Friday, January 8, 2016

The Rome Newsletter (1)

Today's photos:


1. The Theater of Marcellus.

2. The Acqua Paola Fountain.

3. The Victor Emanuel Monument.

4. Palazzo Venezia.

5. Close-up of Mussolini's balcony on Palazzo Venezia.

6. Mussolini harangues the crowd from his balcony.


The concession of the "family jewels"


Just what are the "family jewels" of Rome? They are, of course, her monuments, her fountains, her palaces. There are so many of them that there is not enough public money to keep them clean and in good condition. And that's why the private sector gets involved. The city hopes to solve the problem of lack of funds, at least partially, by ceding some of her "jewels" to private firms for a period of up to eight years. They are not being sold, but loaned, to the private companies which will bear the responsibility and the expense of cleaning, restyling and upkeep of the monuments. A list of those being conceded was recently published in the Rome newspaper Il Messaggero. Two of them immediately caught my eye: the Theater of Marcellus (see my blog post of Oct. 16, 2011) and the Acqua Paola Fountain on the Janiculum hill (see chapter 1 of my book The Sights of Rome). The sponsors will have the right to use  "their" monuments in their publicity as well as to sponsor cultural activities for the length of the contract.


But there are two other very important and very visible monuments which will soon undergo a major restyling with public funds from the Ministry of Cultural Assets and Activities. They are both in Piazza Venezia in the very center of the city: the Victor Emanuel Monument (See chapter 35 of my book The Sights of Rome) and Palazzo Venezia, an early Renaissance palace. The latter will have an allocation of 5.4 million euros, while the former will be assigned 2.25 million. The re-styling of Palazzo Venezia will include the opening to the public of the internal courtyard and gardens through four new entrances, one on each side of the building. The plan also calls for  opening to the public the famous WWII bunker of Mussolini whose office was in the palazzo.


Nude in St. Peter's Basilica!


All the security in and around St. Peter's apparently was not enough to prevent a 44 year-old Brazilian (he calls himself "the Cherub") from running up and down the main aisle of the basilica wearing only socks, shoes and a backpack. The basilica at the time was crowded with people who were shocked, embarrassed and left speechless. The man even managed to pause in front of the main altar for a "prayer", uttered in totally incomprehensible words, before six security guards were able to subdue him and carry him out the side door beneath the monument to Pope Alexander VII. He was questioned by Vatican gendarmes and then taken to the psychiatric ward of the nearby Santo Spirto hospital. The episode happened in mid-afternoon and lasted for several minutes. It is believed that the man entered the basilica wearing only his overcoat which he removed and placed in his backpack as he hid behind a confessional near the chapel of Pope John XXIII. The newspaper carried a picture of "the Cherub" in action . . . from the waist up! But a search on the internet might turn up a full length photo because dozens of people were seen filming the action with their cell phones.


Some Jubilee notes


The massive crowds initially expected for the Jubilee Year have so far failed to materialize, except perhaps for the first day when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in St. Peter's. Merchants, hotel operators and restaurant owners are saying that not only has their business not increased since December 8, but it has even fallen off compared to the same period last year. One reason for this is the on-going terrorist threat. (I hasten to add that up to now NONE of these threats have materialized in Rome). Some people are even blaming the Pope for the small crowds because on more than one occasion he has emphasized that it is not necessary to travel to Rome to participate in the Jubilee since a Holy Door has been opened in the cathedral of every diocese in the world. In the past, popes "invited" Christians all over the world to come to Rome during the Jubilee Year. In effect, this is not a typical Holy Year . . . nor is there anything typical about the Bergoglio papacy!


There is, however, a Jubilee-related event due to happen in early February which will certainly draw hundreds of thousands of people to Rome and St. Peter's. On February 3, the body of Padre Pio will be brought here from San Giovanni Rotondo. In the early afternoon his remains will be in the Basilica of San Lorenzo on the sprawling grounds of the Verano cemetery. From here, the next day, the body will be transferred to St. Peter's Basilica where, on February 6, the Pope will hold a special audience in St. Peter's Square for the many Prayer Groups of Padre Pio. There will be several other public ceremonies until February 11, when the body of St. Pio will be brought to his home town of Pietralcina.


Before anybody asks the question, I will answer it: I will NOT be in the midst of those crowds!


Holidays and holy days


There is a clever saying in Italian which refers to the many holidays during December and early January. It goes like this: L'Epifania tutte le feste le porta via (The Epiphany carries off all the holidays). In fact, within a one month period between December 8 and January 6 there are five red-letter holidays on the calendar (as many as nine if you count the Sundays in between):


Dec. 8 – l'Immacolata (Immaculate Conception)

Dec. 25 – il Natale (Christmas)

Dec. 26 – Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's day)

Jan. 1 – Capodanno (New Year's day)

Jan. 6 – l'Epifania (the Epiphany)


And that's it until Easter Sunday and Monday!


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