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!