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Meet my friend Rebecca and Agriturismo Brigolante

29 Jun

I’ve been meaning to share this gorgeous post with y’all for over a month now! But “life” kept getting in the way.

My pal Rebecca, oh she is so wonderful. A true soul sister of mine on so many levels, she is one of the strongest, smartest, and funniest women I know, hands down. And believe me, I’m a tough sell. So it’s with enormous pleasure that I get to share with you today a friend of mine and part of her livelihood.

Rebecca is an American originally from Chicago, and she moved to Assisi in 1993. She’s a talented writer by trade, but also runs an agriturismo (farm stay) in Umbria; specifically, just outside of the undescribably gorgeous town of Assisi, a famous destination for religious pilgrims as it’s the home of St. Francis of—well—Assisi.

The agriturismo property has been in the Italian side of Rebecca’s family, the Bagnoli, for generations and generations. Actually, it was Rebecca and Stefano Bagnoli who restored the land and buildings to convert it into the agriturismo that today is Brigolante.

There is a LOT of history here. The main farmhouses date back to at least the year 1100, and the farm itself is still run by Stefano’s parents Ugo and Emma. This is the quintessential Italian family business, updated for modern times without sacrificing tradition.

A few weeks ago I had the great fortune to go hang out with Rebecca and her family for the weekend. While I (mistakenly) thought I’d be couch surfing, which frankly would have been more than fine by me, I was floored to learn upon arrival that one of the guest apartments was vacant that weekend and so Rebecca was generously “putting me up” in style.

Oh, dear Lord in heaven, I was REBORN, people! Reborn.

You see, when you’re a single, divorced, working mom of three kids (I love to pull this card, I do, but it’s the damn truth), things that previously you would have taken for granted become like gold in your hands.

A hot shower. Until the hot water runs out.

An entire hour of uninterrupted silence.

Being able to use the restroom facilities in your own home, in complete privacy.

These are my guilty pleasures, people.

Therefore, spending a weekend at Brigolante while also enjoying the good company of one of my soul sisters, was utter bliss.

And, because I like to share my bliss, I will now let you in on my weekend. Also because, God knows that Brigolante should not be kept a secret. Should you be visiting Italy, it’s only an hour train ride from Rome.

Wanna come on a tour? Come on!

Up those stairs was my front door. Swoon.

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Now let’s look down from my front door. This property is super photogenic from all angles.

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Oh my gosh! I had a bedroom, a living room, a little kitchen area, a BATHTUB… heaven… the furnishings are gorgeous and hand-restored.

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I got a gin + tonic and/or (ok, it was and) vodka with a twist aperitivo. I’m a special guest, you see. A woman after my own heart. [does happy dance]

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And, the flowers! Rebecca’s 12-year-old son is the gardener responsible for the potted flowers. Amazing.

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And then there were roses that were so … doing their gorgeous rose thing.

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Did I mention that this property is photogenic? Because it is.

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See how photogenic? Look at these here lovelies:

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I told you it was a working farm:

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Paths that lead to places are one of my favorite things to photograph:

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I could have sat on these deck chairs all day:

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Wait, I sort of did, actually:

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Ever wondered what an Umbrian Kenmore dryer looks like? Wonder no more:

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Ever wondered how an American on an Umbrian farm gets her mail? Well, in a U.S. Mail mailbox, of course:

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Rebecca brought this over from the States two decades ago. She says that the local postman does actually use it to deliver her mail. However, since he didn’t know how the flag worked (it’s by now long gone, but it used to still be on the box), he’d actually raise the flag when he put mail in, rather than vice-versa which is how the U.S. mailbox actually works (you put the flag up to let the mailman know that there’s mail to take out). Oh, Italy, I love you, I really do.

Now, you know that Rebecca got into tourist mode to show me why Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy. Umbria has some of the best patchwork quilt views in all of Italy, IMHO:

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Rocca Maggiore, the fortress above Assisi:

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And then, Assisi. Oh, Assisi, you’re so pretty.

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And you know I told Rebecca that I wanted a romantic candlelight dinner for two. And so it was. We drove to the quaint little town of Montefalco, famous for its namesake red wine, and had un tavolo per due at Enoteca L’Alchimista. Oh, so amazing. (I know, I keep saying amazing.)

My date had the cheese plate as a starter. To die for.

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I asked for a plate of torta al testo because this Umbrian flatbread can’t be found in Rome:

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And I kid you not when I tell you that this filet mignon was hands-down one of the best steaks, if not the best steak, I’ve ever eaten in Italy. That’s saying a lot because generally speaking, coming from the US tradition of steak, I’ve found it sort of hard to find good matches here in Italy to what I’m used to back home. This was up to the task. It was accompanied by three different kinds of salt (see the little containers in the upper left):

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There is something so incredibly seductive and inexplicable about a steak that stands on its own without need for any sauces. Yes. Steak can be seductive, and inexplicable. In my world, this is possible.

Before you think that I washed it down with Montefalco Rosso, I decided to employ the poetry of the swerve. The enoteca had a great list of artisanal beers, so I went with this:

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This is Santachiara, one of the lighter beers produced by Birrificio Artigianale di Montefalco (formerly Birra Camiano). My intention was to drink this with my appetizer and then go to a more full-bodied beer with the steak, but I stuck with just this one. It was lovely. Unfiltered and unpasteurized, fermented in the bottle. I can’t find a website for them, but here’s a video from Eurochocolate 2013, the international chocolate festival held in Perugia every year. Perugia is famous for chocolate (natch) but here the owner of the Birrificio Artigianale talks about how Umbria is also becoming a sort of hotbed for artisanal microbreweries, and on the occasion of the Eurochocolate fest, he produced a special chocolate beer in addition to their four regular beers.

And then, of course, I paired all that with more grilled vegetables. Love, love, love.

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But lest I become too healthy in my food choices, I also chose the oozing warm chocolate volcano cake. (They don’t actually call it that. I do.)

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And so, folks, there you have it. The picture-perfect weekend. It was made even more delightful by an entire Sunday spent in the company of the missing link in this trinity of friendship, a family I love to pieces, the Martinez-Brenners, who run The Beehive in Rome and Cross Pollinate.

Kids happily jumping on a trampoline while the moms gab? Yes, heaven exists, trust me on this one: it really does.

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Moral of this story? When in Italy, get thee to Umbria, Brigolante, Enoteca L’Alchimista, and vast emerald green expanses of sheer joy.

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Meet the Sacchetti Family

12 Apr
Palazzo Sacchetti, seen from Lungotevere dei Sangallo

Palazzo Sacchetti, seen from Lungotevere dei Sangallo

One of the lovely surprises of indulging in my passion for writing about Rome is that sometimes my work gets noticed and I am able to take part in activities I never would have been invited to had I not started my blog. My tour today of Palazzo Sacchetti on Via Giulia, a historic noble family’s residence even to this day, was one such event. The tour was graciously offered and hosted by Italian Ways, an online Italian lifestyle and arts magazine. About 15 local bloggers and Instagrammers were invited to join in the tour of the palazzo, which isn’t open to the public and within which photos aren’t normally permitted.

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This group photo was shot at the end of our tour in the Nymphaeum, the garden that was added in 1660, and stands just inside the facade on Lungotevere dei Sangallo.

Palazzo Sacchetti is featured in the Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), as the home where the character Viola lived with her mentally ill son. Designed by famous architect Antonio da Sangallo, construction started in 1542 and the building was completed in 1546. The Sacchetti family, who left their native Florence for Rome in the 16th century to escape persecution by the Medici, bought the palazzo in 1648, and the same family owns the palazzo and lives there to this very day. Private visits are available by special request.

The Sacchetti family was a very important noble family in Rome—so important, in fact, that they became one of only a handful of families to be named marchesi di baldacchinoA baldacchino is called a baldachin in English, and is a ceremonial canopy over an altar or throne. The marquis of the baldachin were an exceptional class of nobility between princes and inferior nobility, and they had to have the following characteristics:

      • Historical and social importance of the family
      • Registered as Roman nobility. Instated by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746 in his bolla (official letter) Urbem Romam, the registry commonly came to be known as the Libro d’Oro or “the golden book.” The original copy was burned by the Jacobins in 1799 during the first Roman Republic. A new Libro d’Oro was compiled between 1839 and 1847 and is kept to this day in the City of Rome Historical Archives. A paperback reproduction is available on Amazon. Look how cool, the archive website has the entire book indexed and available for viewing online (I AM AMAZED AND DELIGHTED) and here is the Sacchetti family’s page in the book:
    • SacchettiPossession of feudal property
    • Having had Cardinals in the family
    • Matrimonial alliances with royal families (principality, duchy)
    • Hereditary office holder within the Papal Court, known as the Roman Curia of the Holy See (the administrative branch of the Vatican)

This last qualification was modified in 1968, when Pope Paul VI abolished the Papal Court and modified it into what is now known as the Pontifical Household. The Sacchetti family role was called Foriere Maggiore prior to the reform, and is now Hereditary Quartermaster General of the Sacred Apostolic Palace. In terms of what they actually do, from what I gather I think it more or less involves receiving heads of State for the Pope and leading ceremonial processions. Here’s a picture of Giulio Sacchetti on the cover of the book he wrote called Segreti Romani (Roman Secrets):

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And as far as the heads of State/ceremonial thing goes, in one room we saw some “family photos” on top of a table:

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The baldachin is still there in the entrance hall of the palazzo. Only the noble families of the baldachin (the ones that fit the criteria above) had them, and there were very few of these families; in my various research I found four of them listed: Patrizzi, Serlupi, Sacchetti and Teodoli. The baldachin was placed in the entrance hall for receiving the pope during a visit, and included kneeling cushions for dignitaries who would come before the pope.

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On the baldachin you can see the family crest: silver with three black stripes. The family crest was everywhere within the palazzo, from the ceilings:

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to the windows in one hallway:

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even down to the plant pots in the garden:

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Although the artistic treasures in the palazzo were incredible, and I will share those photos in a future post, I must say the most touching aspect for me, because it lent a very human feel to such a majestic place, was seeing the framed family photos on the side tables in the “living room”:

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To learn more about Palazzo Sacchetti and the Sacchetti family:

Marcel Duchamp at Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna

18 Oct

[Spoiler alert: If you plan to visit this show in Rome, you should go before you read this post. There are lots of pictures that will give away some of the delight and surprise you could experience in person.]

Last Friday I visited a recently opened exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art here in Rome, also known as GNAM, which happily means “yum” in Italian.

This was the first time I had ever seen any works by Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. I have recently been introduced to the world of surrealist and conceptual art by the talented poet Enrique Enriquez, a mentor of mine who I am grateful to for the introduction into this marvelous world. This show was assigned to me as “homework.”

I had very superficial awareness of someone, somewhere, at sometime in the past, having signed a urinal and called it artwork. That was pretty much far as my knowledge went. It seemed absurd. And yet therein lies the beauty of surrealism.

I won’t go into educating about Duchamp because I’m certainly not the right person for that. But I do highly encourage you to delve more into his life and work: Wikipedia biography, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Marcel Duchamp World Community site, Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp site.

So, without too much preamble, let me take you on a bit of a photo tour of the exhibition. There weren’t any signs saying that photos weren’t allowed, and the employees weren’t stopping anyone. So I had a bit of a fun free-for-all.

First, a few shots of the approach to the GNAM. The weather was barely holding out, as it’s been a bit of a rainy October this year.

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I think EE would appreciate this shot. Not only does it have a Vespa, but the lamppost and the sculpture look like they form a lowercase “b,” or possibly a “p.”

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I never really get tired of the majestic columns around these parts.

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I was totally unaware of Duchamp’s obsession with and talent for the game of chess. Here the text explains that Duchamp found the creative aspect of the game a way to escape the slavery of monotony, because it allowed for endless ways to produce new patterns, and that this aspect of the game was what attracted him the most and is also why chess permeates his artwork. It also says that starting in 1923 and for 12 years thereafter, Duchamp abandoned his artwork completely in order to dedicate himself to chess, playing in many professional tournaments.

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This, then, was the first readymade of the show. I fell in love with it at first sight. This one is Pocket Chess Set. The one on display is the original with wallet from 1943.

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I took this shot just for EE. When I first began studying the optical language of the Marseille Tarot, I would tease EE about the images, just for fun. I told him that the monks on the card “Le Pape” looked like they had donuts on their heads. He promptly emailed me back to correct me by saying “Shelley, those are called tonsures.” Oh, tonsure-shmonsure. Look at MD’s star-shaped tonsure! Fabulous. This one is, in fact, called simply Tonsure, and is from 1919.

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By far, one of my favorite works on display in the show. This is Box in a Valise, and is basically a miniature Duchamp museum, with exact miniature replicas of his various pieces. Totally compelling. I invite you to note the mini-Fountain hanging on the wall.

Before the room where most of the readymades were on display, there was a larger open space with works by Italian artist Luca Maria Patella. It’s difficult to find much in English about Patella, but here’s an interview in Italian by art critic Manuela De Leonardis. I absolutely fell in love with his work.

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This work by Patella is called MUT/TUM, and is described on Patella’s site thus: MUT/TUM , (1965)-1985.
A “para-Duchampian” work that “shows and displays itself” (mostra e di-mostra) as MUTT, turned over “physically” in 1917 (The Fountain), was … turned over “linguistically” in 1918 (Tu m’). (in the perpendicular square in the center: a pair of mirrors – side by side – are perceived as an empty space), graphic design, painting, iron, mirror, 70 x 140 cm.

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I enjoyed this one a lot. In the large open space, you find this disk on the floor, that says “STAND HERE. Look at the bed.” It also gives height markers running from 170 cm on the top to 180 cm on the bottom of the disk, indicating where you should stand depending on your height. So, I did as told, and this is what I saw standing on the dot. (I actually saw them perfectly lined up, but was unable to capture that exactly with my camera.)

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Then, as you walk forward and examine the beds from the other side, this is what happens:

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Oh, Luca Maria Patella! You’re so silly!

And sort of–well, brilliant, too.

Personally, a part of me thinks that he should do some sort of installation at an IKEA store on the showroom floor. It would be awesome to then film people’s reactions, and pretend it was a real IKEA bed.

But hey, that’s just me.

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And, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The pisser! Funny aside: while standing in front of this display, I was the only one in the room. I had this irresistible urge to look underneath the typewriter cover.

So, I bent down, and sort of moved my head sideways—and all of a sudden that “you’re getting too close!” alarm went off. “WEE-UUU WEE-UUU WEE-UUU! Violator over here!” pretty much blasted through the entire cavernous and church-silent museum space.

HA! I had to laugh. It’s almost as if that was a pre-programmed part of the fun of the show itself. It was like an auditory reminder: “Good for you, Shell! Don’t take yourself so seriously in life!”

Why, thank you for that helpful reminder, Monsieur Duchamp. Much obliged, indeed.

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I loved these sketches. So tender. I want to steal this moment in time for myself. Après l’amour, 1967

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And then, totally random and fun, one of Duchamp’s suitcases that he left behind at a friend’s apartment. The label reads: “Duchamp, 28 West 10th St., New York, U.S.A.”

All in all, a completely delightful experience.

Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna
Viale delle Belle Arti 131
Click here for details about the Duchamp: Re-Made in Italy show

One Week of Rome Randomness

15 Sep

It’s been like 8 years (whoa!) since I’ve written one of these posts. Back then, I wrote Thirty Minutes of Rome Randomness. I’m older now, so it takes me longer. So here I give you: one week of Rome randomness.

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I caught this one in the S. Paolo metro stop the other day. I dunno, folks. I mean, I suppose it’s entirely possible that a parking lot has been set up adjacent to the elevators. I mean, right? This is Rome. City where it would seem pretty much anything is possible. But, … hmmm. My money is on the fact that there is just something off about having a parking sign in front of the elevators. (Not to mention the fact that there actually ARE elevators! Wow! Accessibility in a metro stop!) Yeah, yeah, I hear you. You’re saying that the little bicycle part of that sign got covered up by some sticker. Fine. I’ll give you that. But frankly, it’s not like there was a bike rack or anything. That’s just outside the station. So. Explain that to me, please?

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Well, now, lookie what we’ve got here! Some sort of chimney-like barbeque grill contraption. Yes, folks. These are pretty common in Italian “giardini” (read: backyards) or, if you’re lucky enough to have a big balcony, I’ve seen them also set up on apartment balconies (some people have balconies as long as their entire apartments.) So, ok. Fair enough, right? But, come closer. Have a look at that sign.

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This ain’t any ol’ BBQ, folks! OH, no! This here’s a CATHOLIC barbeque. Shall I insert some smart-alecky one-liner that somehow brings in the Pope and/or the hot priest of the month calendar? Yeah, no. Let’s just say your sausage will be both raked over the coals and simultaneously blessed.

Question, though: what on earth will you drink at your grill-fest? Why, MGD, of course!

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This one wins this week’s “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” award. (I’m really rooting for it to become a new internet acronym. Start using it. We’ll have a revolution on our hands. Next time you tweet, be like: #AYFKM!!?? The punctuation is obligatory. But I digress.)

No, seriously, people. Where did I take this shot? Eataly. Now, I’ve been a bit of an underdog champion for Eataly. But this just sort of makes all that blow back up in my face. Because, well… let’s just hop on over to Eataly’s website and do a little poking around for some sort of mission statement or something, so we can hold it up for all to see and try to get some sarcastic public shame-festing going on.

Oh, hell, before we even search, let’s just attack them on their tagline: “Alti Cibi.” A.k.a. “high foods,” alluding to foods of above-average quality, I suppose. Yes, that’s Miller Genuine Draft, for sure. Champion of all backyard barbeques across the land. Of America.

Well, on their site the link to download the press kit is broken. Nice. Plus, they misspelled refrigerators. I notice b.s. like that. I get the point here. They want to offer a wide variety of beers, I guess from around the world. Ok, fine. If you’re going to do that, at least have the dignity to select artisanal beers. But: boh. I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to forgive them for offering MGD. I mean, if you’re going to go there, Eataly, then hell. Just put 6 packs of plastic-ringed Pabst, no?

Things done changed a lil' bit since 1911 (when this ad came out), wouldn't you say?

Things done changed a lil’ bit since 1911 (when this ad came out), wouldn’t you say?

I meant this:

“Blue ribbon” always lends that touch of class, no?

Or, actually, just put what my WWII vet grandpa used to have perenially glued to his hand at all family functions: a golden can of Miller High Life. A.k.a. “The Champagne of Beers.” Photographic supporting evidence, you say? Happy to oblige.

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Does anyone even remember these? Do they still sell this? I mean, come on, Eataly. Get your shit together.

Fine, and I’ll go there, finally. Yes. They are *kinda sorta* like the McDonald’s of Italian cuisine. Reason being? Well, come on now. Just look:

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Is it just me, or do those look like french fry fryers? I mean, I should know. That was my first job at age 16. Fry cook.

But no! Them there’s is pasta boilers. Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re saying: But Shelley, so what? All Italian restaurants use bollitori. I know that. I just liked the visual impact of a massive pasta boiler bank. It gives the impression I needed. And, hey, you: stop criticizing! This blog was free to get into, it’s not like you paid a cover charge or something. Chill!

O.K. Last one, from Brek Cafe. Ahem, wait. We need musical accompaniment to fully experience this. Cue James Brown, please.

Ok, now we can do this:

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It’s like: “Oh, Brek. I see what you were trying to do there.” And then, there’s a sort of semi-epic fail. I mean, it’s not epic, by any means. You can tell they meant well. I guess they just didn’t really get that we don’t say the word “food” like “foot.” Or something. Mah!

Oh, love you Rome, love you love you love you truly truly true la la…

Enrique Enriquez Talks About Linguistick

14 Sep

You may or may not know this, but I actually have two other blogs. One is a wordplay blog that I call my “word lab,” where I experiment with words, and that one, although public, is more of a virtual notebook and as such, I don’t really publicize it. The other is a blog about storytelling with the optical language represented in the art on tarot cards.

Normally I don’t do cross-over with my blogs, but this particular post from my tarot blog is just so special that I really wanted to share it with my Rome readers as well, especially as it regards language and the mechanics of learning a language, hearing a foreign language, and the way we use language in our lives.

Enrique Enriquez is a poet who works with the Tarot de Marseille, using the language of the birds and ‘pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions, to derive narratives and meaning from the images. He just released a new book, a collection of his weekly wordplay “tongue exercises,” and I had the very wonderful pleasure of chatting with him yesterday.

I hope you’ll listen in on our conversation below, and then, if it inspires you to discover the joy of wordplay, I can’t recommend highly enough EE’s books: any of them, all of them! (En)JOY!

I’m so happy to share with you the absolutely delightful Enrique Enriquez in an interview/chat we had on Skype yesterday. Enrique has just released his latest book with EyeCorner Press, Linguistick, and I wanted to take this opportunity to chat with him about the poetics of tarot and about the wordplay “tongue exercises” that make up this new collection.

(Note: At around 11:25 the screen froze–super big fat boo!!–but please hang in there because the audio continues, and the screen comes back at the question after, and we get to have a fun chat about the wordplay tongue exercise that I’ve included in this post, below the video screen…so that you can become enchanted and discover its beauty together with me as Enrique “unpacks” it and shares some of his secrets with us.)

Enrique has been and continues to be a very important professional influence for me and a mentor whom I care for and respect a great deal. I hope you enjoy this conversation–I certainly did!

[el beso: VI] by Enrique Enriquez, sent out on the weekly wordplay list on Sept. 11, 2013

[el beso: VI] by Enrique Enriquez, sent out on the weekly wordplay list on Sept. 11, 2013

To learn more about Enrique’s books or to purchase, visit his Amazon author page here.

To sign up for Enrique’s weekly wordplay list, send an email to: enrique (dot) eenriquez (at) gmail (dot) com, explaining which is the fastest letter in the alphabet, and why.

To explore some of Enrique’s writing about the Tarot de Marseille and wordplay:

Embodied Tarot. When Medieval Draftsmanship Mirrors Cognitive Science

Notes on the Use of Indirect Suggestion in Tarot Readings

Whispering to the Eye

The Joy of Wordplay

Peeking Through the Bars of Tarot’s Occult Prison

The Excellence of the Marseille Tarot

As well as some other sources of his storytelling and experiences:

Enrique Enriquez, a Portrait and a Story, by Fabrizio Chiesa

Brief Interview with Time Out New York

Enrique also starred in the world’s first feature-length documentary about the Tarot de Marseille, Tarology. It can be purchased in DVD format here, or you can watch it instantly for just $1.99 through Amazon Instant Video by clicking here.

“You can only find what you are not looking for if you take a detour.” -EE

AcquaMadre Hammam in Rome

22 Sep

As those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know, this was my “Treat Yo Self” weekend. One of my BFFs introduced me to this concept a few months ago, but I am only just now fully embracing it. If you aren’t familiar with where the expression comes from, here is the clip that delineates this awesome ritual that involves cupcakes and “fine leather goods!!”

Instead of searching for fulfillment and satisfaction in men who clearly aren’t able to give it to me, I decided to start TREATING MY SELF, and that began with buying a bouquet of 24 roses yesterday, all for me. They’re now in glass jars around my house and make me happy. Remember this post from years ago? I still treasure the little things, like being able to buy flowers and a newspaper. Really do.

This is one of my “off” weekends in which the kiddos are with papà, and I am devoting my free time lately to learning how to be alone with myself but not lonely. That started in Spoleto (day 1 and day 2) but it’s a continual process that I’m working on. Two steps forward, one step back.

I don’t want to get into a bunch of emo psychobabble, but suffice it to say that I left my 10-year relationship with some major self-esteem issues. As in, below zero self-esteem. How did I think I could remedy that? Oh, easy! I would throw myself at men’s feet and hope they’d rescue me. The Band-Aid Brand Bandage approach.

Well, you all know how that ends. Or maybe you don’t. In any case, I’m here to tell you that for me, it ended in getting a hot dog when what I really wanted was a steak, rare, followed by a decadent dessert and a bubble bath with candles.

What’s that, you say?

You mean I can TREAT MY SELF and not wait for a man to do this for me?

Well, now! There’s a concept!

Therefore, with God and y’all as my witness, I hereby pledge to never devalue myself again by settling for mystery meat when I really want top-quality Certified Prime Angus beef.

But enough with the strange inside joke metaphors that only this girl understands because she has been my rock and my life preserver throughout this whole self-esteem debacle. Let’s get on with treat yourself weekend.

I want to tell you about AcquaMadre here in Rome. It’s a thermal spa where you can feel like an ancient Roman for a day.

It is, in a word: AMAZING.

Everything about it was awesome.

The “hammam” or bathing area is underground, and the walls and ceilings are all arched and bricks and sparkly brown mosaic tile. I felt like changing my name to Servilia or maybe even Livia Drusilla, and then hiring servants to fan me with palm fronds and feed me grapes. Yes, that would be cool.

Instead, I got to enjoy the lovely hammam ritual, in which you proceed through various steps of baths that provide a total relaxation experience. I had a gift certificate to this place from Christmas and it had taken me THIS LONG to finally book. I already can’t wait to go back.

You start in the tepidarium, a room that’s heated to 36°C (96.8°F), and the attendants, all of whom are super friendly and explain everything to you, give you a silver pail with a copper bowl inside. The bucket is filled with warm water and you start to scoop the water into the copper bowl and pour it all over yourself “to start acclimating your body to the temperature.” You sit on mosaic-covered benches and get to just enjoy the time to do nothing but water therapy surrounded by gentle lighting and faint but not cloying incense. It is lovely.

They give you a little porcelain saucer filled with a black gel soap which is very moisturizing, and you put it all over your body and then go into the calidarium, which is a steam room heated to 45°C/100% humidity (113°F) and they tell you to stay in “depending on how long you can stand the heat.” It is really relaxing and feels great to breath in the vapors, and they recommend you go in and out at least a few times. In between you relax in the tepidarium while sipping water or having a hard candy or two.

When you’ve had enough of the steam bath, you tell the attendants and they arrange for your massage. You get your own hammam exfoliating glove which an attendant uses to scrub your body. They use some kind of a warm oil which they pour on you and it feels really pampering. The scrub lasts about 10 minutes.

You then take a shower and go to the frigidarium 28°C (82.4°F) and relax in a pool with a gentle cascading waterfall.

The design throughout is elegant, minimalist, and colored in beige and stone hues. There is warm light from candles burning in little corners all around, and a light incense smell, and it is quite a surreal environment, truly unique.

Saturdays are for men and women, and there were some couples having a relaxing day together. You have to book your appointment in advance, and this assures that it’s not a crowded environment.

After the frigidarium, you take a final shower and proceed to the relax room, where you can stretch out on a comfortable wooden lounge chair and an attendant brings a delicious mint tea in a simple white ceramic teapot, with an elegant flowery teacup, and you can read magazines or just zone out before you have to go back to the real world.

I can’t wait to get back here. I think this place would be a great stop on any visit to Rome. I had no idea it even existed! It’s right behind my favorite fountain, the Bernini turtle fountain in the Jewish Ghetto.


photo of the tepidarium from the AcquaMadre website

AcquaMadre Hammam
Via S. Ambrogio 17
Tel. 06 6864272
Hours and pricing

Serendipity

11 Sep

: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also : an instance of this

Yes.

One of the most blessed phenomena in this great life. Serendipity.

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this word is this fantastic movie I saw back in 2001, shortly after I had met my future boyfriend/husband/ex-husband on my first day here in Rome (June 18, 2001, to be exact). That movie is all Jon Cusack, ladies. Hubba hubba. Gorgeous movie. Actually, nothing special. Just your run of the mill rom-com of sorts, Prince Charming, destiny, all the rest. But I was so in luuuurvvve at the time, that everything was magical, and I felt like that movie was the sign specifically to me from the Universe that everything was going to work out perfectly.

I think back on that fall, after I had come back from Italy in July 2001 completely head over heels in love, starstruck, and any other verb you can conjure up for those feelings that defy vocabulary. I was there. I pined, I panicked, I dreamed, I worried, I planned, I hoped. I had a college degree but Rome had stolen my heart. I moved back in with my parents at age 23. I was BAGGING GROCERIES at a supermarket on the weekends just to make extra money, while during the week working a part-time marketing job.

But most of all, people: I trusted. As hard as it was, I trusted. I had faith that things were just going to work out. They had to. I was convinced. I think this is where the term “blind faith” comes from. It’s blind, because you have no way of shining a light down the road to see where you’ll end up.

Now. Had someone dropped down from futureland and told me that I was pining after and worrying about never being able to “have” or to be with the man who would eventually become my life partner of ten years, my future husband of four years, and the father of our three children? Well, holy crap. That takes quite a bit of the magic out of things, doesn’t it? I mean, at that point, it becomes the sure thing.

Isn’t it funny how the longing for something is almost more delectable that the actually-having-it part? Does anyone really want the sure thing? Where’s the sense of accomplishment in that?

I just learned the word for longing in Italian in a book I was reading last weekend. Anelito. It instantly became my favorite new word. It has two definitions, actually: 1) labored breathing 2) ardent desire

You don’t need me to tell you that those two definitions often times go hand in hand!

Ardent. I mean, come on. ARDENT, people. Does anyone EVER get the opportunity to use that word, for any reason, ever? Unless they’re like writing an 18th century Victorian romance novel? (A bodice-ripper!)

Oh, sigh. So here’s the thing. The longing, the hoping, the pining, the waiting, the chase, the hunt, the catch. Isn’t that where all the magic lies? Not even just in relationships, but truly in life in general, in anything that you have a burning passion for, a breathless dream about. Once it becomes the done deal, the sure thing, the here and now–some sort of pixie dust goes away and we’re quickly onto the next conquest.

Serendipity. Chance meetings or encounters that you do absolutely nothing to encourage. Things that just magically happen, and bring special results, inexplicable opportunities, unsolicited wisdom, heartfelt sentiments, exciting adventures. The polar opposite of the determined quest to “get” something. Life’s little magical gifts.

My time in Italy has been full of them. Continues to be full of them. Continues to require blind faith.

Going into the bar of a restaurant I hadn’t been to in months, to say goodbye to a lovely bartender who’s leaving for a new adventure in a sister restaurant in Brooklyn, I ended up having a most serendipitous encounter by sitting down right next to a woman who has already taught me a few important life lessons in just the last 48 hours, through personal conversation and her strong online voice. Brenda della Casa, what a lovely chance meeting! Like a little angel dropped down and told me exactly what I already knew, but needed to hear from outside of myself in order for it to finally get through to me.

Sometimes what we think we want, in the end is actually just a catalyst to get us where we need to go. But it’s in the wanting and longing, that anelito, that ardent desire, that we end up pushing forward to the next inevitable step, wherever it may lead.

Rome continues to fill me with love and joy and chance meetings. “Zia” (aunty) Lina, the pasta lady next to my downstairs coffee bar (owned by her brother) is in her probably late 70s. She always wears a white coat for work in her shop, but the few times I’ve seen her without it, she is dressed in all black, traditional widow’s garb. This spectacular lady often gives me child-rearing advice, and inevitably follows it up by proudly stating: “I’ve raised 24 nieces and nephews, just like they were my own, so I know what I’m talking about.” Just the other day, with misty eyes and a cracking voice, she told me that she loves me as if I were her own niece, and that all I have to do is ask, and anything I need, she’ll be there for me, adding: “And today I’m going to make special ravioli for you and your children, extra special just for you.”

On Twitter, of all places, I unexpectedly became friends recently with a delightful and wise man who’s 11 years younger than me and lives far, far away, but is originally from Rome. He and I had a breathlessly fateful encounter on one of the hilltop towns just outside of Rome when he was visiting recently for just 5 days, trading our thoughts and philosophies on life and love. He about his girlfriend back in his adopted country, me about my struggle to find myself post-divorce, all over a marathon of sarcastic one-liners, a gelato with his requested “‘na cifra” (a ton) of whipped cream, and a balmy stroll in the late summer air. Magical. Truly. A source of joy for me that is inexplicable, this jewel of a man full of wisdom and light who I treasure as a friend from afar, this completely unsolicited and effortless gift of friendship.

After reflecting on my past weekend filled with emotional highs and lows, I resolved to make this a week for focusing on the blessings I have in my life, and not trying to constantly strive and push to have things I think I want, that perhaps I can’t, or shouldn’t.

Why must we always walk through life trying to get more, trying to do more, trying to be more and have more, without stopping to be thankful for all of the things we are already truly blessed with? I think I gravitated to Rome for this sense of gratitude. I’m a realist rather than a romanticist when it comes to Rome, but no one can deny that life here moves at a different pace. There’s more time for reflection, and a key Roman philosophy to live by is “piano, piano” — little by little, literally “slowly, slowly,” dispensed liberally by Romans as a reassurance to any anxiety you might express. “Just take it easy,” they seem to say. Everything will eventually work itself out, you’ll see.

Here I am, 11 years later, and never would I have thought that even after having a firmly established life here in Rome, and having been called a Roman at heart by more than one native, I would still be feeling that sense of longing, that bittersweet anelito, that pining sense for something more.

And yet, through it all, I’ve just now finally come to realize that without the ache of longing, I’d never be able to fully understand how richly abundant my life truly is, just as it is, right now, pain and sorrow, love and joy, adopted family, new friends, blind faith, serendipity. Tears and all, despite it all: life is good! Celebrate your blessings. Even heartache has a lesson to teach.

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
–Epicurus