Il ritorno di Michele

I have now been back through the Rome blogs and add photos so if anyone 
wants to flick through them again you'll be most welcome.

Sorry Monteverdi – it was all that baroque last night and then on iTunes while I was writing. Ulysses’ return was a more dramatic story than mine and made for a fine opera we saw a couple of years ago. My return journey began with packing my one carry on bag – first time for a long time I’ve travelled without checked in luggage. Breakfast, checkout, store case with porter and set off to Galleria Borghese for a final cultural treat. The concierge advised the metro to Flaminio and then walk through the lovely Borghese Park. It is sunny and bright, not too cold and I stride off purposefully through the, indeed, lovely park. It dawns on me quite early that to get to the gallery it’s all uphill and nearly two kilometres. The signage is plentiful but confusing as there are several other museums and galleries in the park so the map had to come out a few times to confirm I was on the right path.

Red squirrel
Red squirrel munching nuts in the park

Borghese Park - Copy

 

A couple of pauses to watch red squirrels cavorting – why do they look so much more agreeable that the grey vermin I constantly shoo off my bulbs?  – and I make it to the gallery shortly after my timed admission slot from 11:00 till 13:00 – one occasion when I really appreciate the timed-ticket system as it meant I was able to admire the works on display.

Borghese gallery - Copy
Galleria Borghese – at last!

 

Painting perfection

The permanent collection houses lots of Berninis but also had a special exhibition showing his work as a painter at which he excelled in his early years and then largely abandoned once commissions for sculpture and architecture filled his days. The first floor sculpture galleries contain pieces from ancient times, mosaic floors of great beauty and loads of Bernini busts in an amazing row through a long gallery. Perhaps the most startling piece is the prone statue of Hermaphroditus from the second century AD, reclining on a mattress sculpted by Bernini which you are sure will respond to your touch. But I was soon headed up the spiral staircase to see the paintings. Fortunately their Caravaggios hadn’t all gone to Florence and David with the Head of Goliath, Boy with a basket of fruit  and others only seen in reproductions were there to marvel at. As indeed were Raphael’s brilliant Lady with a Unicorn (as on trend in 1506 as in 2017), and Deposition of Christ. There was a fine Bernini self-portrait and then Titian’s amazing Sacred and Profane Love which reignited my musings about secular and religious art prompted by last night’s concert. My time was up but I would happily spend another two hours absorbing the works in this elegant setting, where they are so admirably displayed. It was great not being shuffled and squeezed along a toothpaste tube of visitors.

Tempus fugit but memories remain

I decided to walk out of the park by a different route clocking a location for another visit, the highly regarded Museum of Modern Art on the way. Its facade was tempting but I did have a flight to catch. I arrive on via Flaminio close to a tram stop for the number 2 that I had used on Wednesday so waited for the next tram to take my tiring limbs back to the metro stop. I looked at my watch and it was exactly 12:25 the time my wife died a year ago.

Tram 1225So I had a little moment and resumed my journey on a packed tram. I had time to raise a glass to her in the Piazza del Popolo and found another birra artiginale this time from brewery Beatrice with a pale ale called Diana – all very British royal family! With some complimentary crisps and nuts I was ready for the last leg. I had done very well using metro, trams and a bus and decided to treat myself to a luxury ride to the airport in the hotel’s shuttle bus which proved a good plan as we arrived in good time and I was able to find a seat and write a previous blog.

Dies irae

All good things come to an end and my very enjoyable first taste of Rome ended in anger with the inefficiency of Ryanair’s ground handling subcontractors at Ciampino airport. As this was my first trip for ages without checked baggage, I had paid the extra six euros for priority boarding that enables you to take your wheelie case into the plane. There was no priority line for check in and as I arrived at the top of the steps I was informed that my bag would have to go in the hold. I explained that I had paid for priority simply to be able to place my case in the overhead locker. ‘Well you should have checked in earlier.’ ‘I would have done but having gone to the desk to find there was no Priority Lane I had to join nearly the end of the Other Q, as you so nicely put it to the plebs.’ To be fair a helpful flight attendant did look at a number of lockers but to have removed the bags of non-payers to make way for mine would have delayed the flight so I reluctantly allowed my case to go to the hold and sat down to sulk my way home. Given all the alarms I’d heard about problems at Stansted during the week I guess I was lucky to be coming back at anywhere near the scheduled time. We landed and of course mine was the last case onto the conveyor – fortunately identifiable since no one gave me a baggage claim receipt.

All’s well …

Faith in customer service was refreshed as I arrived at the mid-stay parking exit. When you have pre-booked the gate opens on recognising your number plate. However on Christmas Eve I actually arrived an hour early so it didn’t clock my reg and no one answered the help button so I had to take a ticket. I half-expected to have to pay the price at the exit and then reclaim my costs later but a splendid operator, who did answer the help button this time, checked me on the system and opened the barrier with no charge for my extra hour. A quick run down the M11, a clear Blackwall Tunnel and back home after a stimulating and enjoyable trip. Exhausted but happy and with a welcome home hug from neighbour Jan, who lost her father two days before Christmas.

 

Movies and music

Insurance cover

First stop on Thursday morning is the mini-market on the way to the metro to buy an umbrella. At €5 it beat the queue touts’ €8-10 and it springs into life at the press of a button unlike their manual ones. A few clouds are about but the sun is out as I descend for not-quite the longest possible metro journey. The A line starts at Battistini one station west of where I get on at Cornelia and stops at Anagnina one stop beyond Cinecitta my destination for today. There’s an amusing occurrence as the subway emerges from tunnels to cross the Tiber on a bridge. On Sunday and again today, the fashionable youth of Rome reach for their sunglasses – for all of thirty seconds! The journey takes a little longer than the concierge predicted – or maybe it was my umbrella stop that screwed the schedule – but I arrived at the gates of the studios at 11:33, presented my voucher and was told that I had missed the 11:30 English language tour but could wait for the 13:00 one in Italian. I declined and said I’d go and see the permanent exhibitions anyway for which you don’t need to be part of a tour.

Cinecitta entrance - Copy

A funny thing happened …

As I walked across to the building marked Teatro 1 the introduction to Cinecitta, I spied a group emerging from it. I approached and enquired if they were the 11:30 English tour for which I was late and the French group leader Michelle confirmed this, let me join and explained that I’d missed the history of Cinecitta which she had just outlined. She also told me that today’s tour would actually be in English and French because of the make up of the group. This was a very fortunate encounter as she then led our group of twelve through a locked gate into the studio lot proper where casual visitors cannot go.

High Five for Fellini

Venusia from CasanovaAs you enter the site you walk past ‘Venusia’ a prop used at the beginning of Fellini’s Casanova. Once through the gate we walk along a rough a roadway lined by large terracotta painted buildings each with a Teatro number. Teatro is the Italian equivalent of Stage in English film studio parlance and our first stop, as I try out my new umbrella, is outside Teatro 5 one of 22 in all. I already knew this was their biggest with two submerged tanks for underwater and water surface filming and a massively high ceiling for crane shots. I had also read that Fellini (a favourite from my 1960s film-going days along with Pasolini and Antonioni) held it as his favourite space. I asked whether they had shot the famous scene in La Dolce Vita here in which Anita Ekberg inveigles Marcello Mastroianni to join her in the iconic Trevi Fountain. They hadn’t.  It was apparently shot at 05:30 in February with Mastrioanni demanding a wet suit under his tuxedo while Nordic ice-queen Ekberg strolled through the waters, shoulders bare, in her evening gown. There’s a brass plaque on the wall outside Teatro 5 dedicating it to Fellini who did in fact recreate whole streets in the studio for this and the many other films he made here.

Ancient and medieval

 

We walk on with quite persistent rain and so observe the first of the outdoor standing lots from under the access arch. It’s a recreation of the Temple of Jerusalem made for an American movie the name of which escaped me between the translations and the patter of rain on the brolly. As with all good set building it’s all scaffolding and fibreglass but looks authentic both to the human eye and the lens.

Rain in FlorenceNext to it they are just starting to build an outdoor set for a new film version of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose which we weren’t allowed to approach – secrecy or construction hazard I’m not sure. We then move to Assissi built for a film about St Francis but since much adapted to be Florence and other towns in medieval times.

Roman ramble

The next big set was built for the recent BBC/HBO/RAI TV series RomeIt has a huge variety of individual homes, official buildings, temples and the forum – sadly the Colisseum is no more. At the side of the forum is the Basilica of Emilia which you can hire for corporate events. Toga party anyone? It was a huge project that cost over a hundred million dollars for each series and the sets will I’m sure be used many more time in the future.

Ancient Rome set - Copy

We then walk back to the original exhibition area where I catch up with the history I’d missed. There are great displays – although the text panels are located a knee-height which made for a lot of neighbourly head bumping and ‘mi scusis’. There are excellent interactive segments where you can dub dialogue, make sound effects and perform in your preferred green screen scenario. Hoots of laughter from a group of teenagers running through a series of comedy and sci-fi scenes. There are several screens with interviews and extracts from films by Fellini, Rossellini and a fascinating piece on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns that he sees as retelling of the Greek myths. You walk out through a submarine interior from a 2000 film U571 which had escaped my notice.

Cinecitta playground - CopyThe entrance area also has a brilliant children’s play area made up from the letters of Cinecitta.All in all a fascinating morning and I was very glad I’d caught up with the guide.

 

 

Birra and baroque

I took the metro back into the centre and had a short time to spend before a concert I’d booked for 18:30 this evening. So I discovered that Italy is about more than Peroni and Moretti in the birra stakes. In a small bar near Piazza Tritone, home to another famous Bernini fountain, I asked for a beer and was offered three craft bottled beers from a brewery called Baladin at 5, 6.5 and 7.5 proof. Since I want to stay awake I opt for the least alcoholic a crisp IPA style beer that was very tasty. The bar was quiet and I had a conversation about the changes in beer consumption in the last fifteen years or so when Italy started to brew other than the famous lagers we all know. There are over 600 small breweries now and the taste for different flavoured beers is growing. I’ll know to look out for them next time as I did throw my coin in the Trevi Fountain which supposedly guarantees a return to Rome, on my way to Piazza Navona .

Trevi dayI found an old UK pound coin in my camera bag and rather than take it to a bank I cast it to the waters. I hope it’s valid for Roman myths.

I was still half an hour early for the concert so had a quick coffee in a great cafe in the Museo di Roma building at the south of Piazza Navona. It’s called Vivi and is all organic. Coffee was great and being afraid of rumbling tum I had a slide of very tasty morello cherry pastry slice. It was obviously a popular meeting point for the young of the area. Four riversOn into Santa Agnesa in Agone right opposite Bernini’s famous Four Rivers Fountain which represents the Danube, the Nile, the Plate and the Ganges with mythical creatures and is topped by a huge obelisk. One of the characters is holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the light but popular Roman tales have it that Bernini had this man shield his eyes from the awful facade of the church built by his greatest rival Borromini. Great story, not true – the church came fifteen years after the fountain but hey – it’s a fun way of explaining the rivalry between the established master and the young pretender both eager to attract sponsorship from popes, princes and patrons.

Profana e sacra

I enter St Agnes and am directed to the sacristy off to the left rather than a seat in the main church nave. After a fashionable delay our performers file in. Soprano Paola Alonzi explains the music, sets it in context and sings beautifully accompanied by a duo – father Stefano Sabene on traversa (an early flute) tambour and tambourine and his son Lorenzo on baroque guitar and lute. They are not the best I’ve ever heard but in the setting and the circumstances, I was very glad I booked this to be transported back a few centuries. After some Frescobaldi, Monteverdi and – flying the flag for England – a lovely John Dowland piece we were asked to remove ourselves to the main church. The first half had all been secular: dances, love songs and ballads. The second half was church music – so we were allowed into the nave. Actually the acoustics were worse in here but I wondered whether composers (and artists, architects etc) chose different ways of working depending on whether they were producing sacred or profane works. Certainly there was more restraint in the Monteverdi in church than in his previous song. Maybe I’ll see one day if there is any writing about this.

Santa Agnes altar
Bernini’s altar in Sant Agnes in Agone

Trevi e Rossini

Trevi nightI walked back from the concert past the Trevi fountain and flung in some euros just in case my invalid pound bars me from returning. I looked at several restaurants and was attracted by the option of Ristorante Rossini – what a musical contrast! It proved a good choice with a starter of sauted clams which I’d never seen before. They were in fact steamed like mussels in a white wine and parsley sauce and very tasty. It was also a nod to Dee whose favourite pasta was spaghetti alle vongole. My second course (and last – I’m not Italian) was a delicious lasagne in which the pasta sheets were paper thin and the meat and tomato ragu a little spicy and just what I needed. I was frowned at a little for declining my main course but explained that as an oldie I don’t get as hungry as I used to – thank you Google translate!

Back to the metro, hotel bar for a nightcap and another great day in Rome comes to an end.