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, March 26, 2013

Audrey, Shopping in Rome

Yes, that's Audrey Hepburn, maybe at her skinniest, which is saying something, and in era bellbottoms, and sporting the oversize sunglasses that would again be in style in 2012.  Accompanied, we were told, by her grandson.  It's 1972, and they're in Piazza Fiume, in front of the famed and architecturally significant (still extant and newly remodeled - and - the subject of an earlier post) department store, la Rinascente.  We saw the photo for the first time just months ago, when we were in an underground bookstore (accessed by the stairs beyond Audrey).  When we admired the photo, the proprietor insisted on printing us a copy.  (It's a good bookstore, btw, and has Roman ruins within it.)

As RST regulars know, Audrey is iconic in Rome and environs. 

Here (and now), she's selling a purse (E25, about $33)

And here, her image is used to market beauty services in the
upscale Trieste quartiere.  (A permanent is
E60, or about $90).

With the photo in hand, we reenacted the Audrey shopping scene, with Dianne as Audrey and minus the sullen teen. 


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Castel Gandolfo - Picturesque retreat for Pope Benedict XVI

Now former Pope Benedict XVI is ensconced in the Papal Summer home at Castel Gandolfo, a small hill town we visited last year - just to check it out - not knowing it would host a living, former Pope. We have a fondness for the Castelli Romani, also known as the Alban Hills (Colli Albani), the cluster of volcanic hill towns about 15 miles (of heavy traffic) from Rome.  We've been in Castel Gandolfo several times, but mostly to take hikes or scooter through.  We never went close to the Papal grounds until last year.

Picturesque Castel Gandolfo is; lively, well, no.  We stopped at a tourist kiosk, unusually (for Rome and environs) open, and the trying-to-be helpful woman inside told us that, frankly, there was not much to see in Castel Gandolfo, except the tiny main drag and the Pope, when he was in town (Castel Gandolfo has historically been the Pope's summer retreat, especially vital in the days before air conditioning). 

A public park outside the Papal walls could use some
Ad and funeral notice
We wandered around a bit, and confirmed her take on the town. We saw - about one block off the Papal walls - a public park with unused (at 11 in the morning) playground equipment and knee-high grass.  We also discovered some ads of which no Pope would have approved.  We were taking the photo of a personal  funeral notice (common in Italian towns) because it featured Padre Pio, the controversial saint, and then realized the Padre was plastered on the same wall as a picture of a scantily clothed woman.

Swiss Guards in front of the entrance to the Papal palace
in Castel Gandolfo
The main drag, about 2 or 3 regular blocks long, ends at the Papal walls and features great side views of Lake Albano, the lake on whose volcanic rim the town sits.  Several restaurants have terraces opening to views of the lake.  There's also a train stop down the hill a ways.  We have often spotted nuns waiting there for the next train to Rome.  Although the lake is accessible from the town via paths and roads, the trek up is not the easiest--about 300 vertical feet.

Castel Gandolfo claims to have the first
mailbox in the world (1820) - this is it
The town can be sleepy when the Pope is not in residence.
This shop sign reads "Returning soon; we are at the bar."
Castel Gandolfo has its share of public
drinking spaces
The Barberini were here - note the bee symbol.  There were several Barberini Popes.
Looking out of the Papal walls towards the
plains; tourist kiosk at bottom of road
One of the restaurants with a terrazzo

Sunday, March 17, 2013

X MAS: The Right-Wing Politics of Rome

Raffaella Duelli
Incredible, but true.  On consecutive days in June, Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, participated in a ceremony honoring Francesco Cecchin, a right-wing militant murdered by left-wing militants in 1979, at once a participant and victim of the Anni di Piombo (the Years of Lead).  And then--as if one politically confrontational act were insufficient--he gave the city's hallowed Capitoline Museum over to an award ceremony, sponsored by X Mas--a military organization that fought against the Partisans and the Allies in the two years after 1943 and was at this moment bestowing the third yearly edition of the Duelli-Gallitto Prize, named after a former Fascist commandant in X Mas, Bartolo Gallitto, and a non-combatant participant, Raffaella Duelli--yes, a woman.  Both were citizens of Rome. 

We've written in these pages about Cecchin, but not of X Mas.  As you've probably guessed, the letters don't stand for Christmas.  The organization dates to 1940, when the 10th Light Flotilla, also known as Xa (for Decima - 10th) Mas, was born.  As unlikely as it seems, its purpose was to sink "enemy" ships--mostly British and some American ones--in Italian waters, using "manned torpedoes" (basically explosives work carried out by frogmen).

A Rome wall in the Trieste quarter, 2012. 
MAS... [figlia nostra/our daughter]

After Mussolini was ousted from power in the fall of 1943 and subsequently freed by the Germans, the group was reconstituted as X Mas, ostensibly an independent military corp, but in reality there to serve the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, a puppet government of Fascists, under Mussolini, also known as the Republic of Salo'.  For two years, X Mas worked with the occupying German army, hunting down partisans, participating in roundups of Italian men for work in Germany, contesting the Yugoslav armies that threatened the country's northeast frontier, and otherwise assisting the Nazis as the Allies made their gradual advance up the peninsula.  Its members were ultra-nationalist and believed deeply in the value of armed conflict, including the "bella morta" (beautiful death) in combat. 

Get yours now
It's not entirely clear where the "mas" comes from.  The acronym "mas" was used by the poet and Fascist Gabriele d'Annunzio for his Latin motto: Memento Audere Sempre/Remember always to dare. 

Gianni Alemanno, center, as a young man

In this case it's right-wing and one-time street punk Alemanno doing the daring: daring today's liberals and leftists to tolerate his indiscreet and provocative behavior; daring the city's young leftists not to take offense; daring the city's sensible voters, and the international political community, to see him as something other than a fool.  How sad for this great city to be governed by a man who cannot manage to set aside the passions of his adolescence.    

For other discussions of the right-wing in Rome, see (among others) a post on Zippo and one by Paul Baxa. We've mentioned Mayor Alemanno in many posts; just search "Alemanno," but this short one may say it all.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Habemus Papam" - We Have a Pope - or do we? Inside the Conclave with Nanni Moretti

We have a Pope - "Habemus Papam" - is Nanni Moretti's prescient 2011 film, released in the U.S. last year.

The newly elected Pope in Moretti's film has a crisis of conscience and confidence (to put it mildly) and spends days deciding if he will even greet the public after the white smoke puffs come out of the Sistine Chapel and after the head of the Conclave announces to the crowds gathered in St. Peter's square "Habemus Papam" or "we have a Pope."  The elected one here is a dark horse choice (in fact, 90:1 per the odds-makers, Moretti's film later tells us) when no one else even wants the job.  "Lord, don't pick me!" is the common prayer of the cardinals.

Moretti's film seems to take us right to today, as the cardinals proceed into the Sistine Chapel (while a pushy newsman, remarkably like Geraldo Rivera, attempts to interview them).  In the backdrop of the Sistine Chapel (recreated for the film), and particularly the entire wall covered by Michelangelo's Last Judgment (no sloppy choice of walls here), the cardinals write out their ballots like high schoolers, peaking at one another's votes.

Michel Piccoli as the just-elected, and
totally shocked, Pope
The first 20 minutes of this quiet film will give you as close a feeling as you can get to what the Conclave must be like.

I won't do a spoiler alert for the film, but will say it has many comic moments - the cardinals playing volleyball on geographically determined teams (underrepresented Oceania only has 3 cardinals), under the supervision of the psychiatrist - played by Moretti - brought in to help the Pope get up his gumption; the Swiss Guard ordered to stand in for the Pope, gorging in the Pope's apartments while the Pope is MIA.  And the film grabs us with the Pope's wistfulness at the life he could have had - as an actor, quoting Chekhov with an actor's troupe, and multilingual, recalling Pope John Paul II.   The last speech of this just-elected Pope sounds like it's out of Benedict's mouth in 2013.
Swiss Guards under the Last Judgment in
Habemus Papam

Television crews are set up at the end of via della
Conciliazione facing St. Peter's - part of the Pope watch
The film takes some odd turns and has some puzzling moments, perhaps one reason it hasn't been rated as highly as some of Moretti's other films.  "The Son's Room" won the Cannes Palme d'Or in 2001; Moretti won Best Director at Cannes for his 1994 Caro Diario ("Dear Diary"), and he chaired last year's Cannes jury.  Habemus Papam has been reproached for not being critical enough of the church (Moretti is a leftist and an atheist), or not being comedic enough.  And it has been praised, with good reason, for the magnificent performance of Michel Piccoli as the Pope-in-waiting or the Pope who keeps us waiting.

Piccoli was a leadingman of French noir and has appeared in more than 200 roles .  We just this week saw him in the 1971 Claude Sautet Max et les Ferrailleurs ("Max and the Junkmen") at our local Tarantino-owned theater.  Now 85, Piccolo's performance alone is worth watching the film.  All criticisms taken, I just watched Habemus Papam again, and found it even more compelling against today's news than I did when I saw it a year ago.

Crowds in St. Peter's square in 2005, awaiting news of
a new Pope
Habemus Papam is now available on Netflix, Amazon, Amazon instant video, etc.  To get yourself in the mood for this Conclave, rent or buy it now.  In Italian with English subtitles.

We were in Rome when John Paul II died and Benedict XVI was elected.  Those 2005 photos give a feel for what Pope-watching is like in Rome.

Another Rome tidbit - The Palazzo Farnese filled in for the Vatican for much of the film. These days, it's almost the only way you can see the Palazzo, which houses the French embassy in central Rome.

View from St. Peter's square back
to the TV stands at the end of
via della Conciliazione (the bright


Crowds watching an outdoor screen set against the Coliseum
for Pope John Paul II's funeral in 2005

Crowds in Circo Massimo, with the Palatine Forum in the
background, large screens and speakers set up for
Pope John Paul II's funeral in 2005

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Los Angeles detective found in Rome: a Michael Connelly Moment

I'm a sucker for the summer reading series IN the Forum.  You get your (free) tickets at the foot of the Coliseum.  Walking along via dei Fori Imperiali on a summer night - the columns of part of the Forum on your right - is magical.

Last year we decided to take in a bill that included the American mystery writer, Michael Connelly (see program notes below).  We've heard great writers here in prior years - Doris Lessing and Richard Ford (whom we met) among them.

After the sun disappeared, the huge Basilica di Massenzio, part of the Forum, was magically lit for Connelly's reading.  We did not know his work at the time, and we are not huge mystery fans.  But the focus on Los Angeles and noir detective fiction appealed to us.

Connelly reading in English, projected, and translated
Needless to say we (or at least between us) have now plowed through a dozen Connelly Harry Bosch (the LAPD detective) mysteries. And we owe it all to Rome.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pompidou Postmodernism--in Rome

Not Columbus, not 1972

Our introduction to postmodernism came, in of all places, Columbus Ohio--not, or not then, a pacesetter in architecture.  We were tourists, and we arranged to eat dinner in one of the city's trendy new restaurants.  The place occupied a long-narrow space several feet below street level, and everything was painted black.  To our surprise, the resturateur and his designer had made only the most minimal effort to cover up the "guts" of the place--the ductwork and electrical cables that made the place function, the old brick.  No lowered ceiling, no styrafoam ceiling panels, no wall paneling.  Painted black, yes, but hardly invisible; indeed, right in your face.  It was 1972 or 1973. 

Pompidou Center
Across the Atlantic, and doubtless unaware of Columbus's early lead in advanced architectural design, Renzo Piano and his colleagues were working on Paris's Pompidou Center.  It would open in 1977 to considerable acclaim and be understood thereafter as a seminal work in the postmodern vein. 

More Pompidou Center
Every pipe and conduit and strut was exposed; indeed, some may have been added for emphasis.  The architectect seemed determined to make a rather ordinary stairway a central feature of the design and "look" of the place. 

The modernists of the 1930s and 1940s had taken a very different approach.  While valuing the technological, machine aesthetic as much as the postmodernists, their interest in speed and movement led designers to give many of their creations rounded features, and to sheath the products they made in sleek skins of metal and plastic. 

Probably a film projector
In this "streamlined" universe, key ingredients of speed and movement--motors and wheels--were hidden away.  The pencil sharpener and the toaster appeared ready to take off. 

By this definition at least, Rome has come late, and barely, to the postmodern revolution.  Renzo Piano was no help.  Although Rome would be the site of one of his best buildings--the Parco della Musica--it shows not a hint of the architect's place in the postmodern pantheon.  Not a duct in sight. 

We've found two examples of what we'll call Pompidou Postmodernism in Rome: one in architecture, the other in product design. 

The beast unveiled
The product is the motorcycle.  Not all of them, by any means; some--perhaps most--have been designed and presented in the modernist mode, or in some combination.  But some, especially the big, muscular cycles with enormous engines--750 and even 1200cc's--could trace their heritage to that Columbus restaurant.  Their huge and complex engines could be covered with plates of steel, but instead they're exposed, letting us know just what it is we're riding, and what makes it go. 

Exposed girders at MACRO

The building we have in mind is one of our favorites: the MACRO gallery, in the Nomentana quartiere.  It's a lovely combination of sleek, curvilinear modernism and defiant Pomidou Postmodernism.

While the bathrooms are aggressively modern--whether they can actually be used, we can't say (oh, yes we can, says Dianne), but they sure look good--that and other modernist flourishes succeed in part because of the postmodern environment in which they're embedded: the exposed steel girders, with bolts and all, there to remind visitors of the brewery that once operated on the grounds.

Revealing glass elevator, Macro
The elevator, its innards in full view, challenging us to accept technology as the complex phenomenon it is; and a sturdy, unpretentious metal stairway that subtly suggests that our fanciful designs--those sleek skins and surfaces--are products of animals who learned to walk upright. 


For more pictures of MACRO, see an earlier post.

Postmodern muscle

Modern, streamlined muscle