Rome Travel Guide

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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

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