Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy the Theater: Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome

the banner reads "How sad it is to be prudent - from
the theater workers" - the quote is from Argentinian
playright Rafael Spregelburd, and has become
a motto of the movement

Occupied space is a relatively current protest phenomenon starting on Wall Street this Fall. But for Romans, occupied space has been for decades a way of combining political statement with cultural events. The latest and most potent occupied space in Rome is Teatro Valle Occupato – the “occupied” 300+ year-old theater, Teatro Valle, just down the block from the large church, San Andrea della Valle, in the middle of what was ancient Rome.
Theater people – actors, musicians, technicians and their supporters – began occupying Teatro Valle in June when the government slashed support to cultural institutions and put the historic theater up for sale. Since then, tens if not hundreds of leading figures in the arts have spoken and performed there (e.g. Nanni Morretti – the Palme d’Or winning Italian director, and Stefano Bollani, one of the country’s top jazz pianists, playright Dario Fo, Italy's all-time top-selling novelist Andrea Camilleri). Self-management has resulted in daily programming of high quality, seminars, lectures, even guided tours.

Mamet was first performed in Rome here
We asked our Roman friends how the occupation can continue. Why doesn’t the government simply shut off the water and lights? Aren’t there safety issues? The answer seems to be that some levels of government (and the safety inspectors who apparently do come and inspect) are complicit. And thousands of people have been to the theater for something at sometime.  In other words, it's beloved.  The government is faced with an unpopular showdown if it tries to close “il Valle” (“the Valley”), as it’s often referred to. Hm, sounds a bit familiar just now.

Jazz musicians at il Valle

For anyone in Rome or going to Rome, perhaps even the first time, we recommend a stop at Teatro Valle, which seems to be open 24/7, and definitely a performance if your timing is right.  And look for the book launch of the Italian translation of David Foster Wallace's posthumous (and incomplete) The Pale King soon at il Valle.

For more information, Teatro Valle’s website has some information in English (click on the British flag), including an October article in London’s The Guardian. There’s a lot more information in Italian that you can access using an online translator.

Until recently, to us in the U.S., the notion of an occupied space has been, well, foreign. When we’ve tried to explain to our American friends that many cultural events in Rome take place in occupied spaces, they just don’t understand it. But there they are. Many last a few months, some for decades. In the latter camp are Forte Prenestino and Angelo Mai (both featured in Rome the Second Time). And some evolve – through much work on the part of their supporters – into government-recognized and often supported spaces, such as Casa Internazionale delle Donne, International Women’s House (also in RST). 

Some see Teatro Valle Occupato as distinct from these other occupied spaces.  The ones we mentioned started as social centers, they say.  The Valley started as a distinct protest.  We're not sure that distinction is so clear.  The Casa Internazionale delle Donne had protest beginnings as well.  In any event, are there models here for us in the normally more-law-abiding US, whose cultural budgets seem to be getting similarly gored?


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Advertising: Totti's Cucchiaio

"Clearly," intones the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Michael Beard in Ian McEwan's recent novel, Solar, "advertising was an industry for third-raters."  The remark gave us pause, and cause to reflect on the cast of ad execs that populates one of our favorite TV shows, Mad Men.  Even so, we always enjoy scanning the latest evanescent products of the industry when we land in the Eternal City. 

For the current expedition, the early favorite is a series of advertisements made for Sky, the satellite company owned by Rupert Murdoch, a competitor of Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset Premium Calcio.   

Many of Italy's most famous soccer players are featured in the series.  We were particularly struck (and mystified) by this illuminated Metro billboard featuring the iconic captain and star of AS Roma: Francesco Totti.  Dressed in Roma colors and surrounded by Roman ruins--one of which appears to be a cross between the Coliseum and a modern soccer stadium--Totti looks gratefully to heaven, the source of the Sky "miracle": calcio (soccer) for only E29 per month.  Our Rome friends (and Roma fans) were aghast at the hypocriscy of suggesting that E29 was inexpensive, and--more important--surprised that Italians would tolerate, much less appreciate, an ad campaign that rather distastefully fused the national sport with religious imagery. 

And the spoon?  What's with the spoon that Totti brandishes?  What's that all about?  In Italian the word is "cucchiaio" and, as our friends--we're at dinner when we're talking about his--immediately made clear, Totti is famous for the "cucchiaio."  That is, he's widely known and admired for the soft, spoon-like shots that he has put into opposing nets over the years, shots that seem especially compelling and endearing coming from a big man with one of the game's hardest shots.  Our Roma tifoso (fan) M. waxed eloquent and fondly over a particularly fine example, a penalty kick on which Totti waited for the keeper (goaltender) to move, then "spooned" to ball gently into the center of the net. 

You'll find all the videos easily enough; just put Totti and "cu" into a search engine.  Or click on this link for 4 minutes of the best of Totti's "cucchiai." 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pier Luigi Nervi: Palazzetto dello Sport

Pier Luigi Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport (little palace of sport) sits on its own small piece of land in the Flaminio district, a thing apart.  It's a stone's throw (even for this tired old wing) from the Parco della Musica, so we've been by it, and around it, many times over the last few years, admiring its space-age design while wondering why the roof always seemed to need a coat of paint.  Bill recalls being inside in 1962 with a touring group of Stanford students, unsure what to think of the building, which was new then, having been constructed for volleyball and other events at the 1960 Rome Olympics. 

The Palazzetto beckoned on a recent trip to the neighborhood, when the late afternoon light drew our attention to the building's striking colored glass windows.   The Palazzetto is also featured in the Flaminio itinerary in our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler. More on the book at the end of this post.

Walking around the exterior, of the Palazzetto, we found an open entrance (!) and walked in.  Voilà.  Some very good volleyball players were practicing.  We admired the space, took some pictures and, not wanting to press our luck further, left.  A few hours later we photographed the same windows, from outside (photo at top).  Lovely.

As noted above, the Palazzetto, and more around it, are featured in the Flaminio itinerary of 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, October 16, 2011

Rome is Burning: The People take to the Streets

A building burning ahead on via Labicana
On Saturday we found ourselves much too close to some of the violence in Rome’s “Gli indignati” (“the indignant ones”) massive demonstration.  We joined what we thought was a peaceful and lively march about 4 p.m. at the Coliseum (2 hours after the appointed starting time and about 2 miles into the route).  We were enjoying reading (and translating) the various banners, stickers, sign-boards, flags that the protesters were carrying… representing dozens of groups, including feminists, unions, the handicapped, the unemployed, Palestinians, Communists, and social and cultural organizations. (And see Bill's prior post on the camp-in and protests in Rome leading up to this march.)
What we didn’t know was that some violence had already occurred on via Cavour: four autos set on fire, two banks and a supermarket (to shouts of "riprendiamoci la ricchezza per distribuirla" [we're taking back the wealth to redistribute it]) attacked, according to today’s papers. 

Within a few blocks on via Labicana, moving uphill from the Coliseum, we saw ahead billowing black smoke and white smoke, and we could hear the booms of explosions and see the fire from what looked like Molotov cocktails in the air. The crowd in front of us turned and started running more than once.  We turned too, and ran, but then the crowd seemed to turn back and start up again.  This was not like any march we had ever been in. 

Riot police and marchers in confrontation on
via Labicana 

After a few blocks, we passed Carabinieri (State police forces) in riot gear, blocking the road, but not the sidewalks. 

We passed a burning building – later learning it was a Defense Department building, apparently used (perhaps in the past) as a storehouse--and a string of smoking cassonetti (garbage containers) (photo at right).  

As we made a right turn up via Merulana to Piazza San Giovanni, the endpoint and supposed focal point of the march, we saw more overturned garbage bins blocking the streets, some of them burning; forceful arguments between groups of demonstrators, including one episode in which people carrying Communist flags were threatened; and men in helmets, prepared for combat (photo at left).   

Smoke from fires at a via Merulana intersection
Although we saw people dressed in black with masks over their faces, it was hard for us to tell the “Black Bloc” people – described as evil-doers by most people, fascists or anarchists by others, or just thugs-- from those who were simply trying to cover their noses and mouths from the smoke and tear gas.  This is the first time we can recall inhaling tear gas and feeling that acrid irritation in the sinuses.  There were also people eating and sharing lemons – again, attempts to fend off the tear gas. 

Black smoke in Piazza San Giovanni, likely
from a Carabinieri van set ablaze
We made it to Piazza San Giovanni, where we found an enormous crowd.  (The piazza is said to hold nearly 1,000,000 for rock music concerts and seemed nearly full when we arrived, and there was a huge mass of people behind us, flowing up via Merulana.)  There were more black smoke clouds…clouds we did not want to approach but likely were from a Carabinieri van that was set ablaze. 

COBAS union flags held high in Piazza San Giovanni;
the Scala Santa (Holy Steps) in back.
We found our way to the steps of that immense basilica (San Giovanni in Laterano – St. John the Lateran), from where one can see for blocks, but we also could feel that we might end up pinned in the piazza – not a place we wanted to be if crowds started running or became more violent.

Looking forward to the revolution and a cup of beer
We decided at that point the rally—billed as an event without leaders--was not going to have the normal speeches and focus (in spite of some huge trucks moving through the piazza with loudspeakers and…beer), and that we had better get out of the piazza while we could.  We headed back down a smaller street, but one familiar to us, again towards the Coliseum. 

"We'll find the street or we'll open a new one" - banner
in peaceful section of the march around the Coliseum
When we passed the Coliseum, we saw what looked like even more of the march, now an hour and a half later…thick with people, banners, chanting, and completely peaceful.  These marchers, several hundred thousand, we estimate, were directed away from the route to Piazza San Giovanni, around the Coliseum and next to the Palatine Forum, toward Circo Massimo.  This part of the march seemed to have more of a happy ending, or perhaps just a fizzle out. 
To us, the length of the march, in time and distance, indicated close to a million people were in the Rome streets--and not that many riot police. 

Peaceful marchers with Arch of Constantine in back
Today, as we read the papers, listen to the politicians’ take, and talk to our Roman friends, the consensus is that a small group of “fascists” – the Black Bloc guys – ruined the march for Rome and the people protesting, that the media seemed interested only in the violence, not the political statements being made.  The Rome mayor, from a right-wing party, declared “i veri indignati sono i citidini” – “the true indignant ones are the citizens of Rome”, and that the “worst of Europe came here” – i.e., the Black Bloc members are, in essence, outside agitators.
Part of the "mess on via Merulana", the title of a
well-known Italian novel
We are left with many more questions than answers.  Why aren’t these Black Bloc folks arrested before they start throwing rocks (the large “sampietrini” or cobble stones that make up most of Rome’s streets) and fire bombs?  Or when they do it?  Why were riot police barely a presence?  Are the police complicit in “ruining” the march?  Does the State want some violence so it can crack down on the left?  Does the violence of a few “ruin” the political statement of many?  Does the concept of indignation about economic policies that harm millions of people get subverted into indignation on the part of politicians and merchants?  Can one have a successful march that is so “democratic” it has no leadership?  Is what happened particular to Italy or Rome?

Bill and Dianne

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Indignant Ones: Rome joins the Wall Street Protests

It was Thursday, October 13.  We had parked the scooter on the Quirinale hill and walked a couple of blocks to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, one of Rome's great museums and the site of a major exhibition of Soviet art.  But when we came down the long stairs toward Via Nazionale, two large blue-and-white police vans, staffed by a dozen officers, signified something afoot, and when we turned the corner onto Via Nazionale, we found the steps of the museum crowded with tents and dozens of young people, talking and making banners--maybe planning a revolution.  The museum was closed, for "security reasons," and not scheduled to reopen until Sunday. 

We had stumbled upon the protests of the "indignati"--the indignant ones--modeled after the "indignados" of Madrid and, in the United States, the Wall Street protesters.  Here in Rome, their target was the Bankitalia (the Bank of Italy), located just down the street from the museum.  Apparently the first tents were in front of the Bank, spilling into the street and seriously disrupting the traffic--and the bus routes--on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares.  A "braccio di ferro" with the police--literally "arm of iron" but translatable as a "trial of strength"--moved the tents off the street and onto the steps of the museum.

"Gli indignati" also call themselves the "Dragi rebelli"--Dragi rebels.  Dragi refers to Mario Dragi, departing president of the Bank of Italy and the next head of the European central bank.  Conveniently, Dragi also means "dragons," so the Rome movement has a convenient symbol--the dragon.  Dragi is an advocate of immediate and severe budget cuts, beyond those generally suggested.  Like right-wingers in the United States, he claims these actions will restore growth and benefit Italy's legions of young unemployed.  But the "indignati" aren't buying Dragi's line or his stature as head of Italy's biggest bank.  They jokingly refer to Bankitalia as "Banca d'Itaglia" (pronounced similarly, but meaning "Bank of the Cuts").  In the lingo of the rebels, another large bank, Banca Intesa, becomes Banca Intrusa (intrusive) and Unicredit becomes Unidebit--not too hard to figure out, even if you don't know Italian.  Thus far it's been a good-humored movement: lots of singing and dancing. 

On the steps at the University of Rome (La
Sapienza): Continue the encampment in Via Nazionale
after the forced removal of last night!  Today at
4 p.m. everyone to Via Nazionale.  The protest
continues.  October 15 has already begun!  Rise Up.
Although centered on the young, the movement is diverse; it includes environmentalists, university research assistants, various youth associations, some union people, many undergraduates, and thousands of people brought together spontaneously through Facebook and Twitter.  They oppose the privatization of the water systems; defend the public schools and the universities from budget cuts; and want the banks--and not citizens--held responsible if the state fails to make its payments.  They oppose Dragi's austerity measures.  They know the Berlusconi government is troubled and fragile, and they hope their mobilization will prove powerful enough to bring it down. 

Another part of the movement, seemingly separate but contributing to the state's anxieties about public order, is an anti-government group centered around Gaetano Ferrieri, a 54 year old Venetian who has been fasting for 131 days (and lost 20 kilos).  Ferrieri has presented the government with 3 petitions, calling for the elimination of government waste and bureaucracy (and excessive stipends for managers) and for reform of the Italian election laws.  But so far he's been ignored by the authorities.

Seen at Montecitorio, the Italian "house." 
I love Italy.  I am with Gaetano Ferrieri. 
Like the Dragi Rebelli, Ferrieri's legions have taken to the streets, blocking traffic on Via del Corso while singing "Fratelli d'Italia."  Although Ferrieri's hunger strike began long before protests on Wall Street set things moving worldwide, Gaetano shares the basic concerns of the Dragi rebels.  "I giovani oggi," he says, "non hanno futuro, non hanno prospettive.  Non siamo rassegnati, siamo indignati."  Today's youth have no future, no prospects.  We are not resigned, we are indignant.

Saturday, October 15 is a big day for the movement.  A poster for the event employs the slogan, "Yes we camp"--in English--a combination of  the Palazzo tents and "yes we can."  The rebels hope to have 150,000 people in the streets--in "piazza" as they say--culminating at Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano.   But they also insist that the movement will go on, that the occupation will continue.  "Portate una tenda," they say: bring a tent. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vernissage-hopping: An Evening in Rome

Guerrieri at far right in khaki jacket
One of our (i.e. Rome the Second Time’s) favorite evenings is to do some serial vernissage hopping.  That is, we check out a few art openings on the same evening.  Recently there were 4 listed in Trova Roma, 2 within a nice walk of each other and 2 others further away.  We started with one in the Centro, on via di Monserrato, home to several upscale galleries. 
Dianne trying to figure out what it all means

The show here at Galleria Ricerca d’Arte is a 50-year retrospective of the Italian abstract painter, Franceso Guerrieri.  The crowd here was older and tonier than we’re used to seeing at openings, no doubt because of Guerrieri’s stature in the Italian art hierarchy.  The paintings are bold and visually arresting, if not in our usual canon of likes; and the vernissage was very much in our canon – full glasses of wine, substantial offerings of food, including little panini and Dianne's favorite: almonds.  And, medieval Rome.  Hard to beat.

We wandered through the curving streets, across the Tevere to Trastevere and an opening at a small gallery at the end of via San Francesco de Sales, nestled near the looming gates of a centuries-old villa. 
Sculptor Guillermo Mora's work
Dianne still trying to figure out
what it means
 At galleria “extraspazio” the artist is a 30-year old Spanish sculptor, Guillermo Mora.  In keeping with the theme, the vernissage – outside on the street near the small gallery – included sangria and guacamole.  The sculptures here, with the title “No Fixed Form," are certainly that.  We heard a lot of Spanish being spoken.
But, placed in the gallery like installations (in corners, at angles, up high, down low), the works gave us much to talk about.  And I would’ve taken one back to the states, if I could; they’d look at home in Los Angeles.  And, to cap a wonderful opening, a daughter of a good friend recognized us and came by to talk for a bit.  In Rome, a city of 4 million, and we run into someone we know!
Vernissage in Trastevere
We took one last stab at a gallery with the name “fuori centro” – outside the center.  It isn’t too far from where we’re living.  But by the time we made our way there at 9 p.m., it was closed.  Even with that (a new venture into a new area), we deemed this gallery-hopping evening a grand success.      Dianne

Saturday, October 8, 2011

It's a Women's World: 8 Women Artists in Rome from the 70s to Today

Temple University’s current exhibit in Rome underscores our mantra that one should go to the less glitzy and less publicized exhibits.  Temple’s current show of 8 Italian women artists, spanning the period from the 70s to the present, is “da non perdere” – i.e., not to be missed. 

The women tell their stories about being artists in a period of intense feminism, and the meaning of those heady years for their work today. 

The show features a work from each artist’s earlier period plus a contemporary work.  Panels in Italian and English give  insight into the Italian women artists and their role in 20th and 21st century art, because of the documentary information provided.

The show is mounted in collaboration with Rome’s Casa Internazionale delleDonne (“International Women’s House” – also noted in Rome the Second Time, as one of the city-sponsored – sort-of – “case” or “houses” of culture).  “Il mondo e’ delle donne:  Artiste a Roma tra anni ’70 e oggi” (“It's a women’s world:  Women Artists in Rome from the 70s to today”; btw, some debate in the family about the translation).  It is the first of several collaborations – to which we say “bravo”!  The show – unfortunately from our perspective – is up only until October 14.  Run, don’t walk. [And while you're running, run to the City's 4 big contemporary art galleries (MAXXI, MACRO - both, and G.N.A.M.) today, Oct. 8 - free as part of Contemporary Art Day in Italy.]
We couldn’t find a website for the Temple show, but for more information, contact Shara Wasserman, director of exhibitions, at  Temple is at Lungotevere Arnaldo da Brescia 15, just a bit beyond Piazza del Popolo.  The gallery is open 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and by appointment on weekends.  Dianne

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Craftsmanship in Rome: a Liutare in the Centro

Rome the Second Time made a “find” in the Centro one recent evening.  While strolling the medieval streets near Ponte Mazzini between art openings (tough duty, but…), we were entranced by the window of a “Liutare” – which we soon learned is a violin-maker. 

The glimpses inside the large (for this area of Rome) store were mesmerizing: all types of stringed instruments – new and old – in a beautiful room that looked like the home of a craftsman.  As we were peering in the window, a man appeared, opened the door and invited us in.  He explained his craft and also invited us to his workshop in back, where three younger men were at work on various instruments.  He introduced one as from Prague, another as his “son” – apparently in the sense of someone who is learning his business.

 Our kind host was Claude Lebet, a “Maestro Liutaio” – Master Violin maker-- and also an author of an impressively large book (in Italian and English) on the history of violin making in Rome.  Originally Swiss, Libet has lived in Italy for more than 30 years.

We lamented to Maestro Lebet that artisans seemed to be being driven out of the Centro by upscale shops, galleries, and wine bars.  But, we added, his was obviously a high-end artisanship and could survive here.  But he too said rents were getting very high, and indicated it was difficult even for him to remain in the City.

Claude Lebet at left

We took our leave of Maestro Lebet and his magnificent workshop, thinking how lucky we were to have stumbled on it.  And, we recommend a stop here for you too.  Via di Monserrato 149/150.