Concert in the Park Evokes Memories of Trevi Fountain

Was the Trevi Fountain one of Respighi’s inspirations for his “Fountains of Rome”?

One of my favorite things about New York City is going to the free concerts in Central Park. I first moved to New York in January of 1999, and all it did was snow. I didn’t know anyone. I spent six months buying furniture for my new apartment and wondering why I’d moved from sunny Southern California to this miserable place.

Then June came around, and someone told me about opera in the park and symphony in the park. I met some of my new friends with a blanket and some cheese and crackers from Zabar’s, and all of a sudden I understood why New York City was so amazing. Sitting on the Great Lawn with friends among fellow New Yorkers and listening to the best of the best: the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic playing the greats from Puccini to Tchaikovsky while drinking a Solo cup of wine…it doesn’t get much better than that!

Tonight, I met my friend LaRue, and we listened to the NY Phil play Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and…here’s where the Italia comes in: They played Ottorino Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” and “Pines of Rome.”

I wasn’t really looking for something to add to my new blog and I’m not sure I knew who Respighi was. But when I sat on the grass, started eating my St. Andre’s cheese with Trader Joe’s pita crackers (salty goodness!) and heard the symphony strike up the tone poem “Fountains of Rome,” suddenly I felt I could have been in Italy.

Born in Bologna, Respighi studied in Russia under Rimsky-Korsakov and “Fountains of Rome” reminded me of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” But Respighi was a traditionalist and this piece, composed in 1915-16, is part of what is known as his “Roman Tryptych.”

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Ottorino Respighi

The “Fountains of Rome” was inspired by—you guessed it!—four fountains in the Eternal City. Rome’s fountains help to define the city, and Respighi captured the grandeur and beauty of those fountains.

Following the symphony’s performance, came something truly American: Fireworks! Sitting closer to the East Side, we were not in the best position to see them—a tree blocking our view began to look like the Burning Bush!—but it was pretty spectacular anyway!

And don’t miss the next two outings: Symphony in the Park on Monday, July 16 and Opera in the Park, where Puccini’s Madam Butterfly will be performed at the Naumberg Bandshell on Wednesday, July 18, which happens to be my mother’s birthday—and she’s probably Puccini’s No. 1 fan! Who’s with me?

Helpful Hints: San Remo, Italy

San Remo, Italy:

You can buy a ticket from Nice through to San Remo, Italy, but you will need to change trains in Ventimiglia and get on a local Italian line for the 15-minute ride. The trains run often and the wait should only be about 20 minutes in Ventimiglia, but in both directions in Italy, the trains we took were more than an hour late, so be prepared to wait.

Helpful Hints: Nice, France

Nice, France:

The trains: Many of the trains aren’t air conditioned, so bring a hand fan and a bottle of water. If you’re there in the warm months, you will be warm!

Train tickets: While there are many automated machines at the Nice Ville train station, none of them will take your credit card unless you have a metallic chip on the front. Most U.S. credit cards don’t have them so you need to wait in line to purchase tickets from an agent. The line moves quickly but it does add time to your trip (in late June, we had to wait about 15 minutes each time), so get to the station early. Once you have your ticket, you need to get it stamped in one of the machines set up on the way to the track€s. That validates your ticket.

On the train: We never once had anyone check our tickets on the trains. That said, had we not spent the €3-4 for a ticket, we could have been charged a €35 fee if we’d been caught without one. Try to get away with it at your own risk!


A Day On The Italian Riviera

The Italian Riviera—Ventimiglia

Ciao tutti! This is a blog about Everything Italia, so it’s appropriate that my first post starts with a trip to actual Italy. Ventimiglia and San Remo are towns on the Italian Riviera that are easily accessible by train. I spent a week in Nice, France, exploring all along the coast, and, being obsessed with all things Italy, a day in mi preferisco country was a no-brainer.

After navigating the Nice train station (Most Americans have to stand in the ticket line, which moved quickly, and hey, we were keeping the ticket-sellers employed! Here’s why, along with other Helpful Hints), we caught the 45 minute train to Ventimigilia.

Once in Ventimiglia, and since our connection to San Remo, Italy was an hour late, we decided to use the time by finding the tourist office and getting a map of Ventimiglia, where we would return later in the day.

There are no signs for Tourist Information in the stazioni so we asked a carabiniere—I used il mio Italiano for the first time!—and got directions, which I actually understood! Unlike in many towns, the Tourist Information office is not at the train station, but it’s a quick walk about 5 blocks away.

We walked through the market nearby. Friday is the big market day in Ventimiglia, when the crowds descend. But the market is open every day and worth a stroll-through.

Fruit stand at Ventimiglia market

Cheese stand, Ventimiglia market

After finding the welcoming “i” on a street beyond the market, we returned to the train station and caught the train to San Remo.

San Remo’s old town is known as La Pigna, and it’s full of winding walking streets that snake up the side of the hills. Be prepared to climb! San Remo’s old town is not for the faint of heart and you should wear sneakers or good walking shoes.

The steps of San Remo

14th century plaque in San Remo

In truth, there’s not much to do but walk through San Remo and admire  the 14th century architecture, and marvel that people still live in that ancient part of town—and climb those hills and steps every day.

When we asked one local for directions to the heart of La Pigna, he just rolled his eyes and said there was nothing to see!

We strolled around for an hour or so and then descended back to the flatlands where we had a lovely lunch back near the train station.

We caught our train back to Ventimiglia, which is also built into the coastal hills—are you seeing the trend in these towns?—so the old town is steep and stair-tastic. We climbed and climbed but were rewarded with lovely views of the countryside and ocean.

The view from high up in Ventimiglia

For more on Ventimiglia, click here