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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rear Window

It happened more than a year ago. We were living in Flaminio, occupying a first-floor corner apartment with a rather narrow balcony (that's us up there), in a building known to film historians as the place where the second bicycle theft occurred in DeSica's neo-realist masterpiece. It was late afternoon, and I took my fluted glass of Falanghina outside to watch the Romans go about their business, mostly, at this intersection of via Pietro da Cortona and via Ghirlandaio, the endlessly fascinating dance of cars and scooters searching for parking places.

Kitty-corner from our own angolo, a large, set-back apartment building filled the view. And there I saw it. A young boy--as young as four, as old as seven--appeared with his back to the open, unscreened window. He seemed to be standing on a table, so his feet were at sill level, and as I watched, he backed toward the window and--yes, it's true--took his pants down, perhaps in some sort of protest. Now I was concerned for the boy's life, as any misstep would send him two floors to his death, and whatever mischief or trauma had brought the pants down could, I thought, trigger just that sort of tragic miscalculation. Dianne joined me on the balcony, and we watched until, when it seemed we had to do something, anything, hands reached out and pulled the boy in--as we were taking this photograph.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Graffiti: A Rome Primer

Although New York and Los Angeles are the most famous graffiti sites in the world, Rome is an active center of this controversial art form. Like Los Angeles, Rome is a city of stucco walls, perfect surfaces for graffiti artists, and they've taken advantage of these canvasses--and other surfaces, too, covering the city with drawings and paintings. Although much of it still strikes us as the work of talentless adolescents with too much time on their hands, we vowed to learn more. We were blown away by Steve Grody's book, Graffiti L.A. (Abrams), which taught us the basic terminology (tags, signatures, crews, fill, simples, throw-ups, shout-outs); convinced us that many graffiti practitioners are serious artists; gave us a sense of the culture and politics of graffiti; and even raised the disturbing possibility that all the junk that Rome's tourists complain about may be a "necessary" preliminary to the production of the good stuff, the "real" art. The blogsite has some nice 2007 examples of Trastevere graffiti. The one at lower right features two tags, one by Lucas, the other, in the center and less obvious, by Croels. Tagging is a controversial aspect of graffiti writing, because it seems so much like scribbling. The upside is that by writing his name 5 times on this wall, Lucas is developing his talent.

Jessica's Rome Photo Blog also has some good graffiti pix - put "graffiti" into the search engine on her blog.

In Rome, we met with the city's queen of graffiti, Maria Teresa Natale. While not herself an artist, Maria Teresa knows more about Rome's graffiti scene than any one else, with the possible exception of Gabriella Tarquini, with whom she manages the website lascia il segno (leave the sign), essentially an online, annotated graffiti library, focusing on Rome, Milan, and Berlin, and housing more than 11,000 images. There's another link to the website on the right of this site. (And, don't bother with "English"; all the good stuff is pictured in the Italian parts of the site.)

Over coffee in Monteverde Vecchio, Maria Teresa told us about the Rome graffiti scene. Rome, she explained, is the only city in the world where both regular trains--she mentioned the ones that run from the Ostiense station to Lido d'Ostia (to the beach) and the metro cars--are "decorated," as she put it. In Milan, she said, graffiti writers were more likely to be designers who functioned like regular artists, presenting their work in gallery exhibitions. Rome hasn't reached that stage, although its better educated artists, some of them engineers or architects, are often working with posters or stickers, while the poorer and less educated are more likely to be doing the spray can thing, making letters or figures ("puppets," in the English translation from the Italian).

Among Rome's notable graffiti artists are sprayers Thoms, Bol, Soeww, and Genuine Crew; the letterer Kemh; and street artists Lex, Hogre, JB Rock, Diamont, and Sten (not to be confused with Stan), whose puppets are legendary. One of Sten's atypical yet iconic puppet figures for the Teatro Vascello, in Monteverde Vecchio, is at left. The works of these artists, and that of others, is likely to be found in train stations (Maria Teresa mentioned Nuovo Salario and Appiano) and Centri Sociali (social centers), notably Forte Prenestino (see Rome the Second Time for a description and directions).

Most graffiti writing in Rome is against the law. The liberal, reform-minded former mayor Walter Veltroni initiated a "conversation" with graffiti artists, likely in an effort both to recognize the artistic merit of the form and to bring it under some control. He offered the artists about a dozen "legal" walls, each about 100 meters long, outside the city center, and other walls--some in train stations--for which artists could sign up to paint and control that particular space for a three month period. In retrospect, those were the good old days. The 3-month wall program has been suspended, and heavy fines are levied on anyone caught painting train cars.

Maria Teresa told us that most of the best graffiti is located far outside the Centro, where artists are less likely to interrupted by the police. Still, we've found several worthy, close-in sites. For political graffiti, we recommend the left-leaning community of Garbatella, easily reachable on Metro B. See the subtle example at left, one of several on the building.

On the other end of the political spectrum is the graffiti sponsored by businesses that would rather have a nice drawing on their saracinesca (metal shutter) than messy tags.

Another good site, described in Itinerary 10 in Rome the Second Time (p. 150), is Forte Braschi, located in Parco del Pineto, where the art work lines the outside perimeter of the military installation.

The third close-in site is an underpass on via Appia Antica, less than 100 meters outside the city wall. The art that opens this post, at top left, is from there.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Another mountain to climb: Testaccio, from Roman detritus

Monte Testaccio, the "mountain" that is the unusual high point in the former slaughterhouse neighborhood of Testaccio, is an archaeological site dating back to the ancient Romans. The hill - 115 feet high is all - is worth climbing - if you can get yourself inside the gates. From the top (see one view, below), you can get a good feel for the layout of Rome's industrial and warehouse areas. You'll also find what's left of a World War II German gun emplacement.

We joined an excellent tour a while back. Obelisco (as in "obelisk") is a one-woman operation run by Laura Amadori, who is an extremely knowledgeable tour guide - unfortunately only in Italian. (One of our group members was a travel agent who wanted to learn more - and said Laura was the best in all of Rome.) Even if you don't speak Italian, if you have a chance to get into some unusual places with Laura, we recommend it. You can get some translations from your fellow group members, we think, and sometimes just seeing the site is worth it. (Laura, for example, got a small group of us into the former private gym of Mussolini - in the Foro Italico.) Check out the weekly Roma C'e' when you're in Rome, or email her at

There are a very few other tours that include Monte Testaccio itself - so be on the look-out for them. One used to be able just to walk up there - and we didn't do it when we could have. Now it's a well-fenced archaeological site - believe us, we tried to find a way in, and we're pretty resourceful.

The "mountain" is built from broken fragments ("cocci" - it's sometimes called "Monte dei cocci") of the vessels that were used by Romans to carry goods to and from the great Roman port on the nearby Tevere (Tiber River). The crockery vessels - called amphora - were usually two-handled. The beautiful (to us) 1927 fountain marking the district features all these amphora shapes (photo at left). You canz see the terracing of the shards even outside the gates (photo at right).

The hill dates to the 2nd century AD and perhaps earlier. Strolling through the Testaccio neighborhood, you'll come across remains of the vast storehouses of Testaccio (streets, piazzas, areas refer to "empori" - or the word we use, "emporium" - which mean storehouses). (Photo below, right, with lilac trees, shows remains of these many miles of storehouses.)

Try this for a good website in English, maintained by Roman and Barcelona universities.

The pix are much better from iconic Italian filmmaker Ettore Scola - so if you want to see Marcello Mastroanni, Monica Vitti and Giancarlo Giannini squaring off on Monte Testaccio in the 1970 film, "A Drama of Jealousy," try this clip off YouTube.

This working class neighborhood has had a lively club scene for many years, especially the clubs built into the base of Monte Testaccio (we've always been partial to Caffe' Latino - tho' it's music genres seem to change wildly each year). The entire neighborhood has been gentrifying over the past decade or so, with many good restaurants, several of which specialize in the Testaccio-born Roman delicacies of animal innards - a reflection of the neighborhood's 19th and 20th century growth as the slaughterhouse area. More on the ex-slaughterhouse (which now houses an excellent art gallery, an organic food shop, music school, and ethnic squatters, as well as extensive graffiti) in another post.

Below, photo of the transfer areas (Tiber to the storehouses, and then the remains to the Monte) and our guide, Laura. Dianne

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Curves of Modernism

We're admirers of curvilinear modernism, a 20th-century architectural style that combines the ordered discipline of pure rationalism with the playful energy and dynamism of the curve.

We have several examples from the byways of Rome, none from places where tourists are common, or where one normally looks for architectural wonders.

The first, visible from the platform at the Ostiense train station (we're referring to the Fascist-era building on the left of the photo), was probably intended as a central work station for the rail lines that move through the facility. You'll find it on Itinerary 4 in Rome the Second Time.

Another lovely arc (right) graces the top floor of a small apartment building in Monteverde, across from the bus stop on via Fratelli Bonnet, between via Carini and the wall.

Down the hill from there, in the back of the huge public housing project at via di Donna Olimpia and via Ozanam, you'll find the delightful set of concave curves
featured below.

And a great set of powerful balconies, racing around a corner.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tooting the horn for Rome and...

Rome the Second Time is now on Facebook (thanks to a Rome fan, Michael Calleri). A group of Rome lovers are friends of RST on the newly created group.

Already some good comments there, including someone who likes the Corso Trieste ("Africa") area in northeast Rome, an interesting and little-visited area. Adjacent is the fascinating Coppede' neighborhood - worthy of a photo here (1920s Art Nouveau).

And you'll see editorial reviews of Rome the Second Time on the updated page (along with a new reader're all welcome to add reader reviews!).

RST also recently hit #1 in Kindle Family Travel, #2 in European Tourist Destinations and Museums and #2 in Italy - behind only Rick Steves. All this with a downturn in travel AND books (well, is Kindle a book?). Goes to show, I think, that people are looking for alternative and frugal travel.

End of commercial. Dianne

Friday, October 16, 2009

Monteverde Stories 2: Pier Paolo Pasolini

This is the second of a 2-part series on Monteverde. The first appeared 10/10/09.

In 1954, the neighborhood around Piazza di Donna Olimpia acquired a new resident: Pier Paolo Pasolini. He was not then the up-and-coming director and screenwriter of Accatone (1961), though in 1957 he would write Roman dialogue for Federico Fellini's Nights of Calabria and three years later act in his first film, Gobbo. Born in Bologna and raised in the Friuli region of northern Italy, he was not even a native Roman. He had arrived in the city in 1950, 28 years old, and lived for a time near the Hebrew synagogue, with his mother (there are plenty of mothers in Italian stories). Within two years they had moved to via Tagliere 3, in Ponte Mammolo, east of the Centro a good ways. He was unemployed and, so he said, desperate, confessing in his letters to suicidal thoughts. To make ends meet while he wrote, or tried to write, he took a teaching position at a school in Ciampino (today, the site of Rome's second airport). The salary was so low and the job so exhausting that he complained bitterly to friends; "lavoro come un negro" (I work like a Negr0), he wrote. Despite the workload, a first book of poetry appeared in 1952.

From his base in Ponte Mammolo he was a frequent visitor to the Donna Olimpia area, fascinated by the area's factories, its public housing, the topography, and the life he observed on the streets. His interest in all of that could only have become more intense after the move to via Fonteiana (n. 86), less than half a mile from the Grattacieli (skyscrapers, a reference to the nearby Fascist-era public housing project). Though he was now close enough to indulge his fascination with the lives of the struggling working class, his neighborhood--up the hill, toward the Gianicolo, and in Monteverde Vecchio--was a world apart from that of via di Donna Olimpia. And the building he occupied [see photo above] (again, with his mother) was newly constructed for middle-class Romans seeking relief from the tumult of Trastevere--not then a chic tourist area. The building is still there, Pasolini's presence marked by a plaque in the lobby. It was in that apartment that he completed Ragazzi di Vita, his first novel, in April 1955, having given up the teaching position just a month earlier. The book was published later that year. Another move followed in 1959--further up the hill to via Carini 45, which also housed poet and friend Attilio Bertolucci (father of the filmmaker), who had introduced Pasolini to Livio Garzanti, the publisher of Ragazzi di Vita.

A natural athlete, Pasolini loved soccer and boxing, and over a period of ten or twelve years, beginning in 1950, he did both with the boys of the projects, getting to know them and, with some at least, earning their confidence. He joined soccer games up the hill at the field on (what is now) via Fabiola and at a much smaller space right in the Piazza di Donna Olimpia, and he observed the boys and their activities elsewhere, too. His visits became less frequent with the move to via Carini and the the completion of the book, as one might expect, but he continued to come by. On more than one occasion he arrived in the FIAT 500 given him by Federico Fellini for his work on Nights of Cabiria, leaving it unlocked so that the neighborhood boys could reach in and take the change he had purposefully left in the door pockets.

Pasolini's deep investment in the lives of the working class was a phenonmenon of the era, and not just in Italy. In Street Corner Society (1943), sociologist William H. Whyte compared "corner boys" and "college boys" in a Boston (Italian) slum. Novelist Hubert Selby Jr. examined the violent and highly sexualized culture of 1950s lower-class Brooklyn in Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964). Pasolini's Ragazzi di Vita tracked the lives of a half dozen foul-mouthed, ignorant, unemployed, and marginal young men--boys on the cusp of manhood, really, some of them from the Donna Olimpia neighborhood--as they walked and lived off Rome's periphery, stealing, carousing, gambling, drinking, having sex with prostitutes, and occasionally working. Somewhere between innocent and worldly, between angry and accepting of their circumstances, Pasolini's boys enjoy themselves, most of the time, even as most of their energies are dedicated to the day-to-day necessity of accumulating enough lira each day to get by. Like Rome the Second Time, the world Pasolini creates is one grounded in geographical detail ("Lenzetta generally hung around the Via Tuscolana, the Piazza Re di Roma, the Via Taranto, where there were neighborhood markets, barracks, and a soup kitchen run by the friars"), and it is a world beyond and apart from the central city. Indeed, Pasolini's text marks the boys' world--whether Monteverde or Tiburtino or Mandrione--as NOT Rome ("when you turned around toward Rome, the weather was still bad").

Although Ragazzi di Vita reads primarily as a narrative description of the boys' adventures, Pasolini frequently steps aside to analyze and contextualize their conduct ("they were all excited and full of fun, not even remotely aware of the fact that the joys of the world are brief, and fortune fickle"). By and large, he explains the behaviors and values of his protagonists as a product of their "environment," and defines them primarily as victims. But he also believed that the boys were in some way fortunate to have escaped, if inadvertently and not entirely by choice, the homogenizing culture of television and consumption that marked the Italian "boom."

Ragazzi di Vita is not just about the Donna Olimpia neighborhood, nor is it just about boys who came from there. But the first two chapters treat that area, and the book's main character--Riccetto (Orlando Marecchioni)--is a Monteverde boy. The Case Popolari are part of the story, too ("The thousand lines and diagonals of the windows and balconies of the Grattacieli were lit up, radios were going bull blast, and from the kitchens you could hear the clatter of dishes and women's voices yelling, arguing, or singing"). We first encounter Marcello (who lives in the Grattacieli) and Riccetto (who lives in the school across the street) during the war; there are German soldiers on the streets. We follow them as they steal iron from the Ferrobedo' (Pasolini's rendering of the factory name), lift manhole covers from the streets to sell as scrap, or go for a swim at a dingy, "private" swimming hole on the Tevere--one of several swimming scenes that bring to mind Lord of the Flies, William Goldman's 1954 novel about the inherent savagery of British schoolboys. For newsreel footage of several of Rome's Fascist-era public housing projects, clock on the following link:

The lives of Marcello and Riccetto are suddenly and profoundly altered by the collapse of school Giorgio Franceschi (see the previous post). Marcello has been to the school, looking for Riccetto, and is leaving the building when "he heard a terrible racket behind him, like a bomb exploding, and felt a violent blow on the back, as if someone had given him a sneak punch. 'That son of a bitch!' Marcello thought, and he fell on his face, an enormous crashing in his ears, and his eyes blinded by a cloud of white dust." And, for Marcello, that was just the beginning of the end. Riccetto's absence spares him personal injury, but his mother is killed, and the youth finds himself on the periphery with an irritating aunt and alcoholic uncle, and then on the road.

Pasolini's reputation in the neighborhood of the Grattacieli owes much to the work and enthusiam of Silvio Parrello, who appears in Ragazzi di Vita as Il Pecetto, a name derived from his father's employment at La Purfina, the tar (pece) refinery near the intersection of the Ponte Bianco and the Gianicolense. Il Pecetto is in only one scene--he's one of the boys who goes swimming in the Tevere--and the English translation of his name as Tar Baby makes him hard to locate in the English translation (available, but also hard to find). Silvio was only eight at the time, but he has served as the neighborhood's historian, telling the stories he remembers while collecting documents and artifacts about the Grattacieli, the collapse of the school, and Pasolini, and displaying them in his artist's studio, located at via Ozanam 134. Outside the studio he placed a reproduction of a plaque designed by the local government for the cortile of one of the buildings. It read:

In this neighborhood was born
the famous novel
Ragazzi di Vita
Pier Paolo Pasolini,
"Citizen of Monteverde"


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Roman Junkyards

How do you dispose of an old scooter (moto, or scooter) or car (macchina) that has seen its better days? We faced that problem not so long ago, when our 4-cycle Piaggio Hexagon 150 died on via Cristoforo Colombo. We called the rottamazione (wrecker) guy and--well, that's a story for another post. In retrospect, we might have been better off to follow one of the "folk" remedies favored by Romans.

Foremost among these is to remove the plates and leave the vehicle where it is. It will soon be stripped for spare parts and the carcass left to rust. We offer as an example this forlorn skelton, chained to a post in Piazzale Cardinal Corsalvi, just off Ponte Milvio in Flaminio. We took the picture in 2008, but we'll bet the remains are still there.

A car without plates could attract the attention of the polizia, so disposing of automobiles is more difficult--but not much. In this case, the burial ground is the Roman campagna, the countryside, and especially the nearby Colli Albani (Alban Hills), where any vine-covered ravine (or anywhere, really) is a disposal site. We came across the specimens in this post while hiking. It almost makes you want to get a rustbucket just so you can have the fun of finding a good resting place for it in the woods. Or, as the joyful young men who made this video did, just take it out to a field and roll it over. (Very Appalachian, as the music suggests).


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Monteverde Stories 1: Skyscrapers, Devil Woman, School Tragedy

In April, when we first scootered down the hill from our Monteverde Nuovo apartment on Piazza Madonna della Salette, and around the big, gentle curve of via Falconieri to the busy intersection below, we were immediately taken by the enormous apartment buildings that lined three sides of the square and dominated the cross street, via di Donna Olimpia, for a block each direction. We recognized the complex as a particularly extravagant version of Case Populari (Popular Houses--that is, public housing), this one built under Fascism, the first portion completed in Fascism's 10th year, 1932. We wrote about the complex briefly, and included some photos, in an April 5 entry. For video of the opening of the Donna Olimpia development, complete with Fascist salutes, lick on the following link:

What we didn't know then is that these buildings, and the piazza formed by the five streets that come together to make it (via Falconieri, via Ozanam, via Ugone, and both directions of via di Donna Olimpia, comprise an historic 20th century site, remembered by Romans--and for the most part, fondly--for events that took place there more than half a century ago, events that involved and brought together Romans that could not have been more different: the ordinary, working-class Romans who lived in the case populari (we would call them the "projects"), and a middle-class young man who lived just up the street and was on the cusp of a brilliant career as a poet, novelist, and filmmaker: Pier Paolo Pasolini. That story to come. But first, some geography, and then a story that most residents would rather forget.

Monteverde (green mountain, named after the yellow/green tufo mined from the area's many caves and outcroppings) was laid out in the 1909 city plan. It is composed of two zones (quartieri), Monteverde Vecchio (old Monteverde), closer to the Tevere and today an upscale area of smart shops and expensive homes and condominiums, occupied by those who can afford them; and Monteverde Nuovo (new Monteverde, developed later in the 20th century), further from the river and less pretentious, home to Rome's middle- and lower-middle classes and, temporarily, to us. In a sense, the story of the two Monteverdes is our story; Dianne longs for the good life in Monteverde Vecchio, while I prefer the less toney and more "authentic" experience of Monteverde Nuovo.

The whole of Monteverde is an extension of the better known Gianicolo, the hill to the south of the Vatican, justifiably famous for its views of the city. At the base of the hill is viale Trastevere on the east, near the river, and then the Gianicolense, today a tram route, which curls and climbs a ridge on the south and west sides of the hill. One of the more hilly and complex areas of a hilly and complex city, Monteverde is essentially a series of ridges, separated by narrow valleys. The major streets run parallel to each other in the valleys (like via di Donna Olimpia and viale dei Quatro Venti) or on the ridges (like via Carini and the Gianicolense). The hilly routes crosstown, against the grain, are less common and, on foot, more strenuous. One of the streets that does so--creating energy as it spills down the hillside from Piazza San Giovanni di Dio and crosses via di Donna Olimpia--is via Ozanam.

The dividing line between Vecchio and Nuovo is via di Donna Olimpia. It runs more or less north and south, with Vecchio to the east and Nuovo to the west (if it sounds like West Side Story, it is). The street's current name derives from Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, the tough and powerful 17th-century sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X, a Pamphili. Signorina Maidalchini had married Pamphilio Pamphili (with a name like that, you've got to be wealthy), and she used her position to enrich her family at the expense of the Vatican which, to be honest, could afford to be fleeced. She and hubby lived in splendor in--guess where?--Villa Doria Pamphili, which is in the neighborhood, right there at the end of the street that bears her name. Before 1914, when it was filled in, today's via di Donna Olimpia was only a gully or ditch called the via or Fosso (here, gully) di Tiradiavoli, watered by springs in the Villa that today sustain the moss-covered remains of the spectacular Pamphili fountains of centuries past. The odd name "Tiradiavoli"--one scholar translates it as "drag devils" or "devil's drag"--was the source of stories about Donna Olimpia, who is said to have relished terrifying midnight rides through the city at breakneck speed, her carriage pulled by snorting black horses in full lather, whipped to a frenzy by her driver: the devil. She must have been a very bad woman.

Our modern story opens in 1932, when the first of the Case Popolari were completed and occupied, and when most of the area--especially Monteverde Nuovo--was unoccupied, just rocky hills and small plains of stubble and underbrush. It was the first public housing in the area--the first, also designed by architect Innocenzo Sabbatini, was built in about 1920, up the hill at the intersection of via A. Algardi and viale Quatro Venti. But Sabbatini's new project was different, and not just because it was bigger and taller. In line with the political and social ideas of the Fascist regime, the new project was designed to project a new "proletarian," working-class identity. Dispensing with the middle-class decorative touches and sensibilities of the earlier project, it celebrated functionality, sheer mass, and the new lives of the "ordinary" people on whose support Fascism depended. As the buildings opened one by one, the first residents were mostly those who had been forced out of the Centro and the Borgo (a neighborhood near the Vatican) by the demolitions required by Mussolini's urban renewal programs. (For what it's worth, our interest in Rome's public housing is shared by Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti. See his sweet scooter tour on YouTube:

Whatever else the tenants felt, they were impressed by the size of the buildings, referring to them as the "grattacieli," or skyscrapers. Despite their height, there were no elevators until after the war, and the apartments had no toilets within. In an apparent effort to teach the residents middle-class values (toilets and elevators would have been a good start), fines were levied for (incredibly) the time-honored Roman practice of hanging clothes out the window to dry. Many of the men worked in one of two existing factories. Il Ferrobeton was a huge ironworks making railroad track, up the hill from the housing project and a few blocks southward; La Purfina belched black smoke as it produced tars and resins at a location further down via Donna Olimpia and across the Giancolense. The hundreds of children and youth who lived in the complex spent their days rummaging through piles of old mortar and plaster, competing in the card game zecchinetta, playing soccer in small spaces behind the building or on a larger, flat open space off present-day via Fabiola, now occupied by the Fabrizio de Andre' elementary school, and exploring the hills above, to which they gave names that may or may not have been ironic: Monte di Casadio (house of God), and Monte di Splendore.

The community was shocked and deeply saddened by a tragedy that took place in 1951, at the neighborhood's elementary school, Scuola Elementare Giorgio Franceschi. Located just across the street from the apartment complex in the corner formed by via di Donna Olimpia and via Ugone, it was opened in 1941. During and after the war, the school was used to provide shelter for families from San Lorenzo, Pigneto, Tiburtino, and Casilino, neighborhoods where homes had been destroyed in the allied bombing raids of July 1943. The building was still being used as a shelter in March 1951, when a portion of it collapsed, killing four people and injuring many others. With a portion of the school in ruins, some of its residents got together and decided to nest in open apartments in the skyscrapers across the street, where some of the buildings were only then in the final stages of completion. Apparently they were allowed to remain.
To be continued.... Bill

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Runaway Roman Romances

"This film was shot entirely on location on the streets of Rome, Italy." That's the intertitle of Roman Holiday (directed by William Wyler, 1952), the Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck classic, the first American movie made entirely abroad, from filming to the final print. A poster for the film, with Hepburn and Peck scootering around the Eternal City on a Vespa, can be found in virtually every tourist shop, telling the story of the princess's love affair with Rome. The poster at left is NOT the one found in Rome shops, and the woman Gregory Peck is kissing doesn't resemble Audrey Hepburn, but at least there's a scooter.

Wyler had less fun making the movie. "Our business here does not attract the better element," he wrote from Italy, and he described the "madhouse" that was Rome when whenever Gregory Peck was on the set. "The police are absolutely helpless," he lamented, "as the people of Rome have a very great sense of independence and will not be pushed around. They live on the streets and they own them."

Wyler's comments are from a new book by film scholar Robert R. Shandley, who sheds new light on the familiar topic: American film-making in Rome. The title, Runaway Romances: Hollywood's Postwar Tour of Europe (Temple University Press, 2009), has two meanings. On the one hand, it refers to "runaway" films--that is, films such as Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur (Wyler, 1959), Spartacus (1960), and Quo Vadis? (1961) that fled high production costs in southern California for the cheaper services and lower wages of Europe, and especially Rome, where in 1961 more films were made than in Hollywood. Most were filmed on sound stages at Cinecitta', the famous studio founded in 1937 under Fascism and located just outside the city center. The exterior of Cinecitta' is on Itinerary 1 in Rome the Second Time.

On the other hand, "runaway" refers to protagonists in a series of films set in Rome and elsewhere, 1950s women in flight from suburban boredom and uninspired marriages (or being single, or threatened with spinsterhood), hoping to find a husband, a lover, or maybe just life inspiration, in the romantic spaces of Rome or Paris or even Berlin.

Among the romantic travelogues (these films usually have at least one travelogue sequence that offers the host city's major attractions) filmed in Rome, Shandley presents The Indiscretion of An American Wife, which opens at modernistic Stazione Termini, continues at Piazza di Spagna (romantic encounter with Giovanni Doria, played by Montgomery Clift [neither Italian nor heterosexual]), and features this delightful explanation of the consequent affair: "It was you, it was Rome, and I am a housewife from Philadelphia."

The young women in the widescreen (better for the travelogue part) film, Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) are unmarried secretaries in search of Italian husbands (a volatile combination even today, we hear). The secretaries would normally have trouble meeting classy Italian men but, being from America, a classless society, they ignore the social boundaries of the Old World and get their men. Stazione Termini appears in this one, too.

Both sides of the runaway phenomenon unravel in the early 1960s. Two Weeks in Another Town (Vincente Minelli, 1962), a film about filmmaking, presents Cinecitta' as a lousy place to make a film, and Rome (quoting Shandley here) "filled with washed-up (and overweight) former Hollywood stars." The travelogue Romance turns dark, dangerous, and deadly in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), in which the Spanish Steps become a creepy place occupied by Rome's homeless and potential stalkers.

Robert Shandley's Runaway Romances explores these and other films at length and with sophistication, and it contains a chapter on Roman Holiday. It is available for purchase at