The Royal Palace in Caserta

After three weeks of warm weather and sunshine, we have a rainy spell in Italy. The farmers are happy as it seems that there hasn’t been rain for a hundred days. Given the sudden change in weather, I’m glad that I visited the Reggia di Caserta a little while ago. My friend Luigi suggested it as it is only an hour by train from Rome.

The Regia Caserta is a baroque palace built by Luigi Vanvitelli for Charles VII of Naples (the Spanish king Charles III). It was started in 1752, modelled on Versailles, and was the largest royal palace in Europe at that time. The concept was that it would house not only the king and his court but also a university, museum, and government cabinets and become the administrative centre for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies which at that time before the unification of Italy comprised the island of Sicily as well as the Italian peninsula south of the Papal States. The town of Caserta Vecchia was moved 10km away in order that the palace could be built and the workers housed close by.

The Palace has 1200 rooms including a church and a theatre, and covers an area of 61,000 sq metres. Only a few rooms are open to the public and I’m not sure what the rest of the palace is used for. The rooms that we saw were in the usual baroque style with ornate mouldings, painted ceilings, Murano glass chandeliers, mirrors and so on. I would have liked to have seen the theatre which is a replica of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples but it is only open at weekends. The Palace was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997 and was the location of the first episode of Star Wars in 1998.

The gardens span 11 acres and stretch for over 3 km at the back of the Palace. They were created in the Renaissance style of the time featuring lots of pools and fountains. It took us a while to walk to the end and the Palace itself is just a speck when viewed from the last fountain. Vanvitelli built an aqueduct fed by a stream in the hillside beyond to provide enough water for the fountains and Palace. Adjacent to the last pool is a Botanical Garden also referred to as the English Garden and here there are more trees of various kinds as well as greenhouses presently being restored.

Sfogliatella

Thankfully, before setting off for the garden visit, we had a cappucino and the typical Neapolitan pastry, sfogliatella which is crispy layers of pastry wrapped around ricotta and is delicious.

Deep fried mozarella

By the time we finished our garden excursion, we had definitely walked more than 10 km and it was past lunchtime. We came acroaa a small restaurant close to the Palace which was open but only served mozarella prepared in various ways such as this deep fried mozarella which we had as a starter. An unusual concept but I think I prefer my mozarella served in the traditional way.

For such a big castle, what is restored and open to the public is a bit disappointing and definitely not as evocative of the period as Versailles near Paris. Perhaps because the Royal Family did not end up living there. Charles VII did not even spend a night there. He abdicated and went back to being the K ing of Spain leaving the Palace to his son Ferdinand. After unification, Garibaldi used it for a time. It was taken over by the Nazis during the war and plundered of its art works and was subsequently bombed suffering damage. Later, it became the Headquarters of the Allied Nations. Perhaps restoration will continue and more of it will be opened up to the public. It was a pleasing excursion for a day trip and we were extremely lucky with the weather as it was around 20C and sunny the day we went.

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A Weekend in Verona

Apologies to my readers who are getting my posts via email. With the loss of my computer, I’m writing my posts partly on my phone and partly on an ancient computer. I noticed that the email version of my last post was a complete mess but I couldn’t work out why. So for now, please go to my site (karmaroma.joydaz.ca) which appears to be displaying correctly. Unfortunately, until I return to Toronto and get a new computer, my posts will be of a lesser quality in terms of presentation.

I had a lovely weekend in Verona this past weekend. I belong to the Canadian Club of Rome which organizes various events and last Saturday, they organized a wine tasting dinner in Verona which is the home of wines such as Amarone, Valpolicella and Soave. Many of us went for the weekend so that we could enjoy the sights. The last time I was there, was on Boxing Day in 2012 . As you can imagine it was cold and crisp with Christmas lights everywhere making it look magical. This time, it was spring and sunny. Verona is a beautiful little city with medieval and Renaissance buildings and the famous Roman Arena which still hosts opera and concerts during the summer. It is the location of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which is based on a true story and which I wrote about when I was last there.

The main churches are Romanesque and Gothic so more simple in decoration than many of the baroque churches one sees in Rome. The one I liked the most is one of the oldest, San Fermo (San Fermo was a christian martyr in 304) and consists of two churches one above the other. The paleochristian church below the main one has frescoes dating back to the 5th cent. The main church built between 1065 and 1143 has an extraordinary wooden ceiling put together with interlocking pieces of wood and adorned with the painted images of 416 saints. Unfortunately, they are not clearly visible from the floor but a video shows their faces in close up, all of which are represented by different faces. I’m sure the artists had fun trying to attribute a face to a particular saint.

The church of Santa Anastasia is the largest of the four major churches and also impressive but I think what I found the most fascinating were the holy water fonts which featured two hunchbacked men bearing the basins. They looked quite modern but one of them is thought to have been built by Paolo Veronese’s father Gabriele Caliari in the 1500s.

I enjoyed the food in Verona which is typically northern Italian featuring risotto and polenta. Lunch in the Osteria Verona Antica on Friday was quite an experience as there weren’t many people and the proprietor gave us an olive oil as well as a pepper tasting. I hadn’t realized how the taste of pepper varies depending on the source. I tasted a delicious polenta di Storo made from late harvest corn which has a reddish hue and was delicious. Our wine tasting included 7 wines, from sparkling (Durello) to Soave to the reds, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso, Amarone and finally a sweet wine Recioto. Of course, there was appropriate food to go with each wine. Even small and casual restaurants serve good food and for lunch on Sunday, I had polenta with salami and gorgonzola and baked vegetables, at a small neighbourhood restaurant. It was a three hour journey by train from Rome and if I go again, I would like to go to also go to Lake Garda which is nearby and visit the small towns on its shore.

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The Mood in Rome

Pro-Ukraine Protest, Saturday March 5th

Last week, my friends from Bologna were visiting Rome and I spent time with them wandering around the city. One of the visits we made was to the Domus Aurea, Nero’s house, which I had visited and described some years ago. It is completely underground as the Terme di Traiano, parts of which you can see below, was built over it and which is itself partly underground. Since I saw it, it has undergone further excavation and is better lit but it seemed to me that the frescoes were more vivid the first time I saw them or maybe it was the surprise of suddenly coming upon them hidden underground.

After our tour, we walked to the Via Merulana for lunch and came upon the Pro-Ukraine protest march. What surprised me were people carrying signs not only protesting against Putin but also against NATO. I gather that there is a sentiment that NATO is responsible for the escalation of the invasion and that without it Putin might be more open to negotiation which I don’t personally believe is true given his behaviour so far. People are understandably worried and fed up given that before we have managed to pull ourselves out of the pandemic, there is another crisis. The price of gas has shot up, the fishing fleets are on strike this week, and long distance transport truckers are also protesting that they can’t afford to operate given the price of gas. Today in the food market, a few of the fish stalls were shut and the ones still open did not have their usual array of offers. There is a sombre mood in the city.

Carciofo alla Giudea

At least the restaurants are still open though not as busy as usual and you have to present your vaccine certificate in order to enter. I very much enjoyed an artichoke done in the Jewish style which basically means deep fried in olive oil so that the leaves are crispy and like potato crisps while the heart remains soft. I believe it’s a Roman recipe that originated in the Jewish Ghetto during Passover in which the tradition is to eat fried food. The type of artichoke used, called Romanesco or Cimarole, is only available from February to May in the province of Lazio and is the best suited to deep frying. Thank God we can still enjoy food though I can’t stop thinking about the poor people in Ukraine who are now without food and water.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Piazza del Pantheon

I’m in Rome as you can see from the photo of the Pantheon. You may be wondering why I chose the above title for this post so I’ll start by saying that my arrival was pretty ugly. I had an overnight flight and a stopover in Frankfurt for four hours so by the time I finally arrived in Rome, I was exhausted. Needless to say, flying is not as smooth as it was before the pandemic and I found the journey quite stressful. Finally in Rome, I was lucky that a former neighbour kindly came and picked me up to take me to the apartment I have rented. When we got there, I set my carry-on bag containing my entire collection of valuable items on the pavement and between one thing and another, forgot to pick it up when I entered the building. Of course when I realized what I had done 5 minutes later the bag was gone. In it was everything I couldn’t afford to lose such as my computer, camera, flute, jewellery, and a host of other important things. Thankfully, my passport, credit cards and phone were in my handbag. I immediately went to the Police Station to make what they call a ‘denuncia’ knowing that this would be useless as there was zero hope of recovering anything but necessary as proof of theft. Needless to say, it was a nightmare securing sensitive information on my computer but with the help of my nephew Morgan in Toronto, I managed to protect at least my financial information. Everything else is toast.

Sun Yuan & Peng Yu (Teenager Teenager)

The bad part was the feeling of loss and being invaded, the anger with myself for being so careless, the worry that age is getting the better of me and that I should perhaps give up travelling. Then, finding out how some of the stuff could be replaced as I hadn’t taken out a specific travel insurance and had to see if existing warranties or my credit card covered anything. I felt so stupid and negligent, a point of low morale! Ì went to a contemporary art exhibition entitled ‘Crazy’ at the Chiostro del Bramante where one of the exhibits was by the artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu featuring people wearing fine clothes with giant boulders for heads. It typified how I felt, as if there was a weight on my head pressing on my brain.

The good part was that my friends here all rallied around to help me. My friend Loredana took me to the Police Station. The morning after the theft, another friend Luigi let me use his computer to secure my bank accounts etc, fed me lunch and introduced me to a mobile phone company called Iliad which allows free calls in all of Europe as well as Canada and the US, for the very reasonable sum of €8/month. Loredana also lent me her old laptop which is how I’m now writing this post.

Diane with whom I used to sing in the choir I was in, treated me to Sunday lunch at La Taverna di Monti where I had delicious salmon alla Siciliana with tomatoes, capers and olives and where I definitely want to go again.

Given the horrific situation in the Ukraine and the number of people who had to flee their homes leaving all their possessions behind, my loss is miniscule and besides it could have been worse had I met with an accident or been injured so I take comfort from that.

In case any of you are thinking of donating to charities providing aid in Ukraine, the Government of Canada Global Affairs is matching all funds made to the Canadian Red Cross until March 18th.

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Twosday 22/2/22

Tiger Swallowtail (Image: Florinda Kotisa)

Today, Tuesday, is being referred to as Twosday. The date is palindromic and also an ambigram which means that it is the same read in either direction or upside down. The last time this occurred was on the 11th of January 2011, 11/1/11. Twosday will not occur again for another 200 years. According to numerologists, the 2s are related to cooperation, harmony and re-establishing a point of balance. Very appropriate sentiments given the protests and unrest we have experienced in the last couple of weeks. It wasn’t too bad in Toronto as the police immediately closed off road access to the Ontario Legislative Building on the grounds that the building faces the street on which there are five major hospitals and access to them had to be kept open. Consequently, no trucks could gather in front of it as they did in Ottawa. During the storming of the US Capitol in 2021, we couldn’t imagine anything like that ever happening here and yet we came close. Its very disturbing and I don’t know where this is going to go as it became a lot more complicated than a straightforward anti-mandate protest.

Having gotten over my Covid infection, I decided that this would be a good time to visit Rome as my immunity is likely to be high. I booked my ticket and I leave tomorrow. Italy requires either a PCR test done within 72 hours of arrival or a Rapid test done within 24 hours. Since I’ve had Covid, a PCR test could be positive so I have to do the RAT. Air Canada has partnered with a company called Switch from whom you can buy the test and do it online while they watch you. The report is emailed to you within two hours. Hopefully, my test will be negative and the butterfly in me can spread it’s wings and take off. Next post from Rome…

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My Covid-19 Experience

Heron, Long Point, Ontario

The day I published my last post Feb 2nd, I felt I was coming down with a cold. The evening before, I had developed a post-nasal drip which was creating a slight irritation in my throat. I didn’t think much of it but the next day, I had a slightly runny nose and by the evening, I felt like I might be getting a cough. Luckily, I had a couple of rapid antigen Covid tests (RAT) at home so I did a test. You can imagine my horror when it turned out to be weakly positive. So weak in fact that I thought my eyes were deceiving me.

As you can see above, the test line on Day 2 is just visible. Luckily I hadn’t gone out that day and it is easy for me to isolate myself as I live on my own. I alerted anyone I had been in contact with in the previous 5 -6 days but luckily nobody was experiencing any symptoms. The next day, I had a slight intermittent cough and a very slight feeling of tightness in my chest, perhaps a little more tired than usual but nothing so bad as to keep me in bed. I phoned my family doctor to let her know and she confirmed our Public Health Guidelines that I should remain in isolation for 5 days after the onset of symptoms. She sent me a very useful site created by the University of Toronto which answered many of my questions and concerns: ConfusedAboutCOVID.ca (https://dfcm.utoronto.ca/confused-about-covid)

Luckily, I had cooked food in my freezer and enough to do at home to keep myself occupied. My symptoms didn’t get any worse and by Day 5, I felt pretty much recovered. Thank goodness that I’m double vaccinated and had a booster in early December as I have no doubt that my symptoms would have been much worse otherwise. I was looking forward to coming out of isolation on Day 6 but thought I should test myself before I ventured out. As you can see above, my test was still positive. My doctor said that I was likely not highly infectious at this stage and that I could go out for a walk but that I should wear a mask and remain socially distanced. I managed to get through another few days of no social contact and made an appointment for a haircut on Day 11 so I thought I should test myself the day before. To my complete surprise I was still positive. Another couple of days of no social contact. When was this going to end? Well, it did today, Day 13 and I’m finally negative. My fridge and freezer are empty but I survived and didn’t get very ill. Hallelujah! Thank you God and thanks to vaccination that I only had mild symptoms.

You may be wondering what the main picture has to do with any of this. Nothing at all but I felt like the heron in the photo, isolated and waiting… but now, thankfully, I can spread my wings again.

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Happy Lunar New Year

Yesterday, February 1st, we entered the year of the Tiger which gives me the opportunity to feature one of my favourite pieces of street art on the side of a building on Harbord St. The photo was taken some years ago and sadly, the poor tiger has aged and now looks shabby and run down which is disappointing. It was painted by a female Canadian-Chilean artist Shalak in 2015.

Lunar New Year is celebrated in many Asian countries such as China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam and celebrations can go on for several days. In China, it is also referred to as the Spring Festival. Typically, people clean their houses before the start of the new year to rid their homes of bad luck. A family meal is celebrated on New Year’s eve with symbolic foods. The colour red is worn as it is associated with luck and prosperity. This year, 2022, is the year of the Water Tiger and occurs every 60 years. Apparently, the year of the Water Tiger marks a new availability of creative energy and impetus for action, and is a year of developing balance, determination and strength of mind. Given that with Covid, we have a need for all of these things, I hope the Tiger brings us luck.

Today is Groundhog Day which derives from an ancient northern European tradition marking the mid-point between the winter and spring equinoxes. According to legend, if the groundhog awakes from its hibernation and comes out to see the sun thus casting a shadow, we’re in for a long winter. If the weather in Wiarton, where our groundhog Wiarton Willie resides, is anything like it is in Toronto today, there definitely will not be any shadow so maybe it won’t be a long winter but don’t hold your breath!

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Food Insecurity

Sadly, there is food insecurity even in a rich country like Canada. In 1983, a charitable institution called the Food Bank opened its doors in order to make food available for those who are in need, their motto being that food is a human right and that no one should go hungry. I fully agree which is why I have been volunteering my time in the main location in Toronto which supplies other food banks in the city as well as member agencies such as The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, churches that provide food for the needy, and other such bodies. That’s me above standing by the industrial type vats that are used for making soups and stews.

The demand has increased since the start of the pandemic and last year, the Food Bank distributed close to 17 million pounds of food through 189 food and meal programs in Toronto. In the main branch where I work, there are several areas of operation. There is the sorting area where the donations of food by individuals and supermarkets is carried out. Like items are packed into boxes and stored in a warehouse for subsequent delivery to smaller food banks according to their needs. I worked here for a few shifts but then moved to working in the kitchen.

Here, meals are prepared for sending out either in large containers, or individually packaged for distribution to individuals who might be ill or unable to come to a location where the food is distributed. So far, my job has been to chop vegetables or help to package the food. Typically, the food is frozen in appropriate containers, labelled with detailed information listing the ingredients, calorie content and so on and stored in a freezer room in the warehouse until delivery can be carried out. There are seven trucks which deliver food from the main location to smaller Food Banks and other agencies, so there is a lot of organizing and coordinating to be done. In 2021, close to 102,000 meals were prepared and distributed.

For people who can’t afford to buy groceries, there is a store onsite where they can come and pick up what they need. Here there are vegetables and fruit as well as eggs, milk, cheese and other fresh items. In order to be fair and stop people taking more than they need, there is a point system. A single person or family is allotted points according to their situation. Each item in the store is worth a certain number of points and people choose how they want to use up their points.

In the location where I work, there used to be a meal served in the dining room once a week for anyone in the community who wished to partake. Unfortunately, communal dining had to be stopped on account of pandemic restrictions but people can still come and pick up a packed meal to take away.

A large number of volunteers work at the Food Bank but obviously such a large organization cannot function without permanent staff. The kitchen has fulltime chefs and there are administrative staff who coordinate operations. The major part of funding for the Food Bank comes from private and corporate donors and indeed, I myself have been donating to the food bank for many years. There are also donations of food items by private and corporate donors. I really enjoy working here especially in the kitchen. My knife skills are getting very good as there are kilos of vegetables to be peeled and chopped. Just watching the speed at which the chef chops is a pleasure in itself!

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Pandemic Pursuits

‘Equilibrium’ a mural by Okuda San Miguel

Thank you to all the readers who wrote me personal notes encouraging me to continue with my blog. It was heart warming reading your comments and made me realize that in these times, people appreciate glimpses into other lives and welcome distractions.

I had hoped for a more social time this January but my life is no different than it was a year ago. I have coffee in bed while catching up on the day’s news on my phone and then do a brief session of meditation followed by my exercise routine based on a variety of exercises picked up over the years. It includes stretching, a few yoga postures, lifting light weights and some cardio exercises. It’s not very strenuous I must say but it keeps me reasonably fit. I’ve been keeping up with my Italian by taking some online courses and one of the concepts presented to me was the use of ‘dead time’ to improve one’s language skills. That is to say, listening to the language while engaged in something else that doesn’t require much thought so while doing my exercises, I listen to the news and podcasts in Italian. Of course, having already read the news in English, it’s not hard to follow in Italian and it’s a great way to improve one’s vocabulary. So if any of you are trying to learn a language, I advocate it.

I live in a small apt. on the 40th floor of a building and though I have a large balcony with a wonderful view, I feel a need to go out for a walk everyday regardless of the weather to prevent myself feeling trapped indoors. One of my routes takes me past the building at the top on the south west corner of College and Jarvis Streets. It is a 24 storey student residence and the mural is by a Spanish street artist, Okuda San Miguel, the tallest mural he has ever done. At the very top is a Pride flag as the building is close to the gay village of Toronto. Immediately below is a winged figure with a bird and flowers in reference to the Allen Gardens which it overlooks. The gray faces in the trio of faces, represent wisdom and history while the brightly coloured central indigenous face represents research and innovation. The multi-patterned figures holding a globe represent cultural diversity and at the very bottom is an exploding star, Kaos which is Okuda’s signature geometric shape . It is a glorious piece of work even on a dull gray day like the one on which I took the photo. StreetARToronto (StART) is an innovative program started about 10 years ago in the city in an attempt to reduce graffitti and vandalism replacing it with vibrant and colourful community-engaged street art. The mural above was partly funded through this project.

My daily walks have introduced me to several beautiful murals which I never would have come across otherwise. The one of the woman holding the staff of Aesculapius, the god of healing in Greek and Roman mythology, was done last year by a group called The Dreamers on the side of the Pembroke Inn as an ode to Healthcare workers at the height of the pandemic, who sadly are still exhausted and run off their feet. Unfortunately, the artists are not always mentioned so I can’t tell you anything about the mural in the middle. However, it makes me happy when I see it! Another of my pursuits is some volunteer work I have taken on but more about that in my next.

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Happy New Year 2022

Sunrise from my Balcony

I doubt that I have any readers left and indeed my intention had been to fade into the sunset and be done with this blog but two things happened that changed my mind. The first was that I mentioned to a good friend of mine yesterday that I wasn’t going to continue and she urged me to rethink my decision. Her feeling was that it might be interesting in these times for people to have some diversion if only based on my opinions about this seemingly never ending pandemic. The second was that my credit card got automatically debited today for the fee for this website. I figured that if I was paying to keep this site anyway, I may as well post something.

Anybody in Ontario who reads this knows that our Premier announced new measures today for slowing down the spread of the Omicron variant which is spreading like wildfire. So we are back to schools, indoor dining, gyms and so on being closed and reduced capacity in shops, malls etc. Those who can work remotely have been told to do so. As far as I can determine, many double vaccinated people are coming down with symptoms though in general these tend to be mild and don’t require a hospital visit. In fact our testing centres are unable to cope so people with symptoms or possible exposure have been told to do a rapid test at home if possible, and quarantine for 5 days. The problem is that there aren’t enough workers to keep services running including hospital staff. Furthermore, people who go into hospital for interventions other than Covid are catching Covid in hospital which not only makes them more ill but they then have to be isolated creating more complicated management. I gather that the idea in closing various venues is to get as many people as possible to receive a booster shot which should increase their immunity and slow down the spread of the virus.

I really did not expect this Omicron variant to appear and strike us with such a vengeance. Here I was, a month ago, thinking that we would likely have another small wave in early January following Christmas festivities. I had even thoughts of returning to Rome for February and March but here we are. According to the Director of Ontario’s Covid Science Advisory Committee, Dr. Peter Juni, things should be better by early spring. So until then, we will just have to find things to divert ourselves with.

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