My Friendly Neighborhood Wine Shop

Today, after 10 weeks, Total Lockdown has ended in Italy and Phase 2 has begun. Many commercial activities will be opening up again although with severe social distancing restrictions. And the wearing of masks is still a must. But the biggest change is that people can now visit relatives and friends.

During the lockdown, my only contact with others came from my periodic visits to the shops. And the most socializing I did was with the owners of the wine shop across the street. Paolo and Roberto are always in a good mood and ready to make jokes. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for all the laughs they gave me during the lockdown. Mille grazie!

The wine shop, Torrefazione Enoteca Giovanni De Sanctis, is a family business that’s been around for over 70 years. And the interior is basically the same as it was when it opened. Below are photos of the shop—it looks like something from a movie set.

The term “torrefazione” means “roasting” as once it was normal to buy coffee beans that had been roasted then freshly grounded. Sometimes the smell of the roasting beans makes its way inside my window and gives me a thrill.

Torrefazione Enoteca Giovanni De Sanctis

Torrefazione Enoteca Giovanni De Sanctis

Torrefazione Enoteca Giovanni De Sanctis

Torrefazione Enoteca Giovanni De Sanctis

 

Related: Quando un negozio in via Tagliamento chiamò “lazzaroni” il re e il duce

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The Horse on the Hill

Capitoline Hill, aka Campidoglio, is one of Rome’s seven hills. The pagan temples that once adorned it have been replaced with the Capitoline museums and the seat of Rome’s city government.

Campidoglio

In the middle of Piazza del Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo is an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. Leaders were often shown on horseback to indicate that they were victorious and all-conquering. Many bronze equestrian statues were eventually melted down to make coins and church bells. But the statue of Marcus survived thanks to its misidentification. For a long time it was believed to be the statue of Constantine the Great who, although an active pagan for much of his life, converted to Christianity for political reasons.

Marcus Aurelius is shown with his arm extended in an adlocutio gesture, that is, a gesture used by a general to salute his army. This gesture was later appropriated by Mussolini and his fascists as Benito’s greatest dream was that of creating a Roman Empire Revival, a plan he was unable to carry out thanks to his involvement with Hitler.

The poet Trilussa, popular in Rome during fascism, ironizes in his sonnet “Er salute romano” that the Roman salute is more hygienic than is the traditional handshake.  However, despite preoccupation with coronavirus contagion, it’s not likely that that the Roman salute will be reintroduced as, in 1952, it was outlawed because of its fascist past.

Marcus Aurelius, a Taurus, was known as the philosopher emperor. A devout Stoic, he is known for Meditations, a written collection of his thoughts. Many Stoics had the habit of keeping hypomnemata, that is, personal notes taken on a day to day basis. In some ways, writing was seen as a spiritual practice as it helped one better examine personal behavior. So every evening Marcus Aurelius wrote notes to himself regarding the events of the day. He wanted to make sure that he was living his life according to his principles and personal vision of the world.

Ideals give you a direction. Without them, it’s easy to get lost.

 

There’s nothing I can say about Marcus Aurelius that’s better than his own words:

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

No one can implicate me in their ugliness.

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinions than our own.

 You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.

Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life.

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Related: Diary Writing and other Spiritual Practices +  Meditations by Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius free e-book + Stoicism in a time of pandemic: how Marcus Aurelius can help + The Inner Citadel Pierre Hadot pdf free on Academia +

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Keep Your Fountains Flowing

Trevi Fountain

After the lockdown in Rome, photographs taken mainly by drones began appearing on internet showing a deserted city. One photo that got my attention was that of two vigili (city policemen) taking a selfie alone in front of the Trevi. There was something very tender about the photo as if these two vigili understood the uniqueness of being alone in front of one of Rome’s most important monuments and wanted to immortalize it.

Trevi Fountain is the oldest Roman water source and dates back to 19 B.C. The fountain was built at the end of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct where there was the junction of three roads, “tre vie” thus “Trevie” then “Trevi”.

In 1730, Pope Clement XII commissioned the fountain’s remodelling. The architect who designed it, Nicola Salvi, died before the fountain was completed as it took 30 years to finish it.

The protagonist of the fountain’s sculptural composition is Oceanus, the god of the earth’s fresh water. The fountain uses tons of water that it reuses to sustain itself.

The film Three Coins in the Fountain made making a wish and throwing a coin into the fountain popular with tourists. The coins are collected regularly by Caritas, a Catholic charity, that uses the money for worldwide food and social programs. It’s estimated that c. E3,000 is collected daily or rather was before the lockdown.

In 1996, the fountain was draped in black after Marcello Mastroianni who, thanks to the film La Dolce Vita, helped make the fountain more famous than ever. (You can read more about Marcello here: Vieni, Marcello, vieni!)

Romans love water (just think of ancient Rome’s aqueducts and public baths).

A “nasone” is a drinking fountain in the shape of a large nose (thus “nasone” which means “big nose”). Introduced in the 1870’s, there are over 2,500 of them in Rome with the purpose of supplying the people with free drinking water. The water that comes out of them is the same water that comes out of household water faucets.

Although it may seem like a waste of water, it’s not. The nasoni are used as ventilation valves for Rome’s water system. Plus the constant flow of water keeps water from stagnating in the pipes as this would produce bacteria. More water is lost from leaky pipes than from the nasoni.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the nasoni, it’s that flow prevents stagnation.

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Sculptural fountains in Rome + ”Marcello come here”: la scena cult nella fontana di Trevi

 

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The Silence of Angels

Angels on a Bridge

Years ago, while crossing the bridge of Castel Sant’Angelo, my skin felt the angels speak. A mystical experience? No, it was the magic of French conceptual artist, Alain Fleischer, who, via technology, had given life to angels made of stone.  Intrigued, I asked the artist (a very sexy guy with eyes like lasers) to speak to my students at the Academy of Fine Arts. Ooh là là, I wondered, had Fleischer, who has a PhD in Semiotics, ever heard the angels sing?

The other day, after seeing drone photos of a depopulated Ponte Sant’Angelo, I remembered Fleischer’s angels. Although majestically standing on their pedestals, they were silent. Because angels, when alone, don’t talk.

Angels have not always been present at Castel Sant’Angelo. Initially, Sant’Angelo was a mausoleum that the Roman emperor, Hadrian, had built for himself. Although considered a “benevolent dictator” he was, nevertheless, quite conceited and wanted an impressive monument left behind to remind history that he’d existed.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of papal rule, the mausoleum was renamed Castel Sant’Angelo (the Catholics were masters at recycling pagan constructions). It’s said that, during the Roman Plague of 590, the Archangel Michael stood on top of the mausoleum with a burning sword to chase away death and thus its new name. Much later, in 1669, the esoteric Bernini was commissioned by Pope Clemente IX to design the ten angels now standing on the bridge.

Ahhh, so many angels.

Without wanting to be, Julian Jaynes was a controversial scholar. He speculated that, 3,000 years ago, man had a bi-cameral mind where one half of the brain spoke and the other half listened believing it was a god who was speaking to him. In other words, once upon a time, everyone heard voices. Then an increase in demographics, the collapse of ancient societies, and mass migrations marked a transition in man’s way of thinking. Introspection was now no longer a voice from a god but a voice from just one half of the brain.

But the gods could not be silenced. Anxious to be heard again, they sent winged messengers to reactivate that forgotten voice. So man, afraid of his own thoughts, could say that they’d come from an angel. But why? Why can we not accept our inner voice as our own? Why is it that we need an excuse to believe in ourselves? Why is it that we are so eager to conform to the words of gurus, preachers, and/or narcissistic world leaders that we cannot understand that God is within our own being as much as it is within anyone else’s.

There is an angel within us all just waiting to be heard.

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Related: Les hommes dans les draps d’Alain Fleischer + Alain Fleischer bio (italiano) + Hermes, the winged messenger

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Contradictions

After Cleopatra committed suicide, Rome took control of Egypt and appropriated many of its artefacts such as obelisks. Special cargo ships were used to transport these monolithic monuments down the Nile to Alexandria and then across the Mediterranean to Italy.

Like giant needles meant to pierce the sky, obelisks abound in Rome more so than in any other city in the world. One such obelisk is in Vatican Square.

Although today we associate the term “Vatican” with the Catholic Church, the word comes from the location itself once known as Mount Vatican. It’s not certain but it could be that the Vatican Hill got its name from the Latin word “vaticanus” in allusion to the oracles that were once delivered there. In other words, a place of pagan cult.

In 40 A.D. Caligula brought the obelisk to Rome to use as a centrepiece for his Vatican Circus. Here Caligula organized horse and chariot races. Caligula loved horses. It’s said that he loved his horse, Incitatus, so much that he wanted to make it a senator.

Roman emperors were not in favour of the Christian movement seeing it as being seditious. Thus Christians were often persecuted and even tortured. St. Peter, for example, was crucified upside down. Then, in 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and built the original St. Peter’s Basilica on the site of Caligula’s circus.

Although there are no hieroglyphics inscribed on the Vatican obelisk itself, on the east and west sides of its base are inscribed exorcism formulas.

Once person who was fascinated by the presence of Egypt in Rome was Ezra Pound’s son-in-law, Boris de Rachewiltz. Boris was a penniless prince fascinated by the esoteric. He’d met Pound’s daughter, Mary, at a party in Rome hosted by Princess Troubetzkoy aka Amélie Rives, a moody but golden haired Southern Beauty who kept herself entertained by writing naughty novels and hanging out with controversial personalities.

In 1946, Mary and Boris decided to get married despite the protest of Mary’s parents. Boris, eager to dazzle and flaunt his noble blood, bought the run-down Brunnenburg Castel that gained fame when father-in-law Pound went to live there. Here Pound wrote many parts of his “Cantos”.

After he married, de Rachewiltz studied Egyptology at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and began focusing on the presence of Egyptian culture in Rome. Obviously, he became an expert in obelisks. Thanks to his ties to the Vatican, de Rachewiltz had access to the Tulli Papyrus, the first know written account of a UFO sighting. Named after Alberto Tulli former director of the Vatican’s Egyptian Museum, de Rachewiltz attempted to make a name for himself by translating the papyrus. The Tulli Papyrus provoked much controversy as did de Rachewiltz himself.

De Rachewiltz, a disciple of Julius Evola, had his residence in Senegal which led to an accusation of being involved in international arms trafficking with the Camorra. Although the Egyptologist, was absolved, de Rachewiltz continues to be a mystery.

St. Peter's Obelisk

It would seem that having a pagan obelisk in the middle of a Christian piazza would be a contradiction. But that depends, in part, on your worldview.

Eastern thinking tends to see contradictions as a yin yang correlation where mutations can create harmony. The western mind, instead, sees contradiction as a conflict, as “me vs. not me” situation.

Some contradictions are not apparent because of their context.

I have edited this post eliminating the many contradictions created by the coronavirus as it’s now spring and I am waiting to turn into a flower.

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Boris de Rachewiltz is buried at the Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome in a family plot.

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