when in rome

Working with the city of Rome, the Vatican Secret Archives – how’s that for an unprepossessing name? – is celebrating its 400th anniversary with an exhibit designed to shed light not only on its vast holdings but on some of the myth and mystery surrounding the collection, which was the subject of Dan Brown’s post-Da Vinci Code blockbuster Angels and Demons. “Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself” is at the Capitoline Museum until Sept. 9.

The secret – or, more accurately, “private” – archives were founded by Pope Paul V in 1612. Since 1881, they have been open only to scholars conducting research. Officials at the Archives point out that many of the original manuscripts, codices, and ancient parchments on display are outside the walls of the Vatican for the first time in history. Highlights include documents that describe the inquisition of Galileo Galilei, the case against the Knights Templar, and the order for Martin Luther’s excommunication. Also featured is a parchment in Latin with the seal of 83 English Lords seeking to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. (His failure to obtain Papal approval ultimately led to the Reformation in Britain.)

As always when in Rome, do as the Romans do and avoid the crowds. A private tour of the exhibit can be tailor-made in conjunction with a stay at Rocco Forte’s fashionable Hotel de Russie, just off the Spanish Steps. Or get preferential access with the hotel’s Lux in Arcana package, which includes exhibition tickets, an overnight stay and the power to jump the line – Papal dispensation not required .

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holiday ho-ho-hotel deals

Since I just had two pretty fantastic – and unexpected – hotel experiences in both Rome and Costa Rica, I thought I would share some details on a few money-saving deals they have going on.  Just in case anyone’s got a spare bit of  dosh over the holidays and needs a splurge!

Rome Cavalieri Planetarium suite terrace

Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts has a winter escape offer valid now through March 31st which includes daily breakfast, and a $50 activity credit per consecutive two-night stay. For example, stay for two nights and get a $50 credit, stay four nights and receive a $100 credit, and so on. The credit can be used towards resort activities, spa treatments, and select dining venues within the hotel. Rates at Rome’s Cavalieri begin at 350 Euro, per room, per night, based on availability.  Or pony up for one of the Imperial floor rooms which start at 420 a night – it comes with access to the Imperial lounge, which has free computer access, a dedicated concierge, and a copious all-day spread of complimentary food and beverage that can more than make up for the  price increase. Plus, you can use that $50 credit towards any of the one-off experiences the hotel can arrange, like tooling around the city in your own Ferrari, a private visit to the Sistine Chapel, or even gladiator training. To book at the Rome Cavalieri, visit http://www.hiltonluxury.com/worldwide.

conchal-white-sand

Starting January 3rd and valid through April 30th, 2010, Paradisus Playa Conchal is offering a 4 night/5 day Spa Getaway Package which includes an in-room welcome gift, a 30-minute facial treatment per person, a private yoga class for two, and an 80-minute signature Shell Massage for each, plus free use of the wet areas and 15% any additional therapies at Ahuia Spa. I can’t recommend the Shell Massage enough:  Tiger Clams are filled with local beach sand, then warmed and used in the same way as hot stones.  The texture of the clamshell is slick however, so there’s no drag against your skin – making the massage that much more relaxing.  Prices per person, per night include all food and beverage as well as most activities, starting at $318 for a Junior Suite.  Opt for a Royal Service Suite – from $398 – and you get a butler, concierge, private pool, and a lounge with computer access and drinks & nibbles throughout the day.  Royal Service also gets you preferential seatings at the hotel’s restaurants, which always comes in handy.  Book the Getaway by calling the hotel directly at (506) 2654 4123 or by emailing [email protected]

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bucket list: 2009 edition – November

NOVEMBER

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GUANACASTE:  Since I have already posted a number of entries on Costa Rica, I thought I would try something different and find a photo that encapsulated some of the spirit of my recent trip.  The country is so “green” – so conscious of how important its natural resources are to the people and the economy – that nearly a quarter of the country is protected by either the government or private concessions.  One of the upshots of such studied conservation is that wildlife is not only abundant but also part of the experience of daily life.  To wit:  a random walk one afternoon brought me face to face with this giant iguana, soaking up the sun in the crook of a low-lying palm on the side of the road.

Gladiator training

ROME:  I’ve already live-blogged extensively about my return to Rome a few weeks ago, so indulge me as I post this photo once again and relive the fantasy of being a well-muscled warrior in the service of Caesar Augustus.  This is, after all, a bucket list!

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live blog: arrivederci roma

arrivederchiIt’s hard to say goodbye.  It’s even more difficult to be cavalier about leaving the cushy confines of the Rome Cavalieri.  Yet my time in Rome has come to an end.  As promised, I’ve eaten my body weight in pasta, consumed enough wine to float my way through the holidays, and am feeling like an extra out of 8 1/2.

More significantly though, I’ve had the chance to reconnect – albeit briefly – with the curious seventeen year old who long ago wandered the city’s maze of streets in awe of this world and the world inside him waiting to be born.  I may be filling my suitcase with pasta and coffee to take back home, but sitting here on my balcony and taking in the birds-eye view of St. Peter’s and the city spread out before me like a sumptuous buffet, I’m thinking I’ve already got myself the best of souvenirs.

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live blog: we who are about to die salute you

beforeWhile there is some dispute as to its veracity, today’s headline is said to be the phrase with which gladiators heralded the emperor before engaging in battle.  What is not in dispute, however, is the authenticity accorded to the life and times of the gladiators by Gruppo Storico Romano.

Warrioris Toolsswords

The Scuola Gladiatori Roma  – an arm of the Gruppo Storico – teaches you how to fight with the same weapons handled by the gladiators of ancient Rome.  Kitted out in sandals, a tunic, and the appropriate armor, you learn how to use the gladius, or typical battlesword. (the word gladiator is itself derived from the word “gladius”.)

But first things first:  let’s warm up with a few cigarettes and cups of espresso.

trainingFirst things First

Then it’s on to training.  Mixing culture and sport you’re trained by doctores (the gladiators’ trainers) before crossing swords in mock battle, trying the deceptive nets and tridents, and studying the methodology of hits and movements in what is a really intense discipline.

Mock battle

Mopck Battles

There’s a reason those gladiators were so ripped:  this stuff is heavy. The best benefit of a few hours thrusting and sweating in the sun with fifty-plus pounds of armor on your back is the guilt-free amount of pasta you can consume later.

we who are about to die

Though I have to confess the Latin geek in me got the biggest rush out of being presented with a certificate granting me the  citizenship accorded to a free man of the Roman Empire – the traditional just reward given to a gladiator victorious in battle.  Veni, vidi, vici!

citizen

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live blog: to die for

P1010451Rome’s Capitoline Museum is a classicist’s nirvana.  Spread across three buildings in a piazza designed by Michelangelo atop the Capitoline Hill , it abuts the Imperial forum of ancient Rome and in one fell swoop binds the Renaissance to its forbears in antiquity.  Recent excavations under the hill have revealed the foundations of the precursor to what stands there now and the preserved balcony provides a view over the forum that’s worthy of an emporer.

The museum houses a bucket list of classical sculpture – along with a few mediocre paintings that are best avoided – and as a self-confessed Latin geek, it was easy for me to spend the better part of an afternoon here thoroughly enrapt.  Three pieces in particular have haunted me for many years for many different reasons:  The Dying Gaul, Cupid & Psyche, and an unknown warrior falling in battle.  Click the images for greater detail.

the dying gaulthe dying gaul - rear

cupid n psyche

torqued warrior

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live blog: bernini or bust

Bernini ChristIt’s well nigh impossible to visit Rome and not come into contact with the work of Bernini, the Renaissance sculptor and architect who was one of the leading artists of his time and a successor to the mantle of Michelangelo.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a genius – let’s just get that out of the way.  Moving beyond the creation of mere objets destined for adoration, he took into account the setting in which each piece would be situated, synthesizing sculpture, painting and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole.  He used light in a revolutionary way, much like Carravagio did a generation before:  hidden, the light source was able to intensify a moment of religious adoration or enhance the narrative of a dramatic moment.  In marble, don’t forget; the man was able to bring this bear while working in marble.

Enjoying the patronage of the Popes, Bernini’s output was vast:  he designed the piazza and colonnade outside St. Peter’s, the Ponte Sainte’Angelo across the Tiber, a handful of massive fountain complexes that to this day remain a focal point of daily Roman life, and hundreds genre-bending sculptures admired for their dynamic movement.  The man also revolutionized the art of marble portraiture, eschewing the stony silent bust in favor of presenting his subjects in mid-conversation or leaning out of the frame.  To put Bernini’s life into a global context, understand that in his later years he was invited to present designs at the court of the Sun King, Louis Quattorze.

Above, the bust of Christ is his last known work.  Completed shortly before his death at the age of 82, it was discovered only recently discovered along the ancient Appian Way, inside the Church of St. Sebastian.  For a little contrast, below is a detail from the gargantuan Fountain of the Four Rivers that dominates the Piazza Navona and the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, which depicts Theresa of Avila anticipating the angle’s arrow and the piercing of God’s love.

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live blog: hottest saint ever

mishima-st-sebastianHands down, the honor goes to St. Sebastian.  Tied to a stake – or sometimes to a tree – Sebastian is never depicted as anything less than young and beautiful, a precursor to the ethereal beauty of Wilde’s Dorian Gray.

What’s so disturbing – or hot, depending on your mindset – is the juxtaposition of death against that useless beauty, because Sebastian is almost always depicted at the point of his martyrdom:  bound and shot full of arrows, the perfection of his alabaster flesh marred only by the bleeding wounds.  His face retains a glow of serenity, sometimes disinterest, and more often than not an almost pre-orgasmic ecstasy.  It’s as though, yes, this moment of immolation is inextricably tied-up with his desire.  Death and le petit mort become one.  The homoeroticism can’t be denied:  St. Sebastian is an S&M fantasy come to life.

Poor guy.  All he did was convert a few prisoners to Christianity.  Unfortunately, that happened to draw the ire of Emperor Diocletian and Sebastian was doomed from that point forward.  What intrigues me, however, is how many painters and sculptors were continually drawn to representing the duality inherent in this sainted archetype.st sebastian appia antica2

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live blog: non rompere le palle!

Gladiator training

Just a little teaser today.  Come back over the weekend for my adventures at Gruppo Storico Romano.

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live blog: tea with tiepolo

teaAfternoon tea is one of those fabulous traditions more closely associated with Great Britain than Italy, yet at the Rome Cavilieri they do a gold-plated high tea against a spectacular backdrop:  a triptych of Tiepolos.

The three large Renaissance panels by Giambatista Tiepolo were bought by the owner of the Cavilieri at an auction of the contents from the Venetian Palazza Sandi.  The Sandi family commissioned Tiepolo back in 1723 and the panels had been hanging in the family home ever since.

Tea with Tiepolo2Under the hammer at Sotheby’s the triptych – Hercules suffocating Anteo, Ulysses discovering Achilles among the daughters of Lycomedes, and Apollo skinning Marsia – set an auction record for a painting in Italy:  7 million euro.  As cultural patrimony they’re considered priceless and recognized as one of only fifty Italian works of art unable to leave the country without approval from the government.

Twenty euro for a proper tea is a steal anyway, but getting a private audience with your own Renaissance masterpieces is priceless.  Dressing like the Doge, alas, is optional.

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live blog: ritorno di roma

lagerfeldReturning to Rome is a little bit like visiting the woman who took my virginity so very long ago.  Mamma Roma was my first European trip away from home; and like all formative firsts, these things have a way of staying with you.  As a student eager to disprove the axiom that every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world, the Eternal City expanded my heart and horizons in way I couldn’t have foreseen.

So it seems strangely appropriate that this morning I was collected at Fiumicino by the beautiful woman above: Marialauro, posing here at the hotel on a settee designed by Lagerfeld, immediately reminded me of a young Anna Magnani.  Coincidence?  I guess we’ll see soon enough.

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