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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pioggia Sporca

Pioggia sporca means "dirty rain."  That was burned into our brains years ago, watching the movie Black Rain (1989, Ridley Scott, dir.) in Italian translation. 

Except when set in Los Angeles (where the hot Santa Ana winds serve are the area's unnerving meterological presence), detective novels are invariably troubled by rains, setting a dark and somber
tone for the narrative, inhibiting the clear vision of the problem-solving protagonist, and serving as a metaphor for our hero's inevitable moments of doubt and depression.  

Rain is omnipresent in Conor Fitzgerald's The Memory Key (2013), set in the bleak Rome of November.  Reasonable enough, except that Chapter 41 opens this way:

"The sun had come out.  The white chapel in the order of the piazzetta was almost blinding.  The
gleaming cobbles shone like obsidian, and the potted plants around Principe's building seemed to have been reinvigorated.  The rain had rinsed the scooters and cars bright and new." 

"Rinsed the scooter and cars bright and new"?  Maybe, just maybe, that happens in Rome in November.  But by our experience, Rome is dirty rain country.  A good rain and you've got to wash everthing you've left outside: the car, scooter, the bicycle, the plastic porch furniture, the laundry, the leaves of the potted plants, the dog, the wife and kids.  They'll be filthy.  In Rome, the pioggia is sporca.    Bill

This and the other pics for this piece were taken near Piazza dei Re di Roma, in late April.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Parking Garage beneath the Villa Borghese

It was a lovely afternoon on via Veneto, and so we naturally decided to explore--hope you're ready for this--an underground parking garage!  (Chorus of moans, sighs of despair from readers. Tearing of hair.)

In our defense, we think this is only the second parking garage we've featured.  The other is Riccardo Morandi's groovy (as in late 1950s) structure, linked to a large indoor market on via Magnagrecia.  Not everyone--not even some well known Rome architects--knows about that building. 

Adventure begins
The garage we explore in this post is located on (or under) viale del Galoppatoio, beneath the Villa Borghese.  It can be accessed off the fast-moving viale del Muro Torto.  Indeed, there's a YouTube video of a driver coming up the Muro Torto, turning onto the garage access ramp, going through the garage, and exiting--well, somewhere.  It's less than two minutes long:

We took the pedestrian escalator entrance at the high end of via
Veneto.  Once below ground level, to get to the garage proper one walks through a long tunnel that is sometimes peopleless. 

At the end of the tunnel there's a depressing commercial area (not fully occupied, not enough
Too much concrete.  But then it's a parking garage.
"traffic").  Beyond that there's some brutalist concrete work (right) and--the first sign, really, of the architectural genius we're looking for--a circular staircase that leads upward to the park (below). 

It's a bit worn now, but still impressive.  Maybe the architect knew of Morandi's circular design (of
You could date the structure within 10 years just from
this stairway
course he did).  It's not Borromini's staircase in the Palazzo Barberini.  It's not Albini and Helg's department store gem in Piazza Fiume.  But it is suggestive. 

Watergate apartments, Washington, D.C.

It ought to be.  For the architect who designed the stairway, and the famous garage beneath, is one of Rome's most famous and most talented.  Readers of Rome the Second Time will know him as the author of the recently restored ex-GIL in Trastevere, but he is also revered for the Casa della Cooperative Astra (1947-51) on via Jenner, and for a building known as La Girasole (1949-50), on via Bruno Buozzi, at no. 64.  He had a hand, too, in the 1960 Olympic Village in the Flaminio district.  Most Americans will be familiar with his Washington, D.C. creation: the Watergate complex. 

Under construction.  It's better without cars. 
The garage is by Luigi Moretti.  It houses 1800 spaces for automobiles, 210 for scooters and motorcycles.  It was completed between 1965 and 1972, which accounts for the hybrid look of late modernism and early brutalism (the concrete noted earlier). Whatever its appeal, it was sufficient to lure a major international modern art exhibit--known as Contemporanea--which inhabited the structure in 1973, a moment when such an idea could not only be imagined, but brought to fruition.  The garage's architectural reputation would seem to rest (like the garage itself) on its graceful, space-age columns, and on its concave roof treatments, with a nod to the occasional provision for natural light.  

Contemporanea, 1973, an area featuring Kounellis

Now, isn't that more fun that having a cocktail at the Grand Hotel Palace?


p.s. A controversial plan, involving some actual digging, to add some 700 area parking places in a nearby lot under the Pincio, the small hill above Piazza del Popolo--said to be necessary to convert the trident area off the piazza to pedestrian-only traffic--now seems dead. 

Light from above enters the space.  Even some foliage. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Daniel Gelo, San Paolo

Here at RST we've decided we're done with the "best gelato in Rome" debate.  We played that game in our book, Rome the Second Time, and we've been sorry ever since.  In the short run we regretted our choice; in the long run, we came to the conclusion that the question isn't interesting enough to justify all the answers and opinions.  Chorus: "You elitist snobs!  The people who love ice cream are the people who buy your book!"

Anyway, thanks to Katie Parla, we recently found a gelato place worth writing about.  It's in the San Paolo area, about 5 minutes from the Metro stop by the same name, and if you're a gelato freak you can find it easily enough, using the address on the sign in the photo at the end of this post. 

The name is Daniel Gelo.  The shop intrigued us because it's got an old-fashioned, but not old-timey, look.  It's just a shop.  Lots of flavors, including "Spaghettti Gelato" and some frozen things, presented in a semi-chaotic setting featuring lots of hand-lettered signs. 

The gelato is gelato: tasty, and better than most everything in the States.  It's made right there in the back of the shop. Where Daniel Gelo ranks among
Rome's hundreds of ice creams parlors we have no idea--and palates that would not be of much help in finding out.

One distinguishing feature of the shop is a sign on the front window (below).  It looks like it's from the Chiquita Banana/Lena Horne era of the 1950s.  But it's probably more recent.  You won't find a sign like that elsewhere in Rome, or for that matter, in the U.S.   Bill

                      "Sempre Aperto"--literally "always open."  Take that with a grain of salt. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Alberto Moravia: Critic of the New Rome

For all its virtues, Rome has spawned only a few novelists of the first rank:  Carlo Emilio Gadda, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Alberto Moravia.  Gadda and Pasolini brought the city into their books; Rome's streets and neighborhoods, the city's fabric, are more than settings--they are protagonists.

Moravia's work is of a different sort.  Although his novels are set in Rome, the city is by and large only a backdrop for the personal, psychological issues with which he was most absorbed.  "Particularly in his 1950s literature," writes Victoria G. Tillson in the Annali d'Italianistica (2010), "the Italian capital functions as a leit-motif, serving as a solid point of reference from which the author could explore modern humankind's battles with alienation and malaise.  Moravia's Rome, in its blandness and sameness, reflects the accompanying feelings of indifference and boredom often suffered by his protagonists." 

Moravia lived on the top floor.  It's likely he
didn't appreciate the building.

It strikes RST as perverse that the words "blandness" and "sameness" could be used to describe Rome, even a writer's perception of Rome.  To be sure, Moravia lived his last decades in one of  Rome's less dynamic neighborhoods--Prati--but that hardly explains his virtual dismissal of a city that others (Federico Fellini, to name only one) found so compelling, so full of life.

Corviale.  Shades of Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini-Green. But
unusual for Rome.   

The truth is that Moravia was fond of Rome--but mostly the old Rome, the Centro, and to a lesser extent, the mostly failed efforts at Garbatella and Monte Sacro to create "garden cities."  For the "new" Rome--the sub-urban Rome begun by the Fascist regime and pursued by the postwar Christian Democrats--Moravia had little but contempt (to use the title of his 1963 novel).  Unlike his close friend Pasolini, he wasn't attracted by Rome's many public housing projects, or by their residents.  One can only imagine what he must have thought of Corviale, the gigantic monolith, home to thousands, built in the south of Rome in the 1970s. 

But it wasn's just the "projects."  He seems to have disliked all, or most, big and modern apartment complexes, of the sort that in the postwar years populated large areas of the Piazza Bologna
A massive housing complex in the Trieste zone.  Overbearing,
but it feeds the commercial life of the area, and the
curving façade and Fascist-inspired entrance
are not without interest. 
neighborhood, Tuscolano, Flaminio (the buildings constructed for the 1960 Olympics), Trieste, Marconi, Centocelle and, yes, his own Prati.  In a 1989 interview, he reasoned that despite the harm done by the Fascists, the real culprits were  the "Christian Democratic city councils.  The horror began with those city councils and with the building speculation."  In the process, the look and feel of the city was, Moravia believed, irreparably damaged. 

That's all quite understandable, and especially so in the two decades after 1955, when architectural modernism had run out of ideas and postmodernism had yet to make its mark.  In the world of design, it was an especially awkward period, yielding much that was ungainly and "brutal"-ist, little that was elegant or inventive.  Too many ordinary buildings. 

In essence, Moravia was profoundly nostalgic for the old Rome, and sharply critical of the new one.  As Tillson notes, he "seems to have hoped that Rome, by the mid-1970s, would have relented in its modernizing processes and accepted its distinctiveness among world cities, as one that ironically lives better in its past than in its present."  Most tourists, we think, would share those sentiments, having little interest in Rome's suburbs, its outlying neighborhoods, its periphery.

As our readers may know, we don't share Moravia's concerns.  We're fascinated--too fascinated, some may feel--by the very neighborhoods and structures that Moravia lamented.  He was, we think, a creature of his time: rooted in Rome's past, unable to see its future.  Unable to appreciate the magic that sheer density, responsibly generated, with an eye to community, can produce.  At Piazza Bologna, Trionfale, Trieste, Tuscolano, Boccea and a dozen other places, the new Rome is on display.  

See for yourself.  Bill

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is it Art?

Our subject line--Is it Art?--is a question I've posed to Dianne many times as we walked the streets of Rome and taken in its walls, invariably covered with graffiti: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Dianne's answer is almost always "no". 

The problem was never clearer than one Friday last month (August 23) when I opened the Calendar section of the LA Times to find the above picture, which the newspaper was using to announce a new exhibit at one of LA's best private modern art galleries, Santa Monica's Bergamot Station.  The artist is Joshua Podoll, and the title is "Poetry of Dissonance." 

Dissonance is what Dianne and I had when I showed her the picture and asked her the now familiar question.  Again, "no" was Dianne's response, and I was prepared for it.  Just months ago in Rome, we'd come across the following piece of "found art" (that's what I call it).  Is it Art?  Or is it Bad Graffiti?  Guess what Dianne said.   Bill

Friday, September 6, 2013

Architect Gino Coppedè in Rome's Center

We've blogged about the 20th century architect Gino Coppedè several times, and included his Quartiere Coppedè at #20 on our RST Top 40 list.  It took us a few years, however, to discover that one of Coppedè's signature buildings is right in the Centro Storico, off Piazza Barberini.  This large palazzo, at via Veneto no. 7, is not his best, in our opinion, but it offers insight into this particular (in the Italian sense of the word) architect if you can't make the trek out to the Quartiere.

classic Coppedè sculptural detail
You can peak inside too.

The palazzo, built in 1927, the year Coppedè died, has his signature sculptural effects and, like Coppedè, defies categorization.  Coppedè has been variously described as an architect in the Art Nouveau, "Liberty" ( a particularly Italian designation falling between Art Nouveau and Art Deco, we think), and barocchetto traditions.  For many years his architecture was not highly valued in Rome.  He was seen  mostly as idiosyncratic.  But there has been a rehabilitation of his reputation, and the Quartiere Coppedè is now a highly prized, and very expensive, residential area.

One of the paired via dei Ramni buildings in the San
Lorenzo district
Not too far out of the Centro, in the San Lorenzo district, are two more Coppedè buildings we had never noticed until recently.  They are on via dei Ramni, a block from the University (La Sapienza).  As of this March, an apartment in one of them was for sale.  See the video here:

Back to Piazza Barberini and via Veneto:  there is no dearth of visual stimuli - Bernini's Triton fountain, his bee fountain, the Capuchin crypt nearby that was a subject of a recent post, the Cinema Barberini designed by Marcello Piacentini, the Hotel Bernini Bristol with its rooftop bar, a view of Palazzo Barberini.  But, if you take time to look up at the corner of via Veneto and Piazza Barberini, we think you'll find the view worthwhile.
Look up at the corner.
And a reference to Fascism

See also a nice photo essay in English at this site:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

MAXXI: the Francesco Vezzoli Performance

We enjoyed Elisabetta Provoledo's July 22 article in the New York Times, describing the efforts of MAXXI, Rome's splashy, new, Zaha Hadid-designed museum of contemporary art, to attract Roman audiences while building an international reputation. 

It hasn't been easy, especially when state money is tight, the museum's collections are thin, and the
On her cell phone
young staff would prefer to play with their cell phones rather than to assist curious or lost patrons or hand out the earphones like they were supposed to do for a video exhibit (photo at right). 

One technique that MAXXI is trying is to mount hip exhibits that plug into Italy's fashion industry.  Last year, for example, the museum arranged with Zegna, an apparel company, to commission an exhibit by artists Lucy and Jorge Orta that conveniently used Zegna fabrics. 

And more recently, MAXXI mounted a visually stunning exhibit by Francesco Vezzoli, who was able to deploy his star power to bring in $525,000 at a fundraising dinner, in a city where fundraising on that level is virtually unknown. 

Vezzoli: Postmodern to a fault
Vezzoli (b. 1971, lives in Milan) has exhibited at the New Museum in New York City and the Tate Modern in London.  He's a painter and performance artist, and his sumptuous MAXXI presentation utilizes both talents.  Vezzoli plays with Hollywood and film, exploring contemporary ideas and experiences of fame and celebrity.

On the day before the Vezzoli exhibit opened, we were the beneficiaries of those cellphone-devoted museum attendants, whom we found huddled together for a chat, while only a few feet away we gingerly slipped past a velvet rope and found ourselves alone--well, for a while there was this Asian guy who had also sneaked in--with Vezzoli's as yet unseen exhibit. 

Very special.
Thanks, MAXXI, for the private showing.
Dianne and Bill

Not sure what he had in mind here, but this is how you raise money

Bizarre juxtaposition of ancient and modern...that's Lauren Bacall