Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dead in Roma

In Rome, one the primary focuses of our educational mission was to help our students to learn to become better tourists. Our hope was that during their time in the program they would broaden their tolerance for and understanding of other cultures while learning to see their own in a new light. Ideally, their experience abroad would teach them to be more deeply critical and appreciative of their own, American culture. This mission seems especially important in the face of contemporary tourist behaviors which are often complacent if not outright malicious.

Today, I ran across this article in The Independent. The article is about two Roma girls (more commonly known by the slur "Gypsy") who drowned at a beach in Napoli. Their bodies were hauled ashore, towels laid over them, and then left on the beach for upwards of three hours before authorities arrived. During that time the vacationers at the beach continued to swim with little regard for the dead women. The picture in the article depicts some of these vacationers lounging only tens of feet away.

Incidents like this force me to wonder if some sort of moral or ethical education should be a necessary component of a study abroad program. Of course, there is a certain morality implied in the pedagogy of broadened horizons, but only implied, and really very softly so. This picture shows tourists carrying on with their tourism in the presence of two freshly dead teenagers. I'd like to assume that this sort of disregard for human life is beyond the behavior of our students, but I would have assumed it beyond anyone. Additionally, I have to wonder if this incident is indicative of an attitude about going abroad, especially to Europe for Americans, that dictates a disregard for ethics and morality. The logic being that since some laws do not apply while visiting another country, no laws apply.

It is easy to forget that there is a large and very lucrative dark side to tourism. Some Western men visit South East Asian countries because sex with children is either legal or the laws against it are not enforced. Some people visit other countries to hunt animals that would normally be illegal to hunt. Other people visit certain countries to do drugs they cannot do at home. There is a reasonable case to be made that many American college student enjoy studying abroad in European countries because few have legal drinking ages. While not all of these acts are morally equivalent (for example, raping a Cambodian child is not the moral equivalent of getting stoned in Amsterdam), the will to escape the legal authority of one's country of origin is. Call it the meidung effect (meidung complex?). And, it is easy to confuse these acts of transgression, that have their genesis in a rejection of the law, as morally comparable because of this concomitant disregard for the law.

So, although drinking to excess is not the moral equivalent of doing nothing about a dead body, both acts can be, however accidentally, rationalized as a part of the experience of being abroad. The logic being that if one is able to jettison one moral norm from home, why cannot one jettison another, and another, and so on. This is a particularly difficult lesson to teach, because a study abroad program is usually focused so heavily on getting students to open up to foreign cultural norms, that the lessons of when and how to reject them are rarely important enough to be included in a curriculum. Educators assume that they do not have to add "unless someone is dying and no one else will help" to the end of "When in Rome..."

So one has to wonder how this happened. Do the Italians really not care at all about a couple of dead Roma children? Were there no Italians around? Did the tourists not know who to call? Were the tourists simply fitting in with the Italian culture by ignoring the human tragedy laid on the beach before them? Is it a normal human behavior to ignore the dead body of stranger?

Ultimately, I doubt that our students need such a simple moral lesson, but they might need a practical lesson in who to call if you see someone in trouble. They also might need to be told that fitting in to another culture does not mean that they have to accept and engage in every behavior. They have the space in their luggage to pack their morality, ethics, golden rule, religion, or whatever else it might be that guides their decisions about right and wrong when they travel abroad and perhaps that needs to be a part of (even if a small part) the study abroad curriculum.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Heavy Metal Monk

In Italy I learned that different orders of friars often specialize in certain activities as a means of making money. For example, some orders make candy or alcohol and sell it to tourists. While there seems to be no indication that Cesare Bonizzi is in it for the money, this is certainly an interesting activity for a holy man.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pictures of Rome

Motivated by my trip to the Eternal City and fond memories from my time in The Protege Philharmonic, I purchased a copy of Respighi's "Pines of Rome" as performed by the CSO under Reiner. I have listened through the work three or four times since it came in the mail this morning. It has been fun to relive my high school orchestra days a little, even in this pathetically detached way. Regardless of the sentimentalism, the beauty of Respighi's work justifies a listen, especially for anyone who has visited Rome. Part of the theme of the first movement, "Pines of the Villa Borghese," was used as the basis for the childhood theme in the movie Shoe-Shine. We watched the depressing, but moving DeSica film in our Italian Neo-Realist film class which ultimately motivated the purchase.

When I ordered the CD, I did not pay close attention to the album art. As it turns out, the cover is plastered with nine images of famous places in Rome including the Colosseum, Fountain of the Naiads, Trevi Fountain, Appian Way, and the Fountain of Neptune. These images make sense on face because both the "Pines of Rome" and the "Fountains of Rome" by Respighi seek to recreate places in Rome through what is referred to as symphonic poetry. In the "Pines of Rome," the last movement is supposed to represent the pines of the Appian Way and this album cover appears to sport at least two pictures of it (maybe three; it is difficult to tell). The third movement of the "Fountains of Rome" is named after the Trevi Fountain and the fountain is also featured prominently in the upper right hand corner of the album cover. The center picture is of the Triton Fountain which is at the north end of the Piazza Navona and the name Respighi gave to the second movement in the "Fountains of Rome."

The project of matching visual representations with musical representations of places in Rome seems straightforward enough, but the album cover also includes a picture of the Colosseum centered at the bottom. None of the movements of "Pines or Rome," "Fountains of Rome," or "Roman Festivals," Respighi's three symphonic poems on the topic of Rome, attempt to depict the Colosseum in any way. It seems that the memetic momentum of the image of the Colosseum alone justifies its inclusion on the cover of the album. Similarly, the Fountain of the Naiads located in the Piazza della Republica is included to the immediate left of the Colosseum. While not as famous a site in Rome as the Colosseum, the fountain is very well known and is often depicted in pictures framed similarly to the one used here. It seems that the Colosseum and Naiads have been included for the sake of making the Roman theme of the CD as recognizable as possible. I guess it is too bad Respighi did not capitulate in selecting the most recognizable locations to title his movements by.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Pictures from Rome

I've poster about sixty of the better images to my flickr account. Follow the link to see them. Many of them overlap with what I have already posted here, but a few do not. They are also searchable on flickr.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

School of Athens

Communities of artists, particularly painters, when they are grouped together are often referred to as belonging to the same school. Most often artistic schools are named after the place where the artists were from or one of the leading artists in the group. It seems as though there have been artistic schools named after half of the cities in Italy: Florence, Venice, Padua.

One artist who inspired a following that was named for him was Raphael. Raphael's works can be found all over Rome. At the Barberini gallery there is a painting called "La Fornarina" that is said to have been his lover as painted by him. At the Borghese Gallery, one can see both "Young Woman with Unicorn" and "The Deposition of Christ." The Vatican Museums contain some of Raphael's most celebrated work. Aside from "The School of Athens" pictured above, the Vatican Museums also have "The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament" and "The Transfiguration of Christ."

Some artistic schools, like that of Raphael, are created around great artistry, but not necessarily as an act of premedidated creation by the artists themselves. In fact, many times the label of "The School of..." is an anarchronistic term inscribed over a set of works that seem to hang together in some important historical way. In Raphael's painting, "The School of Athens," an intellectual school is being overtly created through his art. The term itself is an example of an anachronistic label. Many of the thinkers depicted did not exist in the same place or at the same time. Zoroaster, depicted the bottom left, would never have been in the same place as Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy to whom he is supposedly talking. The reverence for these classical figures was a central expression of the Renaissance and depicting them in the same room with important Christian images was part of Pope Julius II's project of incorporating the pursuit of knowledge into the Catholic Church's agenda.

Raphael's painting thus makes us aware of the politics of a such a label as "The School of..." That label is imbued with a lot of power. Depending upon the value associated with the school being identified, the label can enhance or devalue the works of certain artists and thinkers. It can also group together or tear apart certain artists and thinkers who may have other ideas about how their work relates to the work of others. It is interesting to find that even metaphorical schools cannot escape force of politics.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Damnatio Memoriae tu Geta?

One of the more fascinating aspects of being in Rome and getting to see art from the Republican and Imperial periods, is that there are many figures who have been excluded. For example, I have not seen a single bust of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix. Busts of Sulla do exist. There is a bust of the dictator in the Glyptothek in Munich, but I have not seen any here in Rome. At the National Museum of Rome, I was able to see a series of three busts including one that must be similarly rare.

As I discussed in an earlier post, I was assigned to read about this fella, the emperor Septimius Severus for a seminar that I took at WIU. He is the one with the arch in the Forum. He is also known for being the first emperor to be born in Rome's African Province. He was known for cleaning up corruption in the senate, but doing so by turning Rome into a thinly veiled military dictatorship. Septimius had two children; one became the emperor Caracalla and the other was named Geta.

Not surprisingly, there are busts of Caracalla in almost every major museum in Rome. I think I have photographed four or five of them at this point and this picture is from the same room in the National Museum of Rome as the Septimius bust above. After the death of Septimius Severus, Caracalla came to power with his brother, Geta. They were within a year of the same age of each other, although Geta was the younger of the two. After less than a year of sharing power with each other, Caracalla had his brother and most of hist brother's family and supporters killed. He then had the senate order a "damnatio memoriae" or damnation of Geta's memory. The order meant that all public records of Geta's existence, especially including monuments like busts, had to be destroyed. The order aims to enact governmental auto-amnesia.

So, when I saw this bust, which is labeled "Geta?" by the museum, I was fascinated. At first, I thought it surprising to see a bust that could possibly be Geta at all because it was theoretically ordered destroyed. Then, I had to wonder if since it was Geta's memory that was damned, perhaps this bust which does not bear an inscription labeling it "Geta" did not have to be destroyed. In any case, the African features and brotherly resemblance present in the bust's face do seem to make a compelling case for this being Geta Severus.

It is interesting to see this process of purposeful forgetting at work in Rome. We certainly have modern equivalents that seem less pernicious such as striking evidence from the record in a courtroom, but we also have some less benign habits of forgetting collectively. It is easy to forget (heh, irony) statements like George HW Bush's at the end of the Gulf War "By God, we've kicked the Vietname Syndrome once and for all!" At the time, George C. Herring wrote an insightful article about the statement in Foreign Affairs (1). He pointed out the effort that has gone into remembering Vietnam in the United States as a self-inflicted defeat.

Of course, the effort that goes into remembering events in a particular way as a society will come as no surprise to scholars of public memory, but to see it at work all the way back in ancient Rome lends a historical view to the process that grounds it as one of the basic behaviors of collective government. That is, to the things governments have sought to control throughout history (territory, violence, loyalty, etc.) collective memory can be added. It is also interesting that the Ancient Romans could at least be legally honest with what they were doing. They had a process and a declaration for purposeful forgetting; it did not happen surreptitiously.

Further on in the National Museum, I ran across an exhibit of mosaics from the one of the Severus Family's villas. A plaque there explained that the villa was identified as the Severus's because Geta's name was etched onto the pipes of the plumbing. I guess some shit isn't worth digging up for the sake of forgetting.

1. George C. Herring, "America and Vietnam: The Unending War," Foreign Affairs (Winter, 1991): 104.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Om Nom Nom Nom

"You like being a liar, with pants constantly on fire?" - The Monarch

The picture is of me at Santa Maria in Cosmedin. This is where our class started our walk up the Aventine Hill. I walk by this church everyday on the way to and from class and there is always a line out front to do just what I am doing. My pensive posture and forced smile are a result of the legend that accompanies the large stone slab into which I am resting my left hand. The "Bocca della Verita" or "Mouth of Truth" is the ancient Roman equivalent of a lie detector. If you have been telling lies and you stick your hand in the stone mouth, it is said that the monument will bite your hand off (1). While I have no illusions about the inanimate nature of the piece of stone, it does appear entirely possible that the rock might break on someone having the same effect as biting. It is amusing to watch people get their picture taken at the monument. Few dwell for very long with their hand it its mouth.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 202.

Death and the Protestant Work Ethic

On Thursday this week, the class took a trip to Rome's Protestant Cemetery. The cemetery is located in Testaccio, the neighborhood in which the other graduate students and I are living. "Protestant," in this case, has a broader meaning than it does in the states. "Protestant" simply means non-Catholic, so there are Jewish people, Eastern Orthodox people, and atheists buried in the cemetery.

This picture is of Caius Cestius' pyramid. It was constructed around the time of his death in the early years of Imperial Rome (12 BC or so). The pyramid was inspired by Rome's contemporaneous military adventures in Egypt (1). The expression of wealth and power along with the will to be remembered that have manifested themselves in an excellently preserved pyramid for two thousand years are remarkable. If Cestius' concern was that he would not be forgotten by future generations, he has thus far succeeded.

Most of the plots in the Protestant Cemetery are much more modest. Among the significant figures buried there are the poets John Keats and Lord Byron, and the post-Marxist philosopher/political theorist Antonio Gramsci. On the left is a picture of Keats' grave (it is the headstone in the foreground). Although it is difficult to read, the bottom two lines say, "Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water." Keats' wish was that this message would be the only thing written on his grave stone. The particular linguistic request is reflective of his life as a poet; one who must choose words carefully. The grave itself has become a place of pilgrimage for many of the fans of his poetry. It is actually interactive in a sense, like Jim Morrison's grave in Paris. Instead of leaving graffiti (which I think is much cooler), the appropriate ritual is to author a poem and to leave a piece of paper with the poem on it under a stone at his grave.

Keats' is not the only quasi-interactive grave site in the cemetery. Many of the other grave sites invite those who are paying their respects to appreciate the memorial in such a way as to honor the life's work of the deceased. One example is this grave on the right. The dead, Giuseppe Perugini, was an architect who worked in the modern style. The cube set akimbo demonstrates a geometric design and skill. Among Giuseppe's contributions as a modern architect was his work on the Monument of Fosse Ardeatine. The monument marks the place where, during the German occupation of Rome toward the end of the Second World War, German soldiers executed over three hundred Italians as retaliation for an ambush attack led by the Italian resistance in Rome. None of the executed were tried in anyway or shown to be connected in the slightest to the ambush. The killings were designed to by simple intimidation. Among the killed were around seventy Jewish-Italians who had been initially imprisoned only for being Jewish. It seems appropriate that an architect who helped design a grave in the honor of so many of his massacred countrymen (the killed were all men) should also have a grave appropriately honoring his life (2).

Some of the other graves represent the entombed in interesting way that I do not understand because I cannot find historical information on the deceased that would explain the nature of the grave.

The best example of these interesting grave sites is this particularly beautiful grave where Emelyn Story is interred. She was the wife of William Wetmore Story. Willaim was an American sculptor and art critic who spent much of his time in Rome. He is also buried the Protestant Cemetery. William was the son of Joseph Story, the United States Supreme Court Justice from the first half of the nineteenth century. Additionally, the character Kenyon, from Nathanial Hawthorne's The Marble Faun is thought to be based in part on Mr. Story.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 205.

2. A. Stille, Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 214.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More Jerome

I took this lousy picture of the Vatican's only painting by Leonardo da Vinci on Wednesday when we visited the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Museums are an extensive complex including ancient Roman art, Etruscan art, Egyptian art, Mesopotamian art, some of the best paintings of the Italian Renaissance, and the Sistine Chapel. At least, those are the parts of the museum that I saw.

Not surprisingly, much of the art on display is religious. The vast collections include art on a number of Christina topics, St. Jerome the Penitent among them. The da Vinci painting above was never fully completed. It was not recognized as a work of art by the great artist until the nineteenth century and was acquired by the Vatican in mid-century. Jerome is portrayed by da Vinci in a typical pose in his study. He is staring at a crucifix while writing. Unlike many of the other paintings I have seen of St. Jerome, including Caravaggio's, there is a lion in the image. Apparently, there is a medieval story about St. Jerome removing a thorn from a lion's foot, hence the lounging beast. This is very different from the depictions of lions many saints martyred in the Coliseum enjoy in paints of them.

Another meme in St. Jerome paintings is the presence of the Trumpet of Doom. I first saw this figure when I visited Doria-Pomphilj Gallery, a gallery located in the same building as our classrooms. The Gallery has a painting by Jusepe de Ribera in which St. Jerome is startled by the trumpet. This painting is by Pier Francesco Mola and hangs in the Vatican Museums not far from da Vinci's St. Jerome. You can see the trumpet in the upper left and St. Jerome appears to be turning his right ear toward it.

The Trumpet of Doom is the instrument that is supposed to sound on the day of judgment. Since St. Jerome was known for his penance as well as his intellectual contributions to the Catholic Church, it makes sense that he would be attuned to hearing the trumpet's announcements. Confession is motivated by the need to be on the right side when the final day of judgment comes around, so St. Jerome's special attention to the trumpet is a reflection of his penatant bent. It is interesting to think that salvation that many seek when they enter the confessional at St. Maria Liberatrice and in other churches is prophesied to begin with a sound on this instrument. Although it is termed "Doom," for many the trumpet is the herald of ultimate salvation.

One more place where I found St. Jerome was in one of the giant frescoes in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican. Raphael depicted St. Jerome in a blue robe in the center of the painting pointing toward the heavens and apparently lecturing the other important church figures around him.

Pax Romericana

I decided to sneak back up to the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, where the Mausoleum of Augustus is located, when I read about the accompanying Altar of Peace. According to the information in the museum the altar was actually ordered to be built by the Roman Senate in 13 BC. The altar is supposed to celebrate the conquering of Spain and Gaul by Augustus. It was an extremely important monument in Imperial Rome that inaugurated the Pax Romana, a period of time during which Rome controlled the entire Mediterranean coastline. The altar itself is a reproduction using pieces of the original work.

Most of the museum's interior space is dedicated to displaying the reproduced structure. The outer walls enclose the massive altar. The altar was a part of a larger complex of monuments including the Mausoleum of Augustus that is across the street. On the ancient campus, the tomb and the altar were not set so close together and a large field between them was used for military exercises. Thus, not only are the altar and the mausoleum expressions of the power of Augustus, but the overall complex which they were a part of was a staging ground for the military demonstration of Roman Imperial might.

Aside from the Altar of Peace, the museum has a full-scale reproduction of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti printed on its outer wall facing the piazza. Translating to "The Life and Deeds of Augustus;" the Res Gestae was a long text listing all of Augustus's accomplishments as the first emperor of Rome. Some of the highlights of the text include a reference to the killing of Julius Caesar and the proud declaration that Augustus was saluted as imperator twenty-one times during his reign (hence the name of the piazza). A large section of the document innumerates the achievements of Augustus to the tune of, "I did X, X many times." Additionally, this list of accomplishments is told in the first person, as if you are in the presence of Augustus as he explains to you how great he is. This is the expression of power at its most overt.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Politics and Art at the Power Plant

As an undergraduate at Western Illinois University I was fortunate to be able to take an Ancient Rome seminar taught by a Dr. Brice. I enjoyed the class immensely, despite some embarrassing errors on my part as an ill-prepared undergraduate. Once I had settled in Rome, I decided to email Dr. Brice and ask him if he had any suggestions for how I should use my time and specifically, how I can best explore the themes that I am interested in here in the city (politics and art, schools, and the confessional at St. Maria Liberatrice). He responded to the first topic suggesting that I broaden my scope (presumably historically) in considering expressions of power. In particular, he suggested visiting the Centrale Montemartini. That was a few weeks ago, so he probably assumes that I've forgotten, but I haven't. I had an opportunity to visit yesterday and the following are some musing on my experience.

The Centrale Montemartini is a museum that is part of the Capitoline Museums group because it displays ancient Roman sculpture from the same national collections. The building is the former Giovanni Montemartini Thermoelectric Centre, which was Rome's first power plant. In the museum, art from ancient Rome and the pieces of the power plant are displayed along with one another. Both the sculptures and the plant itself are presented as works of art in their own right and, of course, both represent power; electrical and political.

The most surprising aspect of the museum is probably how well the pieces of the power plant hold up as works of art in and of themselves. The piece on the left is part of the first section of the ground floor. Its description, unlike the descriptions of the sculpture in the museum was only given in Italian and so I am not sure what purpose it served within the power plant. I can only remark similarly on the piece of machinery on the right that I found upstairs in the garden room. The design of the Centrale may appear to be a simple gutted and cleaned power plant with sculpture added at first, but all of these pieces of machinery were left purposefully. Additionally, depending upon where one is in the museum, certain pieces of machinery have been covered. That is, not all of the power plant is on display as art, much of the first floor's apparatuses have either been removed or disguised behind newly constructed walls.

Each of the machines left in the museum as pieces in the gallery represent the artistic form of the implements of electricity production. They all fit into a particular style of purpose-made industrial artifact. That is, they all represent the production of electricity. Moreover, some do so physically in addition to in their purpose. This control panel includes a number of gauges that literally represent power, its current, capacity, and resistance. These representations were designed to be of use for those who control the plant, but looking at the control panel itself there does appear to be a certain artistic form in its production. The gauges relevant to the person adjusting the dials are set at eye and slightly higher than eye-level, while a couple of critical gauges, which may be important enough for more people in the plant to be able to keep track of, are set up high above the panel. This expands my understanding of the representation of power, but not, perhaps, in the way Dr. Brice intended me to.

Most of the sculpture in the Centrale Montemartini is from the late republic and early imperial age in Rome. As you can see above, most of the sculpture is presented in such a way as to use the power plant itself as a staging ground. The interior of the museum that is not the power plant itself is all painted in one of the three colors: white, blue, and green. The downstairs galleries are white, the upstairs power generation room is blue, and the upstairs room containing pieces from the garden like the one immediately above this paragraph is green. The monochrome rooms do their best to allow the ancient art to be juxtaposed with the modern/industrial/found art without any distractions. With many of the pieces, human physical and political power is staged by industrial electrical power. The classical meets the industrial in the clash of white marble in front of black steel.

A plaque at the museum explained that portraiture was one of the most important and widespread artistic representations during the fading days of the Roman Republic. This bust is an example of this work. It is not known who this bust is supposed to be, but since the person it represents was able to have a bust made of himself, he was presumably of some noble standing in Rome. The plaque indicates that the precarious nature of the late republic in Rome made for particularly fierce politics. This in turn enhanced the need for representations of the self and one's power. The increasingly wealth and numbers of the noble class all competing for a few choice political positions may explain the stern countenance of this particular bust.

This is a bust of interest to me personally. It is the emperor Septimius Severus. Aside from being the first emperor of Rome to come from Rome's North African territories and having a landmark arch in his honor still standing in Rome, he was the emperor I was assigned to read about in Dr. Brice's class. I had to read a biography about him and while I do not have my notes here to be sure, I think it was the Birley.

This particularly striking statue is of the Empress Agrippina. She was the wife of Claudius and the mother of Nero. She was also a great granddaughter of Rome's first emperor, Augustus. Being both the wife and mother of an emperor, even if the emperor she mothered was not a good one, made her extremely important in her own right. It is important to note that such a statue is not merely representation of her husband or son's power, it is a display of her own.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Boys' Town Rome

On Friday, the whole class took a trip to the Boys' Town in Rome. The Roman Boys' Town was started by an Irish Catholic priest named John Carroll-Abbing just after World War II. From the tour that we received on the premises, we learned that the Boys' Town in Rome currently serves about sixty-five students who live on campus, but also serves other children who attend the public schools located there. The schools are open for the admission of students who are not living on the campus.

Boys' Town is particularly interesting from a pedagogical standpoint because the boys there run their own government and are allowed to make many of their own decisions. The picture above is of the town hall where the boys meet to make these decisions. They elect their leaders to two-month terms, decide who does what labor, punish each other for breaking rules, and can even expel other members of the community for behavior that is unacceptable. The current mayor of Boys' Town, a high school-aged boy from Morocco, explained that during meetings, only the citizens of the town are allowed to speak. Others, such as the adults that help run the facility, have to seek special permission to participate.

This hands-on learning is fascinating pedagogically. To be able to generate a stable community in which the students govern themselves is very difficult. A learning environment like this one makes the student councils and student governments that we are used to at home look laughable. Maintaining such a potentially volatile community successfully for so many years is a testament to the quality of the students and instructional staff at Boys' Town.

Historically, boys' town is even more impressive that it is today. At one time, the boys themselves participated in the building of the facilities buildings and in the production of the products that it sells such as wine. Child labor laws have put a stop to this practice, but to think that the citizens of Boys' Town in the fifties and sixties would have generated this community, gone to school, and worked economically profitable jobs is almost unbelievable. The expectations placed on most American students are far fewer. Seldom do American students work full-time, even through college, let alone through junior high or high school. To be able to do this and to collectively manage the health of the community is a lot to ask of even privileged students.

Today, the students spend less time working (they still do chores around the campus), instead, they learn a set of skills that are designed to make them desirable to future employees. For example, Toyota donated a couple computer labs to the school and the students attend computer classes and other technical classes. At the end of the curriculum, the students earn a technical certificate that is supposed to be recognized by employers in Italy as well as other European countries.

Another recent change for Boys' Town has come in the demographics of the student population. Increasingly, Boys' Town is being populated by boys from the Middle East, specifically Afghanistan. Today, over one third of the boys living at the campus (I was told twenty-three) are Afghans. This is a result of the violence there following the US invasion in response to September Eleventh. It is easy to forget that political decisions made in the United States, regardless of the merit or demerit, have real effects in other parts of the world, but this is one place where those effects cannot be so easily ignored.

Forgive Me Santa Maria in Trestevere

On Friday, Mike, Mia, Hillary, and I went to visit Santa Maria in Trestevere. Mike explained that the fourth century church claims to have been the first to be dedicated to Mary and she is featured prominently in the gilded depiction on the facade above the portico. Although, the church is among the oldest in Rome and consequently an important historic site, I found myself interested in the confessionals inside.

I found this piece of paper on one of the confessionals. The text appears to have two confessional prayers that can be read to the priest to initiate penance. The first is addressed to God and the second to Jesus (also, God by way of transubstantiation). Apparently, if you are not sure how you should properly begin to ask forgiveness because you are too distraught with your sins or simply nervous you are allowed to use this cheat-sheet. All kidding aside, I do have to wonder how it is actually used. That is, if giving a formal prayer to initiate penance is expected at St. Mary's in Trestevere or if it is an optional formality. There was no similar sheet on the confessionals in St. Maria Liberatrice in Testaccio, so the need to begin confession with this specific formal prayer is probably not a church edict in Rome. Nevertheless, there is some sort of expectation and some set of norms for how one begins confession. In the US we tend to think of this as the brief statement, "Father, forgive me for I have sinned..." I have to wonder if this sheet is bearing the Italian equivalent. That is, if there is one.

In order to determine if the the prayer was a recognizable Catholic standard, I made a half-hearted attempt at translating it using a combination of Babelfish and an Italian-English dictionary. After getting a couple lines down and then searching them in quotes on Google, I did not find anything. There are a lot of Catholic prayers, so this does not necessarily mean anything. Additionally, this particularly prayer may have been authored by the church officials involved with St. Mary's in Trestevere and thus might not be recognized more widely by the Catholic Church.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bush Protest

When we heard that President Bush would be coming to town our first reaction was, "Oh no; did you hear about what happened last year?" Our second reaction was, "who wants to go check the protest?" And so we did.

The protest was scheduled for five o'clock in the Piazza della Republica. We arrived a little bit before five and people were lining up across the street from the Fountain of the Naiads. Naiads are lake nymphs and the fountain features four of them, each riding her own fish-monster beneath the cool spray of the fountain. In the center of it all, Glaucus, appearing to take no interest in the bathing/fish-riding nymphs, wrestles his own fish-monster. The protesters took little time to appreciate the edifice, having a different monster from across the ocean on their minds.

There were a number of Italian political groups at the rally. Most of them were communists or some particular sect of communist. I could tell this because they won handily to contest to see who could bring the largest number of protest flags. At one point, I was tempted to take one as a souvenir. It was interesting to see flags used so prolifically by the communist factions. I think that this may have been, in part, an attempt to visualize the quantity of their presence as clearly as possible.

The protest turned out to be much smaller this year than last. I suspect that this is largely because of the waning media interest in the Bush administration as the election that will replace it looms in the near future. The Ahabism of the protest reached a fever pitch with a rendition of Denis Kucinich's thirty-five articles of impeachment by the local Code Pink contingent. Although I was not able to get a picture of it, there was at least one protester carrying an Obama poster; a more realistic political statement in my estimation.

The United States' illegal occupation of Iraq was not the only issue on tap for the protest. Many protesters also carried Palestinian and Cuban flags presumably assessing US foreign policy as poor regarding both of those nations as well. According to Kelley, who took part in the ensuing parade, the group marched all over the northeast of Rome winding up in another piazza. The entire time, a helicopter, which looked to be painted in the colors of the Rome police force, hovered overhead.

Landmarks seem to play an important role in protests in Rome. Although it would be hard to have any protest that does not at least pass near an important landmark in the monument-crowded eternal city, these places seem to be sought after by protest groups for the visibility that they lend. The Piazza Venezia was the backdrop for the 2007 protests and this year the Carbinieri and Polizia were out in force to insure that it would not be again. walking through I counted Carbinieri and Polizia vans in the double digits. The state, it appears, recognizes the importance of these places and the ability to control what happens there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Learning at The Czech National Museum

Yet another place that Jessica and I visited in Prague was the National Museum. As I have passed through many galleries, ancient sites, and churches, I have noticed school children who are also visiting. It is easy to forget that many of these institutions serve critical educational purposes for society. The Czech National Museum is a particularly good model for looking at this because it is education on a national scale.

As the picture above shows, the museum stands at the end of Wenceslas Square in Prague. For those who plan to visit Prague some day, the square is really more of a short boulevard. The square is a significant tourist destination and is also where the four major metro lines intersect, so it is perpetually bustling.

Museums often act as alternative classroom location for school-age students, especially students in publicly run schools.Most of us can probably recall a myriad of museum visits from our early childhood. Museums are aware of this and design many of their exhibits in ways that reach younger children as well as adults. Sometimes, museums exhibits seem to have been designed for school children entirely. In the National Museum, one such example was the exhibit on feet. That is, as far as we could figure out, feet is what it was designed around. All of the writing was in Czech and it included an eclectic mix of artifacts and practices tangentially related to feet. The exhibit's appeals to children included a giant foot that had to be walked through to enter the exhibit and an anthropomorphized, cartoon foot who appeared to be narrating our journey through the world of feet. On the left, a speechless Jessica stands beneath the bewildering foot-shaped entrance and on the right, the cartoon foot leads the way for visitors.

Not all of the museum appeared to be designed with children in mind. The geology and zoology exhibits included large rooms with rows of cases filled with specimens. These rooms were drab and the cases held little more information than the name of the specimen on display. They were difficult to appreciate for me as an adult and so I moved through them relatively quickly. I think that it is safe to say that few children would find them stimulating.

A particularly interesting part of the museum was labeled "The Pantheon." Upon entering, Jessica and I grabbed a map and immediately noticed this room. "Great," we thought to ourselves, "it will be interesting to see an exhibit on a place that we have so recently visited in Rome." This pantheon, was not an exhibit on The Pantheon, but rather a room with busts of the great people of Czech dissent. There were the obligatory busts of Dvorak, and Neruda. Havel has not made it yet. None of the members of the pantheon were living. This room was fascinating because, in the same way as we have created a pantheon out of groups of people like the "founding fathers," this place clearly marks-out those Czechs from history who are to be valued and imitated. Of course, those designations carry with them a set of values. I am not equipped with the requisite understanding of Czech history to evaluate the values being upheld in each bust, but from what I did see that I know of, contributions to the Czech state and culture seemed to be valued highly.

I am forced to wonder if the pantheon is designed to serve adults, children, or both. That is, are children brought through the room when they visit? It seems that such visits might be sites of cultural education that begins at a very young age.

St. Nicholas in Mala Strana

This past Sunday I missed the service at San Maria Liberatrice because I was in Prague. While there, Jessica and I paid a small fee to visit St. Nicholas, a church in the Mala Strana (lesser town) district of Prague. As the picture above illustrates, the church is a full-on baroque production. Everything inside the Jesuit institution was ornately crafted. Some of the work with gold was particularly stunning like the wings on this angel and the scroll that he is holding. In addition to a stunning nave, both walls of the church were lined with smaller chapels like many of the churches in Rome. These were roped off and while there was no indication as to whether they belonged to anyone in particular, each had its own character.

In addition to being decorated is slightly altered ways, each of the chapels also had its own altar and confessional. Separate altars have been typical in the chapels of all of the churches that we have visited in Rome, but separate confessionals is unique to St. Nicholas so far in my experience. I have to wonder to whom or what the chapels are tied. Did wealth families pay for them? If one must enter one of these chapels to take confessional at St. Nichlas, are there restrictions for doing so? The confessional pictured at the right was in the first chapel on the left as I entered. This was the only chapel that was not cordoned off and may be open to the public and open to public confession all of the time.

This is a picture of another confessional in St. Nicholas. You can see the yellow rope barring entrance to the chapel in which it stands in the lower-left corner if you look closely at the picture. The confessionals themselves were elaborate wooden productions and were set into the walls of the church. This is different from Roman confessionals. Even in St. Peter's the confessionals, while equally complex pieces of art, were constructed as separate units from the church itself and set in a convenient spot in the church. In St. Nicholas, the confessionals appear to be part of the church itself.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

An Accurate Touristic Representation?

This is a lame picture of the lame phrasebook that I picked up to take to Prague. In fairness, the phrasebook is actually pretty handy and includes way more than enough Czech to get by for two and a half days in Prague (as I mentioned before, over sixty hours in the city and no one was defenestrated). When I bought the book, Jessica and I had a discussion about what was on the cover and why. At first, we thought that it was simply a strange picture to select for a country with a number of perfectly recognizable landmarks. After further investigation of the photo, though, we decided that these two musicians were probably performing outside of some important tourist site. We came to this conclusion because many such sites have gates like the one behind them in order to control crowds of people. Additionally, between the poles of the fence, there seemed to be people standing in groups. As the result of some more careful study, we found that the musician who appears to be singing (not the bassist) is holding a black flute. This suggested some variety in the performance being given. Anyhow, after discovering some of the more subtle aspects of the image we tacitly allowed the cover of my phrasebook slip into memory.

That slippage was stopped abruptly when we walked out the front gate of the Prague Castle. There, we first noticed the fence. It was the same fence from the cover of the book. And then, to our disbelief, across the street from the fence, the group pictured on the cover the book was performing. We stopped to listen and at a pause in the performance I took the book up to the flute player/band leader. He had a look at it, cracked a joke about being old and reached for a pen and happily signed it; hence the signature. The accordion player asked for a closer look and declared, "two thousand and six," in a way that suggested a suspicions confirmed.

At first, I was pleasantly surprised to have an image of tourism turn out to be accurate. I thought to myself how nice it is that not all constructions of place are idealized to the poitnt where they become unattainable to the actual tourist on the ground. However, I do have to wonder if I was still used in the same way that many other tourists are. Was I duped into spending my cash? Having received a signature, I felt obligated to drop some money into CD case that they had setup and with some prodding from Jessica, we agreed to go in half on a CD. I am forced to consider, despite the incredible fidelity of the image on the phrasebook which was accurate right down to the beautiful sunny day, that I still behaved in the way that benefited the people who had a hand in constructing the phrasebook (among them, the musicians I paid). That is, the phrasebook constructed a "serendipitous" experience that caused me, normally reluctant to spend even a small amount of money on tourist paraphernalia, to blow a hundred Korun (about six US dollars). Granted, the money paid for the experience is more than fair, I still have to wonder if the serendipity of the occasion was purposely designed.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Czech Museum of Music

While in Prague I got to visit the Czech Museum of Music. This has been my favorite museum so far during my European adventure. Although I really enjoy viewing visual art, I get much bigger kick out of auditory art because I have some educational background in its production.

The first things that I went looking for in the museum's collection were the bassoons. I found six instruments that can be properly termed a bassoon along with one contra-bassoon.

The instrument on the right is the earliest bassoon that the museum had on display. It was made in Prague by C. Schramme around 1700. The extremely basic keying is reminiscent of the keying used on more advanced recorders. This is probably why the instrument is displayed alongside a bass recorder that was also made my Schramme around the same time. It is hard to believe that an instrument of this size would be able to play in as a low a register as the contemporary bassoon. In this way this bassoon still resembles its duclian heritage much more than contemporary designs.

For a while I thought that I would not find any other bassoons in the museum, but then I ran across this display case full of them. From left to right they are 1) made by Jan Hovak in Prague between 1860 and 1890, 2) made by Theodore Lotz in Vienna in the late 1780s, 3) made by F. Pitschmann in Arnsdorf (Germany) in the nineteenth century, 4) made by G Keyha in Prague around 1800, 5) the contrabassoon made by Simon Josef Truska in Prague also around 1800.

All of these bassoons, though not as old as the Schramme model, were still made before Heckel revolutionized the keying system, producing what is ostensibly the contemporary standard for the instrument. This collection of bassoons demonstrated some interesting experimentation at a time when the design was still being finalized. The Hovak model (number 1, far left) is interesting because it has a bell similar to the directional bells used on brass instruments. One only needs to look at a modern bassoon to figure out that this was a dead end. It is also interesting that this instrument was made so late. By the 1860s, Heckel would have been producing a demonstrably superior instrument.

Looking at the picture on right, one can also see that the shape of the bocal (that is the metal tube that connects the reed with the wing joint) was still being heavily experimented with. Although bocal sizes and shapes remain variable to this day, they generally do not vary to this great extent. For the most part the girth of the tube that makes up the bocal is what has remained significantly optional, not the overall shape. Of particular note is the bocal on the contrabassoon (number 5, far right); it actually bends up. There are no contemporary designs that include this feature. This contrabassoon is also notable for being upright. The body of contemporary contras circle around once more and thus remain about the same height as a regular bassoon, they just end up significantly wider.

Along with the bassoons, I found a number of other, perhaps less-odd instruments to enjoy at the Czech Museum of Music.

I found this accordion made by someone named Josef Hlavacek. Joseph is my grandfather's name and the surname is pretty close to ours. I am forced to wonder if perhaps I have distant accordion-making relatives. Although this seems unlikely (the difference between and E and an I is not incidental in Czech), it was cool to see something like my family's name printed on anything. This never happens in the States for me.

Another highlight of the museum for me was getting to see two glass harmonicas. The harmonica's as they are constructed here, are based on a design by Benjamin Franklin. I still have never seen one in use and would like to one day. Every now and then the glass harmonica will make it into popular or sub-popular culture. My favorite use of the instrument is on , Entroducing..., a DJ Shadow's album. The instrument works by stepping on the flat panel near the floor. This spins the glass bowls above. Then the player soaks his or her hands in water which would be put into the metal wells on both sides of the bowls. The player then drags his or her wet fingers over the bowls to produce an soft humming sounds.


We arrived in Prague around 8:00pm, I took think shot about a half an hour later. The castle in left-center of the photo is Prague Castle. It is said to be the largest medieval castle complex in the world and walking around the grounds it sure feels like it. On the right in this picture there are some arches over the river, those are the Charles Bridge. The bridge might be the most famous landmark in the city.

I'd like to point out that I have spent two days in Prague and no one was defenestrated, so I am considering the trip a success.