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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Days you can only have in a small Italian town

photo by souci photo

Well, we have had another of them:

One day we went to look at a local archeological site, Colombarone, unusual even anywhere in Italy. It is history in layers, starting with a Roman villa of the 4th century, which lasted until the 6th century, then was squatted in as a ruin for a while. Then in about the 7th century, the foundations and building materials were re-used for a basilica, which fell into disuse about the 11th century, but were re-used again for a parish church in the 12th century, which also gradually fell into ruin, leaving behind what became a chiesola or little church, which led to the discovery and partial excavation of the site in the 18th century. Over the last 25 years the site has been excavated and researched extensively, and put on display under a canopy. We spent about an hour there, had a personal tour guide, and bought the kids' and the adults' books about the site. It can give you shivers, this stuff.

Then we had to rush to an appointment with a young local ceramicist, Annalisa Speziali, who wanted to teach the kids about ceramics by letting them glaze prepared bodies. Ceramics is one of the historical arts of this region, and as a way of life and art it is dying. They all enjoyed it so much, that she subsequently had them in to her shop to form a body each, which are now drying out, and which she will let them glaze, and then fire in her kiln. Before we leave, we plan to go see her laboratorio with its kiln, out in the country. I guess we will be packing a handful of ceramic pieces in our luggage to bring back. (Check out her props under Art Links, to the right)

THEN we had to rush to meet family friends, a star of the Rossini Opera Festival and his wife and daughter, who happen to be from Rochester. We became friends with them a couple of years ago when we overheard them speaking and recognized their American accents from our part of the world. We had aperitivi with them (Aperol spritzes, natch) at one of our mutual favourite local bars, the bar El Cid. The kids like it because they can bike around in the park, instead of sitting at a table. Sadly, it was not karaoke night, as we had all hoped to enjoy a bit of over-kill together. As it was, musically speaking, we had to content ourselves with the tenor's Bel Canto Concerto a few days later, about which more another day. Suffice it to say it was not a hardship. (See the link to tenor Gregory Kunde's home page under music links, to the right. Greg and his wife Linda are also active in music in Rochester. I have given the link to their chorale as well. We plan to make the trip to see them sing close to home, too. I guess we are joining the legion of fans who follow Greg around the world.)

Side note here: A couple of years ago, we met some family friends from home for a day in Florence (instead of meeting them at the park with our Starbucks coffee, as usual). Just before splitting up to go our separate ways, we decided to buy the kids t-shirts on the ponte vecchio. We chose a booth and stopped at it and started shopping. The guy in the booth recognized the Pesaro accents and asked. Why yes! We had come from Pesaro. He used to work there. Really? Where? At a bar near the Palla di Pomodoro (a really fabulous public sculpture in the park near the sea). Really? We hang around that area. Which one? The Bar El Cid! Well, we'll say hi to Ivan for you. Now that's a small town and a small world.

How places in the world offer such a smorgasbord of cultural options, so casually, so easily, so delightfully? The mix seems impossible for one life to encompass, let alone one day.

The marigold wonders nervously:
This is as valid as summer camp, right?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

At last! The falling stars of San Lorenzo honoured properly in our household!

Everything I know about the meaning of San Lorenzo:

Lawrence of Rome (c. 225 – 258) was one of the seven deacons of ancient Rome who were martyred during the persecution of Valerian. Lawrence is said to have been martyred on a grill. During his torture, Lawrence cried out "This side’s done, turn me over and have a bite." - Wikipedia.

There is a famous poem about the martyred San Lorenzo by Giovanni Pascoli that everyone quotes:

San Lorenzo, io lo so perché tanto
di stelle per l'aria tranquilla
arde e cade, perché si gran pianto
nel concavo cielo sfavilla...

my translation:

Saint Lawrence, I know why so many
stars burn and fall through the tranquil air:
it is because your tears
are sparkling in the concave sky...

How many years have we been in Italy on August 10, the day of San Lorenzo, known for its association with falling stars? Hundreds? Well, at least 10. As usual, the nights of August the 10th and 11th were overcast. Never yet caught the effect of the falling tears.

Meanwhile, astronomically speaking, the annual passage of the earth through the "Perseid meteor shower" continues, although the actual peak night is now really August the 12th. Thank goodness someone gave me a heads-up to check the sky again last night.

The night was so clear, I wished I had a star map to learn some additional constellations. Luckily I can recognize Cassiopeia, and the darkest part of our balcony faces it, because I looked it up this morning and I now know that the Perseids fall from Perseus, which is right below Cassiopeia and beside Andromeda, so we were looking at exactly the right band of the sky, without even knowing it. I had a sensation of a flash/fade from the corner of my eye. Once. Hmm - am I imagining it? Twice? By the sixth time, I realized this was it! (Here is the perfect place to check it out:

It was like magic. And as always, it is the pile-up that makes the feeling so intense:

• thinking of the meteorites as astronomical objects and the shower as a purely astronomical event. How cool is the universe?
• thinking of the story of Perseus and Andromeda and Cassiopeia, and how wonderful it is that they are linked in the constellations (see below).
• thinking of San Lorenzo and his martyrdom.
• thinking of the poem and its metaphorical linkage of the meteor showers with the martyr's tears.

By the way, Andromeda was the daughter of the beautiful queen Cassiopeia, who, in punishment for her mother's bragging, was chained to a rock to be sacrificed to a sea monster. She was rescued by Perseus as part of his adventure. Further connections: He also killed the Medusa and here in the museum in Pesaro is an enormous ceramic Medusa by a local ceramicist, (copied from Caravaggio's self-portrait as the Medusa) which killed the artist by falling on him, a continuation of the Medusa's malevolent spirit...

The marigold is wondering rather nervously:
If you could know everything, would it ALL connect?

Can't get to Italy - still pursuing reading for France

Despite some amount of preparation and drafting of a book list for a trip to Italy, I am not yet finished with France.

Here was a comment left for the posting re: Joan of Arc books:

Blogger poetbdk said...

Mark Twain's biography is probably the best one on the list you have but I can not say for sure as I have only read about half of them. The complete Twain book is available online at:

August 9, 2009 5:27 PM

As far as I can understand, his suggested link take one to the essay, which was appended to the book, as part of a link to a current book, but
this link:

takes you to the full-text on-line version of the book.

I'm there!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summering in Italy IS worthwhile!

Well, I have been waiting to write something interesting about our time here in Italy. Every day, all there has been to say is that we woke up late, ate lunch after doing some dishes and laundry. Then we went to the beach, then we went for dinner, a bike ride and then bed. Delightful, but not exactly “woo-hoo!”
However, finally we have had an unforgettable sequence of activities that make us feel that our choice to spend summer here has been worthwhile.
Here’s how it started: Pesaro has begun an initiative to keep the stores open after dinner, combined with little public entertainments like craft markets or street performers or concerts. We turned a corner one night early in our vacation, following the sound of music, and found a choir singing.
The smallness of the town came into play as one of the sopranos turned out to be a baby-sitter we shared a summer with a number of years ago. We have run into her here and there over the years, but this was special. Her choir specializes in ancient English music (of all things). They have a full program over the summer, and she particularly recommended one of their upcoming performances. It was an adaptation of Purcell’s mezz-opera The Fairy Queen, which is taken from Shakespeare’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream. By coincidence, our younger child performed the play this year to close Grade One, so even the kids knew the story quite well. It wasn’t too long or too late or too expensive. It all added up to be worth considering.
After the usual afternoon at the beach, that particular evening came. I had the wrong town in mind, but we figured out our mistake before we headed out. We drove off with the right town in mind, but in the wrong direction. We corrected that mistake, too, feeling more and more like we were dragging the kids, late, to some obscure and difficult grown-up entertainment.
Instead, it was true dream on a mid-summer night. We arrived in time. The performance was in an outdoor amphitheatre, part of a beautifully restored villa complex in a village in the hills above Pesaro. The moon was shining, the crickets were chirping in the pines, the moths were fluttering and a fountain was flowing. The music was old and exquisite. (I know Purcell’s Dido and Aeneus to be pretty, but still, you never know.) The instruments were so old that at every pause, they were re-tuned. In addition to the choir, there was a soprano with a slightly odd, but compelling, voice and a “sopranista”: a male soprano, singing in same register, but with a completely different tone. That’s something that sounds old-fashioned, I can tell you. There were beautiful Italian ballet dancers, with their long hair and summer tans, dancing as all the fairies in the story. It was an enchanted hour. We all loved it. Just to give it a perfect local feeling, at the table offering local wine and snacks after the show, we ran into a couple we have known (slightly) at the beach for several years.
The next night , after our afternoon at the beach, we went straight to eat at our favorite beach-side restaurant, and then we all biked down to go roller-skating at the beach-side, outdoor roller rink. The kids tried it last year, but it was my first time on old-fashioned roller-skates. Super-fun. The other end of local culture.
Oh. I also should mention that the Aperol Spritz aperitivo habit is still going strong. This year, we have discovered that the bar at the beach stand next to ours makes them, so we can enjoy them under our umbrellas, in our bathing suits, with whichever friends are still around, just before heading home from the beach in the evening.
If you ask me, vacations don't get much better than this.