a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Rome yesterday (Trajan’s Forum)

Posted on the September 29th, 2014
Rome yesterday

Trajan’s Forum, Rome


Sunday afternoon (Sept 28, 2014) near Trajan’s Forum in Rome. Best time of year to visit Rome? Now.

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The Butterfly upon the Lavanda

Posted on the July 9th, 2013

The Butterfly upon the Sky,

That doesn’t know its Name

And hasn’t any tax to pay

And hasn’t any Home

Is just as high as you and I,

And higher, I believe,

So soar away and never sigh

And that’s the way to grieve —

Emily Dickinson


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Commentary by Emily Dickinson

Posted on the March 26th, 2013


I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

Emily Dickinson

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Two men fishing in rough sea at Ostia Lido, Rome yesterday

Posted on the March 25th, 2013

Turbulent waves and high spray yesterday at Ostia Lido, the city of Rome’s Mediterranean seafront, didn’t deter two fishermen from tending to rod and reel. (Photo by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato)

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Here, there and everywhere

Posted on the November 15th, 2012

I saw a thing of beauty this morning. And it was neither one of Italy’s gazillion art treasures or antiquities, nor something exclusive to this country. It can easily be found in many other places.

A piece of a branch from one of the sycamore trees that line the street near where we live had been snapped off and blown to the ground by last night’s winds. The small segment had come to rest near the curb between two parked cars.

It was the harmony achieved by its contrasting shapes that was most striking – the linear variety of the branch itself, the entangled geometry of the curled and dying leaves, and the delicacy of the seed balls hanging by their stalks. Enhancing all was a single hue of golden brown, saved from monotony by the range of textures composing each part of the branch.

Although torn away from the whole creation of the tree, the fallen piece remained complete in its altered form.

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower…*


 * William Blake, Auguries of Innocence


UPDATE: Today, while browsing my photo archives in search of another photo, I came across a long forgotten series of shots I made of the fallen branch (back in 2007). I’m posting one of these photos at the top of the blog, and moving yesterday’s shot of a sycamore tree in Rome to the bottom.

UPDATE 2: U-turn. Decided to take down the close-up photo of the branch and leave the imagination unfettered by the concrete.



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Walking Rome’s old Appian Way on a rainy day

Posted on the November 11th, 2012

We’re having a gray and rainy day here. Reminds me of a beautiful walk we took last year in similar weather along a section of Rome’s old Appian Way. I posted an audio slide show of the walk back then, narrating what we saw as we passed along. Here’s a re-post. (For best viewing, best to watch in full screen mode.)



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Rescuing the childhood home of Francesco Petrarch

Posted on the July 13th, 2012

 View from childhood home of medieval poet Francesco Petrarch in Incisa, Tuscany

The medieval poet-theologian Francesco Petrarch is grandly known as the “Father of Humanism” and creator of the Petrarchan sonnet. For ordinary mortals, however, it’s more endearing that he could well be the patron saint of the lovelorn and broken-hearted.

As the story goes, while at church one day the 20-something Petrarch’s gaze fell on a beautiful woman named Laura. Though not a word was exchanged between them, he fell in love. Unfortunately for the young poet, Laura was married and happily so. The good news for poetry lovers and posterity, however, is that the heartbroken Petrarch spent the rest of his life writing love sonnets to Laura.

Here is a stanza from Sonnet 101, Ways apt and new to sing of love I’d find:

Ways apt and new to sing of love I’d find,
Forcing from her hard heart full many a sigh,
And re-enkindle in her frozen mind
Desires a thousand, passionate and high;

At the behest of his father, reportedly, Petrarch first studied law. He soon abandoned it, however, in preference for his first loves of writing and literature. His work and literary reputation in Europe were officially recognized in 1341 when he was named poet laureate in Rome.

On a recent visit to Incisa, a small town about twenty minutes south of Florence, we had a serendipitous encounter with a former living space of the medieval luminary. A friend we were visiting offhandedly mentioned that her new apartment is in the childhood home of Petrarch. She shared this tidbit just as we were climbing into our car to follow her through the town’s narrow streets to her front door.

Engraving on facade of childhood home of Francesco Petrarch in Incisa, Tuscany

Three minutes later we pulled up in front of a large medieval Tuscan residence, four floors of rustic design at the top of a steep hill. Originally built in the 12th century, it was the home of Petrarch’s maternal grandparents. Back in the day, it was within the protective security of the small city’s protective walls. The walls are long gone, but the house still has its tranquil view of the green valley below with the Arno river winding through it.

The newborn poet came with his parents from a nearby town to live in Incisa soon after his birth in July 1304, according to historical accounts. He remained there through his early childhood.

Unlike the celebrated and elegant villa Arquà Petrarca (now a museum) in a northern region of Italy where Petrarch lived out his last years, the more humble Incisa structure is much less wellknown. Its history also is more troubled.  The line of family inheritance to the property was broken in succeeding centuries, according to local sources.

The residence did continue to be recognized up until the end of World War II as a one-time home of Petrarch. It housed a small museum and library dedicated to the poet. In the chaotic aftermath of the great war, however, the residence fell into abandonment and neglect.

City councilman Gianfranco Mazzotta overseeing the restoration of childhood home of Francesco Petrarch

On our recent sunny day in Incisa, we were fortunate to bump into a lead player in the restoration of the former Petrarchal home there, local city councilman Gianfranco Mazzotta. In fact, when we first saw him, Mazzotta was energetically wielding a mop to clean the floor of the newly completed public meeting room on the lower level of the Incisa structure.

Do your city council members in the US do this? he calls out, smiling as he held the dripping mop aloft.

In a complicated arrangement, the ownership of the former Petrarch home was previously held jointly by private owners and by the Italian state. Mazzotta recounted to us the sometimes thorny process of negotiating a fair sales price of the state’s share of the property to the city of Incisa. His pride in his ultimate success in the battle is evident.

Completion of the full renovation of the Casa Petrarca is expected to be a year from now, at which point it will be open to the public. In addition to the public meeting room, the residence will comprise a small museum and a library celebrating the poet.

Casa Petrarca, childhood home of Francesco Petrarch in Incisa, Tuscany

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What Pebbles has to say about Monday

Posted on the May 14th, 2012

And I wholeheartedly agree!


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Springtime flowering along via Appia Antica (Rome)

Posted on the April 5th, 2012

Two images from a walk we took Sunday along a short stretch of the old Roman road, via Appia Antica.


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Rare snowfall in Rome: Feb 4, 2012

Posted on the February 4th, 2012

Man walking his dog in the snow

We don’t often get snow in our neck of the woods here near Rome, and when we do it’s usually no more than a three-minute wonder. But recent weather forecasts predicting arrival of the beautiful white stuff were raising my hopes.

So yesterday, I loitered near our front windows watching the steady fall of the rain, hoping for the magical transformation into winter wonderland. Finally ’round midnight, my vigil was rewarded. I would say at least five inches fell — and it’s still here!


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Boat with orange stripes and its reflection at Lago Albano

Posted on the January 16th, 2012

I’ve often wanted to take a photo like this. With the perfect light we had here yesterday, my wish came true.


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‘Twas a yellow rose…*

Posted on the October 16th, 2011

From “Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Stopping by Rome’s MAXXI on a September afternoon

Posted on the September 4th, 2011

Popped into Rome this afternoon to have our first look at the MAXXI museum which opened only last year. Full name: MAXXI – National Museum of the 21st Century Arts.

As the name reveals, the MAXXI’s official mission is to celebrate modern art and architecture (see website here). The museum was designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid.

I liked the reflection of the blue sky, white clouds and nearby buildings in the museum’s big window high above, so I snapped a few photos, as you see.

The Guardian has a slide show here, if you want to see more.

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A little help holding up the leaning tower of Pisa

Posted on the July 29th, 2011

Creating special effects with their snapshots is especially popular when tourists visit Pisa and its famous leaning tower. On a trip there last May, photographer Tarcisio Arzuffi also found the temptation irresistible. With a little help from his friend Andrew, he framed a fun optical illusion.

Explaining how and why he created the photo, Tarcisio wrote:

Last May I spent a couple of days in Savona (Liguria) for a meeting. The weather was okay but a little cloudy and cold. I was hoping for better weather on the long six-hour trip back home to Rome. When I left with my friends Andrew and Walter it was just a gorgeous day.

We decided to take the coastal highway. Along the way, after passing the beautiful white marble caves of Massa Carrara, we saw the exit sign to Pisa, and since no one of us had ever seen the famous leaning tower we decided to take a detour.

The cathedral with the leaning tower is really worth seeing. We walked the whole “Campo dei miracoli,” the square around the cathedral, and then… I saw the photo: the light was great (6 p.m. I think the light is at its best, right where you want it). I only had to work a little on the composition with the help of Andrew so that his hands are in the right place and his feet also, so that it looks like he is really pushing the tower. I also found the right balance between the height of the tower and that of Andrew, and then the right zoom.

We rewarded ourselves with some awesome cones of gelato artigianale, the famous Italian ice cream, almost as famous as the leaning tower!

I hope this advice can be useful for those who will be coming to Italy and are planning a visit to the Tuscany region.

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Romulus and Remus and the She Wolf: La sala della Lupa (Palazzo Montecitorio)

Posted on the July 1st, 2011

Life-sized bronze statue of She-Wolf nursing Romulus and Remus in the namesake hall, La sala della Lupa, of the seat of the Italian parliament in Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome. Photo by Tarcisio Arzuffi (June 2011).

Describing the photo in an email to me, Tarcisio wrote:

This year Italy celebrates its 150th year of national unity. Last week I had the opportunity to be in Palazzo Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian parliament, and there I took this picture. It represents the symbol of Rome — the two children Romulus and Remus raised by a She Wolf. This bronze statue sculpted in natural dimensions gives its name to the most known hall of representatives in Montecitorio: La sala della Lupa.  The colors you see next to the Lupa in the photo are the Italian flag.

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Recalling a poem: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Posted on the March 19th, 2011

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

(From “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens)


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Tree with pink buds

Posted on the March 5th, 2011

Cold, gray, rainy afternoon here. Nonetheless.




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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted on the February 14th, 2011

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Fountain of the Naiads, Rome

Posted on the January 17th, 2011

Piazza della Repubblica, Rome (Jan 16, 2011).

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Raindrop on fruit tree branch in winter: Consandolo, Italy

Posted on the January 12th, 2011

Fruit orchard in Consandolo (Emilia Romagna), Italy – December 24, 2010.

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