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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Look Down Series: Curb Your Enthusiasm

There may be nothing more prosaic than a curb, but I have an attachment to this neglected species.  In the late 1980s, while living in Buffalo in a house on one of Frederick Law Olmsted's grand thoroughfares, I spent a good part of two summers with hoe, shovel, weedwhacker and wheelbarrow, engaged in a sweaty, Sisyphusian act of liberation, cleaning the dirt and weeds from the the handsome curbs on Chapin, Bidwell, and Lincoln Parkways.  We called this activity "curbing." 

New Orleans Curb
 I've had some moderate interest in curbs ever since, at least in the cities I know well.  In New Orleans, key portions of the concrete curbs--at intersections and at the ends of median strips--are faced with iron, apparently to prevent decay and erosion in an area that some say is prone to flooding.  If you know the city, the one at left is on Ursuline, just north of Broad.  In St. Bernard Parish, to the east of the city, the curbs are so sharply cut and so high--even at driveway entrances--that caution is required to avoid damage to your car.

Rome Curb
Rome (yes, finally) is graced by substantial curbs of whitish stone (left), a building material widely available in the surrounding countryside.  And almost everywhere, and in one of my favorite touches, sections of curb are joined using a special, rounded cut (top and at right) that embeds one section of curb into another--a bit like assembling sections of a toy train track.

So next time, look down--and give those curbs some respect!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

OP in the Name of the Law

We caught these steet painters at the intersection of viale Leonardo Da Vinci and via Costanzo Cloro in the quartiere of San Paolo, just as they had completed half of their work--and in English!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mad Men should be so good: Cat Food and Aperol

hanging in a Metro exit
Italian design sense extends to ads, in our opinion.  In this blog we feature a couple that particularly appeal to us.

The one at left is from a series we had noticed but not photographed until a US friend said "what is THAT advertising?"  And well she might ask:  nudity, interracial couple... " Ah, I told her, pet food."  And so it is.

The "hot" couple sporting swizzle sticks between their mouths and noses below are part of a good (we think) ad campaign for the liqueur Aperol, which is the main ingredient in a "Spritz" - another part of the ad.  Our NYC friends were excited to find a large bottle of Aperol for not so many Euros in our very ordinary local grocery store in Rome (it has only recently been available in NYC, they told us).  They gave us the recipe for the Spritz, but when we went to a dinner party in Rome later that month, the issue of the REAL Spritz came up, and naturally someone had to call a friend in Venice to find out the true ingredients, since the drink comes from that region.  Was it Prosecco or white wine? Did it have lemon? what else?  (BTW, the ironic tag line reads:  "For all those who always take themselves seriously.")
In any event, here's our Americanized version for one drink from Food and Wine:
3 oz. Aperol, 1 oz Prosecco, 1 oz club soda, 1 lemon twist.  In an ice-filled rocks glass stir together the Aperol, Prosecco, and club soda; garnish with the lemon twist.  Put swizzle stick between your nose and mouth - if you can.  We tried it but the photos are so silly we are embarrassed to show them!


Friday, December 17, 2010

RST Top 40. #13: The Path from Frascati to Tuscolo

waterway fountain in Villa Aldobrandini's
amazing back gardens - in Frascati
This path is loaded with so much history, architecture, views and nature, it easily makes our Top 40. 

The walk starts in the heavily bombed (in WWII) town of Frascati (now known for decent white wine: Frascati Superiore) and proceeds past Renaissance villas (see several photos below), and a hermitage selling honey for good measure, to the Roman ruins of Tuscolo - Tusculum to the Romans.  Myth has it that Tuscolo was founded by Ulysses and Circe - who could ask for more?  Prehistoric man, then Etruscans, then Romans - traces of many civilizations are here; you can see the substantial remains of an amphitheater in the ruins of Tuscolo, and a more modern cross on top of, of course,  "Monte Tuscolo". 

Is this Borromini's gate?  Even the
Borromini expert isn't sure - at Villa
Falconieri just outside Frascati

End your day (this makes a nice day trip from Rome) with wine and a porchetta sandwich at a "fraschetta," a casual place that sells wine and simple foods.  Frascati/Tuscolo was the playground of the rich and famous from prehistoric times until World War II - why not make it yours too?

You can easily travel from Rome to Frascati in the Alban Hills by train or Metro/bus.  All the directions are in Rome the Second Time's Itinerary 13 (now with the map overlaid on Google maps in the eBook versions!).   Dianne

Path behind Villas Falconieri and Mondragone

Rarely, the villas are open - usually special arts weekends
If they are, you will be treated to wonderful vistas and
interiors like this fresco of the eavesdropping monk


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Look Down Series: EUR's Manhole Covers

This cover reads, "Esposizone Universale E.42"  (Universal Exposition, E (Esposizione) [1942]

E..42 (and lower right,, Rome Foundry)

GAS, in modernist lettering
   If you've been with us for awhile, you know we've entertained you before with Rome's cool manhole covers.  While many of that earlier series were found on the streets and sidewalks of the Piazza Bologna area, the current offerings, no less evocative of the city's 20th-century past, come from EUR, the pompously modernistic quartiere to the south of the center (on the Metro).  The zone is named for the Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR, Universal Exposition of Rome), built by the Fascist regime in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and scheduled to open in 1942, the 20th anniversary of the Fascist March on Rome.  The war came up the peninsula, the expo never took place, and EUR was used in 1943 and 1944 as a staging area for the occupying German army, after Italy surrendered to the allies.  But much of the construction had been completed, including the infrastructure--and including these nifty manhole covers.
Note the Latinate "U" in EUR and tips of Bill's shoes

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two Stairways in the Heart of Rome

Georgina Masson's The Companion Guide to Rome, first published in 1965, has always been our favorite "serious" guide to Rome the FIRST time, and today's post is all Georgina.  While Dianne is generally the guidebook user, even Bill--indeed, especially Bill--was fascinated with Masson's commentary on two side-by-side stairways, one to the church of S. Maria d'Aracoeli, the other to the Piazza del Campidoglio (the Capitol), both ascending from the curve of the via del Teatro di Marcello. 

Masson writes: 

To S. Maria d'Aracoeli

"....the first soaring upward like the side of a mountain, the second ascending gradually to an elysian world of golden-hued palaces silhouetted against the translucent aquamarine of the twilight sky." 

Michelangelo's staircase to the Campidoglio
 "The difference between the two epochs that produced them is implicit even in this first glimpse of these two staircases; the one hundred and twenty-two steps of the Aracoeli suggesting the medieval concept of life as a weary pilgrimage leading ultimately to heaven, while the cordonata, the gently inclined ramp before the Capitol, is very much of the splendour and glory of this world.  It is understandable that this should be so, as the Aracoeli stairs were built in 1348 as a thanks-offering for Rome's delivery from the black death, while the cordonata was originally designed by Michelangelo in 1536 for the reception of an emperor." 

Vintage Masson.  Complimenti, Georgina.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Michael Buble: Rome Connection

We spent the snowy evening of December 1 with about 12,000 other people, smitten with Michael Buble as he sang, danced, did an impression of Michael Jackson (left, with hand on crotch), mocked the idea that he's gay, left the stage for lengthy forays into the audience, talked dirty to the girls--and guys--in the front rows at HSBC arena in Buffalo and, incredibly, sang the last verses of his final song without musical accompaniment and entirely (and by choice) without amplification--to the hushed amazement of all. 

Mauro and Bill, 2005
It was our first experience of Buble live, and it might never have happened but for Mauro, the proprietor of the Ombralonga wine bar in the Marconi district (via Oderisi di Gubbio, 41-43), far off the tourist path, where we became regular customers, and friends, when we lived in the district in the spring of 2005.  We were in Mauro's place one evening when we heard a sweet voice that reminded us of Sinatra in the 1940s, and asked who it was, and that's the first time we heard the name Michael Buble.  We've been fans ever since.  Thanks, Mauro!


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fascism's Architectural Legacy: The Colonie di Vacanza

Camp "Fascismo Novarese," in Miraare di Rimini. 
Original photo by Dan Dubowitz, c. 2005
 In the 1930s and early 1940s, Mussolini's Fascist regime constructed 23 colonie di vacanza--literally vacation or holiday camps, but perhaps better translated as summer camps.  Reflecting the imperially-driven Fascist enthusiasm for the sea, only 2 camps were in mountain areas, while 21 were located on the Tyrrehenian Sea or the Adriatic, including several in Riccione, 2 in Tirrenia, 3 in Calabrone, and 3 in Marina di Massa.  The location of the camps also meant they were far removed from the families and communities of those who attended, and far removed, too, from the decaying small towns that threatened Fascism's efforts to present the country as progressive and modern.  Each of the camps housed between 450 and 900 young men. 

On the beach at the "Dalmine" camp, in Riccione
The camps were created under the auspices of la Gioventu Italiana dell' Littorio (the GIL, which translates as Italian Fascist Youth), and the campers were mostly Italian boys and young men between the ages of 9 and 20, mostly members of a variety of Fascist-organized youth groups, and the children of the urban poor were heavily represented.  The boys were there to be trained, hardened, and organized into young people loyal and committed to the Fascist cause: ready to "Credere, Obbedire, Combattere" (Believe, Obey, Fight).  As one might expect, there was much marching, flag-raising, and saluting; lots of sports, including gymnastics; and, of course, plenty of fresh air.  At least one camp had a small theater. 

The ramps at this camp helped create the Fascist spectacle.
 But there was also a fantastical element to camp life, meant to inspire and mesmerize.  Several of the camps featured large and elaborate open stairways (photo left).  At the "Fascismo Novarese" camp (900 beds) near Rimini, the stairway was a way of making the movement of the young men into a spectacle of Fascism.  At the "Costanzo Ciano" camp in Cervia, designed by Mario Loreti and built between 1937 and 1939, "the huge Piranesian ramps" (according to one authority) "today overgrown with fig trees, were intended for synchronized displays of marching Balilla"  (a Fascist youth organization).  Think of the Busby Berkeley films of the 1930s, the synchronized dancers helping Americans to believe in the idea of melding the individual into the group, the virtue of collective action, the body as a machine contributing to the greater good. 

A playful building at camp "Roberto Farinacci"
A young man attending the colonia "XXVIII Ottobre" (1932), in Rimini, a camp intended to house the male children of expatriate Italians, recalled another kind of summer camp magic:  "In the restaurant there were people dancing the tango in bathing suits, like in a Fellini film.  A marvelous world."   One imagines this young man impressed, too, as he approached the dormitories, which resembled locomotives and steamships.  On the most elemental level, it was expected that every camper would come away with enthusiasm for Fascism's boundless future, gleaned from living in specially designed buildings and spaces that captured Fascism's energy and dynamism.  A postcard for the "Ciano" camp, featuring a large triumphal arch, presents Fascism's imperial ambitions and its efforts to link the ambitious Italian nation with its imperial Roman heritage. 

A dormitory at the "Rosa Maltoni Mussolini"
camp, at Tirrenia, designed by Mazzoni.
Photo by Dan Dubowitz
Most of the camps were designed in a the rationalist style pioneered by the Bauhaus, and often by skilled and creative architects and engineers.  The camp "Rosa Maltoni Mussolini," at Tirrenia, near Pisa (1925-35) was designed by Angiolo Mazzoni, who also created the grand side aisles of Rome's Termini Station and the lovely towers to its rear.  The dormitories--even those dressed with Mazzoni-designed furniture--were stark and plain, perhaps reflecting Mussolini's revulsion at the materialism and acquisitiveness of Italy's bourgeoisie.

The typical stay was only 15 days, a tolerable period, one would imagine, no matter what the conditions.  Nonetheless, the disciplinary reputation of the camps led some parents to use attendance as a threat for misbehaving.  The phrase "ti mando in colonia" circulated widely: "behave, or I'll send you to camp." 

Camp "Vittorio Emanuele II"  (1934-38) in Calambrone.
Photo by Dan Dubowitz, c. 2005
 We first became aware of the colonie di vacanza (sometimes referred to as colonie di infanzia) in May, when we trekked to The British School of Rome, on via Antonio Gramsci, for a show of Dan Dubowitz photographs, "Fascismo Abbandonato," with commentary by Dubowitz and his co-worker, architect Patrick Duerden.  The extraordinary photographs reveal, and the title of the show--Fascism Abandoned--reflects, that most of the colonie structures have long been abandoned, many beyond hope of repair--and now, some occupied by squatters--an unfortunate end for distinguished modernist works of architecture.  (You can see more of Dubowitz's photos on this website.)   According to Dubowitz and Duerden, these buildings were abandoned soon after the war, primarily because of the fear that to restore and reuse buildings so deeply identified with Fascism might have contributed to its resurgence. 


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Enjoying Rome's Academies: Kabuki in Rome

Shibajaku Nakamura VII, one of Japan's most famous Kabuki actors
We're fans of the international academies in Rome, and scout the papers for their programs.  One day this year there was a promotion for a "Kabuki conference."  And, there was a big and expensive (as in too rich for our blood at Euro 100+ per ticket) Kabuki show in town.  So we decided to try out this free "conference,"  billed as complete with one of Japan's preeminent Kabuki stars and musicians playing tamburi and shamisen in costume. 

The Japanese Cultural Academy was packed with several hundred people and was SRO.  The "conference" turned out to be a Kabuki star explaining the Japanese drama form - in Japanese, translated into Italian.  We waited patiently through this; it was sprinkled with a bit of music from the traditional instruments. 

And then we were promised a demonstration of an actor getting into costume.  The actor in this case was a 20-something Japanese youth who set up his make-up table and proceeded to turn himself into a Japanese geisha.  The transformation was spell-binding.  In Kabuki, as in classical Shakespearan drama, men play all the roles, including the female ones.  And becoming a Kabuki actor who portrays females is passed down in the family.  When the young actor passed through the audience in mincing female steps and demeanor, we were in awe.

That's 55 year-old Shibajaku Nakamura VII in the photo, who explained the art to us, and also explained that he inherited the art from his father.  He is famous in Japan for the "elegance and expressive richness" of his portrayal of female roles. 

Hey, we were impressed!


Monday, November 29, 2010

Rome the Second Time: In Hyperspace

Rome the Second Time is now available in a new hyper-linked version in all the basic e-versions.  Thanks to goading from Kindle and others, we hyperlinked the new Kindle, iBook, Nook, and other versions of Rome the Second Time.  The hyperlinks include links to websites in the book (such as the museums, wine bars, artists) as well as to additional historical, art, and other knowledge sites. 

All the maps now are overlaid on Google Maps (whew! I say) in these e-versions.  For an example of one, click here for the link to the Water and War itinerary on the Gianicolo

The hyper-linking also led us to current, real-time Updating.  These updates are linked in the eBooks and also are on this website:  look at the right for "Book Updates Link"  and by clicking on that, you'll get a current list of any changes to material in Rome the Second Time.

We're on the cutting edge here. Rome the Second Time is one of the first books to go up on Nook and other sites, and one of the most digitally sophisticated travel books available.  In some cases, we're part of the betas for these e-publishers.  So if you see anything that needs changing, or you come across any updates that should be included, let us know... this is a new world in publishing for everyone.

Welcome to hyperspace.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rome's Starchitects: Meier, Piano, Hadid, Fuksas, Portoghesi

Our thoughtful daughter-in-law sent along an article from amNewYork on New York City's "Starchitects," the flashiest of the architects who have built in the city, those who design projects that "capture the imagination," as a fellow architect put it. 

The article divides the New York stars into three categories: Elder Statesmen (Frank Gehry and Henry Cobb, both in their early 80's); Europeans (Sir Norman Foster, 75; Santiago Calatrava, 59, who is building what promises to be a spectacular transit hub at ground zero; Renzo Piano, 73, whose New York Times Building and addition to the Morgan Library, both of which we took in last month; and Jean Nouvel, 65; and Gotham Stars (including Bruce Fowle, Bob Fox, and Richard Meier (for his Perry Street Towers).  The age info is in the article, though why it's important--or relevant--we're not sure. 

Rome has a magnificent architectural heritage dating to the Republic and the Empire, and includes major contributions in the Renaissance and, less well known, in the 19th and 20th centuries.  But the past decade or so, and especially under the liberal, arts-oriented former mayor, Walter Veltroni, Rome has been active again, hiring Starchitects to design major museums, performance spaces, and--most recently--a convention center.  As far as we know, there are currently five Starchitects who have built or are building in Rome: Richard Meier, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid, Massimiliano Fuksas, and Paolo Portoghesi.  Three are Italians.  (And, several - including Piano, Hadid and Fuksas - are featured in our new book: Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  More information on the book is at the end of this post.)

Cleaning the paint of Dadaist vandals  from Meier's
box for the Ara Pacis, June 2009

Richard Meier, 76, was born in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey.  Like Piano and Hadid, he's a winner of one of architecture's most prestigious prizes, the Pritzker (1984).  His best-known project is the Getty Center in the hills of Los Angeles, a monumental if somewhat sterile complex that recalls the grandeur and splendor of ancient Rome as well as the Italian villas and gardens of the 16th century.  Other admired buildings include the tourist center in New Harmony, Indiana, the Hartford Seminary of Theology (late 1970s) and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (early 1980s).   He's known for not caring much for architectural fashion and for sticking with the tried and true ideas of mid-century European and American modernism.  A purist, most of his buildings are rectilinear, box-like forms--not a bad description of his Rome container for the Ars Pacis, a building whose modernist ordinariness has infuriated the city's right wing politicians and even some of its residents, who can't believe it cost 25 million Euro.  He's a Rome starchitect NOT for his Ara Pacis box, but for his sublime Jubilee church (2000), a gem built out in the suburb of Tor Tre Teste--a building so unusual for Meier that it must have come from a dream state, from the architect's subconscious (see Dianne's post on the church, which is #17 in our Rome the Second Time Top 40).  Even so, his Ara Pacis effort produced a strong backlash--against modernism, the particular building and its relationship to the site, and the arts.  In a statement that may have relevance for Meier's experience with an irate Roman public over his Ars Pacis building (photo above right), fellow Starchitect Massimiliano Fuksas (see below) notes: "When people are prepared to damage your building, you have failed." 

Renzo Piano's Parco della Musica
Renzo Piano, 73, was born in 1937 in Genoa.  Piano acknowledges several architects that have influenced him, including Louis Kahn and Pier Luigi Nervi, a Rome Starchitect of an earlier era, and one of whose masterworks, the Palazetto dello Sport, is across the street from Piano's own contribution.  Piano made his name as a co-designer of  the Pompidou Centre in  Paris--intended, Piano says, "to be a joyful urban machine, a creature that might have come from a Jules Verne book."  Other well known buildings of his include the 1982 museum for the De Menil Collection in Houston, and a much-ballyhooed addition, recently opened, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA - where we've spent a lot of time).  The addition is highly functional but, like Meier's Ara Pacis container, essentially a nice box (and the same applies to Piano's Morgan addition in NYC).  Fortunately, Rome got the best out of Piano; his Parco della Musica complex in the quartiere of Flaminio is both functional (except for some maze-like approaches to upper-level seating) and, in the Pompidou Centre mode, playful, combining traditional modernism with shapely organic motifs.

Aerial View, MAXXI gallery (lower left)

Hadid's MAXXI, from the rear

Zaha Hadid, 60, was born in 1950 in Baghdad.  She practiced with Rem Koolhaas before opening her own shop.  As a child, she was influenced by a tour of ancient Sumerian cities in southern Iraq.  "The beauty of the landscape," she explains, "where sand, water, birds, buildings, and people all somehow flowed together--has never left me.  I'm trying to discover--invent, I suppose--an architecture, and forms of urban planning, that do something of the same kind in a contemporary way."  Hadid's first major success was the Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (c. 2000).  Another was a museum adjoining Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a commission she was awarded because she is sometimes understood as Wright-like in her enthusiasm for futuristic designs and, according to one writer, her "visionary rethinking of the relationship between humans and buildings."  Her recently opened MAXXI gallery--a 10-minute walk from Piano's Parco della Musica--has made her a Rome Starchitect.  It's typical of Hadid's work in that it looks wonderfully inventive from the air (photo above left, lower left), a perspective available mostly to pigeons.  However, as our readers have heard more than once, we aren't fond of the way the building relates to its surroundings or to human beings seeking access to it.  From certain angles it looks sensational; from others it's a forbidding hunk of windowless cement.  Some nice spaces inside.  (BTW, one can do a nice architectural tour of Nervi, Piano and Hadid within a couple blocks of each other.)
Architectect's rendering of Fuksas' "Cloud" building,
 under construction in EUR

Proposed Italian Space Agency
 Massimiliano Fuksas, 66, was born in Rome in 1944, while the city was occupied by the German army, and he earned his degree in architecture from La Sapienza (Rome's historied university) in 1969.  Fuksas is the loner/rebel type.  "All my life," he has said, "I have fought against form, shape and style," and he denies any "evolution" to his work: "I use a different language each time."  He admits to being an admirer of Francesco Borromini.  Fuksas is well known for the Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg, France (2008), a bold structure in orange, and  for the Milan Trade Fair complex (2005); we also like his modernistic renovcation of the former stables in Frascati, neaer Rome.  Fuksas is scheduled for Rome Starchitectdom when his EUR "Cloud" building--apparently a meeting and convention center--opens; it's currently under construction and, somewhat surprisingly, his first major building in Rome.  (See Bill's post on our exploration of the "Cloud".) Fuksas is also designing a new unhomelike home (above right)  for the Italian Space Agency (we didn't know the Italians had a Space Agency), to be built near the 1960 Olympic Village and Hadid's MAXXI.   

Paolo Portoghesi, 79, was born in 1931 in Rome, where he earned a degree in architecture at La Sapienza in 1957.  For much of his career he has been in private practice while teaching architectural theory at the University.  His inclusion among Rome's Starchitects is appropriately suspect; his deep interest in the history of architecture--in Borromini, the baroque, and Michelangelo, especially--has given his work strong links to tradition and history, as in his Casa Baldi (1957-62), a house built an hour from Rome in the village of Olevano Romano.  Nonetheless, he's earned the designation of Starchitect for his striking mosque, built 1974/75  in the north end of the city, near Acqua Acetosa, at the behest of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia (and it comes in at #24 on Rome the Second Time's Top 40).  It is said that the building strikes a balance between modernism, Roman forms, and the traditions of mosque architecture, which surely functioned here as a restraint on the architect's creativity and innovation.  Dianne believes the building rises to the Starchitect threshold and "captures the imagination,"  and the interior photo at left would seem to confirm her view.

Hadid's MAXXI and Piano's Parco della Musica are on the Flaminio itinerary; and Fuksas's Cloud is on the EUR itinerary in our new print AND eBook,  Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  Modern Rome features tours of the "garden" suburb of Garbatella; the 20th-century suburb of EUR, designed by the Fascists; the 21st-century music and art center of Flaminio, along with Mussolini's Foro Italico, also the site of the 1960 summer Olympics; and a stairways walk in Trastevere.

This 4-walk book is available in all print and eBook formats The eBook is $1.99 through and all other eBook sellers.  See the various formats at

Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler
 now is also available in print, at, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, and other retailers; retail price $5.99.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Found Art Series: The Bench

             We found this on a concrete bench in EUR.  Is it art?  Or just scribbling? 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Spiral Stairways of Rome

We've assembled five of our favorite spiral stairways.  Four are in Rome.  On the upper left, Bill is rather awkwardly examining an exhibit mounted in the helicoidal (apparently that's a word) ramp at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, located just steps from the Trevi Fountain.  The palazzo dates to the 16th century, and in the 17th, Francesco Borromini worked his magic and constructed this ramp, which circles inside the building for several stories.  Its purpose remains obscure; we don't know if it was intended for foot traffic, or horses.  On the upper right, a cool, modernist stairway designed by Luigi Moretti.  It's housed in the back of the Casa del GIL (a Fascist youth center), located within about 200 meters of Porta Portese in Trastevere (just follow the streetcar tracks), which was built between 1933 and 1936.  The staircase is accessible from the side of the building, off the parking lot. 

Below left, that smiling woman is Dianne, standing beneath a lovely staircase in one of the new towns--we're pretty sure it's Latina, but it could be Pontinia--built by the Mussolini government in the 1930s on the reclaimed Pontine marshes.  Below right, courtesy of photographer Jessica Stewart (see her site,, is one of two water towers constructed during the modernization of the Termini Station.  This one is located at the back of the station, on the right side (as one faces the station).  The architect was Angiolo Mazzoni, who also designed the towering side aisles of Termini.

Finally, a tantalizing staircase from the Villa Medici.  Looking up.    Bill

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shopping for Watch Bands in Rome, part 2

We know the kiosk is now a feature of US life - airports, malls, you name it.  And the truck is also a shopping feature in many cities, especially the food truck in Los Angeles. 

But this seems a variation on the theme to us - a truck that sells watchbands and batteries--"Orologeria" means, well, "watch store."  The truck is parked not far from our apartment in the San Paolo neighborhood of Rome; so we watched it regularly with curiosity.  For example, when it is closed, the signs are covered up. When it is open, they are displayed, the back opened up (as in the photo), and you are warned not to lean on the case.  

It's also just half a block from the street Katie Parla featured in her Atlantic food column recently; you can get a new watch battery and some great food at the same time. 

I never bought anything there (as some of you know from an earlier post (Sept. 6); I like getting my watchband near the Spanish Steps). But some friends found it a helpful spot to pick up a battery.

And, oh, btw, now that my watch isn't working (but my band of course is new), I wish I were going by there in the morning... so I could get it fixed easily.

Here's to the ingenuity of the watch band & battery truck. 


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tutti Al Mare, or Why Don't Italians Love their Mountains More?

"I am a Med man," he wrote. 
 Tutti al mare!  Everyone to the sea!  It's a commonplace that Italians--Romans, anyway--love their beaches; a long weekend, a day off here or there, and you'll find them headed for the "Med," as a Facebook correspondent (left) labeled the waters that surround the peninsula ("I am a Med man," he wrote, celebrating an early October day at the seashore, to which Antonella responded, "I am a Med woman, too! Always at the sea."   And why not?  Why not, indeed.  Why not the mountains: the splendid Lepini, only an hour's drive to the southeast, the sublime Lucretili, even closer to the northeast, or the dramatic Abruzzi range, up to 10,000 feet in height, less than two hours to the east? 

A sweaty Bill surveys the landscape from Monte Semprevisa,
the highest peak in the Lepini range
To be sure, a handful of Romans--many of them partipants in one of several hiking organizations--have found these and other ranges and enjoy them.  But by-and-large the trails and peaks are empty, or virtually so.  With the exception of Monte Gennaro, a lovely, varied, and exceedingly accessible climb with a view of Rome's basin fom its peak, the city's nearby mountains don't draw much foot traffic.  We scaled Monte Marsicano, a spectacular peak in the Abruzzo, without seeing another hiker.  And most of our climbs are similarly solitary, with our only company the occasional herd of frightened sheep and, less often, their Albanian herder.

So what's up?  Why don't Italians--again, our focus is Romans--love their mountains more?  In response, we offer a few of what we call 50 cent hypotheses:  untested possibilities that might have some validity--and might have none at all.  An especially compelling hypothesis might be worth 75 cents, a mundane one 25 cents.   

Beginning the descent of Monte Nuria (Dianne at right)
 1) Hiking is hard work--harder than lying on a towel at the beach, let's say--and foreign to the dominant Mediterranean perspective, which favors short work weeks, lots of holidays, and early retirement (witness the latest crisis in Greece).  Too harsh?  Maybe, maybe not.  Hey, it's only a 50-cent hypothesis. 

2) Getting to the top doesn't matter.  This 50-cent hypothesis brings to mind our experience hiking with one of the local clubs. After several hours of (granted) quite physical climbing, we were approaching the top of Monte Nuria, when our leader called a halt to the effort and everyone hauled out their lunch kits. The peak was only a few hundred, easy yards away, and visible, yet only one of about 20 hikers agreed to join us for the brief trek to the summit. [For more on hiking with Italian groups, see our post from last February.  This group, Altrimonti (a take-off on "other mountains" and "otherwise") is the most serious of the groups we've joined.]

Of 40 hikers on the long ridge of the Cima di Vallevona,
only 5--the four above and Dianne, who took the photo,
reached the highest point,
That was true on  other peaks we climbed with groups of Romans.  They're not "baggers"; they don't care about conquering the peak.  We think this attitude may account for the small numbers of Italians who hike; if the pleasure of getting to the top isn't a pleasure, then one of hiking's stimuli doesn't exist.  We would suggest that this stop-short-of-the-top mentality is one aspect of  Italians' rather limited desire to conquer anything, at least since the fall of the Roman empire.  Italy came late even to the nation state (state-building requires the conquering mentality) and its imperial adventures, mostly under Mussolini, were feeble by European standards. 

3)  It's a Catholic country; not enough Protestant ethic to get Italians up those mountains (see Nuria story above).  "No pain no gain" is not in the Italian language.  The Italian fondness for bicycling on mountain roads (burning thighs unavoidable) would seem to belie this hypothesis, but we're keeping it anyway.  3a) Perhaps all the "no-pain- no-gain" Italians are on bicycles.  Put another way, with Catholic confession  available to deal with guilt, who needs the cleansing effect of a hard mountain climb?  This is a 75-cent hypothesis. 

4)  Italians hike to eat.  Of course, if that's your goal, you don't have to hike very far.  They do eat well--elaborate lunches, fresh dishes passed around, home-baked cookies.  And we're sitting there with our trail mix, a piece of cheese, and an apple; we eat to hike. 

The Apre-Hike Meal
5)  Italians hike to socialize.  That's fine, but if your goal is sociability a) you don't have to get to the top and b) the beach is a better option.  On a recent occasion, we joined a small group in the La Duchessa area for what turned out to be a rain-soaked and foggy expedition, conditions that forced a halt to the journey.  But that hardly prevented the bunch from repairing to a favorite local trattoria for an elaborate, delicious, and highly sociable mid-day meal.  That's guaranteed. 

Hikers with Umbrellas!
6)  Italians hike to be fashionable.  We offer this hypothesis for free, because we don't really believe it.  But we were surprised (see the story just above) when the rains came and our Roman companions responded not with ponchos, but (photo right) with--umbrellas!

7)  Italians have a long history of living in the hills and mountains; think of all those hilltop towns.  As a result, they have a utilitarian view of the surrounding mountains; they're places to pasture the horses, hillsides that require exhausting terracing, obstacles between towns.  Given that history, when Italians imagine a respite, a change, a "vacation," the preferred site is down not up--the beach they otherwise seldom see.  This is a high-level, 99-cent hypothesis. 

Monte Cassino, May 18, 1944
8)  Since the agony of World War II, when for more than 18 months Italy's mountains were a place of suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of Allied and Axis soldiers and the inhabitants of hundreds of mountain towns and villages, Italians have identified this landscape not with pleasure and release, but with trauma and loss.