■ May 20, 01:08 AM by James Martin
I was just going through my Verona pictures the other day. That got me to remembering how much I like Verona. It certainly has one of the most beautiful historic centers in Italy.
I was thinking, “it’s a shame people are induced to come to Verona on the premise that they must see a balcony very dubiously attributed to the family that gave life to a character in a play nobody has read since high school.
Yes, our emotional attachment to deep, yet forbidden love, is strong. But c’mon, is a glance at the platform upon which lovers were alleged to have wrung out their tormented souls together worth a couple of euros? That’s what the city of Verona is thinking of charging you to have a peek at said balcony. “Euro one, euro two, where art thou?” you might be asking soon.
Go to Verona. See a real play. Revive your spiritual self. And wander the city at night, too. The beauty doesn’t cease when the sun goes down. In fact, it get’s better!
Usually, I don’t post pictures with scaffolding in them. But look, it doesn’t matter. Here, everything works. Imagine being immersed in this beautiful and historic setting, perhaps imbibing one of the Veneto’s specialties, a glass of shockingly good vino.
Everyone knows that there are some great painted houses in Verona’s famous market square, piazza delle erbe, a market since Roman times. But at night you can see them with ominous shadows and without glare, and you can see the shutters open just a bit to let the cool night air in after a warm day.
And if you are taking in a play or musical event at the Roman arena, where will you go to eat, or maybe you’re early, where will you go for a drink—or a snack? Well, park yourself right in front of the arena’s Roman arches, it’s all right here:
Forget the balcony! Plan a trip to the real Verona. Don’t tell your friends and neighbors you didn’t shell out for the balcony. They’ll be heartbroken, but that’s what the play’s really about anyway.
Italy Travel Toolbox
- All About Italy Rail Passes
- How to Ride Italian Trains (video)
- Italy Maps
- Italy Cities Climate and Weather
- Italy Autostrada Map
- Cinque Terre Hiking Map
■ Apr 22, 04:08 AM by James Martin
So why would you go there? Obviously for the strawberries. They’re very, very good, being grown in the volcanic soils at the border of Lake Nemi and all.
Nemi is also what you might call a “cute” town. It’s cuter then the picture, which was taken on a drizzly Saturday in April. But you still might not think to go there. You’d choose the better known Castel Gandolfo, perhaps.
But consider again Nemi. It has some underground caverns that have been made into an art gallery. Besides the strawberries, it has countless Norcherie, places you can buy salamis longer than your arm, called something like “shepherd’s sticks” in translation. Nemi has porchetta because it is near the mecca of porchetta, Ariccia.
Then there’s antiquity. Roman writer Servius began calling Lake Nemi “Speculum Dianae” or the “Mirror of Diana” and poets kept the image alive. The goddess Diana Nemorensis is seen everywhere in Nemi, including on restaurant menus.
But Nemi also has a secret. Well, it was a secret to me, even after I had visited the town. You see, that Roman you love to hate, Caligula, built some enormous boats to sit upon Lake Nemi. So large, in fact, they just about took up the whole surface of the lake.
These floating palaces were attached to the shore by chains, and bridges were built across the water to link with the ships. According to some historical accounts, Caligula’s ships were the scenes of orgies, murder, cruelty, music, and sport and he supposedly spent much of his inheritance from his Uncle Tiberius to create his Nemi Ship retreat. ~ Roman Emperior Caligula and His Legendary Lake Nemi Ships
According to the fine historical work of Kathy Warnes linked above, “the largest ship resembled one of his palaces transported to water and it featured a temple honoring Diana. Marble mosaic floors of many colors, inlaid ivory on the walls, heating and plumbing and baths were featured throughout both ships. The water flowed through pipes etched with Caligula’s name. Bronze sculptures were part of the decorations.”
But then, of course, all those orgies caught up with Caligula and the Senate decided to off the guy and burn his boats.
There were several attempts to raise the remains, which were legendary amongst the local fishermen, but only Mussolini’s draining of the lake and Guido Ucelli’s recovery of the ships actually worked. Benito put them in a concrete museum by the lake near to where the strawberries were grown and all was well—until the end of the big war, when retreating Germans were reputed to have set fire to the boats.
It’s lucky that we have pictures of them. Ucelli’s Le Navi di Nemi first was published in 1940, and shows the process he used to get the ships out of the muck.
Besides Kathy Warnes excellent article, you can read more about the Nemi Ships on the web.
■ Nov 21, 03:13 PM by James Martin
I happen to enjoy experiencing ancient things. Santa Sabina, a 5th century basilica on the Aventine Hill in Rome might well be my favorite church of all time.
Just walking along the Via Santa Sabina, a street paralleling the Tiber, gives you the feeling of an ancient sacred space outside of Rome’s cacophonous center.
I “found” Santa Sabina when looking for its view spot, the platform in its adjoining orange garden. I ducked in as darkness was about to fall. Rome’s starlings were at the ready, a few earlybirds out swooping and diving. Then, this:
There are better pictures in better light. This one, though, is just right.
Popular These Days
■ Sep 10, 03:57 PM by James Martin
There are great piles of books on the subject of living in Italy stacked on rickety tables in every bookstore on earth (well, both of them). You may have noticed if you happen to frequent these dinosaurs. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why there’s so much demand for these kinds of books, as authors in unison bemoan the creaky and unfathomable bureaucracy, the crime against nature that comes in the form of the afternoon closure of shops (it is a basic human right to shop at all hours! Mon Dieu!) and the inevitable parking ticket or thirteen.
I have no such prejudices. I can do without peanut butter. I can shop whenever stores are open. Even the bureaucracy is effortlessly cracked; neighbor Francesca deals with it.
So it’s nice to read a series of witty essays that cast our poor Italia in an honest light without the whining over the disgraceful shopping hours or the wallet-busting practice of being forced to pay a cover charge in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Perhaps because author Rebecca Helm-Ropelato is from California where yours truly spends his non-Italian days she has been able to adapt the Golden State’s clarity of vision and a sense of what’s important in the universe. I’m sure that’s it. (Oh, no, wait, that was the 70s, when tea was tea and not part of a party, which was defined to include, as a minimum, a hot tub and, if rumors from far off Mill Valley were to be believed, peacock tail feathers. Today, well, all is lost.)
But I digress. As usual. How to Live in Italy is a collection of essays about the essence of living in Italy, previously published in respectable places and strung together like a string of magically twinkling Christmas tree lights to amaze us with their simplicity and colorful charm.
Allow me to regale you with a small quoted paragraph, one of my favorites, just to give you some idea of the flow of carefully-chosen words that sets this book apart from the crowd. The author is talking about friselle pugliesi, hard doughnut-like bread objects that need to be softened in water at the table before being topped with grilled vegetables.
Using the tongs, I placed the bread in the bowl of water and mentally counted off thirty seconds. Then I returned the bread to my plate, I clearly heard a clunk as it landed. So I dunked it back into the water. I waited another thirty seconds, then another. A rock would have been more porous. Hoping for some abracadabra-like magic, I ceased the soaking process. I proceeded to pile the veggies on top of the still rigid ring and began to saw away at it with my knife. In vain. Resting from my labor, I munched on the grilled eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini and fresh chopped tomatoes. They were delicious.
What happens next is entirely believable—but only if you’ve lived in Italy for a great long time.
I liked this book a lot. Its sub-title, “Essays on the charms and complications of living in paradise” is spot on. Without prejudice, the exploration of a different culture as Rebecca Helm-Ropelato approaches the complicated task is both enlightening and enjoyable.
Buy this book: How to Live in Italy: Essays on the charms and complications of living in paradise. It’s not like 6 and a half bucks is gonna kill you.
■ May 5, 10:47 PM by James Martin
Ok, I am officially sick of rain.
But, nonetheless, I persevere in bringing you the best of cultural constants. For every two people working with their witches brooms to clean up after the Saturday open air market there will be one more on hand to hold up a column. It doesn’t matter which culture you’re inside of, it’s always like this, è Sempre Così.
■ Apr 21, 01:00 PM by James Martin
I came across an interesting graph the other day. It showed the gross amount people from around the world paid for food. It seems China has passed the US up because their country outspends our country for food. They have more people of course, and spend way less per person, but there you have it.
The big spenders, per person, turn out to be the French. This doesn’t surprise me a bit, having once picked up a whole Bresse chicken, the celebrated kind, all wrapped in plastic in a French supermarket, and almost dropping the thing when I saw the price. 23 euro for a very small chicken!
Another interesting thing is that Americans pay about the same as Italians for food. Italians pay just slightly more. But from my experience, you’re getting a much better deal here in Italy. I mean even the industrial chickens you get here are way, way, way better tasting and have better and crispier skin when you roast them, for example. But real chickens, like the ones the butcher claims are “nostrano” are cheaper than the marginally better than industrial chickens in the states.
Which brings us to this little tidbit, as part of the reasons that “The Myth of Sustainable Meat” exists in someone’s mind:
Advocates of small-scale, nonindustrial alternatives say their choice is at least more natural. Again, this is a dubious claim. Many farmers who raise chickens on pasture use industrial breeds that have been bred to do one thing well: fatten quickly in confinement. As a result, they can suffer painful leg injuries after several weeks of living a “natural” life pecking around a large pasture.
What kinda idiotic argument is that? I mean even Jethro who got kicked outta the second grade and then happened to get hit on the head with a rock the size of Kansas on the way home could still look up at pappy with his puppy-dog eyes and say, “Pappy, how cum dey use deez kinds chickens when theys real chickens what could walk real good?”
I mean the
hatchet job argument that we’ve bred chickens that can’t walk so we are forever doomed to having chickens stuffed two million to a barn and injected with all manner of crap before being sold and therefore we have to accept that there are no alternatives to these sorry experiments in nature is absolute crap as anyone with a tenth of a brain can understand. I’ve actually seen Italian chickens walking around like they owned the place. Armando’s chickens. We haven’t made walking chickens extinct. There’s still time!
James E. McWilliams is the idiot who wrote this diatribe against common sense that was published in the NYT. You can read it but don’t pay for it, you don’t want to be encouraging such chickenshit: The Myth of Sustainable Meat.
You can see the chart of various nations and their food expenses here: China overtakes America to become the world’s largest grocery market
■ Mar 8, 08:30 AM by James Martin
Can Italians do anything without an overwhelming sense of style? Beauty is everywhere here in Italy—and it’s spread itself like butter on warm toast the world over—or perhaps that should be “Italian racing red over hot gas tanks” because that’s pretty much what I’ve come to talk about.
On my way to the boot I discovered the exhibit Moto Bellissima: Italian Motorcycles From the 1950s and 1960s at the San Francisco International Airport terminal while I waited on the first leg of my Air France flight headed for Paris. I can tell you: airports have improved at least as much as seats in airplanes have shrunk in the last 30 years. But back to these motos.
The Italian wartime recovery required cheap transportation options, cheap meaning the same as today only cheaper, vehicles that got 100 miles to the gallon. But do you think that Italians could just throw something together cheaply and let it out the door? Nah, they created enduring art. Just look at the details on the right. It is a pair of carburetors feeding pistons just larger than a thimble. The perfect duet, duetto.
The Italian government assisted a beleaguered industry in 1959 with a revision to its Highway Code that allowed anyone over the age of fourteen to operate, unlicensed, any internal combustion vehicle “not exceeding 50cc and able to travel on a horizontal road at a top speed of 27 miles per hour.” Manufacturers competed for a whole new generation of riders with a variety of innovative small-displacement motorcycles, including Moto Morini’s Corsarino, FB Mondial’s Record, and Italjet’s Mustang Veloce. They all used a piston the size of a shot glass, and were all easily modified to achieve speeds of up to sixty miles per hour.
Could your government do that for you? It’s not that way these days, of course, but the actions of the backroom boys with the cigars sure made Italy the place to go to zip around on a snazzy moto between trips to the bar for a quick Caffè and a gawk at the girls.
It was the time of great and optimistic Italian pop music—and a time when space exploration was becoming a reality. Italians went nuts over the concept of a flying saucer, making the MV Agusta CSS Disco Volante (flying saucer) the hit of the show. It gets the name from the smooth, wing-like bulges from its tank, as you can see in the picture above right. Alfa created a car with the same moniker.
Read more about the exhibition.
Click on the pictures to see them larger. If you love motos, you’ll really want to.
■ Feb 23, 04:11 PM by James Martin
I do not usually bliss out. Not with headphones on, anyway. But there I am, with a pair of Ifrogz CS40s Chromatones wrapped around my sorry noggin, blissing out to the Joshua Redman Quartet.
The orange ones are purty, aren’t they? Everyone who’s walked into my office and has seen them has pointed this out. They come in 6 other color combinations.
I’m thinking that these would be ideal for the airplane. The AeroFoam cushions mold to your ears and attenuate noises without squeezing you uncomfortably. I’m looking forward to that application. I can’t stand ear buds. It’s like something moth-like is stuck in my ear and every nerve ending in my body is encouraging me to stick a finger in there to wedge it out. And they don’t really keep out the drone of an airplane.
Let’s talk about sound quality before you get queasy. I compared the CS40s to the earbuds that came with my iPod. No contest. You might expect that, considering the iPod earbuds, which retail for a suggested $29, often sell in the single digits. But the C40S Chromatones are listed at a mere $49, and you can get them for much less. I’d call it a bargain.
The bass response was fantastic, especially compared to the earbuds, where it was almost lacking entirely. Only at extremely high volumes did the bass get boomy. The 40 mm speaker drivers also did very well on the high end, while the midrange, as exemplified by Redman’s creamy sax on the album “mood swing” was very pleasant indeed. Amazing, actually, for $50 headphones.
But that’s not all! The The single button microphone, while nothing to write home about as far as fidelity in concerned, is compatible with Apple, BlackBerry, and Android devices. So while you’re blissing out in that plane, you can stop and make a voice note on your iPod.
As in the picture, the headset folds up so that big head space isn’t empty when you try to cram the thing into your carry-on bag. Nice.
So I’m waiting until March, when I’ll board that big bird to Paris and on to Nice, to try these babies out under that horrible conditions they put you under in a modern plane. I’ll let you know if it all works out as well as I hope it will.
Psssst…Amazon sells these babies for under thirty bucks: iFrogz EarPollution CS40 – Orange Chromatone with Mic
Disclaimer: I was provided with this product for the purpose of review.