Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Japanese Garden....and a Gift from Japan

The experiences in Rome and Italy can be overwhelming, with so much to see and think about, and read and write about.  The Academy was welcomed into the home of the Torlonia family, in their beautiful 16th century palazzo on Via Condotti, right near the Spanish steps.  It was in this Palazzo that the Academy -- or the institute of architecture as it was known then -- had its first home, before eventually findings a permanent place on the Ganicolo.

After a lovely lunch on their patio overlooking the palazzos courtyard, Dietrich Neuman and I made our way to an appointment I had made two months ago -- for a rare opportunity to visit the Japanese Garden at the Japanese Institute, just beyond the Villa Borghese, and next to La Sapienza school of architecture.

Unfortunately, on the way up a staircase from the Villa Giulia (the home of Rome's Estruscan museum) we encountered one of the Mussolini's fasces, accompanied, for good measure, by someone painting a swastika on the adjacent wall. (Note the Roman numerals -- this indicates the "era fascista" -- the era of the fascist regime.  Buildings and monuments were often given both regular dates and the date of the construction, with 1922, the year of the March on Rome, being "year zero."  So, this fasce was installed in 1938, sixteen years 1922).

The garden was tiny but lovely.  The stunning event, however, was an old woman falling into the pristine silence of the koi pond!  She did scrape her leg but was okay, if soaking wet.

I thought I wouldn't be thinking about the Japanese garden again, after having thought a bit about them while writing about Carlo Scarpa, who was deeply enamored of Japanese architecture and landscape design.  I had no idea that when I went to Predappio and Mussolini's country house, I would find there next to the house, a gift of a sacred rock, like I had seen at the Japanese Institute in Rome -- this one a gift from World War II Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, to his ally, Benito Mussolini.

Fasce and swastika, followed by the natural serenity of a pond and sacred rock, which returns in the form of a dark symbol of an endorsement for Mussolini -- these are the headache-inducing contradictions of living in Italy while seeking the echoes of fascism.

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