Sunday, November 16, 2008

Martha does Rome with a Little Help From a Friend.

Day 4 – Mixed Connections

Perhaps it was fallout from the previous day’s bus adventure; it wasn’t down to drink as I had only taken one glass of a very nice white the night before, but whatever the cause, on Friday morning I was uncomfortably aware that all my little grey cells were not firing with anything resembling precision. To compensate I made up my mind to leave for our selected meeting point as early as possible and thereby minimise any need to make quick decisions caused by delayed trains or sundry other acts of God or the Italian parliament.

My instructions had been to take the Linea A (blue line) to Termini and change for the Linea B (red line) to Piramide Station. The mechanics of this seemed quite simple and as I had arrived at my destination with ten minutes to spare. I trudged up a urine-scented incline and emerged into a dusty traffic-haunted circle with no sign of a café to sit in or of anything resembling a pyramid. Perhaps this should have tipped me off to the possibility that something wasn’t quite tickety-boo, but in my damaged condition, it didn’t.

Half an hour later, and with no sign of N., I had become quite concerned and quite awake. It was then that I discovered that I had left my telefonino back at the B&B. ‘Now what the F! Do I do?’ Clearly the only answer to THAT question was – Hot foot it back to Prati and see if N. had been trying to reach me. Which she had. Guess what! There is another exit to that station – at the other end of the train platform. Telling her to find a café near that exit (Which is probably where she was already calling from. She’s French – not Italian, and pragmatic with it.) I dashed out; carefully first checking that this time I had everything with me that I could possible need – even my umbrella - just in case, and dashed back into the metro retracing my earlier two journeys. Finally, only two hours late, we connected in a very nice shady café just in front of the entrance to the Ostia Metro line. Dead ahead was the piramide just as it should have been. As I was almost prostrate with embarrassment and adrenaline, N. kindly allowed me to wolf down a tuna fish sandwich and a cinotto – she’d had the same earlier, and finally we were off on our journey into the past.

Boarding a sleek modern moulded plastic train car with only minimal graffiti scarring, we were soon zipping our way into the past. Twenty minutes later we reached Antica Ostia, headed over the roaring traffic below and were progressing down a tall pine lined avenue towards the entrance to the park. One of the most distinctive images I have of Rome is of those umbrella-like creatures hovering over the most ancient sites – hoary sentinels still standing guard, sheltering their charges from the elements.

Today, the sea is some five-silted up kilometres away, but in the time of Augustus, it was directly on the mouth of the Tiber, making it a major port for the reception of grain and other essential supplies from all over Mare Nostrum. The aristocratic ruling families who lived here built splendid mosaic-embellished houses. Every convenience and necessity: shops, taverns, customs houses, theatres, temples and later churches and even from the end of the 1st century AD, a synagogue was available for the favoured inhabitants.

After my misadventures of the morning, I was afraid that Ostia Antica would prove to be an anticlimax. It emphatically was not. The day was lovely, sunny, warm, with none of the oppressive heat of earlier. As we strolled along the smooth worn paving stones an awareness of the past life of those who had lived and built this ordinary place infused my senses and mind. That word is not a misprint. For this was not a famous town, just an essential one; a place where real people – not Gods or heroes - lived, gave birth, grew up, worshiped, went about their business, and died – and were buried.

Unlike the magnificent Rome whose history and monumental glories overwhelms any sense of the human, here in Ostia Antica it was possible to catch a glance, sniff a whiff of the life of ordinary Romans.

I loved it!!

Not only was there a cascade of ideas and references for ‘Kore Baby!’ pouring into my head, but, with dawning glee I realised that, as much of what we were looking at could be used as a simulacrum for 5th Sinope, I was looking at a template for my Good Bishop’s own world. Yippee – two projects advanced for the price of one!

We took a break for lunch on a sunny terrace, fed three sweet dogs and after our rest continued on our way, walking and talking. The shadows were growing long and the light was no longer sufficient for good photographs when we reluctantly turned our faces in the direction of the train station. It had been a splendid journey into the past.

As before, photos are the work of my long-suffering friend - Spacedlaw

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Martha does Rome with a Little Help From a Friend

Day 3 – Truly Roman Experiences

By now (Thursday) we had established a good working routine: meet at a pre-determined location at 11:00, walk all over the set area until about 01:30; then have a loooong break for lunch; after which the geriatric old bag (me)would head back to her B&B for a siesta.

Today we had planned to look at the area around the Piazza Sant’Ignazio, as the headquarters of the Roma Carabinieri Art Fraud Division is located in the square opposite. We arranged to meet on the steps surrounding the famous Egyptian obelisk in front of the Pantheon. When I wandered up, N. was sitting there contemplating the fake gladiators having their photos taken with the tourists. She is always early and had already been inside to take her pictures.

It was hot and I needed a restorative, so we slipped through an alley to the Sant’Eustachio Café, which is famous for the quality and depth of the foam on its coffee. We had barely finished our espressos, which were excellent, when the advance guard of a party of German–speaking tourists made their presence known. Bit by bit, indifferent to the concerns or feelings of the other patrons, this self-referenced group expanded, filching chairs and adding members, a malignant amoeba overwhelming the café forecourt with noise and bodies. It was time for us to make a move.

We slipped gratefully into the echoing quiet of the Chiesa Sant’Eustachio, said to have been founded by the Emperor Constantine, making it one of the older basilicas in Rome. It provided a welcome relief from the braying Germans.

Leaving the church, we paid our respects to the elephant fountain, a joyous bit of Bernini nonsense and then went quickly into Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which, as the name tells us, is a Christian basilica plopped on top of an older temple to the Roman virgin goddess of warriors & wisdom. Sometime between 1555 – 1559, Pope Paul IV ordered a bronze loincloth attached to the genitals on Michelangelo statue of Christ holding up his cross. What a hypocritical old prude he must have been.

Then it was off to Sant’Ignazio - the piazza and the chiesa. After a few minutes contemplation of the Carabinieri Headquarters we headed into the church, making this a three church day. It seemed to me stunningly appropriate that the police officers dedicated to chasing down art criminals should be watched over by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spanish founder of the Jesuits, one of the most superbly rational bodies of thinkers the Western church has ever thrown up. The interior of the church was awash in elaborately carved marble: draperies of polished stone, like frozen velvet, angel flesh so glossy and warm looking I wanted to reach out and caress it. After gorging our senses on this cornucopia of stone fantasies, we reluctantly returned to the glare and noise of midday Rome. It was time for lunch.

As we were not far away, N. suggested that we realise her promise to introduce me to carciofi alla giudea. A ten minute walk brought us to La Taverna del Ghetto, a fitting destination, as it was the egregious Paul IV who, when he wasn’t desecrating art masterpieces, busied himself with creating the Jewish ghetto in Rome. To say that the artichoke was wonderful, doesn’t begin to describe the tangy crunch of the whole plant, slightly flattened and then deep fried to perfection. N. said I was to eat all of it, which is good as I might have needed forcible restraint to keep from devouring it.

*N. has just given me a link to a recipe and the calorie count is a whooping 1155 k's - Ouch!

The day was warm, the wine was tasty, the conversation scintillating and it was soon pushing three o’clock. Time to head for home. We walked through the remnants of the now ended Campo de’ Fiori market to a piazza where we could get a bus to Termini. From there, I, now foolishly proud of my growing mastery of the Roman bus system, jumped on a #31 – headed towards Prati and strait into the start of the three day manifestatzione against Senor Berlusconi’s education policies.

As we crawled down via Nazionale, it began to seem as if this conflagration surrounding us was more than the usual Roman traffic. At last, unable to move further, the bus stopped, the driver got out to talk to a colleague and half the passengers got off. My feet were hurting; I had a front facing seat by the window; no one had told me the bus was terminated; so I remained in my seat. After little more than ten minutes the driver got back into his place and we moved forward, slowly, very slowly. Eventually we reached the Lungotevere, the major traffic artery the runs beside the Tiber and started to inch our way north. By now the bus was packed. Standees were jammed up against each other. Somehow a rumour started that ‘because of the mainifestazione’, the bus would not continue onto Pizza Claudio, its supposed destination. Panicked, about a third of the passengers fought their way off at the next stop. A particularly unattractive red head, who had been eagerly disseminating the rumour, claimed a seat with a smirk - not mine obviously. I had seen the police blocking the entrance to all streets heading back into old Rome and had guessed that there was no way such a story could be true.

Two hours after leaving Termini Station we reached the Ponte Cavour, turned left and sped across the Tiber. Like a greyhound released from a cage the bus roared into flight and in 10 minutes, we charging up via della Giuliana, when I noticed that we were approaching my street – Success – total success! I had found my way home and survived a Roman manifestatzione!

As before, all photos courtesy of Spacedlaw, except the scanned business card.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weather report

I had intended to post more of my Roman experiences today but it seems the weather gods decided to conspire against me. I had just finished my morning tidying up and other assorted errands and had settled at my desk with a nice cup of strong coffee, when POOF!! - the power went out; and stayed out for over two hours.

It's been blowing like crazy since yesterday. The news said tonight that it's been 25 - 30 m/s all day. The ferries to the mainland are suspended as would are the flights to our local airport, Roomasaare which is reporting some of the strongest winds in Estonia.

Roofs have blown off and windows out from some older apartment buildings in Tallinn. This is not as surprising as it might seem as some of the soviet era buildings were so badly constructed that there's more sand than concrete in the walls. Still I feel sorry for the people affected.

I tried to find a picture of some of the damage, but Delfi , unlike the BBC is not great with pictures; so I found this of a swollen river in South East Estonia which is a part of the country almost as nice as Saaremaa.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Martha does Rome with a Little Help From a Friend.

Day 2 - Justifications

Way back in the foggy mists of last spring, when the ideas for this trip began to coalesce into a reality, the defining principle, the raison d’être was to look at and get a feel for the Roman locations in the new book I had started work on – ‘Kore Baby!’

Now N., despite her Sagittarian patrimony, is a stickler for meeting the terms of an agreement. Therefore the next two days were devoted to work’.We had agreed to meet in the bus plaza in from of the main train station. From there we went above ground to the Piazza Buenos Aries for a look at the Liberty Style buildings of the Coppedé Quartiere, as I had got it into my head that the villa of one of the main characters was situated in this area.

But first a visit to the Chiesa Santa Immacolato which had an antique and Byzantine feel but which had only been constructed in the early 20th century. Next we walked through the Porta Buenos Aries into an early 20th century fantasy world – villas weighted down with decoration of every conceivable genre, frequently repeated in succeeding buildings, as the same artist was responsible for their creation - architect Gino Coppedé.

After that maelstrom of images we retreated to the relative serenity of the Villa Borghese. So engrossed in our conversations were we, that by the time we emerged at the top of the Spanish Steps it was after 2:00 o’clock – almost restaurant mid-day closing time in Rome. N. quickly led us up a shady street where we were soon seated at an outside table. I ordered spaghetti carbonara, while N. who knew better had agnolotto stuffed with truffles in a cream sauce. She took pity on me and offered a taste – pure heaven. More talk - much more talk, over a very interesting bottle of 2006 Shiraz from the Lazio region. The wine was a little rough at first but with time mellowed into something quite drinkable, so we finished it all.

After the wine, all the mornings walking, discussing and the wonderful Mediterranean heat I was finished, so it was home for siesta.

As before photos courtesy of spacedlaw

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lentil Soup from Trastevere

As mentioned in the earlier post, by the time our waitress served the soup, I was SO stuffed I barely managed to taste three or four bites. But, as it was delicious, I looked and tasted with particular attention in hopes of being able to re-create it at home.

It was a mixture of pulses: beans, green and brown lentil and barley, in a good strong slightly salty stock. It had been thickened by pureeing some of the pulses. N. thought it probably had been cooked with tomatoes. That would give me enough information to get started.
I confess I cheated – slightly. On my last minute assault on the Supermercato in Milano, I picked up package of ‘Zuppa Campagnola di Farro’ and also Fagioli Neri – the second was labelled ‘da Agricoltura Biologica. 2a*
The package directions said to let the grains soak for 6 hours, but I was in a hurry, so I employed the old trick of bringing them to boil in a pot of water, covering and letting them sit for an hour off the heat. I did the same with a handful of the fagioli neri.

Once the main ingredients were ready, I chopped a mix of garlic, sea salt & black pepper to a paste, sautéed that in some olive oil and added a medium onion, finely chopped. Letting that sweat slowly for 10 minutes, I finely diced a medium carrot and added that to the cooking vegetables. Last I added drained pulses, a small glass of tomato juice and two cups of the stock I had made from pork bones, a few dried porcini (Beans were not the only thing I bought in Milano) and the trimmings from the previous nights dinner preparation. Herbs were a dried Provencal mix. That was allowed to simmer for most of the afternoon. To finish I added a splash of Balsamico and a dash of soy sauce – not Italian I know, but it needed something.
The finished product pleased me so much that I wanted to eat the whole pot and it was with great difficulty and several reminders of my diet promises that I restrained myself. That, and I now have a basic recipe for creating a food that will instantly recall a sunny Roman afternoon with a good friend, good rough wine and good soup.

Credits: 1 - National Geographic; 2b – Scan of labels; 3 & 4 - spacedlaw