Coming up to Christmas in Rome

Piazza San Pietro

Like everywhere else, pre-Christmas shopping and socializing are in full swing here. The streets are crowded with shoppers and there are little Christmas markets selling crafts and food. I wondered where this custom of gift-giving had arisen and lo and behold, I found out that it has existed here since Roman times when the pagan festival Saturnalia was celebrated to celebrate the winter solstice. According to the calendar of that time, the day of the solstice was December 25th and was marked by feasting, partying and the exchange of small gifts. In the 4th century, Pope Julius declared this day to be the birth day of Christ.

The custom of lighting candles signified light returning after the solstice and of course, lights are now a big part of Christmas. The streets here are all lit up and very festive looking.

As usual, there is a very large tree in the Piazza of St. Peters Basilica. Every year a particular town or region constructs a huge Nativity scene in the Piazza and this year Venice created it out of sand. Good thing its covered as we`ve been having more rain than usual. The custom here is to place the baby Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve after midnight Mass. Obviously, this could  not be done with the sand sculpture so it is already complete.

Piazza Venezia

Last year, the Christmas tree which the city installs in Piazza Venezia, was a laughing stock as it was spindly and dying when it was put up earning the name of `Spelachio, the mangy one. This year, Netflix has donated a tree and a fine one it is too. In fact so large that the bottom branches had to be swan off in order for it to be transported to its location and hammered back into place again. The only eyesore is that there is a large TV screen at the bottom presumably showing something related to Netflix. I didn’t get close enough to see as it was raining when I went by.

During Roman times when Saturnalia was celebrated, schools and workplaces were closed and even the slaves didn’t work during this time. I met a friend today who has turned down a dinner invitation on Christmas Eve as apparently, all public transport will stop at 9 pm, taxis will be scarce and he won’t be able to get home. Romans still take their holidays seriously it seems. I myself will be back in Toronto for Christmas and for sure public transport will be operating normally there.

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A Visit to Dublin

Monument of Light
Image: Rory MacFlynn

The last time I was in Dublin about three years ago, I didn’t notice the above spire. I’m not sure why as it is 120 metres tall and soars into the sky; one can just barely see the top. It stands opposite the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell St. where I went to see a relatively recent permanent exhibition on the Easter Uprising in 1916. Since the GPO was the centre of the uprising, it made it more real being within the building where the battle started and a perfect location for the exhibit. Somehow, seeing the spire just outside seemed a fitting symbol of a nation rising against oppression.

I didn’t spend a lot of time sightseeing during my week there as my main goal was to catch up with as many friends as possible both in Belfast as well as in Dublin so I spent most of my time eating and drinking, Guinness of course!

I lived in Dublin for many years but the city has changed considerably since I lived there. One expects to see restorations and new buildings but I was taken aback and charmed by this building which I came across by accident and which I had never noticed before although it was certainly there during my time.

It’s the building occupied by the oldest charity in the city of Dublin who used it from 1855 to 1992. As you can see from the writing across the front, the charity is the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Society established in 1790 to relieve the poverty which pervaded the city at that time. Unable to work and ashamed to beg, many people died from poverty in garrets and cellars. It was to help these people living in a particular part of the city, that the society was formed. The charity still exists and helps people who are experiencing temporary difficulties and need one time assistance to get back on their feet. I love the name of the Society.

Dublin was very festive coming up to Christmas with streets and shop windows beautifully decorated, much more so than Rome. However, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and marks the start of the Christmas season here.

It happens to be the feast day of the neighbourhood I live in and there was the annual procession on our hill. I went to catch a bus at the bottom of the hill this afternoon and bumped into it as it came along the main road for a short stretch before going back up the hill again. People wait until today to put out their decorations and the Christmas lights in the streets will be turned on tonight.  The shopping has already begun.

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Rome Says Enough!

On Saturday a week ago, there was a demonstration in front of City Hall to protest against the increasing decline in Rome’s infrastructure. There were reportedly around 10,000 people bearing various slogans critical of the Mayor Virginia Raggi and her Populist party, Le Cinque Stelle, for failing to honour election promises.

Garbage continues to pile up around the city. The waste management company AMA, which deals with Rome’s garbage, is apparently controlled by organized crime syndicates. Raggi’s attempt to get rid of them without putting other plans in place, has led to the present state of affairs from what I understand.

It’s not only the garbage that’s an issue but also the roads, many of which are full of holes that need to be fixed.  The city just cordons them off with orange plastic netting because it can be sued if someone falls and is injured, and nothing is done for months. People at the demonstration were walking around wearing the orange netting in protest . The transport system is a disaster and buses have even been going up in flames for lack of maintenance. People have had enough and want change.

As if all this wasn’t enough, it has been raining here since last Sunday. On Monday, several huge trees fell over right in the city centre crushing cars. These were cleared away fairly quickly but there are lots of damaged trees and smaller branches lying around  which will probably be left there for some time. We can’t really complain about this because the rain has devastated parts of the north as well as Sicily so we are lucky by comparison.

Next weekend, is going to be interesting. The Mayor herself has been accused of abuse of office regarding a controversial appointment in the City Council. Next Saturday, the case comes to trial and she has said that she will resign if found guilty. On Sunday there’s going to be a public referendum to determine if the municipally owned transport company ATAC, which runs the bus and subway system, should continue to be allowed a monopoly, or if competition should be given free rein. Meanwhile, the city totters along as it has always done.  As a friend commented in response to my last post, it’s not called the Eternal City for nothing! Let’s hope that things improve soon, if not the infrastructure, at least the weather.

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Back in Rome for Better for Worse

I returned to Rome a little over a week ago after Thanksgiving in Canada. From the start of Fall weather in Ontario, going mushroom picking wearing a jacket, to 25C and sunny in Rome. I had to dig out my summer stuff as it has been hot and also quite humid since I got here.

It was nice to be back but I was horrified by the state of the city. We have a communal garbage collection in our neighbourhood which means that one has to take one’s garbage down to the street and put it in the appropriate bin, namely organic, plastic/metal, glass and non-recyclable garbage. For some unknown reason, the bins are not being emptied.  So  if yuo look up, you see the beautiful dome of St. Peter’s basilica but you have to keep your eyes down as the sidewalk is overflowing with garbage. All attempts at differentiating it have ceased. It is truly an ugly sight and I have no doubt that rats come out to feast at night. I am told that the Mayor cancelled all the garbage collection contracts on account of corruption and has not found other companies to replace the ones fired. The city council has also cut park maintenance so it will be sad to see the gardens of the Villa Borghese and Villa Pamphili falling into decline.

Down at our local daily market, several stalls have shut down, something about the taxes being too high for them to make a profit. The vibrant atmosphere of the market is no longer there and it seems like the rest of the vendors are just hanging on. Italy’s economy is in dire straits and the EU parliament is threatening to introduce austerity measures.  The new coalition government is not a happy marriage and it’s hard to say where the country is heading. At least, since the Brexit fiasco neither party is pushing for a break from the EU yet.

On the positive side, Rome has somehow survived all sorts of changes including powerful invasions so it will pull through somehow. One small thing that cheered me up was that the trees which had been cut down in the garden next door have sprouted new branches and are growing again. Hard to believe as they were cut right down. Not all have regrown but those that have, seem to be doing well and I even spotted a parrot a couple of days ago. Miracles do happen so I haven’t given up hope yet.

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Summer Adventure in Haida Gwaii

I have been back in Canada since July enjoying the summer here with family and friends.  The highlight of my time here so far was a trip to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago 80km west of northern British Columbia and 65km south of Alaska. Formerly named the Queen Charlotte Islands by the British, the name was changed in 2010. My sister Florinda and I flew  from Toronto to Vancouver where we switched to a small plane to fly to Sandspit on Moresby Island. I have taken many flights in my lifetime, often to remote places, but I had never been on one where the fight attendant called for more people to move to the back of the plane before we took off, to balance the weight better!

Brian making sure we were adequately kitted out

Haida Gwaii is the historic territory of the Haida people who have inhabited the islands since around the 12 cenury BC. It consists of more than 150 islands, the largest being Graham and Moresby. The southern part of Moresby and the islands off it have been designated a provincial park called Gwaii Haanas and the only way to visit this part is by boat.


Needless to say, one can’t do this on one’s own so we went on a 4-day tour starting from Sandspit, organized by Moresby Explorer’s Group.

There were 10 of us in the group including my niece Charmaine from Vancouver, her husband Neil and their young daughters, Alexa and Yvonne. We travelled by Zodiac operated by our guide Brian who had a wealth of information on the history, geography and biology of the islands. Although we had beautiful weather, Haida Gwai can be very wet and cold and the weather can change in minutes so it’s best to be prepared. Before setting off, we had to don bulky waterproof dungarees, jackets, rubber boots and life vests. We soon learned to go to the bathroom (read outhouse in the wild) before donning all this.

Humpback Whale
Image: Neil Bailey

Zodiacs can travel at speed and we whizzed along seeing spectacular scenery. The archipelago is thought to have broken off from the edge of the continent that was originally a cliff and you see coastal rain forests clinging to mountain slopes and plunging almost vertically into the sea. It is also thought that parts of the islands were left untouched by ice sheets during the ice age so there are species of flora and fauna not seen anywhere else. From the boat, we saw whales mostly orcas, and also a humpback which came so close to the boat that we could see it’s teeth when it opened it’s mouth. I was so stunned, I couldn’t gather my wits to take a picture.

Seals with pups
Image: Neil Bailey

We saw seals, sea lions, puffins sitting on rocks, giant jelly fish in the water, eagles above from time to time, and occasionally deer on the banks.


Image: Neil Bailey








Giant Jellyfish
Image: Neil Bailey
















Deer with fawn









Walking into the coastal rainforest is an awesome experience. The ground is covered with spongy moss and spectacular trees of Sitka spruce, western hemlock and red cedar tower above growing up to 300 feet. The trunks of some are so massive that all 10 of us together could not surround many of the trees. Below the trees are shrubs, ferns, waterfalls, streams and bogs. It is dark, the air is cool and it can feel a bit spooky, I was glad to be with a group.

Image: Neil Bailey








Yvonne near massive tree trunk











We spent two nights on a floating lodge where every single item has to be brought in by boat and dirty laundry and garbage taken back to Sandspit. Despite this, the food was superb including freshly baked home made breads each day. We dined very well with delicious breakfasts, snacks and packed lunches during the day, and delicious dinners in the evenings.

Image: Florinda Kotisa

We were very lucky that the water was calm close to the lodge while we were there and we even did a little kayaking.  Thanks to Charmaine, Alexa and Yvonne for persuading me to go with them after breakfast as the others sat on the deck drinking coffee and watching us, which was tempting.



The Haida culture was almost destroyed with the advent of otter hunting and logging by people from the mainland. The Haida population was also decimated by diseases such as smallpox brought in inadvertently, or otherwise, by outsiders seeking to cash in on the natural resources of the islands. The traditional way of life had almost disappeared, suppressed by mainland Canada wishing to impose its own cultural identity on the Haida people.

Haida Poles at SGaang Gwaay, Anthony Island

It is only more recently that the people are trying to revive their language and arts. Abandoned villages, often formerly looted of their carvings have been declared UNESCO heritage sites and have a Haida person (watchmen) on site to take visitors around and explain the Haida way of life.  One of the major cultural characteristics is the presence of  poles carved from giant cedar tree trunks in the villages. There are memorial poles, mortuary poles, inside house poles and frontal poles outside the house. The carvings are representations of human, animal and supernatural figures and each pole tells the story associated with a person or the family lineage. The mortuary poles are formed from trees placed with the base on top such that the base is hollowed out and a bentwood mortuary box holding the remains of the dead person can be inserted into the top. The pole is allowed to decay with time and the idea is that it will eventually fall and the person’s remains will return to the earth. We saw a number of poles in a village called SGang Gwaay on Anthony Island south of Moresby regarded as a sacred site as  people died and were buried here during a smallpox epidemic. The sad part was that they will not last as tradition demands that they be left to disintegrate with time. I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to see them as there will be nothing left to see in a few more years.

Hotspring Island

Brian would never tell us in advance where we were going as the weather can change in an instant and decisions have to be made accordingly.  We spent one night in a cabin at Rose Harbour on Kunghit Island, one of the southernmost islands.  On the way back up, he wasn’t sure whether or not the springs at Hotspring Island were open but it was a lovely morning and he decided to take us there anyway. Luckily, they were open and we just wallowed in the springs going from pool to pool all at different temperatures. I could have stayed there for hours but we had to get back on the boat.

Charmaine and family have a camper van. After our trip to Moresby, we set off in camper van and took the ferry to Graham Island where there are a few roads and we were able to drive around. We stayed in a cabin near the beach at Rose Spit which is only about 65km from Alaska.

Neil and Alexa catching crab

There, the more intrepid among us, led by Charmaine, went crab catching in the ocean (I stayed on the beach!). We cooked our own food, bought fish from local fishermen and dined very well.  We visited Masset, Port Clements, Queen Charlotte and Skidegate.



New Pole at Rose Spit

The main town, Masset has a relatively new museum showcasing Haida culture. Sadly, many spectacular Haida carvings are not in Haida Gwaii but have been carried off to museums all over the world. However, there are still carvers alive who are trying to pass on the tradition to younger people. It is encouraging to see a revival of Haida culture. There are only 24 people left who speak the language fluently and there is a drive to get these people to teach it to the younger generation as well as to pass on the legends, stories and songs, all of which belong to an oral tradition.  Haida is now being taught in schools. Last week, I saw a Haida movie at the Toronto International Film Festival called ‘The Edge of the Knife’ which was in the Haida language with English subtitles. It was heartening to see that cultures of the First Nations are finding their voice.



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Slow Food and Tango in Pescara

Abruzzo Coastline near Pescara

Friends of mine Anne and Leslie from Ireland signed up for a tango holiday in Pescara organized by a tango teacher Simona Zaino who is Italian and lives in Dublin. They planned to spend a few days visiting me in Rome, and talked me into joining them on the trip. I haven’t danced since Loris took ill as haven’t felt like it, but I thought I would join them as the tango holiday consisted of Pilates classes as well as tango, and there was no obligation to dance or take any of the classes.

Pescara Beach

Pescara is on the Adriatic coast in the province of Abruzzo, a very beautiful province full of mountains and noted for it’s good food. We took the bus there which was very cheap (9 Eur) and which went through the mountains giving us wonderful views. We stayed in a hotel across the road from the beach and had it almost all to ourselves. Pescara is popular among families with children as the beach is long and flat, and the water is shallow close to the shore but since school isn’t yet finished for the summer holidays, there were few visitors.

Silvi Alta

There were only about six people in the Irish group so we got to know each other very quickly. Understandably, coming from Ireland, some were eager to soak up the sun and lie on the beach. Not something I’m particularly keen on myself. So I was delighted to a woman in the group, Hermione Winters who is the president of the Slow Food Movement in Ireland. Hermione had rented a car and wanted to visit the neighbouring towns to do some sightseeing and check out the restaurants serving good food. The towns close to Pescara, Ortona, Vasto, Silvi and Atri are picturesque, one or two of them perched on high cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Fish Soup at Da Ferro, Vasto

We wandered through them checking out whatever there was to see and visiting small shops that sold local produce. In Silvi Alta, we came across a small shop that supported the slow food network and we bought excellent salami and salsiccia (sausage). We also found out that Atri was where liquorice is produced and as one would expect, the town has lots of sweets and pastries containing liquorice. In Vasto, we were eager to find a particular lunch spot called Da Ferri which is noted for its fish soups. It was in the industrial port and hard to find as you had to go through a hidden side entrance but the soup was amazing. In fact so good that we spent over two hours there and had no time to see anything of the city which I believe has a wonderful view overlooking the ocean. However, the drive there along the coast was beautiful and we had lunch on the terrace outside with a view of the sea (and unfortunately, a crane!). After we had finished the fish and seafood in our soup, they brought us pasta which they swirled around the dish to pick up the remaining sauce. A wonderful idea.

I ended up taking a couple of tango classes after all. In addition to Simona and another tango teacher Laura Francia from Pescara, there were two Argentinian teachers, Ariel Perez and  Emiliano Alcaraz who had come from Athens and Berlin respectively, to teach. The classes were small and we got individual attention as well as the opportunity to ask specific questions as well as dance with the teachers. The classes were held in a restaurant very close to our hotel and when we found that the room allotted to us was too hot, we just came out and danced on their private patio instead. It was a great reintroduction to tango and I danced almost non-stop at both the milongas I attended. Simona gave us a class on posture and breathing as she is also a Pilates teacher and I find this very useful for playing the flute and for singing. The holiday in Pescara was a wonderful experience for me and I’m waiting for Anne and Leslie to come up with a new Tango destination in Italy or Hermione to find a slow food event!








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An Unexpected Surprise

Sala Regia, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

I had invited a friend over for a late lunch a couple of days ago and was lying on my bed reading after I had cleared up when my phone pinged. Luckily, I looked at it straight away which I don’t always do. It was a text message from Eric, one of our choir members. Eric is an organ scholar under the aegis of our conductor who is also an organist. He has a beautiful voice which spans the tenor/contralto range and sings with the Sistine Chapel choir. Anyway, his message said that the Sistine Chapel choir were doing a recording of Palestrina’s secular music for a CD and if I got there in 10 minutes, he could get me into the Sala Regia within the Apostolic Palace, to listen.

I leaped off my bed and ran all the way to the Vatican.  There are three gates into Vatican city manned by Swiss Guards, one can’t just walk in.  Eric had to escort me and another choir member inside explaining the reason for our visit. The Apostolic Palace is where the Pope’s apartment and the Sistine Chapel are located and is patrolled by Swiss Guards. As we walked up the stairs, we could see one of them guarding the majestic door into the Sala Regia. Incidentally, Papa Francesco chose not to move into the Apostolic Palace but stays in another  Vatican guesthouse which is much more homely.  He meets visiting Heads of State in the Sala Regia and there is a door leading from it directly into the Sistine Chapel.

What an amazing room as you can see above. Beautiful marble floors and the walls are covered by huge frescoes depicting important events in the history of the church. We were able to look around us with completely unobstructed views, once the choir assembled, as there were just about ten people or less watching.

Battle of Lepanto, Giorgio Vasari

I happened to be sitting across from this fresco which mean’t nothing to me at the time but I spent a long time trying to figure it out. Back home later, I found out that it was painted by Giorgio Vasari and depicts the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 in which the Christian naval powers of Spain, Venice, and the Papacy, defeated the fleet of the Ottoman Empire. It was a turning point in the history of Europe as it put a halt to the expansion of the Ottoman empire in the Mediterranean. The fresco shows the two fleets of rowing boats facing each other, the Ottoman fleet is on the right. The three figures in the bottom left represent Venice, the Church in the middle and Spain on the right. The map in the middle represents the gulf of Patras in Greece where the battle was fought. At the bottom right are allegorical figures representing fear, weakness and death. Notice the angels under the |Christian fleet bearing gold crowns while the angels under the Ottoman fleet are emptying a vessel of nasty looking creatures. I wish I had known all of this when I was actually looking at the fresco.

Back to the choir, the adult component of the choir comprises only about 20 people, obviously all with beautiful voices spanning soprano to bass. Eric is fourth on the left wearing a checked shirt. The choir also has about 30 young boys who weren’t involved in the recording. The man in the white shirt was the producer and he listened very carefully, picking out passages that he was not happy with and discussing these with the conductor and choir so that they could be repeated.  We had to sit at the back of the room so as no noise disturbed the recording. The sound engineer seemed to have everything under control and was quite laid back during the proceedings but obviously could read music as he was looking at the score carefully.

Sala Ducale

There were a number of pauses so that the choir could walk around as well as rest their voices. This enabled those of us watching, to go around looking at things more closely and to take photos. Apart from the two doors to the Sistine chapel, the door behind the choir leads to the Capella Paulina which is the Pope’s private chapel and contains some magnificient pieces by Michaelangelo. We weren’t able to go into it nor into the Sistine Chapel but we were able to go into the Sala Ducale which consists of a long room also used for meetings of the Pope with foreign dignitaries and other related functions. It used to be two rooms but Bernini joined them together by means of a large archway decorated with angels holding up swathes of fabric. The vaulted ceilings are spectacular, decorated with grotesques which became popular during the Renaissance after having been discovered in the Domus Aurea, the house of Nero in the 2nd century.

I felt very lucky to have been handed this ‘gift’ as few people get to enter the Apostolic Palace. I’m glad that I have the opportunity to share the experience. Thank you Eric!

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A Trip to Emilia-Romagna

Agazzano village, Emilia-Romagna

First of all thank you to the readers who wrote me messages of encouragement about my blog. It’s nice to know that people enjoy it.  I will continue until there’s nothing more to write about.

I have been back in Rome for a couple of weeks and it’s been a busy time since I got back.  Loris’ family had a re-union at an uncle’s house in the countryside. It was near a small village called Agassano just outside Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. The house is the gate lodge of a medieval castle.  Beautiful countryside all around with fields of wheat, tomatoes, hay and red poppies lining the roadsides. We had lunch in the garden, feasting on barbecued meats, cheeses and various local produce. Emilia-Romagna isn’t called the breadbasket of Italy for nothing!

Since I was in northern Italy, I took the opportunity to visit Bologna which I had never visited despite having passed through its outskirts many times. I was very lucky to be introduced to Lorenza and Gianni through friends. They lived in Canada for many years where Gianni was a wine maker. Now having returned to Italy, he gives cooking classes at their apartment which is situated in a palazzo, as well as taking small groups on walking holidays. They invited me to their place for a dinner of homemade tortellini the day I arrived. All made from scratch and absolutely delicious.

Bologna’s Porticoes

Bologna is a small city with a walled historic centre. It is beautiful and very quaint. As you can see in the photo, the roofs have red tiles giving the city a reddish glow and the nickname ‘la rossa’, the red one. Almost all of the buildings in the historic centre date back to medieval times and have porticoes spanning the pavement so that one is protected from the sun in the summer and the rain in the winter. Bologna boasts the oldest university in Italy, or possibly in Europe, dating back to 1088 so it is also sometimes referred to as ‘la dotta’, the learned one. You see lots of students and young people on the streets giving the city a vibrant energy.

One morning, Gianni took me on a bike ride. Bologna is perfect fot biking as it is flat for the most part, with designated bike lanes. It is also great to walk around in, as parts of the historic centre are closed to traffic. We biked outside the walled historic centre to the bottom of a small hill on the outskirts of the city. At the top of the hill is a church dedicated to the Madonna di San Luca. An icon of the Virgin was supposedly brought to Bologna in the 12th century by a Byzantine pilgrim from the church of Santa Sofia in Constantinople (Istanbul).  A covered arcade of 3.8 km goes up the hill to the church so there is plenty of time for prayer and reflection before you arrive! I didn’t take a picture of the icon as there were people solemnly praying in front of it and it seemed disrespectful.  After the walk up and down as well as the bike ride there and back, I was ready to stroll around with Lorenza and sample more of Bologna’s culinary delicacies for lunch. Another nickname for Bologna is ‘la grassa’, the fat one. It’s reputation for good food lived up to my expectations and I didn’t see a single fat person perhaps because it is an easy city to walk or bike everywhere.



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Blogger’s Block

I have been in Toronto for almost a month now and although there’s been no shortage of stuff to write about, I have lost the urge somehow. When I started this blog in 2012, I had just moved to Rome and it was a way of allowing my family and friends to get a glimpse of my life there. I started it with some trepidation thinking that I would have nothing more to say after a month or so. Six years later, I’m still here! I’m not sure how many people read my posts as I don’t bother to check the statistics. However, I get messages from a couple of readers so I know that there are, hopefully, at least half a dozen and maybe they will tell me if I should continue………

Rear View of the Toronto Art Gallery

So Toronto was awfully cold when I arrived with ice on the ground and freezing rain. The trees were barren and bleak as you can see in the photo. However, spring has come and the trees have burst into leaf, cherry blossoms and magnolias in flower. Tulips and daffodils in full flower and there’s a wonderful fragrance of earth and fresh growth in the air. Not warm enough to sit out but perhaps soon. In any case, I will be back in Rome in a couple of days and it will definitely be warm enough to sit out there.

Itchiku Kobota: Symphony of Light

I saw two interesting exhibitions in the last couple of weeks, both by Japanese artists but at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first was an exhibition of silk kimonos at the Textile Museum made by Itchiku Kubota who was born in 1917 and was productive until he died in 2003. His kimonos are works of art rather than to be worn and he revived a decorative technique called tsujigahana, a combination of ink drawing and resist dyeing. The photo shows a series of kimonos depicting the seasons. The painstaking work involved was unbelievable.

Yayoi Kusama

The other exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario was by Yayoi Kusama a contemporary artist now close to 80 years and still creating art. The exhibition was entitled ‘Infinity Rooms’ and had a series of rooms in which images were reflected in mirrors to infinity. Hard to describe but you step into a tiny dark room, about the size of a small bathroom but the feeling is of infinite space. I had seen one of these in an exhibition in Rome a couple of years ago and I took a photo. It was featured in the exhibition here but photos of this piece were not permitted here for some reason so I’m posting the one I took in Rome so you can see it. It depicts pumpkins covered in black polka dots. Kusama has an obsession with polka dots and they feature in many of her works. In the last couple of years Marc Jacobs used her polka dot designs for Louis Vuitton bags so if you see someone carrying a polka dot bag, remember Yayoi Kusama.

One room really gave the sense of being in infinite space. There seemed to be just twinkling lights in a vast space even though you were standing in a room the size of a walk-in closet. 

The exhibition has been extremely popular and tickets were sold out weeks ago. The viewing times have been extended and now there are only a certain number of tickets given out on the day. I joined the queue at 8 am last week and was lucky to get a ticket by 10 am. I’m not quite sure why the exhibition has been more popular than any previous show but the AGO must be absolutely delighted.



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An Early Easter

Easter is upon us and though I know that it is very early this year, the timing seems out of joint since it is not as warm as usual in Rome for this time of year. Normally, cherry blossoms are in flower by now but not this year.

It rained practically every day until about two weeks ago and the banks along parts of the Tiber River are flooded.  A good reminder of how the neighbourhoods along the Tiber would get flooded on a regular basis, until the embankments were built, starting in 1876.

Hammer and Sickle, Andy Warhol, 1977.
Pietro Galli, Giove, 1838.

So, with the feeling that somehow the time and weather are not what they should be, I was delighted to come upon the caption ‘Time is out of Joint’ on the steps of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea which has recently undergone a massive renovation and restructuring.  This was the title of a major exhibition which was put on immediately after the renovation and which has just ended.  Where previously, the collection was displayed in chronological fashion, it was grouped according to theme and contrast to create a dialogue between past and present.  By not displaying the works through the concept of historical time nor even by groupings of sculptures and so on, one did see them in a different way. The gallery has a new Director, a Direttrice, Christiana Collu who is relatively young. Her idea for the exhibition was that time needs to be realigned by weaving new, unexpected relationships that shun the orthodox and codified laws of chronology.

With the recent election in Italy, her concept will be transferred into a different arena.  No party got enough votes to form a clear majority which has been more or less the norm in Italy for decades.  The two parties with the highest number of votes were the extreme right Lega and the populist party the M5S (Movimento Cinque Stelle). Two more unlikely bedfellows would be hard to imagine. The geographical division of votes was remarkable with the Lega winning a majority in the upper half of Italy and the M5S in the lower half.

Hic Sunt Leones
Davide Rivalta, 2017

The leader of M5S, Luigi di Maio is only 32, did not graduate from University, and has not had a defined career so far. His ability to hold his own with other European prime ministers like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron is debatable. The leader of Lega, Matteo Salvini, is said to have won a majority through internet targeting using anti-immigration as a key stance. Somehow, I can’t quite get my mind around an unexpected relationship between these two groups and in any case, the M5S have always said that they won’t be part of a coalition so I think a new election might be in the works. This is the second election since I’ve been here and there were great hopes of change after the last in 2014 but a coalition was formed and no agreement on anything could be achieved.

Here in Rome, politicians have risen and fallen for 2,000 years and discussions and arguments abound, but when it comes to festivals like Easter, food and wine take precedence. The shops and bakeries are filled with Easter pastries like colomba and special breads like casiatello which one only gets at Easter. My neighbours have very kindly invited me for lunch on Easter Sunday so I’m assured of good, home-cooked Roman food. On that note, Buona Pasqua to all my readers.


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