Fes: A Medieval Time Capsule

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Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate) into Fes Medina

Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate) into Fes Medina

Our drive from Marrakech to Fes provided a good opportunity to observe the changing landscape.

1477737669055We drove from the desert-like terrain of Marrakech, through rocky scrub, to the fertile area of the Mid Atlas region. Here there are olive groves, fields of crops and grazing sheep.

We arrived in Fes and had to walk into the medina to get to our riad, Dar Seffarine, which is situated in the oldest part of the medina. It is next to the Place Seffarine 1477737982816where metal work is done and where all the coppersmiths make their pots and pans. Linden has stayed in this riad many times and knows the owners well so it was a bit like staying with friends since it is small, homely and welcoming. All the guests sit together at a communal table in the garden or on the terrace for meals.

The medina of Fes, reputed to be the largest in the world, is roughly divided into two parts, Fes el-Bali, the oldest, was first established in 789. Fes el-Jdid was added about four centuries later and encompasses the Jewish quarter. Outside the walls is Ville Nouvelle which modern and hip with shopping malls and fashionable stores.

Kairaouine Mosque in Fes el-Bali

Kairaouine Mosque in Fes el-Bali

There are 260 mosques in the medina. Its hard to describe the cacophony of sound that fills the air at the calls to prayer held five times a day. Suffice to say that the first time I heard it, the evening we arrived, it sounded as if dozens of braying donkeys as well as a pack of howling wolves had suddenly been let loose. I think the Imams compete with each other to put out the loudest call. I’m glad none of them are likely to be reading this and hearing of themselves described in this way!

Street in Fes el-Bali Medina

Street in Fes el-Bali Medina

The streets of the medina are very narrow, sometimes narrower than the span of one’s arms, and it is an absolute labyrinth with a maze of streets, many of them dead ends. There is no motorized traffic in the medina, not even bicycles and goods are carried by mule.

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Decorating Clay Bowls

Decorating Clay Bowls

Craftsmen work in clusters in the same way as they might have done hundreds of years ago, with needle and thread, chisels and hammers, paint brushes and other tools used by hand. There is the feeling of having stepped back in time.

What I find fascinating is the difference in style of the houses in the Moslem and Jewish quarters. As in Marrakech, Moslem houses have practically windowless walls on the outside. If windows are present, they are like slits. This particular window below, is curved so that women can look out onto the street without being seen from the outside.

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Jewish Quarter, Fes el-Jdid

Jewish Quarter, Fes el-Jdid

In the Jewish quarter on the other hand, the houses have windows and balconies and the atmosphere is quite different. There was a large Jewish population in a number of cities in Morocco until the 1960s when most of the Jews left to go to Israel, France and Canada. Now, only about 200 Jews still live in Fes.

 

 

 

1477759761165Our cooking experience continued in Fes. We started with a trip to the souk to buy ingredients. We picked a live chicken and while we continued with our shopping, the vendor plucked and cleaned it for us ready to pick up on our way back.

 

 

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Camel meat is also sold and butchers selling camel meat can be easily identified. I haven’t gotten around to tasting it though there’s a cafe that sells camel burgers and I’m told that the meat is very lean.

In our cooking class, we made Pastilla, a pie enclosed in a very fine pastry which is usually bought freshly prepared in the market.

 

 

 

 

14777620904621477759597257Pastillas are traditionally made with pigeon but chicken is more readily available. The base is onion, egg, and crushed almonds with the top sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. I always think of Loris when I see Pastilla as he was determined to make it once by following a recipe. It took us the whole day and looked nothing like what you see here as neither of us had ever seen or tasted one.  He would have enjoyed learning how to do it and what it should really taste like.

The day before yesterday, we did a day trip to some small towns of the Mid-Atlas, Azrou, Seffrou and Ifrane driving through ancient cedar forests with Barbary monkeys.

14777590313521477759103799We stopped at a place where a few people still live in houses hollowed out from caves, now hooked up to electricity. This old lady was very welcoming and entertained us to mint tea. She wasn’t at all reluctant or bashful to have her picture taken and of course why would she be since she probably makes her living from tourists giving her money!

Restored Caravanserai with Trading Scales

Restored Caravanserai with Trading Scales

In Fes you see amazing craftsmanship, beautiful textiles, leatherwork, metalwork etc. Everyone is looking to make a few dirhams in whatever way they can and bargaining is part of the culture which makes shopping for non-food related items tiring as a whole exchange of conversation has to be undertaken including drinking a glass of mint tea for large items such as carpets. It has always been like this in countries based on trading. Fes was on the trading route between the Sahara and the Mediterranean and the caravanserais which housed the traders as they went on their way had huge scales for weighing goods for exchange and barter.

We have been doing a lot of rushing around but we took it easy today and went to a hammam. First we were taken into a steam room, then we were scrubbed clean on marble tables and given a little massage. Finally, there was a dip in a cold pool to close the pores. It was very pleasant and relaxing and I was glad to have a day of rest as tomorrow we leave for Meknes and Chefchaouen.

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Marrakech: A Feast for the Senses

 

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Marrakech Medina

Marrakech Medina

I flew from Rome to Casablanca where I met three friends from Toronto at the airport. One of them, Lindan, used to conduct food tours in Morocco in the past and knows the country well so she organized the whole trip, a lot of it based around buying, cooking and tasting food. We are staying in riad hotels. A riad is a house (dar) with a garden, in the medina (walled city). In the Islamic tradition, dars are completely unprepossesing and lacking ornamentation including windows on the outside but highly ornate on the inside with rooms arranged around a central courtyard.

Photo: Sandy Wiseman

Photo: Sandy Wiseman

We took a shuttle to Marrakech where we stayed opposite the Royal Palace at a riad called Dar les Cigognes (House of Storks) which is actually two houses joined together. The main house originally belonged to a Jewish family and has windows facing the street while the other originally belonged to a Moslem family, and only has windows facing the inner courtyard. This is a typical distinguishing feature of the houses in the medina which once had a large Jewish population. The name of the hotel became clear when we went up to the beautiful terrace where we could see a huge stork’s nest on top of one of the Palace towers. One evening we saw a stork sitting on the nest which kept us entertained for quite a while. Not that we needed any extra entertainment in Marrakech which is a fascinating city in a desert-like landscape on the edge of the High Atlas mountains.

Marrakech Medina

Marrakech Medina

The day after we arrived, we had a quick tour of the medina to get our bearings. The large central square, Jama-el-Fna, is surrounded by a maze of narrow streets not accessible to traffic where goods are carried by donkey carts. The windowless walls of the houses create the feeling of enclosed and mysterious streets. Each neighbourhood in the medina has five essential places, a bakery where women bring in their bread to be baked since old houses didn’t have ovens, a fountain for water, a hamam (bath house), a nursery school, and a mosque.

Neighbourhood Public Bakery Photo: Sandy Wiseman

Neighbourhood Public Bakery
Photo: Sandy Wiseman

The bakeries are still stoked by wood and function as they did hundreds of years ago. As many as 2,000 loaves may be baked in a day. Every platter of bread is identified by the cloth it is covered with so that it can be returned to the right person after the bread is baked.

 

 

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Next to the hamam, down a few steps, is a wood fire for heating the bath water. The ashes close to the fire are used to cook a dish called tangia, the only dish traditionally cooked by a man. A man goes to the market with an earthenware pot and first buys meat which is placed in the bottom. This is followed by vegetables, water, spices and oil. The pot is sealed, shaken and left in the hot ashes for several hours to cook slowly so that the one-pot meal is ready for collection on the way home.

Dried Fruits

Dried Fruits

Our own introduction to Moroccan cooking started with a trip to the food section of the souk (market) followed by a cooking class. The souks are truly a feast for the senses with their arrays of colourful textiles, pottery, jewellery, spices, dried fruit and nuts, perfumes and oils. In the food section, there is everything you need for daily cooking including live chickens so you can pick the bird you want.

Foosia and Pierre

Foosia and Pierre

Our cooking class took place in the kitchen of our riadh where the cook, Foozia, is a ‘dada’ which means that she was trained to be a cook by her mother who was trained by her mother and so on, going back generations. Foozia only speaks Moroccan and the manager of the riad, Pierre Erve was there to translate. It wasn’t long before Pierre, who is French, opened a bottle of wine  to enhance our cooking experience.

Moroccan meals often begin with a selection of salads made with cooked vegetables. We learned to make a couple of salads including zalouk made with diced sauteed aubergine. Then a vegetable couscous where a selection of five vegetables is put in the bottom of a pot together with spices, oil and water all brought to a rolling boil with the couscous placed in a steamer above to cook. Our meat course was a chicken tagine cooked in the traditional earthenware dish of the same name richly flavoured with ras-el-hanout, a blend of 30 to 50 spices. After all the food was cooked, we sat down to dinner and enjoyed the fruits of our labour.

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Vegetable Couscous and Chicken Tagine

Vegetable Couscous and Chicken Tagine

Apart from cooking and eating the food we cook, Lindan knows all the best restaurants. We had the most delicious lamb shoulder with caramellized onions and almonds in a restaurant called Al Fassia which had to be ordered a day in advance. This restaurant is owned and staffed entirely by women. Unusual in any country never mind in a Moslem one. The King of Morocco is progressive and liberal and has introduced several laws favouring equality for women. Anyhow, to go back to food, at the rate I’m eating, I don’t think the clothes I arrived with will fit me on the way home. I might have to buy a kaftan which is a beautiful but shapeless garment designed such that a woman’s shape is not revealed to the public, and which easily accomodates a few extra pounds.

 

 

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Climate Change

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1476719455433Our Thanksgiving in Canada was just a little over a week ago. I spent it at my sister’s cottage in south west Ontario. A rural area full of apple orchards, pumpkin fields and other harvest crops including tobacco, a perfect place to give thanks for the earth’s bounty.

Ontario Squash

Ontario Squash

Usually, at this time of year, there is an autumnal chill in the air, the leaves have changed colour and one starts to feel the approach of winter. Not this time as the sun was shining and it was warm enough to sit outside during the day.

Imagine my surprise when a couple of days later, I landed in Rome to be greeted by damp, cool and gloomy weather. The temperature was 23C when I left Toronto and 16C when I landed at midday in Rome!  Anyhow, a warm sirocco wind appeared the next day and the sun came out again giving us a beautiful weekend and making me feel like it was still summer. It was warm enough to leave the doors and windows open during the day and not to need a sweater or jacket.

Campo de' Fiori, Rome

Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

The Romans of course are dressed for the season and only tourists are wearing sandals!  Today, it is wet and on the cool side again so maybe that’s why the Romans stick to their seasonal clothing. I’m reminded that one of the effects of global warming is not necessarily that it’s warmer but more that the weather  becomes more unstable and unpredictable so there’s no certitude  what each day might bring, especially during seasonal transitions. 

In a couple of days, I leave for a holiday in Morocco where I’m told it can be warm during the day and cold at night especially in places close to the Atlas mountains. Since I’m only taking carry-on luggage, I might need to supplement my clothing but I don’t think it will be difficult given that a lot of time will be spent wandering about in the souks. 

 

Posted in Living, Rome, Toronto | 5 Comments

Changing Seasons

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Toronto Skyline at Sunset

Toronto Skyline at Sunset

We’ve had beautiful weather in Toronto but there are clear signs that summer has come to an end, The nights are getting cooler and there is a feeling of seasonal change in the air. I have been lucky to catch the tail end of some summer activities. One evening, a week or two ago, a friend invited me to join them on their boat for a sunset sail. It was a beautiful, sunny evening and we sailed around the harbour enjoying the Toronto skyline. The sunset was spectacular as you can see above and it was most invigorating feeling the wind in the sails. Afterwards, we had a fine dinner in the yacht club washed down by copious amounts of red wine. A great way to end a memorable experience!

Art Installation, Jonas Stonkus

Art Installation, Jonas Stonkus

Last weekend I visited my sister Florinda at their cottage in southern Ontario. The weather was glorious and there was a studio tour happening so we went from studio to studio in the countryside admiring sculptures, paintings, pottery and such. The highlight for me was actually a garden. A work of art created by Jonas Stonkus who displays his other works with metal and glass in the garden so that walking through it was like wandering around an outdoor gallery.

One of the routines of being in the country is that that the dog has to get his long walk. We went for a walk in the woods where Florinda and her husband, who are expert at picking wild mushrooms, found the first crop of the autumn. 1475198454257

Needless to say, there was wild mushroom risotto for dinner that night. I couldn’t help thinking of Loris who loved hunting for mushrooms with Florinda and who, being northern Italian, made superb risotto. I used to leave all the Italian cooking to him but I followed his way of making mushroom risotto as best as I could remember and it was quite good, even if I say so myself.

Some of my friends have been commenting on how well I seem to be doing what with biking, canoeing, and spending time in the countryside. 1475201956370This is true to some extent as my family and friends have taken the trouble to invite me to things and have included me in their excursions but grief is a strange beast. It does not diminish in a linear fashion so it’s not like walking through a tunnel and seeing the light at the end getting closer. Some days, I feel quite normal, even happy, and some days I feel very sad. The only change is that the sadness is not as extreme as it was a few months ago. I suspect that I will continue in this way for quite some time.

On one of our walks at the weekend, I saw this beautiful butterfly. I was reminded that  1475183384721butterflies are symbolic of transformation going from egg to caterpillar, to pupa to magnificent flying insect in their short lifespan. The seasons also change as do all living things including ourselves. We have no control over the twists and turns that lie ahead of us and we sometimes have to completely change our course. Periods of transition are most unsettling but I’m working on the notion that we can use change to reflect on our lives and try to become better human beings.

 

 

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A Truly Canadian Experience

(click on pictures to enlarge)dscn3025One of the highlights of summer in Canada for many people, is canoeing in the wilderness. I’m a bit of a wimp and a feeble paddler but I’m lucky to have my friends Jocelyn and Jeanette who are intrepid outdoor enthusiasts and who organize a canoe trip every summer for whoever might be interested in joining them.

1473644464711Last weekend was a long weekend here, Monday being Labour Day, and they organized a trip to Georgian Bay along the Key River. We were a group of 10 people in 5 canoes. We drove up the Trans Canada Highway past Parry Sound on Friday and camped close to our starting point. Early on Saturday morning, we set off and paddled down the river to the Bay, a distance of about 10 miles. Georgian Bay is a large body of water sometimes referred to as the 6th Great Lake. It has 2,000 km of shoreline and is dotted with around 30,000 islands mostly consisting of Precambrian rock.

dscn3036The weather was gorgeous, not too hot and not too cold with sunny blue skies, and the scenery was beautiful.  I would be lying if I said that it was an easy run for me. Already tired by the time we reached the mouth of the river, canoeing against the wind in open water a few more miles across the Bay to one of the islands close to the French River Provincial Park was exhausting. However, we found a great spot to camp with good spots for our tents and for swimming and once we got there and set up our tents, it was worth the effort.

dscn3035Jeanette organizes wonderful meals and dinner around an open fire with a couple of glasses of wine left us all feeling relaxed and happy. Before retiring to our sleeping bags, great care was taken to pack away all our food and even toothpaste and toiletries into a sealed plastic barrel to prevent nocturnal bear visits. There is something wonderful about being in total darkness in the wilderness with the stars of the night sky clearly visible and the sound of the wind rustling through the pines and waves lapping on the shoreline.

1473620400358In the morning, seeing the sun rise over the water was spectacular. The air is fresh and clean and it is a good time for contemplation. One has to remember though that it is the wilderness. I was terrified out of my wits coming upon this snake as I walked from my tent to the breakfast area. It disappeared under a pile of rocks as I approached but from then on, I was very careful about where I stepped. The snakes in this area are generally not venomous except for the Massasauga Rattler and the markings on this one did not convince me that it wasn’t one of those, not that I hung around to examine it closely!

1473620554197We did more relaxed paddling on Sunday, exploring parts of the Pickerel River and stopping for a relaxed lunch and swimming.  On Monday, we paddled leisurely back up the Key River to our starting point. By the time we had unpacked our canoes, loaded them onto the cars and organized ourselves, it was almost time for dinner so we stopped at Pizza Hut in Parry Sound. Imagine the shock we got when having spent three days in the wilderness with no sight of any bears, we saw this one on the edge of the restaurant carpark.  Apparently, they wander around the outskirts of the town looking for food. All I can say is that I’m glad we saw the bear here rather than on the island upon which we had camped as between snakes and bears, I wouldn’t have slept a wink.

dscn3044Since I’m on the subject of Canadian wildlife, I’m including this picture of a beaver lodge. Beavers feed on wood, sedges and water lilies. They store sticks and logs in a pile and in winter, when snow comes, it remains on top providing insulation and preventing the water underneath from freezing.

I returned from the trip refreshed and happy that I had been given this opportunity to experience the great Canadian wilderness in a canoe. To Jocelyn and Jeanette, thank you.

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Toronto in August

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1471999383257Apologies to my readers for this long silence. I have been back in Toronto since the beginning of August. The weather here is warm and sunny without being too hot and I have been enjoying seeing my family and friends. So much has happened that I can’t write about each thing individually so here are a few snapshots of things I’ve been doing.

First of all, I’m so happy to be back on my bike again. I bike everywhere but some of the best rides have been along the lake which has a bike path stretching for miles.

1472000505535The countryside in parts of Ontario is beautiful. There aren’t as many mosquitos and flies this year so walking in the woods has been a pleasure rather than a torture as it can be sometimes.

1472001503283I felt the need of some concentrated quiet time so I went on a meditation retreat at Sugar Ridge Retreat Centre put on by a group called the Consciousness Explorer’s Club, a group whose philosophy is ‘Meditate, Celebrate, Activate’. In short: meditate; enjoy/celebrate life; and do good in the world. A good way to live, I feel and something I think about more and more. Today, August 24th is exactly 6 months since Loris died, also on a Wednesday. The retreat made me consolidate my thoughts that there’s no point in dwelling on the past nor worrying about the future. Life brings us things beyond our control and all we can do is try and maintain our equilibrium and live as best as we can in the present.

1472001630696One of the things I’ve really enjoyed is spending time with children in the family. There is nothing more joyful than seeing a child laugh with delight or watch them seeing something for the first time.

1472001860728Summer in Toronto is a time when everybody spends time outdoors. Watching people playing baseball, soccer, and other games which only take place in the summer is fun.

1472002119975I love the fact that Toronto is on the lake. Catching sight of sailing regattas on the lake in the setting sun or seeing the moon rise over the lake is truly a pleasure. I was lucky to see a rainbow over the lake so I’m sharing that rare and beautiful sight above.

1472002309559We are lucky to have various events taking place in the public parks like ‘Dances at Dusk’ and ‘Shakespeare in the Park’. You pay a suggested minimal donation, or what you can, or nothing at all thanks to the hard work of dozens of volunteers.

1472002589602My only regret is that it is nearly the end of August. The evenings are getting cooler and those lazy, hazy days of summer will soon be at an end. It’s not finished yet though and I will continue to enjoy whatever comes my way and I hope you all will too.

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Open Doors

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Porta Santa, St. Peter's Basilica

Porta Santa, St. Peter’s Basilica

This is the Jubilee Year in Rome. The Porta Santa or Holy Door to the Papal basilicas, of which there are four in Rome including St. Peters, have been opened for pilgrims to walk through. These Holy Doors are normally sealed from the inside with mortar and cement and are only opened about every 25 years or so. Pope Boniface VIII in the year 1,300 started the tradition of the Holy Year or Jubilee. During the Jubilee year, pilgrims who walk through the door gain a Plenary Indulgence or in other words, less punishment for their sins in the next life.

Holy Door Detail with Nyah

Holy Door Detail with Nyah

Anyhow, my nephew and family were visiting me and though I don’t usually accompany first time visitors to Rome to see the major sites, I did go with them to St. Peter’s Basilica so that I could walk through the door. The Holy Door is a double door, opening in the middle. Each side consists of 8 panels which depict scenes from the Bible. They are magnificent and of course were polished to a gleaming lustre. To pass from the outside through the door into the Basilica represents leaving the world and entering into the presence of God in order to offer a sacrifice of atonement whether it be prayer or good works. I don’t think this was quite on my niece Nyah’s mind as she strolled through the door. I’m very glad I went but since I didn’t pray when I went in (hard to do in St. Peter’s with all the people milling about taking photos), I will have to come up with some good work to ensure a better chance of a place in heaven!

I also accompanied them to the Foro Romano which is another site I don’t normally go to with my guests.

Frescoes, Santa Maria Antiqua

Frescoes, Santa Maria Antiqua

The reason I went was because this year, the Basilica di Santa Maria Antiqua, the earliest Christian church in the Foro Romano built in the 6th cent. is open to the public for the first time in over 30 years. It houses a rare collection of early Christian art with amazing frescoes, mosaics and paintings, recently restored at an enormous cost and funded by the Italian State and the World Monuments Fund.

1469523756610This depiction of the Virgin Mary is one of the oldest known Christian icons in the world. The church is situated at the bottom of the Palatine hill where Rome’s emperors one lived and was buried under rubble following an earthquake in 847. It was only uncovered in 1900 and thus escaped the alterations which were carried out in other churches during the baroque or the Counter Reformation periods. Consequently, it has remained intact and has been referred to as the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel of the early Middle Ages. I would have liked to have spent a longer time there with less people about but felt lucky to have had this opportunity to see it since it will be closed again in September for further restoration work.

Roman Passageway to Palatine Hill

Roman Passageway to Palatine Hill

Another work in progress next to the church is the uncovering and restoration of a gigantic, covered ramp which led from the Forum to the top of the Palatine hill in Roman times. It is also truly magnificent in both scale and grandeur. As with all the Roman ruins, the marble and decorative elements lining the walls have been stripped but there are little bits and pieces which have been found and are on display so one can imagine what it must have looked like in its heyday. It is amazing to think that there are areas of the Foro Romano that are still waiting to be revealed and I’m looking forward to seeing what is uncovered next. There’s always something more to see in Rome!

 

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A Summer Delight

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Terme di Caracalla

Terme di Caracalla

I’m glad to be in Rome at this particular time as the summer opera season at the Terme di Caracalla has just begun. The venue is spectacular and to sit there outdoors watching opera is really something special. Verdi’s Nabucco was playing which I had never seen before and since I love one of the choruses (Va’ pensiero) I was very keen to go.

1468925574552I invited my friend Sister Rosemary to join me since she has finished her musical training in Rome and is heading back to the US. She was most excited as obviously, she doesn’t get to go to these events and especially not late at night (the opera started at 9pm). I brought a picnic dinner which we enjoyed in the grounds before the performance and to my happy surprise, Sr. Rosemary brought something to drink. I won’t say what but we were in good spirits after our al fresco supper!

1468925801860The opera Nabuco is one of Verdi’s earlier ones and is considered to have permanently established Verdi’s reputation as a composer. Incidentally, he was born and lived in a small village called Roncole not far from Loris’ hometown. His mother was a spinner and his father an innkeeper (Verdi’s, not Loris’!). Loris used to recount being taken as a child to see Verdi’s operas being performed in neighbouring outdoor venues and in Teatro Reggio, the Parma opera house. Audiences in Parma are apparently critical, unforgiving, and tough to please thinking nothing of voicing their disapproval with slurs and insults should an opera not come up to the mark or with cheers and whistles when it does.

Stage Set for Nabucco, Act 1

Stage Set for Nabucco, Act 1

The story of Nabucco is based on the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of the Israelites and their exile from their homeland. The stage set was sparse and fitting for Caracalla. The music and singing of the Rome opera company were magnificent and when Va’ pensiero was sung, I almost cried. It’s the chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and expresses their longing for the promised land. Though sad, it is very beautiful. Legend has it that it was popular during and after the time of Italian unification as it represented the wish of the people for a united Italy which up until then was a collection of independent kingdoms.

1468925684496My only criticism of the Caracalla production was the use of modern costumes. The cast looked like they had just arrived from fighting in Syria with even the women wearing combat gear. Yes, maybe I’m old fashioned but I would have preferred to see the cast wearing some flowing robes. Apparently, its cheaper to use modern costumes which might explain this choice. Hard to see the costumes in this photo as photography is not permitted during the performance and I only got a quick shot at the end during the applause.

Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed the opera but rushed off quickly at the end so that Sr. Rosemary could get back to the convent before it got too late. She claimed that everyone would be asleep by the time she got there anyway so she wasn’t too worried. I felt good that I had given her this small pleasure and memory of Rome before she departed and I’ve been humming Va’ pensiero to myself ever since. Look it up on You Tube and check out the New York Met version in 2002. You will be humming it to yourself as well!

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60 km in Four Days

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Bernie and Me in Parco Archaeologico di Tuscolo

Bernie and Me in Parco Archaeologico di Tuscolo

My foot has healed well I think, since I walked 60 km in 4 days this past week. Two more friends from Dublin came on a visit and the first day, we somehow covered 15 km just wandering the streets of Rome from St. Peter’s basilica to the Pantheon and all around that area. Temperatures in Rome are around 35C at the moment so walking about in the heat is not for cissies! However, after the cool weather in Dublin, my friends were happy to soak up the sun.

Roman Latrine, Ostia Antica

Roman Latrine, Ostia Antica

Two weeks ago, I discovered that my Canadian driver’s licence is not technically valid here and I had omitted to get an international one before I arrived. Not a big deal as with my foot being compromised, I coudn’t drive until very recently anyway. EU licences, on the other hand, are valid so Rory offered to brave the roads so that we could do a couple of day trips. We drove to Ostia Antica which I had visited before with Loris but not seen in its entirety. We started with a fine lunch by the ocean in Ostia followed by a walk along the beach. By the time we got to Ostia Antica, it had cooled down enough to enjoy the site. As on a previous visit, there weren’t a lot of people and it was a pleasure walking around. I missed this Roman latrine the first time. The aqueducts provided continuous running water in a trench in the floor under the seat creating a sort of permanent flushing system. Those Romans really knew about engineering. Some reports state that there is evidence of sticks with sponges attached which would be used to wash the nether regions and which accounts for the holes in front.

Archaelogists at Work in Parco Archaeologica di Tuscolo

Archaelogists at Work in Parco Archaeologica di Tuscolo

Another day, we drove to Frascati where Loris had taken me for a birthday lunch a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the Aldobrandini palazzo  which dominates the town is not open to visitors. We drove up the mountain to the top and came upon the Parco Archaeologico di Tuscolo which was an ancient Roman site and which is currently being excavated. The ground was parched and dry but the view from the top of the mountain was magnificent. There was a group of archaelogists in the process of excavating the site. It looked like very boring and hot work as they dug a small area bit by bit using what appeared to be a small hand trowel. More time seemed to be spent in discussion than in digging.

Lake Albano at Castel Gandolfo

Lake Albano at Castel Gandolfo

After this, we drove down the other side of the mountain and stopped at Castel Gandolfo which I had also visited previously with Loris. Lake Albano was a beautiful, brilliant blue as always and we sat on the piazza watching a wedding and enjoying a beer before heading home. I don’t think Rory knew what he was letting himself in for when he agreed to drive but it certainly added a lot of variety (and stress!) to their visit and I enjoyed revisiting the places I like. There is a Portuguese word ‘saudade’ which more or less means feeling the presence of absence. I felt the absence of Loris though he certainly wouldn’t have walked 60 km in four days!

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Reflections on Solitude and Loneliness

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View from Gianicolo Hill

View from Gianicolo Hill

After my guests left, the apartment felt empty and silent and I missed having company. Although I enjoy my solitude and don’t need to be with people all the time, I felt a bit lonely. A few days later, I met some Roman friends for dinner and was trying to explain how I felt to them but couldn’t think of what Italian words to use in order to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. I don’t think they quite followed what I was talking about.

Flower Petal Art

Flower Petal Art

In Italian, the word ‘solitudine’ means both solitude and loneliness. In English, we think of loneliness as a negative thing that is not good for the psyche, a state of being without. Solitude on the other hand could be necessary and good for one’s well being, a positive thing. I called up a bilingual friend some days later to help me with this distinction in Italian and he laughingly commented that Italians can’t bear to be alone and construe solitude by definition, coming from the word ‘solo,’ as being alone or lonely! The word ‘solitario’ could describe someone wanting to be alone but it still doesn’t convey the same meaning as solitude in English so there actually is no word for this in Italian.

Grattachecca with Tamarind Syrup

Grattachecca with Tamarind Syrup

Anyhow, I’m trying to enjoy solitude and I’ve found a number of things quite satisfying regardless of whether or not I have company. Loris was a wonderful cook and shamefully, I left it all to him. Now, instead of feeling sad that he’s not here to cook Italian food and enjoy dinner with, I’m trying to remember how he made certain dishes and reproduce them (never tastes as good but I’ll get there!). I’ve started engaging with the vendors in the market who give me advice on how to cook things that I’m not familiar with so I get to practice my Italian. I go to free classical concerts in beautiful churches and you don’t need company to enjoy them. I indulge in a gelato or a nice cold ‘grattachecca’ (shaved ice with fruit syrup on top, my favourite is tamarind) when I go for a walk on a hot day and it’s just as good when you’re on your own. I wander around and find beautiful things to take pleasure in which is not difficult here as you always come upon something beautiful, like the floral arrangement above to celebrate the start of an Indian music festival. There are places in Rome where the view is breathtaking even if viewed alone like the one from Gianicolo hill.

In short, I’ve come to realize that thinking of the past makes me sad and thinking of the future makes me anxious so I’m happier just focusing on the present. On that note, I’m off to do my exercises to strengthen my foot because although I don’t want to think about the future, it will become the present and I have to stay in good shape and be prepared. Those high heel shoes are waiting to be worn and one day I might feel like I want to tango again.

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