Monday, December 1, 2008


It's been a rainy couple of days in Rome, so walking around and touring hasn't been my first choice on the potential activity list. I've been doing a lot of reading - Giovanni Boccacio's The Decameron to be exact - for my final project, but during one of my breaks, I discovered something wonderful! And so I'll share it with all of you... KenKen! It's the newest puzzle game, invented by a Japanese math teacher. If you're a fan of Sudoku, I promise you'll be addicted by the third game. Play with caution...

Friday, November 28, 2008

a Roman Holiday...

...or rather, an American one celebrated in Rome!

Although for several years I have been a (sort of) assistant to Dad's Turkey Day preparations, yesterday was my first attempt at a Thanksgiving dinner on my own. Christina and I split the meal pretty much in half, and I was assigned the turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, apple crisp, and cranberry sauce.

Well, first off, finding a whole turkey in Rome is difficult, read: impossible. Non si fa! It just isn't done! So instead, we opted for chickens...lots of chickens. Planning on finding a turkey that weighed about 8 kg (17.637 lb) to feed ten people, we thought we'd have to buy about six chickens. Alas, the oven hit capacity at four, so four it was. I brined those suckers for a little over 24 hours in a brine of sea salt, brown sugar, onions, and lots of herbs, then followed Gourmet's suggestion to roast them fast and at a high temperature. I stuffed several tablespoons of butter under the skins of each one and seasoned aggressively inside and out. At about 450 degrees, they were all four cooked and crispy-skinned in an hour and a half! And moist and juicy to boot! With only four chickens between ten people, the poultry portions were perhaps a bit smaller than they might have been otherwise, but these chix certainly got the job done.

My sweet potatoes were twice baked - first whole, then again once I'd scraped the insides out, mashed them up with butter, cream, brown sugar, and sage, then stuffed them back into the skins. I added more butter and brown sugar on top and broiled them for a few minutes so they got a little sugar crust on top.

In short, all the food was delicious! Christina brought mashed potatoes, more stuffing, salad, deviled eggs, and veggies. Just because we aren't in America doesn't mean we didn't do Thanksgiving right!

But let's rewind a bit, before all the joyous meal-sharing and merriment...the day started off with a battle: our apartment or Christina and Joe's? We originally (more than a month back) planned on having it at Christina and Joe's, picnicking on their rooftop terrace. We thought it was such a good idea at the time that we never thought twice about it, even as the sun began setting earlier and the evenings got colder, and the guest list began to outgrow their 250(ish) square foot apartment. Come the day before the big shindig, however, the wheels started to turn in my head: "Hmmm," I thought, "How am I going to carry four hot chickens, two trays of sweet potatoes, an apple crisp, cranberry sauce, rice krispie treats on a fifteen minute walk? And where are we going to fit ten people?"

And thus began the politics of Thanksgiving - Christina had already decorated, and preferred to have dinner there. We had more space and preferred to have dinner here. Joe wanted to eat outside. Nobody else did. Back and forth, back and forth...finally, we won and sent runners to help carry the food from Christina and Joe's. Ultimately, everything was fine and everyone was happy; we even found a leaf for the kitchen table so we all sat comfortably! And comfortable we stayed from the time we sat down around 5PM until everyone left around midnight, shortly after a large bottle of red wine was shattered and spilt on our tile floors. We decided that was as good of a time as any to call it a night. Despite my best efforts to keep things somewhat clean as the night progressed, being the only one capable of doing so (drunk on Thanksgiving? I bet the Pilgrims weren't, so neither was I...), cleaning up this morning was an interesting task. So was running into the neighbor who lives below us in the courtyard. Sorry Signore!

But all ended amicably, though I'll be happy to resume my duties as sous-TDay-chef next year in Canton, MA :-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh, Jaysus!

Today, alone again at school (siiiigh), Professor Google and I went to the Giovanni Bellini exhibit at the Scuderie Museum. It's been a museum weekend/week, it would seem! 

Bellini was a Venetian painter during the Renaissance, best known for his incredibly precise brushwork and deep, vibrant colors. I thought the set-up of the exhibit was great - the museum itself used to be the carriage house to the Quirinale Palace, where the president of Italy currently lives, and where the several Popes lived until the end of the 19th century. The white marble and stone walls were covered with false wooden walls painted a dark, dark red, and even the ceiling was closed in with the same color. Only the corners of each room were visible. The paintings were all mounted on the wood and then lighted from individuals lights above each one, which made Bellini's colors stand out incredibly well. 

Of course I appreciated the paintings, but after a while, was bored with looking at dead Jesus figures flanked by Saint Giovanni and the Virgin, or Madonna con il Bambino (Madonna with the child). There were at least 25 of those in the exhibit, which Tom later explained to me was because many museums are hesitent to lend any truly precious Bellini works, so they all lent their Madonna con il Bambino, of which there must be hundreds total. Here are three examples that I saw:

I thought that what was most interesting about these paintings with the same titles was that they are not, in fact, of the same things. If you look at the faces, these are three different Madonnas with three different bambini. Professor Google said that often, these paintings were commissioned to celebrate the birth of a nobleman's child, so maybe the women and children reflect the mothers and children being celebrated. Or maybe Christianity has some explaining to do...

Weather has been crappy here, so I've been hunkering down with my books after my museum visits.

Here are some (belated) pictures from Barcelona! Cooper was worried that none of the pictures I took on my little desposable-camera-that-couldn't would come out, so he made sure to stay close behind and back me up. Good thing someone was looking out for me and my blog!

First up, more amazing candy at the Boqueria Market!

Here we are, waiting for our lunch! Then we picnicked in the sun and some man threatened to call the police because we were sitting near his building. What rebels we were...

Being the church-ceiling lover that I am, I had to get a picture of the ceiling at the Palau de la Musica. 

But gee-willickers, we all know how that turned out. So here's the picture of the ceiling that Cooper took:

Here's proof that I actually went out dancing:

And here's the beach! On dirait l'été...

Oh, for cryin' in a bucket...

Monday, November 24, 2008

La Galleria d'Arte Moderna

With my time in Rome winding down (less than three weeks until repatriaton, now) I've been somewhat scrambling to take advantage of the things I've meant to do but never have. The Museo d'Arte Moderna, for example! I had meant to end up there when the opportunity to visit the Académie de France in the Villa Medici presented itself on Saturday, so I felt like I owed it to the scorned museum to pay it a visit on Sunday. You know, after all, what they say about scorned museums. Or is that women?

Anyway, little did I know that I was visiting the museum during a special exhibit - again, let me say how lucky I have been this weekend! The exhibit was (is) called "de Chirico e il Museo" (de Chirico and the museum) - all about the influence this museum had on de Chirico during his career, and how certain paintings by those whom he considered to be the masters of classical painting (Renoir, Ingres, Delacroix, Michaelangelo, and others) influenced his art. They actually had small pictures of the classical painters' originals next to de Chirico's, and even though in some cases, I'd call it downright copying, it was interesting to see his interpretations.

This painting was one of my favorites. It isn't a direct copy of any other painting, but is heavily influenced by Greco-Roman themes. Maybe it's just because Rome is so ancient and every square inch that is excavated produces some new reminder of what once existed here, but this archaeology thing is really getting to me! So here's de Chirico's painting "The Archaeologists":

I spent about two hours in the museum, and was more impressed with the de Chirico exhibit than the permanent collection, partly because he was someone I didn't know anything about, so it was interesting to learn! Then I spent what I'm sure was an equal amount of time in the museum gift store, drooling over all the Phaidon books of different artists, artistic movements, the array of journals, pens, postcards, stationary...I'm surprised I didn't walk out of there $2,000 in debt, but I guess it's times like these that I'm glad I don't have a credit card.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quelle chance!

Today, I had a stroke of bad luck picking up the pictures from my disposable camera that I took to Barcelona. Out of the 32 exposures on the camera, only 13 weren't completely grey and fuzzy, and out of those 13, only 1 is actually decent. And none of them came out well on the CD. So I paid 7 euros for one picture. Here's a backwards version of it that I took using Photobooth. It may be a little ghetto, but it's better than nothing.

After that misfortune, however, my day only got better. For one, the neighbors upstairs who usually blast Indian music so loud and for so long that I would rather run a cheese grater across a blackboard (my nails are too short) than listen to it anymore, started blasting Alicia Keys! Finally, cooperation! After jamming out to Alicia and cursing my ruined photographs, I headed out to pick up a book that I had ordered from the fabulous English bookstore here in Rome, Anglo American Book Company. Just a bit over a week after I ordered Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation by the acclaimed Umberto Eco, I got a text message beckoning me to pick up my book within ten days - as if I could make it ten days without visiting the store, ha! I was only more pleasantly surprised that they had mistakenly ordered the paperback version rather than hardcover - half the price! Of course I couldn't make it out of the store with only the book I'd come for. I also picked up a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss (which I haven't decided whether I'll keep or give to my professor who is the original intended recipient), and White Teeth by Zadie Smith, whom I've heard a lot about. As if reading Boccaccio's Decameron wasn't keeping me busy enough...

Meandering through the Piazza di Spagna towards the Villa Borghese, with the intention of visiting the modern art museum nearby, I did some recon for Christmas shopping. I wish I could scream from the rooftops (ahem, write on my blog...) all the amazing Christmas presents I've purchased so far, but then I'd either ruin the surprises or have to figure out how to block certain posts from certain people, and I'm just not technologically savvy to know how to do that. 

Up the Spanish steps and past the Trinita dei Monti church, I made it to the edge of the park and was about to cross through it to find the modern art museum when I saw that, low and behold! the Académie Francaise (in the Villa Medici) was open to the public (which it really almost never is)! Thinking I was getting away with something michievous and bold, I darted in, bought a ticket to the photography exhibit of Marco Delogu and scurried into the first show room. I avoided eye contact with the guards in every room, convinced that I wasn't supposed to be there, that any minute they'd come up to me and say "Signorina, this exhibit is only for French elitists, one of which you are obviously not! You must leave! Now!". When one guard stopped me, I was sure he was about to ask me to show my ticket alongside some sort of ID that qualified me to be in the presence of the Académie Francaise. Turns out, he was just giving me directions to the second part of the exhibit, across the garden. "Ah, grazie!" I blurted out, à la deer in headlights, before stomping up the spiral staircase.

I had heard of neither Marco Delogu nor Véronique Ellena, the other photographer showcased across the garden. Their photography was certainly interesting, but I was even more interested in seeing the Villa Medici which housed them. The villa once belonged to the Medici family, a ruling family in Rome during the Renaissance, and has housed the French Academy since 1803. So although I appreciated the photography hung on the 16th century walls, I was using them more as a device to see the beautiful villa and its gardens. Sorry, photographs. 

It was a cool day for Rome, mid fifties, but sunny and beautiful! So I had a great time walking around the gardens, even though I'm fairly certain I was supposed to be in them, then sat for a coffee in the cavernous café/bibliothèque while reading my new book. A perfect cap to a very good day in Rome. Probably the most exciting thing that's happened to me in Rome! Except finding your Christmas presents, which I can't tell you about...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Maybe it's just me...

...but everytime I visit the site of ancient ruins, there are a couple of thoughts consistently running through my head:

1. TAKE THE MARBLE AND RUN! What?! It would look good in my kitchen...
2. I want to have a dinner party here.

Today at the Villa Adriana, though, these thoughts were especially strong. The Emperor Hadrian built this montruous villa (it's more like a village) in Tivoli, about an hour outside of Rome, during the 2nd century, and employed every bricklayer in Italy for ten years doing so. Even now that most of the architecture has fallen and stands in ruins excavated during the 16th century, I felt an immediate sense of elegance and grandeur upon walking through the porticoed walls surrounding the villa.

Huge, impressive cypress trees line almost every walkway and where they are absent, marble columns stand in their place. Almost every surface of every room - ceilings, walls, floors - were covered either in frescoed plaster, intricate mosaics, or colored slates of marble. I just kept thinking, "I want that in MY house! Why don't I get a villa like this?!" Then I remembered that I was also lacking the rule of a vast empire to match such luxuries...

At one particular point, not far past what used to be the grand entrance hall, my dinner party fantasies (is it still called a dinner party if you have to invite 300 people just to fill the space?) came to a head; I could just see the white Christmas lights twinkling, the buffet tables flanking the fountain, and the waterfalls cascading in the background...

The other thought that crossed my mind as our feet scuffed and thudded along the red volcanic crushed stone and wooden boardwalks guiding us around the ruins, was: Why hasn't anyone tried to capitalize on this place?! A measly five euro entrance fee per person can't do much to fund the upkeep, restoration, and further excavation of a place like this. Granted it was a cloudy Friday when we were there, but we were one of three, maybe four small groups touring, so that means...about 100 euro maximum revenue for the day. I'm all for preserving important ruins and keeping them pristine for archaeologists, students, and tourists alike to learn the history of such a great civilization, but how about a restaurant in there somewhere? I might have paid a pretty penny to take shelter from the spitting skies under one of Hadrian's famed 'pumpkin domes' while having a coffee, maybe some pasta... just a thought. I think I'll leave the capitalization of ancient ruins to my brother Michael, though. He could sell zebra cakes and Lay's potato chips at prices inflated by 400% or more. He'd probably get away with it, too.

In the same little town, just a short bus-ride away from the Villa Adriana lies the Villa d'Este, commissioned by the Cardinal d'Este starting in 1550. It reminded me a lot of the Villa Borghese, what was once the home of the Borghese family here in Rome, and now houses their extravegant private art collection. Each room at the Villa d'Este was more intricate and opulent than the next, and just when I thought that things couldn't get any more ostentatiously beautiful, I walked outside into the garden, for which an entire nearby river was redirected in order to run the fountains:

And I thought my apartment was nice!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Okay, so here's a bit more detailed of a blog post about my weekend in Barcelona. I just couldn't resist the temptation of teasing you with a two-line post from abroad :-) This will be, unfortunately, another post for which I did not have my beloved camera, so I'll be relying on online images again until I can get my disposable camera developed and (hopefully) get the pictures on a CD...

Genevieve and I each arrived late Thursday night, and after wandering around the El Prat airport trying to find each other for about 30 minutes, we finally met up and headed off to meet Cooper and our gracious Spaniard of a host, Guillermo, whom Cooper had met during his summer in Barcelona. Not to waste any time, we changed and headed out into the center of the city to meet Guille's friends at a bar with a crowd that was just as eclectic as the mismatched furniture and bar menu. What was the most surprising, besides the fact that a large beer cost only 3 euros as opposed to the 8 or 9 that I was used to paying in Rome, was that all around us, people were smoking cigarettes...indoors! Although in Rome, it's officially a law that you can't smoke inside, it tends to be merely a suggestion, and I thought it was wild to find one or two people sticking it to the man in train stations or bars, puffing away on a perfectly hand-rolled cigarette. In Barcelona, though, we seemed to be in the minority for not smoking and by the end of the night, by which point we had moved to a club that I don't think I would have agreed to going to had the beers not been so cheap and delicious at the first bar, I was so desparate for a breath of smoke-free air that I found myself dancing on my tippy toes, hoping to rise just one quarter-inch above the smoke. Turns out, it's hard to do.

The next day, we set out to see the sights! First Cooper took to us to an enormous food market which put my little ethnic market down the street in Rome to shame. Although as I get older I tend to like sweets and candy less and less I couldn't help but drool at the candy kiosks at this market:

We made sure to do some shopping too, considering the Spanish-brand stores were much cheaper than anywhere else. We spent most of the afternoon and evening walking around, perhaps somewhat aimlessly, but we saw most of the major sights, including the Palau de la Musica, which impressed me the most. The outside of the building is so ornate that I wondered how anyone's brain could think up so many twists, arches, and balconies. I also appreciated it because it was quite different than the building fronts I find here in Rome - often ornate, yes, but never so colorful or playful.

I bought a coloring book from the gift shop so I could have my own fun designing building facades!

We ate dinner at chef Guillermo's apartment that night, and I'm sure we ate better than we would have at most restaurants in the vicinity. Guille's mom is a chef, so he grew up cooking and even prefers it to eating out. We had a great tapas-like meal, each getting a little taste of an omelet with onions and fresh cheese, roasted red peppers with tuna and pickled sardines, a plate of five different cheeses, salad with carmelized onions, apples, and parmesan, and little toasts to sop everything up with. Then it was off to another bar for mojitos and another night of dancing. I didn't think I had it in me, but somehow I survived!

Sunday we toured the Sagrada Familia, which is right down the street from Guille's apartment. It was the most interesting piece of architecture I saw, if only for the story behind it. Construction began in 1882, and Gaudì, the famous Spanish architect, took over in 1883. He worked on it until his death by tram accident in 1926, and the church is unfinished to this day. For a while, they continued according to Gaudì's original plans, but once they were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, they've been building off of pictures and sketches. They had absolutely no plans or pictures of the back of the church, so they've designed a whole new facade for it which is very different from the rest of the church. We were able to go inside, which wasn't actually that impressive, since it's just a cavernous empty stone cathedral. All the building is funded by private donations and entrance fees, though, so we thought we'd pitch in our 8 euros worth towards the completion of Gaudì's creation.

After much more touring, walking, and shopping, we went home to nap before dinner and what was going to be another late night of bars and dancing. I woke up from my nap with a cold and fever that I certainly hadn't seen coming, so after another home-cooked meal of a typical Catalan dish that is very similar to pizza, but with a lighter, more crumbly crust, I stayed in and tried to sleep off my cold.

Sunday, just hours before we sadly had to leave Barcelona, we headed to Barceloneta (little Barcelona) for a traditional Spanish meal of fried fish, meatballs, and other kinds of unidentifiable fish, which I surprisingly enjoyed. Then we walked to the beautiful beach where people were stretched out tanning on the unusually warm day and had a cafe con leche to bid farewell to the beautiful cosmopolitan city with a beach.

What I really loved about Barcelona was that it was a combination of all the things I love about New York (eclectic, cosmopolitan, modern) with the things I really appreciate about Rome (ancient, cobblestone streets, chipping stucco buildings). And I especially loved being able to see a new city where I didn't speak the language and was completely as someone else's mercy, not having to worry for a minute about which street we were on, where we should eat, or which sight to head to next. Relinquishing control is fun once in a while! Must try that more often...