Thursday, 29 October 2009

Not about anything much

I should really go to bed, but feel the day is not yet finished. Nor have I done any reading today.
This is my 'busy' day. I fly out the door early to catch the bus to the city to get to the Italian class. Our teacher, who always used to arrive late, has been startling us with his punctuality this term. There are a couple of new people in the class, and so far they seem to fit in very well, and may even belong to the race that knows Joseph.

After this class I go to an art history lecture, which are generally excellent, where I meet the friend with whom I travelled to Italy. It was pleasant to discuss the trip and how much we both enjoyed it.

By the time I arrived home, I really did not feel like doing anything much. So I didn't. Dr P finished off the pea and ham soup, and I had pasta, then sat down to vegetate in front of the TV. My mind was not greatly improved by this.

We had friends over for lunch on Sunday - a spur of the moment thing organised on Saturday. Because I had an all day choir practice on Saturday I had no time to cook anything, and so decided to buy salads, cold meats and smoked salmon on Sunday morning. When I left to go shopping I checked the walls of the house (I always do this because I am now justifiably paranoid) and found there were four large graffitis, three on one wall and one in the lane. It took me an hour to clean them off, and they are still visible. One was so high I had to stand on a chair to reach it. It took more than one bottle of graffiti remover.

All of this did nothing for my sweetness and light levels, but I soldiered on personfully, and did the shopping in record time, and set off for home. This took twice as long as usual - BECAUSE - the traffic was jammed a long way back, due to the fact that some idiot (possibly the Premier?) had approved an event which involved closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for hours, in order for TURF to be laid across its length and breadth, following which 6000 allegedly fortunate but possibly psychologically disturbed people could have a picnic on the Bridge. After the picnic the turf had to be removed, of course.

I cannot comprehend why anyone could possibly think this event was a good idea, and the pages containing the letters columns in the newspaper have been spontaneously combusting from the outraged comments of those who were inconvenienced by the closure, and from the rest of the people who think it was just plain stupid.

(When we arrived in Brescia the piazza in front of the cathedral was being transformed into a garden with plants, seats, stage and catering facilities for a fashion and design event. To restore the piazza to its original condition took the next two days, but at least they were not blocking off a major traffic route.)

Notwithstanding the graffiti and the traffic jams, we had an excellent and enjoyable long lunch, and there is a lot to recommend going out and buying ready prepared food, especially when Dr P opined that although he enjoyed the potato salad, it was not as good as mine. (Of course not.)

In other news the nasturtiums have gone mad, the fuchsia is blooming, everything is growing, but the kaffir lime tree yet again is not setting its fruit. Why not?

The day has now finished. And so to bed.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Why are fire engines red?

Perhaps as the season changes and we have to re-accustom ourselves to hot weather, even at night, I notice things which suddenly become easy to complain about.

I have encountered here and there a few blogs, such is this - an enjoyable piece of vituperation - discussing some of the really stupid names unfortunate and innocent babies are given. Not their faults, poor little lambs. Having noticed names such as Natarsha, Symantha, and Giaan (how the heck are you supposed to pronounce that?) I went on line and checked some birth notices, and in one fell swoop discovered Laycie, Haylee, Aspen, and Trinity Starr (!) the sister of a little boy named Indiana. I am so sick of surnames being used as first/given/Christian names such as Harrison or Mackenzie. And as for the names Sarah Palin gave her kids!!!

Does no one teach children that there are some rules of English pronunciation? Such as the effect of a double consonant? Yes, I know English is supposed to be a difficult and inconsistent language, but it really is not as bad as it is often made out to be.

OK, enough already. I am now about to destroy any credibility I might have as a rational being.

Some evenings I amuse myself by watching some really bad television. And guess what, it is usually American. We have Foxtel, and one of the channels is called Home and Health. This afternoon I watched half of a programme called Yes to the Dress. In this, bridal consultants take brides to a wedding dress place and urge stupid females into totally unbecoming dresses. I cannot believe how dreadful they look as they fantasise about walking up the aisle swathed in a rigid strapless dress with a tight waist ballooning into massive skirts and trains.

There is another programme which gets overweight brides-to-be into training so that they can lose enough weight to fit into one of these horrid monstrosities. Can anyone explain why people imagine that strapless dresses are becoming?

Then there are parenting and children series such as Jon and Kate Plus Eight, and Seventeen Kids and Still Counting. I read the other day that Jon and Kate's marriage is on the rocks. Certainly the bits I watched today indicated that neither is enjoying dealing with eight little kiddies all that much, and that their survival technique is to adopt a very military approach.

The seventeen children one is sanctimonious in the extreme, so I will skip that in future. The names all start with J, and there is a Jinger. I wonder what the 18th baby will be called? But I did gather that to make ends meet they rent out quite a few investment properties, and that they own nine vehicles. And their accommodation is not to be sneezed at. And quite likely the income from the TV stations helps buy the odd crust.

Other series on offer are Who'll Age Worst, Plastic Surgery Before and After, Rich Bride, Poor Bride, Perfect Housewife, and Downsize me.

Tomorrow night I might watch Why my baby won't sleep. Should be fun.

I will confess to enjoying Supernanny, but I don't see it very often, as Dr P tends to arrive downstairs, and immediately starts jeering at me. I take no notice, as he watches his own junk, such as Two and a Half Men, which makes me leave the room immediately.

It is quite satisfying to watch programmes which confirm one's prejudices. But seriously, this channel focuses on extremes, and preys on female uncertainties about their bodies and beauty, and appears to put a relentless pressure on women to see the world in such terms.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Window shopping

For the delectation of the passer-by, and the perusal of lovely things, here is a selection of photos I took as we wandered hither and thither.

Inevitably on our way to the various museums, galleries, churches, ruins, etcetera, we passed many shops. I am not complaining. While not the shopper I used to be when I was still slender, it is enjoyable to look at what is on offer in the shops. I perambulate around the Queen Victoria building and around department stores, but in the last few years find that fashion appeals to me less and less, partly because so many clothes are very unflattering to many women, and secondly because the fabrics used are so tizzy and of such poor quality.

In Italy, where such deficiencies are less common, it was a pleasure to window shop. The displays are elegant and gorgeous. Purple is the colour of the season and there is absolutely nothing wrong with purple. Jewellery shops abound, as well as a goodly selection of shops catering to the many and varied passions of the female.

I wanted to visit Ferrara because of my interest in Lucrezia Borgia. My Italian class studied and translated a biography of Lucrezia, who did not have an easy life. She was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI, and sister of Cesare Borgia, upon whose life and career Niccolo Machiavelli based his seminal work, The Prince. Lucrezia was not the wicked woman so often depicted. Her second husband, whom she loved, was murdered by her brother. Her third marriage, made for political reasons, as was customary, was to Alfonso, the heir to the Duchy of Ferrara. Alfonso was a notable soldier, obsessed by developments in armaments, at a time when the French had invaded Italy, causing massive political instability.
Upon her marriage Lucrezia was obliged to leave behind her infant son, and never saw him again. He died young. She had numerous pregnancies, which were always difficult, and the last one killed her. In those days there was no notion of giving a woman time to recover from miscarriage or childbirth. The sooner she could be impregnated again, the better.

We sought out the convent where Lucrezia was buried, but it was closed for restoration. There is a fascinating account of Ferrara, the Este family and Lucrezia in H V Morton's A Traveller in Italy (published in 1964, I picked it up a year ago at a second-hand book stall) and he managed to gain entry, at a time when the nuns still observed enclosure rule.

These shops are in Ferrara, a city of about 40,000 people. We stayed in the historic centre, close to the Castello Estense. It was a notable cultural and literary centre during the Renaissance. Ferrara is lovely. Outside the walls people drive their cars, but around the historic centre, they walk or ride bicycles. Naturally they talk on their mobile phones as they cycle along.

I liked the combination of this revealing neckline, notwithstanding the swathing of the neck itself.
Here is food for the body. We passed this shop in the very narrow main street of Bergamo's Citta Alta. It all looked delicious, and was very crowded, so that it would have taken ages to actually buy anything. Bergamo features lots of cakes, but we did not try any of them. They had a cake made of polenta, but I am afraid the very thought made me shudder. The meringues looked good though. As we walked past the shop some time later we espied a fly in the window, which put us off a bit.

This is a wool shop in Brescia. We did actually go inside, and perved and yearned over the gorgeous yarns - the cashmere, the alpaca, the silk blends. I might have bought some if only I had had a pattern in mind, and knew how much to buy. On the other hand my suitcase was already quite heavy enough.
This is a shop from the fearsomely expensive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, just near the Duomo. I don't really go for silver, but these were elegant and sumptuous. The shop also sold a range of the lovely silver and enamelled animals which are sold in Florence. I think the prices in Milan easily exceed those in Florence. I had already bought two small ones in Florence, a boar, and an owl. It took my granddaughter about five minutes last week to spot that there were a couple of new ones. She'd like to nick off with them. She has to wait, though.

Finally, the Ricordi music store. Ricordi was Verdi's publisher, and so the world owes his memory some respect. It is a lovely shop and as we had some time to kill on our last day in Italy, we stayed there over an hour looking at all the CDs and books. It was not a bad way to end our trip.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Moving forwards, and back

Naturally I have managed to get the photos in the wrong order of the trip, but such errors must be endured. The photos above and below are of the Arno River. It does not matter how often I visit the wonderful city of Florence - and believe me, it is not nearly often enough - I keep taking photos of the river and its bridges. This photo with the large concreted area is something I never spotted before. It is a pescaia - a sort of weir, and there is another one, according to my map, further upstream. How long has it been there, I wonder? It is downstream from Ponte della Trinita, roughly between the churches of Ognissanti, and San Frediano on the opposite, or Oltrarno side. I had never managed to get to these churches before, and as we came away from San Frediano on the Sunday morning before Mass was held, we peered over the embankment wall, and noticed all this. It is evidently a fishing spot, and there is a man in waders in the water on the far side fishing. The Arno is probably fairly polluted, so do they fish for sport or food, or both? I am perplexed about the large concreted area with all the chairs.
I like this photo for the reflection of the sky.
This is the mercato of San Lorenzo, and we were on our way to visit the church of San Lorenzo, the Medicean chapels and the Laurentian Library. The chapels and the Library were closed on my previous visits. As we walked through, the man with his arms akimbo posed, so we cheered and waved. He will never know he is on my blog.

San Lorenzo is a Brunelleschi (the Duomo dome architect) church, built as the Medici local church for Cosimo il Vecchio, who did not go in for splendour, but for lack of ostentation and modest living. Effective power rather than its pomps was enough for him. The local stone of Florence is known as pietra serena, and it is indeed cool and serene, with an austere beauty, with the church owing as much to the balance and perfection of its proportions as to the materials and decorations used.
The chapels, with the Michelangelo statues of Night and Day, and Dusk and Dawn, are wonderful, and Michelangelo has the same wonderful proportions and balance in his architecture. The other chapel, despised by Oscar Wilde, is a riot of coloured marbles and feature highly decorative pietra dura work. I am a sucker for gorgeous marbles and stones (as a child I wandered around cemeteries and monumental masons), and cannot equal Oscar Wilde's refinement and sensitivity. It is really a very very Baroque interior.

For the first time we visited the Laurentian Library, with the staircase designed by Michelangelo. Beautiful as it is, the interior of the Library excelled it, and it is a monument to literacy and learning. There was an exhibition of the development of writing and the development of alphabets, and of books from basic commercial records to literature, copies of ancient works, illuminated manuscripts of incredible beauty and perfect scripts to the development of printing. Seeing such antiquities and the development of learning and civilisation is inspiring and wondrous.

Pietra dura work is one of my minor passions, and I have two small pictures and a pendant. Very modest works, they are, but I love them. This photo is of a shop window selling pietra dura. On the Oltrarno, where our hotel is, there are several shops and workshops, where I always linger. There is also a museum, Opificio delle Pietre Dure, and lots of it on display in the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi. It is incredibly detailed work, making pictures of scenery, birds, flowers, using semi-precious stones.
As one of my Italian classes is studying Dante, oh so slowly, I could not resist this pizzeria in the city of Dante's birth.
This is the facade of the church of Santo Spirito, designed by Brunelleschi, but not completed by him. Like San Lorenzo, the interior is serene and beautiful. A Baroque baldacchino was put in place many years later. Some think it spoils the church, but I say the church is pretty hard to spoil, and I rather like it.
A view of Florence from the Pitti Palace. I managed to get approval from the attendant to take a photo from the little balcony. In this part of the Pitti Palace visitors kept having to lean forward so as to read the name of the painter and the title of the work. This leaning kept setting off the alarms, but fortunately the attendants were quite sympathetic and understanding. We explained that we were getting on a bit and our eyesight was not what it was. They nodded understandingly.

Indeed we found that despite there being treasures left, right and centre everywhere we went, the security was not of the officious and obnoxious kind encountered in Australian galleries. We were able to peer and get up close, and point at things in a picture. Bags were not permitted as a rule, and taking photos was prohibited - not that such prohibitions or any reminders ever stopped your average culture lover and camera enthusiastic from flashing away there, because of course such rules cannot possibly mean me myself personally - oh no!

Back in Rome, which is where I meant to resume. These two photos are of the church of St Ivo della Sapienzia, a Borromini church, notable for its spiral belfry, and (according to the guide book) for its astonishing complexity, and an ingenious combination of concave and convex surfaces. Borromini and Bernini worked together, but then fell out, and were rivals. But the two of them made Rome what it is today. Borromini was a complicated and difficult man, and in his later years suffered from feverish melancholia. This eventually led him to fall on his sword, but he did not die immediately and suffered horribly.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mostly Rome

Why not start with a photo of the Colosseum? I visited it on my first ever trip, and this time we decided to refresh the memories. It is awesome, in the original sense of the word. We had come by the Metro and as we were about to cross the road we were accosted by a woman wanting to sell immediate entrance, with a guided tour. For twice the cost. Being relatively aged and mature, we thought we'd take our chances, so went and queued, and got in after only ten minutes. The real reason entry took so little time is that the Colosseum is immense, and it does not matter how many people are admitted, it is NEVER going to look as though there are more than a handful of people in it. Just even thinking about the number of people who crowded into in in its g(l)ory days make my head spin. The pale part is a floor which has been put in to enable people to see how it worked. Immense pieces of columns abound.

The photo with the statue is of Campo dei Fiori, one of my favourite places in Rome. On my first trip to Rome my sister and I stayed at a small and very basic hotel nearby, where the shower was part of the room, separated only by a shower curtain. The statue is of the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake for heresy. Such punishments form a large part of the horrors of the past - it seems that cruel and unusual punishments - the type prohibited by the American Constitution - were commonplace in the days when life was short, nasty and brutish, and formed part of the entertainment of the people, rich, powerful, poor and weak. Western civilisation has reached better standards than those of the past. Campo dei Fiori is still a market place, with fresh food and flowers sold there to the people of Rome. Cafes and restaurants abound, and it was there that I had my first gelato of the trip - raspberry, which surely must have an addictive substance in it, as it is quite madly delicious. From Campo dei Fiori we proceeded to Piazza Farnese, and a view of the Palazzo Farnese. Some idiot sold it years ago to the French, and it is now the French Embassy, which means that people cannot get into it. Drat! From there we walked across Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza Navona, and visited the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, which is beautiful. Obviously I cannot describe the many churches we visited, but I can certainly recommend them. Then we set out to find San Luigi dei Francesi, which has three Caravaggio paintings, including the Calling of St Matthew. It took us a while to find it, mostly due to my poor map reading. Despite directions from helpful Romans we could not find it. When we did succeed, we realised that one reason for our difficulties was that it was covered in scaffolding, and thus was not recognisable.

This is the remarkable oval staircase of the Palazzo Barberini, built for Pope Urban VIII and family. He is the one who authorised using the bronze from the roof of the Pantheon for Bernini's baldacchino in St Peter's. This is the sort of thing that bean counters do to save money. This gave rise to the saying (and I can't remember the Latin) that what the barbarians could not do, the Barberini did. It is a remarkable building, with a flight of 80 stairs
(yes I counted them)
between the ground floor and the first floor. Surprisingly, it has a copy of the Holbein portrait of Henry VIII.

The Elvis and Beatles stained glass windows are part of a cafe in via Veneto. Good fun.

I have managed to delete some of the photos I had selected. Sorry. I don't think there is an undo button available for this sort of thing.

The noseless Statue comes from Brescia. Part of conquerors' revenge. The other photo gives the history but it might not be legible.
I dare not have a go at deleting the duplicate Elvis image.

This black cat is painted at the base of a wall in a street in Brescia, and I have to say is an improvement on the usual standard of graffiti, which is ubiquitous and awful. There was another and similar cat image in another street. No idea what it means, but I love those orange eyes.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Home again, home again

I am back home. Goodness me, it is a long journey. Having discovered that our flight was continuing to Christchurch, New Zealand, it became evident that there are people who live even further away from their destination than I do, and thus I felt quite sympathetic towards them.

It is good to be home. The reunion with Dr P has been very loving and pleasant and it is good to be able to tell him all about the trip. He missed me a lot. His family cared for him well, and apparently his grandson ate huge bowls of pasta with Bolognese sauce every night. Nothing else. (Sometimes I think boys are very strange.)

On the first flight out of Milan I was next to a man who lay down and slept for most of the flight, and snored very loudly the whole time. I felt like having a loud and hysterical tantrum, but my convent upbringing would not let me, so I had to lie there and just fume silently, as I envied him his remarkable capacity for sleep. I managed only about 4 or 5 hours for the entire journey, and last night woke after five hours. Obviously I am typing this while deeply asleep, but I am shortly going to bed, and hope that tomorrow morning I will have recovered from the admittedly fairly mild case of jet lag.

Somehow I imagined that on my return I could sit about idly and gather my forces, but of course life is not like that. My initial idea that we would go out for dinner faded as I realised it was a public holiday and that really fresh food might not be available. So I thawed some pea and ham soup and cooked some croutons and we feasted on that. Today I had to clean the refrigerator (yuk) and then go out and shop, and then lug it all inside.This was a relatively easy task, as I have been lugging my heavy suitcase up and down stairs on stations, and on and off several high steps on the various trains, so obviously this stood me in good stead for every day activities. Sometimes, as we did our little old ladies' act, a strong and helpful male would help and we were always most grateful. But why do so many stations not have lifts?

Our last stay was the Citta Alta of Bergamo, a most beautiful spot with stunningly beautiful buildings and a fascinating history. We walked all around it and came away with much information about its history, especially in the post-Napoleonic period when it became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the political repression was extremely severe. A nice new law was introduced for crimes such as having a weapon, and people could be arrested, tried, convicted and executed within several hours. Horrific!

I took what probably amounts to a thousand photos in this city. On our last day we visited the Donizetti museum, and bought a ticket which gave us entry to several other places, including the large campanile (Campanone). When we turned up there, the lift was out of order, and it was still out of order the next time we tried. Thus, when we set out on our final ramble, I left my camera in the hotel, and having found that the lift was finally working, went up, climbed another 45 stairs and stepped into the most stunningly beautiful view, and there I was with no camera. Generally I take lots of photos of bell towers, for the edification of my friend the bell-ringer, but she is missing out on a photo of the Campanone's huge main bell.

We did visit the Citta Bassa, but did not manage to see much, and when we arrived at the Contemporary art Gallery, found that it was Art of a highly self-indulgent and pretentious kind. So we walked to the funiculare, leaving any other offerings to themselves.

We climbed the Rocca, from which the views were almost as spectacular, and followed an exceedingly suspicious cat around its walls. Bergamo seems always to be shrouded in mist, which never lifted.

Although we arrived in Rome, we departed from Milan, and so took the train to Milano Centrale Station, which has lifts (halleliua), and moving walkways, toilets, and a Left Luggage department. We deposited our luggage there, and then braved the Metro. We got out at Duomo, a trip which took a whole five minutes, and the doors opened and closed at every station in 12 seconds. We emerged from the Metro to see rise before us the most achingly beautiful building imaginable, the Duomo, which has been cleaned since I first saw it with my sister years ago, and it is light and pale and seems to be about to float away. Notwithstanding being searched on entry and reminded that no photos or filming were permitted in the interior, most people evidently think that such restrictions could not possibly apply to themselves, and so cameras were constantly flashing.

I must here engage in some cultural relativism. In Asia everyone takes off their shoes before entering a temple and women know not to try and shake a monk's hand (all these contaminating females!) and in mosques evidently sensitivity, courtesy and decorum govern behaviour. Why, then, do people feel it is acceptable to disturb Christian religious services, to pose for photos in churches, to take photos and video despite the prohibitions, eat and drink, and to kiss and fondle as well? It made me very cross: I feel we should respect our own history, culture and traditions. And other cultures should respect each other.

All in all, we had a wonderful time, and saw so many beautiful places, buildings, scenery and art, and enjoyed the immense courtesy and generosity of spirit of the people. We enjoyed each other's company, never had a cross word, had the freedom to do exactly as we pleased, without having to conform to a timetable. The weather was excellent, the hotels ranged from satisfactory to very good, the train trips were pleasant, with mere frissons of anxiety about whether we were on the right platform and on the right train, and the itinerary always interesting and the stays just long enough. I did a little shopping in Florence, following which I restrained myself with admirable self-discipline and merely window-shopped (ah! the gorgeous aquamarines and amethysts in Ferrara - they are all still there).

There were many special hours and places, and I will reflect on them and examine the photographs to preserve them in my memory. It is good to be home.

And now to bed!

Some photos next time, when my mind and body are less of a blur.