Friday, June 26, 2009

Strange and Weird, part 2

Continued from Part 1.

These are pictures of art that I found funny or interesting or unusual. If anyone can explain any of them, please enlighten me.

You need to click on the slideshow to see what's going on in the pictures.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shish Kebab

1 1/2 pounds of lamb (or beef or pork)
1 large onion, 2 garlic cloves
1/2 bunch parsley, 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt, pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 bell peppers (red and green)
4 firm tomatoes
4 chilis, if desired

Cut the meat into 3/4 - 1 inch cubes. Peel the onion and the garlic, finely grate the onion, crush the garlic. Wash the parsley and shake dry, then finely chop the leaves. Combine the onion, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and oil. Add the meat cubes, stir to coat all over, then place in fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours or even better overnight.
Wash and trim the bell peppers, then cut them into 3/4 inch pieces. Wash and quarter the tomatoes, removing their seeds. Halve the quarters again crosswise. If using, wash the chilis and cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Thread the meat, bell peppers, tomatoes, and chilis onto them, alternating the items. Heat a broiler or charcoal grill, or heat a ridged skillet on top of the stove. Place the skewers on a rack, then cook for about 15 minutes under the broiler, over the embers, or in the skillet. Turn the skewers from time to time.

Tastes especially good with pita bread, tsatziki sauce, and tabbouleh salad.
(from Oriental Basics by Cornelia Schinharl and Sebastian Dickhaut)

Report on Tolfa

My class did its "stage," which is like an internship, at Tolfa, a small city kind of near Rome. It was about 1.5 weeks. We worked on Roman ceramics at the archaeological museum there. I was able to almost finish my jug. We stayed in a former convent that is now a hostel. They fed us at the hostel, so I got cheese instead of meat twice a day most days. They also added more oil to the pasta in place of meat. There's a rocca (castle in ruins) in Tolfa, so I went up to that twice. There is little else to do there. There were some donkeys and geckos along the road. Also there were lightning bugs (the first place I've seen them in Italy). One day we went to a nearby archaeological site, which is in a field and mostly consists of tombs.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Sunday, we got a bit of a late start since we only got to bed around 2am the day before on account of the opera in the Verona Arena. We then drove to Vicenza, which is much less known than its neighboring cities of Verona and Venice. Still, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and famous for its architecture by native son Andrea Palladio. Even if you've never heard of him, you'll recognize his style mirrored in almost every public building in the U.S., Britain, and to a lesser degree Germany. Especially UVa alumni should know the name, as Thomas Jefferson was an admirer and imitator of his work. One of the highlights was the Teatro Olimpico, the oldest surviving indoor theater, with the oldest surviving stage set in the world, built for the production of Oedipus Rex. Since the admission ticket to that included some of the other museums in town, we got to see more religous art, some hideous still life, a modest collection of archeological artifacts, and an interesting collection of Russian icons. For lunch, I had Baccalà alla Vicentina, stockfish with polenta, a local specialty, which was very good. After seeing some of the other Palladio palazzi in town, we drove a few kilometers out of town to the Villa Capra 'La Rotonda', probably Palladio's most famous work. We didn't go visit up close, since the admission just to the gardens was quite high, but you could get a good impression from the gate, as well as from the road.


This weekend we took a brief trip to visit two cities in northern Italy. We started off in Verona, the city of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, as well as an important Roman city. The weather was quite agreeable -- it had rained on the drive, but was sunny and warm when we got to the sightseeing part, and we enjoyed walking around the historical city center. One of our first stops was the Basilica di San Zeno, dedicated to Verona's patron saint (and the location of his embalmed body). This was a nicely frescoed Romanesque church with some great stonework on the facade, and an elaborate set of bronze doors with biblical scenes (they especially seemed to like the parts with beheadings). After that we walked towards the Roman Arena, an imposing sight even today, and picked up our tickets for that night's performance. Further sights included Juliet's house (with balcony), the Piazza delle Erbe, and the Duomo.
After killing a bit of time, we headed back towards the arena in order to line up for seats. Since we had gotten the cheapest seats on the stone steps, we got there a little before 7:30, when the gates opened, but there was already quite a long line. Luckily, we were prepared for the arena experience and had brought our own cushions, and some picnic food for dinner. The opera, "Aida" began at around 9:15 and lasted until after 1am. By this time it was quite cool, and there was a bit of wind the whole time, so the jackets we had brought with us were necessary. But to get to the main event... the opera was fantastic. We were sitting quite high up straight across from the stage, and you could still hear the singing as clear as in an indoor theater (sure, it wasn't as loud, and every now and then the wind would blow in the wrong direction), which was amazing, as nothing was amplified. It surely helped that the singers were excellent. Fabio Armiliato as Radames and Daniela Dessì as Aida were world-class and both had powerful voices. The triumphal march was as grand as could be expected from this traditional 1913 production. I was impressed by this evening and would certainly recommend seeing an opera there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quote of the day

Italians spend about 190 hours each year waiting in line at public offices. Attending to bureaucratic business, according to the Patronato Inac-Istituto, is especially time-consuming for foreign born residents, who, it is estimated, spend twice that time in line. Yet, the agency notes, most people could save time by using comune and other websites for information and basic transactions. Sixty-five percent of residents, the majority of them older, still rely on ‘word of mouth’ for information.

-- from The Florentine

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sagra del Seitan

Italians love their food, and one of the popular activities on weekends is going to sagre, which are basically food festivals dedicated to some specialty, be it tortellini, doughnuts, or wild boar. Unfortunately for us, they're usually in some small town unreachable by public transportation, and unfortunately for Kristen, they usually feature meat products. So when we read about the Sagra del Seitan, happening close enough to take an ex-urban bus, we knew we had to go. It was a hot and sunny day, and we enjoyed the seitan tofuné, vegan lasagna with ragù, and caponata. I think Kristen was quite happy to see some co-vegetarians in Italy (though they're a definite minority).

Tolfa at sunrise

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Astrolabes and frescoes

Since Kristen is away with her school for two weeks, I've been doing some things that she's already seen or was not so interested in. In this sense, last Tuesday (a federal holiday), I visited the Galileo exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi. It's the 400th anniversary of his first astronomical discoveries, and so they've put together quite a nice exhibition, less about Galileo himself as about the views that people have had about the skies above going back to the ancient Babylonians. There were some nice pieces, such as copies of some of Ptolemy's manuscripts, various star charts and astrolabes, and of course Galileo's telescope, observations of the moon and Jupiter, as well as one of his fingers (this is Italy, after all!).
Then today I visited the Brancacci chapel, part of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. The chapel has some excellent frescoes, and features some of the few works by Renaissance master Masaccio. The rest of the work was done by Masolino and Lippi, no lightweights themselves. The frescoes, dating back to the 15th century, are in pretty good shape, having been restored (somewhat controversially) in the 1980's. You can really see that painters of that era were mastering perspective, as well as adding expression to faces (see the Expulsion from the Paradise).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Voting, German style

I finally got my absentee ballots today for the European and local elections being held this weekend (they were postmarked May 22nd, so I'm guessing the Italian mail held them for a while). It was quite the package -- a total of 5 ballots, for a combined total of 87 votes! (thanks to the concepts of "Kumulieren und Panaschieren," i.e. cumulate and split one's vote) And no voting machines, but just good, old fashioned crosses. Always amusing are the over 30 parties on the European ballot, among them such parties as the "Europa-Demokratie-Esperanto" party, the "Newropeans," or the "Piratenpartei Deutschland" (yes, that's the German Pirate Party). I also counted 4 parties dedicated to old and retired people. I guess that's a sign of the times.