Levels of Recognition

Perhaps the young amphibian martial artists of New York’s sewers are to blame, but when it comes to the artists of the Italian Renaissance and beyond, some getter a better deal than others in the public eye.  Perhaps Caravaggio was just a syllable too many to be a catchy name for a super hero, but no more so than Michelangelo who did make it to turtle status!

I’m being flippant of course and wonder how many of the public at large appreciate why Raphael and Donatello might be names that they recognise when   Giotto, Cimabue, or Brunelleschi might not.  How does one differentiate between levels of genius?

You’re probably well aware of Bernini if you’ve ever visited Rome;  the grand colonnade that fronts St Peter’s, the bronze baldacchino over the altar within are probably on a par with Michelangelo’s dome above the basilica and his Pieta inside in terms of public recognition.  Michelangelo holds the trump card with the Sistine Chapel of course, but Bernini has other works to offer.

Why is he as a sculptor and architect any less worthy of recognition?  It can’t be down to his patronage for Bernini enjoyed the favour of popes, cardinals and European royalty.  He lived in a different era of course so perhaps he lacks the glamour of being a pioneer in his field.  Bernini was a master of the Baroque rather than the Renaissance.   All the same he fares better than his contemporary Borromini.

Most visitors to the Piazza Navona stroll the length of the former arena and pause either to partake of the many caffés or to pose for the obligatory selfie by the attention grabbing Fountain of the Four Rivers; one of Bernini’s more famous works.  The fountain stands outside a fantastic baroque church, Sant’Agnese in Agone which was partly designed by Borromini.

Located elsewhere the church would have real presence, yet here it is relegated to backdrop.  (There is a popular myth that Bernini’s fountain exacerbates this by having the statues which personify the rivers turn in horror from Borromini’s facade, though the story is not consistent with the construction dates of both).

Then there is that baldacchino.  Actually a joint enterprise by both men, it has become known as “Bernini’s Baldacchino”.

St Agnes, Borromini

My visit to Sant’Agnese was curtailed by the church clearing visitors, presumably ahead of some daily service, but not before I could take in the frescoes and interior decoration which draw the eye with their bright colours, colours which Borromini’s design did not include.  His vision was one of white stucco throughout but a change of pope saw him lose favour and he resigned the commission, a decision he may have regretted when he saw the results.

Whether real or perceived, Borromini was probably a depressive for whom such slights can easily take on great significance.  He took his own life at the age of 67 which doubtless further impacted his reputation.

It’s not all about the work.





There are numerous reasons for me to dislike Rachel Roddy.

Hmmm.  That’s not quite right.  There are numerous reasons to envy Rachel Roddy.  Better.

In growing order of potency let me list them:

  • She’s a successful blogger (minor envy) who can muster 20 followers for every one of mine – https://racheleats.wordpress.com.
  • She married an Italian (still pretty minor – that was always just a fantasy and don’t mention it to my fiancé)
  • She’s a talented cook  (envy levels rising now) which half a lifetime ago I might have aspired to
  • She speaks Italian (I tell myself there’s still time, but I’ve been at that game for a few years now)
  • She lives in Italy (Rome to be precise, though I’d settle for anywhere in Campania.  Or Tuscany.  Or the Veneto…)
  • She’s a great writer whose work has been published by The Telegraph, The Spectator, The FT and currently the Guardian.  (Yes she publishes recipes but imbues them with life from the stories which precede them)
  • She’s even a tremendous photographer, whose natural light imagery graces her book Five Quarters and makes every dish, every utensil, every ingredient inspirational

There are seven reasons to envy Rachel Roddy.

And despite this I am powerless to resist the idyllic descriptions of people, places and plates, so much so that on seeing a bag of beautiful cherries (not glistening in a Testaccio market, but spotlit on shelf in Marks & Spencer) I knew immediately what I must do._PW_3551_3_2

Which is why I stood hunched over my sink having washed the fruit, stabbing each individual sphere with a chopstick over a bottle neck to remove the stones, cherry after cherry after cherry, until my shoulders ached (need a higher work surface) and my hands were as purpled as MacBeth’s.  The green glass ran with the blood of my victims as their inner organs piled up within.

It’s why I buried the fruits in sugar, lemon and vanilla (my variation on the recipe) and chilled them while I set to work on the pastry, pastry so short that it was beyond my abilities to handle it on a hot July evening.  How can you possibly make this in the heat of Rome?  Heat that was compounded when it was time to make a jam of those sugar-coated gems.

It’s why I kept returning to a simmering pan that steadfastly refused to thicken into something jam-like.

It’s why despite having the dexterity of a jellyfish I laid strips of the fragile pastry across the top of the now cooled liquid.

It’s why despite feeling like nothing but a cold shower and a colder beer would do, I cranked up the oven for an hour to try to transform this into something edible.
I could have just eaten the cherries  from the bag and saved myself the effort.

No wonder I don’t like Rachel Roddy.

The end result wasn’t pretty…_PW_3624IMG_2540


…but it was delicious!


Have I mentioned that I love Rachel Roddy? (Best not mention that to my girlfriend either!