A couple of Phoenicians living temporarily in Roma

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

The Quirinale Palace

Gobelin tapestry

This fall I joined a women’s group, AWAR, the American Women’s Association in Rome. It was started in the 1955 by Claire Luce Booth, who was the American Ambassador to Italy. It’s part of an international network of organizations, the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas which is “an international network of 75 independent clubs with a combined membership of over 15,000 women in 39 countries worldwide. FAWCO serves as a support network for American women living and working abroad.”

Locally, AWAR sponsors luncheons, guest speakers, tours and a variety of small group networking activities like a writing workshop, wine tastings, cooking classes, language exchange, etc. I recently participated in a private tour that was organized by AWAR to visit the Quirinale Palace.

The Quirinale Palace sits on the tallest of Rome’s seven hills. It was built by Pope Gregory XIII in 1583 as a summer residence. In ancient Rome, the site was home to temples, baths and then the residences of Roman patricians. It was ideally situated far enough from the Tiber River to avoid the stench and high enough to provide some relief from the draining heat of summer.

Over the years the palace has been home to thirty popes, four kings and eleven presidents of the Italian Republic. The current president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, resides here. The palace is only open to the general public on Sundays, although special tours can be arranged during the week.

In the gardens

Naturally, only parts of the palace are open for public viewing. Like most things in Rome, it is opulent and grand. We visited the chapel where marriages have taken place, and the papal conclaves to elect a new pope were once held. There are amazing Gobelin tapestries which hang in the “winter apartment”, so called due to it’s south facing windows. We walked through halls that had been redecorated by Napoleon’s architects, though he himself never stayed in the palace. The more recently decorated rooms from the Savoy period are filled with mirrors and parquet floors.

We were able to view a special collection of china that is not open to the public and the gardens which offer magnificent views of the city and a lovely respite from the general chaos of the city.

Until next post…

(Don’t forget you can click on any photo and a slide show will open for better viewing.)

Groovy Italy

Last weekend I was dying to “get out of dodge” and leave the pollution, dirty streets and noisy charm of Rome for the day. Someone had told us we had to visit Calcata, the “hippie” town of Italy, just a short drive north of Rome, so off we went.

Calcata has an interesting history. It sits about 30 miles north of Rome on the top of a tan volcanic stump in the middle of a forest. First used as a sacred ritual sight in pre-Roman days, many of it’s current inhabitants claim to be able to still feel the spiritual force that eminates from the volcanic rock the town sits upon. In the 1930’s fearing that the rock was crumbling, the government condemned the town and moved all it’s inhabitants up the road to Calcata Nuevo.

Then in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, bohemians and artists began coming to the village, drawn by the beauty of the natural landscape, the energy of the rocks and the ability to do one’s own thing without interference. (Sound familiar? Sedona, anyone?). Eventually buying the abandoned homes from their previous owners, patching up the place and convincing the government not to demolish the village, Calcata has become home to about 100 artists, bohemians and new age enthusiasts. They opened restaurants and cafes, cleaned out the caves that sit under the village and turned them into studios and homes.

It’s a freaky place alright! You can get your fortune read or buy mediocre art in one of the little shops that are hidden in the many alleyways and nooks and crannies of the village. It seemed like there’s a perpetual garage sale happening, minus the garage, on the main street, with tables set up where residents are selling their used clothing and other household “treasures”.

We had lunch at La Piazzetta, where we were waited on by both the owner, and his adult daughter; who is still recognizable from her baby picture which hangs on the wall of the restaurant. Fresh pasta with the day’s specialty of porchini mushrooms, a plate of local meats and cheeses and of course enough wine to wash it all down, hit the spot.

I wouldn’t rush to visit Calcata, but if you find yourself there, be sure to visit the bakery. She bakes some very tasty chocolate cookies. It will make the visit seem worth it.



Is there a dottore in the house?

I had occasion today to visit an Italian dottore or medico (physician). It’s the second time since we’ve been living in Rome that I’ve needed some minor medical attention. I’m a social worker and have worked in healthcare settings during the past 15 or so years of my career. Given my personal experiences as a patient and as an advocate for ill loved ones, and my professional experiences, I’m a bit familiar with the system in the States.

I’ve just got to say that I’m fascinated. The 2 times I’ve been to the doctor in Italy, I’ve not filled out one form. No health history. No demographic information required, except for when the receptionist completes the receipt for me to pay the bill. No notes taken by the doctor and presumably no chart. Maybe there’s something happening behind the scenes that I’m not aware of, but if there is, there’s no sign of it from where I sit as the patient.

I’m hopeful that this lack of apparent paperwork is not the norm for the Italian healthcare system. Knowing the bureaucracy that exists in so many areas of Italian life, I doubt that it is.

I’m establishing care with a local doctor. It will be interesting to see what happens in my follow up visit. I’ll keep you posted.

Long time…no speak

Sorry, friends!

I haven’t written during the past week. We moved to a new, more fabulous flat over the previous weekend and on Monday of this week. Packing, unpacking. Rearranging, decorating. It’s the 3rd move since we came to Rome and if you count the 2 moves in Arizona (cleaning out the Sedona house to make room for the stuff from the Phoenix house and then the stuff from Phoenix to Sedona), it’s been 5 moves in 7 months. Whew! No wonder I’m tired.

The new flat is lovely and spacious, so it’s been worth it. I did manage to do a bit of sightseeing over the weekend, and I promise to share that with you this coming week. I’ve also got some fun activities ahead this week too that I’ll write about, so stay tuned!

Until the next post, here’s a few photos of our new digs.

Terme di Caracalla

Ancient Rome is well known for many things, and it’s bathhouses were no exception. Grand and plush, much business and pleasure was known to happen at a Roman bath. Today I visited Terme di Caracalla, one of the largest and best preserved of the ancient thermal complexes.

The Terme di Caracalla complex sits on 33 hecters (25 acres) south of the City Center and just a short walk from our flat. Construction on the complex was started in 216 AD by the Emperor Caracalla. It took 9000 workers 5 years of daily work to build a huge platform that measured 337 x 328 meters upon which the bath complex rested. It was inaugurated in 216 AD, but not completed until after the Emperor’s death in 217 AD. Terme di Caracalla was in use until the 6th century when the aqueducts were severed by a Goth king in an attempt to cut off Rome’s water supply.

More than just a bathhouse, the complex included two libraries, a swimming pool, warm and cold pools, several gyms and changing rooms all built on top of the platform and on two floors. It could serve 6000 people at one time and didn’t charge a fee for use. Beneath the platform and underground, was a system that used coal and wood to heat the water that was provided by a dedicated aqueduct. The bathhouse was also well known for the sculptures that were showcased there.

Today, you can wander through much of the remains of the original structure. Some areas are now covered in grass and in others you can walk above sections of the mosaic flooring. In a few of the pictures below, you can see sections of the magnificent mosaic flooring from the upper level, lying on the ground propped up against the remains of the building. Terme di Carcalla is the setting in the summer for the Rome Opera and was the site of the first Three Tenors concert in 1990.


Everyone’s Dream or The Grass is Always Greener?

Every day that you slog to work, dragging your tired body and mind out of bed; stuck in traffic or smashed on a crowded bus; dreading all the emails sitting in your inbox; trying to avoid the boss who can’t be pleased; the disgruntled customer; the coworker who annoys you every time you have to speak to them; and you think to yourself, “If only I could quit this job AND…play golf…or pursue my hobby…or sit around all day and watch TV in my under ware if I want to…or travel the world…or live on the beach…or a million other thoughts that cross your mind, day in and day out over the course of your working life…What would you do if you didn’t have to get up every day and go to work? And you found yourself living temporarily in a foreign country where you didn’t speak the language and couldn’t work?

I know that there are too many people out there, in many corners of the world, who would love to go to work everyday. Millions who are struggling to find a job, where none exists. Millions who are over qualified or under qualified. Laid off. Forced into early retirement without the savings to support oneself or one’s family.

I’m one of the lucky ones, I know. I had a job. I’ve worked all my life…since my first “real” job when I was 14 years old working weekends at the local country club restaurant. I babysat the neighborhood kids even before that. There have been times in my life when I had 3 and 4 jobs at one time. I admit that as much as I may have bitched and moaned about it in the past, I like to work. It provides structure to your day. A sense of accomplishment. Opportunities for improvement. A community of people to interact with each day. Goals. Time management. Comaraderie. Money.

I took a leave of absence from my job when we first came to Rome. I had to resign when we decided to stay on another year. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or to seem like I’m whining (maybe I am just a bit). But, I miss working. I miss the mental challenge. I miss the structure. I miss the companionship. I miss having my own money.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have some structure to my day. I get up every morning and make Michael breakfast and pack his lunch. I go to the palestra (gym). I do the laundry, which in Italia is a chore since we don’t have a dryer (most private homes don’t) and so you can only wash as many clothes in a day as you have room to hang to dry. I keep the apartment clean. I do the shopping and cooking. I even iron Michael’s shirts for him. And while I know these tasks have value, frankly they aren’t very stimulating.

Likely, if you’re reading this, you’re now trying to solve this dilemna for me. You’re thinking, “Why don’t you go to school?” “Have you seen all the sights in Rome?” “How about taking up painting?” “Write a book!” “Teach English” “Volunteer!”

Believe me, I’ve thought all these things myself. Every day. Multiple times a day.

I’ve done a bit of research on expat sites. I’m not the only woman who has put her career on hold and followed her husband so he could work in a foreign land. It seems the solution most women in my situation find is that they need to recreate their work life. Somehow. Work virtually if you can. Teaching English is popular. Writing seems to be big.

I realize the answer for me lies somewhere that I haven’t quite found. Somewhere in between the lines of some catchy phrase. Hidden within a meditation or a prayer. But, I know better. It’s more likely sitting in plain sight, within myself, waiting to be seen.

Going Up?

Most of the elevators I’ve seen while living in Italy have little resemblance to elevators in the States except for the fact that in theory, they can transport people and things up and down the floors in a building. The first time I remember seeing such an elevator was last summer when we were visiting Venice. I took one look at it and said, “No thanks! I’ll take the stairs.” And did.

Elevators here tend to be very small. They have a big heavy door that you open first, and then another set of doors that open into the elevator. You must close the big heavy door and then close the second set of doors before the elevator will move.

In order to close the smaller doors, one often has to rearrange the stuff you’ve brought with you into the elevator. If your stuff is in the way, you can’t close the doors. Once you reach your destination, you must again rearrange the elevator’s contents in order to open the doors on the other side of the elevator so you can get out. Yes, some elevators have  a door in and another door on the opposite side to get out. It too, has two sets of doors, ones that open into the elevator and then the big heavy door that leads out.

The elevator in our current apartment building holds 4 people. So how does one move anything larger than 4 people? You carry it up the stairs, or use a large outdoor device like the one below, and bring things in through the windows.

Hmmm…seems there could be a better way.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

The Mouth of Truth

I’ve been by this chiesa many times while riding the bus, but didn’t realize which church it actually was (like many Rome sites, there is little to no signage). It’s kind of unasumming from the outside. There’s always a long line of people snaked around waiting to get in. I wondered what’s so special about this place?

There was a transportation strike yesterday in Roma and  determined to be getting more exercise each day, I ventured out on foot to uncover the mystery.

I had thought Santa Maria in Cosmedin was in Trastervere, but in fact it’s located in the southern part of the City Center, on the east side of the Tiber River. The Frommer’s Italy 2012 guide that I have on my Kindle doesn’t even mention the church. It was originally built in the 8th century, over the remains of an ancient Roman food distribution center, and was used at that time as a Greek church. Over the years, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times, having been substantially restored in the 1200’s and the 1800’s. Today it retains it’s medieval style.

Once I reached the church I joined the line. While waiting in line, I used my iPhone to look up the church online and discovered what all the hullabaloo is about.

The church is a popular tourist site due to the fact that on the left side of the entrance under the portico there is a large disk that was originally used by the ancient Romans as a drain cover. It’s called the Bocca della Verita or the “Mouth of Truth”. It’s a weather beaten stone face of the sea god Oceanus.

The disc was made famous in the movie Roman Holiday when Gregory Peck demonstrated to Audrey Hepburn the legend that when you put your hand into the mouth of Oceanus, it will bite the hand of a liar. Local legend has it that a priest used to keep a scorpion in back to bite the fingers of anyone HE felt was lying. The disc may also have been used in the past to collect donations which were placed through the open mouth of Oceanus.

And so today, it is a popular photo op and the reason for the long line in order to have one’s picture taken with your hand in the “Mouth of Truth”.

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