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?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Rome Journal: Your Outer Pope

Perhaps you find yourself enthused by a visit to the Pantheon with its famed Oculus looking out into the heavens. Perhaps you feel you have finally found your calling, as a man or woman of God. Perhaps you feel that if you act “as if” you may find yourself possessed of an unforeseen divinity. It’s just like dressing for success. Who says you have to be ordained to dress up like a cardinal, bishop or priest? Walk along the Piazza Minerva with its Bernini sculpture of an obelisk and an elephant at the center and onto the Via Cestari and you will come to De Ritis Marcello: Abiti ecclesiastici, where in the storefront windows you will find the latest fashions in clerical garb. Italy is one of the fashion centers of the world and while Donatella Versace might not have designed any of the outfits on display you will find everything from the classic black robe worn by Rossellini’s resistance fighter priest in Roma citta aperta to the golden robes that are part of every pope's wardrobe. You won’t find any of the torso hugging outfits that fashionable Italians like to sport. Most of the men and women of God seem to prefer the billowing potato sack look which fends off the temptations of the flesh.