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, August 29, 2012

PRESENTE: A Close Look at a Tuscolano Poster

While spending a pleasant evening in the quartiere of Tuscolano, one of our old haunts, we--Dianne, actually--noticed a poster.  On the surface it was hardly unusual.  There were the standard signs of right-wing propaganda: the Celtic cross, the hyper-masculine body in marble, referencing the muscled, athletic frames of the statues across the city at Foro Italico (once Foro Mussolini) and, in the distant past, the glories of ancient Rome. 

Later that evening, and the next day, we saw dozens of these posters in Tuscolano, and for good reason.  As the very small print on the posters reveals, there is a time, a date, and a place at issue here: 7 p.m., January 7, Acca Larenzia. 

Acca Larenzia is a street nearby.  It was there, on January 7, 1978--as historian Paul Baxa explained on this blog--that a left-wing militant shot and killed two members of the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano.  The event, yet another tragedy of Italy's Anni di Piombo, is remembered today where it took place.  A plaque names the two victims (and another who died days later in the chaos that followed). 

The poster, then, commemorates an event that took place 34 years ago.  But it also commemorates the Italian effort in the Great War, fought against an entrenched Austria-Hungary enemy in the northeast of Italy.  One would think that the conflict would by now be long forgotten, or at least remembered in a neutral way.  But the poster reveals the emotional intensity with which that war is recalled and politicized, even a century later.  With the prominently featured word PRESENTE, the poster announces the military roll call, where each soldier responds to his name with "presente."  There is an additional valence to this word that we discovered only recently, as we explored World War I battles sites and commemorations. 

By any measure, the most impressive commemoration of the war is the massive monument and burial site at Polazzo, southwest of Gorizia, north of Trieste, and just a few kilometers from Monte San Michele, where thousands of Italian soldiers died in a critical and much-acclaimed battle on the rocky reaches of the Carso massif. 

The monument was designed and constructed by Mussolini's Fascist regime in the late 1920s  Above the tombs, repeated hundreds of times as the monument rises on the Carso--honoring those who fought, critical of those who did not, emphasizing the duty and privilege of combat, inspiring the Fascists of the twenties and the neo-fascists of  today's Rome--is the word PRESENTE.   


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gelato anyone? That'll be $3, except for Italian politicians

In these hot days of a very hot Roman summer, we were drawn to this gelato shop in Rome's trendy, though still somewhat authentic, Monti neighborhood, a stone's throw from the Coliseum (this itinerary will get you to the Coliseum).                                 
What really caught our eye was the handwritten post on the door that we've attempted to blow up below:  "For Deputies and Senators, the gelato costs 30 Euro"(close to $40)  That's for a gelato that costs you and me more like $3.00.      
So a small protest for the dysfunctional politicians.  Go for it, Beebop Gelateria!                                                              

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bart Simpson: Favorite of Rome's Graffiti Writers

"The Simpsons" family is as well known in Italy as the Obamas or the Kennedys.  And among Rome's graffiti writers, it's to be expected that the favorite would be Bart, with his alternative sensibilities and air of youthful rebellion.  We found this example on via Lariana in the quartiere of Trieste.  Bart looks happy and satisfied.  And we think we know why.  Bill

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A. S. Roma's Soccer Field: Soon to be a Parking Lot

Stadio Olimpico, current home of A.S. Roma.  At left,
a few of the 1930s statues that line the Foro Italico
athletic field. 

A.S. Roma is one of two great Rome soccer teams (the other is Lazio).  For many years both teams have played their games at the Stadio Olimpico, originally built as part of Foro Mussolino (now called Foro Italico) in the 1930s, but significantly remodeled for the 1960 Olympic Games.  Recently the new American owner of the team, for reasons unknown to RST, has been pursuing plans for a new stadium for the Roma club, to be built on the outskirts of the city.  Those plans were dashed when the land was sold for yet another big housing project.   Now there's talk of building it in Guidonia, a country town about 25 kilometers northeast of Rome's center, served by a 2-lane road.   We can imagine the Monday morning headline: "Traffico nel Caos" (Traffic in Chaos).   

The stadium where Roma once played, seen from
Monte Testaccio.  Here it still resembles
a soccer field.  In the background, right,
the Pyramid. 
Decades ago the Roma team (generally considered to have a more leftist and working-class fan base, than also Rome-based Lazio, whose fans are generally more upper class and right-wing) played in a small stadium in Testaccio, then a working-class quartiere and home to a massive slaughterhouse, and known to tourists primarily for Monte Testaccio, a substantial hill created two thousand years ago from shattered amphorae, the huge clay jars used to transport oil and wine.  We first saw the old stadium in 2010, from the crest of Monte Testaccio (photo left). 
The same stadium, 2 years later.  The photo was
taken from via Caio Cestio. 

And just last month we walked by the field, now just weeds.  In a year or two, we learned, it will be a parking lot.


This photo, recalling a 5-0 Roma victory over Torino (Turin) powerhouse Juventus in 1931, is in the new Testaccio market,
not far from Roma's old field, where the game likely was played.  The market is another sign of gentrification of the neighborhood.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Robert Hughes's ROME

Art critic and historian Robert Hughes died on Monday, August 6.  In either role he pulled no punches, having described, for example, the work of Jeff Koons as "so overexposed that it loses nothing in reproduction and gains nothing in the original."  Hence we think he would understand when we say, even posthumously, and despite the review's use of the first person plural, that one of us enjoyed the book and the other couldn't get through it. 

Here at Rome the Second Time, we’re interested in all things Roman, with an emphasis on the 20th century and contemporary Rome.  That isn’t Robert Hughes’s favorite period, to say the least.  He appreciates some recent figures in Rome’s cultural history, particularly Mario Sironi, Giorgio de Chirico (early work only), Federico Fellini, and Ernest La Padula, the architect of the “Square Colosseum” at EUR.  But mostly he sees Rome’s not-so-distant past—the last two centuries—as a period of tragic decline in the arts and architecture, one captured in the reign of Silvio Berlusconi, when Rome was “gutted by the huge and ruthless takeover of its imagination by mass tourism and mass media….” 

 We don’t think it’s quite that bad, but we didn’t read the book for its take on the modern era, which we know well enough, and it’s not why we are recommending it here.  We’re recommending ROME because Hughes is a fine storyteller, able to capture the essence of the Punic wars in less than 10 pages; because he understands how individuals link to, and represent, the larger currents of history—how, for example, Bernini, “the marble megaphone of papal orthodoxy,” served the counter-reformation.  We enjoyed his quirkiness (sections on Rome’s public toilets and on the technology used to move giant obelisks); his biases (he seems to favor realist artists—Poussin, Caravaggio, Guttuso—in every era); his skepticism of religion and, especially, Catholicism (don’t miss his critique of “Mariolatry,” the cult of the virgin); his concern with ideas (“the Caesars underwrote leisure, the blank tablet on which amusement  is written”).  Some reviewers have noted errors in the book, and we wish he hadn’t put parked cars inside Piazza Barberini or Lake Erie in Illinois, but ROME has too much to offer—too much pleasure, too much erudition, too much of the author's delightful irascibility—to condemn it, or the author, for such lapses. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Testaccio's New Market: RST Weighs In

Tables outside a bar - the only classic Rome bar - in the market
Testaccio's new market opened Monday, July 2, to rave reviews from public officials.  "This is one of the most beautiful markets in Rome," said right-wing Mayor Gianno Alemanno.  And David Bordone, with a title that translates into something like "Assessor of Productive Activity," gave his assessment of the activity, claiming that "we are endowing the city with one of the most beautiful structures in the capitol's system of markets." 

We don't share their enthusiasm for the "beauty" of the market.  We were shocked when, two years ago, we saw the "artist's conception" drawings, posted around the exterior, and we're still schocked: from the outside, Testaccio's new market, designed by architect Marco Rietti, is pretty much a big, flat, brown and white box.  (You can see the artist's conception in RST's earlier post on the new market movement.)

The space between the two boxes is, for now,
almost empty
Or boxes.  There are two of them, a smaller one devoted to a variety of purposes, including administration and computer-based classes, and two restaurants, the "Roadhouse Grill" and a sushi place, and a larger box that houses the 103 commercial spaces.  The boxes are separated by an open, exterior corridor that for now is empty, save for some tables serviced by a bar.  To some extent, the big box effect is softened by small brown tiles that dot upper walls.  The market interior--resembling a chessboard with aisles--is sensible and functional, if not flashy.  More on that later.  But now, some background.

Interior, Magna Grecia market
Rome has over 150 large "public" markets--i.e., not grocery stores and not delicatessens.  Many are housed in large, older buildings, done in a variety of styles, and often dating to the 1930s and 1940s; the markets at Piazza Bologna, Trieste (via Chiana), and San Giovanni (via Magna Grecia) fit this description.  Others, like the markets in Monteverde Nuovo (Piazza San Giovanni di Dio) and in Monteverde Vecchio, are simply collections of green iron shacks.

                                 Many of the older markets have raised concerns about sanitation,
Interior of the Trieste market, during an evening
community meeting on the future of the market
and many are are at least partially empty, under pressure from supermarkets and a younger generation that is less enthusiastic about shopping on a daily basis from individual vendors in a marketplace setting.  For these and perhaps other reasons, the city administration has a long-term plan to replace the old markets with new, modern ones.  This has already happened in the Ponte Milvio area, in Trionfale, in lower San Giovanni, and now in Testaccio, and there are plans afoot to replace the Trieste (the quarter in Rome, not the city) market with a complex that includes a new market, dedicated parking, and apartments. 

Although the new markets are, in a sense, "public" markets, they have not been built with public funds.  The markets at Triofale, Ponte Milvio, and Testaccio have all been
built with private money, in exchange for ownership of the complexes.  That, at least, is what the newspapers say, and it more than implies that the markets are privately owned and operated--with consequences, we might add, as yet unforseen.  The same could be said of the largest market of them all--the enormous Eataly complex in Ostiense
Abandoned biscotti in the old Testaccio market

The old Testaccio market was a combination of the two kinds noted above: a collection of metal shacks, old enough that large trees had in some cases grown around and through the metal, but contained within a building, probably dating to the 1940s.  When we visited the old market (the day after the new one opened), it was, of course, abandoned. 

A tree inside the old market
We looked for, but did not find, any sign that the merchants would have preferred to remain in their old quarters--for us, an indication that most vendors welcomed the move.  On our way out, we were stopped by a woman who had come to the old market only to find it closed, and did not know where the new one was. 

Residents of via Mannuzio register their concerns
about stands on their street
One group has been vocal in its concerns.  The residents of via Aldo Manuzio, which borders the new market on the northeast, fear that "bancarelle" (stands) will appear on their street, creating noise, dirt and refuse beneath their windows.  In the Roman tradition, they've hung banners from their windows and across the gate that accesses a courtyard within.  Some residents who enjoyed easy access to the old market will doubtless be irritated at having to walk about 4 blocks to the new one.  Indeed, we wonder if the new market, bordered on one side by Monte Testaccio and its bars and clubs, and on another by the art gallery, Macro Testaccio, is properly situated to draw and serve the customers it will need to flourish.

Swordfish for sale
These issues aside, including the big-box look of the exterior, the market would seem to be positioned for success.  On its second day of operation, when we visited, about two-thirds of the spaces were occupied, and there was considerable foot traffic.

The market's administrators have grouped the merchants, with fruit and vegetable vendors occupying one area, fish and meat vendors another, and sellers of general goods--household supplies, shoes, women's apparel--at one end. 

Marcello Mastroianni once shopped at this store--when
it was in Testaccio's old market
Vendors had begun to humanize their stands with photos of famous customers and the like.  The checkerboard layout of the place thankfully avoids the confusing configuration of the Ponte Milvio market and the subterranean feel of the Trionfale space.

A small group tour--in English
Side walls allow light and air to enter, and skylights brighten the aisles. 

Ancient ruins found under the market
In the center, a piece of Roman wall found during the excavation process is visible below, and more of the archaeological discoveries--the market was built on land that 2,000 years ago was commercially active--will (so they say) be unveiled for the edification of shoppers in about two years.

In short, we wish the market's exterior wasn't quite so stark, so unyieldingly separate from the surrounding buildings.  But we applaud a straightforward interior design that in some basic way suggests the old market. 


RST is not fond of the exterior of the structure, but it doesn't look so bad from this angle

Thursday, August 2, 2012

American Embassy's new Sidewalk: Not for Walking

A sidewalk, but not for walking

The American embassy in Rome is housed in a grand 1890 building that was once home to Italy’s Queen Margaret.  It occupies all of a large, irregularly-shaped city block, with one side running along posh via Veneto.  Since 9/11, the building has been ringed by ugly fences and sand-filled barriers, a slapdash effort, we assume, to keep terrorists at a distance.  Those barriers and fences are now mostly gone, replaced by a wide, handsome sidewalk that surrounds the building.  Except you can’t walk on it.  That’s right: a sidewalk that isn’t for walking.  The sidewalk itself is bordered by a fence—handsome enough, and low enough to easily get over—but a fence nonetheless, and one policed by the guards that patrol the embassy’s several entrances.  

The embassy has effectively commandeered what once was public space around its building.  No parking for cars, and presumably no pedestrians, on the four streets that flank the grounds.  But Romans, being Romans, will walk in the street, and they are doing so now (see photo above), on the edge of those new sidewalks, sharing the busy streets with vehicles.  The expectation, we would imagine, was that pedestrians would use the opposite side of the surrounding streets, where the sidewalks are still sidewalks.  Most will--and some won’t, putting those walkers in peril.  Sooner or later one will be hit by a car or truck, and the embassy will have to justify building a broad sidewalk that wasn’t for walking.