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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cupa Fregene

At dinner Tuesday night, when we told our close friends that we had spent Sunday at the beach town of Fregene, they were incredulous. How, they implied, could the veterans of Rome the Second Time have made such a grave error in judgment? The beach was "black," they said, a comment that referred, we hasten to add, to the color of the sand. And it was black, and also, therefore, they said, unusually hot, maybe unbearably hot. And it was hot.

Fregene had been recommended to us by our husband-and-wife landlords, who said it was nifty. And by a favorite Italian writer, Fulvio Abbate, who described the town as having "qualcosa di ombroso, di cupo, di sinistro, di casuale" (something shady, dark, sinister, accidental--in other words, beach noir). Fellini and Moravia had summer homes there.

Mainly we just wanted to go to the beach. But even once in Fregene, having driven the white line to get around miles of barely-moving cars, getting onto the beach proved not the easiest thing to do. We had found a nice parking place for the scooter on what was obviously the beach road, but it proved too nice--big enough for a car if we moved, some girls in a car made clear--and so we moved, then got into what passed for beach outfits, and set out on the road, looking for a way onto that elusive beach, held captive, we soon realized, by a fence of private clubs. We thought we might have found access at a place marked "Comune di Roma," but efforts to appear inconspicuous (reading the bulletin board) brought only attention--and the word that this beach club was reserved for the military. Around the side ("al fianco"), however, we struck paydirt or, as we said, black sand: a beach that was "libero" (literally "free," but meaning "public"), and into "Cocco Loco" we went. Loco, our friends had noted rather critically, is not an Italian word.

Beach activities are much the same worldwide--small boys digging in the sand, Dads flying the kites brought for their kids, adolescents posturing, women in their forties holding their tummies in, young men driving small rented boats recklessly--all, frankly, fascinating. Dianne is shown here looking out to sea, perhaps pondering the infinite.

Retreating to the beach-style bar, we found a bench from which to sip our white wines and observe the elaborately tattooed young men and the barely dressed young women.

Later, several blocks inland, we wandered through Fregene's most famous attraction--the "pini monumentali"--a grove of enormous pines planted by Pope Clement IX in 1667 and, in 1920, declared a national monument. We found another glass of wine, took a picture of a hotel that looked to us as if it had once been a World War II bunker--and headed home. We never did find Fregene's dark side--except, that is, for the sand. Bill

New sites to try...

We've added 4 new sites to our shared ones at the bottom of the sidebar on the right. We love these blogs/websites, and encourage you to sample them: is the best source (in English, maybe for Italians too) of what's going on in the city NOW. It's well-written, crisp and accessible... try it, you'll like it. - Jessica Stewart's photos, and choice of materials, are some of the best. period. - what can we say? Just go there - we like to think we share their quirky sensibility about this fabulous city, and their photos are magnificent. BTW, we "matched" e-cool's blog on the "maps" stenciled around the city (see e-cool's post of May 21 "Map Maker") with the map maker!! Matthew Hural (looking at camera + pix of some of his maps you can try to find around the city) at the American Academy in Rome is doing 21 of these, 17 down and 4 to go. (Also photo at top taken at Open Studios at the American Academy last night... couldn't resist the view.) - Maria Teresa Natale (of Rome) created and manages this impressive site on graffiti, most of it Italian. We plan to do a post on Maria Teresa and her work, but since we haven't done it yet, we must give her website a shout out and include it in our bloglist. I suggest you try the menu on the left and "gallerie a tema" and then just pick any "tema" (theme) - you don't have to know Italian or what you're getting to get good pix.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Imagining Failure: Rome's New Markets

We've always been interested in artists' renderings of buildings proposed or under construction. They're fantasies. Although artists' drawings are supposed to reflect the "reality" of what's about to be built, they inevitably expand and stretch that reality to make it more compelling and more comforting than the actual structure is likely to be, usually by including people--often, lots of people (that's a key part of the fantasy) walking around enjoying the new space.

So we were surprised to find, when we passed the billboard-size artist renderings of the new, under-construction Testaccio market, that the fantasy they projected was so lifeless, so sterile, so brittle.

As our readers may know, the old, semi-enclosed, outdoor markets of Rome, conglomerations of metal sheds, really--are rapidly being replaced by fully covered and enclosed structures in which merchants have their own interior shops and stands. This has already happened at Ponte Milvio, where the sheds have been replaced with a confusing brick building that isolates the merchants, and, to better effect, near Piazza Vittorio, where the new building's interior manages to retain something of the dynamics of movement, sound and community that are essential characteristics of the old markets. There are plans afoot, we're told, to replace the hundred or so stands of our own market at Piazza San Giovanni di Dio (see photo), in Monte Verde Nuovo, with something new. Many Italians, among them some of our friends, welcome the trend; they want markets that are clean, spacious, and attractive.

Elbow-to-elbow shopping among tattered and rusted metal sheds is not for everyone, we understand. But something is being lost, we think, when even the artists whose job it is to imagine the new markets--and make them objects of desire--seem unable to offer an enticing vision of the future, one that at the very least ought to combine the "modern" elements of the new markets with the energy and communal intensity of the old ones. All too often that doesn't happen--at Ponte Milvio and, as we look at the artists' renderings, in Testaccio. Bill

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rome the Second and First Time - around the Vatican

Rome the Second Time decided to delve into Rome the First Time Saturday night with a trek into the Vatican area, which we usually avoid [btw, this blog has a suggested itinerary, trattoria and film house].

The plan (have to admit, it was Bill's plan) was to take the scooter to the top of the Gianicolo (a favorite spot) and walk from there to the Borgo/Prati. I claimed to know there were stairs leading down - so we didn't have to put our lives in danger on the winding road going down the Gianicolo - past the Bambino Gesu' ('baby Jesus") hospital - where one often wonders how those babies stay alive given the drivers and parking on the sharp curves there.

The plan gave us a chance to see the views from various spots on the Gianicolo - all different and wonderful. My face was saved, fortunately, when a lovely set of stairs, Rampa delle Querce (ramp/stairway of the oak trees) appeared, followed by a street (Salita di S. Onofrio - Salita means way up... way way up or down because it's set at what seemed to be a 45 deg. angle) shooting us straight into Piazza della Rovere and from there an easy 2 steps to the Bernini's colonnade in front of St. Peter's. [cCheck out the new photo of the Anita Garibaldi statue we took on the way, added to the previous post.]

We wound our way thru the Borgo, trying to avoid the tourists while gawking a bit at the Swiss Guards, finding a market set up to benefit L'Aquila - still in great distress from the devastating earthquake (hey, everyone, now you know what you're getting for Christmas). The posters, which are ubiquitous in Rome, read "The eagle (L'Aquila = the eagle) is wounded; the eagle will fly again." The other sign reads "there are 99 good reasons to buy [this product]; #1 - we're from L'Aquila").

Our goal was the cineclub (film club) Azzurro Scipione (via degli Scipioni, 82), definitely a particular place. Azzurro Scipione is in Rome the Second Time because it shows La Dolce Vita with English subtitles every Sunday at 5. We planned to indulge our Fellini habit this time with 8 1/2, showing with English subtitles. We asked the manager of the film club whether it showed continuously, like La Dolce Vita. No, he said, just this month. La Dolce Vita, he explained was a "fissazione" - a fixation or obsession.

Since we had 1-1/2 hours before the movie started, we also asked him for a suggestion of a place to eat a plate of pasta that wasn't for tourists. He pointed us down the street, to a trattoria we had passed on our way, along with giving us a lecture that if we were eating plain pasta with tomatoes, we couldn't drink wine with it, just water.

The trattoria - "da Vito e Dina" at via degli Scipioni, 50 (closed Tuesdays) - was perfect... the service leisurely. When it was time for our second course, the waiter arrived, not with the seabass we had ordered, but with a fresh uncooked whole fish on a plate, showing us the "orato" or gill fish that he offered instead, because the seabass was "finito". That was fine with us, tho' Bill pointed out to me he really would gave preferred not seeing the whole fish. (Our Jewish artichoke arrived 10 minutes before the movie was to start and after all our other food - but it was a good one, and made a perfect dessert). The owner (must have been Vito) stopped and gave us his "business card" and we reciprocated with a Rome the Second Time card.

8 1/2 was wonderful, and we realized how little we understood of it when it first came out and we saw it in Florence in 1962, without subtitles.

We walked back at midnight past the trattoria. It was still open and the owner rushed to us to show us he had posted the card for Rome the Second Time on his door and--at his suggestion, not ours--posed for a photo.

We retraced our path, climbing back up to the top of the Gianicolo. This time the stairway was full of youth - young lovers, young whatevers... with their bottles of beer. Some couples were straddling the backless marble benches and, of course, necking.... we didn't try it ourselves, nor were we bold enough to take a photo. Suffice it to say, it seemed a great use of the benches! And the top of the Gianicolo was jammed again with crowds... the views as wonderful for us as the first time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Updates to Itineraries in Rome the Second Time

see sidebar at right... a couple new ones...

the Anita Garibaldi statue on the Gianicolo is swathed in scaffolding and opaque sheeting - don't go there until it's unveiled (but we're glad they're restoring it).... photo of what you're missing at left, but from across the street you still can see her head, gun and an infant's arm in the air (below).

our favorite tiny restaurant in the Appio Latino neighborhood, Mithos - la Taverna dell'allegria - is now closed Sundays and Monday through lunch (but open on Weds) plus the prices are about 15% higher than in our Rome the Second Time - but still a deal. Plus we were too optimistic saying you might be seated at 7:30 - don't even think about it until at least 8:10 - until Mario dons his apron. And you can get fish on days other than those listed (we had a wonderfully sauteed orato last week). FURTHER UPDATE - Mithos is now located in the nearby Piazza Scipione Ammirato.  We plan to do a full post on this, our favorite restaurant in Rome,  shortly.  Updated info:  address - Piazza Scipione Ammirato, 7; phone + 39.067840034. email -  All Italian, all the time, not Greek.

many of the stairways to the Tevere are blocked off (some ala' Romans - you can still get through) as the comune continues to work on the river "walks" - such as cutting down trees [the comune seems to be on a tear for cutting down trees this year] and making the walks unpleasant, especially in the heat.

Bar Gianicolo is closed Mondays.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Austrians, Art and Ambience

Is contemporary art is alive and well in Rome? Our answer is yes, but of course, we had to see for ourselves.

The Spring shows of many small private galleries who belong to the Associazione Romana Gallerie D'Arte Moderna (A.R.G.A.M. - i.e., the Association of Rome's Modern Art Galleries) kicked off the night before last with new shows, music and, of course, the vernissage (a little extra - i.e., food and drink).

But we began our search for the answer to our own question off the beaten track a bit, at the Austrian cultural institute or, as it's called, the Austrian Cultural Forum in Valle Giulia. The institute itself is a well-proportioned 1935 building with a storied history that of course includes the German Anschluss in Austria, the Germans taking over the institute too (and making it a German history institute), the institute being taken over then by the Allies and then the Italian state (if I read the placard correctly), and finally returned to Austria and restored relatively recently.

We had wanted to see the Austrian institute for some time (Rome the Second Time features arts academies, but we had never been to this one). We stepped inside the gate and immediately felt an (very un-Roman) Austrian presence of precision and cleanliness. The art installations by Austrian sculptor (yes, I heard her say to one of the few Italians there, this all IS sculpture) Katharina Heinrich attempts to intervene and contradict the clean lines of the institute. Where they let her playful interventions go, she is successful - as we hope you can see from the photos - but much of the institute remains rigidly itself. Still this was our chance to get into the institute and have some free (for Bill, always a huge plus) wine and a nice spread of Italian foods.

Another disappointment to us, and no doubt to Katharina, was the small turnout. In our hour there, the first it was open, we saw about 40 people, mostly speaking German. And, from the size of the food and drink table, they weren't expecting many more. Where was the rest of the Rome art community? Has the Austrian cultural institute been too small a player on this scene? The sculpture and opening deserved more, and the sculpture will be there through September.

We then went into the Tridente ("trident") area near Piazza del Popolo to hit a couple of the A.R.G.A.M. galleries. The art ranged from not so hot to very good, but then you'd expect that in small galleries anywhere, including Soho and Chelsea. By the time we ended the evening the musicians were packing up, the "friends" were sitting in chairs telling their gallery owner friends how wonderful everything was, and the tourists were taking their tired limbs to the same tired restaurants - ignoring all this verve around them. And so we scootered home over the Gianicolo...what could be better? Dianne

The (former) Mayor of Rome, #1 Kindle and Rome the Second Time

A couple of cool Rome the Second Time events yesterday: handing (former) Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni his own copy of Rome the Second Time, and discovering RST hit #1 on the Kindle speciality travel list on

Veltroni wrote the enchanting and very Italian (even more so in the original - if that makes any sense) foreword to our book, but he had only read it in an electronic version until now. He gave us a huge smile and said "that's the book!" We caught Veltroni on his way to the press opening where he was commenting on a new book on Mussolini's daughter and her affair with a communist (Edda Ciano e il communista), held appropriately in the Casino Nobile of Villa Torlonia, where Mussolini and his family lived when he was in Rome.

While waiting for Veltroni, Bill and I enjoyed the Villa (it's in Rome the Second Time, in itinerary 8) and marveled again at how gorgeous it is, especially compared to the derelict park, full of abandoned buildings and detritus (vegetable, animal and mineral) we saw when we first started coming to the Villa over 10 years ago. Veltroni appropriately commented at the book session that the restoration happened under his watch as mayor (his support of culture in Rome is one of the reasons we asked him to write the foreward to RST). The Casino Nobile itself was occupied after Italy exited from the war by Americans, who purposefully vandalized it because it was Mussolini's home. Photo above right is a poster of the cover of the book (photo above left) propped up against one of the large tubs (stolen from some Roman bath) adorning the front of the Casino Nobile. Dianne

Campo di UW

Last night we attended Jeffrey Collins' delightful talk, "Pompous Baloney? Telling the Time in Batoni's Portrait of Pope Pius VI," the last in the University of Washington's series at the UW Rome Center on Campo dei Fiori. Jennifer Wilkin puts these evenings together and contributes her curiosity, charm, and networking skills, and we are grateful to her and to the University for the kindness, hospitality, and sense of community that are a feature of these events. The evening ended on the terrace high above the Campo, with this magical vision of the sun setting squarely behind the dome of St. Peter's. Too much. Bill

Crisis in the Valley of the Platani

On Sunday we scootered over to Villa Borghese to check out some huge, 400 year-old trees that were being threatened by the use of bulldozers, so the local environmentalists claimed. We found them easily enough, at the north end of the park, just south of the Bioparco (Zoo). About a dozen thick and tall and grizzled veteran platani (plane trees, of a variety that arrived in Rome from the eastern Mediterranean thousands of years ago) thrive in a slight depression in the land--the Valley of the Plane Trees (Valle dei Platani)--with ridges rising gently on the sides. We saw the threatening bulldozer first, perhaps 50 meters from the nearest of the platani, astride a ditch it was digging for a new water pipe. White lines traced the intended course of the ditch, which appeared to more or less parallel the line of the trees as it gradually moved downward toward the end of the valley. According to newspaper accounts, in order to protect the trees the project was to have been accomplished entirely by hand shoveling. But there was the bulldozer. And the environmentalists were concerned that its operators would fail to respect a new agreement to keep the machine at least 12 meters from the trees.

Our impression that day was that the giant platani would be fine, and that the threat to them was overstated. But a story in La Repubblica a few days later thickened the plot. The story featured American Peter Raven, described as "among the greatest living botanists," and his wife, Patricia Duncan Raven, also a distinguished botanist, both in Rome. It seems that Peter sent Patricia to have a look at things in the Valley of the Platani. Based on her photos and measurements, they concluded that some damage had already been done; the partially-dug ditch for the water line would inevitably drain precious water away from the trees. It didn't matter much, they said, whether the trench was dug by hand or by machine. What did matter was that the trench be kept at least 30 meters--ideally 50--from the platani. In a formal appeal to Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, not known for environmentalist sympathies, Peter Raven called the platani "magnificent vestiges of Rome's past, living monuments to a vanished world," and he called for an immediate stop to the work so that alternatives could be considered. "To continue the work even for a single day," he concluded, "could result in permanent damage." Bill

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rome's Architectural Vernacular: the Open Loggia

Look up, and you'll see them. They're in every neighborhood built after about 1925. We call them "open loggias" (in Italian, one of the definitions of the word "loggia" is "verandah," and a "loggiato" is an "open gallery"). Some have become outdoor living areas, with vines or blinds to provide shade or, sometimes illegally--"abusivi" is the Italian word for such extra-legal structures--framed in to provide more permanent extra space for lucky and plucky upper-floor residents. And some, like the one above, on via Falconieri, remain pristine.
What we don't know is why architects designed buildings with this costly and, at least at first, useless feature. One answer would seem to lie in the realm of aesthetics; the open loggia arguably makes the building look better, lending it a certain lightness of being at the top. We also don't know the origins of the open loggia, whether in Bauhaus modernism, the architectural practices of ancient Rome, or something else altogether. Your insights are welcome. Bill

New Mystery Photo - continuing the Fascist era tour

A new mystery photo has been posted at right (and below) - my pick. Some apologies for continuing the Fascist era architecture tour, but we couldn't resist this one. A few hints... it's inside, that's not me looking at it - I took the photo (:=)), and it's been restored relatively recently (opened to the public within the past 2 years). Dianne

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Open Museum Night...another reason to party

Rome throws a great party, and Saturday, the open night (8 p.m. - 2 a.m.) for museums, was no exception.

We went to 3 of the more than 50 venues... starting when the museums opened (free) at 8 p.m. with a new show opening at the Carlo Bilotti museum in the Villa Borghese (theme of mythology waaay too large to bring comprehension to these works, some of which we appreciated - especially the first room with the theme of larger-than-life-size bodies). Bilotti's motives and means may be suspect, but we love the museum he left to Rome (in a former "orangery" ("aranciera") building on the huge Villa Borghese park grounds), along with his collection of DeChiricos.

Next we hopped over to MACRO, the Commune of Rome's contemporary art gallery, which had been closed for a year, apparently for political reasons (the "right" won the mayoral election a year ago and managed not to have a director of the museum until very recently). The opening itself was great fun--hundreds (thousands?) of people all over the street as well as jamming the courtyard which was pitch black except for the green shafts of light emanating from American Arthur Duff's word installation, "Love Poems" (we liked the atmosphere, but prefer Jenny Holzer when it comes to word/art).

We managed to have some true Roman experiences at MACRO, waiting in a line to see the new wing under construction only to be told one did...or didn't... need a small white piece of paper to enter, then to be told one could... or couldn't... get the piece of paper... then filling out a form (in the dark - did they not think it would get dark?) to get the piece of paper, and then finally escorted into the construction site. We also managed to snag free compari and soda before they all were consumed. The darkened courtyard, the swirling green letters, the red comparis all around, the sound of tinkling glass as the bar tenders threw down every small bottle they emptied... while standing among the hundreds with our own glasses of compari...was an evocative atmosphere--better, in fact, than the art works chosen to be displayed in the regular gallery rooms that evening.

Many private galleries in the area also were open late, and we stopped at one, where we saw paintings ("Frozen Hotspots") by the German Christina Maria Pfeifer (at the gallery Hybrida) - which we liked better than most of the MACRO collection on display down the street.

So pleased were we with the whole open-museum evening that we decided to make a last stop at midnight Castel Sant'Angelo... only to find every opening, as we looked up, filled with people looking out, and the line to get in stretched more than halfway across the bridge of angels...Ah, well, the cityscape and people watching from ground level were grand enough for us.

At 1 a.m. we scootered home across the Gianicolo - which also was as crowded as we've ever seen it... Romans having a grand time, and why not? These open museum nights should happen more often - to get more Romans into their own museums. That's our p.r. advice, in any event. Dianne

Friday, May 15, 2009

Exclusive: Sabine Women Live Happily Ever After

For millennia, disgust was the only reasonable emotion to have for what happened about 2700 years ago to the women of the Sabine, a people that occupied an area centered to the northeast of Rome, from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic. Their story of Il Ratto delle Sabine (The Rape of the Sabines) was told and retold, by Plutarch and Ovid, by Renaissance painters Bartolome di Giovanni, Ludovico Caracci, Pietro da Cortona, Tiepolo, and many others--all featuring Roman soldiers struggling and tussling with the young ladies of the Sabina, often in sexually provocative positions. Later work--Primo Conti's 1925 depiction of the event--was more explicitly sexual, with the Romans presented as dark-skinned predators. Franco Gentilini's 1934 version resembles a Victorian picnic gone bad.

Forget all that, or most it, anyway. The "true" story--in any event, another story, another "myth" one might say--was told recently in an exhibit (now closed) at the Vittoriano. This narrative, with elements of the old one, but with more historical context, begins with the founding of Rome by Romolo (Romulus), and with Romolo's plan to increase the population of his new city by scouring the countryside for brides for the oversupply of Roman men. A not unreasonable goal, and for a while the thoughtful Romolo pursued it through diplomacy; he negotiated with surrounding territories, urging them to send their young women to the big city. When that didn't work, the clever Romolo gave a huge party, big enough to attract the Sabine women (and their escorts). At a prearranged signal, the Roman soldiers pounced on the Sabine entourage, scaring the men off and taking the women--only the unmarried ones, of course, so no families were split up, and everything should have been fine. Not so. Inexplicably, the Sabine men were furious, and they made war on Rome. BUT--and here we get another twist to the new story--the war was ended by the Sabine women themselves, who brought the two sides to the bargaining table. Perhaps they realized that despite that inauspicious beginning, life with the boys of Rome wasn't so bad after all.

More recently, we learned from the exhibit, the story of the Sabine women has found its way onto the silver screen. An early effort was Il Ratto delle Sabine (1945), dir. Mario Bonnard, then, by the same title, a 1961 film directed by Richard Poitier, featuring a young Roger Moore as Romolo. The Taviani Brothers took up theme in 1969 with Sotto Il Segno delle Scorpione (Under the Sign of the Scorpion).

But the real gem, from which we offer you a brief excerpt, is Stanley's Donen's frantic musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), starring Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn, and Howard Keel. The film was influenced by a 1938 Stephen Vincent Benet novel, The Sobbin' Women, and it is set in Oregon Territory in 1850, with the Romans transposed into a family of horny but genial mountain men. Bill

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mystery Photo de-mystified and more...

Complimenti to Alexander Booth, of Rome, who identified the mystery photo (here) as the Fascist-era post office on via Marmorata in Testaccio. It didn't hurt that Alexander is a volunteer at the Protestant (Non-Catholic) Cemetery virtually across the street. Several other later guessers (btw, not all Fascist era buildings look alike, tifosi) mentioned other favorite Fascist-era post offices, including the one on via Taranto in the San Giovanni area (where Bill was "picked up" for taking a photo - hence the admonition in Rome the Second Time on not taking photos in post offices) and the gorgeous one in Rome's seaside town (once port) of Ostia.

The last two guessers were so quick on the draw we're still contemplating the next Mystery Photo.... so stay tuned.

The "more":

For those of you hanging on the edge of your seats, we made our choice in coffee bars. We now patronize 2: the "market bar" in our first post on coffee bars (the "g" in "gastronomia" is missing from its outdoor sign - so it says "astronomia" or not gastronomy but astronomy, and it features an apertif "apertivo panty" - a white martini with bitters, the barista told me... sorry, folks, I just couldn't bring myself to try it. And the barristas there chat us up and are cute (say I). The second bar (we have to walk around the block the long way and make sure we don't go in front of "market bar" - we hadn't even known about it when we were first trying out coffee bars) is Cafe' Desideri on via Ozanam, that Bill mentioned in yesterday's post. Desideri seems to run the block... On the same street are a well-regarded pasticceria and take-out too - so their morning pastries are the best ("ottimi"). Both places allow us to sit down inside and out, without paying extra... and their coffees are very good - i.e., it's all delightful.

And small sins - we finished off 2 after-Easter colombo (the dove-shaped sweet cakes) and one after-Easter enormous chocolate egg (for those of you never in Rome for Easter, those big colored things hanging from the ceiling are chocolate eggs in fancy paper). If anyone knows of any colombo still for sale in the Eternal City, let us know... we can't resist the half-priced stuff.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

La Bella Figura: the Farm-Hand "Look"

In our relentless search for the latest in Eternal City ephemera, we offer the farm-hand or farmer's daughter "look," observed at Cafe' Desideri on via Ozanam. This fashion statement blends the overalls of the hired hand with late-1960s shades and bold, rolled cuffs (see closeup) ala '50s bad boys Dean and Brando. Despite the "great recession," we guess the foreman would find a place for this lass in the bunkhouse. Bill

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rome loves a march or were the communists attacking the church?

Cotton fluff in a 15th century hospital ward, Chinese shops open midday, threatened attacks on a church, Bulgarian cinema--Rome never fails to entertain us.

Yesterday we started out at an art installation set in the old (as in 15th century) 100+ yard-long hospital ward of Santo Spirito in Sassia, near the Vatican. I'd always wanted to see this complex, and Stefano Arienti's art installation, Enciclopedia, came close to evoking the old ward--spectacular and eerie at the same time... who needs Dan Brown?

We proceeded to a building, rarely open to the public, with tours led by a group we respect, the Fondo per l'ambiente italiano, or FAI, kind of a public preservation trust (what they did to restore Tivoli's Villa Gregoriana is amazing - p. 173 of our book). I thought hey, get into another palazzo, with an odd name - Zecca - maybe it means "pumpkin", I told Bill... whoops - zecca is the mint... the first comprehensive mint after Italian unification in 1870 (built in the early 1900s), now a museum & school for medallion makers. One thing Dino, our well-informed FAI guide, could not do is show any coin or medallion from the Fascist era - they weren't there (but there are plenty in flea markets around the city). Bill adds: despite the mint's recent conversion to a school, the event brought out an oversupply of (male and female)beefy, sullen, suspicious, security guards from multiple state agencies.
We walked a block to the heart of Rome's immigrant area, Piazza Vittorio, ringed by tiny basement shops selling thousands of sunglasses, costume jewelry & clothes ... all run by Asians. After a beer at an outdoor bar/cafe, joining at least 7 other nationalities, we ambled thru the piazza where basketball ("basket") was the order of the day... looks like the US, said Bill, but a ways away from a Gus Macker tournament.
We came to the nearby Santa Maria Maggiore and, as I crossed the usually terrifying street in front of this immense basilica, Bill says where are all the cars? Then we see 50 or so Guardia della Finanza (basically tax enforcers) in riot gear. Bill asks one what's up. He responds, in clear Italian, "The communists want to attack the church." Seems unlikely, but, as we walk around the back of the church - roads all still blocked off - we see thousands of people and sound trucks covering via Cavour... soon it's apparent we're seeing the front of a march to legalize marijuana - the Million Marijuana March (and we now know that event, ironically invoking the 1995 Million Man March designed to instill pride in African-American men, has been going on since 1999 in cities around the world). Rome's version is enormous (video below). We head out before we see the end of it and guess the numbers are over 100,000. maybe over 250,000. Bill enjoys the "floats" (soundtrucks blasting heavy metal selling beer and wine off the back), and the stylish chicks curbside rolling spleefs.

Although we would have liked to stay for the attack on the church, we don't want to be late for our evening movie in the Bulgarian film series - which demonstrates all too clearly the Bulgarians are still working out their repressive post-WWII Communist period.

Back to our apartment (where we started the day buying potted bougainvillea to compensate a bit for our chopped-off trees). I'm happy; Bill thinks we overdid it. The kind of day in Rome that enticed us to share with others the Rome we know.
Dianne (with sharp commentary by Bill)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nightmare on Elm Street

We've often chuckled over the devastation that Joe's Tree-Trimming Service (our name for the city workers who do the job) leaves in its wake here in Rome: whole tree-lined streets lacking a single leaf. This time the joke's on us. After the winds of April 27, which brought down one of the bushy trees next door (see entry for April 28), the city or our municipio (a section of the city with considerable autonomy) apparently decided that the rest of them were at risk. Bring on the Rome Chain Saw Massacre. The pics here--from our terrace on via Ghislieri--were taken this morning, ten minutes apart.
In Rome's climate, trees trimmed so drastically do quite well (they look presentable after two years), and we are willing to give the authorities the benefit of the doubt that the work on our street was done with the best interests of area residents in mind. However, this morning's La Repubblica reports on excessive pruning--trees reduced to stumps--in via Avezzana and via Panama, on Monte Mario, and along the banks of the Tevere, while suggesting that the hatchet jobs in those areas may have been the result of misguided efforts to save money and time.

Angels & Demons (yup, again)

okay okay... if you're in Rome, you... like us... are sick to death of the constant star-gazing, media mania surrounding the premiere here of the film version of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons. Even Lancia launched its new car with the A&D promo. But, hey, we have no shame... even tho' the A&D sites are all Rome the First Time, our itineraries overlap with so many of them, we featured them in one of our sidebars... p. 78, and for those of you without your copy handy, here's the page (below).

Photo here is of the roiling waters of the Tevere (Tiber) - from which A&D protagonist Langdon was plucked, and the Tiber Island hospital where he (and, perhaps somewhat less famously, Bill) was treated; the hospital is named, and under the auspices of, the Fatebenefratelli ("good works brothers"literally, but... Order of the Brothers of St. John of God).

btw, the best A& D guide we know is available only in its Italian translation, James B. Winter's La Roma degli Illuminati: guida ai luoghi di Angeli e demoni, published by Fanucci.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rome's Balconies

Romans love their sunshine, and to enjoy it they have their terraces (terrazzi) and balconies (balconi). You won't find many in the Centro Storico, where the palatial homes built by elite families resembled fortesses and looked inward, rather than toward the street. But terraces and, especially, balconies, are a feature of many apartment buildings constructed after about 1925 and are nearly universal in post-1960 structures. It is possible to date a building from the materials used to construct a balcony; round, curved, pipe-like railings--an element of the modernist aesthetic--were common in the 1930s and into the 1940s; thinner railings, of bent or curved wrought iron, are often of 1950s or 1960s vintage.

And some balconies--like the ones presented here--are spectacular works of architectural art. These buildings are side by side above a massive hillside wall in the upper reaches of Trastevere, just above where viale Trastevere turns the corner and becomes Circonvallazione Gianicolense. The photos were taken from via Parrasio.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Updates: Protestant Cemetery

We've added a feature on the right to update the book. Check the right sidebar for updates before you head out on an itinerary.

We're starting with the Protestant (Non-Catholic) Cemetery. The folks (the alive ones) there sent us a lovely email noting they added Sunday hours: 9 - 1, last entrance 12:30. I appreciate this, having been there many times and crushed when it was closed (older son, recall my walking you there from piazza Re di Roma - only to find it - and Scipione's "house" - closed?). They also have a lively website in English as well as Italian: And they kindly pointed out I had perpetuated the myth that Shelley's heart is in the cemetery. It was returned, they informed us, but his grave (with what in it, one might ask) is still there.

btw, on this itinerary, the trattoria on the piazza near the porta where Don & I had a very nice lunch - serving locals for over half a century - has been replaced by a bank. )=:

Mystery Photo Winner; new mystery photo

Congratulations to Matthew Borenstein of the East Village in New York City for correctly identifying a sideview, featuring a statue to the goddess Victory, of the Vittoriano, Rome's massive monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Rome after Italian unification in 1870).

Matthew, your copy of Rome the Second Time is on its way.

We've actually grown fond (rather as one does of a not-so-cute pet) of the much derided massive, heavy structure, esp. since its interior was refurbished and opened with a museum of the battle to unify Rome (the Risorgimento), excellent (tho' rarely in English) free temporary exhibits, and spectacular views from the top.

The first Mystery Photo proved too hard, Bill thought the second one too easy (Dianne did not and says complimenti, Matthew); let's hope the next (Bill's pick) is just right...and here it is...