The Frick Collection is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to Luigi Valadier, subtitled “Splendor in Eighteenth Century Rome.” To me, the name Valadier evoked only the Casina Valadier, a building on the Pincio, in Villa Borghese, where I would meet friends for coffee. (It has now been refurbished and is also a restaurant and event space.) It turns out that the neoclassical Casina was built by the architect Giuseppe Valadier who was the son of the Luigi of the Frick show. Luigi (1726 – 1785) was a master draftsman and designer and a silver- and goldsmith. His parents had moved from France to Rome and his father too was a silversmith – Luigi’s career began in his father’s workshop. Luigi and his assistants produced objects, both religious and secular, for the pope, for noble families and for the tourists (foreign aristocrats) for whom Rome was an important destination on the Grand Tour. Although Valadier’s workshop produced hundreds of objects, most of the silverware and gold was pillaged and melted down during the Napoleonic wars so relatively few works survive today.
The Frick show is divided into three sections. One focuses on religious works, including the complete set of silver and gilt bronze statues from the altar of a cathedral in Monreale. Another is dedicated to secular objects – my favorite is a silver coffee pot with a wooden handle. The third part revolves around what I would call more whimsical works of art that use and include a remarkable range of materials. For the pope, Valadier mounted spectacular antique cameos in a frame that includes other cameos and antique gems. They are rather astounding. Yet the highlight of this section is a “deser” or large table centerpiece comprised of small recreations of ancient temples, arches and obelisks made of an incredible array of stones, marbles and metals. It’s an intricate and stunning masterpiece. All in all, I was glad to learn about this artist who amazed me where I didn’t expect to be amazed.
Several years ago Maurizio De Giovanni wrote a giallo featuring a motley collection of police officers based in a Neapolitan questura – the fictional Pizzofalcone. Thus, a series was born. The cases that are dealt with often reflect real events or societal issues but the best part is following the lives of the principal characters. The protagonist is Ispettore Giuseppe Lojacono, a divorced father of a somewhat rebellious teen-ager. His love interest is Laura Piras, the magistrate often assigned to the cases. The other members of the group are the gun-loving Alessandra Di Nardo, a closeted lesbian with a domineering father; Francesco Romano, buff and with serious anger issues; the older Giorgio Pisanelli who is fixated on a series of suicides that he believes are really victims of a serial killer; Ottavia Calabrese the computer whisperer, mother of a disabled child and trapped in an unhappy marriage; and the boorish Marco Aragona who is brash, tacky and ignorant but a surprisingly effective investigator. Then there is the commissario, Gigi Palma, the calm at the center of the storm, who is trying to keep it all together and who has a soft spot for Ottavia. All these characters’ lives, issues and thoughts are explored and it’s interesting and entertaining to follow along as we get to know them better. Earlier this year RAI aired a six-episode series based on the books and a second season is in the works. The TV series is a lot more superficial than the books but the scenes of Naples are great, the casting is mostly good (serious exception, the Laura Piras character) and, all in all, it’s fun to watch.
Porchetta is a type of roasted pork that is popular throughout the country but is best-known in central Italy where it originated. The whole pig, deboned, is arranged in layers with a lot of salt and a stuffing of garlic and herbs, usually rosemary or finocchiella (fennel weed) and then rolled and roasted on a spit. It’s sliced into chunks and usually eaten as a messy panino with crusty bread or, in Rome, in a rosetta roll or between two slices of pizza bianca. A good porchetta is absolutely mouth-watering with its mix of meat, fat, crispy skin and savory herbs. A highlight of a drive is spotting a white van with its “Porchetta” sign on the side of a road, the more trucks pulled over near it, the better. Like many foods of rustic origin, porchetta now has a following among foodies and is on the menu in many trendy restaurants. The New York Times recently featured an article about the “Porchettiamo” festival in Umbria – a porchetta paradise. To satisfy a craving here in New York, the East Village “sandwich shop” Porchetta has a good version – greasy in a good way and succulent – served on a ciabatta roll. Yum.
It’s not often that you watch an old movie again and it lives up to your memories of it. However, Matrimonio all’italiana (1964) directed by Vittorio De SIca and based on Eduardo De Filippo’s play Filumena Marturano is a real gem. It features great performances by its stars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni who not only could really act but were both incredibly good-looking! The plot could only be Italian – in fact, Neapolitan – and notwithstanding its old-fashioned nature, it’s delightful but also highlights a certain culture and attitude of wartime and post-war Naples. A true pleasure to see again.