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“Italy the Extraordinary Commonplace”

25 Jan

We often read of the demise of Italy as a major producer and exporter, so the following video was made to counter some of these less than favorable descriptions.

Per Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy,

The video “Italy the extraordinary commonplace” is designed to show Italy beyond stereotypes, a major producer of technological goods and the second European exporter in mechanical engineering and automation. 

Since I love visiting Italy, I found this information to be great news. As for the format, well, leave it to the ever creative Italians. Thanks, Anna, for sharing.



Through His Words: Day Twenty-Seven

7 Jun

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect


Grand Hotel Flora – Roma

August 11, 1938

Darling Modesta

At last I have arrived in the eternal city. I left Siena this morning bright and early, 7:03 AM, and got here this noon. It was awful hot coming down on the train and you could feel it getting hotter as we neared Rome. Siena is much cooler because it is up in the mountains, while Rome is closer to the sea and low.

I had a little lunch and at the same time started to map out what I was going to see. One of the interesting spots is near my hotel, so I walked over to it, the Villa Borghese and the gardens of the Borghese.

In January, I visited The Hotel Flora at the end of Via Veneto overlooking the Borghese gardens, had a wonderful tour, and tried to imagine Alex’s pure delight at seeing the treasures of the eternal city.

Villa Borghese is a large palace now used as an art gallery which contains originals of Michelangelo, Raffaelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Bernini, and other famous sculptors and painters. You know, it is almost fantastic to see the palaces the people in power of those days lived in. We have nothing like it anywhere in America.

Try to imagine a plot of land equal to Columbus Park, only more beautifully landscaped with formal gardens, big old trees, marble and bronze statuary, and wonderful fountains here and there, and the palace about the size of the Art Institute, and you have a pretty fair picture of this villa and gardens.

The Borghese Gardens

The Borghese Gardens

The Borghese family had two popes in it, and these were built when the church was the governing body of the state or country. From a hill nearby, I got a fair panorama of one side of Rome  and I gazed on St. Peter’s and numerous other church domes which could be seen at a distance.

Like Alex, I took several panorama photos of Rome, these from the Grand Hotel Flora’s incredible rooftop deck.

I called up the Fermes when I got back and had quite a long telephone conversation with Mrs. Ferme, because Ferme was out and would not be back until late. She was very glad to talk with someone from Chicago, and judging from her talk, she doesn’t like it here as well as Chicago, especially because her two big boys are back in America. She invited me over for dinner with them tomorrow night, and Ferme is coming over to see me in the morning to give me some information on how to see as much of Rome in five days as possible. She asked about you and sends her best regards.

Tonight after supper, I walked quite a bit and saw the Coliseum, The Forum, the ruins of this and that, and many structures dating back several centuries before Christ.

The impression is awe inspiring, the city is wonderfully clean, and the streets are lined with beautiful trees of tropical nature, palms, magnolias, etc. Tomorrow I shall start about visiting these places and probably make the Vatican in St. Peter’s first. It is going to take a lot of time here because there is so much to see. Will let you know more tomorrow night.

Greetings to the family and a big and tight embrace for you.” Wait until I get home!”

Yes, he wrote that!

Love, Al




Through His Words: Day Twenty-Four (2nd letter)

29 May

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect


Hotel De Rome

August 8, 1938

Hello Darling

Well I sure got my fill of walking today. Florence is filled with art treasures of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, etc. There are three large art galleries: Galleria Pitti, Uffizi, and Museum of San Marco. They are blocks long and filled with paintings and sculptures of the famous old masters.

Outside the Uffizi

Outside the Uffizi

Dante’s house, the Cathedral and Ponte Vecchio all date back centuries and yet they are here and used as if they were built only yesterday.

The Duomo –

The Duomo -

The Duomo –

Baptistry doors -

Baptistry doors –

My feet actually ache and I just got through taking a bath and treating my feet to soothe them a little. I am glad in a way that Joe was not with me, because he could never stand up under the strain, especially with a bad heart. It is just impossible to see everything worthwhile seeing in only a few days. It takes at least a week and I can’t spare that much time. I leave one place thinking it has the best in sculpture, painting, tapestries, etc., only to find the next place is richer than the one before. It actually makes you dizzy trying to take it all in.

Ponte Vecchio -

Ponte Vecchio –

I intend on leaving for Pisa and Montecatini at 8:10 in the morning and coming back to Florence later in the evening. Then I shall get to Siena for a half day and then Rome.

Pisa -

Pisa –

Pisa -

Pisa –

So much for my activities, now how about you? I still haven’t had word from you and I am actually starving for want of something from home. What in the world has happened? If you wrote me even after I landed here, I should have received your letters by now. Fortunately, I have met many Americans who are traveling about the same itinerary as I am, and it has been a comfort because as long as we are Americans when we meet here, we have a feeling of being neighbors.

It’s easy to understand Alex’s growing concern for news from home, especially after more than three weeks. His tone now had a slight edge to it that came across even on paper. Fortunately, there was much to keep him busy and distract him, at least until writing time, which was usually late at night when he was tired.

I have given up hope of hearing from you until I get to Rome now, but I hope to God I’ll get mail there, otherwise I’ll go nutty. I am starting to miss you more every day and the only medicine good for it is a letter from you. So good night and pleasant dreams. Love to the children and a big kiss for you, Al




David – clothed?

22 Mar
Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A replica of Michelangelo’s magnificent Renaissance piece, David, now stands in the town of Okuizumo, Japan. As you might expect, the marble replica of David is tall, 16 feet in fact, and also naked, as Michelangelo had intended. One would expect the town’s people to be delighted with the artistic addition,


however, according to a town official, some of the residents are asking that David be given…underwear. Hmmm. “It is the first time we have had anything like this in our town,” said Yoji Morinaga. “Perhaps people were perplexed.”

As for me, the old adage to leave well enough alone seems to apply. However, if they are serious about clothing David after all these years,

English: Michelangelo's David (original statue...

Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia in Firenze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would suggest the town could richly benefit from a lotto to select a seamstress!




In the News in Rome

18 Oct

The Conflict

A few weeks ago, in an open letter published in Corriere della Sera, famed Italian literary critic and biographer Pietro Citati recounted his last visit to the Sistine Chapel after not visiting it for several years. In the letter, Citati essentially told the Vatican that it needed to severely limit the number of annual visitors to the Sistine Chapel. During his visit last year, Citati was appalled by what he encountered. A translation of his words shows his disgust:

“It was an unimaginable disaster. The great hall was filled with many hundreds of people: heavy jackets, coats, hats, hoods, raincoats, and umbrellas. Breaths from visitors formed halos, vapors and mists that hung at the ceiling around the Last Judgment, the Creation of Adam and the Sibyls. I believe that in a short time, it will be necessary to restore the Sistine Chapel again, and then, without some limits, gradually the heavy human breath will again fill the vast ceiling of the chapel.”

He also criticized the clapping and loud interruptions from the guards admonishing all to be silent, further inhibiting one’s ability to contemplate the majestic surroundings. Citati compared the visitors to “drunken herds” who end up confused and ultimately see nothing.

The Response

The Vatican’s response, as reported in L’Osservatore Romano, noted that five million people visit the Sistine Chapel each year to admire Michelangelo’s 16th century frescoes.  “We are now in the epoch of mass tourism, millions of people want to enjoy the culture of the past; it is a phenomenon of which we are perfectly aware and which must be faced…” The manager of the Vatican museums added “for the past two years, a study has been under way for the renewal of the ventilation system and damp control. But restricted entry is unthinkable. The Sistine is not only a place of art; it is also a consecrated chapel, a compendium of theology, and a true and proper catechism in pictures.”

A Personal Story

When I was a student in Rome in 1971-2, and my parents came to visit, they had scheduled a tour of the Sistine Chapel through a priest at our home parish.  Back then, there were significantly fewer tourists, so tours of this nature were not so unusual.  Note the daytime picture below of me standing outside the Vatican…it’s NEVER this empty anymore!

Judy (left) at the Vatican

As I recall, we didn’t walk through miles of halls en route to the Chapel, but entered fairly close to the Chapel itself. As our priest guide was explaining various details about paintings in the great halls to my parents, I wandered off alone and through a doorway into another room. Stunned, I looked around, then up at the ceiling…the fingers almost touching…The Creation of Adam….I was in the Sistine Chapel…alone. Truly, honestly, alone, with Michelangelo and his incredible years of work. I will never forget that moment or that sight.

Shortly after, I heard my parents’ slight gasps as they too entered this magnificent room. We stood in awe, mouths open, unable to speak. Together with our guide, we lingered with great astonishment and incredible admiration.

I have visited the Sistine Chapel several times over the last dozen years. Each time, however, the visit grew more and more crowded, noisy and frustrating, so I fully understand Pietro Citati’s concern and dismay. Noisy and sweaty tourists on smart phones stand shoulder to shoulder, often ignoring the ban on flash photography or the request for silence. And yet, limiting entry to the one of the greatest artistic creations of all time is, in the words of the museum director, unthinkable. “The time when only Russian grand dukes, English lords or experts … had access to the great masterpieces of art is definitely over.”

How does the Vatican save yet share, preserve yet provide? Somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum lies the answer. I wonder what Michelangelo would suggest.




8 Jun

Just returned from four busy days in Roma. If you love large cities, and perhaps even not, Rome is always amazing. Around each corner waits a surprise, often of unbelievable proportion. Imagine walking down the street, turning the corner, and seeing the Coliseum and Arch of Constantine.

Look to your right and the Forum and Palatine Hill await you.

BNG: Forum

BNG: Forum

Another day, you cross the Tiber River en route to Vatican City and all of its treasures, my very favorite always being Michelangelo’s Pieta.


Swiss guard

BNG: Vatican

In between Trattorias, fountains and bustling piazzas, you make your way to the Pantheon, and wonder in amazement just how they managed to build it with a hole in the center.

BNG: Pantheon

Whether day or night in Roma, you make your way to the Trevi Fountain and throw in a coin, if of course, you hope to return! Not leaving anything to chance, we stop by day and night. As legend has it, late at night for many years a man cleaned out all the coins in the fountain. Eventually, the Italian tax man came calling!

Trevi by day

Trevi at night

In Rome, our cast of characters changed. Michael left for the US after a great vacation and our friends Sandy and Larry joined us. In addition, Sarah’s parents met up with us in Rome and now for a few days, we are all in Cortona.

Cortona Pizzeria

Will respond soon to all the comments I’ve received lately…love hearing from you!




29 May

Just returned from two wonderful days in Firenze.

Yesterday, we took the 1.5-hour train ride from the Cortona/Camucia station, dropped our luggage at a small B&B,

Ricotta fresca

and headed to Piazza della Repubblica for lunch at Le Giubbe Rosse. The pizza was delicious and the fresh ricotta and tomatoes… simple and delicious!

From our table, I could see the balcony of the room at the Savoy where we celebrated my parents’ 50th anniversary. On either side of the balcony is a statue – one male, one female. When I see them, I always think my parents are smiling down at us, happy that we are still celebrating their lives and the legacies they left us.

Savoy Hotel, balcony upper right

After lunch,  we walked to Piazza del Duomo, Firenze’s historical center containing the Cathedral, the Baptistery (correct spelling!) and the Campanile, or bell tower.  The magnificent façades consist of an intricate pattern of green, white and reddish pink tiles, which you can see better if you click on Benita’s photo.

Duomo facade

As summer months go, May is definitely a tourist’s paradise, especially on Mondays. Crowds are lighter as kids are still in school and the big galleries are closed, so fewer tour groups crowd the city.

That said, we were able to walk right into the Cathedral, also known as Santa Maria del Fiore. The cathedral’s dome, engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi and built between 1420-1436, is considered the most impressive feature. Benita is able to stitch shots together, providing this impressive view of the dome and altar.

Duomo altar and dome

The  Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Until the 19th century, all Catholics in the city were baptized in the octagon-shaped Baptistery. Some of the more notable baptisms include Dante and members of the Medici family. The bronze doors of the Baptistery include copies of 28 reliefs depicting scenes from the Bible. The originals are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

Today we had reservations (no waiting in long lines!) for the Uffizi Gallery, world renown for magnificent works of art and the Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David. So much art and culture in one city…truly overwhelming, each and every visit.  Both galleries now prohibit any photography, but did not years ago when I was a student in Italy. I am reminded once again to pull out the hundreds of slides I took back them and convert them to current media.

On a sad note, there was another earthquake today in northern Italy. When we were at the train station returning to Cortona, they were talking about the difficulty getting to and around Bologna. Fortunately, Firenze and its treasures were not affected.

On a lighter note, at the exit of the Accademia in the garden across from the bookstore, there is a David that can be photographed. I must admit that after being in the trance that David causes, I felt the outside David was a bit sacrilegious. But since this David is provided by the museum, I guess you should  see it!

Also at the Accademia!

A wonderful trip!



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