Tag Archives: art

Of man and machine

29 Jun
29 June 2016. Finding statues from the Roman Imperial Era is easier than finding a seat on the bus in Rome. Every museum is loaded with the statues of this era (and earlier), all by unknown artists, mostly slaves who were primarily Greek. Many of these statues are beautiful marble copies of Greek bronzes and they are EVERYWHERE. They are so common that unless you are an art historian, sooner or later you just pass them by. Statues with broken noses, exposed breasts, and missing arms and penises become quite ordinary when you see them everywhere. Until you go to Centrale MontemartiniHere the artwork is juxtaposed (I love using that word) with the machinery that once was used to produce power.
Machine works surrounded by ancient works of art.

Machine works surrounded by ancient works of art.

Dionysus, 4th century B.C. I love the juxtapositioning with the industrial site.

Dionysus, 4th century B.C. I love the juxtapositioning with the industrial site.

Huge resconstructed mosaic floor at Centrale Montemartini.

Huge reconstructed mosaic floor at Centrale Montemartini.

Centrale Montemartini was the first power plant to produce electricity for Rome, starting in the early 20th century, on the banks of the Tiber. A 15-minute walk from Stazione Ostiense brings you to this lightly-visited corner of Rome. The machinery has not been removed: rather it provides a startling backdrop for the Roman Imperial Era statues that are a part of the vast collection of the Capitoline Museum. In fact, this museum started as a temporary home for works the Capitoline could not accommodate. 


Head of a colossus, female. from 101 B.C....

Head of a colossus, female. from 101 B.C….

...and her foot. Ric demonstrates proportion.

…and her foot. Ric demonstrates proportion.

Whether you favor twentieth-century machinery, classical marble statuary, or a peaceful location, Central Montemartini has something for you. After a visit, saunter on over to Eataly for a nice lunch and some shopping before hopping the Metro, tram, or bus back to the throngs of tourists in the Centro Storico.
Fabulous mosaic from Anzio, 1st century B.C.

Fabulous mosaic from Anzio, 1st century B.C.

Missing body parts...perhaps the heads and arms are in a different museum. Franco Tosi was the machinery manufacturer. Still in business.

Missing body parts…perhaps the heads and arms are in a different museum. Franco Tosi was the machinery manufacturer. Still in business.


Most popular post

2 Feb
I have to laugh every time I look at my blog’s stats and see that once again, “Naked in Italy” has been viewed. I published the post in May of 2014. It has been far the most widely read and seems to have endured in popularity. I can only imagine the sophomoric minds who are Googling “Naked Italy” and coming up with links to my blog as well as whatever perversions they were chasing. 
Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

So just for giggles, I am republishing it in case some of you newer subscribers happened to have missed it. 
Naked in Italy from May, 2014.

Paris bits and pieces

1 Apr
By now I am used to functioning in two languages. I understand most of what I see in print in Italian, with the exception of the newspaper as it is written in run-on sentences with obscure terminology and archaic verb tenses. When someone speaks directly to me, I understand most of what they are saying if I get the context to start. When I need to communicate me la cavo (I get along) even if my grammar is not perfect.
When we embarked on our trip to Paris I was hit by the realization that I would not understand much of anything from menus to street signs, and I certainly would  not understand spoken French.  Going to France was the most foreign thing we had done since we first traveled to Italy in 2010.
We found ourselves speaking in an odd combination of Italian and English. I am used to speaking Italian to our servers, technicians and shop people in Italy, so that’s the first language that sprang from my lips, combined with mangled French pronunciation. “Prendo il boeuf bourguignon, per favore.” I could not get past grazie to merci until mid-week. In one restaurant, we mixed up languages sufficiently to have the waitress convinced we were Italians who spoke little English. When we said “Merci bonsoir” at the end of the evening, she cheerily replied “Grazie, anche a te!”
There was little hope for me in pronouncing French street names. My Italian-addled brain insists that “Place” must be pronounced PLAH-chay. Once in awhile we’d hear Italian being spoken by other visitors and it was a joy to hear and understand.
Shopping in a French market reminded me of our first trip to Italy when we tried to figure out what things were. Like in Italy, lots of offal was available, from tripe to lambs heads (sorry vegetarians). The Super U was rather ordinary, but some of the shops are magnificent. We found ourselves taking a lot of pictures of store windows and displays.
Here are some Easter treats. Each store had a theme: fish, chickens, cows, even a little mole poking his head above the ground. All gorgeous and expensive. Click on any picture for a slide show.
Fashion windows are creative and the bakeries difficult to resist. The bejeweled athletic-style shoes are Dior. I love the ducks sporting sunglasses and the colorful men’s accessories. Ric showed no interest in blue shoes.


Avocados, artichokes and cabbages are arranged attractively. I wish I had taken a picture of the huge strawberries artfully displayed. In the Place du Madeleine area, boutiques with high-end chocolates, teas, cheeses, and wines seemed like museums. 


We also found time to see the major sites as we wandered the city. At the end of seven days of tromping about Paris my pedometer reported 162,222 steps. We covered some ground, but there’s so much left on the list that we must go back…but later in the spring so we can enjoy the gardens and maybe take our coats off. 

Naked in Italy

27 May
That title should make the read-rate for this blog go through the roof.
The other day I was in the gym. Having finished my workout I went to the very small locker room, where my first act is usually to wash my hands since I’ve been touching all sorts of equipment. Right in front of the sink was a naked Italian woman, chit-chatting with a couple of other women while she donned her black lace panties. I was not going to ask permesso to go to into the very small area by the sink, squeezing past her naked self. As she went to put on her bra, her cell phone rang and – I kid you not – she took a 5 minute call with one boob in the bra and one boob out, still blocking the sink.  I changed my clothes and went on my way, shaking my head.
Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Body image and nakedness in Italy is a culture shock for American women I have spoken to. The attitude towards the body is much more open in Italy than in North America. Whether in the locker room at the gym or at the doctor’s office, unabashed nakedness is taken for granted.
Most North American men – or men from anywhere for that matter and as far as I know – don’t give a rip about taking off their clothes in front of other men. Man boobs or not, they change and shower openly from what I am told. Not so women in North America, right?
I respect the openness with which Italians treat the body. There is little or no modesty or self-consciousness, which is somewhat refreshing, but frankly I don’t know where to put my eyes when confronted with the naked conversation.  
Another time I came into the locker room to get changed before working out and a young woman came out of the toilet stall, naked but for her shower flip-flops. (God- forbid she should get a fungus while walking around the locker room naked.)  I tried to suppress my surprise but I am certain my jaw dropped a bit. As a hung-up Americana I don’t even potty at home completely naked. Naked is for the shower and certain bed-time activities. “Buongiorno! Come vai?” she said.  Where do I put my eyes?  I think I chose a corner high and to the right.
Is this narcissism? “Look at me! I am in your way and I am naked!” She may or may not have a body one wants to see naked…. And regardless, where the heck am I supposed to put my eyes?
I have become somewhat used to doffing my clothes in a medical situation, although luckily I have been able to take care that my mammographer is not a man. (Yup, many of them are in Italy. See Things Are Different Here.) When I expressed a desire to NOT have a male mammographer the nurse said to me “What do you care? They’re only breasts.” Yes, but they are my breasts, and I like to be the one to select who touches them.  After last year’s experience I made a point of selecting a facility where the doctor herself does the mammogram and sonogram. Still, when one gets a mammogram here there are no little pink capes over your shoulders. You enter the x-ray room, strip to the waist and belly-up to the machine. This is followed by a walk to an adjacent room where you get a sonogram, sometimes involving two specialists if consultation is required. And no one explains what’s going happen. In the U.S. one would expect the doctor to say “I’d like to call in Dr. So-and-So to have a look. Do you mind?” and she would buzz someone to come in. Here, a door to a busy hallway will suddenly open and someone you’ve not met while clothed will walk in and start examining your breasts with no introduction.  Thorough, though: No one is taking chances that they will miss anything. After the exam you sit there bare-breasted while having a conversation about what was or was not found.
Perhaps Italy's most famous nude, David.

Perhaps Italy’s most famous nude, David.

Whether for skin cancer checks, a visit to the cardiologist for an ECG, or to the vascular surgeon, one just slips out of the appropriate garments while chatting up the doctor and perhaps while dressing after the exam has a conversation about vacation, or family, or life in an embassy. Very convivial. Actually I like the system a great deal in that one has the full attention of the physician. But it took some adjusting to not having privacy for undressing and dressing and occasionally having a door unexpectedly open and others arrive on the scene unexplained.
The lack of privacy also extends to the pharmacy. Hell, there isn’t even a word for privacy in Italian.  Everyone hears everyone else’s symptoms and problems. You do not walk into a pharmacy and peruse the shelves looking for your own solutions or symptoms. You have to ask the pharmacist for whatever you might need. Everyone in the store will know what you came to buy. Sort of a different form of exposure.
In the U.S. we are so concerned about privacy. God-forbid someone would overhear the pharmacist give instructions on how to take an antibiotic or how to apply that anti-fungal cream! Once I had to sign a privacy statement when they gave me instructions at the people pharmacy on how to administer a medication to my dog. In locker rooms we are shy and at the doctor’s we expect gowns and drapes, introductions and explanations before anything is looked at, probed, or handled.  
It’s certainly not that either approach is wrong. It just takes some getting used to flaunting your “stuff” in public. And I still don’t know where to look when chatting up naked women in the locker room. 

Milano Musings

2 Mar

When you arrive in Milan after living in Rome for awhile, the first thing you notice is how tall the buildings are. (If you are coming from, say, Seattle or Denver, you won’t even notice.)

The Duomo in Milano, during a brief rain-free moment in the evening. It truly is spectacular!

The Duomo in Milano, during a brief rain-free moment in the evening. It truly is spectacular!

In Rome nothing can be taller than St. Peter’s Dome, so the buildings all top out at about 6 floors. This lends an interesting sameness to the architecture of Rome, a unity in height if in no other manner. Also, in Milan, there is a “newness.” As the city was heavily damaged in WWII, one doesn’t find as many old buildings.

The second thing you might notice is the streets: they are wider overall than in Rome, and fewer are winding alleyways. Some areas have broad flat sidewalks without loose stones so you can walk without watching your feet. And it is flat. Rome’s famous seven hills won’t exactly test the legs of someone from Portland, but Milan makes Omaha look hilly.

Not your average mall restaurant....

Not your average mall restaurant….

I had need to go to Milan for work, and Ric came to join me for the weekend. Two days in the office passed easily enough and I didn’t have time for any culturally significant outings. Upon Ric’s arrival we headed to Centro Storico to wander around, taking a quaint little tram that dated to 1928.  Now some real behavioral differences began. In Milan, those waiting to board a tram or a Metro train actually let those exiting get off before shoving their way on. Ric and I turned to each other in wonderment! What a delightful change in comportment!

We shopped a bit – after all Milan is the shopping Mecca of Italy – then proceeded to supper in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. To call this a “mall” is like calling Villa Borghese a “playground.” No food court or discount stores here. Rather the likes of Prada, Valentino and Versace. For the record, we didn’t buy anything in the galleria.

Saturday dawned like a Portland March day, but even colder and wetter.

The rain did not deter the crowds waiting in line to enter the Duomo. Glad we arrived before the line was so long.

The rain did not deter the crowds waiting in line to enter the Duomo. Glad we arrived before the line was so long.

It never stopped raining, making for a good museum day. We were impressed at the number of people out despite the rain. Long queues of umbrellas waited patiently to enter the magnificent Duomo, and we narrowly beat the crowd both at the Duomo and for an Andy Warhol exhibit nearby, handily avoiding the long queues because we are early-birds. The Warhol exhibit was eye-opening as we discovered some of Andy’s less-known work, all from the private collection of Peter Brant. Truly amazing that one person could have amassed such a collection from a single artist.

The pillars in the Duomo of Milan are about the size of sequoias.

The pillars in the Duomo of Milan are about the size of sequoias.

As to the Duomo, this is the fourth largest church in Europe and quite a contrast to most of those we’ve seen in Italy. Ric said “This church seems almost Lutheran,” which is quite insightful as it is predominantly Gothic, reminiscent of the Protestant Churches of Northern Europe. Of course the Lutheran churches in our hometowns lack marble, entombed remains of cardinals on display, or pillars the size of sequoias.

Yes, that's the body of a Cardinal, with a silver death mask. Nothing like this in St. Paul, either.

Yes, that’s the body of a Cardinal, with a silver death mask. There’s nothing like this in St. Paul, MN.

4th longest nave in Christendom, so says my guidebook.

4th longest nave in Christendom, so says my guidebook.

There's nothing quite like this in St. Paul, MN.

There’s nothing quite like this in St. Paul, either.

The afternoon took us to a more obscure museum, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana  where the building was as much art as the contents. This is a fabulous palace with amazing mosaics and inlaid floors. Regrettably, no photos allowed so I cannot show you. Again, a private collection, this time of none other than a Cardinal from the 17th century, Borromeo.  In this vast collection of 1600 items there’s a Caravaggio, Raphael’s original charcoal drawing for his Vatican fresco “The School of Athens,” a Tiziano, a Botticelli or two, a DaVinci, several Brueghels, and a lock of Lucretia Borgia’s blond hair. Oh, and Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus in its 1119 page glory is in the library at Ambrosiana. We saw 22 pages carefully displayed. (It’s only 500 years-or-so old.) Church work was very profitable back in the old days…. I don’t think Papa Francesco would approve today.

For those looking at this post as a travel guide, we stayed at Hotel Teco, a sweet and relatively (for Milan!) inexpensive hotel at about €137.00 per night including breakfast. We were able to get a VAT exemption as diplomats. To my Embassy friends: don’t overlook the paperwork needed before you travel.  A 17 minute walk or €10.00 cab ride from Milano Centrale, Hotel Teco is convenient to the Metro (5 minute walk to the Rosso), and Tram #1 to the Duomo is about a 7 minute walk. Numerous restaurants including Ristorante Sabatini (the woman at the front desk said ottimo pizza” and she was right!) are a short walk away.  I also like Osteria Mamma Rosa nearby, although we didn’t make it there this trip.

I’ve been to Milan four times for work, and once prior in personal travel. I’ve either lacked time or weather sufficiently pleasant for a trip to the roof of the Duomo. I think we’ll have to take advantage some sunny summer day and hop a train to Milan just for the day and make our way to the top. 

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