Rainy day wanderings in Villa Doria Pamphilj

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Rainy weekend days in Rome, for me, are the perfect excuse to spend the afternoon leisurely strolling in an art gallery. And here in Rome, there’s really no shortage of museums, galleries, and palazzos (palazzi? pardon my plurals) to pop into.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is located right on the Corso, a short walk from the Trevi Fountain and steps away from the big ol’ Wedding Cake Vittoriano. It’s unassuming from the front- but once inside the perfectly manicured, lemon tree-speckled courtyard, you’re already clued into the fact that this place is going to be pretty luxe. (That is, if the name Pamphilj didn’t ring any bells yet- the same family that once owned the massive Villa Doria Pamphili, the largest public park in Rome.)

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I decided to take a tour of the private apartments- which the family still apparently uses! It was a cute audio-guided tour that gives you access to the five private spaces. It’ll cost about 6 euro more in addition to the tickets to look around as the actors on the guide provide insight on the use of the rooms. While the audio acting was definitely on the cheesier side (it featuring the bickering spouse trope, c’mon…), it still was a nifty little way to see the personal side of the totally grand palace.

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There were even personal effects scattered throughout. I particularly liked this charming photo that features “the Princess” in her youth. Amidst all the Pope portraits and opulence, a smiling photo that could be in my own grandmother’s house somehow made the space a bit more human, I suppose.

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And of course, there’s the gallery. Caravaggio, Bernini, Velasquez, Carracci… The halls are lined with painting after painting.

It’s  interesting to look at from the perspective of collecting and how wealthy patrons acquire art- and how a contemporary audience views it. For example, most people (in the US, at least) who have seen a Caravaggio painting have probably seen in it an encyclopedic art museum. The context suddenly changes when it’s just one of hundreds of paintings housed in a particular wing, on on a completely covered palace wall.

Then, there’s my own personal favorites housed here. Ancient Roman! And even more specifically my very favorite: sarcophagi. (My apologies to any gallery-goer that had to hear my loving signs as I ogled at this beauty.)

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I mean, the seen of Selene and Endymion is spectacular carved in itself. But the scale? It. was. massive. And look at this detail.

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Now that I’m done expressing my love for coffins, some other practical info to note about visiting:

  • there’s a reduced price if you’re under 26! So make sure to get that if you’re eligible.
  • located on the first floor is tea room/cafe. It was terribly crowded and busy when I went, and while the atmosphere was nice it was pretty pricey for a subpar cornetto
  • audio guides for the museums are free, and there’s barely any signage so grab one if you want context for the art and the rooms

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWith the sound of rain against the palazzo finally ceasing, I wander back out into the late afternoon light. And while this picture has nothing to do with the the gallery, I couldn’t help but snap this perfectly Roman image before heading off to get some carbonara.

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Hello, Spello… (and also Assisi)

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I love small Italian towns. Even though I arrived in Umbria (Spello, to be exact) in a dreaded touristic coach bus- there’s still something almost otherworldly about those villages and cities that are seemingly  just tucked away. The winding narrow roads, hill top views, teeny shops, ancient churches- I love it all.

It was my first time Umbria, the third region in Italy I’ve been to so far. I hopped in our bus leaving Rome around 8:00 after I had the classic colazione of a cornetto and cappuccino at one of my favorite bars. The bus felt slow- but it’s hard to complain about the view as we headed North.

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And then suddenly… the city of Rome is miles away, literally and mentally. Our tour guide, Christiaan, sets the scene nicely as he gives us an introduction. The thing about Italy, he explains, is that you have these really tiny towns speckled throughout, but each one has a hidden gem. In Spello, the gem we’re going to see is Santa Maria Maggiore.

We couldn’t just walk in- we’re let in by a man who works there- and  he requests no photos (so sadly no pics from me.) We scuttle in and see the crowning jewel of the church- the Baglioni chapel. From about 1500, the frescoes are painted by the famous Pinturicchio, and just to say- wowza- they are a spectacular way to really get a feel of what an early 16th century church goer would experience.

The level of preservation and experience is astounding; clearly colored, vibrantly illustrated scenes pertaining to the birth and childhood of Christ cover the walls. I think it’s being surrounded by the frescoes- and the vivid ceilings and gasp! the matching tiles- that transported me. And our guide, Christiaan, was stellar at leading us through close looking and visual analysis and we decoded iconography.

And as a museum-minded person, it’s just another great reminder of how essential context is to the work! Plopping a fresco (or anything we really consider ‘art museum worthy’) inside a gallery just doesn’t do the work justice in my opinion.

But climbing up a steep incline to immerse yourself in the church, complete with the faint smell of candles and sun slipping through as you study? It brings you that much closer to the meaning, context, and purpose. (And not to go off on some long winded thing- but this is just why I love that interpretation and is becoming a thing at a lot of museums!)

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After ogling at the Pinturicchio for a bit, I get to do my favorite pastime in Italy- trying local wine with some snacks and a view. (Also, thanks Taylor for the rest of your Sprtiz. Sei molto gentile!)

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Then, back on the bus.  It’s not a long ride to Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis, and of course home to so. much. cool. art. We get to the Basillica, and while the experience of entering the space was incredible- again, totally immersive- what stole the show for me was the frescoes by Pietro Lorenzetti.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetOur guide paid special attention to one featuring the Deposition of Christ. And again, staring at the languished face of Mary and the limp body of Christ, I’m struck by how moving really looking a work is . Also not to be missed is the upper church, done in a clearly Gothic-esque style but with tons of very Italian elements.

While the frescoes showcasing the life of St. Francis could be gawked at for years, the bus beckons. I grab a gelato (where I was complemented for how well I spoke Italian! Honestly the biggest shocker of the day) and then onwards to some olive oil tasting- because apparently after sandwiches, wine, and gelato I still need more Italian snacks.

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The olive oil machinery! We went to a co-op place that has been doing this for a loooong time.

 

And of course, what trip to Umbria is complete without a Baci. (And I got a quote from Sappho! Fitting for a wannabe ancient art historian.)

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Getting a taste- quite literally- of Spello and Assisi was a nifty trip that I never anticipated taking. Living in Rome it’s been easy for me to get caught up in daily annoyances…like waiting for buses that should’ve been there 37 minutes ago and my own inability to conjugate Italian verbs. But inches away from incredible frescoes and fueled by a day of great snacking- I’m once again totally blissed out.

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Side note: if anyone is looking for a tour guide in Rome, definitely check Christiaan’s page!

Frascati: a perfect day trip from Rome

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From the moment I step off the train in Frascati, I can already feel the difference. It’s much cooler here than it is in the late Roman summer heat- something I’m grateful for. But besides the breezy air, there’s a calmer vibe about it- people walk slower, the streets aren’t congested with tourists, and a more authentic feeling surrounds this old town on a hill.

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While living, interning, and studying in the eternal is an art historian’s dream come true, visiting Frascati is a perfect day trip to taste a bit of Italy’s wine culture. We’re here to meet Dominique- a California-native who’s been living in Italy for over fifteen years and founded the Old Frascati Wine Tour. Standing in the main piazza, we overlook Rome as Dominique gives us a brief history lesson about the town.

Frascati, like many Italian towns, originally goes back to the Ancient Roman period and is scattered with villas- or country homes- of important ancient figures. A bit later, it was controlled by the Catholic Church, then annexed to the French Empire, and then finally became Italy as we know it today. Most recently, in World War II Frascati was the German Headquarters for the Mediterranean which led to bombings that destroyed close to fifty percent of the buildings.

Despite, or perhaps because, the long history, Frascati is rooted in old traditions in both food and culture. With our new historical info on the town and our appetites ready, we stop at one of the oldest buildings in town. Thankfully- a bakery!

Its walls are a faded yellow and the building appears crooked from years of use- a combination that makes it incredibly charming. Dominique leads us inside and I peak into a room lined with bread- a dream for a carb lover like me. A massive oven is situated against the back wall- the incredible machine responsible for all that bread. But besides the oven, Eugenio, the baker, and Nonna Rosanna, his 90-year-old mother who work across at Antico Forno Cerali, are responsible for this beautiful scene.

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We’re led into the shop, filled with locals at the counter, ordering bread and biscotti in Italian. We’re given some porchetta, a specialty of the town and slices of cheese to try, as well as some house wine. As expected, it’s completely delicious.

On the way to the winery we also stop at another bakery, featuring a very peculiar cookie in the window. It looks like a gingerbread man cookie, except it’s a woman- with three breasts. Dominique explains, probably because of our confused (and entertained) looks. The woman is a sort of mascot for the town of Frascati, rooted in the wine history. The legend goes that two of the breasts are for milk, and the third one in perfect Frascati-fashion, is for wine. With vino and the mascot on the mind, we depart for the wineries of Antiche Terre Tuscolane.

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Stepping onto the property, you can tell that there’s something different about the fields. A small farmhouse sits on the property and grape vines line the slopes below. Raised in the volcanic-ash filled soil, the wine grapes have to be cultivated in a very specific way in order to meet the specific standards for being DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) which is the ‘seal of authenticity’ for Frascati wine.

After plucking grapes fresh from the vine for tasting, we move into the cellars to explore the process of how it’s made. Dominique explains that soon, once the grapes are harvested, this entire cellar space will be lined with racks of drying grapes. We go deeper into this cave-like structure and learn that it originally dates back to Ancient Rome.

It’s hard not to feel like you’re literally tasting history as you’re here. The ancient cellar and the fact that the same family has been producing this wine for over six generation blends the ancient and the modern seamlessly.

We try three different wines- my personal favorite being the Sweet Cannellino DOCG- a dessert wine that you can even dip Nonna Rossana’s biscotti in. Dominique also filled us in on wine tasting tips to appreciate it as more than just a beverage, but as as a cultural tradition and in a way, type of art and craftsmanship.

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With fresh olive oil and biscotti secured in our bags, we say goodbye to our guide and leave the artisanal vineyard for the half hour trip back to Rome. Shortly, I’m back in the heart of the city in bustling Termini Station.

Living in Italy, I’ve learned to appreciate extreme duality. From ancient to modern situated side by side, to balancing classes, interning, and day trips- studying abroad in Rome has given me a chance to really grasp the wide breadth of what Italy has to offer.

And a day trip to Frascati complete with bread, wine, good views, and history is just one of those many things Italy has to offer.

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Note: this is not sponsored! I just really liked it and highly recommend checking out the Old Frascati Wine Tour and the lovely town.

Fun times in Cleveland today

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It’s been about 4 weeks since I got off a plane and found myself in an old apartment on the East side, in the little cultural bubble of University Circle. When I first arrived in early June it was still nice enough not to miss my air conditioned home in Chicago, but now July has rolled around bringing an oppressive heat wave. But still, even in the downright mugginess of it all, Cleveland has continued to impress me in a very quiet but firm sort of way.

Take the CMA, for example. While I suppose I’m a little bit biased because a Fellowship from the Cleveland Museum of Art is the reason I even ended up here this summer, there’s no denying how amazing their collection of art is. It’s easily one of the top in the country- partly due to the massive endowment and wealth this city had. But it’s another one of those things I’ve been calling the ‘Cleveland echoes’, or the melancholy reminders of the rise and fall of wealth and industry in this city.

Like when I strolled through the Arcade on a Sunday morning- I could picture the elegance of a bygone era as I moved through the completely empty building. It had this strange sensation of time travel. Dust seemed to hang still in the air. One store was open that day- an ice cream shop- and the rest of downtown had an eerily similar feeling of ghost-towness. From the slightly shifty stores in the Terminal Tower building to the odd openness of car-less streets, I was struck by the same feeling that something had left. But in the departure of that something, a new Cleveland had emerged in its absence, breaking through the cracks of the concrete like some determined desert flower of the Rust Belt.

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But while I felt this sense of desolation that Sunday morning downtown- granted, a time when most cities, even massive ones,  have a certain emptiness to them- I have also watched a Cavs playoff game at a crowded taco joint, everyone too captivated to even bite a tortilla chip. I have been in a standing room only crowd at Solstice at the CMA as international music reverberated onto the building’s facade, and walked through a packed concert in Euclid Beach, and couldn’t help but stop and stare out at the waves of Lake Erie. I’ve been offered a ride home from the grocery store by strangers, went on a date with an adorable baker, and listened to the stories of people who have been here for generations

It’s this authenticity and acceptance of life, combined with a history of change, is what I think makes Cleveland so unique. As a longtime Chicago resident, I almost feel myself preferring Cleveland after a few short weeks. The pretentiousness and ‘extra-ness’ of Chicago is shed for a more authentic place. But maybe I like it better here simply because it’s a change.

I’m sure others have put it more eloquently that I have right now, but there’s something truly special about Cleveland. And nothing quite matches that feeling of new love and infatuation, even when the object your adoration is a city.

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I’ll be sharing more of my thought and escapades in the Land soon. Until then,

– jori