When I first wrote about this odd looking Crosswalk to Nowhere, I thought it was just that--a crosswalk that came from nowhere and went nowhere. There was an older house on the other side of the old wall. On the other side of the road was an impenetrable hedge with a field beyond. This whole installation must have cost tens of thousands of Euros. It has its own solar powered street lamp, signs on posts, speed bump and fancy reflective painting. There are no intersections here. A straight road behind and the curve up ahead. Vineyards and farmland. The location was just outside of San Gimignano.
But recently I discovered (while looking around on Google Earth) that I was all wrong about what this was. You see, this is a speed bump, usually installed in pairs in the rural countryside to warn drivers that they are coming into a tiny hamlet--of which there are many in Italy. One is installed on either boundary of the hamlet warning drivers to be alert for the possibility of pedestrians (farm workers, mostly) crossing the road ahead. In other installations, only one is in the middle, with wide white bars painted on the roadway from either direction leading toward the speed bump.
I thought this was a waste of money, but now that I know their real use, I think it's a sensible idea. If I lived in a tiny borgo like this, I wouldn't want drivers speeding through at full speed, either.
"You that are wandering through the world, willing to see high and splendid marvels, do come here where there are horrible faces, elephants, lions, bears, ogres and dragons"
--Carved into a stone bench at Bomarzo
Bomarzo is a town just over 42 miles northwest of Rome in the province of Viterbo that holds a surprise for the visitor willing to go against the grain of the average tourist. About 400 feet below the historic town center is a place here where creatures are gigantic, where mouths of monsters can swallow you alive, where a tilted house leans so far over for fear that it will collapse any second, and where Titans eternally clash. This place has many names perhaps because it has left many impressions in the minds and hearts of visitors. Often it's simply called the Garden of Bomarzo. Some call it Bosco Sacro (Sacred Woods) perhaps because they were enlightened by the magical fantasies here nearly hidden by nature for hundreds of years. Still others call it Bosco dei Mostri (Monsters' Woods), named for the hellish, monstrous larger than life sculptures of giants, animals and grotesques whose domain this is.
The Bomarzo monsters are the work of Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino (1528–1588), a patron of the arts, he dedicated the garden to his wife Giulia Farnese, daughter of Galeazzo Farnese, Duke of Latera. What a strange garden to be created in memory of someone... one wonders, what strange memories did he have? It's said that Pirro Ligorio, designed the garden and its creatures, who later continued the work of Michelangelo at the Vatican. The gardens took 30 years to build, almost half of Orsini's life.
To many, this place is fun, to others it's a scary place. The monsters are and beasts magnificent and huge. Hannibal's war elephant is carrying a just-killed Roman soldier in his trunk. Next is a tilting building, called Casa Storta or Twisted House. Push on one side to hold it up, push on the other and perhaps it will fall. The Titans are in mortal combat. Elsewhere, you'll see Pegasus taking flight. Winged griffins and a snake-legged goddess await to shock your soul.
There seems to be no real plan of the placement of the monstrosities... they are randomly positioned in the garden. The symmetry of garden design popular during the period it was built is nowhere to be seen. There is nothing orderly here, just surprise and shock. There is an inscription on one monument that says Just to set the heart free.
After Orsini’s death this strange garden was abandoned and fell into decay. The forest began to reclaim the place with vines, moss and lichen growing over his creatures. The half-camouflaged monsters must have seemed much more frightening to locals who happened upon the place, a source for many wild tales and superstitions about the monsters and the garden.
In 1951, Giovanni Bettini, a real estate agent, traveling around Italy discovered the place and saw the magic in it. He purchased and restored Bomarzo, freeing the beasts and monsters from the woodlands grasp. Today, the garden received 40,000 visitors a year.
Nonetheless, Vicino Orsini was a visionary when he created the garden. No one knows what was in his mind or heart--light or darkness--when he conceived of the creatures the garden possesses. He ordered the following to be cut into stone, “Thou, who enter this garden, be very attentive and tell me then if these marvels have been created to deceive visitors, or for the sake of art”.
Why go where the typical tourist is going when there are treasures like this in Italy? Just 42 miles from Rome awaits this fantasy...
Contatti Parco dei Mostri
loc. Giardino s.n.c
Learning Italian should be easy for me. After all, I'm full blooded Italian. Well, my parents never spoke Italian at home. I remember them telling me that when they got married back in the Thirties, they wanted an "American house"--English speaking. So I never learned my mother's tongue--Neapolitan--or my father's tongue, southern dialect from Molfetta. Sure, I learned a few words here and there... mostly slurred curse words or Americanized words used by Italian-Americas, like bakhous, meaning outhouse or bathroom or moppine, meaning dishcloth. But I was determined I would learn some real Italian before I left for Italy. We all needed to learn some. Initially, we had two options. Lisa picked up the Italian Rosetta Stone software and we already had Pimsleur CDs.
Rosetta was expensive--when we purchased the disc set it was nearly $400! For that money I expected to do the whole course, whether on the computer or on my android device. And consider that the mobile version is often dumbed down. It really made it impossible to use the mobile version of Rosetta while I was taking my weekend baths. (A great place to practice a language).
Another small annoyance was that Rosetta at times had trouble recognizing words as we spoke (on the PC we used a headset with microphone). I mean, I know that I'm saying something simple like "bambino" correctly, but sometimes it asked me to repeat 2-3 times until it understood what I was saying. I had a very good headset on a high end computer with decent sound card, so that wasn't the problem.
There was also a third way we studied Italian: Google Translate.
As long as you are signed into your Google account (Gmail) you're good to go, with a phrasebook (the favorites Star needs to be clicked) to save all you're more important words and phrases. There is a small star that when pressed will save the translation to your very own custom phrasebook. I kept adding phrases that I thought I would need. For instance, I did sections on cursing and fending off potential crooks, health, food, and general conversational stuff. etc. Lisa and I would sit with our Kindles at night and test each other from the phrasebook lists. You can even have Translate speak to you so you can hear how the word or phase is pronounced, although the voice is always the same woman, albeit a bit over-enunciated.
You can get a translation either way... English to Italian or the other way around in case you've come across some Italian that you needed translated (click the reversing arrows in the center). In fact, often I would research Italian web sites that Google didn't list a "translate this page" link (a pretty handy thing by itself), or when the translation tool wasn't functioning. I'd copy the full text from an article, paste it into the Italian side of Translate and presto! English. Ok, so the translations for full bodies of text were not that great, but at least I got the gist of the article I was reading. The best thing about Google Translate is the price. Free.
In the last year or so, I've been using yet another tool to hone my Italian skills... Duolingo. This is a fantastic online tool to help learn many languages--not just Italian. You can set your level when you begin, then take a quick test before you sign up for an account so you--and Duolingo--can track your progress.
I just love this program--especially the mobile app. I love the way I can work on lessons on my PC and switch to my tablet or phone and never lose track of the progress I've made. It helps if you have a microphone on your PC, or you have the option of skipping the pronunciation questions if your mic isn't hooked up. There are photos to match to words and vice versa. There are English words and phrases to translate to Italian, and also in reverse. When Italian is spoken to you, you can click to have it repeated. When you have to speak a phrase or word, it will give several tries for you to say it correctly. There are so many types of methods used, you never get bored. I can't recommend Duolingo enough... and get this: It's FREE.
In the end we all learned some Italian--enough to get by in restaurants, while traveling by train, and even enough to have basic conversations with people we met during our Voyage. Lucas was a bit shy but spoke perfectly when he did speak Italian. Lisa remembered a lot but face to face had a hard time coming up with the right Italian words. I did better, perhaps because I had learned some French years ago and wasn't afraid to dive in and sound Italian (I think my accent is pretty decent. Pat pat, on my own back.) Of course there were times it was difficult to have in depth conversations but I still managed to talk to a lot of different kinds of people... young, old, shopkeepers, artisans, etc. Learning a language is a skill that I wish they would push a bit more in our schools. Many Europeans know some English, but very few Americans know enough practical French, Italian or German. In fact, I was disappointed when I discovered that our school district doesn't even offer French or Italian--both were options when I went to high school. Too bad... Dommage... Peccato.
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