Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Rome Journal: Servizi per il territorio

They are the genial storm troopers who patrol mass transit in Rome. Wearing a black uniform on the back of which read “Servizi per il territorio” with Roma Capitale embroidered in red underneath this officer of transportation law stopped passengers without valid metro tickets. Romans apparently take their transportation seriously and those caught trying to sneak under the wire, will be brought to justice. As a 75 bus on its way to Termini passed the famed Colosseo stop, several passengers were showing their identification to a second officer who was dutifully recording their statistics on his smart phone, before stepping off the bus and disappearing into the rush hour crowd. There are soldiers carrying machine guns and automatic rifles all through the downtown area in front of major sites like the Teatro Marcello and the Vittorio Emmanuelle monument on the Piazza Venezia. And though the era when the Carabinieri created fear and loathing are long gone, there's still a residue of the old days when the separation between church and state was less palpable and the laws of the church, especially pertaining to sexual indiscretions, were upheld with similar dispatch.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Rome Journal: An Oasis for Depressives

It’s nice to speak another tongue. It’s a way of thinking. For instance, if you’re a depressive, it can be a change of pace to be depressed in French or Italian. Rome is a wonderful place in which to fall into a depression, once you’ve got a hang for the local dialect. It’s a lot different than say being depressed in your usual metropolitan New Yorkese.  New Yorker’s have a world weary affect that reflects itself in the slang acronyms they like S.O.S. But Romans employ lots of friendly little words like “quindi,"“supratrutto”‘purtroppo,” and “communque.” They're armed with qualifiers which ęnable them to convince themselves that feelings aren’t facts and they're not in as bad a shape as they may originally appear to be. Artichcoke is a favorite Roman dish and "carciofi alla Romana," is the opposite of suicidal ideation. Fellini’s intellectual in La Dolce Vita, Steiner, who commits suicide, might have been spared (at least creatively) if he had been in café on the Via Veneto mouthing the name of the dish and the same goes for "cacio e pepe" or for that matter "Cinecitta," the name of the famous film studio on the outskirts of Rome. "Gianicolo," "Fontana di Tortuga," "Parco degli Acquedotti" are all the name of places in Rome which are like serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Once you say them, you feel the cloud begin to lift.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Rome Journal: The Holy Stairs

Scala Sancta (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
Many times great ecclesiastical and architectural projects go hand and hand. Makes sense, no? What better way to memorialize the sacred than with a temporal presence that attests to the power of God. Great earthly monuments to God, are a kind of plenary indulgence, providing a built-in insurance against punishment. The history of the relationship between the architect Domenico Fontana and Pope Sixtus V exemplifies one of the great ecclesiastical and architectural collaborations of Roman history. Occurring in the latter part of the 16th century, in the years of the Counter-Reformation (when the Catholic church needed an infusion of charismatic energy) this collaboration united the Sancta Santorum, the Pope’s Holy Chapel built in 1277 with the Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta) originally brought from Jerusalem by the Emperor Constantine’s mother Helen in 326 A.D. The project was enormous involving the destruction of the old Patriarchia, but left in its wake one of the most holy sites in Rome, a fresco adorned staircase that supplicants must ascend on their knees to enter the chapel with its memorial to the martyrs like the Evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Fontana also worked on the nearby Basilico di San Giovanni in Laterano, one of the great monuments to early Christendom). The chapel also contains relics like a piece of wood that comprised one of the benches of The Last Supper. What’s striking is the lengths to which some people will go to secure their salvation.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Rome Journal: Chicks With Dicks

"Sleeping Hermaphroditus" by Bellini (photograph: Hallie Cohen)
Bernini created feats of stone. He literally painted in stone, carving space into it. He was famous for his oversized hands. In “The Rape of Proserpina"(1621-2),” currently on exhibit at the Bernini show in the Galleria Borghese, the sculptor shows flesh giving way to the pressure of the God’s fingers. In “Apollo and Daphne” the sculptor  depicts the goddess turning into a tree as she seeks to escape her abductor. The curators compare Michelangelo’s “David” to that of Bernini remarking on the illusion of mobility that Bernini evokes. His “Sleeping Hermaphroditus,” (1620), the reconstruction of a Roman work, is so much a statue come to life, it’s a turn on. If you’re into chicks with dicks you’ll give pause when you come to the erotically posed figure with breasts and a penis. The comforter tufted in marble on which the Bernini figure lies is another instance in which the artist uses his talent to defy the laws of physics. The intertwining of figures that occurs in pieces like “Faun Teased by Children” and “Aeneus Flees Troy With His Father On His Shoulder” illustrates how the dynamic baroque style became a vehicle for narrative and storytelling in Bernini’s hands. Bernini never finished “Truth Unveiled By Time,” (1646-52) which had been created as a vindication of his talent after an earlier failure. Truth is revealed in the luscious naked figure, but there wasn't time for time. Bernini redeemed himself before he had a chance to finish the work. Nothing was left to prove. And the current show features some practical advise from the master. Here is Bernini on the portrait: "To succeed in a portrait you must set a pose and try to represent it well. The best moment you can choose for the mouth is either when one has just finished speaking or when one is beginning to do so."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Rome Journal: The Ara Coeli Steps

"tourist descending Ara Coeli staircase"
(photogaph by Hallie Cohen)
Rome is filled with a lot of expensive or actually priceless real estate. At the intersection of the Via del Teatro di Marcello and Piazza D’Aracoeli are the Ara Coeli steps. At the top of this foreboding looking stone escalator lies the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The steps date from l348 and were purportedly built as expression of thankfulness at the end of a plague epidemic. Supplicants expressed their gratitude by ascending them on their knees. You don’t need to suffer any plagues to be thankful for climbing the steps today, though you’re likely to be huffing and puffing once you reach the top. What's notable however is the sturdiness of the edifice that's been created. Like Mont Saint- Michel one would guess that the intention of such features of architecture is to demonstrate the immortality of God despite the vicissitudes of the surrounding environment. There’s nothing precarious about the Basilica even though it sits atop a promontory overlooking Rome. In fact, it feels far more sturdy than many of the edifices at sea level. Back in the 50’s Robert Rauschenberg photographed Cy Twombly’s lower torso descending the steps. Could this be a statement of the fact that art has to do with earthy matters?