Thursday, June 28, 2012

Becoming a Porter of Santa Rosa-The Trials

Palazzo Mazzatosta, on the way to the trials 

exclusive interview  with the President  of the Facchini 

Viterbo’s spectacular  festival dedicated to Santa Rosa which has taken place on September  3rd  for  over  750 years starts here,  in a former  church dedicated to peace, just  before  Viterbo’s families  go off  to the  beach on  holiday. 

 During  my  35 years in Rome I had never  heard of the festival, but  upon taking up residence  in the province of Viterbo, I quickly learned that it is the most important  happening of the year, around which the Viterbese  arrange their vacations and family life. 

Massimo Mecarini &  the  cast iron  box which is  padded for "comfort"  

Each one of the 100 men who make up the Sodalizio dei  Facchini (porters) must undertake the annual  trial known as  the prova di portata    on these  hot  afternoons at the end of June.

closeup of the  cast iron   chest  
 One by one they must  carry  this  150 kg. weight for 90 metres, or  three times around   the Sala Prova, under the watchful eyes of their colleagues  and beneath the frescoed  ceiling of the former church.   
frecoed ceiling  S. M. della Pace 

You can  watch the video  of the prova on the official website of the Sodalizio dei Facchini. This year  a TV  crew  will be on hand to film the prova di portata .

padded  and numbered neck braces
The  young, aspirant  porters  are also put "on trial "  and only the fittest, who must be between 18  to 34,   are accepted. 

They will become  the new heroes  of  the city, adulated  by the crowds on the night of September  3rd .  

For more  on the Santa Rosa Festival and the Porters, see  this post.

family and girlfriends will watch the prova di portata 

Here is my translation of Lorena Paris' poem in honor of the Facchini. 

The Porters of Santa Rosa
Identical  smiles mirrored in the faces
of the white river
between amphitheatres of crowds
always  astonished
and there the statue  swaying
above the roof tops
cuts  the blue
 of a holy and profane night.
Then the pavement runs quickly
With the  breath of the eyes glazed by pride
in the devoted steps and the rhythm of faith
in the strong arms of adoration

under that  yoke of tradition. 

Don't wait  35 years like I did-put this traditional festival on your  list of things to see in Italy.   

There is very little in English about Viterbo and  its festivals, but you can find ideas for accomodations and itineraries on  my website and of course, in my books about the area.  
After  12 years, a newly designed website   is now  in the works, stay tuned!   

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Jewels of Rome with Kevin Murray

 Born  in New South Wales, Australia, Kevin Murray has lived  in Rome  for  over  40 years and  considers  the Eternal City his home. 

with the artist in his studio
 Many decades ago  he earned a diploma at the Accademia delle  Belle Arti where he studied  painting (with Gentilini) and etching (with Maccari) as well as   mosaic technique in Ravenna’s Centro Internazionale del Mosaico.

Fountain of the Turtles 
Kevin and I were colleagues  in the 1970s-80s  when he taught  art and history to international students  and survival English to Russian émigrés in Rome. 

He  balanced  his teaching  with his art so well that  former students  often described him  as a Renaissance man for he is comfortable wearing many hats.

St, Peter's dome and the Tiber 
Besides directing excavations in Herculaneum, he held numerous one man shows in Sydney and Adelaide  (1971-1988)  as well as in  prestigious galleries of Rome and Florence like the Valle Giulia gallery, The Crypt  and Bottega di Cimabue.

still life 

a period palazzetto  with a Roman temple at the end of the street

Now comfortably settled in a period  palazzetto  between the temple of Minerva  and the multi cultural neighborhood of Pza. Vittorio, Kevin has carved out a  home and studio  that reflects  his eclectic lifestyle made up of  painting, music  and  cinema. 

Murray's  Roman terrace
You may have seen Kevin playing a cardinal in the recent  Nanni Moretti  film “Habemus Papem” .

What  are the jewels of Rome according to  Kevin Murray?

vicolo  Piazza Navona 

They include the  cupolas of many Roman churches and food enjoyed  during  visit to the  Roman campagna, just as  his predecessors of the Grand Tour .  

view of Roman countryside 

Benediction loggia, San Marco 
His latest  personal exhibit continues  until July  18  at  Studio Minera, Via Pietro Micca 6, Rome. 

An invitation to fellow expats and former students  to stop by and see  the Jewels of Rome.    RSVP to  
      Other paintings

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fashionable and Handmade in Etruria

City Hall  decorated for the festa  

In Northern Lazio's quiet towns the most important festivals  are all about eating and  food. 
Although equidistant from cosmopolitan Rome and fashionable Florence,  here in Etruria food and wine take precedence over bella figura and sexy shoes .  
enjoying  pizze fritte  at the festival of  San Antonio 

The Tuesday morning market brings  a weekly quota of fashion that is   brightly colored,  cheap and chic, but  mostly made  in China. 

summer fashion  blowing in the wind

one of the bancarelle at the weekly market
 Then for  two weekends  in June there is the annual  Cene in Cantine festival  and the entire town takes on a whole new look.  

handmade cloth dolls  

A flood of  visitors from all over the province and from Rome descend to partake of the excellent food  prepared and served in the underground cantine. 

  The main street becomes pedestrian, cars are banned and there may be a bit of havoc late at night due to groups of young people who have had too much wine.  

tapestry bags  handmade  in Vetralla

Vetralla is  also invaded  by a few dozen local artisans with  handmade  bags, fashion  accessories and artisanal handicrafts.  
Snow White and 7 dwarfs   
A wide array of  unique  handmade pieces are displayed  on tables along the one, central street and also in numerous  tiny shops of the centro storico. 
Graziella, Maria Flavia and Isolina  with their handicrafts

Most of these shops are usually closed due to lack of customers who flock instead to supermarkets and malls for their shopping needs.

crocheted  evening purse 
Many of the handicrafts and fashion accessories  on sale are comparable to those sold at much higher prices in boutiques located in  tourist meccas of Tuscany and  Sardegna's Emerald  Coast
coral and seashells  vase 
These festive June weekends are  another proof that the creative instinct  is very much alive.  

inexpensive caps 

Barbara 's handmade items clash with nearby Chinese shop

bags, bracelets and T shirts  from 4 to 25 euro

belts made to last  a lifetime

Martelletto's belts  
..and bags 

 Most of the artisans  are women, but I did meet a  sculptor from Viterbo  who also restores  antique furniture and accepts commissions for sculptures. 
Cristiano, wood sculptor 

He was working on a linden wood sculpture of a dolphin, a detail of  
from design to finished sculpture 
 a fountain in nearby Campagnano. 

tools of the trade

Hopefully the city administrators will give incentives  to craftsmen  and shop owners to keep the  premises open, giving craftspeople a place to work and display their wares and thus bring the historic centre back to life.

Do you like to visit artisans'  workshops? 
We need your ideas and comments to help convince our local administrators how important it is to have a lively historic center. Please share with friends through Twitter, Facebook and email. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Civitavecchia-Rome: the scenic inland route

aqueduct on the  scenic inland route 
Which  Italy would you rather  experience: the crowded highway  through Rome’s  outlying suburbs and factories or a leisurely  drive  through green hills, past aqueducts and Etruscan tombs, with stops in medieval hill towns to see how people live here in central Italy?

a local traffic jam

 This is the dilemma faced by some of the 2 million cruise passengers docking  annually at Civitavecchia who request information on travel  forums :

 “What is the best way to get  from Civitavecchia  port to  Rome?”  or, vice versa, from Rome to  the embarkation dock.

As a resident travel writer and consultant, I have treated the question before   and now that summer  is again fast approaching,  I want to remind  cruisers  of  an alternative route  between Rome and Civitavecchia, one that helps beat the summer heat.

Tarquinia's towers -just 10 minutes from the dock of Civitavecchia

S. Maria in Castello, Tarquinia

entrance to Duomo Museum, Viterbo

dolphin fountain,  Vetralla
  During the dozens of cruises and port excursions enjoyed as cruise lecturer in the past 6  12 years  I've noticed  that the highlight for most people is being  treated to a slice of real local living.

 You can only take so many organized tours, museums and archeological sites. 
To really understand a locale and a civilization, you must discover the markets, the homes, the local lore and food.

  Here in central Italy many cruises begin and end at my home port, Civitavecchia, one hour north of Rome.

The ships usually arrive in port very early  in the day and  departures are set for  afternoon, so  it makes sense to use the  arrival/departure day for leisurely exploring, gaining those important experiences of real  Italian life. This can be done by  taking  the inland route instead of the  highway to Rome.

Antonella, local Italian guide in Viterbo   
It only takes a  bit of planning to arrange for a private  driver or a rental  car   to take the scenic inland route passing  through the hill town of Tarquinia, a UNESCO world heritage site.

 From there, continue along Via Aurelia bis over the rolling green hills to Vetralla, a compact historical center which has been under the protection of the English crown since the days of Henry VIII.

Ruud and visitors at  Bomarzo's Sacro Bosco

Mercatello, before the bridge to Civita, the dying city

 Retirement-aged cruisers save money by renting a van with driver  to explore the inland scenic route from Civitavecchia to Rome. By avoiding  the highway, big cities and big city prices they also  get a chance to  see daily life. 
Bags safely stowed in the van, the passengers  can stroll through our  town on market day, visiting the shops, chatting with local people and  
at the market: local artichokes  

 ordering a slice of pizza  at the forno. 

Meet the locals:  Adriana cares for the flowers of her piazza, Vetralla

Ruud  shows visitors Tuscania 

Multi-lingual guide Ruud likes to show visitors  his hometown and how we live here. 
 Italy is not just about monuments, art and those who take the scenic inland route discover.
enjoying gelato and espresso

What could be better than sharing food, conversation and visiting the homes, gardens and castles of the people who live here? 

leisurely lunch in a private garden .....
.......or on the terrace   

Drop me a line or leave a comment if you wish to join  the long list of  universities, tour operators,  travel agents and cruise lines who have benefitted from our  local, on site  expertise.   

More information about the area  can be found in my books "Etruria Travel, History and Itineraries in Central Italy"  and 
"Etruria Storie e Segreti". Order directly  from the website  and pay with paypal.