Thursday, June 23, 2011

Travels in Italy or Milan, Part I

I am now safely home from my quick trip to Italy. I had hoped to blog while there, but lack of access to free wi-fi at the beginning of the trip and exhaustion made it difficult to follow through with my good intentions.

We had one less day in Italy than we had hoped for due to a flight delay in the take off of our first leg, a missed connection, and an unplanned overnight in Boston. So rather than arriving in Milan on Sunday, June 12th, we arrived on Monday, June 13th.

The trick with adjusting to such dramatic shifts in time zones is to try to adjust to your new surroundings as quickly as possible. So while we had lousy sleep on the airplanes on our way to Italy, my husband and I forced ourselves to stay awake as long as possible on the Monday so we could wake up Tuesday morning and have our body clocks "reset" to Italian daytime.

Our first order of business after checking into our hotel was to find someplace to eat. Scott had looked in a guidebook for suggestions and copied down the address. I had purchased a good street map of Milan before we left and felt it was a wise investment.

The Metro system in Milan is easy to navigate once you understand its structure. There are a few colored lines with transfer stations and you look for the name of the end station to determine which direction you need to travel. We were able to use the automated vending machines to purchase metro passes with unlimited travel for three days for only five and a half Euro a piece. I thought it was a great deal especially considering how often we used the Metro over our short stay in Milan.

We found the small Caffe Verdi that had moved into the location of the restaurant whose address Scott faithfully copied down. It was a small restaurant near the Teatro Alla Scala opera house.

We shared a mixed green salad with parma ham and a pizza with parma ham. Mmmmm, it was a great choice. The flavors were incredible and as we sat and decompressed, we began planning what we wanted to see in the area before we collapsed.

One of the places I had put on my "must see" list was the museum associated with the Teatro Alla Scala.

It is one of the most famous opera houses in the world and since Orlando furioso had inspired many operas, I wanted to go there. We discovered that no photography was allowed and had to check our camera bag at the door.


I would have loved to have taken some pictures of the ornate opera house and some of the costumes on display. Not only are you able to see the objects on display in the museum, but visitors can peak inside the gallery itself. We were fortunate to see the stage being set with different theatrical lighting applied and tested.

After the self-guided tour we were ushered into the gift shop on our way out. There were plenty of souvenirs about the opera house itself and some notable operas had their own separate listings on bags, coasters, umbrellas, etc. Try as I might, I could not find anything with Orlando furioso. I asked about this, hoping that I was overlooking the location of these items, but was told that it was not a popular enough opera to warrant having souvenirs.

Scott meanwhile was checking out a statue of Leonardo across the street.

Leonardo spent several years in Milan and has an entire museum dedicated to him. The mural painting of Leonardo's famous "The Last Supper" is in Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Reservations are mandatory in order to see that famous fresco and alas, once we had confirmation of our trip it we were too late to get a reservation to see it on the days we would be in Milan. More on Leonardo in another post.

We then set out for the Duomo, and walked through an enclosed shopping gallery, the Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II.

The gallery is named after the first king of unified Italy who reigned 150 years ago. All over Italy, they are celebrating their sesquicentennial as a nation with their nation's flag flying everywhere. It is hard for me to believe that the United States is "older" than the modern country of Italy whose history dates back thousands of years, but until 150 years ago the Italian peninsula was divided into separate kingdoms. Vittorio Emanuele II unified Italy.

Milan is known for its high fashion and it is readily apparent from window shopping and recognizing various designer names such as Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, and Prada. Frankly, I preferred the people watching over contemplating buying high fashion direct from the source.

I love mosaics and wanted to share with you two different mosaics from the center courtyard of the mall. Here is the symbol of Rome of the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus with the slogan of S.P.Q.R. Senatus Populus Que Republicus.

The other mosaic is of a bull who is the symbol of Milan. There is a local bit of folklore that it is good luck for you to step on the bull's testicles, better luck if you "spin" on them. We had watched Rick Steves' PBS show on Milan and saw this local custom. In his video, and in his guidebook, the testicles are visible but there is an obvious indentation due to the strange wear pattern of the mosaic tiles.

It appears that the city decided to surrender to the custom and create something more durable. There is now a cement cylinder which makes it easy to take your little spin. And yes, I did not want to pass up a chance for good luck and tried it myself.

Our next stop was the Duomo. I will save that subject for another post.



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Archetypes: Aphrodite vs. Athena and Angelica vs. Bradamante

I began reading Greek mythology as a child. My elementary school classroom had a few books with those stories and I became entranced by the drama, spectacle, and tragedy that were larger than life.

I didn't know about psychology or archetypes then, all I knew was that there were some gods and goddesses that I liked and others who I didn't.

I liked Athena and didn't care much for Aphrodite.

As an adult, I can understand that Athena, goddess of wisdom and victory, demonstrates a woman having confidence in herself and being praised for her intellect. Intellect is something one can work on to improve over life. You can feed your brain with books, classes, asking questions, etc.

Aphrodite, on the other hand represents a far different kind of archetype. She represents love and beauty. Aphrodite is seen as such a beautiful woman that all men will be overcome with desire for her, and lose their wits in order to possess her. While anyone can make themselves look more presentable and attractive by having good grooming and dressing well, there is a limit to improving your looks just as there is a limit in changing your height.

That was something I inherently knew as a child and so I never felt any interest in aspiring to be like Aphrodite. To me, she seemed selfish, vain and self-centered. Those are qualities that I do not find appealing.

In the epic poems Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso, those two archetypes are best represented by the characters Bradamante and Angelica.

The Athena archetype is represented by Bradamante who is a warrior and renowned for her battle strategies. She is unmarried and unbetrothed because men are intimidated by her military prowess. She is a powerful woman and a character who I liked immediately. I may not be tall or interested in swinging a sword, but I enjoy reading about a strong female character who is not content to wait passively for anything. She is an active participant in Life and wants to be the master of her own fate.

Angelica, on the other hand, represents the Aphrodite archetype as a beauty who appears at the beginning of Boiardo's poem Orlando innamorato and disrupts Charlemagne's tournament banquet. She offers herself up as a prize for anyone who can best her brother in a joust. All men burn for her, and every knight - even the married ones - vie for the opportunity to possess her.

They are struck by the power of her pretty face and pleasing figure. She is described as the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen. Fights break out and later a war is fought over her.

She is a medieval equivalent of Helen of Troy whose face launched a thousand ships.

I simply could not identify with Angelica as a character.

As a woman, I cannot (and do not wish to) identify with Angelica's incomparable beauty and power over men. I would feel uncomfortable to have every man looking at me as if I was something to devour.

It should come as no surprise that in my novel, Quest of the Warrior Maid, that Bradamante is my heroine and Angelica plays a minor role.

In another installment I will compare the characters of Ruggiero and Orlando.

In the meantime, I am now off to Italy. The home of poets Boiardo and Ariosto who penned these magnificent stories.



Overview of Orlando furioso and Orlando innamorato

I thought it might be of interest for medievalists unfamiliar with the classic, but largely forgotten, epic poems Orlando inmmaorato and Orlando furioso for me to create a few posts describing the genre and include a few character sketches. These posts might also be of interest for those studying Italian Renaissance literature or fans of opera.

Arthurian legends are more famous than Carolingian legends, but I feel they are both luxurious in their dramatic potential.

The one entry in legends of Charlemagne that most people will have at least heard of is the Song of Roland or Chanson de Roland. It is an epic poem which has immortalized the real life defeat of Charlemagne's forces in the Roncesvalles (Roncevaux) pass in the Pyrenees Mountains when his rear guard was ambushed by Basque forces in 778. The circumstances of this historical event were then embellished and exaggerated by the poem and centers the tragedy on the betrayal and heroic death of paladin Roland by his stepfather the treacherous Ganelon of the house of Maganza.

The cycle of Carolingian legends proliferated in France as well as northern Italy with many different heroes and stories being added. Roland became Orlando as several of the legends had him being a son of Charlemagne's sister who eloped and fled to Italy.

Matteo Maria Boiardo began writing Orlando innamorato and incorporated many of these characters in what became a sprawling epic with multiple and interweaving plot lines with a cast of thousands. Boiardo stopped writing his masterpiece when France invaded Italy, and lionizing Frankish warriors as heroes became untenable for him. After Boiardo's death, the unfinished poem was continued by Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso.

Think of these two poems as being a grand Medieval soap opera. Both poets used a convention of a narrator inserting himself into the narrative and guiding their audience from one storyline to another. "We will leave Orlando dueling with Agricane for now and turn our attention back to Ranaldo..."

It is far more complex than the simple Chanson de Roland which only dealt with one storyline.

The titles of both epic poems reflects on Charlemagne's chief paladin, Orlando, and the unrequited love he had for the beautiful Angelica. Orlando abandons his station and his duty as he departs on a desperate, obsessive quest to make Angelica his lady.

There are periods of time when Orlando is by her side defending her honor and castle, and other extended periods of time when he searches in vain for her. At no time does she return his affections, nor does she want a romantic relationship with him. Angelica manipulates Orlando to serve her needs, and deceives him into believing she has feelings for him in return. It is when Orlando discovers that Angelica has married another that he goes "furioso" and loses his mind. Only by the intervention by another paladin, under extraordinary cosmic circumstances, does Orlando regain his wits.

Orlando's infatuation and obsessive desire for a beautiful woman, which lead to his madness is a storyline that did not move me emotionally. As a woman, I could not identify with Orlando's quest as I have never allowed myself to become obsessed with someone's looks to the point where it rules my every thought and action. I also saw Angelica as being unworthy of such adulation. Yes, she was outwardly beautiful, but none of the men who were fighting over her had ever spent much time in her presence, so they did not know what she was like as a person. They simply wanted to make her their conquest and be able to claim that they had taken her virginity.

Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso had many other plot lines of varying importance, but the one that drew my attention was the love story of Bradamante and Ruggiero. Bradamante was a warrior maid and niece of Charlemagne. This powerful woman was respected for her strategic mind and prowess in battle. She was content to dedicate her life to battle and was startled by the intense feelings of attraction after meeting Ruggiero, an enemy soldier who extended to her an uncommon courtesy. The two soldiers fell deeply in love, but were on opposite sides of a holy war and fought to overcome numerous obstacles in order to be together.

Next time I will discuss my reaction to the characters Angelica and Bradamante and compare them to the archetypes of Aphrodite and Athena.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Medievalist sites to see in Milan or Rome?

I have the incredible opportunity to visit Milan and Rome with my husband who will is going on a business trip.

I will be leaving in about a week and would like suggestions from my medievalist friends for places I must see that might not be listed in the guidebooks as Things To See.

I have booked a walking tour of St. Peter's Basilica so that I can see where Charlemagne was coronated. I also hope to visit a hotel and two bed and breakfasts that are named after either Ludovico Ariosto or Matteo Maria Boiardo's masterpieces.

Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Diva Dare Tour in the Wine Country

This post is a test case using my iPad and trying to upload pictures with this portable device. Hopefully the formatting will look similar to posts created on my home computer.

Last week my friend Patricia V. Davis appeared at Copperfield's Book Store in Santa Rosa to promote her new book The Diva Doctrine

Here we see Patricia with her husband Pete at a table filled with luscious treats for the attendees.

Her book came about due to a blog post she wrote that went viral. Her "From an Older Woman to a Younger Woman" post was reposted onto hundreds of websites and translated to foreign languages as well. The Diva Doctrine expands upon those principles that struck such a nerve with wit and wisdom.

Patricia introduces Linda Loveland Reid and Kate Farrell who gave a humorous reading of advice from Older Women to Other Older Women.

The audience loved it. Thankfully it was captured by a videocamera and will hopefully be uploaded to Youtube in the future.