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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.

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.”

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.)

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


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.

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.

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

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


Picnic in the Park with GiNa Ristorante

17 Sep

Very excited about this little discovery! There was a short blurb about this in some Italian magazine a few months back, and I remember thinking that it was definitely something I needed to check out for myself. When my friend’s birthday came up the other day, I figured it was the perfect opportunity.

Basically, there’s this totally cozy and very chic restaurant called GiNa, which takes its name from co-owners GIandomenico and CristiNA, right by the beautiful Villa Borghese gardens.

They came up with the idea to pack picnic basket lunches that could be reserved for a lunch in the park (or wherever you choose to take the basket!) I was intrigued by the idea and at the price of €40, I figured it would be worth it for a special splurge or surprise for someone. After all, didn’t we pay more than €20 per person just the other day at ‘Gusto?

I called to reserve a couple days in advance, and they told me that since it was my friend’s birthday they could personalize everything for her. I added a bottle of white wine for €15 (I didn’t know what kind they were going to put in, but it ended up being Castel De Paolis Campo Vecchio, which wasn’t bad at all!).

At lunch time on my friend’s birthday, we showed up and chose the sandwiches we wanted for our picnic, and they prepared them on the spot (I got an incredible club sandwich, which isn’t easy to find in Rome; and my friend got a sandwich called “Margherita” which was buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes on foccaccia bread). Once everything was ready, they handed over our basket and we were ready to go! There was a handy carrying strap and a mat attached for placing on the ground when we arrived.

After a five-minute walk, we found a nice little spot to spread out our spread in Villa Borghese.

When we opened our little treasure chest, which had a personalized card hanging from the clasp with my friend’s name and birthday, here’s what we found inside:

Besides the sandwiches, bottled water, wine, delicious fruit salad, and two heavenly mini-cheesecakes (I have not encountered many places in Rome that know how to make authentic cheesecake, but you can make a mental note that GiNa is definitely one of them), there was also a little mesh bag tied with a ribbon that had a candle and matches (the matchbox was personalized with the date and my friend’s name), plus a tiny thermos of espresso and cups with sugar, stir sticks, and cookies.

They included all the silverware, ceramic plates and wine glasses, as well as a corkscrew and even a plastic bag for wrapping up the trash when we were finished. They had thought of everything! It was really a lot of fun.

If you’re looking for a unique lunch here in Rome, I can definitely recommend this picnic basket from GiNa. Or, if you don’t want the picnic basket, GiNa is open 7 days a week from 11 am to midnight (Sundays they close at 8 pm). It was busy when we went in to pick up our basket and I will definitely be going back to check out their lunch or dinner one of these days.

GiNa Ristorante, Via San Sebastianello 7A (near Piazza di Spagna), Tel. 06 678 0251

Valentino, Ara Pacis, and Lots of Glam Gowns

12 Sep

If you’ll be in Rome between now and the end of October, this is a great show to check out. If not, you can live vicariously through this post.

Let’s start with the Ara Pacis. I’d never seen it until its unveiling last year, because for the first five years I was here, it was undergoing a remodel. But incredibly enough, the remodel project was awarded way back in 1995 (!). I don’t know why the project dragged on for so long. Why don’t we just say it was due to the artistic genius of architect Richard Meier. Without getting into too many specifics, let me tell you that people were not all that pleased when the final product was unveiled after eleven long years of waiting. I’m not going to beat around the bush: most people I talked to said it was downright ugly, and doesn’t do justice to the beauty that is housed inside. Click on this link to judge for yourself.

Well, I don’t know a better way to beautify an eyesore than to drape it in 45 years of Valentino creations. FAHBULOUS, dahling! I’d been intrigued by the gowns on display in the windows every time we drove by on Lungotevere, and had been wanting to go and get a closer look. The other day I decided to plunk down my €6,50 (well worth it) and see what was going on inside. Behold:

OMG, can you tell that I got just a *wee* bit snap-happy in there? Hey, when they told me photos without flash were permitted (and with all that natural light, who needs a flash?) I took them up on their offer.

So, yes—gowns. Loads and loads and loads of them. Gorgeous, original, and probably from Valentino’s vast storehouses somewhere over at his big fashion headquarters. But, for all you non-glam junkies out there, let’s not forget the actual, ahem, monument that’s lurking around all those fancy dresses!

Look, there’s even toga-wear for toddlers!

See the genius in this exhibition, folks? It’s ancient fashion meets modern!

Oh, stop me now… but I can’t resist showing you some more stuff I found when we went underground.

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I found what seemed like an entire city block of sketch after sketch after glorious, original sketch, starting from the beginning of Valentino-dom and going up until now. This one from the mid-sixties I love, because it was one of the few with notes in English: “This dress—perhaps you should leave the hem unfinished—I can get it sewn here—as if you make it too short, it will show if I let it down…” Ah! The sheer curiosity! Who wrote the note? Where is “here”? The suspense! The price tag!! I took a ton of other shots of sketches like this; if you want to see them, click on the one above to go to my Flickr pool.

Celebrity trivia: who wore this vintage Valentino to the 2001 Oscars?


Here’s the Wiki on Valentino. Keeping to his dramatic style, he announced that he is bowing out of the fashion world next year. Did you see the photo in that article? What would he look like without that perpetual tan, I wonder? Well, call him what you will, but after seeing this show, there’s no denying that the man is a fashion genius.

Ara Pacis Museum, Lungotevere in Augusta
Valentino a Roma. 45 Years of Style, runs through October 28, 2007

Chiesa Santa Maria in Trastevere

20 Jul

If you ask anyone who lives in Rome or who has visited, chances are they have a favorite church. I don’t know the definitive answer about how many churches there are in Rome, but a few sources I found say that there are more than 900. Suffice it to say that there are many, and you could spend a lifetime in Rome and probably never visit them all.

S. Maria in Trastevere is hands-down my favorite, and always has been. I count myself very lucky to live about a 10 minute walk from the square where it’s located, and even luckier that it was the church where I was married in late March. Despite being one of Rome’s basilicas (not one of the major Papal four but considered an “immemorial minor basilica” with a parish), for me it still manages to retain a sense of intimacy as well.

S. Maria is widely considered to be the first church in the world where Catholic mass was openly celebrated. The first structure was founded on the site in 220 by Pope St. Callixtus I, and ever since then the church has grown and undergone many renovations. I think my absolute favorite part of this church are the breathtaking mosaics that were added by Pietro Cavallini in the 13th century. They are so incredibly detailed that from afar they seem almost like paintings.

The columns inside are also quite impressive. There are 22 columns and they came from the Baths of Caracalla.

The fountain in the square was restored by Carlo Fontana in 1702, but appears on a map as far back as 1472.

Needless to say, this church is a truly rich jumble of centuries and centuries of history, all concentrated in one relatively small area, so it would be impossible to highlight all the important points here. What’s more, I’m no expert in art history so I can’t even attempt to enlighten you on the finer academic points of this glorious structure. What I can do instead is give you a photo tour of my humble neighborhood church.

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The entrance to the church is undoubtedly one of my favorite parts. All of the little pieces you see embedded in the wall are taken from various tombs of ancient Rome. Some are written in ancient Greek, others in ancient Latin, and still others using pictorial symbols.

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The mosaic-tiled floors are also an important feature of this church, and have a distinctly recognizable style that can be found in other churches in Rome and Italy, and even as far afield as the Westminster Abbey. Four generations of craftsmen from the Cosmati family are responsible for this geometric style inspired by the Byzantine technique and referred to as “Cosmatesque.” The marble used for the mosaics was taken from ancient Roman ruins.

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The majestic organ is used at mass and in fact, the organista, Vincenzo, played at our wedding. Normally the choir sings to the left of the altar and not up where the organ is, but since Ale is a huge classical music buff and has sung in a classical music choir for ages, and since his choir always sings when a member gets married, Ale asked for special permission for the choir to sing up where the organ is located. He explained to me that the acoustics are better from there. It was like a concert, a really incredible experience for us and all of our guests to hear, as well as for the assortment of awed and curious tourists with backpacks who respectfully hung by the back pews, some of whom even congratulated me after the ceremony!

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Several photos taken of the guests during our ceremony show them craning their necks upward. It’s no surprise.

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Here is a detail from the apse with the brilliant mosaics by Pietro Cavallini.

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I don’t know the story of this statue on the left hand side of the church by the door, but I am always touched to see all the notes and prayers left. The statue is surrounded by a small wooden gate that holds in the little papers that have overflowed from the statue to the ground.

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If you look really hard for those two little specks at the end of the aisle… that’s us!

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Pasquino the Talking Statue

14 Jun

Pasquino 1

What’s that you say? How can a statue talk? Well, in Rome, there’s a whole series of talking statues. Allow me to explain.

The hero of today’s post, Pasquino, is a humble little statue that’s been hanging out in Piazza Pasquino (guess who the square is named after?), near Piazza Navona, since about 1501. That’s when he was placed there by Cardinal Carafa, who apparently had a Latin poetry contest each year and used Pasquino to hang the poems on for all to see and admire.

Over the years though, people began using Pasquino outside of the contest, and it wasn’t all flowery poetry. Romans who wanted to express themselves against the rule of the popes would post critical and mocking notes, and Pasquino was also used for political gossip like predicting who would be elected pope. Since this didn’t go over too well with the Church, Pasquino was put under surveillance, but that only served to widen the range of talking statues. The second one to turn up was Marforio, a river god statue on Capitol Hill who started talking back and forth with Pasquino, adding to the fun of it all. Romans are nothing if not creative, and their unique sense of humor knows no bounds.

Over the centuries this practice has persisted and the posting of notes continues to this day, mainly with letters and poems in Roman dialect criticizing famous Italian politicians. You can get more information about the history of the talking statues with this article, which I used for the information in this post.

Pasquino 3

Do you speak Roman? Here are some of the most recent notes.


I find this photo interesting on a couple fronts. Did you notice how both of them have a little added note that says something about an SMS? Basically from what I can gather, the writer of the note is telling readers that “this letter can be sent in just one mobile phone text message, so if you want, memorize it and pass it on.” Who could have ever predicted back in the 1500s that in 2007 Pasquino would not only talk, but send text messages as well? Ah, the wonders of technology.

The first note is signed “Pasquino” while the second one is signed “G.P.” or Grillo Parlante, literally “the talking cricket,” but also the name given to the character of Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio.


Another hit from G.P., still encouraging you to send it in an SMS, against Mastella, the Italian Justice Minister. But very lightly in the upper right hand corner someone else has written: Miky, TVTB (ti voglio tanto bene, which is similiar to ‘I love you so much’) by Ila. I’ve noticed that Italians often sign letters “by” — I guess they think that’s a cool way to spice up their notes with some English, since “da” in Italian can mean “by,” “from,” and even “since.” In these cases what they really mean is “from” but somehow it seems that many Italians are convinced it should read “by.” I’ve seen it across the board and I’ve always found it kind of funny. Whenever I get Christmas gifts, the tag always says “by” whoever is giving it to me.


Well, next time you’re in Rome and near Piazza Navona, stop by and say hi to old Pasquino. Maybe he’ll tell you a thing or two about what he’s seen in the past 500 years.

Do you know what’s under YOUR church?

8 Mar

I can tell you, after yesterday morning, I now know what’s under MINE, and it’s pretty incredible.

Let me back up for a moment. As you know and are probably tired of hearing by now, wedding bells are ringing. Actually, not just ringing. Clanging. Loudly. Please! Make it stop!

But I digress. Ale and I had one last step to do in our long, bureaucratic walk towards the altar (we are in Italy, remember) which involved going back to our neighborhood church (for the 3rd time) and getting the final OK from the priest that we could take all the paperwork to the Vatican’s wedding office and get the all-important final stamp. While we were waiting, we saw a couple of tourists being let into a door very inconspicuously marked “Visita, €2.” Visita to what? What was down there?

We asked the custodian, thinking it might be part of the ancient Roman firefighter’s headquarters that was discovered across the street. He said, “Yeah, I think it’s ancient Roman stuff. I’m really not that informed.” Um, ok, well, we’ll check it out for ourselves. After we managed to come up with €4 in coins, he let us in and we were free to roam.

Just goes to show that you should never miss any opportunity to explore something hidden here in Rome. Look what we found:

First thing you see when you come down the stairs is an ancient Roman tomb, preserved as if it were made yesterday. No “do not touch” signs and no one even around to monitor you. It’s as if it were left here to be thrown out. It’s just that the garbage man hasn’t been by for like TWO THOUSAND years or so. And by the way, we’re thinking this probably was where the ancient Roman firefighters lived.

More recently, oh, let’s say in about the year 400, 500 A.D. or thereabouts, there was a church at this level. So you see some religious frescoes as well.

Then I spotted another tomb, and I said to Ale, “Hey look…another one. So, I wonder what happened to what was inside? Heh, heh,” and I got closer, looking inside… and I found…

Um, HELLO! Is THAT creepy enough for you?

Yes, people, they are BONES. BONES, I tell you!

All that for the low, low price of just €2. I’m not complaining.

Chiesa San Crisogono
Look for the church custodian…he’s usually around, maybe sitting over towards the left side of the church by the altar.
Viale Trastevere 47

You’ve Got (Blessed) Mail

17 Jan

As many of you already know, I’m getting married here in Rome in late March. That means, among many other things, wedding invitations to send. Even though I already pretty much know who is coming from the States because by now almost all the people who can manage to make it have already bought their tickets, still, wedding invitations have to be sent out to everyone – can’t skip tradition.

I made my own invites using an image of an engraving of our church from the 1700s. (Curious which of the bazillion churches in Rome it is? See if you can guess by looking at this.) Since I put so much time into them, I wasn’t about to trust them to the dreaded Poste Italiane, the Italian mail system. Granted, most people in Italy have no other choice. But blessed are those who live in Rome, because they can go to Poste Vaticane.

That’s right, Vatican Mail. Oh, how I heart them. So friendly, so efficient, so…. so not Poste Italiane. Let’s not even get into that today. Suffice it to say that I finally gave up on them when a package arrived from my mom with a small box of Godiva chocolates. Lovely, no? Not so much when you find one, just one, eaten, leaving of course the other three to enjoy. As if. Per favore! (Yes, I am convinced it happened on this side of the ocean, and no, I don’t need proof. I am shamelessly prejudiced against the Italian postal system.)

No, no, Vatican mail is blessed by the hand of God, indeed. In my experience, the price is pretty much the same as Italian mail; what makes the difference is that Vatican mail is all sent directly to Switzerland for distribution to the rest of the world. The tiny Vatican post office next to St. Peter’s is a tourist hub and melting pot of world cultures, all passing through to mail their postcards from the smallest country in the world (.2 square miles).

I had 40 invites to mail. When I got to the window (no line, by the way!) and explained this, the man working the window next to me saw my envelopes and said, “Who’s getting married?” (What is this now? Friendly banter at the post office? From a postal employee?)

“That would be me,” I say. “After six years in Rome, I guess it was about time.”

“Marrying an Italian?”

Romano di Roma,” I say, a phrase to indicate a “Roman from Rome.” “Trasteverino.” Ale was born in Trastevere and Romans generally agree that being from Trastevere is about as Rome as one can get. Trasteverini take a lot of pride in being from the neighborhood, especially since nowadays there are so few left who actually still live there, as it has become affordable pretty much only for rich foreigners or people who have lived in the neighborhood for generations and passed down property.

“Well, well, then! Auguri e tanti figli maschi!” He sends me “best wishes and many male children.”

“Well, children in general would be fine by me,” I say.

“You know what happened to me when people told me ‘tanti figli maschi’?” he asks. “I have three sons! So I wish you tanti figli maschi, just so long as they aren’t Romanisti.”

Romanisti are fans of the Roma soccer team, one of Rome’s two rival teams. When someone asks which team you are a tifoso (fan) for, it’s a pretty critical moment here in Rome. Luckily Ale is a diehard fan of Lazio, the opposing team.

“Oh, no worries there. We’re a strictly Laziale household.”

You should have seen the sheer delight on his face. It’s funny when you find Lazio fans, they get so excited to know you’re on “their side” against the evil forces of Roma.

“Well then, I wish you tre figli e tre figlie!” (three sons and three daughters).

I guess being a fan of his team bought me some bonus offspring.

“That way we can bring them all to the stadio together, right?” I reply.

Delightful, am I still in the post office? I ask the man at my window if he has any nice stamps by chance, since I don’t want my wedding invites stamped by a machine.

“Just for you, since you’re marrying a Romano, Trasteverino, here’s what I’m going to do…”

He manages to find three beautiful stamps that equal the exact amount I have to pay per envelope. (Did you know that it’s possible to go to an Italian post office to buy stamps and be told they don’t have any??) There’s a large table where I can sit down, with a damp sponge I can use for putting the stamps on the envelopes. As I spread all my stuff out and get to work, I feel like I’ve died and gone to postal heaven. I realize this may sound ridiculous, but perhaps you have to have some experience with the Italian postal system under your belt to truly appreciate this.

Just under 40 envelopes and nearly 120 stamps later, I’m on my way, and so are my invitations. Buon viaggio!

An automated stamp machine outside the post office for when it’s closed. I’ve never seen an automated Poste Italiane stamp machine…have you? Hmm, must be too convenient.

Inside the post office, with a big table and chairs for tourists to write their postcards. On the left is the numismatic shop, where you can buy commemorative stamps, postcards and coins. (Can you spot the picture of the pope?)

The post office is located directly to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica. There are two yellow mailboxes out front. Mail must be sent from here. You can’t buy stamps here and then mail things from an Italian mailbox, just as you can’t mail anything from here with Italian stamps.

Hey, turn around, I think I see something behind you…