Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Mystery of the Ringed Clothesline

For this week's   view of  life in Italy, I have dipped  into  the archives of 50 years in Italy  and offer this piece:
originally  published on  International Daily News, Rome

 April 19, 1979 

On the outskirts of  some villages and along country roads  you will notice wet laundry spread out on the top of bushes to dry.
laundry  as it was done in the past

 This saves the trouble and expense of setting up a clothesline and some say that it makes the laundry whiter since it is in closer contact with the chlorophyll of the plants.  Then why don’t the sheets  become green? 

And what about  clotheslines in the city, especially those strung across courtyards and stretched between windows in the older neighborhoods of Rome?  Most families use the single pulley system with nylon cords or   stronger ones with a steel center that hardly ever break.

The clotheslines which stretch below my 5th floor window,  in the Prati neighborhood,  are at the same time ingenious but extremely complicated systems: the antithesis of the sheets flung over low bushes to dry.

illustration for original article 

There is a stationary iron wire- which rusts and leaves indelible rust stains on Nonna’s heirloom linens- and a supplementary nylon cord, infinitely thin, which breaks at least once a year and must be repaired by splicing worthy of a Sixth Fleet sailor.

Along this double cord are run a series of metal rings with hanging strings-white, brown and black, depending on their age.
To the strings are tied the corners of the sheets, skirts and other family biancheria , then  the rings, with clothing attached, are  pushed out along the line with the help of an old broom handle, or perhaps two broom handles tied together,  in order to reach the further end of the line.

The consequence of this system is that all the towels, napkins and tablecloths of these families, if not expertly ironed, remain with little rabbit ears on two ends.

 On those annual occasions when I must help my next-door neighbor repair the line I’ve tried some propaganda in favor of clothespins and pulleys, but the years go by and the traditional system prevails.

lavatoio, laundry house in Vetralla 

The back story  of this article: the neighboring family who used  this incredibly complicated laundry system came from Vallerano, a small town close to where I now live.

  It was the normal system in their town  40 years ago and they brought it with them when they moved to the big city. 

Other stories about  local   laundry techniques  can be found in the archives of Italian Notebook: 
   this  article from 2007 ...

and this one from 2009 .

Keep them in mind next time you find yourself   rinsing out underwear  in a hotel sink.
   What   laundry  methods  do you have in your town?  Unusual ones  discovered in your travels?

In use since  1851  


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Festivals of Fertility : Wedding of the Trees and La Barabbata

In May each year the towns of Northern Lazio  celebrate  the fertile season  with a series of ancient festivals. One is the Wedding of the Trees  celebrated on May 8 in Vetralla which dates back centuries and is probably the first and most genuine ecological   or "green" festival.


Costumed dancers follow the music of the town band, flag throwers perform and horsemen (and women) bearing bouquets of yellow broom gallop around the  clearing in the forest atop Monte Fogliano.
 The symbolic "wedding"  between two giant oaks decorated with veils and garlands is performed and a notary's document is read and signed.
veils and garlands of yellow broom decorate the  wedding of the trees

Viva  la Madonna!!
On May 14th the  village of Marta  on Lake Bolsena  hosts the Barabbata festival, prototype of all May fairs. Here the goddess Maia
 (the month of May, mother Nature) is honored  by the exclusively male participants.

The origins of the ritual, officially dedicated to the Madonna del Monte, are lost in time but athropologists  explain that this magic-popular-pagan feast is an earthy celebration of fertility rites dating to pre-Etruscan times.

 Led by horsemen, the slow  procession of fishermen and farmers carrying  the tools of their trades ( nets, guns and farmer's rakes) winds  through town and   up to the hillside sanctuary-Madonna del Monte-  which is decorated  for the occasion with garlands of fruits and flowers straight out of a Renaissance painting.

home made floats  carry fruits of the land and lake

 White buffalo help pull the homemade floats known as fontane that are piled high with  artistically arranged cheeses, flowers, fruit  and lake fish.
a team of oxen  pull  a float  
At intervals the participants roar out songs and cheers to the Madonna while the  girls and women oberseve from the balconies and throw down flower petals  on the handsomest members of the groups.

Learn more about the area's  festivals  in  "Etruria: travel, history and itineraries  in Central Italy"  which can be ordered  directly from my website .  

Thanks to John Ferro Sims of London and Rob Mari of California  for  the photos.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Before the Blog...a short history of travel magazines

Scena Illustrata, Firenze, agosto 1927  when travel was  only for the wealthy

The rereading of  Alain De Botton's  evocative  "The Art of Travel"   brought  to mind the question:  what intiates  interest in foreign travel ? 

Weekend, published by Bolaffi/Mondadori, 1970s  Italian travel magazine-a silk scarf was included with  each issue

Is it the success of  a first trip abroad that marks our fate and turns us into eternal expats, leading us to spend most of our  lifetime  in a place far  from our original home? 

Perhaps it was Discovery Channel's documentaries, the yellow  National Geographic covers or, as in my case, the glossy covers  and alluring photos and articles of  Holiday magazine in the 50s and 60s.
Holiday, August  1947  special Maine issue

Nowadays the occasions  for foreign  travel  have multiplied and  it is easier to find out  about exotic countries  thanks also to  the proliferation of  excellent travel blogs, often  written by  local, professional travel writers.
For this new generation of travel writers/ bloggers,  here is a short, nostalgic  look at what it was like to write for  travel  magazines  in past decades.

I wrote the antiques article  for this issue 

 In  pre-computer  days magazine and newspaper  articles were  pounded out  on an upright  Royal or Olivetti with two sheets of carbon paper inserted.  Editors got the top, good copy while the writer kept a  carbon copy to file away. 

Mistakes were corrected with a rubber eraser or whitener.
 Then the race by bus or subway  to a downtown editorial office to hand in copy before deadline. 

That is if you had a regular outlet  for  your writing.

a short-lived  Italy  travel magazine

To find work, most freelancers in the 60s-70s-80s-90s depended on the annual yearbook known as  “Writers Market”, a hefty   volume that was expensive to ship overseas. 
still going strong after  several decades.... 

On staff  of first western style magazine in USSR

If you were “pitching an article”  to an editor in another city  or country, the  query letter, with  correct postage and an international reply coupon  would be mailed, preferebly  from  the Vatican post office,considered more reliable than the Italian postal system. 

despite its name, this Australian magazine came out   monthly

Weeks  would go by before you heard if the editor was interested, then  months ( sometimes years)  would pass before payment was received.    What a comparatively  easy existence  travel writers  and bloggers have nowadays !

UPDATE   July   2016  
Travel Books by Mary Jane Cryan 
for insider information on central Italy are available  directly  from the author. 
See books page on my award winning website Elegant Etruria
latest book, in Italian 

in English and Italian 
used by students, tour operators, guides


Sunday, February 12, 2012

What Women Want on St. Valentine's Day

Since  the days of Chaucer and the Elizabethans there were verses, trinkets and love tokens exchanged  on this day. 
Hand painted with birds, flowers and hearts, the products of an elegant society and education, these valentines were  made in limited numbers.

A vintage Valentine would be  lst choice for women who love antiques . 

2nd choice -For the adventurous traveling woman, a visit to Terni, (100 kms. from Rome) where St. Valentine was bishop and died a martyr in 273. Hundreds of couples visit the tomb of the patron saint of lovers at the Basilica just outside town on this day.  Stop to see the romantic Marmore waterfalls nearby, created by the Romans in the 2nd century B.C. 

On the way to Terni, stop for a romantic  weekend at the Castello di Proceno perched on a hilltop near the border between Lazio and Tuscany.   

3rd choice - If you are in Rome, make a visit to view the sensuous  sculptures of Canova and Bernini  at the Borghese Gallery
Drop in the gallery's restaurant afterwards for  tea and, to remember the day, purchase a souvenir from the well stocked bookshop.
Approach to Galleria Borghese, Rome, once home to Paolina Bonaparte-Borghese

Bernini's  sensuous Apollo and  Daphne 

Have the room to yourselves, at lunchtime in February

Roman statue from the Louvre 


 Paolina Bonaparte-Borghese as Venus, Canova's masterpiece

4th choice – have some chocolates on hand. Belgian chocolates with fresh cream are the best but  easily spoil. 

Erotic  Etruscan  chocolate can be found hidden behind a discreet red curtain in a central pastry shop in Viterbo.

5th choice-Learn  a love poem to recite  on the day like  this  sonnet by Dante.

Book of  Dante's love sonnets,  1921 

Illustrated  by Dante Gabriele Rossetti

Most  women  would be perfectly  happy  with  one of these  surprises, two or three would be preferable. Let  us know your  ideas for special places  to spend  Valentine's  Day where you live.


Friday, February 3, 2012

The Heart of Rome Itinerary - with artist Justin Bradshaw


Piazza Venezia  by Justin Bradshaw 

Piazza Venezia and the  Capitoline Hill, make up the  pulsing  heart of Rome and thus  are the perfect  starting point  for a visit of the  Eternal City.

La Piazza del Campidoglio/Capitoline  piazza, one of the most perfect urban spaces in the history of architecture, was designed by Michelangelo. Here visitors are greeted by a selection of marvelous statuary bits and equestrian statues.  

Painting by Justin Bradshaw
These include  twin statues of  Castor and Pollux  and in the center of the piazza, that of  emperor-philosopher  Marcus Aurelius.

 The present statue is a reproduction of the original  which is kept in the Palazzo Nuovo. It is the only Roman  bronze statue that survived the medieval period-because it was thought to portray a  Christian emperor.  

Marcus Aurelius - Rome city hall 

Courtyard of the Capitoline Museum

The area had a completely different  look  before the Victor Emanuel  monument was built  between the years 1885 and 1911.

  In this sketch  by Ludovico Caracciolo  (circa1830)  the towers of the Farnese gardens which once stood on the spot are visible.  

King Victor Emanuel  statue, Vittoriano

Nathaniel Hawthorne  described  his visit to the  Capitoline museums  in a March 1859 diary entry and later used them as the setting for his novel “The Marble Faun”.    

entrance to Capitoline Museums 
“I went to the sculpture-gallery of the Capitol yesterday, and saw, among other things, the Venus in her secret cabinet. This was my second view of her: the first time, I greatly admired her; now, she made no very favorable impression.

a Roman lady 
The Dying Gaul

  We looked at the Faun, the Dying Gladiator, and other famous sculptures; but nothing had a glory round it, perhaps because the sirocco was blowing. These halls of the Capitol have always had a dreary and depressing effect upon me, very different from those of the Vatican. I know not why, except that the rooms of the Capitol have a dingy, shabby, and neglected look, and that the statues are dusty, and all the arrangements less magnificent than at the Vatican. “

a room full of Roman busts 

music among the sculptures 

doorway to exhibition rooms, behind the Vittoriano

Roman Forum seen from Campidoglio hill

all the world comes to Rome 

Many  writers and painters  described the Capitoline especially during the Grand Tour period. 

 London-born painter  Justin Bradshaw  is a perfect guide to the modern  pulsing heart of the city: the  Capitoline, Piazza Venezia and  adjacent neighborhoods which he knows well.

 “I can't help admiring the Vittoriano's unashamed self-celebration, like a wedding cake it announces that it is the centre of the festivities”
confesses artist  Justin Bradshaw
who has dedicated many hours painting the imposing structure as well as the quiet corners and courtyards  such as the  Turtle Fountain in Piazza Mattei,  shop windows and reflections which can be admired on his website.

 painting by Justin Bradshaw

Piazza Venezia and Vittoriano  by Justin Bradshaw

 Every year  the artist’s newest works are shown at   a personal show at Sestrieri gallery in  Piazza Margana, just  a stone’s throw from the monumental Piazza Venezia.

With artist Justin Bradshaw at recent personal exhibit, Piazza Margana, Rome 

Bradshaw, who   lives and works between Rome and  his studio in  Civita Castellana, has also illustrated books about historic travel. 

The Capitoline/Campidoglio is also a romantic place as  the announcements for weddings taking place in Rome are posted  there and the springtime sees  a flurry of  civil weddings  held  in the lovely Sala Rossa.

underground  lapidarium   linking  Capitoline's buildings  

VIP lift 
The Vittoriano or  Altar of the Fatherland, holds the tomb of  Italy’s  unknown soldier as well as several exhibition halls, Museums dedicated to  Emigration and the Risorgimento. 

 Scholars visiting the Risorgimento  library will also travel back in time: the original  1908 wrought iron  elevator is still the only way to arrive  to the Archives located on an upper floor. 

 Most tourists  will be content with the  panoramic glass elevator installed in 2007  on the external part of the monument. 
 A lucky few  will get a chance to ride in the wood panelled hexagonal VIP  elevator in the Capitoline Museums.

When the construction of  the monument was being completed, architects and  workers enjoyed a banquet inside the belly of the 12 metre high bronze horse statue that is its centrepiece.

Napoleon’s mother, Madame Mère,  lived out her life in the palazzo facing the Vittoriano, and kept her eye on happenings, including the annual Carnival festivities,  from this shuttered balcony on the corner of  Via del Corso.

When hunger strikes, there is a bar  restaurant  with panoramic terraces,
 pricey snacks  and a covered dining area on the upper level of the Capitoline Museums. 

panoramic terrace of Capitoline Museums, views to Ara Coeli  & Vittoriano

 City employees and  vigili  urbani  take their coffee breaks at this busy snack bar near the Treasury  offices .
Treasury office, Campidoglio
secret snack bar