Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bel tempo, mal tempo

On the whole we’ve had beautiful weather (bel tempo) since we arrived in Italy.  In June and July we had an occasional thunderstorm in Bologna, mostly at night.  Sometimes it was quite hot, and we went months without taking a jacket or sweater out of the closet, but we were never inconvenienced by rain.  The same has held here in Rome with clear, bright days, though the change of season has brought cool nights.  However, just over a week ago, on October 20th, Rome was blasted by mal tempo, as a monumental cloudburst (nubifragio) from a strong thunderstorm (temporale) caused disruptive floods (alluvione, inondazione, diluvio) in several parts of the city.  Trastevere and most of Rome got 127 mm (5 inches) of rain in under three hours.  Several Metro subway stations, including the critical one where the lines cross at Termini Station, were closed by water pouring through vents and down stairwells.

Some of the flooding in Rome on October 20, 2011

We’re up quite a bit from those low areas (many were swamps and marshes centuries ago), so we didn’t get that kind of trouble, but water pouring off the Gianicolo hill went racing down our street, and high winds brought down some tree limbs.

A river floods down Via Luciano Manara

Wind-fall on Via G. Mameli at the base of the Gianicolo

What happened here is nothing compared to what blasted the Liguria region of Italy south of Genoa on October 25th.  The beautiful Cinque Terre coastal villages were struck by horrible flooding of water and mud (fango) and landslides (frani).  These pictures from news outlets give an idea of the damage.  Here’s a link to video of the flood through Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost of the Cinque Terre villages, and you can look at others like it that appear with the link.

This is what Vernazza, one of the cinque terre,  looked like before this week's storm.

Here the flood is in full spate.

These two show aftermath.  Look at the gloop in the railway tunnels.

There have also been floods and landslides down near Naples and snow above 1000 meters up north.  An Italian geologist/climatologist on TV the other day said the increasing amount of extreme mal tempo here is the result of  global warming, and I won’t say he’s wrong.  But today in Rome it’s another bel giorno, high near 21°C (70°F), low tonight 11°C (52°F), some puffy clouds drifting by now and again, and the forecast (previsione) is for more of the same tomorrow.  I’ll take it while I can get it.


Thursday, October 27, 2011


The region of Rome where we’re now living is called Trastevere (trahs-TAY-veh-ray), which means “across the Tevere.”  Although the ancient Romans called the river that flows through Rome Tiberis, and we still call it the Tiber, sometime in the dim past Italians started calling it Tevere.  What Trastevere is across from is old Rome, the centro storico where you’ll find the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon and many of the other sites we associate with the city.   Vatican City is on our side of the river, upstream just to the north.  To the west beyond most of the commercial and residential development, the land rises sharply to form the Janiculum Hill (Il Gianicolo).  Some heroic battles of Italy’s 19th-century unification struggles took place up there, and from overlooks amid patriotic monuments in the ridge-top park there are spectacular views over the city—and you can watch the noon cannon being fired.

General Garibaldi, military leader of Italy's 19th-century unification battles.

Busts of notable Italians from all fields line paths in the park atop the Gianicolo.

St. Peter's and Vatican City, looking northwest from the Gianicolo.
Looking east from the Gianicolo.  A line of trees and a curved building mark the River Tiber. 

Every day at noon the army fires a cannon from the Gianicolo so that all the city
church bells will be coordinated.  The day I took this picture the church bells started early....

We have been having a good time exploring our immediate neighborhood—figuring out whether one of the 10 bar/caffès within five minutes-walk of our apartment is the best; making the acquaintance of food vendors in the daily open-air market in Piazza di San Cosimato; testing the products of various pasticcerie, biscotterie, and pastifici (pastry, cookie and fresh pasta shops); and discovering likely ristoranti and other types of shops.  Though the tourist crowds are diminished at this time of year, by evening the narrow medieval streets are invitingly alight and people are out and on the lookout for just the right trattoria, gelateria or enoteca (wine bar).

A few of the places for coffee within five minutes walk of our apartment.

Morning scene along the west side of Piazza di San Cosimato

Piazza di S. Cosimato.  The big sycamore tree shades a well-used playground.
The daily fruit, veg, meat, cheese and fish market is to the right.

One of six or eight produce vendors in P'za di S. Cosimato.

This old-style pasticceria also makes hand-dipped chocolates
and Sicilian sweets (below) as well as giant chocolate Easter eggs

Innocenti Biscottificio makes dozens of varieties of delicious cookies.

This mouthwatering pile of whipped cream-filled profiteroles bound by thick, rich chocolate,
 came from Trastevere Pasticceria di Fabrizio Mattei, six minutes away from us.  I timed it.

Street vendors along Viale di Trastevere.

Setting up for pranzo.

Night scene in Trastevere.

As perceptive readers of this journal will have noted, ancient structures and fine art are like magnets to us.  Some of Rome’s oldest Christian churches are in Trastevere and contribute in both categories.  And there’s an ancient Roman aqueduct up on the Gianicolo along with ruins, fountains, city walls and villas from many eras.  Though little from antique Rome survives above ground in the lower reaches of the district, there are medieval buildings to be found, and some original sections of the ancient Via Aurelia paving remain in modern Via della Lungaretta (see the map above).  So we’ve been busy taking closer looks at our local sites, and I expect some will appear in future articles here.

The present church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, with 12th-century mosaics on the front,
replaces one built in the 4th century AD.

A Roman aqueduct, restored in 1612 and still in use,
 runs over the top of the Gianicolo from the west.

Villa Doria Pamphili is also on the Gianicolo.  The grounds make up Rome's largest public park.
The perimeter is about 19 km.

Speaking of future articles, we’ve been living in Rome for over three weeks now, yet I’ve been unable to get together a blog entry since we arrived.  Why is that?  Partly it’s because Rome has been consuming, offering so much to see and do that days and evenings get filled up.  Even though we’ve seen many of the historic attractions during past stays, there are always more, and many of those ancient places call to us over and over.  In addition there are countless current events:  concerts, theater and opera productions and other unexpected exhibitions and presentations.  For example, the International Rome Film Festival starts this week.  The descriptive catalog alone is 107 pages long.  Luckily we don’t feel drawn to all the films, but sorting out the ones that do sound good and trying to work them into our calendar and budget is a job in itself.  Then, since Rome is big and busy, we have to allow 20-to-45 minutes travel time each way on public transit. 

The frequent trams of line #8 run up the center of Viale di Trastevere
and take us over the river to the centro storico.

Lots of public transit routes but not always enough frequency
can make for crowded trips.

The catalog for the film festival and our tickets.

I have also been taken aback by the volume of information already posted online about Rome, its history, and artifacts—surprise, surprise, others have been here before me.   There seem to be blogs and websites describing every market, food store, restaurant, fountain, statue, church, painting, mosaic, ruin, bridge, road and edifice, including those still buried or no longer existent.  So at first I wasn’t sure I had much to add.  But now I find that not everyone sees things the way I do or is as easily amused, so on we go.

Mounted police ride up Via Goffredo Mameli outside our apartment.
Mameli wrote the words to the Italian national anthem and died after one of
the battles on the Gianicolo in 1849 at age 21.