Rome Travel Guide

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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)

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