Saturday, April 20, 2013

Found - Lost Bicycle

You wander the streets of Rome and around every corner is a new surprise, a new vista, a madonella, a food store fecund with cheese and salumi, a Roman ruin, a building festooned with baroque ornamentation, a monument. That's the fundamental, and fundamentally amazing pleasure of walking down those ancient streets. Sometimes, though, an intentional walk brings you closer to state of wonder and a small connection to something more intangible but sublimely fulfilling.

Case in point was a simple early morning walk up Via Di Panico. The intent was to follow the footsteps of  Antonio Ricci, the hero of Vittorio De Sica's 1948 neorealist classic, Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves). The film follows the story of a poor unemployed man, Antonio, who finally gets a job as a poster hanger. He gets his bicycle out of hock and happily goes to his first day of work. While he's pasting up a huge movie poster his bicycle gets stolen. The rest of the movie follows his increasingly desperate search for his bicycle. He's accompanied by his adorable and strangely adult-like young son, Bruno. The film ends in tragedy as Antonio himself steals a bike, gets caught and is publicly shamed.

There's a scene in the movie where he finds out the name of street where the man who stole his bike lives - Via Di Panico. As he confronts the thief, he draws a crowd - the neighborhood knows and defends the young hoodlum, as he's one of their own. Antonio is driven away empty handed.

It turned out there was a street called Via Di Panico in Rione Ponte, a few blocks from the place we were staying in Rome. We started at the foot of that street early one morning. The sun shown warm, painting the old edifices with soft light. We met a dog - and its owner a few steps behind. The dog was a little upset with us, getting in the way of its daily rounds. It was small, but it barked loud and long. A little bit like the Via Panico denizens of De Sica's film, defending their turf against outsiders.

Was this the street Di Sica shot? Landmarks from the film were hard to discern. We were working from memory, rather than photographic evidence. But no matter, walking the streets where one of the greatest of Italian film directors may have shot one of the greatest films ever made was enough in itself. I stopped to shoot a madonella that looks suspiciously like the madonella in the film. The putti looked a bit different and one had gotten its head knocked off. The image of the Madonna is different too. But the basic details of the frame and the awning are nearly identical.

While we were in Rome, serendipitously, there was an exhibition at the Museo dell'Ara Pacis on De Sica's life and films, Tutti De Sica. Filled with memorabilia, old posters, handbills, photographs, video monitors showing clips from his films, Tutti De Sica was right up any film nerd's alley. They even had the stolen bicycle from Ladri di biciclette. The real one! Hey Antonio! We found your bike!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bella Bosa


A banner near the old bridge that leads into town declares Bosa to be one of the prettiest cities in Italy.  The Ajimi Team hasn't seen every town in the country but it would be hard to argue with that assessment.  The buildings rise up from the edge of the river to the Malaspina castle at the top of the town.  The structures themselves vary in style from 19th-century palazzi with Baroque accents down near the cathedral to colorful adobe-like structures up near the castle that remind us of Luis Barragan.

It's a town -- like many others in the world -- that's benefited -- architecturally, at any rate -- from adversity.  The stench of the tanneries that once lined its river meant few people were willing to come to invest here, to demolish and rebuild.  After the tanneries were shut down in the mid-twentieth century, there was no local money to invest.  So the old town remains intact with just a few jarring reminders of what century you're actually in.

But now the tanneries are out of business, although their landmarked structures remain, one an interesting municipal museum.  Tourism is the main industry these days, largely in the summer months.  We pretty much had the place to ourselves during Holy Week.

Except for an elderly woman we encountered in a medieval lane.  After we bid her good afternoon, she looked me in the eye and said, "I think I've seen you before.  Have you ever been to Montenegro?"   I told her I hadn't but Nick and I agreed the line would make a good code phrase should the need for one ever arise.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The 5:30 Bird

On our first morning in Rome, jet lag got us up way early. The sun had not yet risen and inside our loft in the heart of an old building on Via Pallacorda it was still and quiet. At 5:30 sharp, still dark, a delightful voice interrupted our revery. From the edge of the rooftop off an inner light well, a bird lit and serenaded us for about 3 minutes before moving on. It would continue doing this for the next few mornings. Welcome to Rome, indeed!

Embedded above is a recording of the 5:30 bird. If any bird aficionados can identify it, please drop us a line as to what it is.

The best reason to visit Rome in the spring


Ode to the Artichoke – Pablo Neruda

The tender-hearted
artichoke dressed up as a warrior,
erect, it built itself
a little dome,
it kept itself
its armoured leaves,
beside it
the raving vegetables
began to frizzle,
they turned themselves into
tendrils, bullrushes,
touching bulbs,
below the ground
the red-moustachioed carrot
the vine
dried out its shoots
through which wine climbs,
the leafy cabbage
took to trying on skirts,
to scenting the world,
and the sweet
there in the garden,
was dressed as a warrior,
like a grenade and proud,
and one day
assembled with its fellows
in large wicker baskets,
it walked
through the market
to make its dream of
come true.
In ranks
it never was so military
as at the market,
the men
among the vegetables
with their white shirts
of the artichokes
the serried files,
the ordering voices,
and the report of a fallen crate,
but then
comes along
and with her basket,
picks out
an artichoke
she isn't scared,
she scrutinizes it, considers it
against the light as if it were an egg,
and buys it,
tossing it into her bag
jumbled together with a pair of shoes,
a cabbage and a
bottle full of vinegar
when entering her kitchen
she plunges it into a pot.
Thus ends
in peace
the enlistment
of this armed vegetable
called the artichoke,
after which
leaf after leaf
we undress
its deliciousness
and eat
the peaceful substance
of its green heart.

(Translated by Phillip Hill)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Departures and arrivals


When I was a kid I was a bit of an airport geek. In high school, I even organized an overnight class outing to O'Hare during which, around midnight, in the midst of a scavenger hunt, we were busted for curfew and forced to spend the hours until dawn sitting wakeful in some of the world's least comfortable chairs.

Sometimes waiting to board a plane at Narita airport reminds me of that night. It's a rather tedious place like the O'Hare of a generation ago before they decided to jazz things up. Once you get beyond the liquid-and-lighter confiscation zone there's a dearth of things to see and do and, especially, eat.  There's a sports bar or two and an overpriced sushi joint. But on the morning we left for Rome the nearest outlet to our departure gate featured truly crappy noodles and packaged food served up in rather grim surroundings. I've seen better eats at convenience stores.

The Zurich airport offers a completely different kind of experience. Architecturally it's pretty dull and functional, like most airports. But there were several swank and comfy-looking bars amid the stores selling watches and chocolate. (Hey, Swiss entrepreneurs - ever thought about making a chocolate watch?  I'd buy one.) There was also a cafeteria with a salad bar, a bakery and a stand serving up fresh fruit and vegetable juice. 

Wine bar at Zurich Airport

We didn't have much time between flights, just enough to grab a glass of wine and admire some of the artwork on display.  In addition to the work by Inigo Manglano-Ovalle (shown above) there were some interesting Hannes Schmid photographs of street performers in Singapore. Overall, it was a relaxing interlude in a long journey, giving the weary traveler plenty to explore when the WT couldn't bear the thought of entering one more stinking (literally) duty-free shop.

Salad bar at Zurich Airport

Treats at Zurich Airport