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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You CAN Get a Ticket in Rome

Yes, you can get a ticket in Rome.  Not for speeding (never seen anyone get pulled over for that and, unlike the US, the cops don't lie in wait around the next curve).  Not for reckless driving, which is essential to moving traffic in Rome (and sometimes for mere survival).  Not for switching lanes without signaling (on many streets, there are no lines dividing one lane from another, and signaling is a now and then thing).  Although we've never seen it happen, you might get a ticket for going through a stop sign or red light, even though it's often done, especially by scooters. 

And you can get a ticket for driving through a camera checkpoint for the ztl (zona a traffico limitato/limited traffic zone) with the wrong kind of vehicle or at the wrong time of day, or through a similar checkpoint marking a lane reserved for taxis and buses.  If either of these systems is operating the tickets are automatic, issued by mail, and usually arrive in about 6 months.  We've gotten two for using a taxi/bus lane, including one for entering the Monti neighborhood from Via Cavour. 

An American friend, an attorney, has a better story.  Unfamiliar with Rome and needing to return a rental car at the Termini station, he circled the station, unknowingly using one of those forbidden taxi/bus lanes monitored electronically.  Not sure where the rental office was, he circled two more times.  The bill for the car rental had him responsible for not one but three tickets, all earned within 15 minutes.  He complained, sent in the money for one ticket, and that was the last he heard of it. 

Sidewalk parking job, at Parco
Leonardo, a Rome suburb
Sidewalk parking for an
evening event at MAXXI.
No chance of a ticket here.
Oddly, in a city where double-parking, and parking on the sidewalk or on the corner of an intersection, have for years been considered responsible behavior, one can, indeed, get a parking ticket. 

Comely ticket writers, on the prowl, Via del Corso
This is especially true in the center, where parking is tightest.  There, and occasionally in some other areas, teams of two ticket "writers" stroll (yes, the perfect word) the streets, writing up parking villains.  (BTW, the photo is angled because it was taken surreptitiously; didn't want to be caught photographing the cops.) 

Their job has been made easier in recent years by new lines demarcating actual parking "spaces" for cars and--smaller ones--for scooters; park in an area not so demarcated, and there is a some (though by no means absolute) risk.  These teams are sometimes of mixed gender, sometimes just men and sometimes just two maids of the meters, always impeccable dressed and usually shapely.  A far cry from LA's legions of punctural (to the minute) "Parking Enforcement" Nazis.   In this regard, you're still better off in Rome. 


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jewish Artichokes--in September!

When we took this photograph on September 20 of last year, we were both disappointed and surprised.  Disappointed, because the scene was a trifle tacky: a couple of guys on the main street of the area known as the Jewish ghetto, hustling Jewish artichokes and other Kosher delicacies for La Taverna del Ghetto, one of the area's best-known restaurants.  "The King of the Jewish here!"  Was business that bad? 

And we were surprised.  Surprised, because we had always (always being like a decade or two) thought that the "season" for Jewish artichokes--carciofi (artichokes) alla giudia--ended in May and would not begin again until February.  And here we were in mid-September, and these fellows were engaged in the unthinkable: selling Jewish artichokes (deep fried whole, then dipped briefly in cold water) when the proper raw material was, we thought, unavailable.  Yet there, on the table, were, undeniably, artichokes. 

Un carciofo all guidia, ready to eat
It seems there are two kinds of artichoke.  Those in the photo were likely the Roman "globe artichoke," available most of the year (though unusual in September).  But the preparation  "alla giudia" is traditionally accomplished with the carciofo romanesco--what food critic Katie Parla calls "Rome's most venerated vegetable"--and that artichoke has the limited season we note above.  Indeed, European Union IGP (Geographically Protected and Identified) regulations legally establish the season for the carciofo romanesco--February thru May, just as we thought. 

To Romans, these things matter.  Shame on you, La Taverna del Ghetto!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Garage Art: the Pinup in Rome

Grease monkeys like their pinups.  Back where the work is done, where the oil is changed and the tires rotated, there's usually a poster or calendar featuring a fetching young thing in short shorts straddling a motorcycle or leaning over a front fender, ready to replace a spark plug or remove the air filter. 

Center: A helpful auto repairman approaches woman in distress. 
That's true in the US, anyway--at least that's how I remember it--and when I walked by the garage (photo above), on Via Nocera Umbra in a sedate, middle-class area of the quartiere of Tuscolano, I was sure I had stumbled upon the tip of the pinup iceberg.  Surely Rome's mechanics had their calendar girls, too.  I imagined coming upon one suggestive display after another, the sum proving my theory that men are men, mechanics mechanics, and garage art garage art, the world over. 

To make a long story short, I never found another,  Despite zealous, even intrusive observation of every garage I passed on my walks through Rome's neighborhoods, I never found another pinup.  Not a one. 

Where had I gone wrong?  Italy is not a prissy culture, or a censorius one.  For many years the television show "Colpo Grosso" was well known for women "flashing" their breasts.  And today, stores selling sun-tan lotions advertise their wares in the window using luscious top-less cardboard models.  No, it's not that Italians are squeamish about sex or sexiness.

A better explanation has to do with the shape of Rome's car and scooter repair industry.  Many of the shops are small, shallow, room-size affairs, big enough for one or two lifts and tools, and they're open to the sidewalk, so that passers-by are close to the action inside.  The calendar pinups would be there, revealed in all their immodesty to every school girl and grandmother.  Perhaps not the best idea. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Art with your food in Rome - Caffe' Palombini in EUR

Fegarotti's mosaics in Caffe' Palombini, EUR; hard
to believe this is marble
Art and food have always seemed a great combination to us (not that we’re original on that score), but usually we at RST go after the art first and the food is secondary (we might be unusual on that one).  And so it was when we first saw the mosaics at Caffè Palombini in EUR – the enormously sprawling “suburb” of Rome originally designed to showcase the Fascists’ European Exposition of 1942 (well, that didn’t happen).  EUR (including Caffè Palombini) is one of the 4 itineraries 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.

Caffe' Palombini, in the building of the "official
restaurant" next to the "square coliseum" in EUR
The mosaics are hidden in plain sight in the building that was supposed to be the “official restaurant” of E42.  Built in 1939-42, it was originally designed to have restaurants for “functionaries, workers, executives and visitors.”  And it now at least has one appealing, and multi-functional, restaurant on the ground floor.  More about food and drink later.

the often occupied side room... with the oft-ignored
The mosaics are what brought us to Caffè Palombini.  We have gone to see them many times, usually when taking a respite from EUR’s monumental and sometimes forbiddingly cold or hot (depending on the season) buildings and street layout.  Sometimes we have to crane our heads around diners; sometimes we have them to ourselves – in the side room, to the right of the entrance, where they’re located.

The mosaics are on the theme of the restaurant and EUR – they feature a table with cutlery and flowers and EUR’s buildings in the background – all in polychromatic marble.  This gorgeous work is by Eugenio Fegarotti, who received a fair amount of patronage from the Fascists but, not being a member of the Party, eventually lost his teaching position at Rome’s Accademia di belle arti (Fine Arts Academy). There are also some lovely frescoes in the entrance room by Franco Gentilini – same period.

One of our next treks (I haven’t told Bill yet) is to search out Fegarotti’s other works, including wall mosaics at the Hotel Bristol in Piazza Barberini (which almost made our list of best rooftop bars), and in the House of the Fascists in Pomezia  (we have scouted around but never knew to look for his work), and possibly other places in the Pontine Marshes southwest of Rome, where he did much of his art and eventually moved.  Plus, Bill, we need to look at his via Margutta studio location at # 48 (close to where those Roman Holiday capers occurred). 
For a thorough biography of Fegarotti, who was active in a variety of media until his death in 1973, see this link.  If you don’t read Italian, you can use the Google translator.  It will read like pigeon English, but you will get it.

Now to food and drink.  We like Caffè Palombini.  It has an expansive cafeteria where a slew of EUR locals have lunch.  Reasonably priced.  Nice indoor and outdoor seating.  Palombini, besides being known for their coffee – which you can buy in any Rome supermarket-- makes their own pastries, candies, sells cigars and trinkets.  They have a more upscale restaurant and a lively evening bar, we’re told.  Those latter two get pricier.

When in EUR, do as the Romans do, stop in at Caffè Palombini.  But don’t forget to check out the art work.
I can't prove it, but these mosaics in the Art Deco era Hotel
Mediterraneo near Stazione Termini look a lot like Fegarotti's work
PS  EUR has a lot of art, including Severini’s 1950s murals that we promoted in an earlier post and put on our top 40 list.

Severini's murals, along with Caffè  Palombini are 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

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Tiny Trucks of Rome

In the U.S., where bigger is always better, nobody wants a truck that isn't capable of hauling an apartment building or, if need be, the Statue of Liberty.  See photo at left.

In Italy "small" has long been in fashion.  In the towns and countryside, tiny, 3-wheeled vehicles, often flatbeds, many of them running on noisy and polluting but powerful 2-cycle engines (mixing gas with oil) that are prohibited in the cities, carry wood, produce, building supplies, and sundries.  They're slow--they don't do more than about 30 mph--but they're inexpensive to operate, easy to fix, and for the farmers and tradesmen that use them, they're big enough to get the job done. 

Easy to park--here, in space reserved for scooters,
in front of the Italian House of Deputies (Montecitorio).
Small truck-like vehicles are common in Rome--again, partly because they're cheaper to operate than bigger trucks or vans, but also because parking space is at a premium and traffic insane.  They're not scooters, but they offer some of the same advantages. 

A three-wheeler.  Careful on the turns!

Many of these smaller trucks have only 3 wheels--sometimes 1 in front and 2 in back (unstable on turns) and, less often, 2 in front and 1 in back (better on turns, but more unstable generally). 

4-wheel Postal vehicle

The Ufficio Postale, the Italian postal service, is a big user of these vehicles for its pick-up and delivery services.  The one at left is a 4-wheeled model with small rear wheels and what appears to be a detachable door. 

This one belongs to a restaurant.  Dianne's there
for proportion. 

Others are owned by private businesses, from restaurants to flea-market vendors. 
(Ciarla, where we had dinner one evening, is on Via Appia Nuova). 

We thought about buying one to help us with the task of distributing copies of Rome the Second Time.

Unidentified trucks attract graffiti.  But then,
so does everything. 

Unmarked mini-trucks appear to be a prime target of beginning graffiti writers, practicing their "tags." 


A small flat-bed, used for hauling goods to a flea market. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cinema Barberini

Cinema Barberini, before the restorations. Photo by
Truus, Bob & Jan too!
Cinema Barberini, as seen from Via Veneto
Cinema Barberini sits at the foot of Via Veneto, across the street from the elegant, and isolated, Bernini fountain in the oddly-shaped piazza.  We've walked by this movie house dozens of times, and seen movies there, but until recently the building remained for us a utilitarian space in which we could indulge our taste for film. 

Closed for several months, the Cinema Barberini will soon reopen, refurbished ("Il restyling," according to la Repubblica) inside and out.  We're less concerned about the interior modification, which retains the 5 theaters with which we're familiar, though we found it interesting that the theater will reopen with about 20 black luxury seats ("poltrone" or "posti vip") in each theater, for which patrons will pay an additional 1 or 2 Euro.  Just another example of pay-extra-for-everything, class-based culture that favors and pampers the wealthy.  Thanks Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Silvio Berlusconi. 

A Fascist event, held in the theater
in the 1930s.  Mussolini's picture
prominently displayed. 
More important, the restoration has stripped away much of the advertising paraphernalia that has decorated the building's exterior for many years, revealing and displaying the original 1929/30 facade by architect and city planner Marcello Piacentini, who worked all over Italy under Fascist aegis. 

The restored facade. 
Although the facade is usually described as Art Deco, it is at best a limited, incipient example of the style.  The repeated arches are often found in 1930s architecture, but the faux columns are a neo-classical touch more associated with the 19th century.

The facade's most interesting feature--and not exactly a thrill, at that--may be the decorative plaster bees ("api") atop the scroll above each arch [detail at left], the architect's allusion to the Barberini family symbol, seen also in the bees that grace Bernini's nearby fountain. 

Piacentini (1881-1960) had a major role in the structuring of EUR (1938-42), the massive complex south of the city, and he designed the rector's office at the new University of Rome (1936).  He created the Cinema Barberini for its owner, the father of film director Roberto Rossellini.  The grounds on which the Cinema was built became available when--as was happening all over the city--the Barberini stables that housed the family's horses and carriages were rendered obsolete by the automobile (and the broad, Fascist-built avenues on which they traveled). 

Besides designing the theater, Piacentini was also, apparently, responsible for widening the square on which it stands, and for the asymmetrical piazza that resulted.  "Rendering a square asymmetrical," writes Paul Baxa in his new book Roads and Ruins, "offended conventional urban design, but in the fascist scheme it was perfectly acceptable.  Marcello Piacentini would later declare the Piazza Barberini a truly great square because of its 'fantastic irregularity created over time.  One of those squares that is infinitely suggestive, more plastic, and more human.'  Respect for the traditional order of the square," concludes Baxa, "had no place in fascist urban planning." 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

MACRO: the Toilets

We were having a rather ordinary glass of white wine in the new and extra-ordinary bar in the striking new addition to MACRO, Rome's municipal gallery of modern art. 

Touring the men's room at MACRO
A group of "suits" walked in, well-dressed visitors, anyway, with briefcases and the like.  There to inspect, or to learn.  Important people, obviously, on a mission.  They were touring the gallery, we surmised, for the first time.  The bar was nice, and they looked around, approvingly, before focusing their attention on THE TOILETS, poking their heads in, and poking around, the men's room (right).  In all earnestness, of course.

And why not?  MACRO's bathrooms are high tech if not high art--or high narcissism.  All radiant color (e.g. red when the hand-dryer goes on) and mirrors and high-modern design, with the gleaming wash-basins--nearly dysfunctional in their shallowness, but cool--in the middle of each room. 

Only the shiny stainless steel "trough" in the men's room, reminiscent of the head at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills football team, seemed out of character. 

We liked the signs for "Men" and "Women," too. 

So have a large Coke, check out MACRO, and head straight for the toilets.  

PS from Dianne - we've taken delight in MACRO at other times; for example when the new wing opened.  And we promise a more thorough post on just MACRO in the future - and presentation of some arguments as to which is the better modern art gallery - MACRO or MAXXI (the latter, by Zaha Hadid, gets much more press).