Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Parkful of busts

Let’s return to Gianicolo, the Janiculum hill where I took you to admire the glorious sunset views of Rome last week (here).

There is a lovely avenue there, Passeggiata di Gianicolo, lined on both sides with huge plane trees – and bust statues of revolutionary war heroes. In fact, the long flat hilltop is a large Parco degli Eroi, Park of Heroes, dedicated to the most acclaimed fighters of the Risorgimento, the Italian unification. 

Most of the marble statues were commissioned in the late 19th century but a few additions have been made later. I just learned that one of the four foreign partisans included in the park is a Finnish fighter Herman Liikanen whose merits were recognized with a statue as late as in the 1960s. I must search his bust from among the 84 next time. I have a pretty good idea where to find it…

The statues were renovated and the park was reorganized in 2011 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Italian unification. A new monument containing the text of the constitution of the Roman Republic was also unveiled then. It is a terracotta wall at the popular lookout by Villa Lante al Gianicolo.

Villa Lante is one of the best-preserved Roman Renaissance villas, “a valuable example of Raphael’s school in Rome and of the ‘golden age’ of the Medici popes”. Out of happy coincidences and thanks to the wealthy Finnish patron Amos Anderson, it has been owned by the Republic of Finland since 1950 and houses the Finnish Roman Institute, Institutum Romanum Finlandiae. I bet Mr Liikanen’s bust is somewhere very close by.

Villa Lante in April, 2009.

View from the top of Castel'Sant Angelo in September 2011. Villa Lante on the top right corner.

The location of Villa Lante above a garden on top of the Janiculum hill overlooking Rome is totally divine. In the early 16th century, i.e. at around the time the construction of the present St Peter’s Basilica was started, Baldassarre Turini, the datarius of Pope Leo X, wanted to have a summer residence away from the heat of the town. He bought a piece of land on the hill and had the villa built among the gardens and vineyards there. It later went to the Lante family, which explains the current name. We once visited the villa and saw the beautiful Renaissance interior. Visitors could even shoot Rome from the fabulous loggia. Unfortunately, the photos from that trip are among those we later lost (more about that here).

Any Italian demonstration of war heroes would be unthinkable without General Giuseppe Garibaldi. It is obvious that he should be granted the focal point in the Janiculum Park of Heroes: a majestic equestrian statue surrounded by a piazza carrying his name. Together with Camillo Cavour, Victor Emmanuel II and Giuseppe Mazzini, Garibaldi is considered one of Italy’s ‘fathers of the fatherland’. You will bump into these men as statues or street names all over the country.

Prior to fighting for the Risorgimento, Giuseppe Garibaldi had already built quite a reputation with his military campaigns in Brazil and Uruguay. He married a skilled Brazilian horsewoman who fought by his side on both continents. Anita Ribeiro di Garibaldi has been acknowledged with an equestrian statue just opposite Villa Lante. I suppose none less than a famed revolutionary leader could have tamed this wild one.

The lighthouse-shaped monument facing Rome is another memorial you can’t miss if you ever climb the Janiculum hill. It is called Faro al Gianicolo, Faro di Roma, Faro della Libertà and even Faro degli Italiani d’Argentina. It was a gift by the Italians in Argentina to Rome on the 50th anniversary of the unified Italy in 1911. Also the faro was restored for the celebrations in 2011. Its site is another belvedere offering magnificent panoramas over the city.

Finally, some views from the Janiculum hill towards Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica. Rather a nice vista to that direction as well.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Easy living

While we were away, Jack was in town at my daughter’s. She lives on the 7th floor so he had to put on his pampered kitty mode, spiced with a twist of seniority to manage with her two Maine Coons. He may be a country cat at heart but he also masters the city mode perfectly. After all, that is how he spends the winter months with us sometimes being too comfort loving to go out for practically any other reason than to avoid using the litter box.

The moment she brought him home, his spoon-fed character flew away and he was again the king of the hill strong and brave enough for anything. When she went to the forest across the field behind our place to pick mushrooms he followed her there.

I did warn her it would be too much for Jack. I knew from experience. After a while she called me telling it was too troublesome with him and she was bringing him back. I met her to ensure Jack would stay home and she could return to the forest and actually pick something before sunset.

Unlike dogs, cats are such cleanliness-loving animals they do not like to get dirt on their paws. It would have been quite easy just to carry him home but he doesn’t like to be held.

Despite the muddy adventure, Jack’s paws were probably spotlessly in no time thereafter. I wonder what happened to my daughter’s rubber boots. I bet they are still untouched in the trunk of her car.

Since then we have made sure Jack has enjoyed the sweet life at closer range. I even treated him with some pieces of raw meat the other day when I made elk stew (à la Bourgogne). To be a cherished domestic cat is surely the finest kind of easy living I could imagine.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rooftops of Rome

It’s been tough to resume the travel tales because some thoughts won’t leave me alone. We spent the last few days of our good Italian fortnight in Rome and I am confused. Ever since the first visit, Rome was the one for me. Not the one and only but the one I imagined I’d have the hardest time to part with. The one I expected I’d always return to being happy.

I always thought if the opportunity arose I would have no problem spending the rest of my life exploring Rome. Wandering the side streets, admiring the details of the countless historical buildings, every now and then popping into one of the 900 churches to have a quiet moment in the serene coolness marvelling a piece or two of the immeasurable art treasures, feeling calm and contented.

Sometimes the marvels will make you overjoyed thanks to their breathtaking beauty and exquisite craftsmanship. Sometimes you just can’t prevent a certain kind of melancholy from entering your soul because of what the splendour inevitably implies about the past centuries. But when the notion of the past sins – universal by the way – is pushed aside, Rome is a limitless treasure chest of wonders for a lifetime to enjoy, for a lifetime to uncover.

It was exactly two years since our latest visit and the changes we found were not for the better. It seemed the streets were even more crowded, even more unclean than before. The signs of the unbearable inequality still prevailing on this planet were even more clearly visible than two years ago. I found it hard to envision the Rome of my dreams in the Rome of today and it made my heart sink.

The choices made in the past centuries, millennia even, have lead us to this point where we no longer bear to have our eyes on the street level but would rather turn them up to the rooftops to avoid seeing the world we have created.

Maybe it is that I am turning old and just cannot stand excessive crowds, mindless mess and outrageous inequality any longer. There must be thousands, millions of people like me who believe that the course of the ship we call planet Earth must be radically changed. We must not take it any longer. Ban the tax havens. Demand sustainable and responsible actions. Boycott those who do not deliver. And pray it will not be the ones who have nothing that will be the first ones to rise to the barricades.

The photos are taken from Gianicolo, the Janiculum hill west of the Tiber, down to the centre of the Eternal City. This is one of the places I always drag him to in Rome, preferably just before sunset. The views certainly are ten times worth the trouble of climbing the hill.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Fell into fall

We are back home, just in time to see the last of the colourful foliage and the last of the roses blooming. 

Night frost is here. It truly feels like autumn.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The random guy

On our way from Venice to Bologna, we stopped in Padova for a couple of hours. There I finally solved the puzzle of the ‘random guy’ my son has been referring to for years.

He likes to be called Kenny, a name he adopted probably thanks to his younger years in London and Florida. In real life he is Andrea Coppo, an artist coming from Padova.

We spotted two of his delightful street art pieces of a man and his cat in silhouette, which are his trademark figures.

Recently, Kenny Random has been incorporating well-known cartoon characters into his works. I’d love to see more!

See also my earlier posts on street art here and here.