Tag Archives: Museums

Museo Piana delle Orme

My continuing quest to visit Italy’s nuttiest museums brought me to this place a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. But first, some backstory. The Upstairs Vegetarian has a friend (who is now my friend too!) named Stephanie Malia Hom who is a professor of Italian, anthropologist, Italophile and many other things too. Her latest book is The Beautiful Country: Tourism & the Impossible State of Destination Italy. Doesn’t that sound interesting? Can’t wait to read it. Anyway, a few years ago Stephanie was visiting from the US and we all had dinner. She started talking about this museum she had gone to in Latina, which is 43 kilometers from Rome. As Stephanie described it, the museum seemed like the most interesting and eclectic place and the UV and I decided we must go there IMMEDIATELY. That was like three years ago and we never did go. The subject came up from time to time but we could never quite remember what the place was called or where it was. Fortunately, Stephanie came back to town and was happy to go again.

First you need to know a little bit about Latina. Mussolini founded the city in 1932, calling it Littoria. That name comes from the fasces lictoriae, a bunch of wooden sticks and usually an ax (fasces means bundle in Latin) that symbolized a magistrate’s power in Ye Olde Roman Days. Mussolini, a great hearkener back to the days of Empire, liked the image so much that he named his political party after it. Other people liked it too and tons of things feature the image of the fasces, including the Great Seal of Harvard University and the seal of the US Tax Court. I will make no further comment than to say “Isn’t that interesting.”

Renamed Latina after the war, the city’s catchy motto is Latina, Olim Palus (Latina, once a swamp). That’s because Latina was located smack dab in the middle of the Pontine Marshes, swampland since Roman times (today the area is known as the Agro Pontina). Fascist ideology was all about the noble farmer and Mussolini orchestrated a huge land reclamation project (the bonifica integrale, 1922-1935) to free up more agricultural land and combat malaria, by the way, destroying a whole load of wetland ecosystems in the process. The marshes were drained, homesteads were built and land parceled out, mosquitoes were killed and health services were established. About 2000 (Fascist, mostly from the North) families received a farmhouse, some land, a plow, tools and a couple of cows.  That all sounds pretty good, but this being Mussolini, it was all done a bit brutally.

The project employed 124 000 men at its peak. Workers lived in overcrowded  camps surrounded by barbed wire. Wages were terrible, hours were long, the food was bad, sanitation was poor and there was no healthcare. Many of the workers were infected with the malaria they were trying to eliminate.

Welcome to Il Museo Piana delle Orme. That's me on the left trying to look as short as everyone else.

Welcome to Il Museo Piana delle Orme. That’s me on the left trying to look the same height as everyone else.

Which brings us (finally!) to Museo Piana delle Orme (Museum Plain of Footprints), which totally lived up to its rep of being nutso. First of all, the place is absolutely enormous (50 000 square meters). There is a lot of outdoor space but most of the park is occupied by 13 airplane hanger-sized pavilions devoted to different aspects of early to mid-20th Century Italian history. The museum was established in 1996 by Mariano De Pasquale (1938-2006), a grower and seller of roses. Apparently he somehow acquired the wreck of an old US Army jeep in the 1960s and caught the hoarding bug. He collected everything he could find about the lives of local farmers, the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes and the battles of World War II. Mariano may have had a bit of ADD. The museum grew out of his collection. (Can’t you just hear his wife? “Mariano, you have got to find somewhere to put this stuff! If I see one more tank parked in our backyard…”).

The pavilions are filled with life-sized dioramas. There are explanatory signs in Italian, English and German (the English is remarkably lucid for an Italian museum) as well as (fairly squawky, difficult to understand) audio displays. There are buttons to push in the war pavilions and explosions ensue.

Many photos follow (Lots of these were shot by the UV, duly credited, as hers were much better than mine).

An F-104 jet greets you on arrival.

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There was a pavilion devoted to toys and models (planes and boats, not the human variety).thumb_IMG_1125_1024

Two pavilions are devoted to the bonifica.

The high rate of malaria in the region was one of the reasons for draining the swamp (a task that by the way had challenged government leaders since Roman times). Malaria means 'bad air' in Italian.

The high rate of malaria in the region was one of the reasons for draining the swamp (a task that had challenged government leaders since Roman times). Malaria means ‘bad air’ in Italian. Credit UV.

The bonifica took place in three stages. First, workers drained the swamp; next, homesteads were constructed and land parceled out; the third stage, took measures against the mosquitos.

The bonifica took place in three stages. First, workers drained the swamp; next, homesteads were constructed and land parceled out; during the third stage, the government took measures against the mosquitoes. Credit UV.

Draining the swamp.

Draining the swamp.

There’s an entire pavilion filled with farm equipment. We scooted through that one — sorry, no photos. If you ever wondered whether it is possible to see too many tractors, I can assure you that a little goes a very long way.

The next pavilion is devoted to country life in the years after the bonifica.

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I guess it was common for farm ladies in the 1930s to walk around with turkeys on their heads. Who knew?

I guess it was common for farm ladies in the 1930s to walk around with turkeys on their heads. Who knew?

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Kickin' back at the local bar. Ah, country life.

Kickin’ back at the local bar. Ah, country life.

Then we moved on to the war years. Deportation and internment in concentration camps.
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Credit UV.

Credit UV.

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The names of all of the Italians sent to concentration camps are pasted on the wall.

The names of all of the Italians sent to concentration camps are pasted on the wall.

A pavilion full of tanks and the like followed (see above comment on tractors).

Two pavilions on Italy’s entry into the war, the Battle of El Alamein and the Allied landings at Messina and Salerno. thumb_IMG_1164_1024The Allied landing at Anzio rates a pavilion of its own as does the battle for Montecassino.thumb_IMG_1170_1024

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Apparently Mariano actually gathered actual rubble from the ruins of the abbey at Montecassino to use in this exhibit. Credit UV. 

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Finally, there is a pavilion devoted to the peacetime use of war paraphernalia, i.e. helmets attached to sticks can be used to dredge cesspools.

There were also some peacocks, ostriches and chickens hanging around (well, they were fenced in) between the various pavilions — I guess to keep the kiddies entertained.

Hello there!

Hello there!

In addition to the usual postcards and guidebook, the museum shop sells loads of uniforms and bayonets.

All your gas mask needs can be met right here!

All your gas mask and helmet (and cesspool deredging) needs can be met right here!

I didn’t go into the bar/restaurant because I was in charge of the dogs but by all accounts it was clean and served various hot dishes.

Remember this: Il Museo Piana delle Orme. A must see if you’re are in the ‘hood.

Ovo Pinto

Easter greetings, my peeps (get it?)!wpid-20120223__120226-peeps

One thing I love about Italy is the weird and wonderful museums. I’m not talking about the typical ones that everyone comes here to see like the Capitoline Museum, Villa Borghese, Palazzo Barberini, etc. etc. forever. No, I’m talking about museums that are a bit off the beaten track and decidedly lacking in Caravaggios. I’ve written about some of them in Rome, like my beloved Museo delle Cere (featuring what appear to be department store manikins and only one female figure — Sleeping Beauty — whose chest moves when she breathes); the Criminology Museum (known to its chums as MUCRI and highly recommended); and Il Piccolo Museo del Purgatorio (the Little Museum of Purgatory, also highly recommended). Today, fittingly as it’s Easter, we’re going to talk about Ovo Pinto — the Museum of the Painted Egg.

Before we go on, let me just point out that I am not saying that Italy is unique in having offbeat museums. I am sure they are everywhere (she said, harking back to Graceland — been twice, it’s awesome — and that big ball of twine in Kansas). It’s just that there is soooo much art here and the Italians are so serious about it. Kinda makes the offbeat feel a bit more unusual than it normally would.

We all associate painting eggs with Easter but apparently the pursuit has been around a lot longer than Christianity. Decorated ostrich eggs have been found in Africa dating back 60 000 years! The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus believed that world hatched out of an enormous egg and saw the egg as a symbol of new life. Also death. Also kingship. It’s confusing. But some of them put decorated ostrich eggs in graves 5 000 years ago.

It appears that Christianity may have pinched yet another pagan custom. The early Christians of Mesopotamia  dyed chicken eggs red to symbolize the blood of Jesus. And so on down the centuries. That’s enough history for today!

Now, on to the Egg Museum. It’s basically two rooms in a tiny building in a tiny medieval town in Umbria, Civitella del Lago-Baschi. The whole thing started with an egg painting competition between schools, back in the 1980s. Twenty-five years later there were about a million painted eggs in someone’s basement (I’m guessing) so someone got the bright idea to put the best ones in a museum.

And it was a bright idea. Pinto Ovo is adorable and charming. The contest continues. In recent years it has been opened up to adults as well as the kiddies. and it’s international now — eggs come in from all over the world (that must be a bit nerve-wracking for the sender!). You can see entries from Bali and Brazil below. Any kind of egg can be used but it has to be real. No cheatin’ with plastic eggs. The contest takes place around Easter and each year has a different theme (for the adults, I think the kids can do what they want). This year it was the plays of Pirandello. I thought about entering but 1). I’m no artist and 2) I’d have to read the plays of Pirandello.

I took tons of photos, many of which follow. Some of these are pretty amazing.

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I love this one. It’s called ‘Free at last.”

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Ovo Pinto, Piazza Mazzini 9, Civitella del Lago – Braschi, Tel: 3408995074.