Sunday, March 26, 2017

La Scala

Last weekend I had the truly once in a lifetime opportunity to attend an opera at the world famous La Scala theater in Milan.  It was every bit as elegant and beautiful as I had imagined.  The show lasted 5 and half hours(!) but the music was beautiful and I don't regret a minute. What a night!





The boxes!  I highly recommend splurging on a box seat (and definitely would urge you to get one close to the center so the angle is ok to see the stage. If that's a little rich for your taste the Galleria (up top) apparently always has cheap seats available if you're willing to stand at the balcony to see the action.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Free museum day in Rome

As in a number of other cities, there is one Sunday a month when some of the major museums in town (and throughout the country in fact) open their doors for free.

A friend and I recently took advantage of one of these free days to see .... a not-free museum. It's a long story, but we did miss most of the crowds!

Now I can finally say that I've made it to the Capitoline museum - apparently the first museum in the world, though I'm sure that title is disputed.  In any case, it didn't disappoint, from the courtyard designed by Michelangelo to a ceramic collection that my friend who came me with just adored. Because this museum is split into two large buildings I would suggest that you give it 2+ hours and have lunch halfway through. I'd also suggest picking a few things you really want to see and spending your time accordingly rather than trying to see it all.


In no particular order, here are some of the highlights:

The Spinario - very old, very famous

Perhaps even more famous, Romulus and Remus being raised by a wolf. This bronze has become a symbol of the city of Rome

A bust of Medusa by Bernini 

A somewhat graphic depiction of a lion and his lunch. (The theme of animals brutally killing other animals came up a lot in this museum for some reason.)

A Caravaggio I'd seen before (I guess he made several copies of this one - I bet you wouldn't have guessed that's supposed to be John the Baptist.)

And another Caravaggio - the fortune teller

Finally, there were a weirdly large number of paintings featuring St. Sebastian. Not sure who's choice that was.  I really wish someone would do a ranking of them all, in order of actual martyrdom, because he usually looks like he doesn't particularly mind being shot full of arrows.









Sunday, February 26, 2017

Gaudi

Ok world, prepare yourselves for giant photo dump from my architecture tour of Barcelona.

First up: Casa Battlo (pronounced bah-yoh or badg-oh by the locals I spoke with)

This one is considered by many to be Gaudi's masterpiece and he designed everything from light fixtures to door handles and even created a special font just for the apartment numbers.  Everything was carefully designed for functionality and obviously - flair.


The building has a nautical/animal theme with the front structures being compared by many to bones. Apparently Gaudi was heavily influenced/inspired by nature and themes like rib cages and fish scales appeared again and again.


It's even stranger to see the house in context, next to perfectly normal apartment buildings and commercial spaces.  Below you can see what Gaudi started with - and how much his vision came to modify the existing structure.


Even the servants' quarters were carefully laid out - those slats along the right side were designed to
ventilate and light the space, while protecting from rain.


 I didn't take enough pictures of the details, but in this space you can see the windows (they have a really fascinating and unique design), slats below the windows designed to ventilate the space, and some of the handles - designed to perfectly mold to the shape of a human hand. - I tried it, it's true, they're super comfortable.


I somehow deleted the picture I took of the mushroom shaped fireplace alcove so you'll have to use your imaginations.


Next up: Casa Mila, right down the street

It's mostly known for the exterior - seen here:


... and the rooftop (below).  Otherwise the building is mostly in use for residential units, so the tour consists of the attic museum, one restored apartment, and the roof.


Gaudi filled the roof with these pillars (they hide chimneys and other functional structures) that seem like something that would be right at home on Tatooine.  Talk about before his time - Gaudi designed this and his other works in the early 1900s.




And finally, the main attraction, La Sagrada Familia:


Don't mind the construction - supposedly it will be finished in 10 years although with so many structures still remaining that timeline seems ambitious - especially considering that it's already been under construction since the 1880s.


The truly surprising characteristic of the church - at least to me - was how colorful it was inside.  I'd always seen pictures of the exterior and I assumed the inside would be the same... kind of cave-like. In fact, the stained glass windows fill the whole church with color.


On one side warm yellows and reds...

On the other cool blues...

The sunlight produced a really beautiful 'Skittles effect' (that's the technical term). If you can imagine my camera couldn't even catch all the color, this is just a faded imitation of the real thing.


The whole church is supposed to give you the impression of being in a giant forest.  Can you see it?


It wasn't all Gaudi's design - for example, the facade below is actually by a more modern artist who was doing his best to represent Gaudi's avant-garde ideas (while certainly making a distinct mark of his own).


Well, that's it! I highly recommend a visit if you get the chance.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Barthelona!

This weekend I took advantage of the holiday and snuck out of town for a visit I've been meaning to make ever since I arrived in Europe. I would even venture to call it a Pilgrimage. No, not for religious reasons. Think more along the lines of food and everyone's favorite - architecture! (woot!)

Barcelona was lovely - easy to get around, chock full of interesting restaurants, and with a distinctly different feel from Rome, grittier but also more cosmopolitan. 

I focused on art and architecture - seeing the Picasso museum, three of Gaudi's most famous works, a lovely city park, and all the restaurants ever.

I'll do Gaudi next - in the meantime...

Food!
Awesome tapas

Patatas Bravas

Chorizo

Didn't manage to get pictures of the bread with tomato (Pa amb tomàquet), octopus (pulpo a feira), brunch from here, churros from everywhere, and empanadas (both of which I always thought came from Latin America, but surprise, they're from Spain after all!)

Needless to say, I ate well.

I also took a few photos of the neighborhoods I explored - mostly I spent time the Gothic Quarter, Born, Poble Sec and the Passeig de Gracia.  Like Rome, Barcelona has a pretty good mix of elaborate wealthy neighborhoods full of beautiful apartment buildings (see below)




Lots of middle class housing, and lots of laundry hanging from balconies


And charming little courtyards (plazas) that just appear out of nowhere when you're wandering the tightly packed streets in the oldest parts of town. 


It was a great visit and I saw the things I wanted to see most, but I could easily fill another trip with everything still on the to-do list.  Til next time Barcelona!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

African Americans in U.S. Diolomatic Service

In honor of Black History Month, have a look at some of the links below. Most Americans can probably name the two prior African-American Secretaries of State. Right? But did you also know that Frederick Douglass served on a diplomatic mission in the Dominican Republic in 1899? Or that the first African-American consul was assigned to the exotic city of ... San Francisco?

African American U.S. Envous, Diplomatic Ministers, Ambassadors, since 1869
This site has a list along with some pages  highlighting specific individuals.

In 2008 the State Department posted a statement - now a bit dated I admit - noting that 5.6% of State Department employees were African Americans. While that figure has improved, African Americans are still underrepresented within the Foreign Service.

Also, Wikipedia has a fairly extensive list as well. If you don't have time to read anything from the list please do check out this mini-bio of the first African American diplomat - Ebenezer Dos Carlos Bassett whose heroic actions in the midst of danger and hardship in Haiti were inspiring (and would make a great movie - FYI Hollywood).

That's all for now. Hope you had a Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

2017 Resolutions

Hello again!

Taking a page from a fellow FS blogger*, I'm posting my New Year's Resolutions for a little accountability. So here goes. In 2017 I swear that I will make every effort to:
  • Be a better communicator - Write to family on their birthdays, send actual letters, respond quicker to invites... All that good stuff
  • Know the Hatch Act, live the Hatch Act.  Seriously though, I plan this year to be a more reponsible (read: active) participant in our great democracy. I plan to do something to support causes I believe in at least once a week. 
  • Finish three or four more books in Italian - I already have Jhumpa Lahiri's In Altre Parole mostly finished and I also intend to finish the last three by Elena Ferrante (I read the first already this year)
  • Cook seafood. I've always been intimidated by seafood but no more! Spaghetti con vongole (clams) and calamari are on the menu.
  • Also on the cooking front - learn to can food
  • Go sailing (bonus points if I manage to take a course)
  • Travel - two new countries, two new states, two new Italian cities
  • Finally go to Tuba Christmas in DC
  • Have friends over for dinner more often
  • Find a solid volunteering gig in DC and stick with it
  • Learn how to make a really kick-ass cappucino before leaving Italy
  • Be able to play level 4 (will have to explain this later) songs on the piano and actually sight read
I realize not all of these are SMART (Specific, Measurable, etc) but they get at my larger ideals for the year - squeezing every last drop out of my time in Italy, investing more in my community and loved ones, and continuing to challenge myself with new skills.

What are you planning for 2017 faithful readers?


*Thanks fellow blogger for the inspiration, I'm glad you're writing again!


Saturday, February 4, 2017

rainy day

I haven't felt much like posting lately - a friend of mine expressed it well when she said she was reevaluating her blog because she didn't want to just write glorified trip adviser reviews. Especially as so much is going on back home it feels downright irresponsible to stick to food and museum reviews like any other time. But there are two reasons I'm not going political with the blog. #1) As I mentioned before - The Hatch Act.  Writing about US policy, while not forbidden if it isn't partisan, would require me to get my posts cleared by the department and as we know, there's nothing that feels less like speaking your own mind than submitting your writing to the clearance process. And #2) I feel that if this were a political blog I'd have to be much more serious and responsible about it and it is just a hobby. 

So!

Here are some photos of the Terme di Diocleziano (Baths of Diocletian) - a solidly second tier tourist attraction that I recommend if you run out of other stuff and like ruins a lot.  It's a good way to get a sense of the scale of ancient Rome - and a sobering reminder that nothing lasts forever.



Wish I could explain this but I'm just as mystified as you.