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 26, 2012

Eataly Opens Rome Store

Thursday, June 21: opening day at Rome’s Eataly.  Opening day, that is, for us ordinary folk; “i big” had their own opening a few days ago: the mayor was there, and the president of the province, and the president of the region, and the founder of the Italian Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini, and legendary pop star Gino Paoli, among others.   The pols were there because they can’t resist a spectacle, and Rome’s Eataly, the largest of 19 Eataly’s store-restaurants around the world, is just that: 17 thousand square meters of space, encompassing 23 eating places, 40 areas devoted to teaching about food, 8 spaces where they make mozzarella or fresh pasta or bread, 14,000 products for sale, hundreds of employees, an anticipated 6 million visitors per year.  They were there, too, to celebrate a project brought to fruition entirely with private funds.  Slow Food’s Petrini waxed eloquent on that issue, suggesting that Eataly would be a “permanent Olympics” for the area, without costing the city a cent.

That’s mostly true, but not entirely.  The building that houses Eataly was constructed with public funds.  It opened in 1989/90 as the Air Terminal Ostiense, first to handle the traffic from the 1990 World Cup, then as the place that would connect tourists and others arriving at Rome’s far-away Fiumicino Airport with the city of Rome.  Designed by Spanish architect Julio Lafuente in the grand, open, monumental style of Penn Station (now defunct) by way of the Baths of Caracalla, the postmodern structure fell on bad times from the beginning.  Travelers had difficulty finding taxis, carting their luggage over (or under) the broad set of tracks to the regular railway station, or getting to the Metro; everything was close as the crow flies, but humans with luggage could only wish they had wings.   It was not long before the station was abandoned for the purposes of the Fiumicino trade, and for at least a decade it remained empty.   The more recent chronology is a bit murky: in 2009 and 2010 the Air Terminal was used, unofficially, to house homeless Afghani refugees; in the former year it was purchased by the financiers of Eataly.    (Air Terminal Ostiense gets a brief mention in Rome the Second Time (the book) at page 68.)

While the powerful and yet playful exterior of Lafuente’s Air Terminal remains as he designed it, little—indeed, nothing—remains of the interior.  The enormous, open halls of the original have been filled in, 3 floors added. 
The spectacle remains, but it is of a different sort than Lafuente had in mind: rather than the spectacle of wondrous space, we have the spectacle of the 21st century department store, the spectacle of goods and services, of fashion and design, or products and packaging, of color and choice. 

This is the spectacle of the worldwide furnishing giant IKEA, of an engaging, accessible, and sensible capitalism, there to make money, yes, but also to bring us what we need, what is best for us. 

Eataly, of course, is all about food.  But not just any food, and not just any Italian food.  Eataly comes with a 9-point Manifesto (perhaps 10 would seem too contrived).  Among its points: food unites people across lines of social class; high quality food improves one’s general quality of life; consumers should know the story, the history, behind the foods they consume; and high quality foods should be available at affordable prices (indeed, a recent advertisement promises, “At Eataly high quality costs half.”)  There’s a lot of emphasis on the importance of “what we put inside our bodies,” as opposed to the things outside, and lots of talk about their “passion” for providing  people with good food and how vital it is that people be “passionate” about what they eat.  Substitute “home furnishings” for “food” and you’ve pretty much got IKEA. 

Coffee bar
Fruits and vegetables, not a priority
There’s lots to think about here.  We know there’s some truth in the claim that the tensions of social class can melt away in the pleasures of a good meal.  But one of Eataly’s markets is the very affluent consumer.  At least one of its fourth-floor restaurants caters to the very rich, and posters announce series of 12 wine-tastings for 500 Euro.  It’s hard to disagree with the idea that what we put in our bodies is important.  But one of Eataly’s many food outlets sells pizza and another specializes in “fritti”—that is, deep fried foods, shrimp, calamari and meatballs (delicious – we know, we tried them) and other treats—that are very Roman but would seem low on the nutritional scale.   Most of the wines sold at Eataly contain suphites.  There’s a huge section devoted to the fatty meats—ham, mortadella, sausage—that Italians devour.   And the fruits and vegetables department, where the produce is displayed under canvas tents designed to suggest an old-fashioned market, is tiny.   
Lots of choice
We can’t really speak to the issue of whether the food available at Eataly is of “high quality,” or of higher quality than one can get elsewhere in Rome (that, after all, would be a sensible standard).  Moreover, how would one prove such a claim?  Mayor Gianni Alemanno, the conservative ex-thug not known for his cultured sensibilities, had no such doubts.  Eataly, he announced, is “launching a model where one says no to consumerism, but yes to the quality of what one consumes.”    

Eataly's shopping carts and fashionably-dressed
We have one more concern, possibly the most significant for Rome, and it emerges directly from the Eataly’s advertising.  “Already,” says the company, “many Romans have taken to doing all their grocery shopping at Eataly” (hanno presso a fare la spesa completa da Eataly).  If we thought that say, half of Eataly’s sales would be to tourists and foreigners, that would be one thing.  But we found only one sign of any kind in English, the common language of Rome tourism; everything’s in Italian—a good indication that that’s the key market.  If most of those customers are Romans, we can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen to the local meat markets, salumerie (essentially delis), and neighborhood markets that are now just holding their own against a growing number of small, chain grocers.  At bottom, Eataly is just a “big box” store—an attractive and enticing one to be sure—ready, like all big-box stores everywhere, to destroy the little guys.  That’s what they do. 
Eataly as spectacle
That's our view--and we're stickin' to it.  But it's a long-term perspective.  In the short term, we're less critical, more positive.  We like IKEA, and we've shopped there with some success and been proud of our self-assembly skills.  We can't resist the spectacle, even if it's just capitalism at its shiny new best. 

Supervisor (left) and employees try to figure
out how to serve us our fritti.  Opening day
We enjoyed our visit, marveling at the hundreds of brands of olive oil, figuring out when things were open (the restaurants close, Italian style, from 3 to 7 pm), impressed by the on-site beer-making, digging into the philosophy of the place, observing the young employees learning their jobs and the system, surprised that one could purchase "sfuso" wine (from the barrel, at E2 per bottle), taken by the rich, complex, postmodern interior of the place, photographing the photographers photograping the spectacle.  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. 

How the Air Terminal Ostiense interior should have looked
We point out that Eataly was in 8 other cities in Italy before coming to Rome, and that in addition to its highly successful New York City operation, it has 7, soon to be 9 locations in Tokyo. Coming soon: Chicago, Los Angeles. 
Some sense of Lafuente's volume remains

Friday, June 22, 2012

Oh What a Night... out on the (Roman) town for the European Music Festival

at Teatro Coloseo (at least that's where we think
 we were)
The current Festa Europea della Music (European Music Festival), taking place in 100 European cities, has a very full Rome schedule for 4 days, through this Sunday.  Never ones to miss what might be free and somewhat improvisational events, we booked 4 on our calendar for Thursday night and jetted off on our Malaguti about 5.30 pm for an early one at 6 p.m.

We were in the right place at the right time for what looked like the right performers (woman on piano, man on violin).  As we waltzed into the space, festooned with posters that seemed to indicate we had it right, Bill pulled back a red curtain and whispered back to me (“there are only 3 people”).  I responded “well, now we’ll be 5,” fully expecting to sit in the back of a concert hall, or at least something resembling a theater, only to find 2 benches along a wall, the performers in between.  We took our seats, along with the 3 others - men- for a very intimate performance of familiar classics in this performance billed as a “Salut d’Amour.”  A couple other men joined us on the benches and within a few minutes, they started standing up, then getting instruments from back rooms, and then performing as a group – an accordionist, two vocalists, later a trumpeter.  It seemed only the man next to us was not performing (and us – “we could get up and dance,” said Bill, “that’s about all we can contribute”).

What a performance it was!  The singing was full-throated (there was even one “song” that was completely whistled), the playing passionate, and the pianist and violinist seemed “in” on the whole thing. 

In fact, we had come early for the performance we thought would take place after this one, at 7 p.m., of Italian and German songs from the intra-war period by what was listed as “Fratelli d’Italia” (“Brothers of Italy”).  But, after the 6 p.m. performance(s) ended, we were invited to come to the “real” show “with 10 people on stage, at 9 p.m.” And so it appeared that would happen, and that we had just been given the gift of an amazing rehearsal.

It would be hard to top those great, intimate performances we just witnessed, but we were on to our next event (since the 7 p.m. one clearly wasn’t going to go on until 9 p.m.) at the Brazilian Embassy in Rome’s enormous Piazza Navona… we were a bit early for that, and, as we parked our Malaguti,  we heard coming from the nearby courtyard of Palazzo Braschi – a Rome museum, a woman singing jazz in English. 
When we followed her voice inside, we saw free-flowing wine and even snacks.  Well, never shy about joining a party, we proceeded to experience healthy “tastes” of wine, even gelato, more music (violinists) and even a fashion show of sorts.  With some effort, we discovered this was a promotion for artisan workers in the centro and around Piazza Navona in particular – sculptors, basket weavers, dyers, you name it.

Borromini's Hall and Pietro da Cortona's frescoes
We dragged ourselves away because we weren’t sure if the Brazilian event (to which we had taken the immense effort of getting on the invitation list by sending an email earlier in the day) was at 8 or 8.30.  We walked a few steps over to the Embassy and found our names on the invitation list and walked up the grand staircase into some of the most beautiful rooms we have ever been in (The White House included). 
take two
Waiters in white jackets were serving Proseco and water and we weren’t turning it down, especially while gliding through rooms designed by Borromini and frescoed by Pietro da Cortona, with the best views one can imagine overlooking the bustle of Piazza Navona.  The Embassy is housed in the 17th-century Palazzo Pamphili, and the Brazilians seemed more than happy to open its most beautiful rooms to everyone in attendance.  After 30 minutes or so of this astounding visual treat, we went into the performance by Esdras Maddalon, one of Brasil’s young classical guitarists.  As we listened I thought how much the Buffalo Philharmonic director Joann Faletta – whose instrument is guitar – would have enjoyed it. 

And, so, as we know but constantly are delightfully reminded, Rome is never as billed.  One has to be ready for the unexpected.  And sometimes the unplanned and unexpected is the best.  Rock on Fratelli d’Italia.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Water, Water, Everywhere? Rome's "Dry" Fountains

RST is pleased to welcome Romaphile Joan Schmelzle as guest blogger for this report on some of Rome's most curious fountains--those that don't have any water.  Joan is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and taught English in the region for many years.  She is currently active in the Center for Learning in Retirement in Rockford, Illinois.  In November, she'll experience the wonders of Rome not for the 2nd time, but the 13th. 

Having traveled to Rome several times over the last 50 years, I knew that Rome was a city of fountains and a city proud of its fountains and its wonderful water supply.  What I wasn’t ready for on my last trip was the many dry fountains that I ran into during my “fountain hunt.” 

Sad Eagle
 I found these lifeless fountains in many different parts of the city, and often there didn’t seem to be much reason for them.  I was especially surprised to see several in the Vatican Gardens during my tour.  I did see several men working in one or two different areas, but none on the fountains.  Of course, all the big show fountains were burbling away, but a couple were especially noticeable.  First was a somewhat sad looking eagle.  Judging from what looked like spouts on the top, water should have been pouring over him.   

Still thirsty

Another was a sea creature that seemed to be trying for a drink from a shell.  I fear he stayed thirsty.

Waterless Borghese Rocks
 Wandering through the Villa Borghese, I found a small area of rocks that  appeared to have once been swept by a wide flow of water and now seemed lifeless without it.   

Headless satyr (center)
I believe the saddest dry fountain in the Villa was the Fountain of the Satyrs, also called by the author H. V. Morton [see link to Morton's fountain book at the end of this post] the Fountain of Joy.  And I’m sure it once was a joyful sight.  But when I saw not only was it dry, but the smallest satyr, who was being bounced on the extended arms of the other two, was headless. This is one I would like to see being joyful again when I return to Rome.

A Dry Neptune
Across from the Pincio Hill end of Villa Borghese is one of the two huge fountains placed there by Valadier, who designed the Piazza del Popolo as we now see it.  Unfortunately, a huge statue of Neptune had no water for him to rule over.  


In another lively area of Rome, Monti, there is a fountain that I have seen running very happily with water and surrounded by people out enjoying their neighborhood.  On this trip, the fountain was dry, but it was decorated with several colorful balloons.  It seemed like the neighborhood wanted to add some life to its gathering place.

Dry wrestling
In the large park-like Piazza Vittorio, I found what at first looked like a series of twisted arms and legs but finally seemed to be at least two men wrestling with a large sea creature.

Nearby was what I took to be a tall ruin of a building, but on more research was found to be the ruins of a fountain that was once part of the ancient Trophies of Marius.

Famous old Marforio, one of Rome’s talking statues, sits alone and dry in the entry of the Palazzo Nuovo on the Capitoline Hill.  He and his “friends” often exchanged criticisms of the government, the church, or whatever person or group that they felt deserved it. 

 Also dry this trip was Babuino, one of Marforio’s “friends,” after whom Via Babuino was named.   On my next trip I expect to see him with his trough filled; he was being restored last I saw him.

 The garden of Palazzo Barberini, one of Rome’s top galleries, has been restored.  However, the water had not yet been sent to its fountains.  A restored Apollo with his lyre waited at the top of the hill for the water to make music for him.  Elsewhere in the garden were some rocks that looked like they should be fountains and which had water in the basins around them, but it looked more like rain water, and nothing was coming out of the spouts.

Pig and a Plaque
I conclude with one of my favorites—technically, no longer a fountain.  A small plaque with a pig atop tells the story.  With a little help from my Italian dictionary, it says: “On this site was placed the fountain which was in the way of the corner of Via dei Portughesi in the year 1874.”  I know that I won’t find water if I return to this little pig, but I certainly hope that some of my other dry finds will again be lively with good Roman water.

 A presto, Roma
Joan Schmelzle

PS from Dianne - Joan cites one of our favorite books - Morton's "Fountains of Rome."  See the end of our earlier post on the "fontanone" for info on the book; if you're a Romaphhile - get it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Another Triumph for Romanian Academy - new artists, new works, new approaches

[Note:  update on more "promenades" at end of this post.]

Get thee to the Romanian Academy (Accademia di Romania in Roma), by Friday, if you’re in Rome.  The current exhibit, Spazi Aperti X is the 10th annual “open spaces” group exhibition the Academy has sponsored.  This year’s exhibition features 30 artists from a dozen academies and cultural institutes in Rome and has been given great reviews by art critics here, as it should.

Spazi Aperti closes this Friday at 7 p.m., with a finissage (we love the word – a take off on a “vernissage” – an opening event with extras).  The finissage will include music and sound performances from 7.30 p.m. to 12.30 a.m.   Besides the special events (see more below), the exhibition is open 4-6 p.m. Monday - Friday.

and you can too
go Kate!
in the Academy - collaboration of Marcel Saegesser
(Swiss Institute musician) and Claudia Zloteanu
(Romanian Academy)
Among our favorite works are the vinyl bubble in the outside courtyard by Ana Rewakowicz of Studio del Quebec a Roma.  You can help put it up and take it down (see photo) in the evening and several times during the finissage.  It needs to be protected at night and from winds that could blow it away.  We also were taken with the 2008 piece by American Kate Gilmore, who is physically kicking and poking herself out of a chimney-like box.  And I liked the rotting apples on the main floor.  And the artists at the Romanian Academy are great at using the Academy's more unusual spaces.

apples by Colin Darke, The British School
Today (Sunday, June 10) there’s a 6.30 p.m. performance and 7.30 video screening plus debate, and you can run across the street to The British School’s opening of the exhibit “Where you live now,” which is coordinated in times with the finissage.

Valerio, right, interviewing 2 artists and unidentified woman
We went to Saturday’s walk (“promenade”) in Villa Borghese with artist Valerio Rocco Orlando - most of it was in English because it involves artists from several academies.  Valerio is interviewing artists and questioning the role of the academy in today’s art milieu…more on that in a future post.  He’ll be doing a couple more walks this week.  When we get the details, we’ll post info on those as additions to this post; we highly recommend joining Valerio. [see end of post for update]

A dozen academies participated.  We don’t mean to be niggling, but where were the Americans?  Do they think they’re “above” group shows?  As we said, more on the whole academy experience in a later post. 

And kudos to curator Eleanora Farina.
More promenades - June 27 and 28, 5-7 p.m., meet Valerio at Piazza di Spagna in the Villa Borghese.  These are part of MAXXI's re-generation program

Directions to the Romanian Academy: it’s in Valle Giulia on Piazza Jose’ de San Martin, just down the street from Rome’s modern Italian art museum (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna – viale delle Belle Arti), at the back (north) of Villa Borghese.  You can walk there from Piazza del Popolo – through the Villa, or take Tram 3 to Piazza Thorwaldsen (end of the line).  In the later evening hours, the M bus gets you close.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Feast of Rome Art and Architecture: Moretti's L'ex GIL Open for Business

Young and hip outside L'ex GIL on opening night of
art exhibition
We lovers of 20th Century Italian architecture again found ourselves in of our favorite building – L’ex GIL by the prolific Roman architect, Luigi Moretti. 

Inside, opening night, Leuce tryptich in foreground,
wall-size map of Italian empire, upper left
This former Fascist “youth complex” shows off 30s architecture at its best.  And the City now has recognized that by restoring most of the building.  We recommend a visit to the building both in RST, The Book, and in RST's Top 40, where Moretti’s L’ex GILcomes in at # 10. 

Photo from the glory days
For a few weeks, you in Rome can get a good look at the building, inside and out, from 4-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.  The occasion is the exhibition of winners of a painting competition – Premio Catel 2012.  The title of the exhibition is a bit misleading:  “Painting in Rome from Futurism to Now” (“La Pittura a Roma dal Futurismo ai nostril giorni”.  The exhibition is just of the current painting competition and, while that is worth looking at (we especially liked Ovidiu Leuce's triptych of bored men), this is not an historical exhibition and the only Futurism you’ll see is in the building itself.  There are some panels on the architecture and on Moretti, but as I recall, all are in Italian.  There are also some photos from the building’s original days.  And don't miss the spiral staircase - in a back part of the building (go in from the sports field). 

Fragment of original frescos
Moretti was also one of the architects of the Foro Italico (formerly Foro Mussolini). 

Directions to the exhibit are at the end of this post.  The exhibit closes June 16.


Directions:  L’ex GIL is in Largo Ascianghi, 5 (next to Nanni Moretti's – no relation – Nuovo Sacher movie house) in  Trastevere, just northwest of Porta Portese.  It occupies a block of via G. Induno, the street running from Ponte Sublicio to viale Trastevere.  Many buses pass along here (including the 3, that should be a tram), and you can get off the 8 Tram at the corner and walk along the building itself. Buses 44, 75, 115, 125, H, 780 all get you there or within a block.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nanni Moretti alive and well!

Amazing!  Just an hour ago, your paparazzi at RST spotted famed Italian film director Nanni Moretti getting on a friend's scooter on via Lorenzo Valla, just across from Bar Vitali (and 50 meters from his apartment).  Dianne credited with first sighting.  So, despite the scooter accident reported days ago, Nanni's OK!  But maybe his moto is in the shop.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Late-breaking news: Nanni Moretti in Scooter Accident

We interrupt our coverage of one Moretti (Luigi) to bring you this bulletin on another (Nanni - no relation).  Back to Luigi in a couple of days.

Nanni Moretti, the Italian film director and star (sometimes referred to as the Woody Allen of Italian cinema), is undoubtedly the most famous scooter-ist in Italy, maybe anywhere.  He earned the title (actually shared with Gregory Peck's fictional reporter in Roman Holiday, chauffering Audrey Hepburn around Rome) with his scootering performance in Caro Diario (1994), where he tours the city and environs in the silence of the early summer morning in Rome, on a Vespa.

The intersection where the accident occurred.
Nanni, if heading home, would have been going
 in the direction of the car, above
The myth of Nanni Moretti came up against cold reality last night (June 1) at about 10 p.m. when Nanni (just back from heading the jury at Cannes), was riding his Vespa blu in Monteverde Vecchio (about a half mile from his home and serenditipitously the apartment where we're staying).  He was struck broadside by a Fiat 600 at the intersection of  via Fratelli Bonnet and via del Vascello.  It's likely (we're piecing things together here) that Nanni had eaten at the restaurant Lumie di Sicilia ("molto frequentato" (very frequented, i.e. popular), according to the daily newspaper La Repubblica), then hopped on the scooter.  He was "investito" (hit) almost immediately.  Another word for "investito" is "travolto."

Help (soccorso) was available within minutes, and Moretti was--as the law requires--taken to the nearest hospital, a protective collar around his neck (see newspaper photo at right).  Despite the next day's headline--"Paura per Nanni Moretti" (fear for....) he was not, apparently, in any real danger.  He arrived at the nearby San Camillo hospital "code green" (which in our experience - but maybe not Moretti's - means you'll wait a long time), and a supervising physician made reassuring comments.

Nanni's Vespa, awaiting Nanni's recovery, in
ristorante Lumie di Sicilia
While on the stretcher waiting to be whisked away from the scene of the accident, Nanni was heard to have said, "tomorrow I'll return to pick up the Vespa."  We assume he did so, though when we surveyed the scene the following morning, the Vespa remained inside the closed restaurant.