Month: April 2016

Observations from the Road (Or the “While I Was Out of the Country” Edition)

It turns out that the world continued while I was on sabbatical for six weeks.  We returned on Monday afternoon and caught up with chores on Tuesday, while simultaneously trying to keep our Italian buzz alive.  Pacci’s Pizzeria here in Silver Spring and Takoma Park’s Dolci Gelati Cafe certainly helped in that regard! In checking the news here in the states, I also discovered a few things that caught my eye. Baseball season has begun – When I left the country, spring training was underway.  As we returned, our Washington Nationals were jumping off to a 12-4 start and are currently in first place in the National League East.  I know, I know:  it is early.  I also know they have feasted on the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.  But a win in April is as good as a win in September, and if they expect to do anything this year, the Nats will need to feast on the teams in their division who aren’t very good.  I have tickets for Sunday afternoon’s game, and …

Life is Already Too Short to Waste on Speed

A sabbatical should be a time to reflect on the “why” and “how” of life.  In trying to extend that reflection into my re-entry into the world of everyday work, I have continued to read outside my usual scope of interest. In a book I was reading on the train this morning, Edward Abbey – who has been called the enfant terrible of American environmentalism – was quoted as having had some good things to say about walking. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other form of locomotion except crawling.  Thus it stretches time and prolongs life.  Life is already too short to waste on speed….Walking makes the world much bigger and therefore more interesting.  You have time to observe the details. I love the line “Life is already too short to waste on speed.” On this morning’s walk to work, I passed the flower beds in the University Yard at GW.  It was a reminder to take the time to observe the details. More to come… DJB

Observations from the Road: The “Final Rome Edition”…For This Visit

As we prepare to leave Rome and head home, I have pulled together a few final observations about things we have seen while in this most fascinating of countries.  I’ll begin with the serious, and then move on to – shall we say – less serious thoughts that have popped into my head before returning to a final note of thanksgiving.  As always, these Observations From… posts are quick and quirky.  You’ve been warned! The Non-Catholic Cemetery is a treasure – Several people told us to make sure we visited the “Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome” (also known as the Protestant Cemetery), and we are so glad we did.  On the day we visited Ostia Antica, we walked across the street from the train station upon our return and spent a good hour roaming through this beautiful space. Here is a bit of the background, from the cemetery’s website: The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome (to give it its full name) is also widely known as the Protestant Cemetery although it contains the graves …

Three Churches (Part Two)

Over the past two weeks, we have visited three distinctive churches that each took our breath away in different ways.  The first is rarely seen.  The second is seen by almost every tourist in Rome.  And the last is one of those masterworks of architecture that really must be seen to be fully appreciated So to follow-up on our earlier post of looking at churches in sets of threes, here comes Three Churches (Part Two).  Let’s begin with San Lorenzo in Miranda, the church that is rarely seen. Each Friday we were at the American Academy, I took part in the “Fellows Walk.”  The last of those – for us – took place a week ago Friday and it was titled “The Presence of Absence:  The Medieval Roman Forum.”  I’ll turn to the AAR’s description of the walk to fill you in on the focus: Rome brims with a seemingly endless number of sites that loom large in the popular imagination.  But how does the imagined city compare to our actual, sensory experience of Rome? …

Contemporary Art in Historic Rome (Continued)

I believe it was those sage philosophers Rodgers and Hammerstein* who said, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”  That describes our Friday in Rome. After seeing the stunning Santa Maria del Popolo in the morning (more on that later), we had planned to take in the Bernini statue The Ecstasy of St. Theresa  at Santa Maria della Vittoria and then walk down the street to see Francesco Borromini’s fantastic San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.  Both were closed.  Thankfully, I’ve seen San Carlo (and will try to get Candice there tomorrow).  But we were disappointed, and the gelato we had after our picnic lunch only partially brought my spirits back. However, as has been our practice, when we walk by a church or open historic building that we haven’t seen before, we’ll ask each other, “Do you want to go in?”  More times than not, we’ll say “yes” and head in to find some new hidden gem. We were walking back towards Trastevere when we passed Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio (the …

A Trip Into Antiquity

Earlier this week Candice and I found time to visit two sites that have taken us at least as far back as the 4th century BCE and up through the 7th century CE.  Both were fascinating while serving as good platforms for thinking about historic preservation past and future. On Tuesday, we walked through our neighborhood to get to the Basilica of San Pancrazio, where we had attended Palm Sunday services three weeks ago.  We heard a presentation the night before from one of the fellows at the academy on labor practices in the catacombs, and it stirred us to visit the catacombs under the basilica. San Pancrazio’s catacombs are one of the few in Rome that have been consistently visited through the ages.  The fact that they were not lost over the centuries has been attributed to the fact that pilgrims from the cult of St. Pancras consistently visited the site throughout the Middle Ages. (Pancras) came to Rome together with his uncle Dionysus after his parents’ death and was decapitated in 304 after …

Venice!

I absolutely loved Venice. That’s not how I expected to feel following our first trip to the city.  For quite some time I’ve been hearing from people connected to all parts of my life (personal, professional, seasoned travelers, first-time visitors), and they inevitably mention the number of tourists, the limited number of “things to see” in the city, the cruise-ship impacts, the obvious effects of climate change, and the food.  (If I had a Euro for every time someone said, “You can’t get a bad meal in Rome and you can’t get a good meal in Venice,” I would have enough for at least one good meal in either city!) Our experience was very different. For one of the places on earth that can truly be described as unique, I went to Venice with relatively low expectations.  We arrived a week-ago Friday after a three-hour and forty-five-minute trip on the high-speed train. What a luxury!  Candice and I stepped out of the terminal and were only a five minute walk from our hotel. Thanks to …

The Pleasures of Villa Farnesina

If yesterday’s post – full of gruesome scenes of martyrdom from Santo Stefano Rotondo – turned your stomach, we found the antidote today in the pleasures of Villa Farnesina. Commissioned in 1508 by the wealthy Sienese banker Agostino Chigi and designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi, this suburban villa is at the foot of the hill from the American Academy in Trastevere.  We joined our friend Jeff Cody there for a guided tour and concert of Renaissance music on a beautiful Sunday spring day in Rome. The Wikipedia entry gives a good description of the difference between this suburban villa and an urban palazzo (or palace). Renaissance palaces typically faced onto a street and were decorated versions of defensive castles: rectangular blocks with rusticated ground floors and enclosing a courtyard. This villa, intended to be an airy summer pavilion, presented a side towards the street and was given a U shaped plan with a five bay loggia between the arms. In the original arrangement, the main entrance was through the north facing loggia which was open.  Today, …

Three Churches (Part One)

On Andrew’s last full day with us in Rome, he joined Candice and me in visiting three very different churches with widely varying histories, architecture, and art work.  It was a great introduction and send-off for Andrew, as we hoped to whet his appetite for future visits to the city. It turns out that we’ve had two tours, each consisting of visits to three different churches, this week. So I’ve titled this post “Three Churches (Part One)” and I’ll get to the other three in a later post. The first we saw with Andrew is one of the city’s best-known historic sites and regularly shows up on “must see” lists.  The second was recommended by friends at the academy as a “lovely and troubling space” rolled into one.  And the third was found entirely by accident (which is the way we often find hidden gems). The 12th-century Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano is a minor basilica  that consists of three separate buildings located one on top of the other and dating back to ancient …

Contemporary Art in Historic Rome

One of the delights of spending time in the American Academy is having the chance to get to know artists – young, older, new to their craft, and famous – and to see their work through open studios, concerts, readings, and performances. Rome, simply, continues to inspire.  And isn’t that what preservationists mean when we say that we need old places because they provide continuity, serve as part of our memory, enrich our individual and civic identity, and inspire creativity? Candice and I have been privileged to get to know several of these creative and talented individuals who came to Rome to seek inspiration and to inspire others. The first people we met at the Academy four weeks ago were the talented graphic designer Michael Bierut and his wife Dorothy. Michael and I quickly reconnected, realizing that we had worked together on two projects through the years for the National Trust.  It was a treat to attend Michael’s lecture at MAXXI, where he spoke about his work based on his recent book How to use …