May 31, 2016

Church of St. Louis of the French
Church of St. Louis of the French

In Rome.  Church of St. Louis of the French.  So many churches, so little time.  Organs and sculptures and tapestries and mosaics and paintings and floors and ceilings.  Splendid, and more splendid to come.

May 30, 2016

Gelato Treats
Gelato Treats

A whole case full of them.   And this place in Rome was the best.  So here goes a gelato cone description:

Choose your molten chocolate to be drizzled into the bottom of the cone: dark for me.  The yum goes all the way to the bottom!  Now choose your gelato, two large soft scoops: Hazelnut and Pistachio for me!  Now choose your flavored whipped cream:  Mocha for me (vanilla or lemon would be great with other flavors.)  Now choose another chocolate drizzle on top:  Yep, dark again.  And what chocolate would you like your wafer cookie dipped into, dark, milk, or white?  Yes, dark.  And perch that wafer cookie on top of your tower of goodness!  I forgot to take a picture, because I started right in on eating.

Now, who does a gelato cone like that anywhere else?  And all for $2.50!  It’s pretty competitive in Italy.  I think we had three of these; missed just one day.  There was gelato elsewhere, plenty of it, but nothing else came close.  Good thing we were walking so much!

May 29, 2016

In a Market
In a Market

It was mid-April and the asparagus was everywhere.  This translates to about $2 per pound.  I love how it’s displayed, except for worrying about those stalks standing on their delicate little heads!  (And notice that the nice tender skinny stalks are separated from their sturdier, stockier [pun intended] siblings!)

We had asparagus pasta, too.    So simple, like most all the pastas we had.  Perfectly al dente bowties, in this case, with a very light sauce that was steamed pieces of asparagus, probably in a bit of olive oil,  a dash of lemon juice, and perhaps a spoonful or two of chicken or vegetable broth.  No discernible onion, garlic, or herbs.  You tasted the asparagus.  If you wanted, you could sprinkle a teaspoon of grated Parmesan over it.  There was nearly always a (quite) small dish of Parmesan on offer, but you clearly were to use it as an accent, like salt or pepper, rather than as a main player.

Now when I make pasta at home, it is a simpler and ‘cleaner’ dish.  Thank you, Italy.

May 28, 2016

St. Peter's
St. Peter’s

Biggest.  Church.  Ever.  And I know there are many, many powerful photos out there.  But for some reason, the angles in this appeal.  And all the others I took are either close-ups, or they have hordes of people in them, or hordes of folding chairs, or ropes, or scaffolding, or other distractions.

Pope Francis declared this a Jubilee year, despite it not being on the usual 25-year cycle.  Therefore there was a Jubilee door — THE big Jubilee door — you could walk through, incurring for yourself a special blessing, “passing over the threshold of the holy door to symbolise the passing into the presence of God…”  (Wikipedia)  He also broke with tradition and had other Jubilee doors designated in other locations.

I walked through it.  I am happy to receive any blessings offered to me.  And I’m happy to do something special in honor of my Catholic friends.  More blessings.  More love.  Say yes.

May 27, 2016

And Another Floor
And Another Floor

This (and the one from yesterday) were both in the Vatican.  I prefer the wholly geometric ones (or is that ‘holy?’) but the pictorial ones are amazing too.  I particularly like the round motifs and the teal-ish and brown color scheme here.  It seems very modern in some ways.

As you can see in the background, upper right, there are barriers that prevent people from walking on and wearing away the surface.  I think that’s ok.  The place is plenty big enough for both people and preservation.  “Big church” became just a side comment.  Even the small ones were big.  Or at least, the small ones we saw were big.  And beautiful, and awesome in some ways, just as intended.

May 26, 2016

Another  Floor
Another Floor

So maybe I’ll alternate among floors, food, art, and scenery.  Not that the floors aren’t art:  I think of the craftsmen (most likely men, sigh) and their primitive tools and their gorgeous aesthetic.  The time, the care, the planning, the gathering of these precious materials.   Look at the intricacy, the shadows, the geometry…I was so very full of looking, I fear I couldn’t look well enough.  Looking at it again now makes me grateful for photography as well!

May 25, 2016


The real thing.  In Rome.  It’s all about the CRUST.  Not the cheese.  Not the sauce.  This was very typical: small amount of sauce, sprinkling of cheese, judicious portion of toppings.  And let me tell you (I am, aren’t I?!) it was wonderful.  Every bite.  People often eat an entire pizza for a meal —  a 12″ — and it’s just fine.  Although *we* usually shared a pizza and a salad.  It’s so much less gooey-rich, and so much more satisfying.  The crust is light and crunchy-chewy, with lovely charring, and every last bite is good.  No one leaves a row of crust uneaten on their plates.

Guess I’m going to have to learn to make the crust at home.  I’ve never had anything like it in the US, even at places claiming to have Italian pizza ovens and “Neapolitan” pies.

We must have had pizza ten times.  Not enough!

May 24, 2016

Portrait of a Man
Portrait of a Man

At the Borghese Gallery…so many iconic paintings, including many that are distasteful to me.  But this one…I thought I could turn around and perhaps see him behind me in the gallery.  Don’t we all know someone who resembles him?  He looks ordinary and materially real.  So I liked this one, and felt like thanking Raphael for painting just a human.  A human.  A real live person.  Well, the painter kept him alive for us, don’t you think?  What a lovely thing to do.

May 23, 2016

Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus

A close-up of carving of soldiers, carrying away the spoils of the Temple.  Hits rather close to home.

When you read about things, you don’t quite get the impact.  When you see physical depictions, there’s a smashing, crashing, thunderous bang in your brain and your heart and your stomach.

And just about no “civilization” is immune — from being the aggressor, from being the victim.

Haven’t we learned anything in two thousand years?  Anything at all?  Be kind to each other.  It’s really that simple.  But we seem to have a very hard time with it indeed.

(P.S.  I had the wrong arch identified yesterday.  They are all in the forum area, which is huge.  Yesterday’s arch was the arch of Constantine, and I corrected yesterday’s blog entry.  You can check it out… Apologies for the error.)

May 22, 2016

Arch and Colosseum
Arch and Colosseum

(correction) This is the Arch of Constantine.   Wikipedia says, “It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312.”  This was the arch closer to the Colosseum, making this photo more dramatic.  But, what I wanted to talk about was the Arch of Titus. Photo tomorrow, in case you don’t see this correction!

The Arch of Titus was built in 81 AD and its face is covered with reliefs depicting the spoils of Jerusalem and the Temple, conquered after the fall of Masada.

The Colosseum was built in 70 AD and is the largest amphitheater ever built, constructed of concrete and sand.  It hosted events ranging from gladiator fights to executions to mock-battles.

These facts are simultaneously amazing and distressing. The structures are huge and sit there in the middle of Rome, begging us to both wonder and despair.  They are monuments to architectural but also military might, to greatness and to the evils of warfare and conquest, and the guides speak with a mixture of satisfaction and complacency that I found disturbing.

I show them to you with great awareness of my own cognitive dissonance.  How can we learn?  How can we do better?  How can we do kinder?

May 21, 2016

More Marble
More Marble

On the wall, on the face of a column.  And everywhere you looked, column after column, floor after floor.  You can  see more in the background of this photo.

The design is graphic and feels so contemporary.  It took my breath away, over and over.  Something so deceptively simple and so careful, and stunning in its composition and its use of white.  Five or six or seven colors, with different veining and pattern.  This is still the Benedictine church, and we saw it repeated in many varieties everywhere we went.  This one is a special favorite, though!

May 20, 2016

Marble Floor at Montecassino
Marble Floor at Monte Cassino

Old.  Worn.  Beautiful.  Destroyed and rebuilt many times.  Leaving the Almalfi coast, on the way to Rome, we stopped here and looked at what remains, or has been rebuilt, of the first Benedictine church and buildings.

It’s automatic, almost, to look up, at the amazing heights of these structures, and I did.  I also looked down, a lot, and it was rewarding.  There’s a book, I’m told, of collected floor photos.  I’ll give you a sampling as we go along.

May 19, 2016

Sidewalk in Sorrento
Sidewalk in Sorrento

The marble was everywhere — not just on floors, ceilings, walls, columns, and statues — but also embedded in the sidewalks.  Marble is considered so very precious here (it’s heavy and thus expensive to import) and it seemed nearly commonplace in Italy.  White (Carrara?) marble as paving in the streets?  Amazing.  It’s $7 per square foot for tile online, plus shipping, no doubt.

And isn’t the simple pattern elegant?  So much in Italy that might be ordinary here is artistic/attractive/done with care.  Except bathroom design, perhaps.  But that’s another post…

May 18, 2016

Theater in Pompeii
Theater in Pompeii

OK, just one more of Pompeii.  Many acres.  Many structures.  Much awe from us, walking around.  It was a hugely active, dynamic place.  The people in this hint at the scale.  The theater was in the nearly-round, so you are seeing just a section.  It was great fun to climb, and to try to imagine sitting there — nearly two thousand years ago.

One of the big items on my bucket list.  Rightly so!

May 14, 2016

Time for Breakfast
Time for Breakfast

The breakfast buffets were ample and varied.  Breakfast was included in all five places we stayed.  This was part of the selection at the Hotel San Francesco in Maiori.  We learned quickly that we should eat an enormous breakfast, usually around 7:30 or 8:00, because lunch might not be until 1:30, and we’d be walking and standing and traipsing and strolling from about 9 o’clock on.

There was usually a plate of meats and cheeses; pastries of varying sorts (croissants, rolls, tortes, pine nut cake), breads, granola, fruit, juices, and coffee.  Sometimes eggs or potatoes.  And at our next-to-last and perhaps favorite place, several hot pizzas appeared each morning as well!

We soon realized we should also wrap a pastry in a napkin and put it in our pack/purse to eat around 11 am!  Six miles a day is a lot of walking for us, and we were also using our brains as students, learning so much from each local tour guide as well as our intrepid, fearless, patient, with-us-through-it-all guide Pier Luigi.

They were all breakfasts of champions!

May 13, 2016

Stored Artifacts
Stored Artifacts

They’ve stopped excavating because there’s so much to do with what they already have .  There were open storerooms, piled with hundreds (thousands?) of items, ranging, as you see here, from statuary to containers for oil, wine, grain…

It was a thriving, complex society of about 20,000.  And we trample through in wonder, trying to maintain a sense of respect for what seemed to me to be a huge grave site, all the while marveling at craftsmanship, engineering, grandeur, and artistry.  It was a moving set of experiences to set the stage for the beginning of the trip.

May 12, 2016

Pompeii View
Pompeii View

Pompeii was surprising.  I don’t know quite why, as I had no preconceptions.  The site was huge — “YUGE!” — and yet there were places that felt intimate and nostalgic.  How could it feel nostalgic?  I’d never seen anything like it!

There were grand structures and humble ones; there were homes and bars and streets and fountains.  There were rubble and near-rubble and nearly-intact structures.  There were storage areas piled with artifacts (photo to come, perhaps.)  And the best artifacts are apparently in a museum in Naples, which we did not have on our agenda.

So the above is not what most people would show you of Pompeii.  But it captures a quiet wistfulness that I felt, walking around with hundreds of other people, surrounded by and imbued with wonder at lives lived and cut short so many years ago.  Our trip’s academic expert told us that  “25% of everything the world has collected from the vast Roman Empire was discovered at Pompeii. ”  I got to walk around there, touch the stones, the walls, the art, breathe the very air, and imagine.

May 11, 2016

Pansies Everywhere
Pansies Everywhere

Among other flowers.  But the pansies were the most impressive and the most prevalent.  There were huge shallow concrete bowls filled with pansies.  Pansies in window boxes, pansies in planters, yellow pansies, purple pansies, more pansies than I’d ever seen in one season.  The climate must be perfect.  We were told it was a cool, rainy March.  And it was definitely a balmy sunny April.  So they were nicely watered and then nicely blessed with sunshine.  As were we.


May 10, 2016

Impromptu Concert
Impromptu Concert

Viewed and heard from our balcony at our hotel in Maiori on the Amalfi coast.  We thought our tour guide arranged it.  Or that it was someone’s birthday or anniversary.  Nope.  Just a local group getting together and wandering about making music.  It was really typical of the delightful surprises that awaited us — dare I say, at every turn? — not just along the twisty, windy roads of the stunning coast, but all along the way from Naples/Amalfi/Pompeii northward to Venice, and all the stops in between.

Italy is truly enchanting.  I hope to share more of it with you pending the resolution of the ongoing software problems…

May 8, 2016

Software problems again.  I may have to find a new platform for my blog.  I’m not willing to do without images.  I was hoping to show you one of the many delightful surprises of our trip…

May 7, 2016

Amalfi with Tree
Amalfi with Tree

Wherever we went along the coast, it was beautiful, and this tree had this gorgeous view every day.  Happy tree.  Happy us.  The drive was very um…entertaining.  In many sections, the road is only one and a half lanes wide.  Two tour buses meet on a narrow, twisty road…sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it was more like a dramatic comedy sketch.  Who backs up?  Who hugs the wall?  Sometimes one of the sides of the road is cliff.  Then it’s even more interesting.  And very twisty.

We had a woman driving a large car heading toward us.  Everyone slows down, as it is obvious that we don’t both fit.  There are some backings up and some gesturings and some more backings up and some false starts and then…she throws up her hands and gets out of her car, walking along side us and peering at the road as if sizing things up.  Her husband (?) appears and moves into the driver’s seat and…we all chortle and wonder what’s next!  Someone backed up a whole long way.

One time, we gave our bus driver a round of spontaneous applause.  Our tour guide said this was nothing.  Early April is the very beginning of the tourist season.  He said July is crazy.  There’s a lot of crazy out there!

May 5, 2016

Shop Window
Shop Window

We stopped in many towns on the Amalfi coast; one was Ravello, where we tasted limoncello, a popular after-dinner drink made from the local lemons.   It was delicious although quite strong.  I liked the bottles better than their contents!   This display was typical of the colorful shop windows that we saw frequently.  Ornate, formal bottles with little yellow sticky price tags!

May 4, 2016

Marble Wall
Marble Wall

Marble is so plentiful that it appears everywhere: in churches on floors, walls, and ceilings; in ordinary buildings; as components of the pavement.  It varies enormously in color and pattern, and is luscious no matter what.  Sometimes it is smooth and polished and applied in tiny pieces as mosaics; sometime it is rough and textured like in these blocks.  Doesn’t matter how; I loved it all.

May 3, 2016

2016-04-04 10.50.31
Paper Press in Amalfi

Isn’t this a stunningly beautiful machine?  Amalfi was part of our coastal tour, and the town was a paper-making center for many years.

“Taking advantage of the Canneto River running down the mountain valley above their town, Amalfi began producing paper in the first half of the 12th century, making it one of the earliest locations where paper was produced in Western Europe.”    (

This photo was taken in the Paper Museum, whose equipment dates back to the 13th century.

I love paper, perhaps even more than cloth.  Seeing this was one of the many unexpected bonuses of our Smithsonian tour.  Yes, shameless promotion here!  They did a fantastic job and showed us so, so much more than we would have seen on our own.

May 2, 2016

Amalfi Coast
Amalfi Coast

It really looks like that.  A lot of Italy seemed like a movie set, but there I was.  Art imitates life imitates art…I took many, many photos of art in New York and in Italy.  But I’ll restrain myself.  The ones in the art history books are better, of course, but I took them, somewhat quickly, just to remember..  You spend a lot more time remembering the trip than actually doing it, and photos help.

Amalfi was a wonderland.  We stayed in a town called Maori; we had a boat trip along the coast, and this is the white-washed wonderland we saw.  The pansies were the prevalent planted flower and they were abundant.  It had been a rainy March, all the better for us: we had only a few hours of light rain one day of the twenty we were in Italy in April.

Everywhere you looked was a postcard in the making.

May 1, 2016

The Star of the Show
The Star of the Show

We went to Italy via New York City.  The star of the shows — in both places — was definitely art, with food and scenery tied for second.  So what better image to start with than “Starry Night?!”

I’ll start in New York, which consisted of three days of museums, family, and friends. The MOMA was a real treat.  So many iconic pieces that are dear.

The blog will still be an ocean blog; after all, we saw the Atlantic as well as the Adriatic and  Tyrrhenian seas, with the Ligurian and Mediterranean seas in the distance.  You can’t be too far from water in Italy!   I don’t think I knew about the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian before…it was an educational trip indeed.

“Starry Night” is wistful, don’t you think?  Especially because of the artist’s history.  Wouldn’t he love how we love it?