mercoledì 3 ottobre 2012

A coffee with Borromini

My lovely Lenci doll
If, one day, you happen to come to the Eternal city, please do not rush in a crowd, in the speedy Gonzales rythm of modern tourism! Take your time, instead, breathe slowly in the glow of a glorious golden dawn and open ears, eyes, soul, mind and heart to all the beauty Rome can bestow on you.  Not only the Colosseum, and not Piazza di Spagna alone or the Trevi fountain, in spite of all their bliss, no, no: Rome hides its grace in shadows and perfect diamond spells which are there to meet you, if only you might like to follow her secret charm... If you walk down the Clivo di Scauro on the Celio, for instance, you might meet, white dressed and blond and beautiful, the nynph Egeria who inspired King Numa, when Rome was still to become the glory of ancient times. In the catacombs of Saint Sebastian, please, after roaming in the hell of those dark christian caves, abide in the pagan tomb on the top, were birds sing and flowers bloom: paradise after all. And paradise is in Piazza Sant'Eustachio in the joyous lantern of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, masterpiece of Borromini, which looks like a white ballerina piroetting graciously in the blue sky. I was there, yesterday, sipping the best coffee in Rome (in the Sant'Eustachio bar), eyes fixed on the Borromini treasure, my soul up there, dancing in the clouds, when all of  a sudden, a voice makes me start: "Sorry, do ya think it's going to rain?" 

giovedì 30 agosto 2012

Goodbye Sardinia

When august went to sleep and the first rains of autum filled the sardinian air with the frills and chills of september, all the Ponti family, after three months of heat and salty water spent in the white villa that overlooked the Cala Girgolu bay, was about to pack and leave. Rome, sweet Rone again. Oh, how I dreaded that moment! how I loved the pouring rain that pitterpattered on my little window and gushed down the winding road that lead to the sea in a cappucino coloured brook! I saw, believe me, in that savage waters, the sacred marriage of skies, earth and sea...
It was a time of deep thougth for little me (so much in love with Sardinia...) and of adventure. Down to the beach in my red raincoat I dashed and up and down the golden bay (Idid not fear the lightning that scared Mimma so much) to look for those pretty nothings that the tide, in rolling waves, brought back from who know where: a broken bucket, a piece of oar, a funny looking doll, with weed tangled in its hair. My treasures, all mine. I went back home carrying them in my arms, my glossy cheeks sparkling in the white skies while Tavolara, sitting o the horizon, bore a hat of  stranded clouds and smiled at me a deep, mysterious green smile,  a shade of the pink and pale blue one it wore during the long, peaceful summer days, in glorious lush.
Tavolara, the island of my heart, seemed to understand me. It looked at my treasures with bountiful, motherlike eyes. I smiled back and stood still and watched and felt its magic spell. The spell I still feel now and forever.
Here I am, home, little me. I leave my  precious bundle of broken life on a bench and up the stairs to my room to get changed. Up and down in a flash. "Mimma, where are the things I left here?". "That junk? I threw it out, right now, darling". Goodbye Sardinia.

lunedì 25 giugno 2012

Poets and monkeys

This man, with his spiky moustache and  paglietta hat is Trilussa, a great Roman poet

 Walking down this very old street full of antique shops and blessed by an aristocratic flare, you might bump into the ill looking statue of a clumsy silenus, lying on his side pretending to be a gorgeous mermaid. It is the “Babuino”, the baboon, one of Rome’s talking statues.  An awkward, nasty looking thing, with a huge head and a clumsy body. The romans despised it from the start.  It was Pope Gregorio XIII, who decided, in 1576, to place it right here, in the heart of the street that, in those lost days, bore the sweet sounding name of “Clementina” in honour of Pope Clemente VII.
From then on,  the ugly silenus stares in the face of the passers by. One of them, in the XVI century, was a spanish cardinal, Pedro de Deza Manuel,  who lived nearby.  The poor fellow had bad sight. Every day, when  passing in front of the statue, he made  a big bow and took off his hat to pay his respects. And the romans laughed and laughed, their cynical, eternal, loud laugh. Then, one day, the statue started to talk. It spoke the language of mock and derision... It spoke, but in  pure epigrams, the language of the crowds. It told the truth, but in a weird way. Like a  marble jester for the successors of St Peter. The great  poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli (1791-1863) dedicated one of his many sonnets  (all writen in witty roman dialect) to the talking statue of the babuino... And Belli - oh he sure was a genius! -  was the secret voice of another talking statue, that lived in another square, close to Piazza Navona: Pasquino.
Strange but true, in this same Via del Babuino (at number 58) a great successor of Belli, Carlo Alberto Salustri (1871-1950), known as Trilussa, was born. Belli and Trilussa are dear to the romans and they both still live their secret  marble life in two statues in two different  “piazze”, dedicated to them,  both in Trastevere.

giovedì 17 maggio 2012

Ba Ba black sheep

In may, when the Roman rose garden on top of the Aventine bloomed in glory and sweet pink and red  scent, it was time for  the Mater Dei pupils  (of the third elementary class) to have their first holy comunion in the dark chapel of the school, which stood like a soldier in the darkness and solitude of the Salita San Sebastianello, at a stone throw from Piazza di Spagna...
How I dreamed to wear the white, wedding-like dress, that covered knees and ankles, which my sister had worn some years before and that slept its silent sleep in a wardrobe downstairs, hidden in the dark, calling me from another world, the world of desire and lust.  Down to the grass, it swept, kissing mother earth and allowing me to think myself a persian princess... Here I am, the day has arrived, I am wearing the white beauty and the veil and I am standing, together with my schoolfriends and the cardinal, in black and red, in the sunny courtyard of the school for a holy picture. The photographer is ready, cheese. I do not know why, but in that still moment, I turned my head to my left, the wing of the devil, far away, heart and soul in search of  what I do not know. The principal, eyes like needles, froze me: "Your mother bought you in Marks and Spencer!"

In the picture, my ba ba black sheep bennibag...

lunedì 9 aprile 2012

The angels of Raffaello

In a morning of blue skies and angels, I had joined a guided tour to Raffaello's rooms in the Vatican, organized by a she professor who teaches in a blessed Roman University. We met in the gleaming hall of the Vatican museums, closed by the Vatican walls: me, in the frenzy of visitors, children and adults, that cloistered for tickets and souvenirs.  While my Virgil chatted, long and wide, with a Max Mara dressed manager of the museum, I bought a bookmark in the litlle Vatican shop, that displayed in all its beauty a blond Melozzo angel.
At last, the group is tied up an ready to move on. Now I know, looking at all those global faces, yellow and black and all the colours of the raimbow, why my professor had sighed: "Oh how difficult it is to spray a bit of umanistic salt and Renaissance pepper on top of the Ands and on the Tropic of Capricorn..."
Well, off we went, through long corridors, full of everything that is beauty, running along, with no time whatsoever to search and spot, in the huge map halls, the tiny village of Monte Santa Maria, lost in the sabine hills, where I bought a little house with a terrace that scrapes skies and angels... No way, run run run and if time is friendly we might throw a glance to the Sistine Chapel.
At last, here we are in the majestic rooms that Pope Giulio II, a warrior, a nobleman, one who was a great friend of Michelangelo, asked Raffaello to paint. Which thing he, Raffaello did in glory. Here we are  in the Sala della Segnatura, in front of the School of Athens. Plato and Arstoteles, finger up for the first (meaning that the answers are all in the attic...), finger down for the second who believed in the superior thruth of reality. And while my guide starts the usual game of finding out who is who: Parmenides and Eraclitus and all the others, philosophers and mathematicians, and so on and on between the blue skies and the imperial geometries of the place, I loose myself in front of the great painting, ignoring a  game which I played a long time ago when I studied history of art at University... My two eyes, and the third one too, open to faces and art.  And lo, I see them, the angels that, fresh in the morning, saluted me from up above! I see them, white and blond, snow sight, looking at me from the painting. Thre angels on a row, on the left, in the mixt of all the scholars: a todler, a little boy and a lovely teen ager. The three of them, there forever, to  witness, right in the middle of all the human toil for knowledge, the eternal mistery of life...

venerdì 2 marzo 2012

White bliss

When I was a little girl I could not wait to have my first holy comunion. Not for the ceremony itself, of course, and certainly not for the meaning of the holy bread - the "particula" - turning into God himself. No, no. How could a nine year old  care about those trifles that so much concerned mothers and aunts? No, no. The only reason why I yearned to taste the body of Christ was that  I would wear, for the occasion, the long white dress,  that my older sister had on many years before and that waited, paitently, in its plastic coat, for me to turn into a newborn christian.It hung quietly in a wardrobe of my mother's closet, counting the hours for its ribirth....
The day arrived at last, as sunny as my beautiful dress that tolled its new beginning, and I stood, as white as snow, in the middle of my schoolfriends first and in the big, green  Ponti garden soon after. All around me, cousins and aunts and friends. The afternoon washed away, and so did my enthusiasm for the white dress. Now that I was wearing it, I found it had no sugar nor spice nor anything nice...
All of a sudden, my memory switches on and I run backwards to another sunny day, that of my older sister's holy comunion when little me, dressed in a pale blue skirt and flowery blouse, had eyes and heart for my white tulle beauty, gleaming in the sun.  The dress seemed to smile  at me, singing one day I will be yours... Here I am, in a snap, standing on the cotto terrace, with my brothers end sister, models  for my father's pictures of the great day. Oh, the longing in my little keen eyes, oh, the bliss of the white fabric dream,  shining in the light, right there, beside me: the dream I cherished in my heart!  Now I know: Christmas  eves are far better than Christmas days!     

lunedì 30 gennaio 2012

The happy Pope

When I attended  the Mater Dei convent school, tied up in a noble palazzo, dressed in  pale yellow, that sat at the bottom of the San Senbastianello slope, at a stone throw from Piazza di Spagna, it was a honour and a medal to have a Pope in the family. It may sound a laugh, nowadays - I gather - but in those lost times, some thirty years ago  it was an ever so serious business... Not everyone, of course, had a Sixtus ex ex or a Pius so and so. Francesco C. had two Popes in his pedigree and the same number belonged - I could not figure out how it could have happened ... - to a curly, dark haired, not so pretty girl called Fanny. But all these Popes, in their red robes and all, were only dusty pictures in a hall and had lost, in the galloping of years, their flare and smash and the fisher's ring...
Not so with my little friend Q. He was as small and blond as a little prince and nothing less than the nephew of the Pope in person, blood and bones, the one who actually was sitting on the seat of Saint Peter, he was the man who represented God in this topsy turvey world.
One day, this little elf of  a boy, went with his family to see his uncle, the Pope. The women of the family, mother and aunts and sisters and close friends, dressed in black, wore dark scarves and sullen faces, he, the little one (no matter how trained  he had been for long afternoons...) was as brisk and merry as a parrot in Brasil: a child going to the park...
At last they came to a silent room, ceiling and walls in prayer. The Pope left his noble seat to welcome his family and what do you think little Q. did? You guessed: he sat on the Pope's chair, under the awed eyes of the vatican crew. The Pope turned around, spotted him and said: "Little Q., I suppose that chair belongs to me...". And everybody laughed under dark scarves and solemn moustaches...   

martedì 17 gennaio 2012

Dimitto auricolas

Ten years ago, when I was still a journalist and not a ronin, when I had a paper to write articles for, a salary and my own dear little table, a computer of my own and a mail address that married my name to that of the paper, and collegues with whom to discuss this and that, the euro popped in and killed straight away our own dear lira and, after a while, with the crysis of Euroland and all, chopped me out of my job. Oh how happy italians were, when the euro cried its first baby cry, to welcome this new brand of notes all coloured in orange and green and purple. Flowers blooming in the sky. The colours of doom, to me. Oh how many times did I ask this and that if they were happy to buy milk at double the price of before, but, lo, in euros... Nobody listened. The party had begun, italians were no more italians, but europeans. Michelangelo and Raffaello and all our Roman past seemed to be forgotten as we melted in the gray,  european pot, that has and had no soul or heart, but lots of numbers and famelic bureaucrats...
I felt angry and betrayed and dispossessed of my country, that had given so much to the whole world. Beauty and art and grace dwell in this little boot that sleeps in the middle of sweet waters.... The euro, to me, a dictator, a foreigner, a new conqueror. Oh how I missed my dear old lira bank notes, with the dear faces of the artists I had always cherished: Michelangelo and Verdi and Caravaggio and even Mrs Montessori with her white hair of clouds and snow!
I said all this and much more to a friend the other day in a cafè that is nose to nose with the Colosseum. And when my Salomon speech was over I opened my bennibag to pay the low bill and found out that someone, who knows who, had given me, instead of the round two euro coin, an old Cinquecento lire - a twin coin, but worthless, to the euro - for change. And my friend, with round eyes and a little smile on her lips: "Well, now, you should be happy, you have got your lire back!". As the saying in latin goes: Dimitto auricolas...

mercoledì 4 gennaio 2012

From Rome with love

My mother, Regina, was born in Friuli, in the north east of Italy, a Region that had mountains as a crown and the sea as a grey scarf tied around its sandy neck. She lived in an old pink villa - that had a big green garden and a big green gate open to fields and vineyards - together with her mother, my grandma -  Stella, a star, as I am Ester, same name in babylonese.. - and with an old lady that cooked and cleaned and that was called like the first woman on earth: Eve. My mother hated house and all as much as she adored her father, who was an officer and a gentleman and had died in a prison up in some little village in Germany. He had died, as an italian prisoner from Albania, when she was only sixteen and since then little Regina, who was tall and dark and shy, had decided that she would leave for good the pink house, her mother and old Eve...
Her dreams came true on a summer's day when she spotted my father on the sandy beach that bore the poetic name of Lignano Goldsand (sabbiadoro). She was there with an aunt of hers who had a basket of kids; also my father was guest in an aunt's house, but she had no kids at all. She saw him and he saw her and they fell in love. September danced in the line with its bags of  rain and  clouds. My father back to Rome, my mother to the pink house. The months flew on Pegasus back. My father sent my mother a thin postcard. She did not even reply. I do not know if her silence spoke to him or if love had done it all, I only know that, one day, he knocked on the door of the pink house and that was that...
Many years after, my mother showed me his postcard. On one side the white meringue that tickles the skyes on top of Borromini's Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, on the other only this sentence: "Be happy". The  love song of a lawyer...