Thursday, May 31, 2012

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is the oldest part of the City of Rome.  Its ruins date all the way back to the second king, Numa Pompilius (715-673 BCE) who created the cult of Vesta.  The ruins of the Temple of Vesta are where my travel buddy and I started our full day tour.  With a guidebook in hand and a day pack filled with food, we were free to roam, read and ponder the mesmerizing Roman Empire for as long as we wanted.

It seemed appropriate to start with Vesta.  She was, after all, the goddess of the hearth, home and family of Romans.  Her presence was symbolized by an eternal flame and her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, were devoted to her (and the emperor).  I found it interesting that they sat with the Emperor at the choicest box seats in the Colosseum.  All other women had to sit at the very top with the slaves!

The Forum was the center of Roman public life.  It is where triumphal processions marched through the streets and where public speeches and elections were held.  It is here where Marc Antony shouted, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears . . ." and the corpse of Julius Caesar was set on fire.

The ruins are incredible.  There are temples, basilicas, arches, monuments and official residences.  The Roman Forum was indeed a showcase of the Empire, meant to awe and inspire anyone who walked among its monuments.  There is travertine paving still visible that dates all the way back to Augustus. 

During the Middle Ages, after the empire collapsed, the Forum was abandoned and fell into ruin.  Many of its monuments were used for medieval fortifications.  My own favorite goddess,  Mother Earth,  played a part in her protection.  Over the centuries she covered the ruins with plants and mounds of dirt.  The Forum was not rediscovered until the 18th century and the process of recovery began. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Prada Marni Missoni Oh My

When I told Mimi about the Shop Around Italy tour, she keeled over in a dead faint.  I had to pick her up off the ground and brush the dirt off her beautiful Armani jacket.


Her voice was a little shaky when she came to.  "Please tell me you're going," she pleaded. "Two thousand dollars for eight days in Italy?  Sounds reasonable."

"Except you're not taking into account shopping funds."

"Well, since it's not until next March you have forty weeks to save.  If you sock away fifty bucks a week, you'd have two thousand dollars for the outlets."

"Oh, crap!"  I'm not going to faint, but I do feel a little light headed.  Leave it to Mimi to find a way!

I wonder if my store is still in Rome?  I really want to find out!  Should I do it?  Yes, I think I'm going to do it!
Oh, crap!  I really am going to die poor!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Michelangelo's Big Mistake

I know, I know, this powerful sculpture of Moses is hardly a mistake.  It is quite magnificent.  Mose's anger is apparent.  He's returned from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments only to find his people worshiping a golden calf.  You can see it in his eyes.  He's about to explode!  His musculature is enormous.  His beard tumbles and flows down a heaving chest.  His leadership is unquestionable.  But, oh, those horns!  What was the great Michelangelo Buonarroti thinking?

Historians claim it was not his fault.  A very poor translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew into Latin  was floating around Rome during that time.  This is what Michelangelo read:  "And when Moses came down from the Mount Sinai, he held the two tables of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord."  The more accurate translation would have been "radiant" or "rays of light"; not "horns".

I'm still baffled why Michelangelo chose to believe the literal translation.  He put so much thought and time into each work of art.   This piece was commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb.  My travel buddy thinks it was deliberate.  With those horns sticking out of his head, he looks like a satyr, a creature in Greek mythology who is half man, half goat.  Was he poking fun at the very religion that provided his bread and butter?

Moses can be seen at the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.  If those horns were a mistake, whether unintentional or deliberate, it is still a masterpiece of High Renaissance Italian art. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Roman Colosseum

It is here that my imagination created a vision so real, I swear I was standing among ghosts.  I heard shouts of jubilation.  I heard men groaning in agony.  I smelled blood.  I felt the ground underneath me shake with the footsteps of thousands upon thousands of men and wild beasts.  It is here I understood the significance of what I was doing.  I buried once and for all any guilt over spending money on travel.  Travel brings history ALIVE.  It is here inside the guts of the Colosseum that I knew I would die poor.

Construction of this massive amphitheater began in 72 CE under Emperor Vespasian and was completed under Emperor Titus eight years later.   It was located in the center of Rome and built to be a masterpiece of Roman architecture and engineering  It must have been a thing of beauty during its prime.  There were statues of divinities and other figures from classical mythology placed under each travertine arch on the second and third floors.  Imagination is needed once again to visualize this wonder.

The Colosseum seated 50,000 spectators and was used solely for the entertainment of Rome's citizens.  There were gladiatiorial contests, mock sea battles, dramas based on the classics and one of Rome's most popular events, the venatio or animal hunt. These hunts were staged like a play with elaborate sets including trees and other flora,  Wild animals such as the Romans had never seen before were released into this mock forest.  These animals were transported back to Rome from Africa and the Middle East.  They included rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, elephants, giraffes, lions, bears, tigers and crocodiles.  I can't even begin to imagine how this was done.  To quote my son, "Those Romans were hard-core dudes!  No wonder they conquered the world."

I grew up believing that Christian martyrs had been executed here, but there is no historical evidence that this ever happened.  Once the Roman Empire collapsed, the colosseum was used for housing, workshops and a fortress.  It wasn't until the 16th and 17th centuries that it became a Christian site.  Pope Pius V (1566-1572) recommended that piligrims collect sand from the arena because it was impregnated with the blood of martyrs.  In 1653, a popular book by Fioravante Martinelli which listed the sacred sites, popularized the myth.  The story exploded.

Today, of course, the Colosseum is one of Rome's most popular tourist sites.  Just be prepared to see ghosts,  Your own imagination will decide whether its Vestal Virgins, Roman Senators or Christian martyrs!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mimi and David

"Since you've been writing about Florence, I'm assuming you're going to post another picture of David, right?"

"But I already did.  Last year."

"So?  He's worth a second look, don't you think?"

"Mimi, are you still in love with him?"

Cold silence.

:"Sorry.  Stupid question."

"You know, Mimi, Michelangelo sculpted a lot of other incredible works of art.  Would you like to see them?"  More silence.

Dusk and Dawn

Day and Night

"Nice, but I'm sorry, those females look like men with botched boob jobs."

The Pieta

"How about this one?  Better?"

"No.  Too sad."

"Okay, I give up.  Here's your guy again."

Sigh.  "Thanks, Marea."

"You're welcome."

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dante's House


After gorging myself on art for three days in Florence, I was thrilled to stumble upon Dante's house.  I needed a break!  I knocked on the door, but no one answered.  "Let me in, please."  Still no answer.  I knocked again.  I started to shout.  "Let me in.  I can't stand it anymore.  Is anybody there?"

This is when my travel buddy took me to the nearest bar (even though it was ten o'clock in the morning) and wisely ordered a carafe of red wine.  I needed to retreat to a dark space with no art on the walls.  It turned out I needed more than half a carafe to unclutter a mind that had become over-stimulated.

Ah, Dante Alighieri!  This was a subject near and dear to my heart.  I had taken a semester long course in college on The Divine Comedy and it was the one and only class I took that didn't carry a certain amount of anxiety with it.    For one thing, my professor really brought to life the history of Florence and the life of this great poet  He wanted us to really understand and to love the complicated cantos.  All we had to do was show up and discuss the current day's reading.  There were no tests.  It was pure joy!

Dante was born into a prosperous Florence.  Its economy was based upon banking and international trade  The merchant and artisan guilds were thriving.  It was second only to Paris in population--around 80,000 people.  However, politics remained a hotbed of contention.  The Ghibelline party who supported the Holy Roman emperor and the Guelphs who supported the papacy were in constant battle against each other.  In the 1280's, Dante served his city in the military fighting against the Ghibellines.  After that, he took part in the city's government and even served as one of the six priors making up the Signoria.  The Guelphs, however, eventually started to bicker among themselves and split into two groups:  The White Guelphs, making up the merchant class; and the Black Guelphs, consisting of the nobility.

In 1301, when Dante was away from Florence, the Black Guelphs accused him of trumped-up criminal charges and summoned him back to the city to appear in court.  When he didn't show up, he was condemned to death and forced into exile.  He never stepped foot in his beloved city again.  However, he was able to devote the rest of his life to creative writing.  He completed the Divine Comedy in Ravenne in 1321.

The Comedy is peppered with the people he knew in Florence.  He got his sweet revenge by sending his enemies straight to hell.  Of the three books, it is the Inferno, of course, I enjoyed the best.  It is the ultimate horror story; the images so grotesque, you can't help but wonder about the man's sanity.  He died September 14, 1321.

My travel buddy and I decided to give ourselves a break that day.  After toasting Dante and his beloved Beatrice several times, we walked along the Arno, window shopped and went back to our pension for an afternoon nap.  (Note to self:  Next time you're in Florence, go to the Dante Museum; buy Foresto Niccolai's book The Dante Plaques and track them all down.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Gates of Paradise

Michelangelo called Ghiberti's ten-panel bronze doors "the Gates of Paradise," but to me, Florence itself deserves this title.  It is a gateway to a treasure trove of Italian Renaissance art.  There is so much art and history here that it can be overwhelming.   Our pension was only a few blocks from the Duomo, so I was able to walk to the Baptistery every day and study the famous doors.  (And then I would go buy gelato!)

The Baptistery is a gorgeous building.  Its unique octagonal shape is meant to symbolize the 8th day--namely the day we all pass from death to eternity.  The resurrection of the dead is a paramount belief in the Christian faith.  It is across from the massive Duomo with its pink and green marble panels.  The church, the baptistry and the campanile all make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) is known for his sculptures and metalworking,  His bronze doors are considered Italian Renaissance masterpieces.  He won the competition in 1401 for the North set of doors pictured above.  The 28 panels depict scenes of the New Testament.  It took him twenty years to finish, and when it was unveiled he was immediately commissioned to work on another set.  The second set took 24 years but the panels were unlike anything people had ever seen before.  The bronze had been polished until it shone like gold and the figures in the relief were full of emotion; the scenes full of drama.

The Catholic Church used these panels as a way of teaching the Bible to the people.  Ghiberti, however, brought humanism into the stories.  As an artist and philosopher, he was more interested in human emotions and history than the supernatural.  He studied the classics and was an avid collector of artifacts.

The above detail is about the story of Joshua.  Joshua is on a chariot behind the ark of the covenant.  At the top is the city of Jericho and the priests are blowing the trumpets.  The remaining panels depict Genesis, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses and David and Solomon.  They are equally detailed and equally beautiful.

These photographs were taken in 1983.  As you can see, a panel was missing from the Old Testament set.  Today, if you go to Florence, you will see replicas at the Baptistery, not the originals like the ones above.  They have been restored and placed inside the Duomo for safekeeping.  I have mixed feelings about this.  They should be preserved and polished for future generations to enjoy, but what a thrill to see them like a 15th century Florentine!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Ferragamo Connection

Connecting the dots on the history timeline is an educational hobby.  Making a connection between Santa Barbara and Florence, however, is just downright fun.  The late great Salvatore Ferragamo is synonymous with Florence and Italian shoemaking, but did you know he had a shoemaking and shoe repair shop in Santa Barbara in 1919?   The American Film Company was located here at the time and his business became known as the "shoe shop to the stars". Cecil B. De Mille commissioned him to make boots for his westerns.  Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson were big fans.  Back then his shoes belonged to the realm of fantasy.  Evening sandals were made of black satin.  Stiletto heels looked like brass cages. A museum in Florence is filled with these early examples.  Forget the Renaissance art.   This is a reason to go back!

He returned to Italy in 1927.  The Ferragamo brand is still going strong and the shoes are still made in Florence.  As the photograph of my slingbacks show, his shoes are no longer surreal, but classic, functional and comfortable.  They are worth the investment because they will last a lifetime.  Now, that's history!   

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Horses of San Marco

I still get the shivers when I look at this photograph of the four copper horses located inside the Basilica of San Marco in Venice.  They are so lifelike, I swear I saw one flinch and another snort.  If they had jumped over my head and pranced out the church, I would not have been the least bit surprised.  Seeing this quadriga was, without a doubt, a very magical moment.

As a work of art, this sculpture is magnificent, but the journey these animals have made through history is an example of the power art can hold over men.  During the Fourth Crusade, the Venetians took them from the Hippodrome at Constantinople as payment for "services rendered" and hauled them back to a warehouse where they were stored for the next fifty years.  The doge finally had them installed on the terrace of the facade of St. Mark's in 1254.   Here they stayed to keep watch over the city for another 500 years until another conqueror claimed them as his.  A history of theft was repeated.

In 1798, Napoleon marched into Venice and took these horses, as well as priceless paintings and manuscripts, as payment for "services rendered."   Off they went to live in Paris atop the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.    When Napoleon's empire collapsed, however,  they were sent back to Italy where they have remained ever since.   In the early 1980's, the horses were removed from the terrace and brought inside to protect them from further damage.  The guidebooks tell you they were replaced by exact replicas, but trust me, there's no comparison.

But where was their first home?  Scholars are still debating whether they were Roman or Greek.  They do know that the copper content probably makes them Roman in origin, which makes me think ending up in Venice may be their real home, after all. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Canals of Venice

I got lost in Venice
Walking along the canals
in the Tintoretto light.
The throngs at San Marco push me away.
I am sinking,
intimidated by the weight of a heavy world.
I never find my hotel.
It finds me.
Each time its location altered
on the map.

I got lost in Venice
Walking along the canals
Under bridges of gilded mold.
The ghosts of the Lombardi laugh at me,
My dreams unrealized.
I buy a mask at a tiny shop
And hide.
The piazza's pulse draws me to its center.
But I never do find Venice
Until I leave.
                                    Marea Dotz

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Leaning Tower of Pisa

I've come a long way since my little side trip to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  My travel buddy and I took a bus here, snapped a picture and got right back on the bus again.  We couldn't wait to get to Florence.  Now, as I scan these slides I think, What an idiot.  Thank goodness, you don't do that anymore.
I'm a slow-poke of a traveler these days.  I see, I sit, I ponder and I always always explore behind the scenes.  I've learned it's not what's in the guidebook that turns out to be the most interesting.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, of course, is one of those landmark architectural wonders.  The ground level went up in 1173, but began to sink five years later when the second floor was added.  The soil was too weak and unstable to support all that marble.  Construction stopped for a whole century.  By then, the soil had settled and the wars between Pisa and Genoa and Florence had ended.  The city decided to finish the building of their campanile.  To compensate for the tilt, one side of the upper floors was built taller than the other.  Pretty ingenious.  The tower was finally completed in 1319 and is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture.  It is built of white marble and the blind arcade of Corinthian columns at the base are classic.

But, oh my, look at that cathedral?  Did I bother to go inside?  No.  Did I see the baptistry?  No.  The cloisters?  No.  And what about the city of Pisa?  Did I bother to see what else was there?  Well, there's no point in pounding my head against a wall.  I don't make those kind of mistakes anymore.  When we got to Florence that night, we ended up staying for an entire week.  That was more like it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Isle of Capri

The Most Beautiful Places on Earth

Arco Naturale

The Isle of Capri is the most romantic place I've ever been.  Even my travel buddy, who is not prone to romance, sighs whenever we reminisce about our three days there.

 This Mediterranean jewel is located off the coast of Naples, Italy.  The limestone cliffs anchoring each end of the island rise out of the sea sending everyone on the boat into a fit of rapture.  Once you land at the harbor, the whitewashed buildings decorated with tiles and pots of geraniums soften the drama.  Almost all the hotels have an incredible view.  Our first evening there, we did nothing but sit on the terrace and sigh.  And sigh some more.

As beautiful as the natural setting is, the history of the island is fascinating.  The Roman Emperor Tiberius spent the last ten years of his life here and stories abounded of his cruelty and debauchery.  Many historians, however, doubt these tall tales.  Tiberius fled here in fear of assassination.  He became reclusive and lived a quiet life behind his villa walls which can be seen in the photograph above.  Did he throw an enemy or two over the cliffs?  Who knows?

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Capri was ruled by Naples.  It was constantly being attacked by pirates, the most notorious of them being Barbarossa who plundered and burned Capri, not once, but seven times in the 1500's.  In 1850, a French antique dealer named Jean Jacques Bouchard discovered Capri and thereafter, it became a popular tourist resort.  The island is a wonderful place to unwind and is great for hiking.  Trails lead you to the ruins and to several caves.  The Blue Grotto is known the world over, but we found it to be disappointing.  It's the breathtaking views that pushed Capri to the top of my Most Beautiful Places on Earth list.  I didn't want to leave.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mimi Wears Capris

Thank goodness for capris.  These cropped and slender pants flatter every body shape.  There comes a time in every woman's life when shorts are no longer a viable choice, so loud applause to Sonja de Lennart, who way back in 1948 designed the first capri, naming it after that beautiful island off the coast of Italy.    For me (I finally admit it),  that time has arrived!   I wear capris all summer long for their comfort, coolness and good looks.  My shorts have been thrown into the Rag Bag.

Capris soared to popularity in the 1950's and 1960's.  American movie stars and fashion icons adopted the look immediately.  Pictures of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Jackie Kennedy in these new short pants sealed their fate.  Although they have come and gone as a trend over the decades, they are once again in all the stores.  The silhouette may not be the classic tapered one, but close enough.  I have slim leg, wide leg, ankle-length and calf-length crops and I adore them all.

Marea at Hotel on the Isle of Capri

"Why aren't you wearing capris if you're on Capri?"

"They weren't in style back in 1982."

"And don't tell me you wore those cruddy old tennis shoes all over that beautiful island?"

"Sorry, Mimi.  This is before I met you."

"Well, I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to go back.  Only this time I want to see you in a slender pair of black capris and sexy black pumps.  And . . ."


"You better take me with you.  It's clear you still need my guidance."

"Is this better?"

"The shoes could be sexier."

"Man, you're a harsh critic."

"Watch and learn, babe.  Watch and learn."