the road less travelled

Getting Dizzy in Thangka-Land

When it comes to work, I'm a pretty focused person; but, I am susceptable to personal interest on occasion. So, while reviewing reference materials for my next Artscope article, I happened to take a side-trek through one particularly detail-rich website. If, like me, you happen to have an appreciation for the many manifestations of esoteric Buddhist art, the Dharampala Thangka Centre and teaching school maintains a fabulous online catalog of paintings.

A Buddhist Wheel of Life Thangka from the Dharampala Thangka Centre

Note that since this is an active workshop, a visit to the site gives you access to photos of *new* paintings, not antiques. However, the Center provides detailed notations, with clickable zoom-ins and mandala maps for many designs, which is great if you are interested in iconography. They even offer a photo CD if you need access to high resolution reproductions.

I particularly appreciate their photo progression of a thangka in progress. At least I'm not the only one laboring on a piece for what seems like an eternity! 20% of all Thangka center online proceeds goes towards the funding of the Children's World orphanage in Kathmandu, where some of the children are also trained as painters.

Okay, back to the earthly realm!

Culture Shock: How I forgot what rain looked like and where are the figs?

Ciao amici! Ho ritornato.

The scene: A typical bumpy landing at Logan airport. Squinting as I disembark, I recoil in horror at an unfamiliar temperature or weather condition (in this case, torrential rain, from which I have become alienated during my stay under the tranquil summer umbrella of the high pressure system planted over the Meditteranean Sea!)

Alas, all dreams must end, and my rude awakening of returning stateside to stone-faced airport personnel and the responsibilities of real life has been softened markedly by the abundance of ombrelloni-free New England beaches and fresh farmer's market produce! Hooray for tomatoes and corn!

Fresh organic figs from Montefalco, Umbria

I will continue to cry in my sleep for lack of fresh figs, like these ambrosia-filled organic gems plucked warm from the tree in my friends' Montefalco garden...


While the lack of fresh figs, proper gelato, and non-imposter mozzerella di bufala in the U.S. continues to trouble me, fear not! I am hard at work updating the site to improve loading time and fix some broken image links. Stay tuned for new posts and Providence-area show reviews as July makes way for August. Ritorno fra poco.

Lost and Found in Assisi

Even for one as secular as myself, a week in Umbria can have a strange effect. Maybe it was the bounty of fresh figs, or an excess of fine wine troppo presto nell giorno, but climbing up and down the stone-paved streets of tiny borgos and medieval cities like Assisi left me feeling a bit, well...holy...

Sarcophagus, Spoleto - Museo della Rocca

I felt the change take effect after a winding climb to the medieval fort overlooking the city of Assisi, which rests in a crook on the side of Mount Subasio. There, at sunset, the local drum corps gathers to practice their drum rolls, which echo off of the stone fortress and out again to wash over the valley below. My ears still pounding as we decended past St. Francis' Cathedral, I met a rather holy blind cat.

A rather holy blind cat I met in Assisi

There in the cradle of Franciscan teachings, this otherwordly fellow led me to the next entry in my Lost and Found photo documentary series of abandoned toys:

Lost and Found: Brothers and Sisters Assisi

Above: "Brothers and Sisters" Assisi, Umbria

Copping a Feel at Villa Adriana

Just 45 minutes north of Rome, Villa Adriana (Hadrian's Villa) is an archeological spectacle unparalleled in my experience. Nestled in the hills near Tivoli, the site was built by Emperor Hadrian to serve as his imperial palace on top of pre-existing Republican ruins, starting around 117 A.D. Today the site covers at least 80 hectares, of which we were able to explore extensively without encountering another human being for a stretch of two hours!

Villa Adriana / Hadrian's Villa - Tivoli

Like many adventures of mine in Italy, I left for this day trip with only a scant idea of what I was getting into...but fortunately brought along my pareo and a large bottle of Uliveto mineral water (the official water of the Italian national soccer team!). With temperatures hovering at 40ºC nell' ombra, (≤100ºF in the shade), I was glad for both the "insta-turban" properties of my pareo, and the historically advanced public water distribution technology of the Roman Empire!

Even though the Villa has been extensively looted throughout the centuries for building materials, marble sculptures and frescoes, certain treasures survive intact. Amongst the sun-bleached ruins: glimpses of art and interior design from almost 2,000 years ago. In the "Hospitalia" building (once reserved for guests and/or the Emperor's guard), each of the 10 sleeping rooms features three niches for beds, with a variety of black and white tiled mosaic floor designs in the center.

Villa Adriana / Hadrian's Villa - surviving mosaic tiled floor pattern

Referring back to the Roman Empire's innovations in water technology, the site retains the remnants of several termes (bath houses), which were constructed to take advantage of the plentiful solar energy for heating a myriad of marble-lined bathing pools. In surrounding piazzas and gardens, ingenious levelling was used to create decorative pools with moving cascades, serviing both to support the greenery and to delight visitors. Of course, today many lay dry...

Villa Adriana / Hadrian's Villa - Termes

Villa Adriana / Hadrian's Villa - an old reflecting pool

A couple of the Villa's landmarks, (like the statue-rimmed "Canopus") are kept filled with syrupy green water, perhaps to support this restored reptilian resident...and a myriad of real fish.

Crocodile at Villa Adriana / Hadrian's Villa

Impressively intact, an extensive network of underground passageways served as transit points for service personnel and supplies. Others, like the vaulted "Cryptoportico" served as cool strolling destinations for the Emperor during the hot summer months. While the ceiling frescoes have been all but destroyed by looting and target shooting (ahh, those pesky British nobles), grafitti dating from the seventeenth century to the present is clearly visible.

Cryptoportico at Villa Adriana / Hadrian's Villa

As an American, I'm accustomed to sharing my tourist sites with thousands of other sneaker-clad, snacking and shouting humans. In this case, the freedom of strolling the Villa without a hint of security guards, personnel or other visitors helped me to gain a better "feel" for Hadrian's grand imperial palace as it must have existed in antiquity.

Copping a feel at Villa Adriana / Hadrian's Villa


Benessere on the 4th of July at Circolo Antico Tiro a Volo

On my first Independence Day outside of the United States (and East Coast, for that matter), I am surprised to feel not a twinge of regret for the festivities I may or may not be missing back stateside. Reason? I spent the day poolside at Cirolo Antico Tiro a Volo, a private hilltop tennis club in Parioli, (Roma) where my in-laws have been members since it first opened 15 years ago.

Poolside at Antico Tiro a Volo, Parioli, Roma

Is there anything less American on the 4th of July than swimming laps in a tranquil, uncrowded pool, to the sweet strains of Vivaldi's Quattro Stagioni? I should mention that the members here are universally fit and tan. The sun is so strong here at this time of year that one can even become bronze in the shade. Never being one to fit in, I was affectionately called a mozzerellina on my first visit, on account of my natural New England pallor.

Poolside view from the spa at Antico Tiro a Volo - Parioli, Roma

After a day of languid poolside socializing and pasta-eating, a visit to the brand new spa facility is always in order. Unbelievably underutilized, the mosaic-walled and mirrored spa features a stunning dichroic glass-tiled turkish bath, complete with a pyramid shaped ceiling and ochre glass slab benches, as well as a spotless cedar sauna and roomy jacuzzi. Surrounding this oasis of benessere, a variety of state-of-the-art stainless steel showers with curious blue and white lights...including a rather interesting double-wide stall equipped with eucalyptus aromatherapy jets. The entire grayscale facility is illuminated with blue-tone low-lights. Chic...

Benessere at Antico Tiro a Volo, Parioli, Roma

This club may be tutto italiano in caliber and design, but their annual member's gala happens to fall right around my beloved American holiday of fireworks! In classic 4th of July style, I managed to capture this fine cellphone photograph of the circolo's fuoci artificiale from a nearby parking lot vantage point...sorry, the gala is members only!

Fuoci artificiale at Antico Tiro e Volo - Parioli, Roma


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