Thursday, October 29, 2009

Days Ten to Fourteen - October 20-24th: Venice

I've just got two things to say about Venice to start off. First, as high priced as it is, as much of a tourist trap as it is, and with most of its residents moving out to Mestre, everyone who wants to see the world has to visit Venice. There is simply no place like it on Earth.

Secondly, the city claims that it provides wireless interent. By no means should anyone believe this claim. Sarah and I looked up the closest hot spot to our hotel on thier website, and at only a block away we figured we were OK. It simply didn't work. We actually took her computer to the exact point on their map, and still no signal. This, my dear reader, is why I am so many days behind. As a small revenge I will do my entire Venetian trip in one blog post. This will get me, at least for a short time, to my current location of Barcelona.

I last visited Venice two years ago to attend the Venice Biennale. It was Sarah's first trip to Italy, so we really took in the surrounding area. This time we had three things we wanted to see that didn't work out last time. After taking a morning train from Rome, we checked in quickly, and hopped on a vaporetto (water bus) for Torcello. Torcello was the first settled island in the lagoon, but now only has a population of twenty or so. It also has a magnificent church with late Byzantine mosaics. We also wanted to get to the Scuola San Rocco, in which Tintoretto spent more than the last decade of his life painting the ceilings and walls. Both were fantastic, but since neither allow any pictures, you'll have to settle for one distance shot on my flickr page.

The third goal was the biggest, and required a trip to nearby Padova. Two years ago the Scrovegni Chapel had been closed for restoration. This had come as a huge disappointment, and we weren't going to miss out a second time. If you're not familiar with it, this is pretty much the site where Giotto managed to inspire the artists of the Renaissance. The whole thing is painted by him, and has a fantastic mixture of the first real space since Roman times and gorgeous flat decoration. Reservations are required weeks in advance, cost twelve Euros, and give you fifteen minutes in the chapel with just twenty-four other people. To get in you have to first find the place, and then enter a climate conditioning room for fifteen minutes before entering. Again here no photos were allowed, but I do have one of the waiting room on Flickr. We were extremely lucky! There must have been a group who missed their reservation because there were a total of eleven people in the chapel including us. The restoration looks fantastic, but our fifteen minutes was up too soon.

Normally I would have run all over town seeing the entire history of Padova, but I neglected to mention it was raining like crazy. Fortunaely for us it opened up just long enough to get to our other big site.


Padova had one other long-term resident art star leave his mark, Donatello. The Basilica of St. Anthony has this magnificent equestrian bronze outside, the first since Ancient Rome. It also has eight more Donatello figures inside. I was even lucky enough to locate the Scuola del Santo this time, which has some very rare Titian frescoes. Turns out to be in the same square. However, you have to enter Saint George's Oratory with only a few hours available during the week, and request that the attendant bring you into the next building and up a flight of stairs. I had settled on heading back to Venice early, and everyone was really excited to finally get some rest. When the sun came out on the walk back to the train I just didn't have the heart to drag everyone back into town.

My main purpose in Venice was to see the Venice Biennale. Every two years Venice hosts the biggest modern art show in the world. It's a rare chance to get to see art from places that aren't well covered by the Gallery and Museum world. There are too many things to talk about and show, so I'll really confine this part to a few comments. The show was really heavy on installation, video pieces, and was surprisingly heavy on drawing. This year the USA picked Bruce Nauman as our representative. HE's not exactly a cutting edge artist anymore, but with so much performance/video art he was a very fitting choice. The selected works highlighted his sculptures in particular. I took this one in a room full of his bronze cast hands.


My chosen winner of this year's Biennale was Russian artist Pavel Pepperstein. He had a huge and humorous body of work entitled the Manifesto del Retro Futurismo, a series of drawings of future monuments and architectural trends. In this piece he is depicting the new design in 2280 where houses will be built around mushroom clouds. I'll be researching him in depth when I return.


I thought I'd throw this in just for flavor. I was going to include the Venetian regional specialty Fegato alla Venezia (calf's liver and mushrooms with white polenta), but after reviewing a couple of posts I fear I might be over-glamorizing the experience. Sarah and I are here for a month, and since we wanted to travel light we knew there would be wash to do. It turns out that right now at a laundromat the going rate is over seven Euros per load ($10)! That means doing it yourself, and it also means sitting in a laundromat for two hours. We spent a considerable amount of time avoiding the expense and exposure by hand washing in our bathroom sink. With rain in Venice expect two full days to dry. Longer for jeans.


Early on the 24th my folks caught a plane back to the States, so it was now just Sarah and me. We had a little over half a day to kill before our flight to Barcelona, so we spent the morning walking and drawing. If you take a close look at this picture you can see that there is indeed still life on the quieter residential canals of Venice.


Don't they look delicious? That night we flew into Barcelona without incident, but that's a story for another post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Days Eight and Nine - October 18-19th: Outside the Walls

On our last two days in Rome we could turn our attention away from the center of the city, and look outward to the empire outside of the city walls. The first spot we looked at was the Appian Way. This was the main trade route to the South of Rome, and the first real highway. It was flat, wide and went all the way to Cadua, which is modern day Naples. It's kind of where it all happened.


This shot shows how large it was, as well as an old piece of column used to fill a hole. This road is still in use today, but I picked Sunday to visit it since it is close to cars. The place was virtually deserted, and we had the entire Circus of Maxentius to ourselves.

In the second half of the day we took a lightrail train to Ostia Antica. Let me just get on my soap box for a minute and say we need better public transportation. Drivers in Rome are insane, and there is no way I'm going to jump into that fray. Fortunately for me, all I have to do is to be able to read a train schedule and tell time. OK, I'm done. Back to Ostia Antica, which was the main port city of Rome in the early part of the empire. It died a slow death due to Tiber river silting in its port, followed by an outbreak of malaria. It pretty much got covered in dirt and forgotten about.


You can check my flickr page for more shots of it. The one I'm posting here is an example of a latrine from Ancient Roman times! I'll admit that the atmosphere is less private, but the indoor plumbing always blows me away.

The preservation of Ostia Antica is excellent, but it died a slow death and became a ghost town. The next day we had Herculaneum and Pompeii, which were buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I had been to Pompeii before, but Herculaneum was all new to me. I expected quite a bit of preserved fresco, but was absolutely blown away by both the preservation of Herculaneum and how much they let you in to each structure. It was also much less crowded than Pompeii turned out to be, and that really did affect my enjoyment.


In this Photo you can see actual wood preserved in the mud that flooded the place right after the volcano blew. That's right, actual wood from Roman times!

Naples is conected to towns all down the coast to Sorrento including the two excavated sites. A quick train ride brought us right to Pompeii. Pompeii doesn't offer the same level of access as Herculaneum, but makes up for it in sheer size and scale. It also has some gruesome reminders of how these people perished.


Pompeii was subject to poisonous gas, and then buried in volcanic ash. Over two thousand people died, though most got out. Early on in the excavations they discovered empty pockets where people had been buried, with their skeletons and any jewelry still intact within them. With many, plaster was poured in, and the entire figure preserved. This is one of the few places whose ghosts you can actually see at their moment of death.


On the lighter side, they certainly seemed to have a good time while they were alive. There were tons of fast food places as well as several brothels. This is a bed from one of the preserved brothels. Doesn't look too comfy anymore, does it.

This made a really interesting end to our time in Rome, and the following day we took an early morning train to Venice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Days Six and Seven - October 16-17th: Back in Rome

Ten years ago I made it to Rome for five days. One of the biggest disappointments of that trip was going to Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Bernini's The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa only to find that it was out for restoration. This time. . .



Day six was pretty much an all you can eat Baroque buffet. But one site really stood out against this heavy, dark, and gilded backdrop. We went to the Capuchin Crypt at Santa Maria della Conception, where for years the monks had allowed their bones to be used as sculptural media. They made four shrines of human skeletal assemblage, which Sarah and I found to be oddly touching in a way. Then it was off to the Galleria Borghese. Beside having one of the finest collections of Roman antiquities, the Borgheses collected the finest Bernini sculptues by far. The level of textural detail and overall motion of his pieces is really something. And the cherry on top was that they were having a Carravaggio show! After visiting the Santa Maria del Popolo on the way out of the surrounding park the Caravaggio count had now grown to fifteen on this trip already. Sorry, but no pictures were allowed in any of these sights.

We capped the day off with a trip to the National Museum of Rome. Of all of the museums housing Roman antiquities I have ever seen, this one is the best. After hall after hall of portrait heads and damaged bodies at the Vatican, a simple, mostly chronological approach following the the history of Imperial Rome was a breath of fresh air. They also have some real treasures like this Hellenistic Bronze.


I had set aside half of day seven to revisit anything we missed. The only two were Castel Sant Angelo in the Vatican and Villa Farnese. Castel Sant Angelo is the Roman emperor Hadrian's tomb, later converted into a castle, and eventually treated as the stronghold for the Pope when the city was under invasion. This is the giant treasure chest used when the Pope would need to retreat there.


With a more relaxed schedule it seemed like a good day to splash some cash on lunch. Osteria Ponte Sisto came heavily recommended, and it turned out to be our best meal in Rome. The highlight for me was this roast suckling pig with potatoes.


We capped the day off with a return to Capitoline Hill. The two museums there are extraordinary. If you check my flickr page you'll see some monumental pieces in their collection. The Ancient Romans didn't have nearly the technique or the expression of the Classical Greeks. They made up for these shortcomings by emulating the hell out of the Greeks, and excelling in engineering, efficiency and frankly empire building. The one area of visual art where they did surpass the Greeks was portraiture. They had an increadible ability to create and thus preserve a likeness. It's uncanny how different sculptural busts of the the same person will be recognizeable! They also left thousands of heads of people who just wanted to be remembered as well as realistic depictions of Greek artists and philosophers who had long since passed. This one goes out to my homies in the Math Department. A2+B2=C2. Pythagorean stylie baby!


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day Five - October 15th: Naples

Well, I'm finally in a spot where I'm connected again, but rather than talk about Barcelona I'm going to pick up where I left off.

The fifth day of travel was a day trip to Naples. This was the first completely new area for me and I was excited! It's just a quick hour-and-a-half from Rome, so going for the day is no problem, though you do get back pretty late. It was threatening to rain in the evening, so we spent the morning walking to all of the smaller sights. A real surprise for me was Capella Sanservero. A sculptor named Corradini had some fantastic marble works where the entire figure was draped. Too bad they didn't allow photos, or I'd provide one.


When we got to Santa Maria della Anime del Purgatorio we saw this. The whole thing was closed for restoration. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.


Lunch in a Southern Italian style was exactly the pick me up we needed. This dish was four different types of local fish fried. I don't usually do a lot of fried, but when in Rome. . .er, Naples.


The biggest attraction on the day was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Many of the best works from Herculaneum and Pompeii are housed here--specifically, the best painting, mosaic and erotic art from Roman times. Check out my flickr page for a really odd piece of erotic art - Parental Advisory!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Well, I'm sorry for the long radio silence, but we're having trouble getting wireless service here in Venice. So far highlights have included trips to Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia Antica and Padova. We've also hit the Venice Biennialle. I will fill you in on everything when we get better access in Barcelona in two days. But for now time is money, and the Euro is way stronger than the doller in this internet cafe.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Days Three and Four - October 13th & 14th: In which I destroy everyone's feet.

Hiking through a city like Rome isn't just thirsty work, it's a tough foot and ankle workout. The uneven pavement and cobblestones really beat you up. We started out with a tough enough day, walking from Trastevere all the way back across the city. However, when we got to the Galleria Corsini we found out that they had loaned their Caravaggio to another museum across town, and the Palazzo Farnesina was closed for a private affair. My plans lay in ruins! I quickly devised a route that could take us to sites I had planned for other days, with the full intention of coming back for the Farnesina and its Raphael frescoes. You'll have to stay tuned to see how that goes.


A quick walk up Via Giulia, with a quick panini, got us back on track. Panini are inexpensive and easy to get all over Italy. Better yet, you never need to worry about mayo, even in a tuna sandwich! The interesting looking one was an egg omelet with arugula and tomato.


Our new course took us through a dozen churches, the Pantheon and up to the Capitoline Museum. I love museums, but there is no substitute for seeing a work in the situation that it was intended for. With Caravaggio this is particularly true. In a dark setting his figures seem to loom out at you. By the end of the day everyone was complaining about the foot pain. Their reward was. . .

Schoolof Athens

. . .Another day of foot pain! This time an open to close trip to the Vatican Museum and Saint Peter's Basilica. It's all stone floors and a whole lot of steps. Just what the doctor ordered. The collection of the Museum is beyond belief, from the finest Renaissance painting such as the Sistine Chapel, to the best collection of Etruscan Art, to a really kick-ass modern collection. It can't all be done in a day, but that doesn't mean you can't try! At the end of the day Sarah was visibly limping, my mom had had a spill on one of the thousands of steps, and my dad was nursing a sprained ankle from the previous day. I let them off easy by leaving Castle Sant'Angelo for later in the week. The next day was a trip to Naples, and I can't carry them all.

Check out my other images on Flickr.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day Two - October 12th: No Rain, No Gain.

Our first full day in Rome start so promisingly. When I was here ten years ago, the line for the Colosseum wrapped all the way around the building, and into rope lines inside. This time I new to have a tickets in hand, so we were able to just walk right in. It was a real treat not to be crushed in a crowd. Notice the reconstructed seats and stage to give context.

Colosseum1 gave a 30% chance of rain, so we came prepared. The first two showers were a fun adventure. When the third hit later in the day, and brought a wind storm in, we were less pleased. Check out the puddles in those ruins!


We were lucky that the sun came out on the walk back to the hotel. I had picked a long, scenic route back before the rain came back, and was feeling like quite the heel. However, we would have missed this double rainbow over the Palatine Hill and Circus Maximus.


Monday, October 12, 2009

First Day in Rome - Sun Oct 11th

We finally in arrived in Rome after four-and-a-half hours on a plane to Atlanta followed by a three hour layover, seven-and-a-half hours on a plane to Paris followed by a two hour layover, and a two hour flight followed by a thirty minute express train to Termini station in Rome. You'd think that a shower and a good night's sleep would be in order, but it was high noon. I have a rule of getting to bed at the correct time to avoid jet lag, so I'd planned a half day of walking with easier ooh and ah locations. First was Santa Maria Maggiore for Byzantine mosaics. After that we had quite an ordeal finding San Pietro in Vincoli, which has a fabulous Michelangelo statue of Moses. I've decided that I can only post one or two highlights per day, but you can check out more photos on my flicker page. The big event of the day was a church that contains two levels of excavation below a very picturesque 12th century church with Renaissance frescoes by Masolino named San Clemente. We entered through its very pleasant cloister.


For five Euros you can enter the archeological area. One level below is a fully excavated fourth-century Christian church, with early Christian frescoes. The level below that has an even earlier second century church, a house which utilized underground running water, and this really rare shrine to Mithras. I shouldn't have taken this picture. . .but I did anyway.


San Clemente was so mind blowing, that I figured a walk by the old Aurelian city wall was about all we could take. We had picked a Sicilian restaurant on the route back, but found that it had been replaced by a pizzeria. Too tired to fight it, we settled in for a pretty good meal. Pictured below is an appetizer with Sicilian roots. The Arancini is a fried rice ball with different fillings. This one had ragu, which in this case was sausage and peas with a hint of tomato. Sarah thought it was kind of like an Italian Samosa.


I'm actually a day behind, but after spending the day touring the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, with occasional bursts of wind and rain, I just can't go through all those photos. You'll just have to stay tuned for that recap.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Culinary Art

There were two major happenings for me in terms of food this summer. The big one was the fourth annual pig roast, or PR4. This is officially now my favorite party of the year. The sole purposes seem to be to consume mass quantities and to have a great time.

It's a hell of a lot of work to pull this one off, but tell me that there isn't aesthetic value here! Hermann Nitsch would be proud. Disclaimer: Look Nitsch's work up at you own peril. . .seriously.

The second happening was truly a sign about my trip to Rome and the Vatican.
I had a salad where my egg exhibited stigmata! Eerie isn't it? You might say this was just a hard boiled egg sitting on a beet, but I'm thinking I can turn this into the next DaVinci Code if I play my cards right.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Heritage Cup Finale

The Heritage Cup was one of the quirkier projects I've ever taken on. I posted about creating the cup, but over the summer my role as presenter and fan took some very interesting turns.

Before the competition started the Cup and I got a little coverage at

The first game of the Cup was on July 13th, and we took it up to Qwest Field to show it off to the Seattle Fans. I have to say that the Seattle fans were excellent, and the game was sold out at nearly thirty-thousand. I had to carry it in twelve blocks, and was surprised how many people recognized it.

The Seattle Sounders also have a marching band, and I needed to show off the cast bronze trophy in front of the brass section. Unfortunately the Earthquakes lost the first game of the competition 2-1. Seattle also held all of the tie-breakers, so it looked bad. San Jose would need to win the second game, and most likely by two goals!

The second match was in San Jose on August 2nd. That weekend became a huge celebration commemorating the San Jose Earthquakes tradition, and featured the 35 year reunion of the original team. I took the Heritage Cup to the Reunion dinner, and then the next day I took it to the game to present it to the winning team on the field at the end of the game.

San Jose amazed everyone by winning the game 4 to 0! Above is a picture from of me and a representative of the Seattle Sounders fans presenting the Cup to team captain Jason Hernandez after the game. You can check out Centerline's match report here.

I was really hoping to leave the Cup with the team, but now we needed to get a placard made to commemorate the very first victory in this competition. That meant I had to carry it back one more time, and on the way I ran into San Jose's most dedicated (and crazy) fans. I had told them that they couldn't drink out of it up in Seattle since we lost, but this time they were due.

Here's what the placard looks like on the trophy, but as you can tell it is still taking up space in my studio.

I finally got to give it away in a presentation at the Soccer Silicon Valley Community Foundation Annual Dinner. As a surprise SSVCF gave Sarah and I a framed copy of the poster she designed with autographs from the stars shown on it, Kasey Keller and Daren Huckerby. Here's a picture of Earthquakes players Jason Hernandez and Shea Salinas at the dinner. It was their turn to cart it around this time. For the next year the Heritage Cup will be displayed in the Earthquakes front office. Then in the 2010 season we start we do it all again.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Spanish Night wrap-up

Well, there might not be anyone reading, but if you were waiting for a Spanish night update I hope this doesn't disappoint.

Sarah and I were both excited about bringing a Spanish dish, so we both made one. She made a rice pudding with lemon zest and cinnamon undertones. I made chicken livers in a butter and sherry reduction sauce with a little egg yolk crumble over for garnish. Don't worry, the evening was save because Sarah made her rice pudding with lactaid milk.

There were appetizers and Spanish wine for early in the evening. Various breads, pickled artichoke hearts, olives, and two tapas were served. The first was tortilla, a cold egg omelet with potatoes in it. The second was squares or quince jelly with Manchego, a sharp sheep cheese. Sorry, but I didn't get a picture of that one. I'm told I'll see these little men everywhere as well.

Our hostess made a main dish that was to die for! A seafood and chicken paella with beautiful covering of whole shrimp, mussels and peppers.

Other dishes included a bacalao (salted cod with vegetable garnish) and fabada (a white bean and sausage soup).The meal was topped off with fritto leche (milk custard filled and fried pastries) and the rice pudding. Yes,that is more Spanish wine in the back ground.

These folks didn't just give culinary advice. Some also brought pictures that we viewed on the big screen via the PS3. It was a tough night of studying, but can never be too prepared when traveling.

Tomorrow: the Heritage Cup.