th and 19th centuries many Italians migrated to Ireland including Charles 
Bianconi who organized an entire transport system for Ireland
including coaches which crisscrossed the country and a system
of postal stations, inns and mail delivery. Even today Bianconi
Inns can be found in smaller Irish towns .
Among the Irish  saints and scholars  who were  regularly  “exported”   to Italy many  left  indelible marks  on the Eternal City . One was Franciscan Luke Wadding who set up St. Isidore’s Church and the Irish College. Dominican priest Joseph Mullooly  excavated  under  San Clemente‘s   Cosmastesque pavements  to find  an earlier 4th century church and, on a still lower level, a pagan Mithraic temple and Roman houses.  Besides being an amateur archaeologist, Mullooly was also an important figure in a little-known chapter of the Risorgimento  which  gives  Irish and Italians  a common reason for  
celebrating this March 17.
Pope Pius IX
 In 1860 along with  Paul Cullen,  head of the Irish College in

 Rome,  Mullooly  was the  mediator between Austro-Irish officers

 and the papal government for the formation of the St. Patrick’s 

Irish Brigade.   Prior to 1860 Pius IX and his counsellors had

 doubts concerning the enlistment of Irish soldiers to defend

 Papal territory. 

 But by January 1860 Pius IX had changed his mind due to  the seriousness of the situation in central Italy and sent  Count Charles MacDonnell,an Austrian officer of Irish descent, to Dublin to  organize  the volunteer movement.

 During the summer of 1860 over 1,000 Irish volunteers travelled from Ireland to Italy where they  participated in the battles of Spoleto, Castelfidardo, Ancona and Perugia.

Fighting  valiantly  against enormous odds they wrote  a short but glorious chapter in the history of the  Italian Risorgimento to be remembered during this year’s  Unification  celebrations .
You can order  a copy  of my book on this subject directly  ...there are less than 100 copies  left.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vetralla’s Carnevale –

Since  this  Sunday  February 27  will be  the first of the Carnival parades here in Vetralla,  here is the story I wrote about last year's parade which featured  the  Simpsons  and  some satirical  floats about Italian politics.
Little has changed  in a year, so take a look at
Vetralla’s Carnevale –

We are expecting  some American students   from the Viterbo USAC program to join in the festivities.   Who else  is coming ?
 For the entire Carnivale  program check

The parade starts at 3 p.m. and includes   giant floats and hundreds of costumed revelers .  If you want to  come earlier  to explore the picturesque medieval streets and have lunch,  I recommend  La Lanterna  a family-run trattoria  right  in the  historic center  on the parade route.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Carnevale in Northern Lazio

How many of my former students at Rome's international schools remember how  mid-winter  doldrums were broken up by "snow week" or "art week"?  
Here in Northern Lazio, formerly the Papal States,  winter is enlivened with Carnevale festivitiesan  important  part of the annual cycle of festivals.  Not only kids, but also adults  need an  excuse to  break down barriers with noisy costume parades, masked balls and general merriment.
Venetian style Carnival masks  seen at  Libreria del Teatro, Viterbo

At Ronciglione, 50 kms. from Rome,  there are several weeks of mid-winter madness where one can  relive the excitement-including riderless horse races-that Charles Dickens described in his 1846 description of the  Roman carnival season. (update for  p. 116  in  my latest book "Etruria".)  

Carnival  parade in Vetralla 

Italy's  best known carnivals include the recently revived  (and expensive!) masked balls of Venice and the famous Viareggio carnival parade with  giant floats  that are the envy of Rio's carnival. 
This year you can  enjoy a Venetian-style  Ballo in Maschera   in the  glamorous mirrored saloni of Palazzo Monaldeschi close to Viterbo

  For  60 euro Palazzo Monaldeschi  and Opera Extravaganza  offer  dinner, dance and a lively opera show  that was the high light of a recent visit by international tour operators. 

  Save the date-Saturday, March 5th-and contact Susanna at  for  information and bookings. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February-the best time to visit the Vatican Museums

February  20, 2013  Update  Pre-Conclave Weeks in Vatican 

Don't try to enter  Vatican City  in the next few weeks, security has been tightened up.  If you are going to the Pharmacy, be sure you have  a doctor's  prescription...or the Swiss Guards, kindly but firmly ,  will send you away.

My local museum on a  sunny February morning

   February is the best month for visiting  museums in Italy, including one in the "foreign country" known  as Vatican City State.  Vatican has its own money, telephone and postal systems and even license plates like this one  on a vehicle parked at  the new Museum entrance.  
SCV  stands for  Stato Città Vaticano or  as  malignant  Vatican watchers say, "Se Cristo Vedesse", ("If Christ  could only see!").

The sun filled atrium, new Museum entrance. Where are the crowds ?  
   For years I have put off a nostalgic  visit to the Museums due to tourists' tales  of  endless lines at both St. Peter's Basilica (my former "parish") and the  Museums.

 Forums are clogged with  discussions on  the best time of day to attempt a visit and  tour agencies and private guides have  become wealthy selling "skip the lines" tours.
Time  and space to enjoy  the details
  The photos taken during our visit are evidence that Wednesday mornings in January and February  are preferable for a leisurely, in-depth, independent  visit. 
 Most of the visitors to the Vatican  on Wednesdays are taking in the Papal Audience in the hall  on the other side of the tiny country.
Masterpiece  in  the outdoor Sculpture courtyard 
Sistine Chapel without  crowds: Michelangelo's Last Judgement and ceiling 
One can get upclose to the works of art, enjoy the frescoes and statuary. 

Raphael's "School of Athens"  with philosopher  Ipazia of Alexandria
The guards are not hassled  and more lenient with the "one-way"  rules. 
Beyond the spacious atrium where audio guides are available, there are abundant souvenir and book stalls, new coffee shops and a new  Vatican Archives shop with replicas of important historical documents.

 I noticed  letters from Abraham Lincoln, FD Roosevelt and replicas of coins and medals  of emperors, kings and saints. 
Original Papal bull with wax signature seals  concerning Henry VIII's divorce

 Vatican Archives researcher Barbara Frale,  who lives in nearby Orte, found documents explaining the true story of  the  Templar Knights and the resulting special edition  is available here for a mere  6000 euro.

 Replica copies on vellum  of the documents concerning King Henry VIII's  divorce (of the 200 printed, one went to Queen Elizabeth II)  are  now out of print.
 I am proud that the translator of the document used my library to help with her work .

Signposts show the way to many, varied sections of the Vatican Museums
How to avoid cultural indigestion and  Stendhal Syndrome?  My advice is to pinpoint  one or two special places to visit and not try to see everything. 
Don't forget to visit my website for more insider tips. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy St. Valentine's Day

Valentine's getaway in a Castle 

San Valentino  is one of the patron saints of Viterbo  who was a lst century AD  bishop in  Terni, just across the Tiber in nearby Umbria.
 About  40 years ago, on this day,  I  was able to visit  the catacombs  dedicated  to San  Valentino  along with a group of experts from  the Pontifical Archeological Commission in charge of martyrs.  I remember a spooky, dark catacombs and the fact  that  I was the only young woman  in a group of  elderly, priest types.
  We were there for  a mass said in  honor  of the saint and martyr as if  he had just recently  died.

antique Valentines card

This year San Valentino  sent some magnificent  heart-colored   sunsets  to brighten our  Etruscan sky  and the local bakery  was overflowing  with  heart shaped  torte.

A group  of  about  30-40  international ladies  were present  for the St. Valentine's Coffee Morning  sponsored  by  the   Welcome Neighbor  Club in Olgiata,  an exclusive  residential quarter  on the northern fringe of Rome.

Club organizer,  Paula Treu,  and  I  traded  copies of our new books  which we  then  presented  to club members.   Paula's book "I ragazzi del Monticchio"   tells the story of  a group of adolescents growing up in the Olgiata-Cassia area and is written in Italian.
 My book "Etruria", which  contains  travel and history essays as well as itineraries   to prove  that  "there is civilization beyond Olgiata"  was sold out!
 Grazie  ladies !  It is so important  for a writer  to actually meet  her readers.  Let me know  how you liked  the book.  You  can leave your comments and reviews  here.

Reviews, preface and contents are at  my website.  and  signed copies  can be ordered directly  from me. Just drop me an email  at .  Postage to Italian addresses is free.
 Copies   in e-book format  to download on your Kindle  can  be ordered from  my publishers .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Almost a half a century in Italy

I've  finally succumbed  to pressure from   my readers and have set up this place  to  communicate with them. 
 I've called it   "50 years in Italy" for  the nearly  five  decades of  living  experience here. 

This newly available technology will update information given in  my published books. 
See "About"page on my website for a full bibliography which includes numerous guidebooks and hundreds of articles published  since  1978. 

Now  newcomers and visitors can view up-to-date information and    insider tips  not easily found  elsewhere. 
I've been checking out and choosing the best hospitality structures in Italy for  years (See Our Partners) and along with "in-house chef", Fulvio, enjoy searching out and  "judging"  ristoranti, trattorie and cruise ships. 

Besides focusing on areas  usually ignored by traditional media:  Civitavecchia, Viterbo and  historical Rome, I plan to reveal the best of the ports touched  during  past and future cruises around the Mediterranean. 
I will be pleased  to receive comments and suggestions to help make this a valuable resource for  all eager explorers and travelers.