lunedì 31 ottobre 2011

Lolita in Rome

When in Rome, spot Domenichino's masterpieces that are here and there and everywhere in the Eternal city. Some of them are in shy churches, others in glorious ones. Start with the magnificent fresco that is hidden to the crowds in the little chapel of Saint Andrew (Oratorio di San'Andrea) beside the monumental church dedicated to the famous Pope Gregorio Magno (address, piazza San Gregorio 1, MetroB, Circo Massimo). It represents the martyrdom of Saint Andrew. What a deadful sight! But, look closely... more closely... Can you see, in all the violence of the scene, a little, rosy cheeked girl? She is looking straight into your eyes, not a bit interested in what is going on, as if saying: “I'll be here, forever young and beautiful Not like you, ha,ha,ha!” A little cheeky Lolita of the Seventeenth century.
And she is not Domenichino's only Lolita. Oh no! You will find her twin sister, maybe a tiny bit older, in a painting called “La caccia di Diana” (Diana's hunt) that is kept in the Galleria Borghese (Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5). There she is again, the little mocking beauty. This time she is in a pool of water, leisurly bathing. But her eyes are on you. The smile on her pink lips is that of eternal beauty that scorns time and age.
Not only nimphs for this extraordinary   painter who owes his name – it means little Domenico in italian - either to his timid nature or to his dwarf size height. In the grand church of San Luigi dei Francesi  (Piazza San Luigi dei francesi, 20). You shall find the beautiful cycle of frescoes that tell the stories of Santa Cecilia, martyr and patroness of music and “bel canto”. Another little beauty, another “signorina”, a pious one, but, all the same, cousin of the other little Lolitas...

mercoledì 26 ottobre 2011

Trousers and blue jeans

Did you knnow that, Giuseppe Garibaldi, our italian national hero, the man who made one and all this bootlike country called Italy, wore denim trousers, in two words, blue jeans? Yes, Italy wa denim-made. If you happen to come to Rome you can check it out with your own eyes and see the very pair of jeans that he wore during the mythical "spedizione dei Mille", visiting the "Vittoriano", in Piazza Venezia. This marble, gigantic monument badly wanted by the piedmontese (the Savoy kings) who wanted to display their might and power in the Rome of the Popes overlooks the Via del Corso and was never loved by the Romans who called it for years on end "the typewriter"...
Trousers? I held my breath for a moment and wondered: when did the Romans, meaning our anciet fathers, stopped using the "toga" (the white cloth that looks like the priestly garments in the catholic tradition?) prefering the easy going trousers? I found the answer in the Galleria Pitti in Florence, many a time ago. I found myself in front of two stautes. One was of a Parthian captive, the other  represented Augustus in all his youthfull, laureate, classical beauty. I looked and looked and, all of a sudden, I realized that the parthian, the persian, the barbarian, with his messy hair and fierce face, wore trousers and shoes that looked like our modern Clarks! And that Augustus, with all his beautiful curly hair crowning his head, still wore a toga that left his knees bare and had sandals in his feet, fingers in the wind. And all of a sudden I understood that Augustus was the past, never to come back...   

domenica 23 ottobre 2011

Pizza Margherita story

And now, for a change, let's have a sunday evening pizza together. Do as the Romans do and listen to the story (if you want to...). Even a pizza Margherita, the traditional, simple, delicious plate - that even angels come down from heaven to taste in Naples (for a soft, thick one) or in Rome (for a crisp, slender one) – has a long, long story to tell. Did you know, for instance that “La pizza Margherita”, only tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and basil, has a birthday? Well, I assure you, it has one indeed: it dates back to the 11th of june 1889, when a famous neapolitan “pizzaiolo”, Raffaele Esposito, decided to offer to the queen of Italy, Margherita di Savoia, a special italian pizza treat, that bore the colours of the italian flag: green (basil), white (mozzarella cheese) and red (tomatoes). She loved it and asked for more... He, together with his wife, Maria Giovanna Brandi, had prepared, as you can immagine, more than one type of pizza. The traditional kind, in those long lost days, was not like today the pizza Margherita, but a simple white pizza, with grated cheese on top, all clustered with “cicinielli” (baby fish).
Margherita di Savoia, the piedomtese beauty that had descended the Boot all the way down to Naples (a place that was familiar to her like the North Pole), granted a pair of wings to the everyday meal of the neapolitan crowds... She loved the taste and simplicity of true life baked in an oven. It does not surprise the italians who know by heart the famous saying that goes like this: “La regina Margherita mangia il pollo con le dita”. Her fingers were her forks when she ate chicken! It means more than that, of course. A lady, a queen, but a woman at heart all the same. A woman who loved pizza. Just like all of us.

venerdì 21 ottobre 2011

Stars and evangelists

There were five of us, little ones, in the villa. We flew down from heaven holding hands, first the twins and then, every second year, in this order my sister Sara, my brother Marco and last and maybe also least myself: Ester. When my mother found out that she was pregnant for the fourth time, with three little boys running around the place and one little girl hiding behind her skirts (something that she hated...), she sunk on the sofa and heaved outloud for everybody to hear: "Not another one!". This was my sweet welcome in this world. She tried her best to loose me, easy task as, during my nine months stay in her pretty womb, she moved, with her large italian family, from an ground floor apartment off the parco degli Scipioni to the white villa, a paradise of garden and rooms, that was to become our house for good. I can just see her, face - let's say - to the wardrobe, pushing and pushing with all her migh, red cheeks and all. I, myself, dancing inside her, happy as a bumble bee, in a lovely shake shake... I was born on a winter's day, without a name. I should have been Matthew, if a boy, beacuse my mother wanted the poker of the evangelists. Gian (for John) luca (for Luke) was one of the twins, two names in a go, good shot! Marco (for Mark) the third son, so only Mathhew was left over for little me, the Matthew that I saw, much later, on a Caravaggio painting in the dark church of Saint Louis of the French near Piazza Navona. A light hits the fellow and his face goes: "Me?", fingers pointing to his chest..  That could have been me. My grandma Stella (for Star) came to the rescue: "Why not call her Ester?". Ester, a star, like herself. That was that. I was Ester and God bless me. 

giovedì 20 ottobre 2011

The voice of the dead

In the Ponti household, tradition wanted the masters to be either professors or sultans. The “professors” were family men, loyal to their wives, backs straight, guardians of the papers, knots and  thorns of the family; the sultans were quite their opposite: skirt chasers, windy in thought, moody and, often enough, they themselvers core of the family problems... The lawyer, my father, was of the first type; his brother, my uncle, of the second. They both got married in those long lost years of the late Fifties and they both had five children and, funnily enough, both had  twin boys: the major twins (my brothers) and the minor ones (my cousins). Age made the difference, my brothers arrived eight years before my cousins did and so, that is that.
My mother was all but a “professoressa”. She wore short, quick hair when all around her women paraded cotton candy heads; she married in short, no veil, no nothing, when brides, in those days of memory, looked like sugar cakes. The wife of the journalist, my aunt, to soothe her loneliness due to her husband's balloon head passed long forlon afternoons recording the voices of the dead. “Did you hear them?”, she asked me once with pleading eyes. I only heard deep silences and the rustle of the tape. My mother, ice in her eyes, said: “We must go now...”. And we went.
Many years later, I was watching, for the sake of someone else, a James Bond movie that my father, already passed away, loved like a life he had not had. I thought wouldn't it be great if he was here! In that I heard a furious rattle coming from the kitchen, as if some neighbour was hammering nails at that time of night. I translated the language of the dead. My father was saying: I'me here too! The voice of the dead.