21 May 2011

Rome -- The fruits they are a-changin’ ...

May 21, 2011

The fruit and vegetables are changing... artichokes (carciofi) are done, except in restaurants catering to tourists. We are in the middle of peas (piselli), and now it’s strawberries and nectarines (fragole e nettarine).

I have yet to taste a single sour, flat, cruddy piece of fruit. Tomatoes, even purchased pre-packaged at the local supermercato, have that just-off-the-vine taste. Strawberries – at least the ones I bought yesterday – taste like they were picked off the vine as I ate them – hard to describe how delicious. Same for the nectarines... I lean over the sink and just devour them.

I took another walk in Trastevere today, this time with three goals – the Villa Farnesina and up the Gianicolo hill behind it to visit San Pietro in Montorio. On the way down the hill I managed to find an excellent Japanese restaurant on the big street Viale di Trastevere... and again, the four pre-sliced slices of orange were as sweet and delicious as you are imagining... and it’s not in season for citrus.

The Villa Farnesina was built by the richest man in Europe, the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. He decorated this ravishing place with the assistance of Raphael and his helpers, architect Baldassare Peruzzi, and others. The paintings reflect the (now much reduced) gardens and orchards outside that originally led down to the Tiber (Tevere). Some are made to look like tapestries, with ruffled edges and faux tie-downs. It’s all erotic, colorful, cheerful, and the most fabulous love-nest you’d ever want to own. The large loggia rooms were intended to be open to the outside (now glassed in top to bottom)... peel me a grape and call me honey, honey.

The Gianicolo hill was the scene of months of deadly fighting between French troops defending the Pope’s rule of Rome, and volunteers from all over Italy who streamed there in defense of the newly-created and short-lived Republic (the wrenching of Rome from the Pope’s control took place a few years later). In this case the French won, with the loss of many lives. Garibaldi was there with a large contingent, and when the struggle was over, escaped to fight again.

The fallen Italians later became folkloric heroes. One of them died of gangrene at 21 from a battle wound. His words – poem, song, not sure – became the Italian national anthem. In the park at the top there is a 1941 fascist mausoleum in Mussolini’s favorite travertine marble with the saying O ROMA O MORTE enscribed above (this was one of Garibaldi’s mottos – another was “God and the People” and another was Obbedisco! ("I obey!") and another was... well there were several.

Along the path – actually a busy street – near the top of the hill – a spot with merry-go-round, big equestrian statue of, right Garibaldi, and a grand vista of the city – along the path is a row of busts of heroes – most looking like they could be working in any bar or wearing a business suit instead of military insignia and hats. The busts are very accessible both to passersby and to pigeons, yet have not been defaced or graffitti-ed. I don’t know if this is from respect or indifference. Either way, it’s unusual.

Another phenomenon... the asphalt below the vista lookout makes a perfect chalk board for lovers... I saw signs – big – many feet across – saying in effect that this marks the day that Alonso and Maria fell in love — and so forth.

I was pouring sweat. Not only was today hot, it had an undercurrent of humidity. At the very last moment, returning home, a few drops fell.

If you recall, I visited the church of San Francesco di Ripa earlier in order to see the voluptuous statue there, but only saw the feet and midsection. This time was even more – what, frustrating? Funny? – the church was closed for another hour, and I wasn’t waiting around. I made a return visit to Santa Maria in Trastevere – no wedding, but it appeared that a number of pre-teens were being rehearsed for an upcoming ceremony – not a bar mitzvah ... probably first communion.

I witnessed two weddings in progress... and afterwards on the way down the hill watched pigeons getting stomach pains eating rice off the paving stones.

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