When in Rome…


Via Prenestina 1

Rome's hidden treasures
Rome’s hidden treasures

I have been asked many times by Italian friends why on earth do I live work in Rome. When I’m in a particularly bad mood I answer: “Stendhal’s syndrome screwed me”. When I feel poetic I put examples like this. My husband has sent me by whatsapp these pictures of an old Roman road that has appeared during some works. As usual, here in Rome, when you dig a few meters Ancient Rome pops up and reminds us that the new city is built using the old one as foundation.

The North entrance of the ancient Domitian's Stadium, under Piazza Navona
The North entrance of the ancient Domitian’s Stadium, under Piazza Navona

 I guess that what differenciates normal people of me, Ancient-Rome-Nerd, is that when they see a disorganized pile of old bricks, I observe old Romans, as through a viewfinder. To me the remains of the old consular road (I presume Via Prenestina, this site is just a few meters away of the modern one) are not just stones. I can see as clear as they were in the picture the farmers transporting in their carts the vegetables they are to sell in the city, a messenger of the Imperial post service hurrying to deliver on time the letters he carries to the Palatine Hill, some slaves buying groceries in the shops in one side of the road.

This reminds me that, some years ago, a very famous Italian stylist (Valentino) got the necessary authorisations to make some kind of super-huge party near the Colosseum, and he had the “brilliant” idea (authorised by someone as bright as he) to “complete” the columns in the Via Sacra with new, white, plastic-polyurethane ones. Fortunately I have not found pictures of what they did (the kitsch effect was completed by night as the columns were iluminated inside). Anyway, the plastic shining bright white columns remained for months, as “tourists liked them”. I  found that simply disgusting.

via sacra Tito
A view of the Via Sacra with the remaining columns of the temple of Venus and Rome at the right side and the Arc of Titus as background

Because, when you don’t have enough imagination as to see those columns forming part of the temple of Venus and Rome you can always watch this video, or buy a ticket to Cinecittà and admire the spectacular reconstruction of the city which was used as set for my admired HBO’s “Rome”, without disturbing the archeological area.

The calendar and the foro seen from the Subura area
The calendar and the foro seen from the Subura area
The Temple of Saturn
The Temple of Saturn

But I was talking about my Stendhal’s Syndrome. The modern city of Rome stresses so much that I have to pump it up continually and repeatedly. Tonight I will have an extra dosis, and I will endure and resist the next public transportation strikes or the disastrous state of modern roads and sidewalks for several months. I have booked a night visit to the Vatican Museums. Which reminds me that I have to take as many notes and pictures as I can of the Borgia apartments.

A small regret


I wish I could have listened to this before “knowing him” (the same problem as when I heard “Venetia”, I’m afraid not to be believed by the non-well-wishers). I have just listened to chapter two and my heart is beating thick; I’m shocked. Literally. S.H.O.C.K.E.D.

Pure acting, excellent writing, superb skill.

You are great, sir. You. Are. Great.

PS. In the next weeks, when I will have heard the whole piece several times and will be able to type without trembling due to the emotion, I will write an intelligible post about this.

The mistery of Pala Pesaro


I was about to keep on commenting with Guylty in her blog the striken similitude between Richard Armitage and a knight portrayed in a Titian’s painting but, as the comment would be rather long and articulated I think it deserves a post of its own.

One of my last Christmas’ presents was a very beautiful book about renaissance painters. When I arrived to the chapter dedicated to Titian I gasped like a red fish outside the water observing the so-called “Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro”, also known as “Pala Pesaro”.

Pala Pesaro complete

The “Pala Pesaro” is an altar piece located in Venice, in the “Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari” and was painted by Tititan between 1519 and 1526. The painting was commissioned by Jacopo Pesaro, and it represents the Virgin and the Child, sat in a throne, with Saint Peter at her feet. Two saints are by her side and the commissioner of the painting and his family are portrayed on their knees. The piece is extraordinary: the fabrics, the colours, the painted architecture which is a continuation of the chapel itself. The composition is revolutionary for those times: the Virgin and the Child are in the up right side and the figures are disposed in an unsymmetrical structure, disposed in the shape of a right triangle.

I am sure you are starting to ask yourselves what is the “mistery” about. The only unindentified character of all the painting is, accidentally, our particular object of adoration. As mentioned before, the people on their knees are the commissioner (left side) and his four brothers and a nephew (right) and the friars besides the Virgin Mary are Saint Francis and Saint Anthony of Padua. But let’s focus on the subject of this post:

Pala Pesaro detail

The knight, which is known only as “the captain” or “the soldier”, stands behind the commissioner of the painting, Jacopo Pesaro, and holds the banner of pope Borgia, Alexander VIth. Although Rodrigo Borgia was already dead when Titian painted this work, the presence of his banner is justified by the fact that Alexander VIth named Jacopo Pesaro bishop in 1495, and afterwards, in 1501, pontificate legate and commander of the twenty papal galleys sent to fight the Turks. The battle was a success, represented here by a captive Turk with his head bent, taken prisioner by “our” captain, and the laurel wreath on the top of the banner. Although the weight in the final victory of Pesaro’s galleys were decisive, Venice granted more honours to another commander, his cousin, Benedetto Pesaro. Maybe the Republic failed to concede him the honours he was sure to deserve, but his money compensated the injustice, hiring the best painter in the city to immortalize his victory.

But the question remains: who was the unknown soldier? The captain holding the Borgia banner who looks so much like the captain of this other army of well-wishers, well-read and well-educated ladies? Was RA in another life a neighbour of Titian, a musician who played the cello and the flute around the 1520’s and posed for him as a model? (Which, would explain his declared love for all things Italian) Or was he a soldier under command of Jacopo Pesaro? Or are we in front of an X-Files mistery, formed by time-worms and black holes, worthy of Mulder and Scully? Mistery or not, this painting gives us an idea of how gorgeous our captain looks dressed in a XVIth century armour.


“The Vicar of Dibley” appreciation post


It was quite a long time since I didn’t laugh so much watching a tv series as I did with the last two chapters of “The Vicar of Dibley”, and, according to RA expression in all his scenes (sample enclosed), I’m sure he enjoyed the experience also.

What strikes me more of his performance in “The Vicar” is the fact that it seems that… he’s not acting at all. In this modern fairy tale the blue prince does not ride a white horse and awakes the princess with a kiss but is an accountant (I can’t help laughing when I remember Hugh Bonneville character saying that of “would you marry this… accountant”) of the big city with a lovely smile. And we, well-wishers and well-read and educated ladies dream with our eyes open, quite sure that Harry is the most “Richard” character in his career.

A fragment of my fan-fic translated

Some days ago I tried to translate into English a fragment of my very loooooong fan-fic (based in the times of the Roman Emperor Trajan). The result was… embarrassing, I have to admit it. A very dear friend has been so kind to translate it into decent English, so, here it is. This is the second appearance of a character I have created inspired by-you-can-easily-guess-who.


Although there were only a couple of hours left to sunrise, Cneus Cornelius Gracchus was still working in his study, writing letters. A slave informed him that the man he was waiting for had arrived. Although he heard him entering the room he did not lift his head from the paper, and kept on writing. The only sound in the room was coming from the sharp goose feather faintly scratching the papyrus; suddenly, another sound hit senator’s ears, the metallic whoosh of a dagger ripping through the air. It nailed the paper to his desk, just half an inch from his fingers.

– “I don’t like your games, senator. You’ve called me, tell me what you want”.

Gracchus raised his eyes. There stood a strongly built, dark haired man in front of him, tall and with piercing blue eyes. He wore an immaculate travelling gown and was armed with a gladius and the dagger he was tearing out from the table.

– “Where were you last night? You were not with your men” – said the senator.

– “I’m not stupid. I didn’t want to get my throat cut. Chances were nobody would survive, and nobody did”.

– “You have another mission”.

– “The price has risen, Gracchus”.

The senator crossed his arms over his prominent belly.

– “Don’t you want to know what is it about?”

– “The price has risen. If you agree, I will”.

– “Tell me” – answered Gracchus.

– “I want the same deal you have with Osroes” – answered the man putting the dagger back in its sheath, watching the bewildered expression on the senator’s face.

– “What deal? I don’t have any agreement with the king of the Parthians”.

– “You don’t fool me, Gracchus. You are not like us; Trajan or myself, we are cut from a different cloth. Your business is not war, you enjoy the good life and comfort too much to bother with visiting the frontiers or pretending to be interested in the expansion of the empire. You are not fond of battlefields, you prefer machinations and plots. Sitting down comfortably while your empire prospers surrounded by neutral kingdoms” – the man didn’t take his eyes away from the senator while he spoke, with a deep voice.

– “I think I’ve missed something… you aren’t the king of anything, Furius Vipsanius. Or do you prefer me calling you Drachir?”

– “In Rome you can call me Furius Vipsanius. In Britannia I’m Drachir and I will be the first king of the Britons. I will unite all the tribes of the island: brigantes, picts, cornovii, caledons, parisii… Boudica united just a few tribes and made you tremble, all the tribes of Britannia united can get rid of Roman hegemony”.

– “And do you expect me, the future emperor, to help you throw out the romans from the island?” – answered Gracchus opening his arms, with an expression of incredulity on his face.

– “Britannia will continue to be a province. To Rome I will be the governor, to the Britons I will be their king. We need more roads, water pipes, to build cities from stone and marble, not mud huts. I want my people to thrive under Rome’s protective wing”.

– “And afterwards? What will prevent you from rebellion?”

Drachir searched the room. He saw a polished bronze tray on a little table, bright as the sun. He took it and threw it to the senator’s table.

– “Gracchus, watch yourself. How old are you? How many more years do you think that you have left? When Britannia is ready it won’t be your business anymore”.

The senator took the tray and set it away, he knew perfectly well how he looked and that the man who stared defiantly at him was twenty years younger.

– “So be it, then. Governor of Britannia and the king of your numerous and loyal subjects. Your island will flourish caressed by the sun… I mean, by the fog and the rain, more precisely”.

Drachir smiled; he had always detested senator Gracchus, but he had to admit he enjoyed that subtle irony he was so fond of.

– “So, what’s the mission about?” – asked the senator.

– “You must go to Antioch, as soon as possible. And kill a woman”.

– “What?!?” – Drachir laughed out loudly – “Anybody can do that! You don’t need me for this”.

– “It must be taken care of  by someone I trust, Furius Vipsanius. Moreover, this morning the commander of the praetorian guard, following an order from consul Sura, has sent his best man to protect that woman”.

The senator moved several papyrus and wax tablets he had on the table until he found what he was looking for.

– “A certain Quintus Terencius” – continued the senator with pretended indifference.

– “Quintus Terencius? The one who served in the Ninth Legion in Eburacum*?” – replied Drachir with a spark in his eyes.

Gracchus read the table again.

– “Yes, the same”.

Drachir laughed again, and clasped his hands.

– “Give me the details, I will leave immediately”.

Gracchus handed him a roll, sealed with the image of the god Janus. Drachir left the room without uttering a word.

– “You will not live forever neither, Briton” – said Gracchus in a low voice while getting up from his chair to rest for a couple of hours.

* Eburacum = current York