domenica 30 novembre 2014

Buddhist Temple in Rome

There’s no doubting that Rome with the Vatican is the centre of the Catholic world, pretty much therefore the Christian world. But that doesn’t mean that there is no room for other religions. Rome is the site of Europe’s largest mosque, and is also home to the  oldest Jewish population in Europe. In the last fifteen or so years Italy has seen an increase in immigration, just as many other countries in Europe. A significant immigrant community are from China, Taiwan and South-East Asia. So other places of worship are springing up in Rome.  In fact Buddhism has also gained many Italian followers, and in fact is the third religion in Italy after Christianity and Islam. So it is appropriate that Rome can now boast the largest Buddhist Temple in Europe too.The Hua Yi Si Temple is rather incongruously situated in an industrial zone just off the Via Prenestina and surrounded by warehouses and distribution centres supplying the Chinese restaurants and stores in Rome. Most of the signs outside these great sheds are in Chinese. The temple, whose mother Temple is the Chunk Tai Chan Monastery in Taiwan, is run by four very devote, discrete and simpatiche Buddhist nuns. Built in a very traditional oriental style as a one storey pagoda, behind the solid metal gates all is tranquillity. Two marble lions stand guard at the entrance from which a smiling Buddha beams benevolently at the visitor.
The founder of the order is The Grand Master Wei Chueh, whose large photograph is hung on one of the walls. Those attending the temple will be taught the four cardinal precepts:- “Treat the aged with respect; the young with gentleness; others with harmony and conduct your affairs with honesty.”
The temple opens its doors to the faithful and the curious on Sundays at 11am.

Contacts:- Associazione Buddhista Hua Yi Si
Via dell’Omo, 142
00155 Roma
Tel. 06.22428876
Link:- Paesasera Tempio Buddhisto a Roma

martedì 25 ottobre 2011


The sun sets behind Mount Vesuvius after a wet autumn day.

venerdì 21 ottobre 2011

Via della Pace, Via di Tor Mellina, Vicolo delle Vacche.

The streets behind Piazza Navona are crowded with restaurants, pizza joints and bars, and hence lots of tourists, and if you are looking to photograph a bit of local atmosphere tourists somehow just don’t fit the bill.

How happy I was then to be able to photograph this group of real genuine Romans who run a restaurant in Via della Pace.

They were waiting to open up the restaurant, and so were just hanging about outside until opening time. We were chatting about the films that have been shot there, it being a location much favoured by film makers, and they have witnessed them all, including, most recently, Woody Allen’s upcoming (for 2012) film “The Bop Decameron” which he was in Rome shooting this August. Watch out for them in the film as I think they will make an appearance. Before him the stomach churning Eat Pray Love with Julie Roberts played out several scenes there, and among Italian films an unforgetable Alberto Sordi in Il Marchese Del Grillo and the 1961 film, “I Fantasmi di Roma.” (Ghosts of Rome) with Eduardo De Filippo, Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni, three of the greatest Italian actors of the time (let’s face it, probably still).

Asking strangers if you can take their photo is problematic for a lot of people, and sometimes the moment would be gone if you did, like the picture of the little girl drinking at the fountain while she is photographed, probably by her grandmother, while her mum looks on.

I go by the maxim that if it’s an irrepeatable moment I’ll shoot first, ask questions later, but if I want to get closer to the person and present their personality then it’s simply imperative to ask their permission. That way the whole nature of the photo changes and in a few short seconds you try to create a very quick rapport with the person. If you have the right subject and you are convinced that something special can come out of it then hang in and get as much as you can. Don’t forget though this is not a studio situation. The best shots come after the subject has loosened up and got used to you, but remember that if you take too long over it he or she is going to get fed up. And always approach and shoot with a confident but friendly air, get your camera settings ready beforehand, rather than fiddle about with them later while the person you’re photographing starts to loose interest, or gets fidgetty. Lastly, don’t get nervous. You’ll pass this on to your subject immediately. So be relaxed and enjoy yourself.

lunedì 17 maggio 2010

Santa Rosa 2009 and the Fiori del Cielo

Full moon rising behind the Fiore del Cielo.
The macchina at the first resting point.

I try to get to follow, and of course photograph, the transportation of the “Macchina di Santa Rosa,” on the 3rd September in Viterbo every year. The year 2009 was a special one as a new machine was about to make its debut.
The previous machine, “The Wings of Light” (Ali di luce) had been transported for the last time in 2008, after six years of transportations. For some reason one year more than the usual machine’s life span of five years. And will be retired to a permanent display.
Like most people the Viterbese get attached to the things they are used to, and so the arrival of the new machine is not viewed without some critisism.

Will it be as beautiful as the much loved Ali di Luci? Will all the lights and whirling things work properly? Will it be stable or will the facchini (the hundred men who have to carry the 5 tonne, 30 meter tall tower on their shoulders or backs over a 1,200 metre route) find it top heavy or wobbly?

The facchini march through the town stopping off at seven churches.
This is already enough to finish anyone off, and they haven't even started!

The new machine is called Fiore del Cielo (Flowers of Heaven). It’s much more ethereal, organic looking compared to the The Wings of Light which was a more solid affair, and has softer shapes built over a skeletal structure. According to the reports, and to the consternation of some of the other photographers I talk to, the new machine will be lit almost entirely from the inside. We’re wondering how it’ll turn out, as the transportation is done in darkness, and if the Fiore del Cielo isn’t lit, but just emanates light, will it end up looking like a tall blob of light when it’s photographed?


Making a new machine is no simple operation and a competition is held to award the contract to the design which best captures the spirit of the long tradition, the city of Viterbo and its much venerated Saint Rose.

The winning Fiore del Cielo has been designed by an international architectural firm “Architecture and Vision” led by architects Andreas Vogler of Switzerland and native Viterbese Arturo Vittori.

The base of the macchina reflects architectural features of Viterbo, such as the typical mediaeval fountains (Viterbo has 99 fountains, or so it’s said) and the twin symbols of Viterbo, the lion and the palm. It rises to almost 30 metres in three encircling strands holding nine triumphal angels, and is illuminated by hundreds of candles and thousands of LEDs in gold, red, green and ochre. The whole is decorated by thousands of red roses, and is topped off by a statue of Saint Rose enveloped in a cloud of light. It is not only more organic in shape but more technological too, the phasing of the light show controlled by computer, and high up inside the machine 60,000 paper red rose petals will shower down over the people of Viterbo at some point during the evening.

60,000 rose petals.

The last stretch, uphill to the church of Saint Rose.
Extra facchini join in to pull on ropes.

So how was it?

The only time the facchini had practised with the new machine was carrying just the framework, weighted with bags of sand, over a hundred metres on a flat asphalted parking lot. Not quite the same as carrying it over the undulating narrow cobblestoned streets of Viterbo in total darkness.

Running to take up positions under the machine

So nerves were more fraught than usual waiting for that amazingly special moment when the facchini first take the strain, lift the machine off of its trestles, and take off jitterishly on the first downhill leg over one or two hundred metres.

The strain is begining to tell. The last leg.
Just before I took these shots of the final stretch I got thrown against the wall by the
policeman on the left, who thought I wasn't going to get out of the way.
Did he think I was going to wait around to be trampled and crushed by
100 men carrying a 5 tonne tower?

But, one and a half hours and 1,200 metres later, there is not one Viterbese who isn’t hugely inamorato with the new, and already veteran, Fiori del Cielo.

Final resting place, it's time to celebrate.

Viterbo TV web: video of la macchina
Society of the Facchini

sabato 21 novembre 2009

Popes and Olive oil


History and good food sit comfortably together in the Tuscia, as the northern part of Lazio is known; at its centre the mediaeval walled town of Viterbo: the city of the popes. It was here, in 1270, that the term which we now use for papal elections derives, (conclave) meaning “with key” i.e. locked in. After two years and nine months of deliberation the assembled cardinals had still not managed to elect a new pope, and so to help them along the burgesses of the town locked them inside the papal palace and reduced their diet to bread and water, eventually removing the roof to force a decision. Adjoining the Papal Palace is the arched loggia, overlooking the town on one side and facing piazza San Lorenzo, with its 12th century cathedral of San Lorenzo and its green and white banded tower on the other.

The loggia at the Papal Palace

From this loggia Pope Clement IV excommunicated an entire army as it passed along the nearby Via Cassia, and by a cinematographic trick Orson Welles overlooked the Mediterranean sea in his film Othello.

Cobbled courtyards in the San Lorenzo district of Viterbo

The narrow cobbled alleyways in Viterbo’s mediaeval papal quarter of San Lorenzo echo the city’s heyday from the 12th to the 14th centuries, when successive popes abandoned the hard to govern and even hostile Rome for the safety of Viterbo, and the the Orsini and the Farnese families, who between them produced four popes, Celestine III, Nicolas III, Benedict XIII and Paul III, and countless cardinals, consolidated their families’ power through inter family marriages.

Winding alleyways and arches

The fertile farmland of the Tuscia, of vulcanic origin, makes it one of the most important areas in Italy for the production of olive oil. Olive groves abound all over the rolling hilly landscape. The watery late autumn sunlight picks out the soft green colour of the olive leaves, but other plantations of hazelnut and chestnut suffuse the whole scene with copper and gold.

In the town of Canino, twenty kilometres to the west of Viterbo, the olive harvest starts in November. Here they call olive oil “green gold,” a precious liquid that keeps the frantoi
(the olive oil refineries) working round the clock until almost Christmas. Here Italy’s largest (and Europe’s second largest) fratoio produces three hundred thousand kilos of extra virgin olive oil every twenty four hours in late November.

An olive grower unloading his harvest

Many other smaller specialist refineries produce D.O.P. oils (denomiazione di origine protetta) a certification guaranteeing the product’s origine and production methods. The olives are picked and turned into oil within twenty four hours, and stone grinding methods that date back to Etruscan times are still used to seperate the flesh from the stone and to squeeze it into oil, alongside more modern centrifugal and flaying processes.
Canino prides itself as much for its olive oil as it does for its illustrious citizen of the early 19th century, Lucien Buonapart, Napoleon’s younger, and most revolutionary brother whose support had helped him become First Consul. In keeping with his strong republican views and not wishing to become king of a conquered country like Napoleon’s other brothers, he exiled himself to Canino in 1808, leaving only once, to help his brother during the hundred days. After being captured by the Piedmont army following Waterloo, he returned to Canino, thanks largely to the intervention of Pope Pius VII, who made him Prince of Canino. A title which given his anti imperialist views he never felt comfortable with. His tomb is in the Buonapart chapel in the church of the Apostles Andrea and Giovanni.

The fountain in the central piazza in Canino.

At Soriano nel Cimino the pastel coloured houses clamber up the steep sides of the town to the feet to the "rocca" the castle Orsini, and its impressive rectangular keep, from where on a clear day the Sabine moiuntains are visible more than sixty miles away. All around the castle narrow lanes and alleyways wind and twist, sometimes opening onto a tiny unexpected piazza.

The "rocca" of Soriano nel Cimino

If the only time you ever buy chestnuts is from a man on the corner with a brazier then they might seem a pretty ordinary dish, but every October in Soriano they celebrate its importance to the local economy and cuisine. More than a village fete, though of course stalls serving chestnut based dishes aren’t in short supply (you have to try the chestnut and chick pea soup) this is a time for the four rione, or neighbourhoods, to get even old scores in medieaval jousting and archery tournaments, all carried out in full period costume.

Not far away the village of Bomarzo balances on a ridge of tufo stone dominated by the 16th century Palazzo Orsini; a later addition to the Orsini real estate, and indicative of the wealth and influence held by this leading Tuscia family.

Swirling autumn fog

In the late autumn afternoon fog streathily creeps over the low lying land leaving the town and nearby hills stranded like ships anchored off shore. Somewhere hidden in this fog is the Monster Park, or the Sacro Bosco, (Sacred Wood) the brain child of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, who had it built in the mid 16th century by the architect Pirro Logorio (who worked on Saint Peter’s after the death of Michelangelo.)

The park is inhabited by gigantic creatures carved from vulcanic rock, including an elephant grabbing a legionaire with its trunk, dragons, mythological gods, wrestling giants, an orc’s head whose gaping mouth you can walk into, and a house leaning over at a crazy angle. Later, after the death of his wife Giulia Farnese, the prince added a temple dedicated to her memory, which he likened to the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The park gave inspiration to Salvador Dali in his painting “The Temptation of Saint Anthony.”

The entrance to the underworld through the gaping mouth of the Ogre, in the Sacred Wood at Bomarzo.

Local restaurants serve dishes that not only reflect the traditions and rich agriculture of the Tuscia, but also mix Roman flavours, Tuscan aromas and Umbrian simplicity. In particular the starters: risotto with nettle leaves, unleavened crepes with sheep’s cheese, gnocchi and porcini mushrooms, black olives with wild fennel. And main courses to fully satisfy the hungriest, like agnello a Bujone: lamb cooked with garlic, chilli oil and rosemary, probably introduced by French zuave papal troops stationed in Valentano in the 19th century, or a main course soup of lamb, potatoes and artichokes. Not to mention rabbit, pork (porchetta,) and game.
Of course no region of Italy lacks its local wines, and among many fine wines from Tuscia perhaps the best known is the Est! Est!! Est!! from Montefiascone. Legend has it that in 1111 a bishop travelling to Rome in the entourage of Henry V of Germany sent his servant ahead to reconoitre the places with the best wine. He was to write “Est” (This is it) on the door of the inns selling good wine. Arriving in Montefiascone he so enjoyed the wine there, and not knowing any other way to express his appreciation, he simply wrote Est! Est!! Est!!!
I know, it's just so hard to find servants to send on ahead nowadays, so I can only suggest going anyway even without one.

Marzipan fish for the feast of Saint Andrew (30th November)


Nice To Meet You
E mail
Tel 0039 333 9522700 - 0039 333 7073786

I.A.T. (Ufficio Informazioni e di Accoglienza Turistica)
Piazza Verdi, 4/A - 01100 Viterbo
Tel.: 0039 – 0761 226666 FAX: 0039 0761 346029

Some restaurants well worth trying out:-

Ristorante Al Vecchio Orologio
Via Orologio Vecchio, 25
0761 305743
Serves typical local dishes, including aquacotta, a traditional soup, pasta with porcini mushrooms and risotto with nettles.
Meat dishes and freshwater fish caught from the two Tuschian lakes including perch and eel.

Locanda la Voltarella
Via Solferino, 25
0761 422197
Small family run village trattoria. Serves lamb alla bujone, pastas and polenta.

Ristorante Taverna dei Frati di Luciano Ferruzzi
Via Callarozzo, 10
Soriano Nel Cimino
0761 749083
Lively restaurant in Renaisance palace with terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside.
Starters include olives and wild fennel, orange salad, hams, cheeses, salami, sutrine (crepe with sheeps’ cheese)
Meat and fish main courses.

Caffe Schenardi
Corso Italia, 11/13
0761 354860
Historic cafe in Belle Epoque style.
Gathering place for liberal intellectuals during the Italian Risorgimento
Pasticceria and gelateria, cocktail and wine bar, coffee and tea rooms.

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