Today's Photos: From Rome's Capitoline Museums

Remember my blog post about the "Road Less Taken"? I have a nasty habit of wanting to feel like I've still accomplished something when my plans wind up being thwarted, so - after discovering the Church of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome was closed - I schlepped back downtown in the blazing heat, past the Colloseum, past the ancient Roman Forums, and up the Capitoline Hill in order to visit the Capitoline Museums, which I'd never seen before.

There are some FAMOUS ancient Greco-Roman statues there... The She-Wolf who suckled Romulus & Remus, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, remnants of the colossal statues of the Emperor Constantine, not to mention "The Dying Gaul," (which I accidently called in Italian "the Dying Rooster... Oops!) All told, I wound up spending FOUR HOURS inside (and afterwards I was so exhaused from walking all around the city and then doing the museum that I could hardly move!)

The photos posted on Flickr today are some random ones of the minor statues in the museum, but ones I really kinda liked nonetheless. You're not likely to see many of these in your average art book, so I thought I'd share them with you here... Enjoy!

Photos for Dr. Dale... (plus site!)

Here's a couple of photos for my favorite criminologist...

First, a police boat on Venice's Grand Canal, then a police segway in the train station of Florence!

Photos Starring... The Gondola!

Tom gives us a couple of links about the new, first female gondolier of Venice. (I've not managed to catch a glimpse of her around town yet though...)

On that note, the latest photos I've posted on Flickr feature that incomparable Venetian trademark, the Gondola!

I'm not sure I've seen a better description of the boat than that from "101 Buildings to See in Venice":
"The gondola is an important part of the Venetian scene, more than folklore it is a typical lagoon boat; it is the product of an ancient constructional art improved on through the centuries to create an object which is perfect both from the functional and from the aesthetic point of view. It might almost be a product of industrial design or, rather, of nature, like the seashell. From the functional point of view the gondola embodies the characteristics of other typical lagoon boats, also very beautiful, such as the "caorlina" or the "sandolo": lightness, shallow draught, minimum resistence to water, great manoeverability, remarkable carrying capacity in relation to its weight and size. These characteristics are strictly bound to the topographical needs of the city. A gondola is a very tough and complex structure, the hull alone is made of 280 pieces of seven different kinds of wood. Intended normally to be rowed by a single oar, the gondola has an asymmetrical plan, being more curved to the left than to the right, to balance the side thrust of the oar; it is also asymmetrical in section, leaning to the right, to balance the weight of the gondoliere. From an aesthetical point of view the gondola has been traditionally famous for its elegant shape; it has numerous interesting details, besides the "ferro" on the prow, there is the "forcola", rowlock of walnut wood, carved like a piece of sculpture. The poop daringly high about the water level, jutting out to take the weight of the gondoliere, with its absolutely pure line, it is perhaps from an architectural point of view the most beautiful part of the gondola."
You can see what they mean in my sidebar slideshow! Enjoy!!

My prediction about Potter...

Actually, I'm not going to make any plot predictions. Instead...

Well, it's now yesterday's news (literally!) that Last Harry Potter leaks online.

All I can suggest is that it would be beyond utter and thorough brillance for the publishers themselves to have deliberately leaked false versions of the book. Decoys, as it were... (Get it?)

Can you just imagine? It might dissuade some folks from continuing to try to get an illicit preview copy if they think that one (or more) is already out there. Plus, you'd have thousands of rabid Potter fans reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of alternative versions in the days before the release... only to announce - at, say, 11 pm on the 20th - that they were all hoaxes. Why, it would be a public-relations (not to mention, security) coup!

It may not turn out to be true... but I hope that it is! It would be such an artful blending of art and reality, fact and fiction... revealing the continuities (even simulacrum?) between the power (and illusion) of both Harry's magic in the world of the books and that of the Information Revolution in the Internet of our own... "Confundus," anyone?

UPDATE: Apparently, some folks on Metafilter have much the same suspicions that I do (although maybe less charitably...)

Still, in the ensuing discussion, there were some priceless "spoilers" mentioned, like...
  • "Voldemort is Keyser Soze."
  • "Rosebud was the name of his broom."
  • "A naked Harry wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette and Bob Newhart!!!"
  • "Harry actually dreamed the whole rescue, and is really still in the torture chamber. Oh, and Hermoine is a man."

Everybody Wants to Be a Cat... in Rome!

A note on the new pictures I've posted on Flickr... These photos were taken at the "Area Sacra" at Torre Argentina in Rome at the end of last month.

As you can see from the pictures, the ruins of at least 4 ancient Roman temples (some of the oldest ever found in the city!) were discovered here in the 1920s. Because this is now, as a result, a protected area smack dab in the middle of Rome, it - like the Colloseum and the Roman Forums - became preferred haunts of the Roman stray cats. So much so that now there's officially a cat sanctuary here (which you can visit virtually at and at last count there were something like 250 felines who call these ruins home! (And you thought that your local cat lady had a lot!!)

A few years ago, I actually saw a documentary called "Cats of Rome," directed by Michael Hunt, who spent - I heard - something like 3 years filming the project. In it, they discovered that these stray cats actually behave a lot like prides of lions on the African savannah! In fact, I felt kinda like I was on safari when I took these photos... :-) Not to mention that I couldn't get "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" from "The Aristocats" out of my head!

What's more, in the Italian version (called the "Aristogatti"), O'Malley is actually dubbed with a Roman accent and calls himself "Romeo"! He continues in Roman dialect to say that he's "er mejio del colosseo" (or "the best cat in the whole Colosseum!" And, believe you me, with all those cats, that's really saying something!!)

P.S. Want to lend a hand to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, which has no government funding and lives off donations alone? According to ArkOnline...

Torre Argentina urges animal lovers to send letters to Prof. La Rocca, the Roman authority in charge of the archeological site of Torre Argentina. Please ask La Rocca to approve plans for linking the shelter with the city's sewer system, so that the shelter can have proper drainage, running water, and toilet facilities.

For $15 a month, you can provide food and medicine for the cat of your choice. Torre Argentina will send you a picture and update on your feline friend and their life in Rome. To meet some of the cats... [write]

Additional tax deductible donations can be made in the United States through "In Defense of Animals," 131 Camino Alto, Mill Valley, CA 94941 (Be sure and write "For Torre Argentina Cats" on the front of the check)... Contributions can also be sent to Silvia Viviani, Via Marco Papio 15, 00175 Roma, Italy. Tel: 0348-384-5853 from 11 am to 7 p.m. (Roman time)."

Activating Architecture: Angelo Branduardi plays Venice

Ever heard of "activating architecture"?

Most of us probably hardly notice much architecture... We think of it (if we think of it at all) as a passive structure, doing nothing but sheltering us from the elements as we go about our daily business. But when we "activate" architecture, in the most basic sense, we (consciously or subconsciously) deliberately interact with it, creating new, greater meanings and experiences as a result.

Perfect example was a *free* concert given in Venice last night by a major Italian artist, Angelo Branduardi. Now, it's hard to explain Branduardi if you haven't heard him (which you can do on his MySpace page, if you want...) He's kinda like a mix of Pink Floyd, ELO and Peter Gabriel, that is, if they were to play celtic/medieval music.

And the venue was extra-special! Branduardi played in the Basillica of Saints John & Paul (Santi Giovanni e Paolo), a medieval, Gothic church which would more than suffice as a cathedral in most cities (but just happens to have to play second fiddle, as it were, to Saint Mark's Cathedral here in Venice...)

Now, clever me... I managed to forget any and all of my little electronic gadgets which would have permitted me to share just a small snippet of the experience with you. (Actually, that's not quite true... I had managed to bring my digital camera; I just had forgotten its battery at home in the charger! Argh!!) So, let's see if I can even vaguely reconstruct the experience for you, here and now, approximating it with photos from Branduardi's fan club page...

The picture at right is a photo of the interior of the church (from its Wikipedia page, taken from near the high altar, looking back down the nave toward the entrance of the basilica). Needless to say, it's huge (just check out the difference in scale between the people and the ceilings!)

Imagine, if you will, this scene at night... and the church filled to standing room only. The focus of the concert was a pared-down presentation of Branduardi's album of songs to celebrate Saint Francis of Assisi. So, amplified, electric medieval music was reverberating off those splendid ceilings... (not to mention brooding shadows of the statues of various saints and the tombs of long-dead knights and rulers being cast by the red stage lights and then creeping down the walls).

Now, I've often heard the churches of Venice "activated" before, by organs, choirs, string quartets, and even Tibetan "throat singing" and a Flamenco Mass... although not at the same time! :-) But what a beautiful sound resonated from Branduardi's electric violin, as he sang lauds to St. Francis!

Even more glorious was when he closed the concert with a sweet ballad which had orginated on the medieval pilgrims' road to San Juan de Compostela in Spain called "La stella mattutina" (or "The Morning Star") on a lovely instrument he called the chitarra-arpa (or "harp-guitar"). I found what looks like a cellphone video from a smaller, more informal gig Branduardi played a few months ago, so at least this way you can get a (very!) small sense of the artist, the music, and that magnificent instrument (pictured at left)! Enjoy!!

UPDATED: Tales (and pictures) from the road less taken...

"The Road Not Taken"
by Robert Frost (1920)

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I've developed a new habit when I travel... I ask the locals, preferably in the best aproximation of the local language I can manage, what is the most beautiful thing to see there that few foreigners know about.

In Rome, at a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall trattoria at the foot of the Esquiline Hill, the answer I got was the Church of the Four Crowned Saints (i Santi Quattro Coronati)... so I promptly marched (as promptly as possible under the blazing Roman sun, which was, like, a good hour or two) up the Celio hill to this church, originally founded in 595 A.D.

There I met an elderly English gentleman, who'd just done the same... I told him my story, and he said that the folks at the restaurant were absolutely right... He'd first seen the church over 50 years earlier, when he was studying on a scholarship in Rome in the years after the war. There'd he'd seen a tiny little palm tree just starting to grow in the cloister garden. A few years later, he went back, and the same little tree was by that point astoundingly tall.

And now, here he was a half century later, and he'd come to Rome at least in part just to see the church and that once-little palm, to see how that tree - which was nearly as old as he - was doing... He'd marched up that hill, alone, in the ferocious heat like I did, only to discover that the Augustinian Sisters who occupy the convent and church were in the middle of closed religious devotions, and the church would not be open to the public as a result until the following week. And thus we traipsed right back down the Celio hill (the view of Colloseum at right was taken from that very street on the long way back...)

So, I guess the moral of the story is that we can't reasonably expect everything to be open 24/7 on the road less travelled! :-)

Still, I was glad to have tried, to have met that kind English gentleman and heard his story. Plus, I now have an even greater reason to return to Rome in the future... Someday, I have to see that church (not to mention the palm tree!)

We did the same thing in Tuscany, and the answer we got was the village of Montefioralle near the town of Greve in Chianti (where I got the shot I flickred earlier of the basketmaker at the annual Butchers' festival).

Don't bother to try to look for it in any guidebooks... chances are that it's not there. Not even in the Italian ones! But it has just been officially named as one of the prettiest villages in Italy, and once you see it you know that it's rightfully so!

The village began as a small fortified settlement by at least 1085, and is even mentioned in poetry by the famous early-Renaissance author Boccaccio. What's more, Montefioralle was the ancestral home of the family of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who wound up giving his name to the Americas.

It was at this point that my husband, who'd until now just been patiently waiting for me as I was snapping my own photos, caught the shutter bug himself in this charming, medieval walled village! These photos are from his camera, while mine I'll post - as usual - to Flickr. Enjoy!!

Venice Photos

I wanted to post my "masterpieces" so far here, but I don't like how they wind up being displayed.

So, I'm uploading to Flickr, with links below to viewing them on a "matte". Enjoy!

View On Black: "Afternoon in Gondola"

View On Black: "Gondoliers at Rest"

View On Black: "Venice before the Storm"

View On Black: "San Giorgio Maggiore"

View On Black: "Venetian Sunset"

View On White: "Venus in Venice, '...supine on the floor of a narrow canoe...'"

UPDATED AGAIN: Excitement at the Palio!

Tonight was the running of the Palio, the famous, age-old horse race in Siena, Italy. Every year, twice a year, for hundreds of years, 10 of the 17 neighborhoods of Siena lay everything on the line to win this race, which lasts only 3 laps of the main city square and usually less than 90 seconds.

But the horses are chosen by lot. The jockeys – who ride bareback – are chosen by lot. The neighborhoods (called “contrade”) find most of their chances to win determined by, well… chance.

And yet the Sienese are completely passionate about this race. They organize their entire year around it, they’re utterly ecstatic when they win and they’re thoroughly despondent when they lose. And they’re even worse if their traditional “enemy” neighborhood (the “nemica”) happens
to be the one to win… That’s like adding insult to injury!

Want to see what I mean? These are my pictures from Friday, June 29th in Siena

First was the “Tratta,” or the Extraction of the Horses, in which the race officials drew by lot which horse would be assigned to which neighborhood. As you can see, a few people turned out to watch!

Everybody awaited each drawing with baited breath. People of the neighborhood kept track of every announcement on special forms handed out for the occasion, or else on scratch paper if they didn’t have one. (And the results of the drawing was the one and only thing that everybody in town was discussing all afternoon on their cellphones!)

When the contrada of the Snail (“Chiocciola”) were drawn to be the ones to race the horse Brento, the piazza exploded with joy. The residents of the neighborhood ran forward to collect their horse and lead it victoriously to its special stable (which you can see at right) for the event. Brento was one of the horses most favored to win. And Chiocciola had been feeling cocky anyway... Even prior to the Extraction, the men of the neighborhood (the “contradaioli”) had been leading their jockey to the each of the other neighborhoods and singing taunting songs in front of their headquarters. Now they were sure they’d win the big race 4 days later!

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood group we were standing in for the Extraction, the contrada of the Wave (“Onda”) were soooo disappointed, since they’d wound up drawing one of the most inexperienced horses.

But how quickly the wheel of fortune turns during the Palio! We came back to the main piazza (called the “Campo”) that evening to see the first trial race, or “Prova.” Again, as you can see, just a few people turned out to watch what in the end didn’t even count officially. Even still, against all expectations, we almost saw a real disaster there. No joke…

The one who starts the race, the “mossiere,” was unexperienced, and when he released the starting rope, apparently he didn’t do it quickly enough, and right at the start, Chiocciola's Brento tripped over the rope and fell, injuring himself, throwing his rider and knocking off two other jockeys (as you can see in my photos). But the trial race continued… and the previously despondent neighborhood of the Onda wound up winning. And previously exultant Chiocciola was nearly beside itself with grief, instead of victorious (as you can see at right) like they'd expected. How strange is Palio-fate!

Tonight, the real race was run. But Chiocciola wasn’t there. Painfully, the entire neighborhood decided to withdraw rather than risk the life of the horse (more than one of which has died during the race in previous years).

After 90 seconds and at least three other jockeys thrown, the race was won by the horse of the neighborhood of the Goose (“Oca”) by a nose over that of the Seashell (“Nicchio”), but then the city officials accidentally raced the flag of the 2nd place contrada outside the town hall by mistake. A near riot broke out between the two neighborhoods, until the ruling was corrected and Oca was officially given the win. (And that’s when the Italian national tv coverage ended. For all I know, the riot may still
be happening in Siena...That's how seriously they take the Palio there!!)

When the race is posted online, I highly recommend watching it. The passion of the Sienese over this race defies all attempts at explanation!
UPDATED: You can check out the video here!


  • The Palio della Assunta will be run in Siena on August 16th, at 1 pm EST.
  • The contrade scheduled to run are Giraffa, Leocorno, Lupa, Chiocciola, Onda, Istrice e Civetta, Bruco, Valdimontone and Drago.
  • The "tratta" or extraction of the horses will take place August 13th.
  • The 6 "prove" or the trials will be run between the 13th & the 16th.
  • The corteo storico or historical procession will feature more than 600 costumed marchers and performers, and will run for 3 hours before the race!