Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dia de los Muertos: Marigold Parade

Sunday was the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival in Albuquerque's South Valley, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.  It's a Mexican festival that is the equivalent of All Saints (November1) and All Souls Day (November 2).  It's not meant to be either sad or scary.  Instead, people get together to joyously and gratefully celebrate their memories of friends or family who have died.

Six of us from Amherst Drive marched in this year's parade to honor Glenn and Nita's dog Brooklyn who had died only a few days before.  Glenn and Nita made a fantastic float decorated with huge blown-up posters of Brooklyn, oversize marigolds, and strings of the tennis balls that Brooks loved to chase.  We all dressed up as "calaveras" (skulls) and pulled the wagon while tossing candy to the kids who lined the street.  The marigolds are thought to attract the souls of the dead so that they can enjoy the fun as well.

In addition to marchers, bands, dancers, and floats, there was also a large contingent of "low riders" -- vintage cars that have been tricked out with sound systems, sirens, hydraulic lifts, etc.  These are a huge hit with the crowd.

Here are a few pictures of us with the float and some short video clips of other marchers and low riders.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rock Art in Rinconada Canyon

Rinconada Canyon is part of a long volcanic escarpment just west of Albuquerque.  It contains about 1200 petroglyphs pecked or carved into the dark basalt boulders.  There are no signs of permanent pueblo-type dwellings here, so the canyon was most likely a ceremonial destination for shamans seeking their spirit guides.  There are also later rock carvings and graffiti made by explorers, sheepherders, and other settlers who began arriving here after 1540.

Archeologists say that Ancestral Puebloans made most of this remarkable rock art 400 to 700 years ago.  Some may be as much as 2000-3000 years old.  Native people say they have been here since the beginning of time.  They also believe that the carvings choose when and to whom to reveal themselves.

Teddy and I were lucky that so many chose to reveal themselves to us on Saturday. Click here for a very small sample.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Another Very Good Day in Ostia Antica

On Thursday, we took the suburban train out to the beautifully preserved ancient Roman port city of Ostia Antica.  We had been there twice before in February -- once on our own and once with Tom and Mary Kay -- but it is always an adventure to roam through this fantastic ghost town, exploring new areas and making new discoveries.  Here are a few pictures from this trip, plus some random scenes back in Rome.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bus Ride

Just for fun, I set the camera on the ledge of the bus window and let it run for three stops through our neighborhood.  If nothing else, it will give you a glimpse of what our "Prati" neighborhood looks like.  The second two videos were shot on the street where my classroom building is.  Also, it might give you just the tiniest, tiniest hint of the kind of chaotic traffic and anarchic parking situation that Susie had to deal with when driving our rented car.  Finally, I wonder if it is a coincidence that two of the three clips end just outside a gelateria?

A Very Good Day in Rome

Will and Maya arrived here in Rome on Sunday morning and it has been a pure joy to see the city through their eyes.  The best surprise of all came last night.  Will and Maya took an evening stroll in the Pincio Gardens overlooking the Piazza del Popolo.  When they got back to our flat, Maya was wearing an engagement ring!  Sue and I are absolutely thrilled!  What an unbelievably fantastic way to bring our stay in Rome to an end!

Today (Tuesday, May 10), we all went down to the historic city center.  After a trip to San Clemente and its subterranean archeological wonders, we walked down the avenue running past the Forum.  We enjoyed a great lunch at a shady outdoor cafe, then took a tour of Trajan's Forum and Marketplace.  Will & Maya then headed over to the Campodoglio to check out the collections and the view.

As I write this, Susie is cooking her famous puerco asado for dinner.  The happiest couple in Rome will be home soon.  All in all, it was A Very Good Day in Rome.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spanish Steps / Santa Maria del Popolo

I took a walk through the Piazza del Popolo and down some shady side streets parallel to the Via Babuino to the Piazza di Spagna. The Spanish Steps are famous mostly for being famous, like many American celebrities. The azaleas planted there are in bloom but you can barely see them because of the masses of tourists congregating on the steps. The fountain in the Piazza has a comic twist. Because the water pressure at this particular site is so low, the artist couldn't make a huge fountain spraying gallons of water. Instead, he designed it as a shallow pool with a sinking ship in the middle!

The church of Santa Maria del Popolo has two absolutely beautiful Caravaggio paintings in one of its chapels, but you can't take pictures of them. I took some interior snapshots of other things where I was allowed to do so, just so I could remember the church itself and those fantastic paintings. Here are online wiki links to The Conversion of St Paul on the Way to Damascus (1601) and The Crucifixion of St Peter (1600), both in the Cerasi Chapel.

Here are a half dozen pictures from my walk:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Drive through the Mountains

Here are some rough video clips of our drive through the mountain range known as the Gran Sasso d'Italia. At an elevation of around 7000 feet, there was new snow on the peaks even as late as May 5.

Ascoli Piceno and the Mountains

The final day trip on our beach vacation in the province of Le Marche took us to the town of Ascoli Piceno. The town was originally settled by the Piceni people and then conquered by the Romans in the first century BC. The main square is the Piazza del Popolo, lined on three sides by wide porticoes that shelter the entrances to shops and restaurants. The square is also bounded by the Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo (13th century) and the church of San Francesco (13th-16th century). We enjoyed a relaxed stroll through the town's narrow pedestrian-friendly streets and checked out the open-air markets. For lunch, we sampled the local delicacy: large olives stuffed with ground meat, battered like a kind of teriyaki, and fried.

The drive home took us back over the mountains of central Italy. We were surprised to see how rugged and sparsely populated this region is. The peaks range up to about 7000 feet (roughly the elevation of Jemez Springs) and there was a considerable amount of snow still to be seen.


Urbino is a small, friendly hilltop town (ca. 16,000) that lies about 20 miles inland from the coast. It has now moved up to near the top of our list of favorite places in Italy. It is a completely charming small town: narrow medieval streets, generous open piazzas, interesting medieval and Renaissance architecture, a great collection of early Italian art, and a lively university atmosphere to boot. Plus the requisite yummy gelato. . . .

Urbino's most famous son is the artist Raphael (1483-1520). We saw two of his paintings in Urbino and visited the house where he was born. The interior, kitchen, and courtyard all have period furnishings, but the highlight might have been the modest little mortar and pestle where Raphael's father (also a successful artist) ground his own pigments.

The Ducal Palace is sometimes said to be the most beautiful Renaissance palace in Italy. The Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro, had this palace built for himself between 1444 and 1482. In addition to being a successful general and ruler, Duke Federico was also a true "Renaissance man," devoted to architecture, literature, art, music, and fine living. Today, the palace holds a splendid art collection. The building complex is beautifully designed and richly decorated, a work of art in its own right. The "studiolo" (the Duke's private study) is a marvel of inlaid wood in fascinating three-dimensional perspective. There are numerous pieces of late medieval and Renaissance art, sculpture, and tapestry, including two paintings by none other than Rafael himself.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Procession In Jesi

The previous blog entry described the procession for the celebration of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Jesi. I also tried to make two rough-and-ready videos. Soon, I will learn how to edit them. Here's the first one: the band playing outside the church just before the procession began.

Vacation in Le Marche

The semester for the CUA Rome Program ended on Friday, April 29. Along with 3 billion others, we watched the Royal Wedding live on TV. The next morning, we drove across Italy to the Adriatic coast where Susie had booked us a lovely self-catering flat in the tiny seashore village of Numana. Our balcony gave us a fine view of the sea, the sandy beach, and the picturesque Conero Peninsula rising almost 1900 feet above the sea.

Our flat served as the perfect base of operations for day trips. Our first trip took us through Loreto to the town of Jesi. Legend has it that in 1294, angels carried the House of the Virgin Mary from the Holy Land to Loreto. About 3 million visitors a year now come to Loreto to venerate the Sacred House.

Jesi is a medieval hill town a few miles inland from the coast. We were lucky enough to run into another local festival: the celebration of Santa Maria delle Grazie at the local parish church. After a brief worship service, there was a procession through the streets of the town. Members of various religious societies, priests and friars, town officials, pious laypeople, and the town band accompanied an effigy of the Virgin through the streets.

Exploring Ancient Etruscan Tombs

One of the highlights of this trip to Tuscany came on the last day. On our way back to Rome, we stopped at the small coastal town of Tarquinia. Two and a half millennia ago, this was a large and prosperous Etruscan settlement. From the 5th to the 2nd century BCE, the residents built a huge necropolis -- a "city of the dead" -- on a high, windy ridge with a view of the sea just outside their city. We had seen many Etruscan artifacts that had been removed from these tombs when we toured the museums at Villa Giulia (see blog entry of April 12) and at Volterra (see blog entry of April 29), so we were really looking forward to a chance to explore the tombs themselves.

Archeologists say that there are about 6000 tombs in this one burial ground. Many of them (but by no means all) have been excavated, but visitors can only go down into about fifteen of them at any one time. The tombs we explored here were very different from the one we saw just outside Volterra. That one consisted of a large undecorated circular room with four smaller burial chambers, each outfitted with stone "beds" for the deceased. The tombs at Tarquinia were for the most part a single rectangular room. The sloped ceilings and walls were decorated with paintings depicting the pleasures of the afterlife: banquets, hunting, music, dance, sex. The burial chambers are now about 20-30 feet underground. Here are some pictures of what we saw:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Signa Video

I don't have much experience using the video feature on The Little Camera That Could, but I did try to experiment by making a couple of brief videos of the procession at Signa for the Feast of the Translation of the Blessed Giovanna. (See previous blog entry.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Procession in Signa

On Monday, we drove to the town of Signa, which is located on the Arno River a few miles west of Florence. April 25 was a trifecta of annual celebrations for the residents: Pasquetta (the Monday after Easter is a holiday here), Liberation Day (celebrating the end of World War II), and the Feast of Beata Giovanna (Blessed Joan), a holy woman from Signa who died in the early fourteenth century. The latter event is celebrated with a procession of townspeople in colorful, handmade period costumes, accompanied by trumpets, drummers, banners, archers, flag-swingers, and groups representing the various major and minor guilds of the medieval town. We were lucky to get a spot right on the route to experience all the morning's pageantry.

San Gimignano

During the 12th and 13th centuries, the hilltop town of San Gimignano was an important and prosperous stopping place on the pilgrimage route to Rome. The Black Death (bubonic plague) that swept Europe in 1348-49 decimated this town as well. Today, it is a pleasant tourist destination with a population of about 7000 residents and umpteen million visitors. The town's claim to fame is that it has retained so much of its medieval appearance: narrow winding lanes, a wide piazza with a cistern and well, and many picturesque shops and restaurants. The Collegiata church is a beautiful 12th-century Romanesque building the walls of which are totally covered with well-preserved medieval frescoes. (No pictures permitted, but I can show you the book I bought.) During its heyday, noble families built fortress-like palaces inside the city walls, each of which was crowned by a massive watchtower. Thirteen of the towers survive, giving San Gimignano its distinctive skyline.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Stalking Puccini

Our next day trip was on Easter Sunday. We drove north from our home base of Lajatico (birthplace of the tenor Andrea Bocelli) into even the more operatic territory of Lucca and Torre del Lago.

Lucca is a small city ringed by medieval walls and a moat. The center of the city is a vehicle-free (mostly) pedestrian zone, perfect for the Sunday afternoon ritual of the passegggieta -- a relaxed stroll with friends, usually including good food and drink. We found the birthplace of the composer Giacomo Puccini (La Boheme, Tosca, Madam Butterfly, Turnadot) and had a delcious meal inside the formjer Roman amphitheater, now a colorful flower market.

Then we drove west to the coast to visit Torre del Lago, a lakeshore where Puccini lived in a small villa. The tour of the villa includes the entire ground floor where we saw, among other things, beautiful (but not lavish) art nouveau tile and furnishings in the living areas, the desk and piano where Puccini composed his operas, his gun room, and a small chapel where he and his family are buried.


Monteriggioni (pop. 8000) is a typical Tuscan hilltop village, remarkable for its extensive city walls. It is the best preserved walled city in Italy. The walls were built from 1213-1219 and form a rough circle around the town. They run for about 600 meters and have no fewer than fourteen impressive square towers. The daunting fortress-like appearance of the town inspired Dante to use it as a model for the ring of giants circling the abyss in Canto XXXI of the Inferno.

In addition to enjoying the history and beauty of the place, we also got a special surprise. A falconer brought five of his trained birds up onto the walls and gave a demonstration of how they fly, hunt, and return to the lure. These huge birds swooped to within 2 or 3 feet of our heads before attacking the falconer's lure and coming to rest. It was a fantastic event!

Volterra: Guarnacci Museum

Here we go again: another museum. Volterra is the home of the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum. We saw many Etruscan artifacts at the Villa Giulia in Rome (see the blog entry for April 21), but we were eager to see much more. (If you are not so keen on 2500 year-old funerary urns and bronze grave goods, you might be well advised to skip ahead to the next entry.)

Our guidebook says that many of the faces on Etruscan monuments are simply generic types, but we tend to disagree. The stone or terra cotta busts we saw on the sarcophagi seem to be portraits of distinctive individuals, not mere types.

Here are the pictures:


Our first day trip was to the nearby town of Volterra (pop. about 10,000). Like many historic towns in Tuscany, it is perched on a steep hilltop high above the valley floor. There were settlements here during the Stone Age. The town reached its peak of prosperity and influence in the 12th century, after which it got gobbled up by the rulers of Florence. Today, it is best known for the fact that it was an important Etruscan community from the 5th-3rd century B.C., when it was incorporated into the ancient Roman Republic.

Today, it is famous for the many craftsmen who work in alabaster, a soft, easily sculpted stone that is found in the area. It also has a famous museum of Etruscan art, the subject of a future blog entry.

Outside of town, there is an Etruscan necropolis, a "city of the dead." It took a bit of fancy driving and some trial-and-error navigation, but we finally found a pathway to some of the tombs. Jan and I went down underground to explore. The burial chambers were at the foot of a steep stairway. There was a circular central room from which four smaller side chambers radiated. These smaller rooms had stone "beds" for the deceased. The whole complex had been cut out of solid "tufa," a soft stone formed from the compression of volcanic ash. It's the same kind of stone from which the Indians carved their cave dwellings back in Bandelier Canyon, New Mexico.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Return to Tuscany: Lajatico

Jan Stone, our dear friend from TCU days and now our neighbor in Jemez Springs, came to Rome to visit us for a week. We spent most of the week (April 21-26) on the road in Tuscany. Our base of operations was a beautiful newly renovated flat in the tiny village of Lajatico, population ca. 1300. The tiny, compact village sits on a high hilltop and is about 25 miles southwest of Florence. We took a drive through the countryside every day with Susie at the wheel, Steve navigating with a huge folding map, and Jan keeping a sharp lookout for roadsigns (which are very few and far between).

On Good Friday, we went to evening services at the village church, hoping to participate in a candlelight procession through the town. For reasons that were unclear to us -- perhaps because of a light rain -- the procession didn't take place, but we did listen to the readings for the Fourteen Stations of the Cross performed by villagers in front of a large effigy of the dead Christ and his sorrowing mother.

Lajatico's favorite son is Andrea Bocelli, an operatic tenor who was born here. He is the moving force behind the creation of the Theater of Silence, an outdoor amphitheater that hosts only a single performance every year. We can't imagine where the 10,000 spectators park their cars, lodge, or eat in this tiny village.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Official Art: Naples

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples is one of the world's great collections of ancient art. In addition to the most precious artifacts excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum, it houses important collections of artworks from imperial Rome that were brought here in the 18th century during the reign of the House of Bourbon.

Street Art: Naples

Naples is full of graffiti scratched, painted, marked, sprayed, pasted, and stenciled onto any available vertical surface. Most of it is just inane scrawling that disfigures buildings and assaults the senses (although nothing that we saw in Naples was as brutally insulting to one's civilized instincts as the many names we saw inked onto the ivory panels of a beautiful Renaissance bapistry in the nave of the cathedral at Arezzo).

Still, despite all the visual clutter left by gangs of urban vandals, there are many images that strike me as being interesting, provocative, amusing, inventive, and even beautiful. The line between vulgarity and art in public spaces can be a very fine and indistinct line indeed. All of these pictures were taken in a stroll through the city center lasting less than an hour. Crimes or artworks? What do you think?

Streets of Naples

Naples is an ancient port city that was founded by the Greeks and later ruled by the Romans, Norman French, Hohenstaufen Germans, Napoleonic French, and Spanish. With a population of 1.3 million and a bustling harbor, it is the unofficial capital of southern Italy. It is the birthplace of St Gennaro, the camorra (Neapolitan mafia), and pizza.

In many ways, Naples reminds us of Dalian (China): crowded, noisy, dirty, rude, chaotic, energetic, criminal, materialistic, and full of a spirit of anarchic fun and vitality. Tall apartments tower over the narrow Roman streets that still crisscross the compact city center. During our two brief visits to the city, we visited churches, an art museum, subterranean Roman ruins, a 19th-century luxury shopping mall, crowded narrow shopping streets, and the harbor.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dinner in Sorrento

Here are the smiling faces of our CUA and Loyola students. What a pure pleasure to meet these young people in the classroom every week, and then to enjoy their company and their friendship on our road trips.


In the year 79 AD, Pompeii was buried under 4-6 meters of ash and pumice during a catastrophic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. Over the centuries, several more meters of soil accumulated over the lost city. As a result, the once thriving city of Pompeii and its inhabitants were lost to memory until they were accidentally discovered in 1599.

The area has now been partially excavated and gives a vivid and poignant insight into daily life in a city of 20,000 people during the first century of the Roman empire. One can wander down paved streets lined with raised sidewalks, water pipes, and stepping stones to cross wet or messy streets. There is a huge amphitheatre, a forum with numerous temples, marketplaces for food and other goods, workshops, fountains, baths, gymnasiums, stores, residences, gardens, and even streetside snack bars for "fast food" and wine to go.

Many buildings retain their floor mosaics and wall decorations. There are even plaster casts of some of the bodies of the unfortunate victims who were unable to flee the city in time. Many of the most important artistic treasures have been removed to the Archeological Museum in Naples, which will be described in a future blog entry. Here are some pictures from our day in Pompeii.

Trip to Capri

Last weekend (April 16-18), we took a three-day bus trip with the students and faculty from the CUA Rome Program. This time, we headed south to the seaside region around the Bay of Naples, about a three-hour trip from Rome. We stayed in a very nice hotel in the fashionable seaside resort town of Sorrento, enjoying tasty meals and watching the full moon rise from the balcony.

One of our favorite experiences was a day-long excursion to the Island of Capri. Susie and I took a jet-powered ferry out to the island, which rises high above the sea on spectacular sheer cliffs. There are only two small villages on the island, but it has become something of a vacation paradise because of its scenic views, year-round beautiful climate, and expensive shops and restaurants.

We rode the funicular (cable car) to the village of Capri high above the harbor. From there, we strolled through the village, window-shopping at luxury goods and sampling tasty gelato. We also took a hike to the cliffs at the far northeast corner of the island to see the ruins of Villa Jovis, a massive palace built by the Emperor Tiberius in the 1st-century AD. The palace complex was supplied with water captured in massive cisterns. The emperor lived there for the final decade of his life, communicating his orders to the mainland via a lighthouse at night and a huge signal mirror by day. The Italian word "capri" means "goats," and we saw a few wild specimens in the woods.

Roman Antiquities

On Tuesday, I took my Latin Literature class on a "site visit" to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, the main branch of the National Museum of Rome. Susie and I had been there before (see blog entry "Museum of Ancient Roman Art" from March 19), but we had only had time to visit one of the museum's four floors at that time.

A former Jesuit seminary, the building now houses four floors of art from republican, imperial, and late imperial Rome. The top floor includes numerous mosaics and wall paintings from ancient Roman villas, including all four walls of the the summer triclinium (dining area) from the villa of Livia, the wife Emperor Augustus. These walls (1st century BC) are masterpieces of painting, featuring lifelike images of plants, flowers, and birds. The ground floor and second floor house a fantastic collection of marble and bronze statuary. The basement has a collection of coins, jewelry, and everyday household objects. Here are a few pictures of things that caught my attention. (For the mosaics and wall paintings of the Villa of Livia, see the earlier blog entry.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Culture Week"

Last weekend began the splendid nine-day long "Semitana della Cultura." During this annual event, all of Italy's state and municipal museums, parks, galleries, ruins, etc., are open to the public for FREE! This set of pictures comes from some of our first trips to sites that we hadn't seen yet. More to come later this week!

First, a walk through the Piazza del Popolo (which is always free and open). It is a huge open space about 10 minutes from our flat, perfect site for the best people-watching in Rome. The entrance is the huge 16th-century arch that marks the Via Flaminia, the 3rd-century BC road from Rome to the Adriatic coast. The piazza is flanked by churches on two sides and by the green, tree-covered Pincio Hill on the east. The fountain at the center of the piazza features a 3000 year-old Egyptian obelisk. The piazza is a also a favorite site for street performers and political rallies. It's where we saw the horse show during Carnevale.

The first museum I checked out is the Crypta Balbi in the old historic city center. The building sits atop an archeological dig that uncovered the gardens, recreatonal area, baths, and spas that were behind the scenes of the ancient Theater of Balbus (1st century BC), now about three stories below the current street level. The above-ground museum houses artifacts recovered from the site and explains the history of the area.

On Tuesday, we took the tram out to the Villa Giulia, an estate with a beautiful garden built as a summertime get-away for Pope Julius III (1550-1555). It now houses the National Etruscan Museum, a fantastic collection ancient pre-Roman artifacts from central Italy. The mysterious Etruscan civilization flourished in what is now Tuscany (the name derives from "Etruscan") and Umbria from ca. 700 BCE until it was conquered and absorbed by Rome in the 1st century BCE. We are now more eager than ever to visit the vast Etruscan necropolises in nearby Cerveteri and Tarquinia.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Roman Randomness

I had to go into the city center today on an errand and wound up taking a walk near several landmarks including the gigantic and supremely unattractive Monument to King Victor Emmanuel II (Roman nicknames deride it as "the wedding cake," "the typewriter," or "the dentures"), the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, the Capitoline Hill, and the Forum. Here are a few pictures that I snapped duing my morning stroll:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Return to Orvieto

Our first visit to Orvieto, a lovely town in Umbria perched on a plateau 1000 feet above the valley floor, was back in early February. Here is the link to that previous blog entry:

This time, we took a day trip by train with Craig and James, our friends from New Mexico. It was a beautiful sunny day for strolling through the narrow medieval streets and alleys of the town and for enjoying the views from the city walls. We went through the 13th-century cathedral and marveled at the carvings on its facade, shopped for ceramics, and had one of the best meals of our entire lives. Here are a few pictures:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Museum of Ancient Roman Art

Dale, Lin, Susie, and Steve visited one of the lesser-known museums in Rome, the Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme. The collection is simple spectacular, an overwhelming display of the finest classical art. We only had time to visit a small sample of the collection, mostly the top floor which is devoted to ancient Roman mosaics and frescoes. Two highlights were the garden room from the House of Livia (d. 29 AD), the third wife of the Emperor Augustus and the mother of Tiberius. The entire room has been moved to the museum. The brightly colored details of birds, plants, trees, and fruits are amazing. Similarly, several complete rooms from a first-century villa have been excavated and moved to the museum. (Much of the unexcavated villa is now permanently buried under the embankment of Tiber River at the Villa Farnesina.) The bedrooms and dining room are beautifully decorated with bright frescoes that look like they were painted last week instead of 2000 years ago. Another visit to see the floor devoted to sculpture is definitely in order.

Old friends in Lauterbach and Rome

From March 10-13, we stayed with our friends Wolfgang and Beate Kniepert in the small German town of Lauterbach where Steve was a high school student in 1967-68. We try to visit one another every few years. Our last trip to Lauterbach was in January 2009, when we watched the Obama inauguration with the Knieperts. This time their superb hospitality included a trip to a restored Roman border fort, a tour of an iron foundry that produces amazing pieces of art, and several fantastic meals featuring local specialties.

When we got back to Rome on March 14, our dear friends Dale and Lin Billingsley were here to meet us. We have known Dale since 1968 and Lin since the mid-70s. We have had a terrific time visiting new sites (and a few old favorites) with them here in Rome.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, is celebrated throughout the Catholic regions of southern Germany and Switzerland. After having experienced the Carnevale parade in Rome (see previous blog entry), we drove to the small town of Villingen in the Black Forest in order to experience their local Carnival traditions. In High German, the day before Ash Wednesday is called "Fastnacht" or "Fasching," but in Alemannic dialect it is known as "Fasnet."

In Villingen, the day is celebrated with a massive parade featuring numerous guilds from towns and villages around the vicinity. Some of the groups dress in traditional costumes. Some are marching bands. Some are fools that provide the topsy-turvy no-holds-barred comedy typical of the season. There are clowns, horses, witches, birds, and mice. The "Putzesel" (Sweeping Donkey) is whipped through through the streets dragging a pine bough behind him, and is rewarded with a ring sausage placed upon his ears at every butcher shop that he passes.

Many of the groups throw treats (candy or a tiny bottle of schnapps) to bystanders who participate in the appropriate call-and-response. When the fools shout "Narri," we reply "Narro." If you chant the following poem, you might get a treat: "Giezig, giezig, giezig -- Greedy, greedy, greedy / greedy is the old woman / if she weren't so greedy / she would give us a little treat." We shout "meow" to the cats. For some reason, when the "Babies" shout "Rebaba," we reply "Ahoy!" It is all very strange and weird and lots of fun!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Freiburg im Breisgau: Augustinermuseum

The Augustinermuseum in Freiburg is devoted mainly to works of medieval and early modern art in all media: wood and stone carvings, painted panels, tapestry, jewel work, etc. It is housed in a recently renovated building dating from the 13th century that was originally the home of the Augustinians in Freiburg. Most of the works on display come from Freiburg or the surrounding region.

Freiburg im Breisgau: The Minster

The Minster is the cathedral church of Freiburg and its most famous landmark. Although it has been the seat of the archbishop since 1827, the building has never been owned by the Church. It belongs to the people of Freiburg.

The present structure was begun by Berthold V, the Duke of Zaehringen, around the year 1200, being erected upon the foundation of an older 12th-century building. It is especially famous for its wealth of beautiful stained glass, its carvings, an altarpiece by Hans Baldung-Grien, and its amazing open-work spire completed around 1330. The late-Gothic choir was completed in the early 1500s.

During the night of 27 November 1944, the city was fire-bombed by more 441 RAF aircraft. Large sections of the old central city were destroyed by fire, more than 3000 civilians were killed and 10,000 injured, but the church was miraculously left intact.

Here are a few pictures (exterior and interior) of one of our favorite places on earth:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Freiburg im Breisgau: Street Scenes

During our Spring Break, we took a trip to two of our most beloved places in Germany: Freiburg im Breisgau (where we were graduate students in 1972-73 and took our sabbatical in 2004) and Lauterbach in Hessen (where Steve was an exchange student in 1967-68). Freiburg is a beautiful town nestled between the Rhine River and the Black Forest. The town was established in a rich silver-mining area by the Dukes of Zaehringen in 1120. It is the home of Albert-Ludwigs-University (founded in 1457) and the medieval Minster (begun around 1200). It also lies at the heart of a fantastic wine-growing region on and around the volcanic peak known as the Kaiserstuhl (Emperor's Throne). Here are a few pictures taken during our strolls around town. (More pictures of the Minster and the Augustiner Museum will follow in a separate entry).

Carnival in Rome

The weekend of March 5-6 was the culmination of Carnival festivities in Rome. The word comes from "carne vale," that is to say "farewell to meat," and takes place in the days just before the time of Lent. For the past several weeks, there have been parties for costumed children. This weekend, there were horse shows and various other events at the Piazza del Popolo, about 10 minutes walk from our flat. On Sunday morning, there was a parade in the city featuring several large floats dedicated to political satire. On Sunday night, there was an equestrian extravaganza at the Piazza del Popolo. The events in the arena were projected onto the huge arch at the entrance to the square. Our weekend also included a long Sunday walk through the city where we saw all sorts of random things. Here are some pictures from that weekend.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Return to Ostia and San Clemente

On Thursday, 24 February, Tom, Mary Kay, and I went back to Ostia Antica. For the first trip, scroll down below the picture of this charming fellow to the left and see the link to our blog entry of February 14:

Thursday was cool and breezy, but perfect weather for hours of exploring the excavated ruins of this ancient abandoned seaport that once was home to 100,000 people. Here are a few more pictures to add to the album that we posted with the previous entry:

On Friday, we went to the church of San Clemente, one of our all-time favorite spots in Rome. The site consists of three separate buildings, each one having been built on top of the others over the course of the centuries. At street level is a lovely 12th-century basilica that features beautiful medieval mozaics in the apse and a 5th-century marble choir stall. This church was built above the back-filled sanctuary of the original 4th-century church which has now been excavated. This church has frescos dating from the 9th and 10th centuries and the tomb of St Cyril, the 9th-century "apostle to the Slavs." Climbing down yet another flight of stairs that lead one far below today's street level, one comes to a set of 1st-century Roman buildings along a brick-paved alleyway that includes a temple and altar of Mithras, god of the eastern religious cult that flourished in early imperial Rome. There is also a Mithraic schoolroom and a Roman home where springs of cool, fresh water still flow as they did centuries ago.

No photos are allowed at San Clemente, but they have a good web site that includes a virtual tour of all three levels.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vatican Museums

We took a long, slow walk through the Vatican Museums on Monday, 21 February. It would be absolutely impossible to see everything, much less even to begin appreciating everything one sees. Sculpture, painting, Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities, ivory, mosaics, cuneiform tablets, jewels, tapestries, maps . . . not to mention the spectacular architecture and decoration of the rooms of the palace itself. The highlights are the private rooms painted for Pope Julius II by Raphael (pictures allowed) and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ("Silence! No photo!").

Leonardo da Vinci

On Sunday, 20 February, Tom, Mary Kay, Susie and Steve went to a special exhibition at the Palazzo della Cancellaria (Palace of the Papal Chancellery). The palace itself, dating from 1485-1513, is still a working papal "exclave" in the city of Rome. It was built for the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV out of travertine stone taken from the ancient Theater of Pompey. Rumor has it that the construction funds came from a single night's gambling.

A team of historians, scientists, and engineers have built models of 45 devices that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) designed and described in his notebooks. Many of the models are interactive so that you can play with them and see how the ingenious arrangements of wings, cams, screws, pulleys, belts, weights, levers, floats, ball bearings, flywheels, rollers, and springs operate a wide range of scientific instruments, military weapons, and industrial devices.

A Saturday Walk in Rome

While Steve was making a glutton of himself at the mozzarella feast, our friends Tom and Mary Kay arrived in Rome from Indiana. On Sunday, we took a walking tour through the city. Highlights included the Pantheon, the Piazza Navonna, the Piazza de' Fiori, a great pasta and salad lunch at an outdoor restaurant, and general all-purpose sightseeing. Here are a few pictures:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mozzarella di Bufala

On Saturday, 19 February, Steve joined a group of 40+ students on a day-long bus trip to a dairy farm in the high hills northeast of Naples. This is no ordinary farm. The principal product here is mozzarella di bufala, a delicious soft white cheese made on the premises from the milk of buffalo cows. The "bufala" are domesticated water buffalo. We got a tour of the small family-owned dairy. We petted the livestock.

We ate and ate and ATE and ATE! Our lunch consisted of (a) antipasto: two kinds of local sausage, three kinds of cheese, a big serving of artichokes au gratin, a plate of baked zucchini, a sweet cornmeal cake, a piece of fresh mozzarella the size of a tennis ball, and an enormous ball of riccota cheese onto which one dripped local honey; (b) a first course consisting of two kind of pasta, a Sicilian linguine with a tomato and olive sauce and a "hunter's style" rigatoni with beef and mushrooms; (c) a second course consisting of roasted potatoes, fat fennel and garlic sausages, and a thick pork chop; and (d) a tray of four different kinds of sweet cakes and coffee. Afterwards, the students played on the outdoor playground with some local children.

February 13-14

Here are a few pictures from Sunday and Monday, February 13-14. On Sunday, we went to the nearby Villa Borghese. The sumptuous villa was built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1615 and is located in the middle of a vast park, a welcome green space in the city. Today, it is a museum housing his art collection, which includes several important works by the painter Caravaggio (1571-1610) and a number of absolutely amazing marble statues by Bernini (1598-1680). It is also home to a temporary exhibition of 60 paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), the German Renaissance painter, gathered here from museums around the world. To get to the park, we had to wade through a huge crowd protesting against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Several of the pictures in this set come from two of our favorite destinations. The first is the ancient Jewish Quarter dating from the 2nd century BC. The neighborhood near the Tiber was enclosed by a high wall and transformed into the Ghetto by Pope Paul VI in 1556. Residents were only allowed out of the Ghetto during daytime hours and were forcibly herded into the parish church on Sundays until as late as 1843. In 1943, thousands of Jewish citizens were deported to German concentration camps, although many were also protected by their Christian neighbors. The area is still a predominantly Jewish neighborhood where we often go to shop for food, eat, and explore the narrow streets and alleys.

The other area we like to visit is the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, a park surrounded by shops under an arcade and a large indoor fresh food market. The neighborhood is one in which many Indian, Thai, Chinese, and African immigrants reside, and the incredible variety of offerings in the food markets reflect this rich ethnic variety.

The weekend ended with a walk through the city, ending up on our side of the Tiber at the Castel Sant' Angelo. This huge structure was originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian (129 AD). It was later transformed into a daunting fortress and prison and then later still into a papal residence. A well-defended elevated bridge extends from the castle to the Vatican and was used by various Popes and their courts when they had to flee to the castle in time of invasions or civic unrest. Here is the picture album:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wall Art (Not Mosaics or Frescos)

We've posted lots of pictures of wall art, mostly beautiful mosaics and frescos from churches, museums, and Roman ruins. However, there are many other forms of wall art in Rome. Most of the grafitti here is total rubbish, but some street art is clever, creative, humorous, thought-provoking, sad, and even beautiful in its own weird way. I took all of the following pictures during a single two-hour stroll down in the old part of the city, mostly between the historic Jewish Quarter and the Campo de' Fiori. Here is the album:

Ostia Antica: A Buried Roman City

On Saturday, 12 February, we took the train to Ostia Antica to explore the vast ruins of an ancient city that lies about 14 miles southwest of Rome itself. Ostia lies at the mouth of the Tiber, where the river enters the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was the main port city for the capital, where large seagoing vessels from North Africa and Spain unloaded their cargo into warehouses for the journey upriver by barge. In its heyday, Ostia had a population of about 100,000.

To give you an idea of why we were able to explore only a tiny part of Ostia, here is an aerial photo of the site, which has still been only partially excavated:

The city's fortunes declined due to a combination of factors: changing trade routes, new ports elsewhere, and persistent malaria. It was gradually abandoned and eventually covered with sand and silt when the Tiber changed its course. As a result, huge areas have been preserved, earning Ostia the nickname "the better Pompeii." You can wander for hours through paved streets, temples, houses, offices, apartment blocks, shops, and cemeteries. There is a large open-air theater and an amphitheater. We explored the remains of enormous heated baths, pools, fountains, and even the barracks of the fire department. The remains of the earliest known synagogue in western Europe can also be seen. One gets a very strong impression of daily life in a large urban center, totally unlike the impressions one gets in museums or art galleries. Here are our pictures:

Here is a computer-generated animated tour of Ostia during its Golden Age.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuscany Trip V: Orvieto

Orvieto, a quiet town of 22,000, is in the neighboring province of Umbria. It is perched on a massive volcanic plateau almost 1000 feet above the surrounding plain. We had to take a cable car to reach the top of the plateau where the old town is located. This site has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Today, its most famous site is the Duomo (begun in 1290), one of Italy's great cathedrals. The building was inspired by the so-called "Miracle of Bolsena," when real blood from a consecrated host held by a disbelieving priest supposedly dripped onto an altarcloth. The cloth is now on display in the church which is graced by a beautiful Gothic facade.

Tuscany Trip IV: Pienza

The little hilltop village of Pienza (pop. 2,300) was the birthplace of the great humanist scholar Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1405-68), better known as Pope Pius II. When he became pope in 1458, he decided to rename his hometown after himself and totally rebuild it in the most current Renaissance style. His family palace, the church he built, and a palace owned by the Borgia family all surround the town square. His visionary urban planning was never completed, so the town retains much of its medieval charm. Pienza is also the home of delicious pecorino cheese made from ewe's milk. Yes, we bought some.

Tuscany Trip III: Castello del Trebbio

On Saturday evening, we drove to a castle in the hills outside of Florence. Castel del Trebbio was built by the Pazzi family in 1148 and later extended in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is situated on a beautiful hilltop. The castle is best known for the "Pazzi Conspiracy," a plot to kill the Medici brothers of Florence and take over their banking empire. The assasination attempt killed only one brother. The other took his revenge by massacring scores of Pazzi followers and seizing Castel del Trebbio. Today, the family that owns the castle and that resides in its 30+ unheated rooms runs a winery and olive press. We toured the castle, enjoyed a wine tasting, and had a delicious dinner.

Tuscany Trip II: Arezzo

Our home base for the trip was a very comfortable hotel in the city of Arezzo (pop. 92,000). Our walking tour of the city included visits to the Duomo (cathedral) and a smaller Romanesque parish church (Pieve di Santa Maria). Luckily for us, the Piazza Grande and all the side streets were crowded with vendors in town for a lively antiques fair that only takes place on the first weekend of each month. The church of San Francesco contains beautiful fifteenth-century frescoes by Piero della Framcesco that depict the "Legend of the True Cross," but no cameras were allowed.

Tuscany Trip I: Siena

This past weekend, we took a three-day bus trip through Tuscany with the CUA Rome Program. The "grown-ups" (David Watson Vasquez, Aurora Santero, Susie and Steve) were outnumbered by our delightful young traveling companions, a group of 46 students from CUA and Loyola.

Our first stop was Siena, a city of 60,000 that rivaled Florence in wealth and grandeur during the 13th and 14th centuries. We toured the huge Dominican church, the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall), the great medieval cathedral, and the home of St Catherine of Siena. There was also plenty of time for a delicious lunch and street-by-street exploring before we returned to our hotel in Arezzo. Here are a few pictures:

Monday, January 31, 2011


On Sunday, 30 January, we headed back to the city center to visit the Capitol, the hill above the Tiber that has been occupied since the Bronze Age and that formed the center of the ancient Roman world. The Temple of Jupiter (c. 509 BC) is now far beneath the Piazza del Campidoglio that was designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century, but some of its massive foundations can be seen inside the Capitoline Museums. These museums, established by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471, contain many of Rome's most famous works of art, especially bronze and marble sculptures. The buildings on the piazza also contain offices of the city government.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ara Pacis & Pantheon

On Saturday, 29 January, we went into the city center to do some more exploring. We started off at the Piazza Navona, a beautiful public square that stands upon what was once a stadium for athletic contests built by the Emperor Domitian (d. 96 AD). The grandstands, remains of which are still visible well below street level, could seat as many as 33,000 spectators. Today, the square is a lively place for buskers and artists. Its centerpiece is the "Fountain of the Four Rivers" designed by Bernini for Pope Innocent X in 1651.

A short walk took us to the new glass museum building that houses the Ara Pacis, an altar constructed by the Senate in 13 BC to commemorate the Pax Romana ushered in by the conquests of the Emperor Augustus. The external walls of the altar are decorated with beautiful marble friezes depicting the emperor, his family members, and his officials in a lifelike procession. The museum was also hosting a special exhibition of 138 works by Marc Chagall.

We finished the afternoon at another magnificent site of ancient Rome, the Pantheon. This "Temple of All the Gods" is a huge rotunda 140 feet high. The dome sits on a stone cylinder and would form a perfect sphere if extended to the floor. Light enters through an "oculus" (eye) in the center of the dome. Originally built during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (118-25 AD), it was consecrated as a Christian church in 609 AD. In addition to being a majestic piece of architecture and an incredible piece of engineering that inspired the US Capitol and the coffered ceilings of the DC Metro, the Pantheon also houses the tombs of the kings of modern Italy and the grave of Raphael.

Here are a few snapshots taken during our walk:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Santa Maria Maggiore

The link below will take you to a variety of pictures that we took over the past week and a half. One of the highlights was a bus trip across town to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline Hill. The triple nave dates from the fifth century, as do the incredible mosaics. The apse, which is also decorated with brilliant mosaics, dates from 1295. On the way to the church we walked though a neighborhood with Asian and African markets where Susie had gone before to buy spices. We ate at a Chinese place where we were the only Westerners and caught a glimpse of young dancers that brought back memories of our time in Dalian.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weekend of Jan 15-16

On Saturday, January 15, Dr David Watson-Vasquez (Director of the CUA Rome Program) took students and faculty on a guided tour of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.  David is an authority on religious architecture and has lived in Rome for 7 years, so he was a great guide.  The next day, Sunday the 16th, we ventured out on our own to visit the church of San Marco and the Forum of Trajan.  We strolled through the city, finishing up on the busy shopping street known as the Via del Corso.  We ended the afternoon with a gelato at the Piazza del Populo, a short walk across the bridge from our flat.