standing at the ruins on a quiet roman night

Rome is pieced together by fragments old and new; a broken clay pile of people who have lived and died, and are forgotten, rivaling the Monte Testaccio in size and obscurity.

Rome is the heaviness of time. It is the marks left on humanity. It is a walkable history book, forever unfolding its pages.

Rome is monuments of the big whigs leaving you breathless with their grand scale and an overwhelming rush of beauty.

‘Everyone is dead here’, the city whispers, in a voice softened against the bone-white marble of ruins.

The palatine lies silent under the stars. This is your one moment to catch your breath and savor Rome.

Try to stop time by breathing it in slowly. Hold it in, and take a sensory snapshot. Stand there, holding your breath, recording, feeling as immovable as a statue; a Henry James’ American willing a sacrifice to the pagan gods.

‘Just let me remember this. Let this enter me. The endlessness of it. The cobwebs. The broken stone. The bones. The dust. The pulse remaining somehow. Let me carry Rome where ever I go. Let it become a part of me. No, let me become a part of Rome. Another story never writ, another name unknown.’

     

   


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Italy and England 

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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.

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An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.

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Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.

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The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.

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Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.

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Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.

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After wandering the many lovely garden parks of london wound up at  Buckingham’s Gate.tumblr_n2din7vCpZ1qznevxo4_1280

Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.

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A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.

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Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.

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From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London

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From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.

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From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.

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You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.

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This sign is so British it hurts.

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One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.

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Always, a pilgrimage, a  beauty, a joy. John Keats forever. English Romanticism forever. B3-yzpZIAAIuVOk.jpg-large

Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.

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The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.

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Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.

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The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!

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Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.

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I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.

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Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.

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A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.

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Meeting new friends abroad 🙂

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Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.

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Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!

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Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.

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The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.

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My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.

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A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.

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The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.

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Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.

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On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.

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Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.

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Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.

For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.

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Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!

musings on rome written to a new friend

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I feel, in Rome, as if I am fully entered into the ancient-ness of the place.
I feel the history in my blood.
I feel almost Italian (with a mix of invading barbarian).

But I tread lightly in Italy.

I try to penetrate the history, the stories, but I tread lightly.
I don’t leave any trace.

I only steal moments.
I steal away people’s feelings in a one second snapshot.

I take more lingering pictures with my eyes.

I really don’t want to be the center of attention, I would rather fade into the background, and let people live around me.

I am greedy for their life spilling out.
Still as much a thief as I was as a child, after all.

This is why I love Naples.

I dread it a little, too.
I want to slap it around occasionally.
I want to remind it of its grit (as if it needs my reminder).
I want to shake it awake to its beauty and history and art.
I want it to not lose its charm, ever.

I don’t even care about the trash that much.
I love the darkest alleys.
I love that life is lived on the streets.
I love that the windows are always open.

I love listening to the strains of a language I cannot decipher because it always sounds like music to me that way.

That’s how I linger in churches so long…
I can’t understand the sermons so I can spend time looking at the art and thinking about pagans all day as if in a dream.

In Italy I am living in the dream and I don’t wake up again until I’m back home in the cold north.

I return to Italy like a lover who cannot stand the separation a moment longer. I want to feel the curves of familiar streets. I want to taste the crushed fruit of summer wine and feel that sun so different from mine. I want to see the stars again against the faint glow of the ruins.

heart-stealing baroque napoli

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The old Greek section of Napoli, Italy is a recurring fascination of mine.

A closed boulangerie with a broom leaning against the store front. Painted pastoral scenes on plates. Rusted piping and peeling posters. Grafitti in bright colors.  

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Caffe chairs sprinkled throughout the back streets of Spaccanapoli. 

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The sun finds it way though the velvet black shadows. Posters advertise operas I won’t get to see. Padre Pio forever in the background, his face found in taxi cabs, on walls, in churches, in caffes.

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Hanging bronze dyed pasta, bufalo mozzarella from campania, rows of inviting rum-soaked baba cakes filled with rummy yellow cream, tiny wild strawberries, Sfogliatelle.

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Two “lovers” embracing in front of an iconic “second hand shop” full of Neapolitan treasures overseen by a curious little dog.

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The simple cafe tables and chairs in front of artisan shops and caffes with a sculpture of an old man in the background. 

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Every day life in an alleyway; people, a truck delivering goods, empty vegetable and fruit crates, the golden mustard apartments and hanging laundry.

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A baroque awning, layers of brick from different centuries, buildings and façades built on top of each other, a neapolitan girl on her mobile, another caffe beckoning the passersby.

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Hanging fruit and ripe red campania tomatoes and an early pasieggetta.

 

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I love the corners and crevices and surprising bursts of yellow in between the rust.

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Ancient pillars in residential neighborhoods, forming millennia old foundations.

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Another beautiful church front and a charming caffe.

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The quintessential graffiti of Naples, as ancient as the tags and scribblings on Pompeiian walls.

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The old guard and the ‘new art’.

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Bursts of color and brightness and the scent of glorious coffee floating in the air at every turn.

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More graffiti, and the vespas and cars and Neapolitans seem all the more nonchalant about it.

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I always seem to find the caffes… I always feel like I’m on some unspoken mission to drink the best coffee.

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A whole street filled with beautiful second hand and rare book shops and musical instruments and conservatories. I never wanted to leave. 

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When the little girl walked by I knew I had to capture her in that moment of contrasts and colors.

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A gorgeously appointed restaurant, intimate, and romantic in a baroque neapolitan way. I could have lingered for hours with a glass of nero d’avola and flirted but I had less than a day to shoot Naples because of all the rain prior to this day.

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This is a wider shot of the restaurant. It looks like an opening to another, older world. I told you it was beautiful.

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Stunning churches, colorful architecture, dark and ancient looking alleyways filled with street theatre and trash on the street… the extremes of modern Napoli.

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There is so much to see, just to read on the walls.

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I like when the grafitti becomes art.

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Even the scribbles are a crying out and bleed every color onto wood and stone and brick.

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Back to this fellow. I remember his likeness on other walls on other visits to Naples.

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The priest or monk, grafitti iconography and protest.

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I found this hollowed out frame and the lettering (name of the one time King) very delicate and beautiful looking.

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Mirrors and antiques and the scrawlings every where.

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A delightful music shop.

I know Napoli isn’t for everyone. I know street grafitti on historical buildings can be a bit of a shock. But once you visit Naples a few times and fall into the rhythm of the city and of its people, the fright wears off and you begin to see the color is all the more bright in contrast to the shadows. If you are like me and find beauty in decaying things and centuries of history piled up on top of each other, you may just find yourself falling in love with the heart stealer of baroque Napoli.

 

All photographs shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film.

I’ve returned back to the United States from Italy

Notes on a little about my photographic process. I’ve been asked about this and it’s mostly the use of fine art films and my analog camera, but it’s also my digital camera and my iPhone too, that I shoot images with.

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vintage sky blue vespa in napoli, italy, portra 800, october 2013

 

Yesterday I picked up my 35mm film photographs of Capri, Ana Capri, Sorrento and Napoli – shot in portra 160, 400 and 800, kodak pro h, and a few spare vintage-style rolls of color film, the names of which escape me at the moment. I shot some velvia slide film, which was developed into individual slides and I poured through each slide on a light table with a magnifying glass and chose the best ones (and the lab will scan them onto cd so I can post them here and in some articles and guides on Italy for other publications – AND which cost me $5 per slide)!!!

A roll of art film can be $15-$75 just for 35 mm film… 120 film (medium format/ large format) can be even more. Some times one can luck out with a five pack for $55, depending on the film. The film slide film is usally $25+ per roll and there is some incredibly beautiful discontinued slide film is now $75-$125 per roll with an expiration date! My fridge doors are not packed with cheese or juice or butter but with endless rolls of film, the cheap stuff, the mid range and the criminally expensive. It’s vitally important to buy your film from credible sources. That’s why I tend to buy the film in person, from a few credible photography shops in the Boston area, who properly store their unexpired film in a film fridge.

So for this trip, the 11th to Italy (ahh, makes me think of Doctor Who!) – I spent a couple hundred dollars on the film, a couple hundred to develop the rolls and a few hundred more once they scan the velvia film slides onto CD.

I shot about a hundred pictures on digital but focused mainly on analog because I prefer the dreamlike, tonal quality and the color and beauty of these special films. It’s sad how incredibly costly it is to shoot with fine art film; it’s truly a dying art form. But there is still the drugstore deals on fujifilm and kodak (buy one 5 pack, get one free, etc) I collect in bulk because that film is great for every day shots and practice. But for Italy and for shoots where I’m looking to tell a story, I still rely on those rare gems: portra, velvia, etc.

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neapolitans in spaccanapoli, portra 800, october 2013

 

As I return to writing and shooting and editing I’m thinking of arranging this into a book or extended project of my version of Off The Beaten Path Italy so I’m thinking of the tremendous cost as an investment. We’ll see.

I have a busy weekend but I’m going to get some pieces together soon and post some of the photographs here. I do post some of the stand alone shots on tumblr here.

Boston a week after the bombs.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHI was born in Boston and lived there until I was six. We moved a lot, sometimes every six months and I lived in a series of small coastal towns on the south shore of Massachusetts, lining the seascape and woodsy old New England towns from the edge of the city to Cape Cod. I spent a lot of time in the city and its influence never really left me even when I was shuffled about the little beach communities. I moved back to Boston for high school and college and I’ve lived and worked there or nearby ever since, barring travel and living for a little bit in Los Angeles, Seattle and New Orleans. I have loved my city my whole life. It’s a different city for different Bostonians and it certainly has changed for me over the years. In the most compelling ways its been a city of art and books and learning (and difficult weather) and funny accents. It’s a college town, it’s a historical city, it’s mixture of working class and tony neighborhoods and has great hospitals and art museums and concert halls. It has a rich literary past. It’s full of Irish pubs, seafood restaurants and is home to one of my favorite Italian neighborhoods in the US. It’s a tough city at times and it’s a pretty one too. It has its own troubles but ultimately I found opportunity and inspiration here. I rode its trains and wrote about Boston life in the aughties. I photographed it in the last few years. And like most other Bostonians I was hit hard by the terrorist attacks at the 2013 Boston Marathon. About a week after the attacks I took my film camera and some art film and shot the makeshift street tributes and some of the scenes of the attacks. I also shot some of Cambridge (MIT – another scene of the attacks and Harvard Square and Tory Row/Brattle area) and other spots of Boston. I wasn’t surprised by strength of the city and its people in the face of the manhunt and the aftershock of violence which was palpably felt in every square mile. What struck me most was how much Bostonians were trying to be normal and live their lives and pick up the pieces on a beautiful spring day. The killers had not yet been caught. The aftermath was laid out in the closed off city blocks and there was an air of somberness in the heart of the city; at famous Copley Square, on posh Newbury Street, on beautiful, brownstone-lined Comm Ave, at the Public Garden and on Boston Common, in Back Bay and the South End. But it was also a sumptuously lit afternoon, the birds were finally out, the blossoms were opening on the cherry trees, the swan boats emerged, children ran about in the park, tourists walked with their maps and Colonial attired guides and there was a wedding in the gardens. We were still alive. We had to be. We were Bostonians. Life goes on on a lovely spring day despite ourselves. In spite of it all. Because we want to live. We have to.

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My art deco building – I lived here in the dormitory for Emerson College. The location was incredible. Now they are luxury apartments.

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naples’ children

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It’s simply impossible for me to tire of the dark, craggy, cramped, decaying alleyways of Napoli. Because I find them so beautiful. What is that expression? Life in the streets. But that’s not subtle enough. That has no emotion. No color. No fragrance. I’m just an American who falls in love with corners of places. Pages in books. The picture I see in everything. What do I know about it? Not much. But I love it all the same.

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Napoli gang of 11-13 year old boys smoking on the beach for the first time after they robbed a sweets cart.

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The unofficial leader of the gang, a tall blond boy, teaches the other boys how to smoke after they bummed cigarettes off kissing teenagers and robbed a food cart and cafe of crisps and chocolates.

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photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler

a walk in trastevere

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Trastevere is a charming neighborhood across the Tiber from the historic center of Rome. It’s a great spot to have lunch and spend an afternoon walking around, admiring the warm, faded colors of the buildings. They bake wonderful breads and cookies at La Renella and sell handmade chocolates at Valzoni to locals and tourists. My favorite book shop in Rome is The Almost Corner Bookshop, an all English language store filled with fiction and non-fiction dedicated to Rome and Italy, lots of great classic literature and the latest publications in English. I always pick up something perfect to set the tone of my visit to Rome – in March it was Geothe’s near perfect Italian Journey, which colored my walk on the Appian Way and walking through the Porta San Sebastiano. In October it was my favorite Odes of John Keats in a neat little volume, with a little Shelley and Byron, who all accompanied me on my visits to The Keats Shelley (Byron) House and for a prosecco at Caffe Greco and even to Keats tombstone in Testaccio.

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Trastevere is not usually overrun with tourists and has a little bit of an off the beaten path feel to it. One can walk to Tiber Island for curious sights or the Giancolo (Janiculum Hill) for an alternate view of Rome or even to the residential neighborhood of Monteverde which boasts the lovely Villa Sciarra parks and is truly off the beaten path.  I love the beautiful curves and colors of the architecture.

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Trastevere has the chicest farmacia I’ve ever seen. Each little shop and boutique is delightful and covered with crawling greenery. The curb appeal and doorstep gardens of Italy are an obsession of mine.

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The gorgeous overhanging vines and ivy of your typical Trastevere pedestrian street next to little cafes and restaurants.

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The layers of stone and paint and greenery are lush all year long. I adore this section so much.

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A charming respite to duck in when caught in the rain (as I was that afternoon)!

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The main piazza of Trastevere with the cannot be missed church. A great people watching locale.

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They even have the ambulatories in Rome to bounce one over cobblestoned paths. The green grows thick and spreads over garden walls.

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Miniature terraces with majestic potted plants which grow as long as Rapunzel’s hair!

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The place to see and be seen.

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The exceptionally old exterior. “The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere (Italian: Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere) is a titular minor basilica, one of the oldest Churches of Rome, perhaps the first in which Mass was openly celebrated. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, The first sanctuary was built in 221 and 227 by Pope Calixtus I and later completed by Pope Julius. -Wikipedia 

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A close up of the pretty detail, with Occidental features like Egyptian palm trees and the gold leafed saints mosaics.

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Man walking dog past a cafe – “Isn’t it a lovely scene?” 

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Coolest cafe sign ever. It’s always closed when I find myself in Trastevere unfortunately!

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Yes, it IS a terribly romantic place to get lost in. 

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The requisite laundry shot because I never, ever, ever tire of those. 

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And a light blue vespa! It is Italy after all! It’s a requirement for any tour.

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Rome – where the masterpieces are both outdoors and indoors for your viewing pleasure and contemplation. This is why I love the eternal city. It is made up of a thousand moments of aesthetic joy.

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These were all shot on my 35 mm film camera on a dull, grey, rainy afternoon and still the color and hues shine through the haze! 

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Just sequester me here to this flat with the garden-y window for a season or two… I will be happy. I’ll walk the streets in the morning, pop into churches and museums in the afternoon and sit Juliet style by this window at night. 

I miss the village green,
And all the simple people.
I miss the village green,
The church, the clock, the steeple.
I miss the morning dew, fresh air and Sunday school.

And now all the houses
Are rare antiquities.
American tourists flock to see the village green.
They snap their photographs and say “Gawd darn it,
Isn’t it a pretty scene?”

-The Kinks

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

In relation to my choosing the very British provincial music quotes is a 10 year old video featuring the song and the very amazing Lord Whimsy. 

 

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.

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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 …

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