Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ich habe won!

Rachel won this round, as you can see from the picture, but later on I won two hands!!! It's one of these challenging games where you have to calculate how many cards have alrrady been played and how many your opponents must have, etc. Rachel wins with mathematical skill. I win with luck and advice from Joanna.

Halloween skat night

We're playing skat with Joanna and Rachel. They're both so good at it that I'm sitting out this hand and sending this picture to the blog. "Passt mir nicht," as we say in the world of skat.

Friday, October 30, 2009

At the Intiman

Tonight, we're going to see "Abe Lincoln in Illinois." I'm told it's really good and (but?) three hours long with two intermissions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

View from the 26th floor

There is a grand old Renaissance temple close to skyline.

The Glacier Lounge

We are having lunch with Jack and Rose at their new place, Skyline. !!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lattes at Sugar

We were too lazy to make our own lattes this morning so we stopped at Sugar. Now there are two places on Madison that make better lattes than Starbucks: Sugar and Corner Cafe. And while you wait, you can enjoy a barmecidian feast of pastries. Or a real feast, if you dare. It's almost like Paris...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

At the Vietnam Dinner

The festivities began with a fashion show of traditional Vietnamese garb. We bid on Mario Kart for Wii. Cool!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

At the SAM

We came down to the SAM to pick up copies of the Renaissance art book featuring our Renaissance painting. We're also going to see the Michelangelo drawings.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Almost home

We are at O'Hare, waiting for our flight home, which isn't for 4.5 more hours. Why they put us on the 9:45 instead of the 7:30 I don't know. However, it is good to be back in the land of Starbucks again.

"The vacation is finished"

So spoke the clerk at our hotel when we checked out. Now, after walking to the station, and then taking a train, a bus, another bus, and a couple of escalators, we are waiting at our gate.

As our friend Mariangela pointed out, we have visited a number of apostles, evangelists, popes, and doctors on this trip. There was St James, of course, but also Peter and Paul (Rome); St Mark (Venice); St Luke (Padua); and St Zechariah (Venice). We also saw St Anthony, St Francis Xavier, St Aloysius Gonzaga, St Stanislaus Kostka, St Charles Borromeo, St Chrysogonus, St Giustina of Padua, and many others. A myriad of saints. One might even call it a communion of saints.

I calculated that we will not get home for about 24 hours. It's really better not to think about it. See you "tomorrow."

Friday, October 16, 2009

La Fontana di Trevi

Someone who knows, and knows, told us that a visit to the Fontana di Trevi is "de rigeur" on every trip to Rome. In fact, on his last trip he took a taxi here rather than miss out on throwing a coin over his shoulder into the fountain, thus ensuring a return to Roma. In the days of Mme de Stael the custom was to drink a handful of water from the fountain. This is much more hygienic and lucrative. So here we are.

In treno

We are still en route from Venice. At Bologna, a number of people got on. The beautiful Italian girl was assigned to the same seat as the scholarly Italian gentleman, so she took the seat of the young Austrian woman, who was told by the Portuguese lady that her seat was taken. They spoke in English.

La Serenissima

We are at the station, waiting for our train back to Rome. We spent the morning close to San Marco. We visited San Zaccaria, where the relics of St Zechariah are venerated (yes, that's the St Zechariah, father of St John the Baptist). The church is full of paintings by Venetian masters, one after the other. There are so many that we wondered how the art historians decide which ones to include in the textbooks. What makes that "Arrival of Pope Urban IV at the church of San Zaccaria" by Titian more or less interesting than "Procession of the Doge Falier through St Mark's Square" by Tintoretto? It must be partly chance that makes some of these paintings more famous than the others.

After that we were going to see San Giorgio, the church designed by Palladio which is on an island directly across from San Marco. But we couldn't find the right vaporetto stop, so we went to the Correr Museum instead. It overlooks San Marco and is in some old palace or t'other. It has a number of works by Canova, who was a Venetian, or at least died in Venice. There was also a portrait of Canova in his old age. He turned into the ugliest old man you can imagine, but he went right on sculpting flawlessly beautiful young people.

The most interesting display, we thought, was the library of Venetian books. It was quite a center for printing, and the books included the first translations into Italian of "Tom Jones" and "Robinson Crusoe." There was an Italian novel from the 1770s called "The Twins," about twin sisters who were educated differently and what became of them. The frontispiece showed the two of them, one sitting quietly reading, very demurely dressed, the other garbed in full Venetian finery. Under the picture the question was asked, "Raised so differently, which will have the happier destiny?"

Also in the book room, there were various examples of occasional books from the 17th and 18th centuries, full of poems and sonnets written especially for a particular occasion, typically a wedding among the nobles, the installation of a new bishop, etc. One was dedicated to a girl from a wealthy family who entered a convent, so there were many sonnets about what a shame it was that so much beauty, charm, wit, etc, should be shut up within the walls of a convent.

There were many other treasures in the museum, but by the time we got to the masterworks of Bellini and others, we were more interested in the signs reading "Caffeteria" and "Uscita" than in the paintings.

What news on the Rialto?

Sorry this picture is so crooked. A wave came along.

Arrivederci, Venezia

We are on the vaporetto on our way to the station. Take away the water, and the view, and it's not unlike a rusty old bus.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coi ragazzi Lepidi

We spent the evening with the Lepidis again. David challenged me to a game of "Affondare La Flotta" (also known as Battleship). It seemed especially appropriate after learning all about Venetian naval supremacy this morning. I won!

A thirsty pigeon

A few minutes later an elderly Franciscan friar hobbled along and turned on the drinking fountain for the pigeons. Definitely in the spirit of St Francis!

View from the Ponte da Sospiri

I'm getting my anecdotes out of order. Before I stole the photo of San Marco, I stole a photo from the Bridge of Sighs. For the sake of convenience, the Venetians built a prison, connected by a bridge to the doge's palace. As they were led across the bridge, the condemned would catch their last glimpse of Venice, and sigh.

The doge's palace made for a very interesting tour. I don't really understand the Venetian system of government. There were so many boards, groups, panels, advocates, inquisitions, and the like, that it was hard to know who was in charge. The doge himself was essentially a symbolic leader, though elected by his fellow nobles. Only a few rooms of the palace were for his personal use, though admittedly they were full of Titians, Tintorettos, and Veroneses. The rest of the palace consisted of state rooms where the various governing bodies would meet. In one room portraits of all the doges line the walls. They all look pretty much the same except for one, over which a black curtain is painted. This is the one Doge, Marin Falier by name, who committed treason against the state. He was beheaded in 1355 and his image was obliterated though his name was painted on the black curtain that it might live in infamy.

There is also an armory in which the Venetians stockpiled armor and deadly-looking weaponry of all kinds. One case was dedicated to instruments of torture from Padova. There was a key that shot a poisoned arrow when turned in a lock; a small chest that exploded in your face when opened; and a chastity belt which only a truly twisted imagination could have dreamed up.

Still at San Marco

Outside on the gallery that overlooks the square you are allowed to take pictures. At least, you aren't strictly forbidden to take pictures. The four horses atop the facade were stolen from Constantinople centuries ago.

A stolen shot

I stole this photo of San Marco from the gallery, since cameras, video recorders, and phones are strictly vietato. It would be so marvelous if you could take pictures, because the mosaics are splendid. If they would even just turn on the lights, that would be splendid, too. But alas, it is not to be.

Hotel Royal San Marco, Venice

Do you think they will ever print images of the Cathedral's towers on toilet paper wrappers?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

St Anthony of Padua

In Padova, St Anthony is THE saint. Quite literally - he is called "Il Santo," and the bus stop at his shrine is just "Santo." This church was really extraordinary, but because of the rules about photos, I can only show you the outside.

Dottore, Dottore

The University of Padova has some claim to be the oldest in Europe. They have an age-old tradition of "hazing" people when they complete their degrees. This includes plenty of alcohol, silly costumes, lots of lewd jokes, and medieval humor. The new doctor must stand on a chair and read aloud a scroll written by their friends and classmates. The Italian higher education system is quite different from ours so there are people finishing their degrees every day; we saw three of them today. This scroll is the most PG-rated of the three we saw.

Dinner in Padova

We are waiting for the train in Padova after a lovely dinner with the Lepidis, friends of friends. They are delightful. Elizabeth gave a recital on the piano before dinner. She's the cutest thing ever, I do believe! She didn't want to go to bed before everyone else so she ended up back at the table in her pajamas where she had most of her mother's chocolate gelato.

Child labor at Santa Lucia

We stopped in the church of Santa Lucia, where they have put the choir boys to work receiving the offerings of visitors on behalf of the poor and sick.

Making postcards

The doves of San Marco

I was reading Ruskin's "The Stones of Venice" last night. He poetically compared the rook-haunted towers of the English cathedrals to the "doves" of St Mark's. Now that's poetic license for you.

Piazza San Marco

Can you even imagine? You can't take pictures inside! It is a tourist's nightmare!!!

In Venezia


Still en route

At Florence, a middle-aged British couple got on and took the seats next to us. The following are true portions of their dialogue:

SCENE: Florence. The railway platform at the Stazione Santa Maria Novella. A second-class railway carriage.

He: Are these our seats?

She: Yes, 23 and 28, that's what it says. Look up there.

He: I can't see it.

She: I know, you've said it often enough.

(A brief pause while they settle in to their seats, both producing large diaries, she putting on a large pair of sunglasses.)

He: What's the matter?

She: Nothing.

He: Then why have you got a frown on your face?

(No answer. A bit later:)

He: Nice day, isn't it?

She: It's gorgeous.

He: Well, I don't know if I'd say gorgeous.

(A bit later:)

He: Do you want some coffee or a sandwich from the dining car?

She: I suppose, a bit later.

(Later still:)

He: how about that coffee then?

She: All right. Are you coming?

He: I've got to finish writing this. But if you get a coffee, I'll have a sip.

(Exit Chris. George remains, writing assiduously about Florentine art and architecture, as the curtain falls. END OF ACT I.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kindling through Italy

I am reading a century-old travel book of Venice on my Kindle, entitled "A Wanderer in Venice." The author, E. V. Lucas, says: "Not all the books or photographs in the world, not Turner, nor Whistler, can so familiarize the stranger with the idea of Venice that the reality of Venice fails to be sudden and arresting. Venice is so peculiarly herself, so exotic and unbelievable, that so far from ever being ready for her, even her residents, returning, can never be fully prepared." !!!

On to Venezia

We got up at the crack of dawn and headed for the train station. We drank two cappuccinos (each) and then boarded our train bound for Venice. It's 7:30 now but still quite dark out. As the train flies through the Italian countryside, you see the occasional vineyard, or a ruined tower on a hill. There are a few ordinary things out there, too, I suppose. But only a few.

Still another chiesa famosa

Now we're at San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, another church by Bernini's rival Borromini, and built right down the street from Sant' Andrea al Quirinale. Bernini built on an oval plan with the altar on the short axis, so Borromini built on an oval plan with the altar on the long axis. Everyone hated it at first, but now they compare San Carlo to a fugue. I can't see it, myself.

Getting tired... but must go on...

Still at Babington's

As it turns out, high tea at Babington's is quite a substantial repast. First sandwiches - cucumber, tomahto, and mustard. Then, two crumpets each with strawberry jam and butter. Then a plate of cookies for each person. And all washed down with Babington's special blend.

The Misses Babington would probably be disappointed that the goodies are no longer served on a tower, but on individual plates. But otherwise it's quite authentick. Some expatriates embrace the culture of the new place. But others, like the Misses Babington, try to recreate their home in the new place, as if nothing on earth could possibly compare. I must admit, high tea is a great invention.

High Tea at Babington's

One must forget about the exchange rate before coming into Babington's. It's insanely overpriced... and yet so charming. Notice the kitties on top of the teapots.

Catching up on the news

We just couldn't resist.

Magnificenza, grandezza, e bellezza

If you were 18 feet tall, St Peter's would probably seem about the size of St. James. Or maybe only two or three times the size of St James instead of twenty or thirty. Judging by the inscriptions in the floor indicating the size of other churches of the world, St Paul's in Londonensis is the nearest competitor, and it must be at least 30 feet shorter, if you don't count the porch or the piazza of St Peter's. Sorry... something about St Peter's makes most people start spouting statistics.

St Damien, ora pro nobis

I have to say, in this portrait he does look a little like Robin Williams.

At San Pietro

The portraits of five saints Pope Benedict canonized on Sunday are hanging across the front of the Basilica. One was St Damien of Molokai, another was a holy bishop of Poland who died in exile in Siberia, and the others are all holy founders and foundresses.

At Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

We made it to Santa C before the siesta, which begins late here (12:15pm). Since St C is presumed to have invented the organ, I guess they can get away with this special offering box!

After touring the church we found our way upstairs to the frescos of Cavallini, splendid early frescoes which were chopped up, covered up, and generally ruined in the Baroque era. Now they have been made somewhat accessible, thouh you have to ring at the adjacent Benedictine monastery and go up in an elevator to see them. The sisters make many items for sale, some of which are exquisitely tacky.

In Trastevere

The most popular person in Santa Maria in Trastevere is Saint Anthony. There are heaps of petitions all around him and falling on the floor at the base of his statue.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A few of M's photos from Santiago

An enormous room

We returned to the same hotel as before, but for whatever reason they put us in an enormous room very significantly nicer than the one we had before. This picture of M gives some notion of its size. It's like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.  It even has one enormous chair.  It's loverly.

Hommage to the USA

It is incredible that in a land of fine food like Italy you can find a restaurant that seeks to pay homage to the US dining experience. Well, at least to Chili's or Red Robin. Bizarrely, they have a bucket of peanuts (unsalted) at every table along with an empty bucket to put the shells in. Even more bizarrely, they then bring you a basketful of nachos along with what purports to be salsa. Nachos with hamburgers? It simply isn't DONE!

Layover in Madrid

L'aeropuerto de Madrid es muy bonito y muy limpio. Es muy moderno. Non es come l'aeropuerto de Roma.

Adios a Santiago de Compostela

After one more walk through the sunny medieval streets of S. de C., we hailed a taxi to take us to the aeropuerto, and now we are returning to Roma via Madrid. Santiago is the only place in the world, I think it is safe to say, where St James is a celebrity, and where people pay to have their pictures taken with Santiago lookalikes. It's also the only place where you can buy magnets, clothing, and a variety of other souvenirs with St James on them. Truly, it is the mecca of Jacobeans of every nation.

Adios y arrivederci a Roma.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Una pelicula

A film was in progress in one of the picturesque prazas this afternoon. The girl in the coat was the Audrey Hepburn type. She looked at the fountain with her back to the camera. Then she turned and marched angrily away. The young man dropped his cigarette and stepped on it, then followed her across the praza. She rang a doorbell of an obviously locked building and then stomped off. He followed. Then they did it all again. We figured it must be a student film because none of the passers-by seemed interested in the young stars. We thought it might be a music video because of the triteness of the whole thing. Oops, I mean video musical.

Las Tres Marias

There is a statue of two ladies in the park called "Las Dos Marias." You have to wait in line to get your picture taken with them.

...And by sunlight

Here we are in the Praza da Obradoiro again, this time on a lovely, sunny afternoon. We've discovered that there are really not that many things to do here except tour the Cathedral. Just like home. Hee, hee.

Panoramic view

After the 10:00 Mass we walked up to a park with great panoramic views of the Catedral. After that we tried to go to a different park, also with panoramic views, but got turned around and came back into the ciudad. Now we're at the Bar Stella, waiting for a very busy waiter to bring us our cappucinos. I see them on his tray but who knows when he will get here.

The cutest pilgrim of all

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Santiago museo

At the Pilgrimage Museum (free!) they had a whole room of images of St James. We liked this one.

The museum is run by the Xunta de Galicia, the same group that sponsored the "Sacred Steps" exhibit at the Cathedral last year.

At San Martin Pinario

The other major church in Santiago is no longer an igrexa, but a museo. It was formerly an important Benedictine monastery. This dramatic St. Gertrude is one of the most modest of the side altars.