Sunday, March 31, 2013

Still knitting

Before we went away, I started a cotton wrap, a Colonnade shawl. I'm making it in dk cotton instead of big fat Manos wool, and I'm not knitting very much at a time, so it is not getting much bigger very fast.

I made the bit in stocking stitch and have finally started on the colonnade part, where I have to k2tog, yo twice, k2tog across the row. A bit tough on the ol' elbow, so I take it slow.

But I am getting there!

This is what it looked like before our trip.

In other knitting news: I needed to find a tiny crochet hook the other day, so got my whole needle collection out and sifted through it, and realized I had about 10 pairs of 6 mm straight needles, and even more 4.5s. Get a grip, I said! Who needs that many needles, really, truly? So now I have a bundle of ones I am willing to part with. I had thought of suspending them in a window, sort of a bead curtain made of sticks, but I can see too many problems with that -- tangling being the biggest problem! So, I think I'll just send them to the charity shops.

Also, a friend gave me a bunch of Vogue Knitting magazines. I stopped buying them a couple of years ago because it was just mindless accumulation of more and more paper. But I was pleased to get this bag of yarn p*rn, as she calls it, and gladly flipped the pages, making big plans in my head. And then I sneezed and sneezed and sneezed, because I guess her cats had been sitting on the magazines and now I am allergic to magazines! They too will be out the door ASAP.

Had a bit of a panic about finding a camera cable, but phew, disaster averted! All is well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

And now for something completely different

As I mentioned, Stephen continues his European jaunt with a couple of weeks in Cambridge. It was snowing, and he was out and about and took these pics of the spiky pillar box! I see from 2005 that it is  on Priory Road and the Riverside, and it was always one of my favourites.

Great how the snow knows to stay within the spikes, eh? It looks like icing on a rather dangerous cake. 

I hadn't noticed before how irregular the top is. Stuck on by some amateur, or bashed around a bit? Ah well, it's well over a hundred years old and still standing!

Snowy punts, as well. 

Were any of the Cambridge peeps at the Science Festival yesterday? Stephen got roped in to doing some demonstrations there about washboard road bumps. I understand he will come home with a flashy purple T-shirt. That was a lot of fun when we were there in 2006! The University of Toronto makes a valiant attempt, but the Cambridge affair was really good.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Odds and ends

It's taken me almost as long to sort through the pictures and write these few words as it took for the whole holiday. Today's instalment will be long and disjointed and all-encompassing.

One day we went to the Galleria Borghese, a Renaissance palazzo filled with the art accumulated by some pope's nephew. Photos are forbidden inside, so you'll just have to look at the pictures provided on their site. I especially wanted a postcard of this fellow, but alas, there were none. Many, many, many lovely things to look at here!

The gallery is in a huge park, and all along the roads in the park there are busts of modern Italian heroes and philosophers and who knows who. This guy, Fausto Cecconi, caught my eye, what with the goggles and all.

His wikipedia page is in Italian, but it seems he was an airman in the 30s, won some awards for flying planes, and died young and in action. Some choice google-translated bits:

On 2 June 1930 captured along with Colonel Umberto Maddalena, with a Savoia-Marchetti S.64, the world record for duration and distance in closed loop scoring 67 hours and 13 minutes of non-stop flight, with 8188 km and 800 meters distance.

An explosion caused by an accumulation in the lower part of the cockpit, flammable vapors caused by the fumes of the fuel the plane plunges into the sea near Marina di Pisa.

And now here he is, immortalised in a park.

Other great statue bits we came across, all from the Capitoline Museum:

the stylish Fonseca head

Augustus, who I always think of as old, preferably looking much like Brian Blessed, here appears stark naked and youngish. I think despite the fact that this is very nice and I would gladly put it in my living room, most of us must be pleased our politicians have dropped the tradition of the heroic nude statue. (I was looking around for more dope on this statue and found this picture on Flickr, taken in 2002. He seems to have had a wash! I like the greyer one!)

Also in the Capitoline are the marble fragments of the giant Constantine. He was seated, and mostly made of bricks and concrete. These bits and pieces are fantastic. Kaffe Fassett needlepointed the head, but I can't find a picture of it. Just dig out your old copies of Glorious Needlepoint; I'm sure it's in there!

Here's his foot

We tried many of these weird perspective photos: pushing over the obelisk, squashing the Pantheon, and so on. Most of them didn't really work; this is the only one worthy of bloggage. Mary and Constantine reaching out...

This, oh this! Someone picked up a lump of stone and said, "Just the perfect thing for a lady's wrap." The stripes are just right and it even folds where it should!

One day we went out to Ostia Antica, the old port of Rome which was silted in for centuries. There's a whole town to explore, with theater, forum, temples, synagogue and cafes. You should read this whole site, which has pictures of the excavation from the early 1900s, and lots more.

Love the Roman bricks
These flat little bricks are all over. Everything was made of them and the miraculous Roman concrete. In Ostia we did see quite a few walls of square blocks in what they call a reticulated pattern. (Oh, now I have to go back to Italy and check... I had thought these were bricks, but quite likely they are stone.) 

Arthur in his red jacket wandering through town
theatre, reconstructed
Elaine on the lip of the (lost) stage

Occasionally there would be a fence spotted on an upper level, indicating some sort of lookout. Sometimes we could find our way up, like when we took the picture of Arthur above. This time, the kids set off walking on the tops of the walls and did make their way to the viewing platform, to which all more orthodox routes were blocked off. We old folks just tut-tutted at ground level, and were thankful no legs were broken and no children were carted off to archeology prison for going where they shouldn't. Another hardy couple did set off and followed our darlings' example. I think they didn't break any legs, either.

Would you like the ragu or the carbonara today?

There is a "downtown" with a street of shops that have mosaic floors advertising their wares.

We were told on our tour of the Colosseum that if you needed wild animals for your games, you didn't have to go all the way to Africa; there were brokers in Ostia who could get you a lion or boar at short notice. This must be the place!

Does this place sell adventure tours or anti-piracy insurance?

A restaurant, one presumes. 

And then there were just the patterns, without pictures. The whole place was black and white.

kind of regular, kind of not

Ostia Antica, very fun.

On our last full day we went on a tour of the Forum and Colosseum with Walks of Italy. We had originally booked the highlights tour of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums, but with the chapel being closed, we switched over to this tour. The Forum is a jumble of fragments and it was really helpful to have a guide. We saw fresh flowers that had been placed on the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated -- it was the day after the Ides of March. We saw the Palantine hill with papal gardens on top of emperors' houses. And we saw the Colosseum.

We got to go down to the lower level, though we couldn't wander through these labyrinthine passages. It all looks quite fun, but of course it was under the floor and dark when the gladiators and animal keepers and criminals awaiting execution hung out down here.

Ancient graffiti on a wall inside one of the tunnels on the ground level. The story we heard was that prostitutes would set up shop, as it were, in these hallways, or arches, or fornices. (One is a fornix.) So if you saw this sign on the wall, you would know it was a fornix in which you could get some fornication. The Colosseum was a place with something for everyone, it seems.

As we were walking up the Palatine, we stopped to look at this plant. Can you identify it? Well, I will tell you, it is acanthus.

We all know acanthus is the plant which decorates the Corinthian capital. Clever, eh?

Somehow I missed out a few floors the other day! This stunning Tumbling Blocks was in San Giovanni in Laterano. There's quite a stretch of it, all black, white and grey.

I think this one is just in a passageway at the Capitoline Museum. It's actually symmetric but the photo from above elongates it oddly. Sometimes I think I'll just make black and white blankets forever...

Again at San Giovanni. This is in the porch, not the fancy-pants part of the church.

We're almost done! Bear with me!

a nice big door
gate and obelisk at San Giovanni
a roof, looking down from the Vittoriano
a nice building
some lichen, because what's a trip without some lichen?
Mary at a recognizable tourist site

So, we saw the sights, walked our feet off, ate lots of good food, got rained on and often could have been warmer, and had a great time. 

You have heard of the journey out of Rome. In my flustered state I neglected to mention that just the kids and I had that adventure, while Stephen sat in a cafe for a while before heading out to a different airport to fly to England for a short stint in Cambridge. 

See that? Yellow tape!

He watched the leaders of the wretched marathon passing through the Piazza Navona!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Maybe just the Vatican today

St Peter's Church is huge, enormous, gigantical. In this picture we are on top of the Vittoriano on the far-ish side of the old city, and that's St. Peter's dome in the middle, across the river. ("Across the river" always seems a huge distance to me, no matter how big the river or how far away it is. Anyways, here it is a bit over a mile away.) You can see the dome almost all over town, it seemed.

Here we are just on the other side of the river at the Castel Sant'Angelo. This picture is a bit extraordinary because the sky was not heavy and grey! And because Arthur seems to have matured into the kind of guy who can have his picture taken without sticking his tongue out.

We dashed over to the Piazza San Pietro Wednesday night to see the new pope, and then returned Thursday morning. The only camera we had here Wednesday was Arthur's Flip video camera, which has not yet been attached to a computer for downloading. How slack we are... One day, we'll see if he got anything other than people's heads on camera. 

So, very huge. If you look closely you can see the lineup of wee little folk just along the front, waiting to go in. We're about as tall as the base of the columns. 

Dead centre is the famed chimney on the Sistine Chapel
TV crew headquarters, just outside the Piazza
Stephen became a big fan of obelisks. He will tell you how many there are (certainly we saw about eight, I think, not counting columns and other tall, thin things), who brought them from Egypt when, which ones were broken and then reassembled, which ones have hieroglyphs on... So I include this one for him. A quick internet search tells me that the thingy at the top contains a fragment of the true cross! How could we have missed that, hmm?

I have been in the Vatican four times in my life. The first time I was almost 6 and apparently was fascinated by a devil ferrying souls across the river in the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. I bet it was about the only thing I could see, being little and all! I had a postcard of the whole wall for a long time -- and who would throw it out; it's probably in a box in the basement! 

When I went in 1989 with a friend, we went through the museum, but I don't remember stopping in the church at all. And I'm sure we didn't climb the dome! 

I did go in the church in 1984 with Stephen -- on the trip we dubbed "Great Scaffoldings of Europe" because everything was under wraps that year! Then we both sort of thought it was all ostentatious and gilded and think how many homes for the poor one could have built, etc etc. 

This time I thought, "Wow, people built this!" Of course a pope or two had a grandiose idea and it's a bit over the top and people probably bought indulgences and paid for chapels to be built because they thought they'd get a better seat in the big theatre of heaven and it doesn't serve a purpose that I really care about, but it must have employed thousands of skilled (very skilled) and unskilled workers for years and years, and they did create some beautiful things for us all to admire. So just enjoy and don't think too much about other legacies of the church... for the moment...

inside the main dome
Three of us just walking around
The Pieta behind glass. It really is lovely

Now this required a smattering of Latin and a bit of understanding of British royal history. Someone was taking a picture of the shapely bottom of the angel on this monument, and I realized it was for James III of Great Britain. Who? It turns out that the Catholic son of James II ended up in Rome, since no one really wanted him in Britain, and he and his two sons are buried in the church. They got a very lovely monument made by Canova, and we got a bit of a puzzle as we walked past!

Papal caution tape!

Of course, we climbed the dome. I believe there are 551 steps. Only wusses take the elevator (which only saves you about half the steps), or so I was told, as we all set off to climb. There are sort of open ramps, really tight never-ending marble spirals, and the creepiest of all, the slightly tilted, very narrow space when you are walking between the outside of the dome and the layer of mosaics seen on the inside. Finally one emerges and the whole city is spread beneath you.

Awesome, right?
I think this is the last of the churchy pictures, though I still have tons of ruins. I just have to add a few pictures here from the Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo. This doesn't mean that St Stephen was a bit pudgy, but that the church is round. The church is very old, but its main claim to fame is the series of large paintings all around the walls showing the various ways people were martyred. Click through to that link to see what Charles Dickens had to say!

boiling in oil
This lovely lady is having her neck pierced
more cooking
This guy is getting chopped into bits
It really makes you want to join in, doesn't it? Imagine getting married or taking your kids to this church!