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
...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
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
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
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
...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...
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
I certainly had to today. We finally made our class trip to Ostia Antica (the port city of Ancient Rome) after three failed attempts. Early this morning, we were worried that today's trip would meet a similar fate because of the gray skies and constant drizzle, but after a brief downpour, the skies seemed to be empty and it turned out to be a perfect day to walk around the ancient ruins of Ostia. The ruins are, of course, in ruinous shape, but even more so since people have pretty recently given up on restoring or maintaining them. From the dates stamped on various stones, it looks like the last (minor) work they did to preserve the falling pillars and foundations was in 1988. Since then, encroaching vines and weeds have jumped at the chance to create vast empires on top of old baths, temples, houses, and the most magnificent mosaics I've ever seen. So that's where imagination came in - trying to mentally reconstruct an entire port city from the arches and piles of brick that seem to be fewer and fewer as you get deeper into the city. Thank goodness we had our professor Tom (Mr. Google) with us to provide some guidance and distinguish each sculpture from the next because frankly, once I've seen 100 busts in a row, I can't tell Athena from Lucius or Lucius from Hadrian.
The real bother was that I didn't have my camera (curses, Vueling Airlines!). So to be able to show you a few of the more impressive features of Ostia, I'm relying on another form of Google...images.
My favorite part was the amphitheatre, which is actually still very much in tact. Apparently, they open it up every summer for a festival and try to recreate the atmosphere at the time of its original use, which could be as far back at the 7th century B.C.E.
Not only was the amphitheatre itself impressive because of its structural and acoustic values, but the views from the top were amazing, especially with the crystal blue skies and white puffy clouds we had today.
Another impressive and well-preserved part of the town are its mosaics. They are all over the place, lining the floors of the ancient baths, apartment complexes, meeting rooms, etc. This one is of Poseidon and his horses, as he was the god of horses before becoming the god of the sea.
I was very bad and took two small pieces of marble once belonging to a great Roman mosaic. But don't worry, they were already loose! And I'm not as bad as the 78-year old German woman that Tom told us about who tried walking off with a 3 ft. length of marble column. She was arrested, but they didn't catch me. Here are my findings, along with two escargot shells that I found and took a liking to:
We spent from 11AM until 5PM at Ostia and didn't even get to see everything there was. We were kindly ushered out when the sun started setting.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Yes, I do love Paris. And arriving there for my second time this semester left me feeling just as amoureuse with the city as the first time I visited in September. Arriving from a consistently warm Rome that left me feeling bereft without an autumn, the cold air in Paris was invigorating and made me feel right at home from the moment I got off the plane and could see my breath!
Wednesday night, my first night there, was a strange mix of cultures as we three American musketeers headed out for sushi in Paris. Genevieve and Cooper discovered a tiny Japonese restaurant tucked away behind a burlesque club with a blazing neon sign where "Menu N" gets you miso soup, a crunchy slaw-like salad, and 18 pieces of sushi for 12 euro! It was the beginning of my affirmation that I would "eat myself under a table while I'm in Paris!", as I was stuffed to the gills (pun intended) by the end of the meal. Leaving our Japanese-American meal we set off to meet some French kids that Gen and Cooper go to school with to go to a bar celebrating childhood; there were action figures and games all over the restaurant and drinks are only served in baby bottles. Nothing like drinking a rum and coke through a rubber nipple...
Thursday morning I vowed to uphold my gluttonous intentions and while Genevieve was in class I enjoyed a cafe au lait with a croque madame sandwich (ham and chese smothered in a creamy cheese sauce, with a fried egg on top!) and a huge plate of French fries. Then I met Cooper for crème brulée near his apartment which overlooks the Musée d'Orsay, followed by some browsing at a great book store and then a pain au chocolat. By the time I met up with Genevieve, my stomach, by now used to a Mediterranean diet of lots of tomatoes but very little cream and butter, was all but pleased with my culinary choices of the afternoon.
Not to be put to shame by a silly stomach ache, Genevieve and I ventured into the outskirts of the 15th arrondissement searching for a restaurant that Ruth Reichl had raved about in the Parisian edition of Gourmet magazine. She declared it "a great bargain!" but we quickly came to realize that a great bargain to Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, was not quite the same for us. It was a fortuitous thing that we weren't up for splurging that night, or else we may have never found Le Buron on our way back to the subway. It was a lively, small bistro where everyone was friendly and joked with us about not finishing our meals. You would have understood if you had seen what we ordered! We started off with appetizers: a tomato and mozzarella salad with especially (and surprisingly) good pesto, and an oeuf en cocotte, an egg cooked with cream in a little ramekin, covered with chorizo cream - a sort of purée of the spicy sausage that I love so much. The egg was truly delicious, especially with the standard chewy baguette to sop up the yolk and juices that escaped my fork. We couldn't help but marvel at the huge planches (platters) of meat and cheese that were coming out, and I couldn't resist the steak tartare on the menu, so we ordered one of each, even though any logical person could have easily surmised that one or the other would have been plenty to share. Genevieve's platter of meat was served on a big wooden board with at least three different salamis, prosciutto, a few kinds of cheese, and a bit of pate that she quickly tossed aside. We were both curious as to a mysterious substance (seemingly) of pourridge-like consistency in a small pot on the side, and were even more curous after trying to scoop some out and finding that its consistency did not resemble pourridge at all, but more so taffy or a really sticky dough. Come to find out, it was aligot, which I will argue that, despite being lesser known, is just a wonderful gift from the French as say, the Statue of Liberty...or croissants. Upon further research, we discovered that aligot is basically mashed potatoes with lots of garlic and so much cheese that it pulls like taffy. Mmmmm! My steak tartare was also delicious, but a much bigger serving than I had expected, so I couldn't manage to eat more than half. The french fries were history, though.
Friday we went to the Galleries Lafayette and even though it was only Halloween, it felt like Christmas for the first time! I have since been informed that the decorations have been multiplied exponentially since I left Paris just a short time ago, but I was impressed by these nonetheless:
Never a huge fan of leaving the house to take candy from neighbors when you could just as easily eat candy at home, and ensure that it's the kind you actually like, I wasn't too hyped about Halloween. So Genevieve took over and constructed truly awesome homemade costumes for both of us. See below:
So even though by end of the party we attended my tin-foil shoe buckles had been ripped of, Genevieve's sword which she borrowed from her host brother was nearly stolen, and the two of us were desparately trying to help the hostesses clean up ugly messes and walk out of control guests to taxi stands in the freezing rain, at least we looked fabulous doing so. As it turns out, however, French people don't get the concept of Pilgrims very well and kept calling me "amish". Oh well.
Saturday was a pretty lazy day spent walking around the 15th, which I've come to realize has a distinctly small-town feel to it. It's like a little village within Paris where the fruit vendors know the people in the neighborhood and their children, and the kids ride wobbling bicycles down the sidewalks and play ping-pong in the park. And we ate more croque-madames at the local cafe where everyone was busy being typically French, except me with my camera.
At night we went out for really great tapas with Cooper - fried goat cheese balls with honey, crispy sesame chicken, fried eggplant in parmesan cheese sauce, chunky gazpacho, chorizo marinated in red wine, and tiny meatballs with a rich cheese sauce. Then of course more crème brulée and some mediocre espresso cake (so I mostly hogged Cooper's crème brulée). Even though it was cold, we went walking to meet a friend of Gen's from high school, and it was a beautiful walk across the River Seine.
Sunday evening we cooked for Genevieve's host family - a simple risotto with roasted red peppers, sheep's milk cheese, and parmesan, with a Caprese salad and an apple crumble for dessert. Cooper joined us, of course, and we had a great time sitting around talking with the family. They were quite impressed with our risotto, saying that the only risotto they had ever tasted had tomato sauce on top! Something I have never heard of.
Overall, a great five days in Paris! I was so glad to be there that I didn't even mind the rain, and I loved the cold that I'd been missing. Next adventure, Barcelona in one week! Too bad I won't have my camera after stupidly leaving it on the plane! I am heartbroken! If living in Italy has taught me nothing else, it's that bureaucracy reigns supreme here, so getting in touch with the airport Lost and Found or the airline desk is virtually impossible. Four days, numerous phone calls, messages and busy signals later, I'm still holding out hope...
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
...without an update! I've been such a slacker, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! So here comes a an update...
After Gen and Cooper left Rome (sigh), Dad arrived on Thursday (yay!).
First order of business was breakfast (of course) so we went to Panella, an amazing bakery around the corner from the school and had a delicious grape tarte with two caffe-lattes and an orange juice, of course. This place is overwhelming with all the smells and colorful candies, tartes, and breads. These little marzipan treats were teasing us from just across the table:
Then I took him to my class as a show-and-tell on Thursday morning and was all but bombarded with questions about the state of the American economy. I guess that'll teach me to bring an American financial guy into a room of study-abroad students burdened by college loans! After taking him to the ethnic market near my apartment (as a rude and somewhat shocking welcome to Rome!) and he got checked into the hotel, we were off! That afternoon and evening, we crossed the Tiber and I took him to Castroni, the international food store in Rome, where the "American Food" section consists of Heinz ketchup, Jiffy peanut butter, Aunt Jemima syrup, and Betty Crocker cake mix (with directions in Spanish). We strolled along until we reached St. Peter's in the Vatican City - it was closed, but considering it wasn't one of our top priorities, we think we saw enough!
We loved the guards and their funny jester outfits. I'm not sure they returned the sentiment.
For dinner, we ate at La Vecchia Roma, where I had previously broken a wine glass. Thank goodness they didn't recognize me, and we had no trouble devouring steamed mussels, fried rice balls with marinara and mozzarella, and flambéd buccatini all'amatriciana (tomato sauce and bacon)...mmmm!
The next morning it poured for hours (just our luck), so we did some church tours and stayed inside as much as possible. I also took Dad to la Cartoleria Pantheon, favorite stationary store extraordinaire, and he was equally impressed.
Saturday we had the best adventure of all - a trip to Calcata, a small village on a cliffside about one and a half hours north of Rome. In the '60s (I think) it was condemned by the government because it was considered too dangerous due to the decay of the cliff on which it was perched. But after all the residents moved to Calcata Nuova (New Calcata), a bunch of artists rallied together and made enough noise to have it fortified, then made their home there. So the tiny village is just full of galleries and artisan stores, some of which are in the homes of the people who run them. The whole village was quaint and charming, and full of cats, which is never a bad thing in my book!
The town as seen from the bus stop:
A cat! Curled up in a pot:
One of the several beautiful, charming doorways:
On Sunday, we went to the Villa Borghese (the huge park) and went to the Galleria Borghese, which is the private art collection of the Borghese family. It's a beautiful collection where most of Carevaggio's paintings are housed. We weren't allowed to take pictures. Sunday night we found a German beer place (of all things!) because Dad wanted to try German beer in Europe where it would be freshest. He certainly liked his hefeweissbier...
...at least more so than he liked trying to drink out of the fontanelle on the street:
Besides all these awesome things that we did, we ate amazing food (for the most part!) and listened to some great jazz at two newly discovered (for me, anyway) jazz clubs here in Rome. But then again, would Dad and I have it any other way? I think not...
My next adventure (which I just returned from) was a trip to Capri (CAP-ree)! After a nightmare of a trip there (missing a train, trying to catch a boat from the wrong port, barely making the last ferry...) Carolyn and I arrived in scenic Capri on Sunday afternoon. The ferry ride there reminded me of the ride to Martha's Vineyard, which has always been a very fond memory, so I was immediately at ease. Our hotel was in Anacapri (the smaller, less touristy village on the other side of the island). Booking the hotel on that side was actually a mistake, but it ended up being a fortuitous one! The island in general, and Anacapri even more so, was clean, calm, and safe - the complete opposite of everything I can't stand about Rome!
I ultimately only spent 25 hours on the island, but we did so much on Monday that I don't feel like I missed out on much. Since we were all three asleep by 9:30PM on Sunday, we were up and out of the hotel by 8:30AM on Monday. First we took a bus to the edge of the island near la Grotta Azzura (the blue cave) where there is the bluest water in all of the island. The opening to the cave is less than one meter high, so everyone has to lay flat on the boat while going in, but those few seconds of not knowing exactly how close you are to smashing into the rock is definitely worth the view once you get inside:
Then we went on a chairlift that takes you up a mountain over Anacapri and lets you off at the top to see the amazing views. It was a little foggy, so at first we were disappointed, but everything was amazing nonetheless!
Here are my little feet hanging over my chair...
After that, we headed over to Capri (the main town on the island). It's definitely rich, rich, rich, with nothing but stores like Prada, Gucci, Furla... nothing more than window shopping for us! I took a 4:30PM ferry back to Naples and caught an amazing sunset on the boat. Then a train back to Rome in time to do some laundry and pack before I leave for Paris tomorrow! Tough life, huh?
There are a ton more pictures of my visit to Capri on my Picasaweb site, as well as more pictures of my visit with Dad! Check them out here:
Happy reading! I'm off to Paris, only to return with more tales of adventure...
Monday, October 13, 2008
Hello photo fans,
I just set up a site on Picasa Web Albums (Google's photo website). So now you can see more things than the sparse pictures on the blog. Here's the link:
So far, I'm just playing catch up with some of the more important photos (Colloseum, Carpentras, Paris, etc...) but once I get up and running I'll update it more regularly.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
...for a whole week without an update?! For all you devoted MCMAR fans out there, I'm sorry! It was a slow week. But then a fun weekend!
Genevieve and Cooper ventured from Paris to help me celebrate my birthday a few days early. They arrived late Thursday night after hours of me pacing awaiting their arrival!
Friday, after a trip to the market down the street that we visited with the intention of cooking our haul that evening, we spent a few hours at the Villa Borghese riding bikes and almost killing unsuspecting tourists. Roman god Cooper whipped up and down the hills and Gen pushed on after him, but I ended up walking my bike up most of the hills we hit...who is surprised?! I much preferred the downhill parts, at which points I tended to furiously ring the bell on the handle because as it turns out, after years of not riding a bike that you were never great at riding to begin with, it's not so easy to get back on and not hurt someone. We made it through without a law suit or breaking any limbs, though.
Then we walked around the fancy part of Rome and went by the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Via del Corso where we went into shops in which we couldn't afford to buy half a button. We covered quite a lot of ground then headed back to the apartment. We had been planning on cooking but then we were invited to an aperetif! And who could say no to that? We ended up going out for drinks with Nadia and some of her friends, then to a great wine bar where I had gnocchi alla romana (bigger gnocchi with less flour), Genevieve had delicious eggplant parm, and we all shared good wine and a huge plate of meat! Then we tasted Lambrusco, a chilled red sparkling wine. It was delicious, so thanks to Cooper for introducing us to that! After the wine bar we went to a chocolate factory and drank the richest, thickest chocolate of our lives! More like fondue in a tea cup with a spoon in it. I got the spiced hot chocolate that was actually much spicier than I expected. I know I'm a whimp about that kind of thing, but my mouth was on fire! From there we headed to a University of Rome sit-in that turned out to be a bit too mellow to keep our wine-filled selves awake, so we went home. Even though I'd been pushing to open presents all day, I passed out before Cooper could even say goodnight. So on Saturday morning...
...after coffee, of course, I opened my gifts! Finally! As if buying tickets to come to Rome and not letting me pay for a single thing all weekend except one gelato on the last day weren't enough, they came bearing gifts, and what gifts they were. First up is Cooper's - a cutting edge transportation system for candy that is at once chic and useful: a duck backpack filled with candy! Oh, excuse me...a pilot duck backpack filled with candy:
Then, just in the nick of time, as one side of my wallet completed seceded from the rest of it, Genevieve gave me the perfect replacement. If I could put touchable or smellable things on this blog, I would, but I can't. So you'll just have to trust me when I say that this is the softest, most buttery-feeling leather object I've ever had, and certainly the best leather-smelling too. And the color is perfect, and would blend in perfectly with the dining room at home, as Genevieve so keenly pointed out!
Needless to say, I am spoiled. I love it :-)
After, we went back out touring, starting with the cat sanctuary at the Largo Argentina! We didn't end up going on the actual guided tour, but Coopy and Genvie got to see the animals I've had such a connection with in Rome! Then the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, Trastevere, and the Campo dei Fiori! And all the shops and streets in between. Genevieve was in cahoots with Marta and surprised me with one dozen long stem red roses on her behalf while we were at the flower market. They are now housed in a Jameson tin! Because we couldn't find any vases at the apartment.
Genevieve and Cooper were both wearing striped shirts and flashy sunglasses that day. I was proud to be walking around Rome with such fashionable attractive people!
Saturday night we went out to dinner at a restaurant that flambés pasta in a parmeggiano reggiano cheese rind! But we didn't get to watch the spectacle because it was too crowded. The end result was fantastic, though, I can attest! The wine was only 3.50 euros per half liter, which might have had something to do with the fact that before the night was up, I broke a wine glass and spilled its contents all over myself. Good thing I was wearing navy blue...
After dinner we went out to an Irish pub called Scholars, where the clientel was completely American. I mean COMPLETELY! It was really funny - an Irish pub in Rome filled with Americans.
Sunday we tried to cook the chicken that we had bought and intended to cook Friday night, but it smelled funky and as Cooper says, when in doubt, throw it out! So throw it out we did. And we ate risotto milanese, roasted potatoes, and caprese salad with Nadia and her friend Francesca. Genevieve mostly just ate the garlic and onions that we roasted with the potatoes.
There are more pictures of the weekend, but they were mostly taken by Cooper, Genevieve, Carolyn, and crew. I will post as I acquire them and find them appropriate for all viewing audiences.
In one and a half hours I will be 21!
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Today I happened upon a veritable oasis in the center of dirty, polluted Rome! Well, not so much happened upon as systematically sought out a route to... but anyway, the weather was steadily promising enough to allow me a long stroll through the Villa Borghese, what I described earlier as the "Central Park of Rome". I'm not sure I'd make the same comparison now that I've been there, other than it's relative size and status as a large park in the middle of a bustling metropolis. The Villa Borghese seems more natural; a lot of it made me feel like I was in a natural oasis of a forest, not a manmade greenery. It had its extremely well-landscaped bits too though, which were equally impressive.
Everyone was laying out in the beautiful weather on blankets, having picnics, reading, sleeping... so in that way, parts of it really were like the Green in Central Park! They also rent bicycles by the hour so you can bike through the park. And go-carts! And tandem bikes! And 6-person motor-powered bikes! And I've heard they also rent segues! I didn't see any today though. What I was most surprised about were the persimmon trees that were growing on one side of the park. They grew right next to a high stone wall, so people standing on the hill above the wall were picking the persimmons and eating them! I didn't try it.
After walking around and getting what seemed to be hopelessly lost in the park, I came out of it near the Spanish Steps! Which isn't close. So the park is really big, needless to say. I hadn't been in that touristy of an area on a Sunday afternoon up until now. I'm not really sure how I avoided it this long, but I wish I hadn't stopped when I saw this mob of people on the streets below!
I pushed through the ground, however, and found a new church, and thus a church ceiling to add to my collection. This one is called San Lorenzo in Lucina. I should probably start doing more research on each church I take pictures of, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the Catholic churches in Rome have similar histories. Besides, I'm only using them for their ceilings! Wham, flash, thank you ma'am!
My roommate Carolyn got home this evening around six. I wasn't expecting her until later, so she scared the crap out of me! But after a weekend without a whole lot of human interaction, I greeted her in an eager manner (possibly over-eager): "CAROLYN, HI!"
While I was cooking dinner, I pulled a rookie move and put the pan and the oil on the heat too early, so by the time I was finally ready to add my onions to caramelize for the sauce, the oil was past its smoking point and spat angrily at my wrist. Blisters galore. Ouch. I guess I got what was coming to me...you would think that years of cooking would teach you timing skills, if nothing else.