the gods’ eyed view of rome

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A few years ago I stood on the roof of the “wedding cake”, aka “Altare della Patria” (Altar of the Motherland) or “Il Vittoriano“, to spy, for the first time, a bird’s eye view of Rome, a city I had only seen from the vantage point of a mere mortal.

There is something about the view from the top of the layers of ruins, buildings, trees, cars, vespas and people one can’t capture quite like standing where the gods would have been watching in Caesar’s time.

It is really a beautiful experience. And down the elevator, rife with enviable views of the ruins from a closer perspective, is a cafe, selling delicious sandwiches and antipasti, wine and espressos. If you ever find yourself in Rome, it’s an experience you cannot miss.

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art at the vatican museum

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Raphäel rooms and frescoes.

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The sumptuous Borgia Apartments.

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The Vatican museum has room after breathtaking room of gorgeous golds, greens, purples, blues, reds and every soft and lush color and tone the eye can see. Everywhere you turn is the famed likeness of Lucrezia Borgia.

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The Vatican Museums trace their origin to one marble sculpture, purchased 500 years ago: The sculpture of Laocoön and his Sons was discovered 14 January 1506, in a vineyard near the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Pope Julius II sent Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarroti, who were working at the Vatican, to examine the discovery. On their recommendation, the pope immediately purchased the sculpture from the vineyard owner. The pope put the sculpture of Laocoön and his sons on public display at the Vatican exactly one month after its discovery. (Wikipedia)

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The minor Colossus reminds me a little of a fallen David.

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One can wander room to room in renaissance splendor.

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Minerva or Diana?

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A Roman woman as goddess.

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Venus or Aphrodite?

If you find yourself at the Vatican museum – don’t visit in August, get there early or off season to miss waiting in an interminable line – and before you see the Sistine Chapel make sure you don’t skip the sculpture gardens and statuary courtyards and the Borgia Apartments and the Raphäel Rooms!

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

At the Mattei di Giove

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The Palazzo Mattei di Giove ,Via Michelangelo Caetani 32, other entrance in Via dei Funari, Ghetto, Rome, 00186

Last year I decided on our two visits to Rome I wanted my husband and I to spend some time hunting for off the beaten path spots we’ve not yet visited. I picked up some new books on the subject, City Secrets of Rome by Robert Kahn and Quiet Corners of Rome by David Downie. Upon seeing photographs of this amazing place I had to see it for myself. We started out having a splendid lunch at the Campo di Fiori after picking up gifts and alla’arrabbiata and carciofi alla romana spices at the charming outdoor market. We stopped, as is our custom, under the Bruno statue to pay respect and read the inscription,

A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE
(English: To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned).

We walked to the Jewish Ghetto section of Rome (an ancient and fascinating section of the city with a complicated history). We had to ask directions several times and still walked by the spot a few times. But, we found the Palazzo Mattei di Giove and it was worth the effort.

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Mattei di Giove, designed by noted baroque architect Carlo Maderno—who also designed the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica—teems with busts, bas-reliefs, and sarcophagi collected by the palazzo’s namesake owner, Marchese Asdrubale Mattei. (Info source: National Geographic Traveler)

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The House of Mattei was one of the most powerful noble families of Rome during the Middle Ages and early modern era, holding high positions in the papal curia and government office.

The Palazzo Mattei di Giove is the most prominent among a group of Mattei houses that forms the insula Mattei in Rome, Italy, a block of buildings of many epochs.
To distinguish this section from the others it carries the name of a Mattei fief, Giove. The Mattei owned a number of other palazzi that carried the family name including Palazzo Mattei di Trastevere across the Tiber as well as properties in Umbria, the Palazzo Mattei Paganica.

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Carlo Maderno designed the palace at the beginning of the 17th century for Asdrubale Mattei, Marquis di Giove and father of Girolamo Mattei and Luigi Mattei. He was also the brother of Ciriaco Mattei and Cardinal Girolamo Mattei. It was Maderno who was responsible for the extravagantly enriched cornice on the otherwise rather plain stuccoed public façade, the piano nobile loggia in the courtyard and the rooftop loggia or altana.

nyny1For the interior of the palazzo, Pietro da Cortona was commissioned to execute the pair of compositions on the ceiling of the gallery, dating before 1626. In the early 19th century, a group of paintings from the collection at the palazzo was purchased by William Hamilton Nisbet and removed to Scotland.

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Like others of the Mattei family, Asdrubale Mattei was an enthusiastic patron of the arts. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (better known simply as Caravaggio) is recorded as living at the palazzo in 1601. (source: Wikipedia)

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The loggia and architectural details are exquisite. This is the kind of place you see in sweeping vintage films set in Rome, the kind of place you read about in the Grand Old Tour by classically educated travelers from the 18th and 19th century. The students who spend time here are so lucky.

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There’s not a corner or ledge that is not interesting. If you visit make sure to view the whole courtyard and go upstairs to the top terrace.

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Go through the arched “doorway” in between the large statues, underneath the carved lamp.

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Across the small cobblestone road is an ancient fountain and face sun dial with beautifully carved in stone.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

the borghese & pincio

The Pincian Hill statue and fountain, walk to the end of the Pincio and stand where the people are for a breathtaking sunset over Rome’s nearby and far away cupolas, churches, renaissance homes and marble and stone.

The Villa Borghese garden park is the most beautiful, breathtaking city park I’ve ever seen. When in Rome, we usually stay on the Via Veneto at the gorgeous Grande Albergo Flora. It’s next to an 1100 year old wall which leads to the park.

Families and couples rent these little golf carts to stroll around the park on the weekends.

We take a leisurely stroll through the park every morning, passing by cyclists and flaneurs, children and fruit sellers.

borghese ramble, rome, italy, 2012 (digital).

In one section of the large park there is fresh fruit and juice sold by a Parisian looking cart. The juice is amazing.

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Romans bicycle in the park and visitors rent bicycles to ride all afternoon through the beautiful surroundings.

The Dandy Travelers, Rome, Italy, 2008 (film)

The stone and marble details of the ornately carved benches and walls are commonplace, tourists perusing a map or Romans can sit and take in the lush outdoor decor. There is nothing like this in America.

yeah, so i’m pretty much going to be photo bombing this tumblr with a lot of pincio photographs because it’s only the prettiest place on earth & insanely photogenic, especially with the sun slung low.

You know you’ve walked into the Pincio part of the Borghese when you see all the statues and busts of Italian notables.

There’s a bird aviary, 18th centurary statuary, fountains, winding garden lanes and wide boulevards, with the scent of lemon and orange and cypress trees. There’s a pond and lazy Sunday park benches and fields where Roman’s lunch and steal kisses.

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Borghese pond, Rome, Italy, 2012 (digital)The pond in the Borghese is stunning. People rent charming little rowboats and children sail toy boats on the lake. There are ruins nearby and this “boat house” is historical and beautiful.

if you find yourself in rome close to sunset, get yourself over to the ancient pincio hill and allow the dusk to soften the cypress, the cupolas, the church bells, the renaissance busts, the gorgeous little paths. The golden hour right before sunset is the most magical time to be here. 

I thought nearly all of my holiday photographs of two weeks in Rome were gone forever… tonight I came home from work to find my 16GB hard drive key in the mail on my doorstep… I have loads of beautiful pictures to go through. I am so happy and grateful I could sing. Editing and sharing a few while I sip champagne pink grapefruit cocktails and re-watching the series Rome. Full of bursting gratitude my pictures aren’t lost forever!

Kids rollerblade on the Viale delle Magnolie (avenue of the Magnolias) – a magnolia tree lined paved street leading to the Pincio that reminds me of New Orleans when the magnolias are in bloom.

The Borghese homes (now museums,boutique hotels and lavish restaurants and quiet cafes) are all high renaissance architecture, housing some of the greatest of the world’s art treasures; Bernini, Bellini, Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Canova, among countless beautiful objects and amazing paintings and sculptures.

nice little lunch and drink cafe in the beautiful villa borghese park. rome, italy, 2012 (digital)

This was a great cafe right in the park with good espresso, wines, juice, small plates and desserts. It had perfect outdoor ambience.

The original gardens were the famed ancient Gardens of Lucullus and later “became the favorite playground of Claudius’ Empress Messalina (after she forced the current owner, Valerius Asiaticus, to commit suicide – Tac. Annals XI.1), and was the site of her murder on the orders of the Emperor Claudius, her husband. In the 16th century they were owned by Felice della Rovere, daughter of Pope Julius II. In 1605, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and patron of Bernini, began turning this former vineyard into the most extensive gardens built in Rome since Antiquity.” (Wikipedia)

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Orange trees from a “secret garden” – through the gate.

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Lemon trees from a “secret garden” – through the gate.

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Outdoor garden architecture!

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One of the spot’s I love most is the secret garden with the orange and lemon trees, next to the incredible Galleria Borghese. One looks through an iron fence to the 17th century splendor of the greenery.

A far away shot of the garden architecture of one of the “secret gardens”.

I slipped my arm between the iron fence and picked two beautiful oranges from a tree in the borghese gardens, planted in the renaissance, forbidden to commoners, on the former spot of the ancient roman gardens of lucullus. The fruit was bittersweet.

A far away shot of the orange and lemon trees from one of the “secret gardens”.

After enjoying the park, the gardens and perusing the art, we then walk to the Piazza d’Espagna (the Spanish Steps) and drink tea and eat scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam in the most British of all afternoon tearooms, the sumptuous, very 19th century, Babington Tea room.

If we’re feeling really ambitious we pop a couple doors over to the Keats and Shelley house, recite a little poetry, watch the passersby, and walk further into the city.

“The Secret Garden, is a charming characteristic which can be found in italian parks and gardens of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, when there was a revival of interest in all things ancient. These lovely enclosed spaces, often near their owners’ homes, were reserved for the invited and the privileged. Such places have a lovely atmosphere of seclusion, secrecy and tranquility, adding new dimensions of beauty to their surroundings.

The Villa Borghese had two “secret spaces”: one, shrouded by trees, is the garden of bitter oranges (Giardino dei melangoli) and has a lovely eagle fountain in front of its adjacent mansion; the second “The Flower Garden”, is the beautifully laid out formal garden. A third secret garden stretches in front of the Aviary, accompanied by the Meridiana (Sun dial) mansion, designed by Rainaldi.”

( http://www.italyguides.it/us/roma/rome/villa-borghese-gardens/villa-borghese.htm )

This will not be my last writing on the villa borghese parks and gardens. It’s a place I keep returning to and each visit brings something new to my world. If you go to Rome one day you must walk through this park and see a sunset on the Pincio. I hope you can explore this lovely place. And see the art work at the Villa Borghese museum, too!

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

villa farnesina

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The Villa Farnesina is an early 16th century Renaissance suburban villa in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome, central Italy. It has incredible frescoes by Raphäel,  Sebastiano del Piombo, Giulio Romano, and Il Sodoma. The villa was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer of Pope Julius II. It was later purchased by Cardinale Farnese (future pope and brother to the Borgia mistress, Giulia Farnese).

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I had always missed visiting the lovely Villa Farnesina on earlier trips to Rome so I was delighted to finally see it in person in October 2012. The villa has a pretty little garden in the courtyard and larger gardens (fenced off) on one side. There is an understated elegance to the grounds and exterior architecture for a Renaissance palazzo. There are pink roses and pomegranate trees in clay pots.

FH050003And little lemon trees and stone lined pathways. Trastevere is a great neighborhood to visit when in Rome and this villa is even more off the beaten path if you are looking for an alternative to the usual Roman Holiday Tour.

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After the initial two or three visits to Rome I’ve tried to visit more of the quiet corners of the city and get to know my favorite spots better. It’s a “slow food” approach to travel and it’s worked pretty well for us. FH050004The large grande dame museums of Rome are wonderful to visit, especially if you have limited time in the city. But if you have an extra day or the off the beaten path vacation is more your speed, I suggest visiting one, two or three small villa or palazzo art museums. Farnesina, Doria Pamphlij, Spada, Borghese (the Queen) and a few others.

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The Loggia of Psyche by Raphaël and his workshop

It’s difficult to convey how astounding it is just standing on the marble floors, looking up at all the beautiful frescoes. Walking the same halls so many infamous and interesting figures had crossed centuries before.

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The museum was quiet and there were a few small groups moving in and out of the rooms. I had time to view the work in complete silence and solitude which rarely happens in a larger, more popular museum.

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Venus, Ceres and Juno

I had run out of color film so I shot these magnificent frescoes in black and white. I think they at least capture the richness of the dark colors and the creaminess of the “skin”. The color in person was vibrant for such old masterpieces.

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Cupid and The Three Graces, 1517-1518

A part of the great appeal Renaissance art has for me is it’s allusions to classical literature and mythology. In order to understand the works beyond my emotional response to them or my aesthetic pleasure in them, the allegorical works force me to learn the meaning behind them and catch a glimpse of the artist’s intention behind the work. What does the piece mean philosophically? Politically? What does it say about love? Man? And God? About life? And death? What historical event are they re-imagining? Beyond the beauty I am hungry for the history.

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Venus on the Chariot Pulled by Doves, 1517-1518

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The Council of the Gods, 1517-1518

FH010011Venus and Cupid, 1517-1518

When I was there I was amused to find graffiti carved into one of the walls in German! Well, normally I’d be less amused but it’s from a later Barbarian Invasion of Rome in the 16th century! At the time I couldn’t find anyone to translate it for me.

During recent restorations, an ancient “graffiti”, in German gothic, came to light between the columns. It marks the passage of the Lansquenets and states: “1528 – why shouldn’t I laugh: the Lansquenets have put the Pope to flight.”

From the windows on the first floor there is a beautiful view of the gardens. A pleasant stroll under the laurel bower leads to a marble plaque which bears the inscription:

Quisquis huc accedis: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum.

[Trad.: Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me. ] – Academia Nazionale die Lincei

The Villa Farnesina in Rome, Italy is open from

Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,

Closed on Sundays and holidays
Guided tours on Monday, Friday and Saturday at 12.30

 

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

napoli’s purgatorio

Naples is the flower of paradise. The last adventure of my life.

Alexandre Dumas

This was a residential “street”, an alleyway with the delightfully macabre name of Vico Purgatorio Ad Arco, “Purgatory Lane”. I have a love affair with alleyways, you see, and never have I been more sated than in Napoli.

exclusively residential, the end of purgatory alley, naples, italy, 2012 (digital)

Every narrow opening makes you stop and turn and take in the sights and sounds of Naples. There’s something very beautiful about an alley way, something personal and old, full of secrets and stories and the every day life of strangers. I love the alleys of Boston and New York and New Orleans. Naples alley ways are incomparable because they are places people live to catch sunlight in the darkest places. Neapolitans hang their laundry on little racks on tiny iron balconies. They stack pretty painted clay pots and urns full of flowers. They tie little flags and bunting. The alleys are dark and dank and should be places for trash and death and forgetting. But they are walk ways. They are corners to stop for a moment and discuss the weather with your neighbor. They are short cuts and open windows and the sounds of football playing on an unseen television. They are windows across from cousins and lovers looking at each other when their parents are busy cooking or cleaning. They are the sounds of getting ready for the evening pasieggeta. They are as I always imagined them: gritty, velvet thick, enchanting, private glimpses of the real Napoli.

This is the foreboding sign which points in the direction of Purgatory Lane. Most people would cross the street to avoid it. But we are different, aren’t we? This makes it all the more inviting. Entering purgatory is like stepping back in time. Even in the midst of the buzz of modern life.

Kids play football in the streets, they run through the alleys laughing and dodging each other.Vespas and motorcycles line the private walks to the apartments. There are surprising flourishes of pinks and golds and soft blues among the blacks and browns. Colors and shadows mix. I walk through unnoticed.

Life is there, the good and the bad. You are just a tourist. Anaïs Nin once said, “I don’t want to be a tourist in the world of images.” I want to step into the picture and become a part of it. But I am always on the other side of the lens, watching, capturing, stealing images like the thief that I am. I am stalking moments and feelings. I want trouble and grit to make something beautiful out of it. I am selfish, a little bit soulless, in my pursuit of another perfect shot. I chase strangers with the cunning of a secret admirer. I photograph statues like living things and people like sculptures. I cannot tell the difference between the saints and the sinners on the streets.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …  find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

Roman Cats

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The cats of Rome.

FH010021Watching over the Theatre of Pompey.

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The Portra 400 and 800 35mm film really brings out the colors and tones of the beautiful cats.

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One can imagine how far back into ancient Rome these cats ancestry lies.

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Pink shoes and rich fur.

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A job well done.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …  find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

at the Villa Borghese

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A rainy afternoon walk around the Villa Borghese in Rome, Italy.
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On an overcast day it reminded me of Paris.
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I love the faded colors of the buildings and the urn planted fruit and olive trees.
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The gardens are leftover remnants of the Renaissance and even ancient Rome, the famed gardens of Lucullus.
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The park and gardens were once a private estate of the Borghese family.
FH070029Fortunately now the “country” lanes of tidy gardens and statuary are open to everyone.
The beauty of the grounds are immeasurable. No wonder I’ve grown to love it so much over the years.
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I love the colors of the stone architecture and the details of the buildings. I could hear a soft muddling of voices through an opened window.
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The Villa Borghese museum is one of the loveliest and important collections of Italian Renaissance paintings in the world. It houses master works by Caravaggio, Titian, Dossi, Correggio, Veronese, Rubens, Barocci, Parmigianino, Lotto, Raphael, Bernini, Reni, Bellini, Barocci, Domenichino, Canova, and many other greats.
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If you find yourself in Rome make reservations a few days in advance to view the art in the beautiful Villa Borghese in two hour blocks. Give yourself time to wander around the gardens and the park. You should arrange a time with at least four hours of sunshine so you can enjoy a stroll around and leave two hours for the museum. Finish up an hour before sunset and find your way to the Pincio (Pincial Hill) for the most beautiful sunset of your life.
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//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …  find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

italian journey

  • Rome is a Fellini movie. It is the annual barbarian invasion. It is a lack of catalytic converters. It is hundreds of vespas whirring and beeping through roundabouts. It is a hypnotic siren screaming through the city.
  • Rome is an open-aired art museum, a feast for all the senses. It is packed with all that I want out of life, footsteps away from the next breathtaking view or taste. It is life and death in some delicate balance, in a dance on the edge of something imperceptible. It is the footsteps of Artemisia Gentileschi, it is the footsteps of the Caesars. It is 6,000 year old Egyptian obelisks, it is 1800 year old Aurelian walls, it is the Grand Old Tour still walkable. It is the burial grounds of the English Romantic Poets. It is a dream. It is the eternal city. All roads still lead to it.
  • Venezia is a Grimm fairytale come to life, a place of winding, labyrinthine bridges and walkways. A place for spies and mercenaries. A city of corners and gondola rides at night, when no-one else is on the water and the gondolier sings old songs out into the dark while you float past the Rialto Bridge and the apartments of Casanova. Venice is the 1700s. Venice is a child’s dream, or nightmare; a place to wander to hear the echoes of your footsteps over endless stone. To move in and out of chocolate shops, each window more and more decadent in their display, until your pockets are overflowing with Venus’ Nipples and confectionaries. Venice is candy and wine, canals and shuttered windows with a latch missing so you can listen to a record playing Billie Holiday songs, her voice finding nowhere to rest, because Venice is not made of earth it is made of bones. Venice is gnocchi and gorgonzola. It is carnival masks and orchestras. It is the smell of water and decay. It is a memory.
  • Firenze is for the maestros. Florence is sweet shops and pignolis and bridges. Florence is theRenaissance. It is inventions and giants and towers. It is candied almonds and hot chocolate and olive trees. It is truffled pesto. It is chestnuts and hazelnut cream. Florence is old bookshops and new students among a sea of young faces and young lovers’ bodies. It is rolling hills and gardens. It is palazzos and art museums and intrigues. It is Dante’s inferno. It is Savonarola’s funeral pyre. It is the last gasp of the Medicis.
  • Milano is birds and textiles and modern life teeming with the future. It is fashion. It is elegant and impersonal. It is brief. It is closed for renovation so you don’t get to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper, which is the reason you went there in the first place. It is Occidental, it is larger than life, it is dry white wines and prosecco. It is always moving.
  • Capri is Tiberius’ playground, it is the Blue Grotto, it is a private boat around the island, it is climbing jagged rocks and everything painted Santorini like; blue and white, yellow and gold. It isAna Capri, it is postcard pretty, boutique hotels, it is capreses and spumante for breakfast. It is the blue-green sea and sailboats glittering among the Bay of Naples. It is the jet-setters and the day-trippers. It is one little piazza and two cafes. It is the Madonna of the rocks. It is the Villa San Michele. It is the bird’s eye view of everything. It is the sparkle of sun on the water.
  • Sorrento is a bustling city-village. It is on the edge of the Bay of Naples, the connector to sights and sounds of the Amalfi coast. Sorrento is orange and lemon scented. It is orange and lemon groves and tomatoes on the vine, ripening to a deep red. It is gigantic, fleshy lemons used for white fish and sweet delicate lemons for limoncello. It is capers and shellfish and bufalo mozzarella from Campania.
  • Napoli is the street, it is life in the streets. Naples is long, narrow alleyways, with tiny rows of iron balconies draped neatly with laundry. It the smell of the sea. It is the best view of Vesuvius. Naples is a garbage problem. It is 30% unemployment thirty years running. Naples is beautiful between the shadows.
  • Naples is a sprawling, glittering, wild animal of a city, it is the pulse and growl of a wild thing. It is a faded kingdom, a half empty castle, a city on a hill. It is the Spaccanapoli, it is the best coffee in the world, the best bread, the best pizza. It is the tarnished jewel of the south, it is, as oneMilanese said to me recently, the North’s shame. It is proud.
  • Naples is a living, breathing chiaroscuro. It is Caravaggios getaway. It is fishing boats. It is theMuseo Archeoligico, the Capidimonte, the cloistered gardens filled with painted Spanish tiles. Naples is the house for the spoils of Pompeii. It is an opera, played out in the living room of the town square, it is the family pasiegetta. It is Januarius’ blood, it is the outstretched wings of aswallow, it is the solemn hum of machinery. It is ecstasy and despair. It is a crying out.

    It is see Naples and die.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

  • * an extra note on rome:

    Roma was my first European city.

    It was my first glimpse of the things I find most beautiful in the world.

    There were ruins, Renaissance architecture, 600 year old fountains and marble floors. 

    There were Greco-Roman mosaics, pagan temples, frescoes, umbrella pines and cypress trees in manicured gardens.

    And ancient aqueducts to wander around in.

    There was hot espresso and spicy wine to drink and penne all’arrabbiata, a classic Roman dish, to taste.

    Rome had decayed beauty balanced out by its bright earthy colors against the perfect sunsets.

    There were fat clouds against azure skies. 

    When in Rome that oft used but true cliché – that la dolce vita – the sweet life, is alive and well in the eternal city.

    There were a thousand church bells ringing throughout the city on afternoon walks, from the very churches packed with masterpieces.

    There were elegant villa museums full of Italian art and baroque curves and decorated with ancient statuary. Rome was everything all at once.