Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lenardo da Vinci

On Wednesday we went to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit and we saw many cool machines. He often used the six simple machines (lever, wedge, screw, pulley, inclined plane, and wheel and axel) to make his inventions.

This invention used stones to measure distance:

It is designed to drop stones at regular intervals into a bucket and when you're done you count the stones.

This is a model of a tank:
This tank was manned by eight men. This is very cool.

This is a machine gun Leonard da Vinci designed:
You would put in bullets in the holes between the wheels. Then you would turn a crank and it would fire.

This is a flying machine that didn't work. The wings we supposed to flap:
We made it look like Sophie was attached, but she wasn't.

Here I am looking like I'm breaking the rules. . .. . . but I'm not really.

Leonardo da Vinci was AWESOME!!!!

Denis (aka the Majority)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Nativity (and more) at St. Peter's

Yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon we walked over to St. Peter's to see the outdoor nativity scene in the square. They leave it up until February 2 -- Candlemas: the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple -- which is sort of the last dying gasp of Easter and the date when you really begin to be embarassed about still having your tree up.

This year's nativity scene has raised a few comments because it seems to depict the Holy Family at home (as in Matthew's Gospel), rather than in the stable (as in Luke's Gospel). Thus, we get Jospeh's carpenter shop depicted as part of the scene:What is sort of strange is that certain elements from Luke are also incorporated, such as the manger, as if Mary and Jospeh had a manger instead of a crib in their house. Oh well, I suppose one ought to make certain concessions to popular expectations.

While at St. Peter's, we took in mor eof the sights, since Sophie and Denis don't really remember much from our visits here five years ago.The kids were particularly impressed by the point in the square where the four rows of columns. . .

. . . all line up to look like a single row:

The fountains were beautiful in the setting sun:

We went inside briefly and were once again impressed by the vastness of the place:

We discovered lots of different things there. . .

Some of them surprising, such as the fact that the altar paintings are all actually mosaics.
Some of what we discovered was strange. . .
. . .some of it was very strange. . .
. . . and some of it was very, very strange.

We got gelato on the way home. Sophie says to make sure everyone knows that it was very good.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Starlings of Rome

E come li stornei ne partan l'ali
nel freddo tempo, a schiera larga e piena,
cosi quel fiato li spiriti mali
di qua, di la, di gui, di su li mena;
nulla speranza, li conforta mai,
non che di posa, ma di minor pena.

As winter starlings riding on their wings
Form crowded flocks, so spirits dip and veer
Foundering in the wind's rough buffetings,
Upward or downward, driven here and there
With never ease from pain nor hope of rest.

Dante, Inferno, Canto V
Robert Pinsky, trans.

On Friday we were up on the Janiculum at sunset and noticed what we at first took to be smoke -- a strange dark cloud swirling over the city. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it was a gigantic flock of birds, starlings, flying in close formation, turning and folding in upon itself as it was buffeted by the wind. Last night, again right around sunset, we saw them again, this time closer up.

I've been to Rome a number of times, but somehow I missed out on this apparently well-known phenomenon. Here is an article from the New York Times Magazine about it. The birds leave the city during the day to feed in the countryside, and return in the evening to roost.

It is a sight that is at once eerie and fascinating. I can now understand why Dante used the image in the Inferno to describe the eternal fate of those souls who were in this life controlled by their passions. The birds lose all individual identity and seem to give themselves over to the random current of air that push them this way and that. It is somewhat ominous, while at the same time beautiful.

But it is is easier to show than to describe. Here are a couple of pictures taken by Sophie:

And here is a video we found on YouTube (double-click the arrow):


Friday, January 25, 2008

Santa Maria in Trastevere

I stopped into our local parish for Mass and a look around this morning. Santa Maria is on the site of one of the oldest churches in Rome and the current building dates from around 1140 (practically brand new, by Roman standards). It is also the home of the San Egidio Community, a lay movement in the Catholic Church that began after the Second Vatican Council and that focuses on prayer, service to the poor, and working for peace. They have evening prayer at Santa Maria every night, with scores of people present.

Santa Maria's St. Anthony looks a bit burdened by all the requests made of him. I wonder if these are all for lost objects?

St. Paul's (and Football)

Today we had to get up at 7:00 (1:00 a.m. American time) to go to St. Paul's Basilica. While it was not my ideal time to go visit a church, it ended up being pretty interesting. The courtyard outside the basilica has an imposing staue of St. Paul standing in the middle of it with a sword.

David Dawson-Vasquez, the director of the Rome program and our tour guide for the day, tells us that the sword represents the fact that he had his head chopped off, but Denis still thinks he looks like he wants to chop our heads off.

We then enter the actual basilica, where we are all temporarily awed by the huge ceiling and rows upon rows of stone pillars

Our attention is quickly diverted to a small desk where we are all recieving little radios, which are connected to a microphone attached to David's headset. We all fumble with them and try to figure out whether they are working or not for a couple of minutes. Then about five of us go back to get new ones, and hurry to catch up to the group. My attention is immediately caught by the imposing statue of St.Paul and his large, flowing Gandalf beard.

I try and take several pictures then, but the light is to bad. (I eventually come back later and take this picture using my mom's head as a place to rest the camera.) We then hurry to catch up to the rest of the group, where we learn a little but about the cieling

We then move on to the relic chapel (where they keep all the relics.) and see the chains that held St. Paul while he was imprisoned. After that, we go out into the cloister, where the monks walk and pray.

We take a few more pictures and then head back into the main part of the basilica, take a picture of the holy doors, and leave.

I had a very eventful day, which I will not lay out in detail here, but the short story is that it turns out that I am going to be playing American football, of all sports, while I am here, but it is now 12:30 in the morning, so I will give more details about this tomorrow.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Views from the Gianicolo

A sunset over Rome, as seen from atop the GianicoloPalm trees on the Gienicolo against the sunset

More places to know in Trastevere...

  • Toy shop: Via del Moro
  • Pastry shop: Via del Moro

... and the rest of Rome

  • Second hand clothing stores: Via del Governo Vecchio (2)
  • Toy shop: Via del Governo Vecchio


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jetlagged and Hungry

This is going to be alot shorter than everybody else's entries because there is not much to say that hasn't already been said. A combination of jetlag and eating every meal two or three hours later than I normally would has left me completely devoid of any thoughts that would possibly interest anybody, so I think I will end this post here.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Due Rossi Peperone, Per Favore."

The morning started (for Thomas and me) with a small, jetlagged 2 a.m. gathering in the kitchen. For everyone else, it started with a quiet breakfast of bread, honey, and cheese that was eaten whenever you woke up.

Once everyone was awake, my mom left to try out the bus system and sign some papers about the apartment and my dad and I departed to look for a market. After much wandering, we finally found a small market that sold fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. We bought some oranges for snacks and some vegetables for lunch and dinner. The last things we got were two red peppers, or, as I learned, due rossi peperone.

My dad had decided it was time to put my scimmia Italiano (monkey Italian) to use, so he made me ask for the peppers. I just pointed at the peppers and muttered something about "due... rosso..." . The woman at the stall undrestood me well enough. I had had my first conversation in Italian, if you could call it a that.

After the market, we set off in search of a bakery. We wandered around the alleys of Trastevere for about half an hour before finally asking a passer-by, "Dove pane?", or, "Where is bread?" He was carrying a bread bag, at least. We followed his directions to a small pizzaria/ bakery where we bought a loaf of warm, fresh bread, then headed home.

When we got home, we cooked some pasta for lunch (not bad, but a little undercooked and kind of wierd), our first lunch living in Rome. After lunch, Denis and I washed the dishes and I broke a wine glass by dropping a knife on it (basically).

  • Bakery: Via del Moro
  • Gelateria: Via Benedetta
  • Small grocery store: Vicolo del Cinque


Our First Day

When I woke up, or more was woken up by my dad, to help fix the jet lag by geting me on Roman time, I lay in bed for awhile, got up and had breakfast. Later I was leaning out the window and a random Italian saw me and said "Ciao" and I responded "Ciao". Then Sophie and my dad went to the market. They came home and my dad cooked funky pasta. We think it was made of potato; anyway it was thick and undercooked, or if you would like to be polite, extremely al dente. After lunch Sophie, Thomas, my mom and I went to the Gianicolo or Janiculum. We saw a wonderful sunset and moon rise. Then Thomas, Sophie and I tried to figure out who Guiseppe and Anita Garibaldi were. We had a dinner of bread, cheese, and sandwiches of an unknown origin (the airplane). We went out for gelatto and God saw that it was good.

Denis A.K.A The Majority (Rules)

Settling in

I'll let Sophie (or others) give more of the details of the day, but I successfully rode two different buses to get to the real estate agent's office to sign our apartment contract today. I am very proud of this -- especially since I knew enough about where I was to get off and walk the last 15 minutes after a car accident COMPLETELY stopped traffic.

The kids and I went exploring later and saw an amazing moonrise over the city from the Gianicolo, one of the seven hills of Rome, just behind our new house. And I made the kids decipher the symbols and signs on the monuments to Anita and Guiseppe Garibaldi to figure out who they were, so they've learned a little Italian history and we can count our walk as school! La vita e veramente bella.


Baloney Alley: The Bigger Picture

View Larger Map

Monday, January 21, 2008

Well, Here We Are

Our departure from Baltimore went smoothly, except Sophie forgot Big Tiger, who has been her near-constant companion for the past decade or so. Fortunately our friends Anne and Ella, who had helped take us to the airport, did a quick run back to our house and rushed BT to the terminal. It's a good thing too, since BT was instrumental in Sophie catching an hour or so of sleep during our layover at Heathrow.
When we arrived in Rome we crammed into the van that we had arranged to pick us up (it's amazing how little something can be and still qualitfy as a "van" in Europe) and headed off for our home for the next three months: the Vicolo di Bologna, which Maureen insists is translated "Baloney Alley." As small as the van is, it can't fit down our street. So we unload in the square that the alley runs off of and stand around for a bit. . .
. . .then we head off, schlepping our bags down our new street:
. . . and found our apartment, which is on its own little "mini piazza."
We'll post more soon, but now we need food and bed.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

We're Off (Almost)

Be glad I spared you descriptions of the packing and cleaning. The former is pretty much done. The latter. . . well, we leave for the airport in less than an hour, so our house-sitters will just have to deal. It's OK. They look pretty tough.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why "Frolic and Detour"?

Maureen tells me this is a term from tort law. If you are doing something for your employer, but leave that task to do some personal business, and then are injured while doing that personal business, your employer is not liable, because you were on a "frolic and detour."

While I will be working while we are in Rome, the whole adventure does have a bit of a frolic and detour quality to it. So we thought we'd start this blog to help our friends in the States and elsewhere keep up with our frolicking and detouring.

We leave Sunday. Between now and then I don't think we will be posting much about our housecleaning, which isn't very frolicsome.