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.