Saw Bacchus in Wenzhou

Chinese Meal. Fair use

A few days ago our bunch of friends decided to have a Chinese dinner at our home. Everyone loves Chinese cooking. This food is of course not a novelty any more even here, but since while getting better it keeps being incredibly cheap, we still eat it a lot and like it (a lot.)

Advised by the youngest of us all I therefore went to this Chinese restaurant close by, located at the end of Via Cavour, not far from Via dei Fori Imperiali. I ordered a take-away meal for 8. I had never been there before. Wow was I surprised by the place and by the people!

The restaurant was elegant enough. I admired the professionalism, dynamism and hard working style that reigned in the place, everybody being so serious and dedicated.

A big family clan, I believe, with all ages being present: male teenagers serving tables; middle-aged women organising, calculating, pinning small sheets of purple paper to the wall; young sweet-looking women serving too, clad in traditional silk dresses with fine motifs on them; a man who I think was the husband of one of the older women and apparently the boss; the eldest woman finally, white-haired, the grandmother definitely, who worked hard at the counter despite her age, so incredibly attentive to all that happened and typing the bills on the counter keys with solemn vigour.

I smiled at her and she smiled back. Romans are good-natured but they have some difficulty in understanding such closed-up and reserved people who nonetheless, when they feel one doesn’t perceive them as aliens, quickly respond. I told her I had a few friends from China and asked her what town they came from, what type of Chinese language they spoke, whether their language was Cantonese- or Mandarin-related. She said that their speech was related to none of them, that it was an entirely different language. The way she said it revealed she enjoyed answering to me even though it was not apparent (although I felt it clearly.)

She then said they all came from Wenzhou, which (I later learned) is a town in the south-eastern Zhejiang province residing “on the Ou Jiang delta, with picturesque buildings and surroundings. The port (…) very active in the 19th century (tea export) was later used for fishing only” (La Piccola Treccani). Thence the emigration to foreign countries of large portions of these active people with “a reputation for being an enterprising folk who starts restaurants, retail and wholesale businesses in their adopted countries.”

Wenzhou. Such a difficult word I remember only because the guy got close – the one I thought to be the boss – and was so pleased to write it down for me, and he asked me if I was a real Roman, and I said yes, I am a real Roman, and after a while I realised ALL of them suddenly knew this Roman had an interest in them. They sort of suddenly knew I was sympathetic.

Mifu’s Chinese calligraphy. Public Domain

Someone probably overhearing the said conversation and exchanging quick Chinese whispers they all were immediately aware of everything getting immediately hidden-attentive, hidden-agreeable, while two young men prayed me several times to please sit down while waiting for my package (till I finally accepted) and offered me gratis this unbelievable Chinese H-bomb liquor (of which I drank two shots.)

I felt this quasi imperceptible attention, these good vibes in the air despite their not showing it much. Chinese people are delicate, steel-strong, intelligent and – I must gather – telepathic, while most of the people here consider them a totally indecipherable marble-faced folk – funnier than stone-faced, it is a joke I have with some Hong Kong IT students: I tease them, they tease me back.

Oh such a lovely lovely evening it was! My fantasy was flying high, this nitro-glycerine booze being not totally guiltless.

And then – like a sudden cool breeze coming from nowhere … I looking at the paintings around … looking at the smiling faces around – I clearly felt like the presence of a God as my sight began to blur …

Bacchus-Dionysos. Louvre. Public Domain

At home our Chinese dinner was a success. It went on and on as only Roman dinners can go (for hours,) mixing both Chinese and Italian dishes washed down with an icy Italian white this time though, a tuscan Galestro not at all bad.

I didn’t bring any of the Chinese H-bomb though (meeting Gods too often can be a problem beyond a doubt.) I in fact know I owe that stuff a brief, intense encounter with Bacchus-Dionysus (son of Semele and Jupiter) in that Wenzhou restaurant and in the cool open air outside, a place right at the border of the ancient Roman Subura.

While actually my sight slightly blurred within the restaurant I remember I was gently given my take-away meal.

Bacchus-Dionysus. Louvre. Face. Public Domain

Moments later I was driving back home with my motorbike, winding and winding like a crazy birdie, fresh crisp air on my ecstatic face.

Rome, the eternal loose woman, imperial, magnificent, was smiling all around.

Colosseum. Fair use

Italian version

Best Espresso in the World?

Cafe Sant’Eustachio. Rome. Fair use

After all these books and reflection we really need a break. What about a good Italian espresso? Read this here:

“The espresso at Sant’Eustachio in Rome is so well-regarded that William Grimes of the New York Times advised those in the US seeking the perfect espresso, “…When the need for a real espresso becomes overpowering, buy a ticket to Rome, tell the taxi driver to head straight for the Sant’Eustachio cafe. The espresso will be perfect. A little expensive, but surely worth the trouble.”

This original article by William Grimes is so funny in his frustrated search for the best espresso in New York, and provides a lot of infos on a great town and on coffee. I agree. Sant’Eustachio’s espresso is actually great, and we cannot but be flattered that this NY guy appreciates it. Thank you Mr. Grimes, really. It can even be worth a flight to Rome, no kidding.

The only thing though being this: YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG MR. GRIMES. I’M SORRY.

I mean, why don’t you US guys ask Italians first before writing such things? I know Grimes asked a few, but I mean the people of the street in here, in this country. If you’d asked them before, every Italian (or 90%) would have replied that the real best espresso in the world is not made in Roman Sant’Eustachio café (where they just perform inspired tricks, that crema etc.). The real best espresso in the world is made in Naples.

The truth is how can Romans compete with Greek cousins in food, pastries and general refinement of life? In Neapolis they have dozens, even hundreds cafés where espresso is much better than Sant’Eustachio’s, even in the poorest suburbs where camorra rules.

So, apart from the real pizza (which in Rome is not bad but hasn’t got the original Neapolitan taste) and apart from a choice of pastries whose quality is definitely unknown in Rome (sfogliatelle, babà, pastiera etc.) where is then the best of the best espressos?

It is served in Il Caffè del Professore, 46 piazza Trieste e Trento, in the heart of Naples. There they make their own blend or miscela of a superior quality so they can serve you the best of the best of the best. No tricks. Only real sublime coffee from a superior sublime miscela. Then of course they also do tricks and variations on the theme. How? In ways and varieties that can make the guys at Sant’Eustachio get pale from depression.

More on our Greek Cousins, the Neapolitans, who can provide a lot of surprises, not only coffee or food. It will be our duty to relate some of this in other posts.

Power of Reading

Roman Woman with a wax tablet for writing. Pompei. Public Domain

To a Chinese IT student. “I am glad to hear that you like reading. Of course I agree on the great fun and sometimes consolation power of reading. As you have noticed, my house is packed with books. I actually consider serious reading a pretty good substitute for religion and meditation. It is a spiritual activity that can add some depth to our everyday life. I get consolation from reading books that I find special, I get also meditation from books that make me think and/or move my emotions.

Consolation and meditation usually people find in religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam etc. Especially Far-Eastern religions teach us how to meditate, but I usually do this with books that are important or special to me. These books I sometimes read out very slowly, concentrating on every single word and sentence, or I meditate on what I read in the silence of my mind.

Book. Public Domain

Special books

The books that are special can differ according to who is reading them. I find special those books written by people whose minds are somewhat consonant with mine and more powerful than mine, thence capable of helping me in some way. Since I am not a VIP of thought and cannot directly converse with today’s top brains I build up my own Platonic symposium with good books.

Why, you ask, don’t you ever meet important and highly thinking people? Well, sometimes I do, but not so often, it’s not easy to meet them, plus I’m reserved, plus they’re so intelligent they might find me not interesting, or stupid; I know there are intelligent Tv debates and conferences, but I am talking about intimacy and continuous mind communication.

So I like many sorts of books and I read lots of them. Classics are though my favourites and I mentally hold intercourse with them. I adore classics. They are my lymph. They are my religion (literally lol). They resisted time. They are regarded as beneficial and/or fascinating even though decades or centuries (or thousands of years) have passed. Time is a merciless darwinian selector. I really doubt that Dan Brown’s books will be read in the centuries ahead.

By Tom Murphy VII. GNU Free Documentation License

Dan Brown & J.D. Salinger

Incidentally, if you like American culture (as much as I do, though it is getting too superficial) “The Catcher in the rye” by J.D. Salinger is a great little classic written by an intelligent, gifted person. I had the luck to read it in the original when I was 18. I was in Dublin at that time attending a summer English school, and this Swedish boy I was sharing the house with was about to leave. He left this book to me he had just read saying “It is full of sex and slang”, which of course made my resolution to read it rocklike. It might not be special to you. Some American people find it boring because they are obliged to study it at school. But you are Chinese.

Dan Brown‘s books are good thrillers in my view though a little bit too entertainment-oriented (in the negative sense: nothing wrong with entertainment), even if they talk about interesting things, history, religion, lots of technology and today’s stuff like NSA – a sort of IT CIA – NASA, the Vatican, which on the whole is fine, but the thing is he’s in my view making money by morally subjugating the reader with his pseudo-theories.

I am not religious but I find it ridiculous (and depressing) that some people have lost their religious faith because of his books. And it is revealing of the fact that void rules.

City Book Shelf. Creative Commons Attribution 1.0

You told me about the low percentage of Italians who speak English. It is sadly true. We are animals in this field (animals in the negative sense: nothing wrong with being an animal,) concentrated exclusively on our culture and petty politics, though something is changing.

Italian version

Experiencing All

Piazza Santa Maria, Trastevere main square. Low_ res. Fair use

Some artists have this tendency to experience all. They want to dare beyond normality, beyond the ordinary. The use of any kind of drug as mental trip (or, in a deeper sense, as consciousness expansion) has been a research path that many philosophers, artists, writers etc. have tried, from Baudelaire to Sartre to many others, from various past theories and experiences – lived for example by American 68 counter-cultural figures such as Timothy Leary, Carlos Castaneda, Ken Kesey – until today.

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man
Play a song for me …
Take me on a trip upon
Your magic swirlin’ ship,
My senses have been stripped…

Bob Dylan was probably here referring to his experiences with LSD.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. 1963. Public domain

Many years ago an American experimental theatre actress (of Italian origin) was living in a small apartment here in Trastevere (from Latin Trans Tiberim = beyond the Tiber river). This was at a time when this rione had just started to be trendy (enjoy some Trastevere pictures).

In any case one night, on a tiny terrace overlooking Rome’s romantic roofs, while together with some friends we were eating a delicious Tuscan caciotta and were placidly sipping some good red wine, she suddenly got inspired and said that, if Shakespeare was so good at describing all the hues of the human soul, positive as well as negative, it was because he had actually lived them all, it couldn’t but be like that – she said – since what he wrote was actually so incredibly vivid and real— from the most dreadful horrors up to the joys of sublime love between youths.

Therefore an artist, in order to access some bits of greatness, had to behave in much the same way and experience life at a highest and even extreme degree.

Logo of rione Trastevere

She undeniably tried to follow this principle, and while her life was gradually falling apart, her acting on stage was amazingly gaining in intensity and strength, as if actually there were this sort of relationship between the experiencing-all type of lifestyle, on one hand (extreme sorrow, pure joy and less pure transgression,) and a greater intensity and power in acting, on the other hand.

(If you want to know more about those days, read this post)

The intense beautiful eyes of this American woman, whose family originated in Campania, expressed all these things. They were the complex, ancient eyes of an Anna Magnani from Chicago.

Roman actress Anna Magnani. Fair use

Enjoy these Anna Magnani’s intense eyes, showing all the vigour and dignity a contemporary Roman woman can have. I will show you better pictures whenever I can. The American actress too had definitely a deepness of her own. She later moved on from that intemperate phase of her life and she now lives a happy and fruitful life back in her Chicago.

Ψ

Let us digress and enjoy Anna verrà, a beautiful song sung and composed in honour of Anna Magnani by the Italian pop-blues musician Pino Daniele, from Naples, a city we will talk about soon since it is the Greek cousin of Rome: Naples, or Napoli, comes from Greek Νέα Πόλις, i. e. new town.

Pino Daniele. Low res. Fair use

Anna verrà
col suo modo di guardarci
dentro …
noi che ci emozioniamo
ancora davanti al mare.

Anna verrà
e sarà un giorno
pieno di sole …
Anna verrà
col suo modo di rubarci
dentro …

Anna will come,
with her way
of looking deep
into our eyes

We still so excited
by the sea …

Anna will come
in a day
the sun will fully shine …

Anna will come
with her way of seizing deep
into our souls…


PS
Permanences. Rome has a special relationship with that
Campania area. There was located Cumae, which founded Naples and which was the first Greek colony in the Italian mainland. In those Hellenic areas, lush with climate and fertility, and where later great Roman men like Cicero had their villas, Rome encountered the Greeks for the very first time, a fact that will greatly influence succeeding history. Talking of permanences, this relationship between the two cities is still alive today, based on empathy, common roots and a comprehension of two identities which are diverse though eternally attracting each other.

This song by Pino Daniele (from the album Mascalzone latino, if I’m not wrong) we love to imagine as a direct tribute from Νέα Πόλις to Rome. And Rome – we also love to imagine – honoured returns.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

Italian version

Ψ

Related posts:

Oranges in California

As for Anna Magnani and our mix of ancient and modern:

Italian Songs. Anna Magnani, Dean Martin, Pavarotti and the Three Tenors
Pre-Christian Rome lives

On Roman, Italian and Latin Roots. Italy and the New World

Permanences. India and China

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Civilizations Are Not Mortal.
India and China

I have received my first comments from Indian people. I’m so glad this happened. India intrigues me and, as I said in the introduction, I was looking for a wider communication. As far as India I had a special interest for this country since I was a kid. As I told this Indian blogger Ishmeet “I remember how my father, now no more, used to tell us stories about your country, about princes and wonderful palaces, and we all kids listened in wonder. I have been to India many times since, and my sisters and brothers too.”

So this blog is now starting to be real fun. Only, I had prepared a post on Rome and Carthage and on the idea that civilizations never die. Since this is true also for India and China (put together for their ancientness, huge size and great success) I wanted to please my Indian readers but I had no post ready for them. This is why I am copying this exchange of comments with Ashish, another incredible Indian guy (I changed only 2-3 words of my text). I do promise to face these topics in a more structured way and with lots of posts. Welcome India!

Emblem of India

Ashish sent this:
“I’m not familiar with the Roman names of the pre-christian Gods and Goddesses but I think Venus is Aphrodite. I’m more familiar with their Greek names ….Legend says Rome was founded by two brothers – Romulus and Remus who were nursed by a wolf. I think thats the first picture you’ve got there right? If we sit to write down all the events and people that have sprouted from Italy, a thousand page book would not suffice! Something folks say about my country too… lol!”

ManofRoma replied:
Dear Ashish, first of all my compliments for your blog. Witty and such fun! The older generation needs fresh spirit from youth or we get like mummies (I loved that post on “Interestin’ thing’s goin’ on!” and some links, like that about USA needing help: really funny indeed).

Yes, Venus corresponds more or less to Aphrodite, and we usually talk about Greek-Roman civilization, although the Romans were at first barbarians compared to the Greeks, their Italian neighbours (Greeks actually had founded towns in Italy too, like Cumae and beloved Naples – Napoli -, so close to Rome). (…)

As far as the book thickness, well, who knows, maybe a thousand page book would not suffice for Italy lol, but what about India? A 2 or even 2.5 thousand page book, would it suffice? Vedic civilization started in 1700 BC, right? The Indus Valley civilization(s) even earlier? I have to brush up all this, having been too busy with IT networking. But I know that Rome was founded in 753 BC according to legend, and archeology more or less confirms this. Ok, Greeks and Etruscans being our close relatives were older, but still this age difference remains. So probably we were barbarians also compared to you ….

Nonetheless it is not incorrect to say that we (Indians and Italians) are ancient peoples vis-à-vis UK, for example, which I though admire because they have been very successful and they seem to have some of the Roman qualities we used to have (either by chance or by Roman rule on them for 400 years).

In the West people are so silly (…) and ignorant about other civilizations (…) what strikes me most is how so many people in Europe and America are surprised about this sudden success of India and China.

Bombay Stock Exchange

You peoples in the Far East, after all, were at the top of the world in science, philosophy, technology and richness for….1000 years? 2000 years? More? I have to check that better. Ok, you went down for 200 (250?) years due to British industrial revolution, who helped Anglo-Saxons (and the nations they created) to take the lead. But what are even 250 years? Only 10 generations, if we consider 1 generation = 25 years. Very little indeed.

The sad truth is that people in here are busier checking how fat Britney Spears is getting. We ALL in here, Europeans and Americans, need help. A LOT of help.

PS

I am afraid Europe is even in worse shape than America, which has made this big mistake of the Iraqi war but won’t decline so easily.

Italian version

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Kastell Welzheim, near the Limes, Porta Praetoria

Civilisations are not Mortal.
Rome and Carthage

The French historian Fernand Braudel argues in “La Mediterranée” (see note below):

“That Rome has deeply marked Europe it is evident, but nevertheless there is room for some amazing continuities. Is it by chance that, when Christianity breaks in two during the XVI century, the separation of the fields occurs exactly along the axis of the Rhine and the Danube, the double frontier of the Roman Empire?

And is it also by chance that the astonishing conquest of Islam was easily accepted by both the Near East and the two areas formerly dominated by Carthage, i.e. Northern Africa and a portion of Spain? [see map below]

We have said it before: the Phoenician world was more inclined, deep inside, to welcome the Islamic civilization than it was to assimilate the Roman law, for the reason that the Islamic civilization didn’t only represent a contribution, it represented a continuity as well.”

[Extensive note to text]

Carthage’s zone of influence in the III B.C.

Italian version

ψ

See also the above note later become a post:

Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

Pre-Christian Rome lives


Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

In I segreti di Roma, as we said, Corrado Augias notes that “Rome among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village…”.

This ancientness of Rome is revealed by many aspects that go back to pre-Christian (or so-called Pagan) times, in spite of the fact that the city is the centre of Catholicism.

What can happen here is that the columns of a Christian church come from a temple of Venus, or that the porch of a palace built in 1909 is sustained by a buttress from Nero’s circus (Augias).

The character of the true Romans (romani di 7 generazioni, namely seven-gererations Romans, as we say) is often crass, easy-going, cynic, wise & witty: all at the same time. Great Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi (see picture below) was a pretty good specimen. This mixture smells of centuries and of moral values going well beyond the civilization of Christ.

Aldo Fabrizi. Fair use
Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi, an icon character of the eternal city

This Christian/pre-Christian mix is palpable. Federico Fellini’s films depict it in ways grotesque though eloquent (Roma, above all, but not only).

Following is Roma’s poster and the famous Catholic Church Fashion Show movie sequence from that same movie. It may appear an excessively wild scene, but it is hard to deny how it is also much revealing.

Fellini’s Roma poster. Fair use

In his novel Rome (Augias p. 11) the French writer Emile Zola wondered if Raffaello’s ideal figures didn’t after all flash the divine and desirable flesh of Venus under the chaste veil of the Virgin; or those mighty Michelangelo’s frescos didn’t after all refer to the nature of the Olympian Gods rather than that of the Hebrews’ God.

“Was indeed Rome ever Christian – Zola asks – after the primitive age of the catacombs?”.

Also the pre-Christian role of government of peoples still survives. Imperial Rome is resurrected into Catholic Rome, governess not of the nations any more but of the minds and spirits of men.

Madonna and child by Raphael, Italian High renaissance. Public domain
Madonna and child by Raphael, Italian High renaissance
Italian version