Behind art, myth and food

I lived in Rome for about 5 years. It’s still one of my favorite cities. As I always tell my foreign friends, I find it extremely inspiring to wander from place to place in the streets of Rome; through its history, art, myths and of course its good food.

I just spent a few days there with my family. It was the perfect season to go for a culinary expedition in search of the best artichoke, a core spring ingredient in many Roman recipes.

With its coriaceous leaves and tender heart, the mammola or carciofo romanesco, is a beautiful vegetable whose name hides a legend. The Italian word carciofo is derived from Latin cynara scolimus. Cynara was a girl Zeus fell in love with and he made her a Goddess so that she could live on Mount Olympus. When Zeus found out that Cynara wanted to go back to earth, he send her back as a spiky plant, the artichoke.

After one of these culinary experiences walking from Colosseo, I reached the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. The church is the home of the magnificent as well as debated statue of Moses from Michelangelo, The statue is part of the tomb complex commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II. During Michelangelo’s eight months trip to Carrara, when he was selecting each marble block for the project, other artists in Rome managed to capture the Pope’s attention and redirect the financing to other projects. It took some time for Michelangelo to get back to Rome. 40 years and six negotiations later, the project was finalized to everyone’s liking. 

The story tells that when he finally finished the sculpture, Michelangelo was fascinated by his own creation and struck the knee of Moses with his mallet and exclaimed: “Ma perché non parli?” (why don’t you speak?). 

Everyone who has seen the statue of Moses has indeed been struck by its beauty and realism.

A few days later, I bought some fresh Roman artichokes at a local market. As I look at them, Michelangelo words echo in my head:

Aren’t they beautiful? Why don’t they speak?