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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Genzano: Kids Learn the Flower Fest

On one of our recent treks from Genzano to Nemi and back, in the Colli Albani outside of Rome (the somewhat overbuilt but still charming hills that glitter on the skyline in the evening), we managed to be in town when the kids of Genzano were doing their flower "paintings" on the streets. The kids did theirs a week ahead of the adult Genzano "infiorata" - or flowering. We were fascinated to watch the middle- to high-schoolers as they waited, not so patiently, for the flowers to arrive and for their turns to come to start putting the flower petals in place.

From what we could see, the designs were done through earlier school competitions. The theme was human rights, and one featured women's rights (against the veil, it seemed to us), using English. The adult version, to come a week later, was more tourist-oriented, and focused on Caravaggio.

What we didn't realize until we saw them do it, is that the flower designs are done almost solely with petals. There aren't any flowers that stay alive in this process. Colored flower seeds also are used to fill in certain places.

We hope you enjoy the kids' projects as much as we did watching them. And we encourage you to get out to one of the small towns that have these festivals (flowers and otherwise) with some frequency from spring through summer.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Painting the Town Red (and Yellow) for Roma

The soccer team AS Roma, captained for years by local hero Francesco Totti (born and raised in the Appio Latino quartiere, near Porta Metronia), is the object of affection for many Romans. Despite being the Buffalo Bills of Italy's Serie A, finishing second 6 of the last 8 seasons, the team has deeply loyal followers everywhere in the city, and especially in neighborhoods populated by Rome's working- and middle classes and in those where political opinion tends to the left.

Garbatella, an early 20th-century planned community built on hills and curving streets, made up of Fascist-era public housing projects on an epic scale, is one of those places, a hotbed of AS Roma sentiment. Here it's not enough to hang Rome's banner out
the window.

Garbatella, and some of the sites in this post, are featured on the first walk in our new book: Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler. More on the book is at the end of this post.

 In Garbatella the real die-hards paint their houses (or their neighbor's house, or a shuttered store, or an institution) in the team colors, or fashion a mural for the apartment complex, or draw the team's symbol, a wolf, on a wall.

AS Roma had a difficult season, its hopes for a championship once again dashed, this time on the final day of the campaign. Totti succumbed to the pressure and frustration the week before, when he kicked an opposing player in the head and brought down another in the penalty area, with intent, and was expelled. We doubt these events will have much impact on how Garbatellians view Totti or his team. They'll just keep on painting the town.


Our new print AND eBook,  Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler 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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let's get Married and have a Smoke

The Aventine Hill is one of Rome's most charming and romantic spots, and this time of year its gardens embrace the photo shoots in which just-wed young couples represent their love to posterity. We found this duo, fresh from a ceremony in one of the several near-by churches, doing first things first--that is, lighting up. Bill

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For the flower lovers among you

This post is for the flower lovers among us. We waded through fields of wildflowers in Rome’s Decima-Malafede Reserve, just south of Rome (and of us).

Instead of pouring through our wildflower books, we offer these photos for you to identify. We know the scotch broom (for those, like me, who are highly allergic to it), daisies and poppies.

But we don’t know much more. Like the narrator in Antsie Baird’s poem, “The Rose and the Common Flower”, we’re pretty ignorant on this turf.

We include Dianne’s hand (sorry about the thumb splint) to give a sense of flower size and some leaves for clues. We do more on our day with the Romans on their day off (June 2) in Decima-Malafede in another post.

In addition to the wildflower "group photo" at the top, there are 12 other photos with flowers to i.d.; we don't think there are duplicates.

Meanwhile, over to Liz L, Mary Lee S, Judy D, Alison F… and others, we’re sure.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Watching the World Cup--ala Romana

Italy's first game of the Mondiale (World Cup) is a big deal, and to feel the nation's pulse at that moment, we joined thousands of Romans at Piazza di Siena in Villa Borghese (Rome's large public park)--see left, walking to the game through the park--to watch the game on a maxi-scherma (big screen) television, 20 square meters, mounted in an enormous box at one end of the piazza, which is a gallapatoio (an oval used for horse jumping competitions). Large white medieval-style tents lined the sides of the gallapatoio, and we imagined them full of "i big" (fat cats) sipping their Campari and eating precious finger foods while working on restraining their emotions--the fate of the wealthy and influential. We wished we had an invitation.

Ordinary people had several choices for "seating." The best place for viewing the game was down on the field of the gallapatoio, but for that one paid a price: standing for the whole game. Otherwise, there was tiered bench seating at the far end, about 100 meters from the scherma, or very-crowded, picnic-style seating, on the
ground, along the elevated sides (elevation helped one see over the sponsor tents). That's what we chose--just far enough back from the stage so that we could see the whole screen, though from that distance the ball was a mere dot.

The game began at 8:30, dinner time for Romans, and many arrived with snacks, cartons of Chinese food, beer (though nobody seemed drunk), and cigarettes. We had two cartons of take-out stuff from the grocery store--one a pasta with salmon, the other carrots, green beans, and potatoes, and some grocery-store pizza bread. The food was lousy. We had also brought a 1/2 liter plastic bottle of white wine--not enough, really, but we had to get home on the scooter.

Radio Italia was giving away a "clap banner," a light cardboard thing, folded up like a fan, that had a banner on each side ("Forza Ragazzi" on one side), and, folded up and struck across the hand, made a clapping noise.

For a long time there wasn't much to clap for. Paraguay scored first and the Italians were in shock. The "ragazzi" tied it up in the second half--AS Roma's own De Rossi, the key midfielder in this game, was the hero--but despite dominating the game, Italy didn't score again and had to settle for a tie. The next day's newspapers seemed to think that wasn't a terrible result, and the players said the team would improve. And the crowd leaving Piazza di Siena was surely disappointed, but mellow - for which we, on a scooter, were thankful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Holiday, Roman style

We struck out for a hike on June 2, Rome’s Republic Day. Unlike patriotic - should I say it - zealots on July 4 in the US, the Romans aren’t terribly interested in celebrating their Republic, it seems, but they do love days off and picnics in their parks.

We thought we’d be hiking alone on a fairly flat trail, since the “hike” was in one of our Italian trekking books. We braved some dangerous highways (The Pontina – to Romans, enough said) to get to the turn-off, got lost in roads to military reserves, and then went down a degraded dusty road that seemed designed to beat up our scooter. But we ended up with a couple hundred other Romans at a kind of farm park.

Like Americans, the Romans now need a public Reserve, a park, to show some kinds of farm life to their children (I say to myself what would my Mom, raised on a dairy farm outside of Seattle by her Italian parents, think; but then, Bill and I sent one of our sons to a summer farm camp and their Grandma took it all in stride). Italian kids were being educated in sheep grazing, tractors, honey-bees, solar energy.

We left the farm equipment and cavorting Roman children behind and headed out on some “trails” that were mostly farm roads, then left the roads behind to slog through waist-high and higher grasses. We finally found our way to the top of a hill, with a large herd (?) of grazing sheep (thankfully, no sheep dogs) and grand views into the next valley. A Roman family of 3, panting away, managed to get out this far too - at least we think they did; we encouraged them as they were climbing up the hill behind us.

The Reserve also houses a coop, which was selling organic (“bio” for the Italians) and other agricultural products. Of course, we too had to buy some of these “authentic” products to take home. So stop by for a taste some time. Dianne

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Germans Occupy Rome--for an Evening

The Germans occupied Rome Thursday night. Yes, we were all, about 2,000 of us, occupied and entertained at Villa Massimo, the German cultural academy, just steps off Piazza Bologna. This year's rendition was special, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Academy, a space that had hosted Richard Strauss, Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergmann, Renata Guttuso, Pablo Picasso and Pablo Neruda, among other luminaries.
But first we had to get in, and that proved more difficult than we had imagined while reading the 2-page spread in La Repubblica, which announced "Porte Aperte" (open doors). Indeed, the doors were open, but only for the press and those with invitations. Like others in the small, disaffected group adrift outside, we complained--"it was in the newspaper" and the newspaper had said nothing about invitations, was our argument--but only when Dianne mentioned that we had written a book about Rome that included mention of the Academy did the guard relent and allow us to progress to the next challenge: the press table, manned by three young women. I explained that whatever policy they were applying was "bad public relations," but it was Dianne's Patton-like tactic--brandishing the book, flashing a card with the cover on it (one of the young women actually knew of it)--that brought success, and in we went.

Phase I (the Germans, we found out years ago, don't do free-for-alls), during the waning hours of the day and into twilight, took us into the dozen or so studios of the fellows of the academy, all lined up in row along a wide lane of small stones. This was a no-alcohol phase (though Dianne later claimed to have found some Martini Rossi at one of the drink tables),
but there was lemonade and other bottled drinks, and plenty of salty french fries and chicken fingers served in small, waxy paper bags.

The art and music offerings seemed on the minimal side, a recyling of the avant-garde, new music sensibilities of the German TV serial "Heimat" in more than one studio, a recording of birds singing in another. One woman, interested in what changes could be wrought in the public sphere, had decorated some picnic tables in blue and on them had put bowls of lemons (see photo). Another project involved printing and framing all the newspaper articles written about a 1938 Rome meeting between Hitler and the Pope that never took place, and then there was the decorated saw horse.

One studio was almost entirely taken up with a boxing ring, where at 9 p.m. two young men dressed in the vestments of priests duked it out for 3 rounds until the one dressed all in white knocked out the one with the black trim. When it was over, Dianne said she was surprised that the spectators had clapped.

Our favorite artistic moment was a seductive and complex video by 42-year old Christian Jankowski, which took a TV/newsreel ("Tableau Vivant TV") approach to introducing the artist's work, which involved living tableaus featuring real people "frozen" at their work.
One of the tableaus featured the artist being interviewed (or, should we say, talked about, since he was locked in that pose) in a bathtub where he was coming up with ideas for future tableaus. I hope that's clear. Later we met the artist; Dianne did her networking thing, suggesting that Christian might be interested in Favretto's the 19th-century tableaus (getting pretty esoteroic here). Christian took it all down on his Blackberry, and Bill took this picture.

Phase II was dinner and, at long last, beer and wine, in which we fully indulged, having left the scooter in the garage, all in the dramatic setting of the Villa's main courtyard, its pines and cypruses lit seductively from below. One section of the courtyard was set aside for specially important people, which we knew was not us. The food was served at an enormous oval-shaped table with waiters inside. It was soon mobbed, 3-deep, "pigs at the trough," said Dianne, and it was 40 minutes before we could penetrate enough to grab a few chicken legs and, finally, some white soupy stuff that may have been fish. We spent much of the dinner hour people-watching over a glass of wine, standing on a small podium and leaning against a giant granite column, telling each other how much in love we were and what a grand time we were having (I kid you not).

We had somehow missed dessert, but the evening was not over. For Phase III we ambled over to a make-shift outdoor disco with a classic disco ball overhead, where (after waiting for "qualche minuto" several times), we joyously danced in semi-darkness, first with a bevy of energetic children, then with two tall gay guys, then in a conga line, finally in the full density of the crowded disco (I've been told the current word is "club").

Seldom have we been more, or better, occupied. Nice work, Germany! But next time, make sure the "porte" are really "aperte."


Friday, June 4, 2010

Celebrating the Berry... Nemi's Strawberry Festa

[new pix of 2010 poster, btw]
Sagre e feste – annual feasts of patron saints and general festivities. They’re everywhere in Italy, celebrating almost anything – from artichokes to martyrs. On any given weekend, there are a dozen or more to choose from in a day trip from Rome. One of our favorites is Nemi’s Feste delle Fragole - the Strawberry Festival. It’s the first Sunday in June; so you can head out there next Sunday, June 6.

[And a reminder that Sabina's in-place art starts this weekend too. See our post of September 4 last year. ]

We like Nemi because it’s a lovely medieval town perched above the smaller of the Colli Albani volcanic lakes, complete with trails from the town down to the lake, ruins of a temple to Diana (so ruined and unmarked we missed it our first time), and a naval museum built in the Fascist era that once housed Caligula’s famous boat of pleasure (raised from the bottom of the lake in the modern era, but then unfortunately bombed to smithereens by the allies in WWII).

Here are some pix and videos from last year’s Nemi Strawberry fest, complete with strawberry pizza (that's our slice), strawberry liqueurs, strawberry desserts, just about strawberry anything (rivaling Circleville Ohio’s Pumpkin Show, complete with pumpkin burgers).

The obligatory Ariccia porchetta truck is there, as are the folk costumes, dances, and music (through the streets, on stage, wandering musicians). There are also a flower show, art show, and medieval costume display in the old tower.

But we’ll take the people watching any day.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Rainy May in Rome: Che Tempaccio!

With a few exceptions, it's rained every day this May,and when it didn't rain it threatened to, so that we've stayed off the scooter more than we wanted and carried our lovely orange umbrella all over the city (it has a hard plastic casing, which makes it an ideal weapon against the forces of evil, shedding not only water but thugs, Bill imagines). It's the rainest May in Rome in 54 years, so they say. We offer these pics in homage.
From top to bottom: a wet park on the Aventine Hill; an afternoon rainbow over the underpass at the San Paolo Metro stop; puddles across from Termini; and a dog taking comfort under an umbrella, between Piazza della Repubblica and Termini. After we took the last photo, a passing woman tried to make the dog even more comfortable by shifting the umbrella further over its head. The results of her altruism were a partially collapsed umbrella and a confused and wetter pooch.