Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mid-September Dispatch

Life at the Academy is in full swing and the weekly calendar is filling up fast with walks and talks, tours and receptions, Italian conversation and yoga classes and forays to local markets and out-of-the-way bakeries. Amazingly, I also find a way to manage to shoe-horn in getting the kids to school and back. It's been said that living at the AAR for a year is akin to receiving a graduate education. So far, it seems to hold true -- I would only add the qualifier that for parents, access to a reliable baby sitter is key. With that in mind, all the parents here in 5b held a meeting on the roof-top terrace this week to discuss setting up a babysitting collective so we can enjoy the occasional night out. Somehow, we successfully managed to work out a coupon-based system over vino rosso while the kids raided a family's fridge for popsicles and covered their bodies with washable magic markers.

Distinct highlights from last week include attending a birthday party on a terrace overlooking the Piazza Venezia where Gio and I danced to Euro-trash disco til midnight next to a 90-year-old reveler, and celebrating my birthday by spending five hours alone at the Vatican Museum where I believe I may have happened upon the inspiration for a wide variety of regional pasta shapes based on the hairstyles of noblewomen from late antiquity. (See image below) I'm currently considering fleshing out my thesis further for a Rome Prize fellowship in 2012.

While traversing the Museum's 3.5 miles of galleries I also made other observations:

1. The food at the bar located on the interior courtyard should be avoided. Shove a pizza bianca in your purse beforehand to eat on an outdoor bench instead and then head to the bar and indulge in an overpriced cold drink in the shade. My panino was abyssmal but the prosecco was lovely. In retrospect I didn't feel so bad about paying 12 Euros for the experience given that a good portion of the tab will doubtless go toward victim compensation. It certainly isn't funding the creation and printing of helpful handouts or expository pamphlets on the countless treasures contained within.

2. There is a wide range in quality concerning tour guides. (FYI - Those guys who authoritatively assert that "Jesus's gaze miraculously follows you as you pass by his likeness" still exist. I actually encountered one in the hallway of Renaissance tapestries.)

3. Don't try to avoid checking in your Swiss Army knife at the "Guardaroba" if the uomo at the metal detector instructs you to do so after passing by his station. I made the mistake of assuming that he wouldn't waste time watching me out of the corner of his eye while processing 250 more tourists' bagagli.

4. The Church is really missing out on a huge merchandising opportunity by not offering more pagan chotchkes for sale in the many gift shops. With all those Roman mosaics, sculptures, coins, paintings, etc., all I could find was a T-shirt of some gladiators. Very disappointing. On the other hand, those interested in basing their home's design scheme on Michelangelo's iconic "Creation" scene depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling will fare much better. The restrained, sophisticated simplicity of the Roman mosaics and paintings still move me more than all the writhing limbs and exaggerated musculature to be found in later periods, but they clearly don't sell as many keychains. (The mouse with walnut pictured was part of an elaborate mosaic on display that depicted a floor after a Roman banquet. It was stunning in detail.)

5. Many of the paintings from 14th-16th centuries could use a good professional scrubbing as they were almost too dark to see.

6. Most surprising was the presence of a battery recycling receptacle prominently placed next to a trash can on the cortille (see below). While the Church remains unrepentant in its embrace of the Dark Ages in many respects, this uncharacteristic recognition of environmental consequences did make me think that perhaps there is a sliver of hope behind those imposing ramparts after all.

By 3 pm I had had my fill of contemplating priceless treasures, and headed back to pick up the kids from school. Gio and I then decided to head out for sushi at the kids' insistance (a regrettable mistake) but salvaged the evening by strolling over to our favorite gelateria in Trastevere - which incidentally is popular enough that it doesn't see the need to have a name or display a sign.

For those of you eager hear more about how the bambini are adjusting, be assured that they are settling in better than we expected. Giulia has pronounced the food at school to be so delicious that it's "better than Daddy's" and is making new friends in class, and Giorgio is singing in Italian in bed before he nods off and ingratiating himself with two older boys in our building to gain access to their cache of Legos.

Here's a parting shot of them showing off the gladiator outfits they made themselves out of our bedsheet and some old paper bags. "Two thumbs way, way up!"

For those of you eager to hear about how Gio is adjusting in the Academy kitchen, he's glad to be back in his element and has already picked up some new tricks (those of you who count yourselves as leek aficionadoes will be particularly pleased to see us return home). The fellows are clearly enjoying his handiwork. He's also had the benefit of being able to participate in a gnocchi-making demo in the town of Amatrice and may be heading down to one of Rome's most famous bakeries next week for a day of pizza making. I look forward to sampling the results!


  1. Grazi for the update, amica, particularly the mouse with walnut. Shall we assume that both ended up as toppings for those pasta shapes?

  2. Thank you for the update. I love to read about all of this. It sounds like the experience of a lifetime for you, Gio and the children. How amazing for you all.