Italian Festival at Hofstra University

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Ciao a tutti! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’m back. And today I decided to check out an Italian festival at Hofstra University, in Hemstead, Long Island.

I’m the only dork I know who would actually get excited about a trip on the LIRR to check out an event like this, but you know what? It was fun!

Yes, it was full of oldsters, but they were all speaking Italian, so I got in a little practice and the entertainment was…cheesy but good!

One singer, Simona de Rosa, direct from Naples, had a strong voice and and endearing Italian warmth that drew a crowd. I bought a CD hoping it’ll help my Italian language.

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I wasn’t much impressed with the “star” of the day, John Ciotta, but he was a Hofstra grad and got the crowd to join him in a round of “That’s Amore.”

After a totally unappetizing bowl of baked ziti from a Hofstra deli, and a totally appetizing glass of vino bianco from one of the food vendors, I settled in to hear the Bronx Opera strut their stuff.

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Robert and Leslie were the tenor and soprano performing, and they did rousing renditions of some greatest hits: “Visi d’Arte” from Tosca, “La Donna è Mobile,” a love duet from act 4 of my favorite, La Traviata, before rounding the hour out with “O Sole Mio” and crowd favorite, “Con Ti Partirò” (I think every Italian concert now ends with that one now, thanks Andrea Bocelli).

It was a fun event. As I left, another Italian singer was leading the crowd in a sing-along to a song I didn’t know–in Italian. Era un bel di!

Ciao!

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NYC in Italy: Drama! Drama! Drama! A week in Roma!

Lacoon and his sons

Lacoon and his sons

Does that get your attention? It got mine, but I’m an easy target. One of my favorite things about Italy is all the drama! It’s everywhere, from the smallest gesture between Romans on the street, to the massive Baroque cathedrals where not an inch of the interior has been left bare, to the classic tragedies captured in marble.

Take Lacoon and his sons, at the Vatican museums in Rome. He seemed like a stand-up guy in the Aeneid when he warned the Trojans about Greeks bearing gifts once that big wooden horse arrived at their gates. But what did he get for his troubles? Strangled by sea serpents, along with his sons, for annoying Athena, since the horse was reportedly a gift from her. Tough crowd.

Niobe at the Villa Medici

Niobe at the Villa Medici

Poor Niobe. At the Villa Medici in Rome, these statues depict the woman (in center at the back) who had 10 (or maybe 14) kids, who were all gorgeous. She was so proud of them and their beauty that she got a little too uppity: She bragged to Leto, who had only two children—Apollo and Diana (not a bad duo, that)—about her gorgeous and abundant offspring. The gods must be crazy, because they took umbrage and proceeded to kill all of Niobe’s kids, as depicted here (the original is at the Uffizi in Florence), while they tried to flee, and turn the über-smug Niobe into a weeping rock. Kinda like this depiction. Overreaction much, Zeus and Co.?

Bernini-sculpted tomb

Bernini-sculpted tomb

I joked on Facebook that this (right) is what I used to feel like on Monday mornings. While that’s true enough, in actuality, this is a funeral monument in Rome’s Santa Maria Sopra Minerva designed by my crush, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (he left the sculpting to his minions), for the Spanish Cardinal Domenico Pimentel in 1653. Oh, the despair!

Tomb

Some of the most fascinating, and dramatic, sculptures to be seen in Rome are funerary. I’m not sure who this one’s for, or who sculpted it, but isn’t in kinda weirdly romantic?

My friend Steve Brenner told me a story he heard from an art history scholar about Bernini and one of his seemingly less emotionally wrought works. The elephant and obelisk in the Piazza Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, also designed by Bernini, came with its own drama. Pope Alexander VII wanted a suitable base for the obelisk, which had been discovered in 1655. Bernini was asked to create it but one of the priests, who had also submitted a design and been rejected, haggled with the great sculptor and insisted that the elephant have a cube under its belly. Bernini ultimately complied, but got his revenge: The elephant’s rear faces the monastery in which the priest lived and the beast’s tail offers a kind of salute—one that the priest no doubt didn’t appreciate. Trust Bernini to make the priest the “butt” of his joke.

Bernini's elephant

Bernini’s elephant

elephant butt skinny

The end of the argument

Santa Cecilia Trastevere

Santa Cecilia Trastevere

Back to the funereal monuments… Here’s St. Cecilia’s tomb in Trastevere. Not too much drama.

But look more closely: St. Cecilia’s story goes that she had taken a vow of virginity. Even so, her parents married her off. On her wedding night, she convinced her husband to convert—and he didn’t force her to break her vow. Then the pair, along with her also-converted brother-in-law, started a charity giving alms to the poor. The men were martyred for refusing to worship Roman gods. Cecelia was later also killed: First the Romans locked her in her own bath, and when that failed to suffocate her, they sent a swordsman to cut off her head and it took several attempts. She didn’t die until three days later. So look closely at this funerary statue: it’s so “humanistic” that you can see where her neck was cut. See? Drama!

Ouch!

Ouch!

I don’t think much needs to be said about Michelangelo’s Pietá at St. Peter’s. Whether you’re a believer or not, not many will disagree that the story is one of the best ever told. And it’s told over and over again through the art in Rome. Much of it, like this, magnificent in capturing the most moving moments. (Tourists can create their own drama struggling to get close enough to take a picture through all the crowds.)

The Pietá

The Pietá

Finally, during my week in Rome, I learned the story of Antinous, lover of the emperor Hadrian in the first century A.D. The museum descriptions are all very coy about him being Hadrian’s “favorite,” but clearly the emperor was obsessed with his boytoy, who seems (to me, at least) to have been sculpted more than anyone else in ancient Rome. Seriously, there are about five Antinous statues or busts in every museum. You can kinda see why….

Antinous

Antinous

History tells that Hadrian (and his wife) took Antinous, a young Greek, with them everywhere. While Hadrian was, officially, married, in ancient Rome it wasn’t frowned upon for men to have male lovers—as long as they were the dominant partner. Sadly (or perhaps diabolically), Antinous drowned under mysterious circumstances while they were all together in Egypt.

While officially considered an accident, you have to wonder if someone had it out for Hadrian’s gorgeous “favorite.” The emperor, distraught over the loss, pretty much proclaimed Antinous a god and encouraged people to worship him in a new cult. He even built a city on the banks of the Nile called Antinoopolis. Now, that’s love. And drama.

Ciao!

NYC in Italy: Day 2 The Dying City

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My friends Linda and Steve suggested we take a drive to Civita di Bagnoregio this afternoon. Said Steve, “It’ll blow your mind.” Sarcasm. That’s what comes of living in Rome and Orvieto for 14 years: You get jaded about living 20 minutes from a 2700-year-old town perched above a green Italian valley known as “The Dying City.” But I’m una turista so it actually did blow my mind a little.

It’s called the Dying City because of all the erosion, which really kicked in after a major earthquake hit in the 17th century. Over the next 200 years, the erosion increased to such an extent that the city became almost an island to itself, accessible only by a steep wooden bridge.

Now, not many people live there—only about 20 year-round—but thanks to a gushing nod from Rick Steves, it’s a tourist destination, particularly in the summer months.

After walking across the long bridge—the old wooden bridge has been replaced by a more modern concrete one, and climbing the steep path to enter the town, we strolled though the cobblestone streets to the main piazza. Just beyond, for €1, we descended into the ancient caves where olive oil was once pressed. It didn’t look like the most hospitable accommodations but people did live—and cook—here.

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But they had a pretty nice view.

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And wine was plentiful.

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Olio, vino e una buona vista…not a bad life.