Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Futurists Meet the Present in "futurBella," the new exhibit at Rhinoceros Gallery in Rome

A Campari "vending machine" - they appear on several floors of the exhibit at Rhinoceros gallery.

If you like Campari, and the combination of Futurist and contemporary art (Yoko Ono is into it), then Rhinoceros gallery and the Rhinoceros Hotel in which it's located (which has had a fascinating rehab by French "starchitect" - per The Daily Beast - Jean Nouvel) should be on your list. Whether you can afford to hobnob with the likes of Angelina Jolie in those luxury rooms of the 17th-century palazzo (now renamed Palazzo Rhinoceros) is up to you. What you can get is a free self-guided tour of the hotel and gallery, thanks to the current exhibition, futurBella, a mash-up of the Futurists, especially Fortunato Depero (he of the Campari bottle design) and "Poor Things" ("Povere Creature"), the lavishly artistic film by Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Emma Thompson as Bella Baxter.

The gallery and hotel can be a refreshing respite from Rome's traditional tourist attractions. One of them, Bocca della Verità, is a one-minute walk along the adjacent parking lot. Bar dei Cerchi, just steps up via dei Cerchi from the hotel, is a rare "neighborhood" place in the Centro. Here we are, planning your day.

Playing off the costume design from "Poor Things," curator Raffaele Curi hangs one room of the gallery with 60 pieces of Victorian underwear - part of the "fun" he's trying to bring to contemporary art.

We'll save the hotel itself for another post and focus in this one on "futurBella," a  reference to works of the Futurist Giacomo Balla (whose apartment in Rome will be the subject of yet another future post), "futurBalla." Curator Raffaele Curi, who worked with Man Ray and other Surrealists, says he wants to bring back some of the fun in contemporary art.

Depero's advertising posters and magazine covers are projected on an interior window well going up 6 floors. Here is one for his own 1918 puppet play, "Balli Plastici" ("Plastic Ballets") which was re-imagined digitally in 1980 and plays in the gallery.  And also below, one of the wooden marionettes from the original play. (Depero objects are on loan from MART, a contemporary museum in the northern city of Rovereto which absorbed the Futurist museum founded by Depero.)

Campari wallpaper introduces the exhibit - which is quite effective in placing Depero's work throughout the hotel public space and gallery. You must visit all 6 floors to get the total effect, and all are open for you to saunter among the art spaces on your own. Our selection is heavy on Campari (apologies--the Campari spritz has been our drink of choice for the last couple years in Rome), but there is much more to the exhibit. We've included only limited photos here, because it's more fun to see this all for yourself.

The main gallery also has an exhibit by Ronan Bouroullec, "one of the most famous designers in the world." (We mistakenly sat on a golden coffee table - though no one seemed to mind. Photo at end of post.) Famous he might be, but Depero''s designs from the early 20th century steal the show. Bouroullec's show is on through September 8.

"futurBella" is scheduled to be on until November 30. The gallery web site makes it look as though you need an appointment; you don't. See the web site in English here:


Friday, June 28, 2024

At the University of Rome: Protesting the War in Gaza, May/June 2024

This spring, while living in two locations near the main campus of Rome's largest university--La Sapienza--we naturally were interested in exploring the role of the university, and especially its students, in engaging the conflict in Gaza. We made three purposeful excursions onto the campus. We had heard that a group of students were protesting Israel’s incursion into Gaza and "occupying" a portion of the campus. But (we're embarrassed to say), on our first trip to the campus we failed to find any evidence of a student occupation. There was evidence of a protest movement in the writing on some of the university's walls, and some posters, but no tents, or so we thought. 

At left, a pro-Palestinian phrase suggesting that 
Palestine should encompass all of what is now Israel. 
At right, "In Gaza there are no universities." 

All Eyes on Rafah (a city in southern Gaza, under siege)

The war has its origins here. Boycott!

One poster notified students of an upcoming student demonstration in Piazza Vittorio against the government of Giorgia Meloni, and including solidarity with Palestine:

A "Free Palestine" poster advocated shutting down Sapienza ("Blocchiamo Sapienza"), which these students understood to be complicit in the conflict:

In most respects, the campus seemed normal, undisturbed by the war in Gaza.

In this area of the campus, more centrally located and prominent than the site
occupied by the protesters, everything seemed normal. 

The second trip a couple of weeks later proved more fruitful. Rather than search the campus once again, we asked a maintenance worker if he knew of an occupation and, if so, where it might be. He pointed to a road leading to the back of the campus, behind the main piazza. And there it was, tucked in an area that was a few feet below ground--below the rest of the campus. About 30 pop-up tents. An information table. And, gathered around a picnic-type table nearby, a half dozen students--maybe planning something (or maybe not). 

The encampment was accompanied by kite-like stanchions, featuring slogans in script. The general theme seemed to be, "while you're eating a nice lunch, the folks in Gaza are starving."  

On the standard at left, the Palestinian flag and the word "Nakba," which means "catastrophe" in Arabic and refers to the dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The protesters apparently had WiFi. 

We also took more careful note of the anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian wall writing, this time looking for evidence of the students dislike of the way the Rector--Antonella Polimeni, a physician--was handling the issue. Although neither the wall writings nor the posters explicitly mention it, a key issue for the students was the university's participation in "il bando Maeci"--an agreement that institutionalized cooperation in science and research between Israel and Italy. 

Some sort of student march to protest the situation in Gaza took place off campus in the week that followed this second visit. We did not attend. But we did return to the campus to chronicle any changes. What we found was surprising: all that remained of the campus occupation were spots and indentations in the grass where the tents had been. 

We later read that the University may have driven the students out by scheduling "repair" work for that area; we had seen some of that nearby when the tents were there and wondered if the construction project wasn't a kind of harassment. We also read that the students had apparently decided to end the 6-week occupation voluntarily. A spokesperson for the students told Il Messaggero (a Rome daily newspaper) that the occupation had not, indeed, changed university policy, but that the students had learned that a change in tactics was necessary, one that featured increased contact and involvement with faculty and university departments, perhaps leading to a boycott. The students also looked forward to a protest on the 24th of June, on the occasion of a meeting of the university's academic senate.  


Sunday, June 16, 2024

Rome's Public Markets: a Cautionary Tale

Rome's neighborhoods remain vibrant communities in most respects, in part because the big box stores and malls that have damaged American cities are generally located far on the city's outskirts. Yet we have noticed that one element of the traditional Roman neighborhood appears to be in trouble: the neighborhood's central market. 

Our first recognition of the problem emerged in San Lorenzo, where it was clear that the central market, and the local, traditional system of food distribution, was in difficulty. Roughly half that market had been replaced by tables and chairs for drinkers (mostly) and diners of nearby restaurants and bars. And the half that remained was only partially populated. Only one butcher--a 72 year old man--continues to practice the craft in San Lorenzo. We talked to him, and he bemoaned the fate of his trade. He had very few offerings compared to butcher shops we've seen in other neighborhoods. He clearly saw himself as the "last butcher in San Lorenzo." And we counted only two fresh fruit and vegetables shops in the area. 

More than half of San Lorenzo's public market is now tables and chairs--or empty.

Friends tell us that the new indoor market in Testaccio is also troubled--more cafés and bars than traditional market offerings. The newish Trionfale market appears to be suffering too, Several years ago, the outdoor/shed market at Quarto Miglio was transformed into a children's playground and a center for street art.

The Quarto Miglio market, on a Saturday, at noon, in 2019. Only one stand was open.

An elaborate program of street art had failed to revive the Quarto Miglio market

Something similar is happening more slowly in the area around Piazza Bologna, where the large indoor public market on via Catania has been serving the community for decades. The market is located in a densely populated area--apartment buildings of up to 10 stories--that ought to be capable of supporting even a large public market. 

 At first glance the market looks healthy. 

But there are empty stalls.

We decided to do a survey. We walked the market, Dianne counting the total number of stores and stalls, Bill counting the number of empty stores and stalls. It was 10:30 in the morning, when one would expect the market to be in full swing.

Dianne's results: 148 stores and stalls

Bill's results: 49 stores and stalls closed (roughly 1/3)

Unfortunately, it's likely that the story of the via Catania market--a story of decline--is being repeated across the city. Chain grocery stores, with expanded hours, are proliferating.  Many of the daily (and mostly women) shoppers that once had their mornings free to shop at the market are now working. Young Romans are getting married at an average age of 32--and then having few children, or none at all. Fewer households having regular meals, fewer families and fewer family members to shop for. And, of course, the supermarkets have taken business away from the public markets. The future looks grim.


For other posts on public markets, of the many references on this blog, see the following:

On Testaccio's "new" market:

On our favorite public market:

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Reading the Walls of San Lorenzo: The Story of Ilaria


This wall of signs and posters is at the entrance to the tunnel under railroad tracks that lead to Stazione Termini, not far away. On the other side of the tunnel is the beginning of via Tiburtina and the leftist community of San Lorenzo. The Palestinian flag is prominently featured, and Romans will recognize the Rai poster of their Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, astride an arm in full Fascist salute. But who is Ilaria? And why does Ilaria need to be "free" (libera)?

Ilaria is Ilaria Salis, a 39-year-old Italian woman activist, arrested in Budapest, Hungary in February, 2023 for having attacked some militants of Hungary's extreme right who were participating in a demonstration. What actually happened is unclear, but Rome's daily newspaper Il Messaggero reports that those presumably attacked never filed charges and were judged to have been recovered from their injuries within 5 to 8 days.

The legal process against Salis was initiated in January, 2024. She appeared in court in handcuffs and ankle chains, setting off international concerns about the way she was being treated. At the time, right-wing Meloni intervened with her even more right-wing Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, as did other Italian officials. (Given Meloni's reputation as the "Orbán whisperer," it's surprising to us she wasn't more successful in freeing the leftist politico.) 

But Salis's request to be allowed to leave jail for house arrest was rejected--for the third time. In May, 2024, her request was approved, and she now resides in Budapest in the apartment of someone she doesn't know who volunteered to host her. Although her Italian and Hungarian attorneys hope for her release in the near future, she risks a sentence of up to 24 years, and her time in domicile counts for only 1/5 of the same time in prison.

Under house arrest, Salis will be able to communicate quite freely with contacts in Italy and will be able to participate in an electoral campaign, an important consideration because she is a candidate for the European parliament, as a member of the Avs party, a federation of the Italian left and Green Europe. If she is elected--voting is next weekend, June 8 and 9--it appears she would be granted immunity from prosecution and presumably be released.  Postscript: Ilaria Salis was elected to the European parliament. Her release is anticipated, though it is not guaranteed. 


Saturday, May 18, 2024

Rome's Election Billboards: Dinosaurs in the Age of Social Media?


This set of billboards, on via Tiburtina across from the Verano cemetery, is one of many in Rome intended for the the display of large political posters ("maxi-manifesti") that for decades have been a part of Rome's electoral campaigns, in this case European parliamentary elections that will take place in June. 

They are installed every year about this time on the city's sidewalks, which are mostly asphalt, then removed after the elections. Some say they interfere with the movement of pedestrians (especially those with disabilities), others that the installation process can damage the sidewalks. It is clear that they are costly; the cost each year to Rome taxpayers is about 300,000 Euro, or about $325,000. There are more than 5,000 of them, distributed in 166 locations within the 15 local jurisdictions in the capital. 

But the most interesting criticism is that they are increasingly irrelevant in an age when political communication takes place not through posters but on the social media, not to mention radio and television. A recent article in the Rome daily newspaper, Il Messaggero, describes the billboards as "immortal," resisting the inevitable: AI. One city official calls the billboards "medieval," an epithet that wouldn't have much resonance for Americans, but means something to Europeans. 

In 2023 critics advanced a proposal to eliminate the billboards. It failed because to do so would require changing a 1956 national law that established and underpins the system. 


The set of billboards at center left have just been installed; they've been cleaned of old posters.

This set of billboards has also been recently installed, but already someone has put up posters for a trans/non-binary demonstration--probably an "illegal" poster.