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My life miracles – Roma, Venezia, Verona

Preface

 

 

It happened before A.D.)…

I had another life in the past, not in retail, not in interpreting, not in blogging, not in charity, but in IT. That was my primary call, not maybe the most interesting, but a primary call in accordance to my education it was…

In 1999 I left John Fairfax Pty Ltd, after 10 years of working there and started my work for Compaq/HP. Good money, pager, laptop, Cabcharges from Randwick to Castle Hill, Tandem Computers courses in Melbourne with the future trips to Houston (HP Kingdom) – the money was good, life was also good but stressful. My partner just started to make progress in his new online business, we were so busy, that we almost did not see each other. Rich we were not, but it was the life above the middle class level for us to enjoy. But, this life had its downside. If you knew many women working in IT/Computer Industry in Australia at the start of the noughties, you were clearly in the minority. It was very hard to penetrate the male dominated culture in the work environment. HP had a female CEO, but that was where equality really ended…

IT work environment
IT Work Environment

After 18 months of working there, I had enough. I had been working through 14 hours days, and no pay was enough to compensate for this slavery…Thankfully, I was made redundant in December 2001, just an hour before the office Christmas Party. I had to be accompanied out by a psychologist hired by HP, in case people would become suicidal. That was the rule for all System Managers – during the “heart to heart” with the manager, somebody else would wipe out your passwords and make sure you never existed.

I never failed in my life – it felt for me, like failing at the exams. At that moment, in my wild catasrophing imagination, I saw, all of my life pleasures not supported anymore, including Pilates classes, the cleaner, and going out. In short, all my privileges were to be annulled. Without my big chunk of a salary, we could not afford to maintain the lifestyle we enjoyed. On the following Monday, I went to the employment agency paid by HP, and found out that my position of one person was taken already by not one, by not two, but by three sturdy guys from the other system management areas of HP. It was called centralisation of the tasks and cutting the costs.The employment agency gave me an advice “if you want to stay in the industry, don’t rock the boat, but if, after 5 weeks (my payout by HP) you don’t find a job, you need to hire a lawyer.” In five days I found a job. It was like God (him/herself) answered my prayers all at once. The role offered, entailed less stress, fewer responsibilities and a better pay. I was to look after HP team working on their project for OPTUS, including looking after those three sturdy guys. One of them was particularly mortified, as the last time I met him, he asked me to make him a cup of coffee. He also confided) in me that he liked his coffee the same way he liked his girls to be – white and sweet…HP expressed their concern about my potential lack of objectivity, but my new employer clearly enjoyed the drama. Having re-established my new animal kingdom position and having restored my privileges, I took a deep breath and cut my losses. There were none, I retained the cleaner, my Pilates classes, we were able to go out as before, I had 3 remaining weeks before I started my new job. What would the normal person do in my circumstances?

Roma

We arrived

Together with my daughter we held a military type council, and decided where to go between NY and Italy. Without any further ado we went to Italy just for 10 days in a week’s time. We flew in to Da Vinci airport in Roma on the 11th of January .2001 It was a crispy winter morning, which completely eliminated the smog of Roma. On the first instant, we were enveloped by two distinctive smells in the air – one, of the aroma of coffee, and another one of the aroma of an almond paste used in cornetti (The Italian Croissants).

Ten years prior to this visit, we stayed in Roma for two years as refugees. The city itself, Italy and the Italians were very dear to our hearts, and still are.

The train from Fuimicino took us to Termini via the EUR (Mussolini’s Fascist Third Empire Project, to the centre of the city. The colours changed from teutonic greys and whites to the typical Roma’s pinks and browns and reds. It made the city look warm and feel warm.

EUR, Rome
EUR, Rome
Streets of old Rome
Streets of Old Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We reached our little hotel in via Del Tritone only to be told to wait until 2pm. We had cappuccino with “never ever bad” cornetti and had a huge walk. By the time we reached the hotel we were ready to sleep, only to wake up for the bowl of pasta in the nearby trattoria. The good thing about Roma, if you know it well, there are so many non-touristy places to go to for a bowl of pasta…Or for a slice of pizza.

Pizza al taglio, Rome
Pizza Al taglio, Rome
Cornetti with cappuccino
Cornetti With Cappuccino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Passatella, Rome
La Passatella, Rome
Bruschetta Romana
Bruschetta Romana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Il cibo e sempre buono a Roma quando si sa dove andare a mangiare.” You always eat well in Rome, when you know where to eat.

The Tea Rooms

We discovered in the next 4 days we stayed in Rome, that the only salvation from a bitterly cold weather was to hop from one café to another for a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee, or for a bathroom. If we hopped in for a bathroom, we then needed to buy another coffee and the cycle of coffee/tea/bodily functions/bathroom would become endless. It helped us to find out that the city was not only concentrated on its coffee, but on its tea as well. The culture of tea started in the late 19th century after the English tourists started to travel the world. The most famous Tea Room in Rome is called Babington’s after one of two English sisters and is made in the style of art nouveau – Italian Liberty. Before Babington’s arrival, the tea was sold in Italy only in the pharmacies.

The shop was founded in 1893 by Isabel Cargill and Anne Marie Babington, two English women, with the intention of catering for the many English-speaking people in Rome. At the time of the founding of Babington’s, tea in Italy could be bought only in pharmacies. Babington’s is located on the ground floor of an 18th-century building from which one can see the Spanish Steps, the staircase of the Trinità dei Monti church. Babington’s survived two world wars, the advent of fast food and various economic crises, and has become a favourite meeting place for the writers, actors, artists and politicians.

Cafe Babignton's
Cafe Babignton’s
Antico Caffe Greco, Rome
Antico Caffe Greco, Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most beautiful discovery for us was Caffe Greco near Babington’s. It is a historic landmark café, which opened in 1760 on Via dei Condotti, the most fashionable now, street in Rome. It is the oldest bar in Rome and within Italy only Caffè Florian in Venice (established in 1720) is older. The café was named after its Greek (don’t tell me!)) owner, who opened it in 1760. Historic figures including Stendhal, Goethe, Nikolay Gogol,  Byron, Franz Liszt, Keats, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Felix Mendelssohn, Morrissey, Wagner, Levi and even Casanova have had coffee there. The prices are above the skies,L’Antico Caffe Greco with all it’s connotations looks unmistakably, well… French, but is worth going there for the atmosphere, cakes, tea, history and …the bathroom…Nikolay Gogol and Casanova amazed me the most.  What were the most patriotic Russian writer and the most unrelenting heartthrob doing there?

Vatican, Saint Peter’s, Protestanism

We took a guided tour to Vatican. We were on the bus with the people from all over the world, mostly of them of the catholics. For the different reasons we loved the tour together. I personally, did not like the little gift shops, where the bus would stop every 5 minutes. Most of the stuff was badly made, some of the souvenirs were even made in China.

I should mention, it was our number “numerous” visit to Vatican. We have been there before. We attended the Christmas Mass in 1988, the audience with then Pope John Paul II. He blessed us in Russian language, he blessed the others and in the languages they spoke, and he knew, altogether, 28 languages. By the way, do not believe any greedy tourist sites.The Papal audience is free of charge! You only have to pick up the tickets from the Swiss soldiers, guarding Vatican.

The Pope shakes hands with the Swiss Guard
The Pope Shakes Hands With One Of The Swiss Guards

Vatican and St Peter’s will never stop to amaze me. The art, the faith, the soul behind the masterpieces, and of course, the history. It is breathtaking to say the least.

St. Peter’s Basilica took 120 years to complete due to the greed, corruption, fires and “comradeship” inside the Vatican. At one stage, the financing of the construction was helped with the provision of the indulgences.

A German Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, wrote to Archbishop Albrecht arguing against him “selling of indulgences”. He also included his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as The 95 Theses. This became a factor in starting the Reformation, the birth of Protestantism.

The Romans also have an expression about something taking ages to complete:they say – “Come La Fabbrica Di San Pedro”  – “Like St. Peter’s factory” But…by hook or by crook or by sheer faith something so divinely beautiful was created, that it is still beyond our understanding. Of course, Rafael and Michelangelo helped a lot too.

Christmas Eve Mass,Saint Peter's Basilica
Midnight Christmas Mass, Saint Peter’s Basilica

Sant’Anna Dei Palafrenieri, Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci

On that day, we went to Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri Church located beside the Porta Sant’Anna (Saint Anne’s Gate), an international border crossing between Vatican City State and Italy. It is located on the right hand side from the exit from St Peter’s square after the Vatican post office. By the way, all the letters sent from the Vatican post office, carrying the Vatican stamp, always reach their destination by some divine intervention. You have to trust me. I cannot guarantee Australian Post delivery considering the times we are living in. Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri (The Pope’s Grooms) Church is a very modest church still within the the territory of Vatican. It was built during two centuries, not due to the complexity of the architecture, but due to the squabbles in the Papal Court. Sant’Anna (Hannah) was the mother of Santa Maria, the grandmother of Jesus. In 1603, the Archonfraternity (Fraternity of the Papal Grooms) commissioned Caravaggio to paint a picture of Saint Anne’s for the altar. Painted in 1605-1606, the painting “Madonna and Child with St. Anne” was briefly (for one months) exhibited in the church of Saint Anne in the Vatican. It was subsequently sold to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and now hangs in his palazzo, presently the museum of the Galleria Borghese. The Cardinal displayed this picture only in his private gallery during his life. I believe, the Church tried to get rid of the painting in a hurry. It shows the darker side of the old Caravaggio and his quite violent nature…Before he died, Maestro had a death warrant issued by the Pope for murdering someone in a drunken brawl. The picture also shows

1) Sant’Anna as a wrinkled unkempt old grandmother

2) A little Baby Jesus stomping on a snake with his bare feet with two adults watching and supervising – where were the Children Protection Services?

3) A little Baby Jesus is portrayed with uncircumcised penis (was he not Jewish after all?)

4) Santa Maria is pictured with the biggest cleavage ever shown on the religious pictures. There were rumours at the time, Caravaggio’s model was a prostitute…

Caravaggio’s painting is very dissimilar to Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrayal of St Anne and Baby Jesus (displayed in Louvre). In Leonardo’s version, Jesus is playing with an innocent lamb, and Santa Maria is wearing decent clothes. She behaves like a good mother to Jesus, when trying to restrain Baby Jesus playing with an innocent lamb. On a closer look, however, Santa Maria is sitting on Sant’Anna’s lap. Why? Nobody knows. Sigmund Freud tried later to re-interpret the picture, as a perfect portrayal of Leonardo’s passive homosexuality. Also, in my opinion, Sant’Anna is dressed better and looks younger than her daughter, which is unnecessary.

In short, Sant’Anna was not an easy character to depict. But the real reason of our visit to the church, was the fact that the Father Confessor (Il Padre Confessore) of 10 years ago, spoke Russian and was originally from Odessa. We checked on him. We had a lovely chat, it was so comforting to re-discover our Rome…

 

St Anne with the Virgin and the Child Embracing a Lamb by Leonardo Da Vinci
St Anne With The Virgin And The Child Embracing a Lamb by Leonardo Da Vinci
Madonna And Child With St Anne by Caravaggio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interior of St Anne's church
Interior of Sant’ Anna Dei Palafrenieri, Vatican

 

 

The Walks Of Rome And How To Cross The Roads In Rome

My daughter and I completed everything in our itinerary in Roma in the first 4 days. We walked from Vatican to Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, to Basilica of San Giovianni in Laterano (all three Churches, belonging to Vatican, not to the State, but outside the international borders of Vatican). We also walked from Via Veneto, via Villa Borghese, via Villa Medici and finally ended our walk in Piazza De Spagna (2 minutes from our hotel in via Del Tritone). We went to the Botanical Garden which is the oasis of tranquility in a forever hectic city. We went to Colosseum and to the Catacombs both Jewish and Christian. I always thought, the catacombs were the hiding place from the religious persecution. The real reason behind the catacombs was quite benign and practical, the lack of burial space. The Roman authorities did not allow the people of monotheistic religions to bury their dead within the walls of the city. Only cremation was allowed, which people of the monotheistic religions considered pagan. Via Appia Antica, where catacombs are, is beautiful, the Catacombs are beautiful too. The last burial in there was in 1920. My advice: when walking in Rome beware of the absence of the pedestrian crossings, or rather of their presence, which does not change the drivers’s behaviours. They never stop to let you cross. The modern Romans are usually crossing the road when the priests or nuns do. It is a bad sign, apparently, to kill the clergy.

Via Appia Antica, Rome
Via Appia Antica, Rome

The Greatest Miracle Of The Roman Trip, 2001

We left our Sunday free of any itineraries. No reason… 11 years before we were saved by one remarkable woman from a Jewish charity called American Joint, when we were in the refugee camps. She saved us momentarily by one signature of her ballpoint pen when she allowed us to change from waiting for US to Australia (we waited for Australia afterwards for almost 2 years). She was also an inspiration for the eternal style of short skirts and thick tights and ballet shoes. I became blond because of her!) She cannot be named for certain reason, but for years, I tried to locate her. I called all of the caseworkers I worked for, in USA, UK and Australia, and no, nobody knew her whereabouts. On that Sunday morning, the 14th of January 2001, we went to the Great Rome Synagogue, which also served as a Jewish Museum.

Great Synagogue Rome
Great Synagogue, Rome

It was not like that 11 years before. The synagogue of 10 years ago, was just a synagogue and a centre of the old Jewish Ghetto.

A little bit of history: The Great Synagogue in Rome was not built when Rome was built, even though the history of Jewish community of Rome goes back to the 2nd century BC. The Jewish community of Rome is the oldest uninterrupted Jewish community in the world outside of Israel. The present synagogue was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome and the Papal States ceased to exist. The Roman Ghetto was demolished and the Jews were granted citizenship. The building which had previously housed the ghetto synagogue in a single building was demolished, and the Jewish community began making plans for a new and impressive building.

Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni (two Catholics), the synagogue was built from 1901 to 1904 on the banks of the Tiber, overlooking the former ghetto. The eclectic style of the building makes it stand out, even in a city known for notable buildings and structures. This attention-grabbing design was a deliberate choice made by the community at the time who wanted the building to be a visible celebration of their freedom and to be seen from many vantage points in the city.

Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto, Rome
Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto, Rome

The elderly lady, working in the museum as a guide, miraculously, recognised me, since we both worked together with the Soviet refugees. She could not give me “Rafaella”s phone number, since it was against all security rules, but she gave me another person’s phone number. Another person, could not help me either. Even though, she remembered me, it was all again, “against the rules”. She could not give me the phone number of an absolutely Catholic guard “Ferdinando” who worked for the Roman Jewish community for 30 years. They had to “protect his identity”. By the time I made all my calls,  my legs carried me across Ponte Fabricio (the oldest bridge in Rome) from the Ghetto to Trastevere.

We went to see Santa Maria in Trastevere:

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches of Rome. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, and much of the structure to 1140-43. T A Christian house-church was founded here about 220 by Pope Saint Callixtus I on the site of the Taberna meritoria, a refuge for retired soldiers. The area was given over for Christian use by the Emperor Alexander Severus when he settled a dispute between the Christians and tavern-keepers, saying,  “I prefer that it should belong to those who honour God, whatever be their form of worship.” The lesson is that every religion should remember being in minority and refrain from persecuting the other minorities…

 

Santa Maria In Trastevere
Santa Maria In Trastevere

We had a beautiful lunch at Enoteca Ferrara in Trastevere to kill the hunger and to kill the time to go to Standa (Italian version of Target with groceries) which re-opens every day after siesta at 3:30pm. Why? I don’t know!!! I was still pretty much convinced we would see “Raffaella” on that day.

 

Lunch At Enoteca Ferrara
Lunch At Enoteca Ferrara

It did not take us even two minutes to get inside  the warmth of the commercial kingdom to see “Rafaella” of 10 years after, trying one of the coats on sale there. We hugged each other – I hugged her so tight that I thought I would break her ribs (I am in no danger of my ribs ever threatened by hugging) My daughter maybe thought, I was a clairvoyant/who married a devil for one day. The meeting was incredible, since then I try to trust my gut feeling, instead of trusting my gut wrenching fear which overcomes me sometimes…I need to invent a gut listening stethoscope…

Friends Hugging (From Downy's Advertisement)
Friends Hugging (From Downy’s Advertisement)

We had a proper reunion with “Rafaella” two days after, when we discovered she had a new marriage and another beautiful girl addition to her two other daughters. We tried to bring everything Australian for this reunion, and discovered that a good Australian wine in Rome was much cheaper than back home even if we tried to convert the price in Euro and back three times. Phew, that was it for Rome, was not it? Venezia and Verona are coming next week!

My life miracles – Roma, Venezia, Verona

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