Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rome for the day.

It's been a hectic several weeks, and there isn't much relief in sight. I needed a refresh, and the opportunity presented itself with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call.  Quinn had to get on the bus for a cross country meet at 5:45 a.m. which meant Lily and I would be up and operational to catch an early train to Rome.

So we did, arriving in the Eternal City just in time to catch a morning protest.  Here is Lily before the remnants of a rally in a piazza. Please don't ask me what it was about.  I suppose most European protests have to do with the current economic crisis, the austerity measures being taken, and the fact it seems the average folks are paying far more than those at the top for the profligacy that got everyone in this state. That seemed to fit with the signage I saw, but it's against the Status of Forces Agreement for us to have any involvement in politics here and I am happy to comply.

The plan was to do some fabric shopping based upon this blog post.  Enjoy a nice lunch.  And savor the treasures in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj.  Then wander back to the train station.  We did that and a little more.

It's about a three kilometer walk to the Fratelli Bassetti fabric shop.  So we got in a coffee moment and window shopping along Via Nazionale.  Then we arrived at what appeared to be a ho-hum linen shop around the corner from the Gesu Jesuit church.  Fortunately I knew that Fratelli Bassetti was a fabric shop or mercato di tessuti or I would have walked right by without a second glance.
You know they say the '80s are BACK! My scarf knows it.

 The meat of the matter was on the second floor and, oh, what delights were inside for fabric accumulators -- but at far less than delightful prices.  YIKES.  Stacks upon stacks of 75-100 euro/meter silks. I spent some fantasy moments looking at the Etro silks, the Versace silks, the Dolce & Gabbana silks, and many other names I've never heard of.  The set up is not customer friendly in the least.  The bolt ends face out and you have only the slimmest of indications of what the fabric might look like.  Though I imagine it minimizes grubby finger marks on precious silk yardage, one is not enticed to continue after three or four "meh" withdrawals from the stacks by an impatient gentleman -- a brother Bassetti perhaps?.

My sole aim was to get a piece of fine Italian wool, a bouclĂ©, in particular.  I want a Chanel jacket, v-neck, patch pockets, and trimmed with the type of lovely fringy braid cording made by the 70+-year-old lady in this fantastic Chanel documentary (which used to be available in its entirety on youtube . . . but, alas, is no longer).  After much sorting through the stacks of wool (less stringently guarded than the silks), I came across the one for me -- a light heathery purple and chocolate brown bouclĂ©, oh my.
I kept sorting through the stacks and returning to it several times.  Some negotiating brought the price down about 25%, but still it's the most I've paid per meter before.  No buyer's remorse, though: it's wool and silk and wonderful:

Next, I followed the Selfish Seamstress's itinerary to Fatucci Tessuti for some fabric acquisitions more in my normal price range.  A wonderful violet wool twill (with a healthy dollop of Lycra) and a contemporary floral silk voile which had the look of plant cell structures that I was assured was Dolce & Gabbana . . . not that it mattered.  After Bassetti's prices, these were complete bargains.  And another  silk, this time a charmeuse, with contemporary floral design with a kind of protozoa look.

Are all you nonsewists saying, "BASTA!"  Yeah, that's what Lily was saying, too.  So we found a little place around the corner from the Pantheon and ate a lovely lunch. Lily had roast chicken with artichokes, and I had cannolini with ricotta and spinach.  I didn't take any pictures -- so sue me.

Next we beelined for the Doria Pamphilj (the "j' is pronounced like a y -- go figure).   A treasure trove to be sure -- and with many of its masterpieces generously provided online at this link.  

Lily and I loved the Jan Brueghels -- packed full with beautifully rendered detail.  The three Caravaggios were lined up so you could see that the moving portrait of Mary Magdalene was based upon the same model used for the Virgin Mary in the Flight to Egypt.  A scandalous act of economy -- me likey. 

I'm not usually a big fan of audio guides which often are simply patronizing drones, but the Doria Pamphilj guide is provided by the Doria Pamphilj heir whose fluent, aristocratic cadences suit the setting and his insider asides are a fun accompaniment to the paintings.

We find out that all their good fortune dates back to this ancestor: Pope Innocent X.  Really.  And we also learn that he exclaimed, "It's too real!"  when Velasquez unveiled the portrait for him.  Hmmm, now where have I seen that expression before . . . ah, yes, this is the look the blind piano player's girlfriend gives to Larry David when she is introduced as a fashion model (and clearly is not) in Season 4 of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Yes, I am innocent of everything, care to make something of it?

But all good did flow from that Papa for the Doria Pamphiljs as this lovely view and many others attest.  Apparently rollerskating occurred in these hallways within the last generation!

Lily has amazing art museum endurance for age 9.  She even outlasted me in some rooms. But then we deserved a treat and the Doria Pamphilj has its own tea room.  We were happy to top off our visit there.  

There were some further wanderings,  a long wait in the station in which several books were purchased in the large English section of the bookshop, and then the train trip home.  What?  You were expecting lots of photos of Roman street scenes and landmarks?  I'm sure the web will offer them up to you elsewhere. . . this is Lily's and my day-in-the-life.  But we will try to be more photo-illustrative of our next destination: Istanbul!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


This time we were reasonable.  No 7 a.m. departures for us. It wasn't an Italian holiday, it was American Thanksgiving.  We slept until 8 a.m. and then got ourselves to the Naples airport with 90 minutes to spare for our 10:40 a.m. flight . . . only to discover that the Neapolitans were celebrating November 24th with travel plans of their own -- the lines at security were the worst I'd seen them.  We made our flight via a mad dash.

A few hours later, we found our apartment on Gran Via de las Cortes Catalunyas . . . and settled in for a bit, before heading out for a walk toward Las Ramblas -- which we never reached since it seemed appropriate to celebrate our arrival with some late afternoon tapas and wine.  After which, we sauntered back to the apartment to put our feet up.

About 7:30 p.m., Lily, the 8-year-old traditionalist, was nonplussed.  "Where is our Thanksgiving dinner?"  she asked, in the midst of our early evening torpor.  I did a google map search and realized that we were but a short walk from the restaurant an old friend had recommended called Taverna Can Margarit.  His evocation of the conejo a la jumillana . . . well it sounded like it would make a swell stand-in for turkey and the rest.

Me and my happy snails
At Lily's urging, we all rallied and set off.  After a few wrong turns plus a helpful Spaniard with her iphone GPS, we arrived at Taverna Can Margarit: a barn-like establishment with huge barrels of wine along one wall, big farm tables and chairs, even farm implements on the wall.  Minus the drink, an almost pilgrim-like ambience.

The wine was immediately forthcoming (no pilgrim, I).  Then the Happy Snails.  And the resulting "happy" daze (pictured right) was not unlike many a Thanksgiving "fellowship feeling" I had experienced before.
ahem, don't tell Lily. Conejo = Rabbit
Then the conejo and the lamb arrived . . . then another lovely ceramic pitcher of wine . . . then the desserts . . . delicious puddings and cakes.  Blissful indulgence.

After some requisite holiday table silliness, we floated back to the apartment and counted it an excellent Thanksgiving.

Lily and the lion

Quinn points the way.
Look at that BLUE sky.  Day 2 began with a photo op at the Colom monument to Columbus at the foot of Las Ramblas.  There is much revisionist history to enjoy on the monument, and it's across from the walkway over the harbor to the famous Barcelona Aquarium.  We thought the Aquarium would be a good start for the day, remembering what a hit it had been for Emily many years ago.  And it was.  Nothing like sharks sailing overhead to warm up kids for a day of siteseeing.

But then there was lunch to be had, whereupon Quinn started feeling less than optimal.  So we headed back to the apartment for reposo or siesta, take your pick.  After a good rest, we headed over to the old bull ring, cum new shopping mall and enjoyed some browsing and a lovely dinner with a view from the top floor.

SATURDAY we tackled La Sagrada Familia early in the a.m., arriving just a few minutes before the tour buses started rolling up.

We had a short wait for the elevator up to the top of a tower, and then a long vertiginous walk down.  I hate heights.  Don't ask me why I said yes when buying entry tickets to the tower elevator add-on.  After putting on a good show for a family photo at the top, I was queasy the whole way down.

Lily didn't enjoy it much either.

I was much happier on the ground floor, looking up.  And with this vaulted wonder to contemplate, the trauma of five minutes prior was forgotten.   We jumped on the fabulous Barcelona metro again to get back to the thick of things.  Grabbed a great lunch and then took in Barcelona's Contemporary Art museum (or MACBA).  It had a kind of Guggenheim logic to it: i.e. start at the top and work your way down.  Lots to see and talk about . . . and have a little fun with.  

Lily disguised as installation

The next day was race day for Jon and Quinn.  They had been training for a 10K and found that one was happening in Barcelona while we were there a few weeks ago.  Serendipity.
Here's Jon's shot of them at the start of the race
Here's the cafe celebration afterwards with Jon's friend Pete who was in town for the race, too.
After congratulating the boys, I set off for the Museo Nacional de Arte Catalunya to see the Romanesque frescos (another excellent recommendation from my friend) and some of the Gothic and Renaissance collection.  The Romanesque frescos were astonishing -- all the more so for the fact these 11th century painted walls were transported undamaged from the mountain villages to Barcelona . . . large apses and alcoves of clerestory windows were painstakingly reestablished within the museums ample galleries.  Worth a go . . . the Gothic and Renaissance works were worth seeing, too.  Though I was glad that I went on my own, for all the bloody and gruesome depictions of martyred saints on view.
Jon took the kids to see the Maritime Museum: wouldn't you know.

We reconvened to walk around the Barri Gothic, had some nibbles and wine, sat for a while in Sta. Maria del Mar.  The remaining highlight was a fine Mexican dinner in our little neighborhood.
Hasta luego Barcelona.  We will be back.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Almost a year . . .

Yes, my last post was November 20, 2010.  I should probably just toss in the towel on this one and start afresh on some new, more aptly named blog . . . but, for chrissake, I'm no blogger.  Just an intermittent poster of a scrapbook moment now and then.  I accept it and, reader, I hope you do, too.

So today, Jon and I took the comp time due us for working two weeks straight with late nights, leaving two very tolerant and resourceful kids to fend for themselves.  I do have to work tomorrow -- but taking this midweek day for no other reason than hanging out with just us (minus the Em :( ) felt great.  I wanted to go to Rome for the day, but then Jon reminded me that sleeping in would be a blissful change from our routine.  So we decided to stay home and enjoy our favorite Italian city: Bella Napoli.  Oh, she is a quite difficult mistress with questionable hygiene habits, but beguiling nonetheless.

Today we set off for Book Alley, a (thwarted) visit to Santa Chiara and a wonderful, wonderful lunch at Starita, Napoli pizza of recent NYT Frugal Traveler fame.

We left for the metro station about 11 a.m.  (the sleeping in until 10 a.m. was wonderful), stopping for barside cappuccinos.  Here's Lily onboard . . . self-curated, as usual.  All I can say is "WATCH OUT TAVI GEVINSON!". This girl's nipping at your heels.

Quinn, a reluctant participant in our outing, did ultimately enjoy our wanderings, book seeking (. . but mostly our dining).

My plunder -- there's one vendor with whole rolling box of English books -- who'd believe you could pick up The Santaland Diaries in a cramped alley in Napoli?  And how appropos heading into the "season" The Diana Wynne Jones is for Lily . . . Emily, any remarks?

Starita -- a revelation.  We had their wonderful angelo diti (angel fingers -- fritters with fresh tomatoes and rucola) and stuffed fiori di zucca to start.  How could I believe that my favorite pizza in the whole wide world would be without sauce (red or white) or cheese.  Here it is, the Pizza Stock.  Lovely shavings of baccala, olives, capers, fresh tomatoes, and parsley.

 Lily varied her standard margarita (plain cheese pizza) with some funghi, Quinn had a quattro stagioni, and Jon did something that fed his current hankering for zucchini.

Afterward, we strolled over to see Santa Chiara which my Napoli Tourist Board and La Mattina published guidebook said was open at 2:30 p.m. AHEM.  It wasn't opening until 5 p.m.  Really?  As I was saying about Napoli . . . but you have no choice but tolerance when this kind of gorgeousness awaits you.  I've been hankering to go here for, um, years now.  Two thwarted attempts, but I will continue my suit.

So we wandered back through a new route that took us past an excellent gelateria (we know this from sampling) and a cheap makeup emporium where Lily induced me to by her clear lipgloss because her lips were chapped . . . and NOT because the application wand lights up when you are applying it.  Yup. Back to the metro station and Pozzuoli.

Well, I don't want to overdo it.  Best not to set too many expectations, but we are heading to Barcelona for the Thanksgiving weekend.  My second Thanksgiving without turkey, and I am not complaining.

While I will not promise, but I hope to post something about it next week some time.