Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back to Rome

Richard Meier has taken some heat for his design of the museum which surrounds the Ara Pacis. Without getting into it too much, the controversy seems to revolve around the juxtaposition of contemporary and ancient, and the naysayers have been kind of nasty. Julian Schnabel hated it; one of Rome's mayors threatened to tear it down. There have been defenders of the work too, and plenty of them.

It's a tricky thing, putting up a building around an altar dedicted to peace over 2,000 years ago. Trickier still, replacing a structure that was erected by one of Mussolini's designers. Even yet still trickier, being the first work of modern architecture to go up in Rome's Historic Center since the 1930s.

The museum is situated on the banks of the Tiber, very near Augustus' tomb. Meier found the lines and light to frame the arches and panels of this celebration of the Pax Augusta.

The surviving panels (from the altar originally built in 9 B.C.) are in various states of preservation.

Some are astoundingly well-preserved.

Others needed some reconstructive help, in the form of best-guess line drawings.

Myself, I was very impressed. I thought some of the track lighting instruments may have been on the cheesy side, though I wasn't there when they were illuminated, so I don't know how they affect the experience. The natural light in this glass-and-travertine museum was brilliant, and provided a clear landscape for this incredible ancient altar, and its amazing details.

Meier's building went up in 2006, and the entryway included this minimal take on the tradition of Rome's fountains. I guess someone who's predisposed to resist contemporary design in a city justly renouned for ancient architecture is not going to be persuaded, but this was a clear and illuminating frame for this significant ruin.

By the way - you've probably figured this out already, but you can get a lot more detail from these photos if you click on the images. Knock yourself out.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Guess What I Did Last Night?

Adam Raised a Cain
Outlaw Pete
Radio Nowhere
She’s the One (!)
Working On a Dream
Johnny 99
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand
Growin’ Up (!!)
I’m Going Down
Prove It All Night
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run (house lights turned up throughout the arena)

Hard Times
Thunder Road
Jungleland (!!!)
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Rosalita (after a false 'final ending,' with the lights up again)

And Max's son Jay Weinberg, who is 18 (and goes to school in Hoboken, thank you very much) was playing drums, and he was great!!

Sometimes, life is actually very, very good.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More fun with Mel & El

I know I just wrote about this yesterday, but I heard from Amy Groeschel at Ars Nova and wanted to follow up a little bit on Mel & El - Show and Tell.

First of all, she sent me some rad pix of the chix:

Dancing away in the Little Pink Box.

And here they are in full-out croon mode.

Also (and this is very exciting) she has offered to give away tickets to readers of Love Minus Zero who get in touch with her and mention that they heard about it here. That's right, I said 'give.' As in free.

So, THAT'S pretty cool!

If you want to see the show (and why wouldn't you?) shoot Amy an email at agroeschel@arsnovanyc.com and let her know you read about it on my blog. There's no catch, but there are a couple things to consider:

  • She's not giving away unlimited tickets (duh) so don't try to claim a pack for you and 20 of your closest friends.

  • You may want to request sooner rather than later - both in terms of asking soon (so they don't run out) and going soon (so you can spread the word.)
In other news - I just got cast as Claudius in a production of Hamlet up at Columbia. Too early to tell what kind of production we're looking at (other than short - the director claims it will come in under 2:30, which believe it or not is short for Hamlet) but rest assured I'll keep you posted.

Ok - that's it. I'll leave you with one last shot of the gals in their glory:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mel & El

I'm interrupting the posts about Rome to bring you news of a show that just opened that you may want to go see: Mel & El {Show and Tell} Oh yes - it rhymes: that's kind of a theme for them. It's happening at Ars Nova (way west on 54th Street - by where they shoot Colbert) and it's running through May 30. I know, I know, I haven't given you enough notice. Leave me alone - things have been hectic.

The basic deal with this show is that Mel & El (Melanie Adelman and Ellie Dvorkin) have known each other since they were about 12 - for reals, yo. And they've been making up shows about it for a while now. If you are (or were) a girl, or happen to know any girls, you may be aware of this phenomenon wherein girls get together and sing and dance just for fun. They may reenact pop songs and/or tv commercials. They may even make up some of their own. And as they get a little older, the material they come up with gets a little... randier. This tends to happen in bedrooms but has been known to occur in other locales as well (the singing and dancing, silly - get your mind out of the gutter!) I haven't really done my homework on the subject, but I think this happens kinda all the time. Certainly it happened with Mel & El, and they're here to tell you all about it. And sing about it, and dance about it. I'm tempted to say they just started out making up these skits in their bedrooms and just never stopped, but that doesn't do them justice: they are trained singer/actors and have been developing this show for years. And it's really good! They have recreated that bedroom ('80s-style, dubbed the Little Pink Box, walls covered with photos and posters of all your favorite pop icons of the era. Well, maybe not all. I didn't see any Billy Idol, but the decade is well represented.) The show is witty and vibrant and clever and creative - and very funny. It is immediately engaging, even before they step on the stage: the set really is a blast, it establishes the scene and entertains you all on its own. And then the performers show up and blow the doors off the joint with their energy and talent.

Sadly, there aren't really any photos of the show, or any current ones of the duo, available online to speak of, so I can't offer up any visual stimulation. But I think you should consider checking this show out, especially if you have an affinity for musical theater and/or pop culture of the 80s. Ars Nova is a great spot too - good space, high quality original programming, I've done a bit of work there myself. Last but not least, if you're strapped for cash, I think there are some ticket discounts floating around out there too.

If you want an advance peek, here are Mel & El riffing backstage with the creative team.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Tour Guide

When we first decided to go Rome, Cory went into research overdrive. I had come to realize that this is rather typical for her, but as a relative newbie I still found it impressive. Within minutes, I was presented with a list of hotels in various price ranges, websites for consideration, restaurants to look into, and sightseeing options. I did some of this homework too, and together we assembled a very good dossier to refer to while were planning (and while we were there - it turned out to be a great reference for food choices) but in truth there's really no comparison between my work and hers - when it comes to this stuff, Cory is a machine, and a high-performance one at that.

Another thing she found was a tour guide for a couple of our events: Jason Spiehler, whose advertising flavor claims he's the Best Tour Guide in Rome, and based on our experience, I wouldn't put up an argument over the title.

We first reached out to him via email, which allowed us to plan visits to the Vatican and to the Forum well ahead of time (the email connection also got us a discount on what was already a pretty darned good deal.) I'm the first to admit that guided tours can be thoroughly deflating, but under the right circumstances and with the right guide, they can add immeasurably to an experience. And, for us at least, Jason was definitely the right guide: originally from Louisiana, he's brilliantly spoken and charismatic; he has a background (and an advanced degree) in Historical Theology, and knows his art history inside and out. He's funny, too - those subjects may sound dry, but Jason has a really good sense of humor and brought things to vibrant life.

We met him on the edge of St. Peter's Square, where we joined a large-ish group (30 or so of us.) He used a little microphone/transmitter set up to talk to that many people without being loud or obnoxious, so if you see little black things coming out of our ears in any of the Vatican photos, that would be why. He talked us through the architecture of the Holy See, the history of the Papacy and its relationship with Rome, Italy and Europe, including the creation of the nation-state of Vatican City (complete with anecdotes about the efficiency - or lack thereof - of the Italian postal service relative to that of the Vatican's, which is run by the Swiss. We don't want to engage in cultural stereotyping too much, but organization really does not seem to be Italy's strongest suit.) His discussion of the buildings, land and infrastructure took us through the layers of history which are evident in the Vatican, as virtually everywhere in Rome - the walls, the monuments, the fortifications, the military actions, the artistic commissions.

We stopped at a caffe for a pit stop, and for Jason to collect our fees (which, again, Cory had negotiated well ahead of time) I had another of the fantastic espressos which I now seem destined to seek futilely until I return to Italy, and then we trekked over to the entrance to the interior and the museum and were greeted by one of our only undeniably negative experiences while we were there: it was unbelievably crowded, because of the huge number of visitors (Italian and foreign.) And it was raining. Oy. But here again, our tour guide came to the rescue: because we were in a group, we got to use the preferential (i.e. shorter) line to get into the museum. And because we were in his group, it was shorter still, as he haggled our way to a prime spot on that line. Still, it was a half an hour of standing in the rain, and the 3-Euro umbrellas that were all over the place when the sun was shining were suddenly nowhere to be seen. By the time they finally did appear, they cost 5 Euro, and we were wet enough that they wouldn't have done us much good.

Listen, the Vatican is incredible no matter how you slice it. Bernini, Michelangelo, Rafael - you can't really go wrong. But when there's someone there to tell you about Pomodoro's Sfera con Sfera, and joke about how it looks like the Death Star, it helps.

And it enhances your experience of something like, oh, the Sistine Chapel if you know something about the historical context; about Michelangelo's career, his professional relationships and rivalries and how they fit into his work there; about the physical process of creating frescoes, and the challenges of learning this process, on a ceiling, under a Papal order, when you've spent your life training to be a sculptor. Jason was able to give us this and then some, in a way that was entertaining and alive. And he talked us through the imagery on the Ceiling and in the Last Judgement fresco behind the altar that Michelangelo painted 25 years later.

And he talked us through the statuary, the tapestries, the trompe l'oeil, the architecture, the Pieta... Of course he didn't cover the whole Vatican, nor the entire Forum: no one could in a day. But let me tell you, people - finding this guy was more than worthwhile.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Il Giorno Primo

On our first day in Rome, after Giuseppe's mini-tour and Tiziano's orientation, we took a walk around the neighborhood. Actually, I guess it's fair to say we walked through a few neighborhoods - over to the Fontana di Trevi (not the same visit as in the video - quite a different place during the day), the Fontana di Tritone, the Quattro Fontane (there are a lot of fountains in Rome); had some pizza (SO good, and only 1 Euro per slice!) and some espresso; visited a beautiful church designed by Borromini; made an informal visit to the Palazzo Barberini; had gelato (omigod omigod); stopped by the Spanish Steps - by dumb luck approached them from the top rather than the bottom and saved ourselves a climb.

It was great to breathe that air - this may sound crazy, but it felt different from other air. It seems to me that every place has a unique atmosphere: metaphorically, yes, but also literally. I do a lot of breath work; it's interesting to me how people breathe in different places, and the Roman air was clean and vibrant. The sun on piazza di Spagna was golden and beautiful, and we had the good fortune to be in Italy when azaleas were in full bloom, covering the Steps in reddish purple. The Steps were also covered in people, of course - May Day is the European Labor Day, and virtually everyone in Italy had a long weekend. Our day of arrival was the day before the Holiday, but the city was already beginning to fill up.

I didn't bring my camera with me on this first afternoon, wanting to experience my first few hours without concerning myself with capturing images. We did, however, bring the Video Flip that Cory picked up a few weeks prior, and did manage to record a few moments, including this one:

How's that for a Welcome to Rome?

Turned out that everything was ok. We went around the block and met another carabinieri, and between his broken English and my broken Italian we figured out that the fire was in what was technically the building next to our hotel, though it was accessed through the same entryway. By the time we got into the hotel, we could barely even smell the smoke. Still, this incident combined with the fact that we had no water the next morning to make us wonder if we'd picked the right place.

Actually, I think we did. Despite those rough patches, our room was cheery and comfortable, the people there were pleasant and helpful, and the location was fantastic. What's a little fire next door among friends?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Fountain Story

I was trying to post a viddy we made on the first day we were in Rome, but ran into some complication with the video camera we used and ended up with this one instead. SO - here's a little anecdote about a sculptural afterthought at the Trevi Fountain.

More fountain fun to come...

Archetypes and Icons

You all know that image, right? What? You don't? Well, it's all over Rome.

For those of you in need of a refresher, this sculpture depicts Romulus and Remus, who according to legend were the twin sons of Mars and the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia (gods didn't have the same respect for the Vestals that people did) and were floated down the river in a basket to save them from being killed by their mother's uncle (remind anybody of anything?) They were protected by a river god and nursed by a she-wolf, then discovered and raised by a kindly shepherd and his wife. We found out in Rome that lupa means not only she-wolf but was also slang for "prostitute," so some people interpret the legend that way, but the 'raised-by-wolves' version holds much greater currency, and you see variations of the image in that statue repeated endlessly in the Eternal City. The legend continues, you see, with the twins growing up and killing that jealous great uncle (d'oh!) and reinstating their grandfather as king (I guess some god or other must have told them the deal.) They then decided to build a city of their own on the spot where the lupa had nursed them, but then had an argument about how to do that and Romulus killed Remus (d'oh!!) named the city after himself and established the three tribes that would populate it.

We saw this piece at the Capitoline Museum, which is one of those places that we could have blown off, but it's so good we didn't. Amazing pieces in there, including this Etruscan beauty. (Well, there's some debate as to whether the Etruscans actually made it, but for now I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.)

This is one of my favorite shots from our trip. It's the Temple of Saturn, from the Forum.

And here's the curve of the Colosseum, streetlights and all.

And finally (for now) a shot of your friendly neighborhood blogger continuing the conceptual continuity of dancing in front of churches he started more than 10 years ago in London, this time in front of the Holiest of Holies.

More on the Vatican later...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Viva Italia

Back from Rome. Miss it already.

What an amazing place. A lot that impressed me is exactly what you'd expect: the art, the fountains, the churches, the ruins, the food and wine. This all was framed by trips that were very smooth in both directions and all-but-perfect weather. And it was brought to life and shared by the fantastic people: a friendly driver named Giuseppe who gave us an impromptu tour of the city on the way from the airport to the hotel; Tiziano, the concierge who gave us our first shove in the right direction; our Roman friends Claudia and Valter, who took a huge chunk of their holiday afternoon and evening to spend with us; the many hosts and waiters and cooks and barristas at the various restaurants, trattorias, gelaterias and pizzerias we visited; Jason Spiehler, who has a reputation for being the best tour guide in Rome that just might be deserved.

It was an astounding experience. You may have read about Agrippa and Augustus and Hadrian and Boniface IV, but none of that really prepares you for seeing the ceiling of the Pantheon.

I also had the benefit of traveling with someone who's done it a lot. Cory helped me negotiate the jet lag by encouraging sleep on the way out (allowing us to power through our arrival evening.) She was a great travel partner right through the airplane movie and the two times she kicked my ass in scrabble on the way back. I'll probably post a bunch more shots and hopefully some video in the next few days, but for now I just wanted to let you know that I'm back and very much savoring the trip.