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 27, 2014

FAO's Vines: a Tale of Survival

The building that houses FAO, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organizaton--is one of the least interesting of the numerous Fascist-era structures that dot the Roman landscape. Intended to be the seat of the Ministry of Italian Africa, it was designed by Vittorio Cafiero and rationalist Mario Ridolfi in 1938 and completed in 1952, years after Italy had lost its empire, such as it was.  It seems today to presage the brutalist style that was popular in the 1970s, though its enormous if spare balcony offers a fine view of Circo Massimo and elements of the Roman forum--assuming you have a friend who can get you in and up there.  

What the building does have, on the exterior walls that front the sidewalk on viale Aventino [once viale Africa], is an impressive, vigorous set of vines.  Yes, vines.  They're thick and primordial in appearance, deriving nourishment from somewhere beneath the asphalt pavement that's [unfortunately] everywhere in Rome. They may even date to FAO's arrival in 1953.

For us they stand for resilience.  Although we have been by the building many times over the years, we first noticed the vines in mid-April, while on a tour--rather disappointing, as it turned out--of the remaining vestiges of Italian colonialism.  They had been trimmed, relentlessly it seemed.  We wondered if they would survive.

They did.  Here's how they looked just two months later, in mid-June:

We'll stop worrying.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shopping in Rome: Fascism for Sale

The Fuhrer, riding in a staff car.  Or the Fuhrer acknowledging the folk with a friendly wave.  Buy both and you get a free attack dog.  

The era of Hitler and Mussolini is now a lifetime in the past.  But if you miss these guys, you can still purchase figurines--in the heart of Rome--to remind you all the good things they did.  We found a nice supply at a small shop just south of the Palazzo di Montecitorio, which houses the Italian Chamber of Deputies. 

That could be the Duce at center right.  Not sure who the dude with the binoculars is.  Marshall Petain, head of the Vichy government?
Another version of Mussolini--apparently--on the pedestal, though he looks a bit gaunt for the Duce.  But who's the guy on the left?  A representative worker?  And what's the gold stuff in the cart? Could be harvested wheat. The red and blue
flag may offer a hint, though I don't think the answer is Haiti.
Help us out here!
PS:  Marco, a regular reader of the blog, offers assistance:  The guy with the binoculars is likely Italo Balbo--Fascist hero, flyer, and governor of Libya--and the red and blue flag belongs to an Army corps.  Thanks so much, Marco.  Michael W. suggests that "the bloke on the right of the Duce looks like Hermann Goering."  Thanks for your help, Michael. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Wine Report: Grocery Store Whites

There are lots of things that are expensive in Rome, but wine isn't one of them.  If you're hooked on the grape, think about traveling to the Eternal City as a money-saving opportunity.  Every sip, more savings. There are some who think you have to go to a dedicated wine store to get quality, and when we want a bottle to take to a friend's home, that's where we go.  But for everyday consumption, there are quality wines to be had at--horrors--the grocery store.  In New York, of course, the grocery stores aren't allowed to sell wine, and in California, where the sale is allowed, the available wines are for the most part familiar, ordinary, and often expensive.

Rome is different.  Most of the chain stores--SMA and Carrefour were our mainstays--stock a nice selection of affordable wines of reasonable quality.  We're white wine drinkers (as we've noted before on the blog), so here are some of our favorite GROCERY STORE WHITES:

Fiano Sannio

Fiano Sannio.  EURO 4.40  One seldom finds Fiano--the name of the grape--in the US.  But it's common in Rome grocery stores.  This one is from Solopaca, in Campania. It's good without being great.  Dianne described it as mildly tasty, rather undistinguished, a little flat, very yellow, and "pretty nice."  "Good for people who don't like too much "profumato"--perfumed quality--in the wine.  Bill found it very pleasant, with no bad notes, and quite flavorful.  A value at less than 6 bucks a bottle.

Villa Folini Ribolla Gialla, 2013.  EURO 6.29  The "brand" is Villa Folini, the grape Ribolla Gialla--seldom seen in the states.  It's from the Venezia region, bottled in the border city of Gorizia.  Despite the name Gialla, which means yellow, it's light in color.  Bill thought it "quite sophisticated," though how he would know
Ribolla Gialla.  On the dining table in our big room in Rome.
this isn't clear.  Dianne said it was "smoother than the other ones."  More expensive than some, but an excellent value nonetheless.  You could take this to a dinner party.

Circeo Blanco
Circeo D.O.P. Blanco Villa Gianna.  EURO 3.49 [really cheap].  Circeo is a hill town/beach community located on the sea less than a 2-hour drive from Rome.  The big hill is fun to climb and from the top there's a fantastic view of the  curving beach to the north.  Circeo wines aren't normally considered to be high quality, but our experts thought otherwise, at least on this occasion.  Dianne tasted a "bit of citrus" while announcing that the wine was "not wimpy...I like that."  Bill's opinion has been lost.  The wine is a combination of Trebbiano, Chardonnay, and Malvasia grapes.  Malvasia, found in many Italian whites because it is so easy to grow, is not known as a distinguished grape.

Muller Thurgau
Muller Thurgau Storie di Vite.  Trentino doc., 2013.  EURO 6.49  Your wine critics used to drink lots of Muller Thurgau, thinking they were very sophisticated.  Their consumption has been much reduced since they learned that it's generally thought of as a rather ordinary grape.  The tasters had different opinions.  Bill, who never found a white wine he didn't like, described a "balanced mix of fruit and savory."  Dianne [who prefers her wines "dry"] thought it "on the sweet side, relatively."


Malvasia Terra de li Pallavicini.  EURO 3.83.  Malvasia is the grape--again, not a distinguished grounding
for the wine.  The Pallavicini are no doubt a family, or they were, and "terra" refers to their land. The wine comes from Lazio, the region of which Rome is a part, so it's local.  Dianne pronounced it "better than Pinot Grigio," which isn't saying much because she finds nearly all Pinot Grigio to be undistinguished.  It's "pleasant," she added, a bit "flat" and "uninspired, but "adequate if you're returning from a trip and need a drink."  No doubt she was returning from a trip and needed a drink.  Bill: "not bright or flinty," but tasty.

Tenuta Ca' Vescovo

Tenuta Ca' Vescovo.  EURO 6.35  Tenuta means something like "homestead," and Ca' means "house of." The wine is from mountainous Friuli, in the northeast of Italy, from whence come many fine whites.  According to the bottle, the wine or the winery or both is/are very old--dating to the early 15th century.  Dianne:  "got a little profumato to's not puny."  Bill:  "full-bodied, hints of apricots."


Friday, August 8, 2014

The Stickering of Rome: Serrande and Traslochi

Amid the cacophony of Rome's graffiti--everything from abusive tags to lovely finished pieces--one can easily miss the most common of the city's postings: advertisements for serande and traslochi.  Serande refers to the metal shutters that protect shops when they're closed; traslochi (literally, "between
places") refers to companies that will move your possessions from one place to another. There could be millions of these small (about 3 X 5 inches) stickers in Rome, but there are at least tens of thousands.

You'll find the serande notices on the sides of shops (no store owner is more than a few feet from an advertisement, should the need for the service arise); the traslochi ads are usually found affixed to poles (right) or electrical boxes (below).  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this sticker business is that these are the only two businesses--from our observations--that advertise this way.  Yes, absolutely fascinating.


Except for the moving van photo, below, all these photos were taken in one neighborhood.  Can you identify it?

Fabbri Traslochi--that is, a moving company--delivering stuff on via Farsalo.  Note the system: a
mechanized platform moving up a ladder.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

"Googie" architecture: in Rome

If you've spent time in Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, or even Seattle, you'll have some knowledge of "googie" architecture, even if you don't know the name.  Associated with the 1950s, the style features a futuristic feel, produced by sharp and odd angles, sweeping arches, boomerang and pallette
Gas station, Los Angeles
shapes, zig-zag lines, and atom motifs.  In Los Angeles, where it took its name from "Googies," a coffee shop designed by modernist architect John Lautner, it is usually found in gas stations, fast food restaurants, and coffee shops, though there's a superb example at LAX, the city's main airport, where the Theme Building, completed by Pereira and Luckman architects in 1961, greets visitors with its space-age glow.

Italy had its boom years, too, but it didn't participate with quite the same intensity in the catalysts of the googie moment--the space age and the era's car culture--and so outstanding examples of the style, especially in Rome, are few.  In fact, the word "few" may overestimate.  Still, googie enthusiasts might have some success in the San Giovanni area, easily accessed by the Metro, where a construction boom in the 1950s and 1960s yielded several buildings with some relationship to Googie.
Garage, Metronio Market
Back of Metronio Market
Two are on via Magna Grecia, a major thoroughfare running south from the San Giovanni Metro stop.  As you walk south, the first you'll come across is Ricardo Morrandi's Metronio Market.  Its outstanding feature is the playful circular garage, but the two long sides of the triangular facade are also of interest, with their accordion-like window treatments.  The market opened in 1957.

Piccadilly Hotel, once a movie theater

Another, a bit further along, is the lower facade of what is now the Piccadilly Hotel, and was once a movie theater: the googie is in the dark forms which bore the name of the cinema and in the multi-angled canopy below. (The closed cinemas are the protagonists in an Italian film, "Fantasmi Urbani: Inchiesta sui cinema chiusi da Roma" - "Urban ghosts - An investigation into Rome's closed cinemas". You can see a trailer on YouTube - look for hints of googie.)

Across the street, still on via Magna Grecia--perhaps across from the market--you'll see a 1960-vintage apartment building, sandwiched between two structures in the more-familiar neo-classical style.  The angled balconies participate in the "googie" mode.

Not the best photo for this purpose. The "pallette" ceiling
is upper left.  

Continuing south on via Magna Grecia, turn right on via Gallia.  In the second block, on the left side of the street, just past the church, is Bar Clementi.  It's a great place for a coffee--it was our regular coffee bar for two months--and one doesn't have to pay extra to sit down.  And while you're there, note the pallette-shaped ceiling, right out of a googie textbook.  Ceilings such as this one, which invoke the space age, are quite common in Rome bars.

Angled balconies, via Gallia

Exiting Bar Clementi and continuing west on via Gallia, you'll find another set of cleverly angled
balconies.  Another tribute to googie.


A hint of "googie" in the shape of the shields for the lettering
of a dancehall, "Stellarium," in Appio Latino, 2008

Rear of the Appio Latino dancehall, with its mushroom roof