Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 650 posts

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Czeslaw Milosz, "Campo de' Fiori" (1943)

The Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz
A friend we toured with in Rome a couple of years ago sent us this poem, "Campo de' Fiori."  We were unfamiliar with the poet, Czeslaw Milosz, and with this poem, which is one of his better known pieces.  Milosz was born in Lithuania (1911) but lived in Poland and wrote poems and prose in Polish (the poem is translated). He spent World War II in Warsaw, then under a Nazi-imposed government.  Strongly anti-Communist, Milosz defected to the West in 1951 and became a U.S. citizen in 1970.  He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980.

As Milosz has explained, the poem was not written inside the Warsaw ghetto, but it was written in Warsaw in 1943, not long before the 1944 uprising against the Nazis and the subsequent deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to extermination camps.

In this poem, Milosz describes a moment in the history of the Campo de' Fiori in order to understand the horrific events in wartime Warsaw.  The heretic mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Campo de' Fiori in 1600, the victim of the Catholic Church and a "mob" mentality, but in Milosz's poem it's as if the event barely happened: "Before the flames had died the taverns were full again," he writes. Something similar--something that reminds us of our inhumanity--he suggests, happened to Warsaw's Jews, who went to their deaths as "the crowds were laughing on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday."


      Campo de' Fiori

In Rome on the Campo de' Fiori
baskets of olives and lemons,
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
Statue of Giordano Bruno, Campo de' Fiori

with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died                                
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons
again on the vendors' shoulders.                          

I thought of the Campo de' Fiori
in Warsaw by the sky-carousel
one clear spring evening
to the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
the salvos from the ghetto wall,
and couples were flying
high in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning
would drift dark kites along
and riders on the carousel
caught petals in midair.
That same hot wind
blew open the skirts of the girls
and the crowds were laughing
on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.

Someone will read as moral
that the people of Rome or Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by the martyrs' pyres.

Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,                                    
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died.

But that day I thought only
of the loneliness of the dying,
of how, when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on.

Already they were back at their wine
or peddled their white starfish,
baskets of olives and lemons
they had shouldered to the fair,
and he already distanced
as if centuries had passed
while they paused just a moment
for his flying in the fire.

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
and many years have passed,
on a new Campo de' Fiori
rage will kindle at a poet's word.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Finding Rome, in Washington, D.C.: The Pension Building

Rome is in our thoughts even when we're not in the city.  And so RST was surprised, and pleased, to come across a reference to the architecture of the Eternal City while in Washington, D.C. over the holidays.

The surprise took the form of what is now the National Building Museum (created by Congress in 1980).  It once housed the U.S. Pension Bureau, established after the Civil War to dispense pensions to the veterans (and their widows) of Union soldiers who had fought in that conflict.

The entrance is on the other side, off F Street

It's monumental in scope.  With grounds at each end, it occupies much of a city block (between F and G and 4th and 5th NW).  When completed in 1887, it was the largest brick building in the world--and controversial, too, because brick was an unlikely material for a major government building in Washington.

The designer was Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs.  Fortunately for RST, Meigs was familiar with Rome buildings and classical architecture.

Palazzo Farnese
The three-level classical facade, and the variations within it, mimic Rome's Palazzo Farnese (1550s), as does the cornice, said by some to be a "direct copy"of Michelangelo's epic cornice for the Farnese (our memory is that the Farnese cornice has a much larger overhang). And the cornice adapts the Farnese acanthus leaves/fleur-de-lis to a military motif, with cannons and bursting bombs.

Exterior frieze, Pension Building
The exterior frieze (above) was, perhaps, most directly inspired by the Greek Parthenon, but is also reminiscent of the designs on Rome's Trajan's column--depicting another epic military campaign, that one in the far flung province of Dacia (now Romania).

The Italian Renaissance Revival theme is also carried out inside, in one of the most impressive rooms ever created.  The Corinthian columns that dominate the interior, also constructed in brick, are 8 feet in diameter, 25 feet in circumference and, at 75 feet in height, are still some of the world's tallest.

The brick columns, under construction, early 1880s
The Great Hall, still used by Presidents for inaugural balls, is roughly the size of a football field: 316 feet long, 116 feet wide, 159 feet high.  Here, Meigs' inspirations were two, and both Roman: the Baths of Diocletian (298-306) and the Renaissance-era Palazzo della Cancelleria, just off Campo de' Fiori.  Although they have (apparently) nothing to do with Rome, the building's stone stairways are interesting; they were designed with low risers to accommodate injured and handicapped war veterans.

There's a charge (about $10) to get into the Building Museum, the carpeted Great Hall and some other locations in the building can be appreciated for free.


F Street side, frieze above the first floor 
The arcades of the Pension Building resemble those
in the Palazzo della Cancelleria, above.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

All Saints All the Time - Shopping in the Vatican Stores.

Enter here

There's something about the multiplicity in the shops across from St. Peter's that appeals to me.  I love the saints in some odd alphabetical order, above, with their traditional icons at hand.  Cristina, Chiara, Cecilia next to each other, then Benedetta and Catarina, followed by Agnese and Agata. Okay, not normal alphabetical order, but some kind of order.  The photos below provide some additional buon vistas (good viewing).  Dianne
Some prefer medallions.  These also are in alphabetical order, in bins.. 

Of course, Padre Pio always gets his own showing.

And then there are the general Roma souvenirs, even in the Vatican stores
An overall view of the store - in the Galleria S. Pietro, across from Bernini's colonnade. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Cats Have Their Own Office in Rome

We were walking in our Monteverde Vecchio neighborhood this spring when I said to Bill - "take a picture of that," and you can see his reflection in the door's glass as he shot this photo of what looked like an office for a national cat organization:  Ente Nazionale Felinotecnica Italiana or ENFI.

I loved the photo of the cat - someone will know the breed - and the idea that the cats had their own organization.I also liked the word "Felinotecnica" - which sounded to me like a technical feline.

A little research made the organization less mysterious  - it's the Italian National Purebred Cat Association.

The Web site indicates there may be some cat turf wars going on as well.  ENFI doesn't mention other organizations by name, but indicates that more than one organization can maintain a purebred cat geneology register, and that it is one officially sanctioned to do so.  ENFI got its recognition only a bit more than a year ago - so there's lots of pride going around here.

Then there's the whole issue of whether one should breed purebred cats. Especially given all the homeless cats in Rome and the efforts in various parts of Rome to take care of them, neuter and feed them. Our Swedish friend, Bo Lundine, wrote a post here on such a cat, the one-eyed Nelson.  Well, we won't get into that debate.

And so the lesson seems to be you never know what you'll find walking around a residential neighborhood in Rome.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Get to these Rome clubs while they last - for New Year's Eve.

Rome may be eternal, but its music clubs are not.  As New Year's Eve approaches, we thought we'd check on a couple clubs we visited in 2016.

Le Rane di Testaccio
One of our new finds was Le Rane di Testaccio, a cute basement music venue on via Galvani in Testaccio.  The jazz was very good, and sometimes even too contemporary for our "cool jazz" taste.  But we'd definitely recommend trying it.  The club is a "socio," so you need to buy a yearly "tessera."  As we recall, it was only 5 Euros.  The entrance fee of no more than 5-10 Euros included a drink.  The rather nice buffet was somewhat overpriced at 12 Euros.  Apparently organized by a doctor who wanted more jazz, the club has a modern, classy feel, and an attentive crowd.  We were afraid it wouldn't survive in Rome's elusive jazz scene, but it appears still to be a going concern, including with a New Year's Eve event.  Check it out.  And, by the way, the inside joke is that the street is named for Luigi Galvani, a biologist who experimented with frogs (le rane).  Via Galvani 29/29A (knock on the door).  06.5740240.

Even the parking lot for the L'ex dogana looked cool, with the
elevated highways framing it.
We also stopped in at the L'ex dogana (ex-custom's house) between San Lorenzo and Porta Maggiore.  The space is overwhelming and magnificent - true industrial chic.  It hosted a good art show (including, for example, a Kounellis) and was getting ready for late night music, when we stopped by.

 We had read about some of the problems of the people running the venue and, indeed, it looks like they won't be running it much longer.  The final show is New Year's Eve, and that looks like a blockbuster.  Look for information for "Scala Est Closing" on the Web site.

The scale of L'ex dogana produces unusual placement of artworks.

Captivating video projection art at L'ex dogana.

This looks like a video projection, but it
was solid

Getting ready for the partying, outside as well as in.
We were going to say a few words about a small venue in an expensive via Veneto (lower, not upper via Veneto) hotel, "Elegance Cafe'" - but it didn't last the year.  Its August Facebook page and Web site say it's transferring to a new location.  We shall see.
The now defunct Elegance Cafe'
Other New Year's Eve venues for jazz lovers include that old standby, Alexanderplatz.  We had some fear for its existence too, after we heard the main proprietor died.  But it's still plugging along.

And with that, Buon Anno!