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

Friday, December 30, 2016

Cats Have Their Own Office in Rome

We were walking in our Monteverde Vecchio neighborhood this spring when I said to Bill - "take a picture of that," and you can see his reflection in the door's glass as he shot this photo of what looked like an office for a national cat organization:  Ente Nazionale Felinotecnica Italiana or ENFI.

I loved the photo of the cat - someone will know the breed - and the idea that the cats had their own organization.I also liked the word "Felinotecnica" - which sounded to me like a technical feline.

A little research made the organization less mysterious  - it's the Italian National Purebred Cat Association.

The Web site indicates there may be some cat turf wars going on as well.  ENFI doesn't mention other organizations by name, but indicates that more than one organization can maintain a purebred cat geneology register, and that it is one officially sanctioned to do so.  ENFI got its recognition only a bit more than a year ago - so there's lots of pride going around here.

Then there's the whole issue of whether one should breed purebred cats. Especially given all the homeless cats in Rome and the efforts in various parts of Rome to take care of them, neuter and feed them. Our Swedish friend, Bo Lundine, wrote a post here on such a cat, the one-eyed Nelson.  Well, we won't get into that debate.

And so the lesson seems to be you never know what you'll find walking around a residential neighborhood in Rome.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Get to these Rome clubs while they last - for New Year's Eve.

Rome may be eternal, but its music clubs are not.  As New Year's Eve approaches, we thought we'd check on a couple clubs we visited in 2016.

Le Rane di Testaccio
One of our new finds was Le Rane di Testaccio, a cute basement music venue on via Galvani in Testaccio.  The jazz was very good, and sometimes even too contemporary for our "cool jazz" taste.  But we'd definitely recommend trying it.  The club is a "socio," so you need to buy a yearly "tessera."  As we recall, it was only 5 Euros.  The entrance fee of no more than 5-10 Euros included a drink.  The rather nice buffet was somewhat overpriced at 12 Euros.  Apparently organized by a doctor who wanted more jazz, the club has a modern, classy feel, and an attentive crowd.  We were afraid it wouldn't survive in Rome's elusive jazz scene, but it appears still to be a going concern, including with a New Year's Eve event.  Check it out.  And, by the way, the inside joke is that the street is named for Luigi Galvani, a biologist who experimented with frogs (le rane).  Via Galvani 29/29A (knock on the door).  06.5740240.

Even the parking lot for the L'ex dogana looked cool, with the
elevated highways framing it.
We also stopped in at the L'ex dogana (ex-custom's house) between San Lorenzo and Porta Maggiore.  The space is overwhelming and magnificent - true industrial chic.  It hosted a good art show (including, for example, a Kounellis) and was getting ready for late night music, when we stopped by.

 We had read about some of the problems of the people running the venue and, indeed, it looks like they won't be running it much longer.  The final show is New Year's Eve, and that looks like a blockbuster.  Look for information for "Scala Est Closing" on the Web site.

The scale of L'ex dogana produces unusual placement of artworks.

Captivating video projection art at L'ex dogana.

This looks like a video projection, but it
was solid

Getting ready for the partying, outside as well as in.
We were going to say a few words about a small venue in an expensive via Veneto (lower, not upper via Veneto) hotel, "Elegance Cafe'" - but it didn't last the year.  Its August Facebook page and Web site say it's transferring to a new location.  We shall see.
The now defunct Elegance Cafe'
Other New Year's Eve venues for jazz lovers include that old standby, Alexanderplatz.  We had some fear for its existence too, after we heard the main proprietor died.  But it's still plugging along.

And with that, Buon Anno!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Metro C: A Great Idea with Human Costs

Rome desperately needs more underground transportation, and the city is making an effort to provide it.  The current project is Metro C, designed to connect Rome's eastern suburbs with the central city, and to connect stations along its 18 km route to existing lines A and B.  Stations on the eastern part of the C line have been completed and are operational; we've walked that route and shown our readers some of the new stations and neighborhoods they serve.

The inner-city section, where the all-important connections with other lines will be made, is under construction.  When completed, there will be a new Amba Aradam station at Porta Metronia, serving a large and heavily populated neighborhood (one of our favorite places to live) to the south and east of the Coliseum, with completion to the Colosseo station and Metro B.  The C line will also connect with Metro A at San Giovanni.  The completion date for these connections is 2022.  And there may be a station under Piazza Venezia, if it proves possible to do the work without destruction of too much Roman heritage.

The plan sketched above seems reasonable, and we're looking forward to riding the fully-automated line, assuming we live that long.  In the meantime, those who live near or adjacent to the construction route face years of irritation and disruption: noise, of course, and traffic problems caused by re-routing, but more important, hundreds of yards of tall metal Metro fencing, sometimes within a few feet of apartment buildings that not so long ago were adjacent to small parks, a tennis club, a soccer field, and a portion of a Roman wall.  In short, Metro C has its human costs.  That said, when the work is completed, residents of adjacent areas will have some of the best Metro connections in the city.

A few months ago we toured the construction zone near Porta Metronia. The tour begins at the porta and runs southeast down via Ipponio, turns left at a nameless, curving street just beyond via dei Laterani, and left again on via della Ferratella in Laterano.  Here we go.

From Porta Metronia
Down via Ipponio.  A tennis club at left escaped the construction--for now.

Inside the yellow walls

Yellow walls outside your door.  Trees inside and outside the construction zone.
Turn left here for the hospital and the church. Sure. 
Looking back.  Pedestrian crossing.

This one's particularly depressing.  
This used to be a nice street to walk on, to a supermarket.  
Eugene Debs, the American socialist labor leader?
Headed back toward Porta Metronia.  The sign says the parking spaces are reserved for motorcyles (and scooters, no doubt). Romans are adept at marking things off with tape. 
There's a Roman wall on the other side of the yellow wall.  

One of the pleasures of a walk like this is reading the posters.  This one says Dino, hands in the air, was shot and killed by
a police officer.  

A small park, largely intact despite the construction, close to Porta Metronia, where we began.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"The Monster in the Garden": Luke Morgan Reinterprets Italian Gardens

The "Hellmouth"  - It was also a 16th-century dining room.   Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo.
The "Hellmouth" of the Parco dei Mostri ("Monster Park") in Bomarzo near Rome seems simply a curious anachronism these days.  But in the 16th century, when the park was created, it projected dread, as well as pleasure.  "Pleasurable dread" or "fear followed by pleasure" is the better way to interpret both the Hellmouth and the other monsters of Italy's once famous early Renaissance parks, according to a new book by Luke Morgan, The Monster in the Garden.

The hellmouth is an ambiguous, hybrid structure, Morgan says.  It was used as an outdoor dining room.  And so, he posits, it's the scene of devouring (nourishment, pleasure) and being devoured (death, dread).  There is, according to this author, a theme of violence in the gardens that has been lost or downplayed by other writers.
Another fine monster in the Parco dei Mostri.

With Morgan's new approach to these parks, you too can re-visit them and enjoy them with fresh insights.  He approaches these "grotesques" or "monsters" as ambivalent or contradictory, rather than the "insipid idea of the garden" that has been the province of modern scholarship.  Morgan essentially reclaims the monster/grotesque as a complex, multi-valent figure, rather than simply "ugliness and horror," as Edmund Wilson described Bomarzo.

Focusing mainly on the "Parco dei Mostri" and Tivoli's Villa d'Este, the book is a trove of ideas for looking at their sculptures.  

Among Italian garden aficionados, it's common knowledge that Tivoli has the Rometta fountain, the personification of Rome, at one end, and Tivoli at the other.  Morgan adds to this interpretation by pointing out it's the metropolis at one end, the spa town at the other, another example of polarities.
The "Rometta fountain."  There are many Rome identifiers, including the Dea Roma (Goddess Rome), top center; the
Lupa with Romulus and Remus, above right; the boat fountain from Piazza di Spagna; and the Obelisk.  Villa d'Este, Tivoli.

"Fountain of Nature" - and what are all those spouts?
Villa d'Este, Tivoli.
A closer look at the...what?
animals? on the Fountain of
He also identifies the range of bodily fluids fountains can represent: vomit, sweat, tears. He claims the Villa d'Este's Fountain of Nature - that we've always thought of as the many-breasted woman -  may not have breasts at all.  He says the idea that the fountain's many spouts are breasts may have developed only in the late Renaissance. Whatever she has - nipples, testicles, animals - there are too many, she's excessive, and so she is abnormal, he concludes. 

And he posits, maybe these are not breasts.

The leaning house in Bomarzo: the point between
good and bad.
In Bomarzo, Morgan also has an interesting take on the basic layout of the park.  He says no one is even sure where the entrance was, and so we don't know what the basic walking motif should have been: is it showing a false paradise (the little temple or 'tempietto') leading down into hell, or does the path end at this temple of divine love?  The tempietto in either case, he says, is a state of grace; the house that is distorted and leaning is a turning point between good and bad.  

Bringing up an old example of fake news, Morgan discusses the "false book of antiquities" that argued Viterbo was the cradle of an Etruscan civilization founded by a race of noble giants, surpassing Rome. He notes the park's fake Etruscan tomb that he calls a "deliberate ruin or 'folly' that even has a picturesque (fake) fracture."  In other words, this is a simulated ruin.

A fake Etruscan tomb - this one in Ariccia's Parco Chigi.
Looking for all the concepts Morgan discusses in his book could take one weeks.  Checking out just a few as one visits or re-visits these parks is intriguing, delightful, and good old-fashioned fun.  He has points to make about statuary in Rome as well, such as Bocca della Verita' ("participatory grotesque") and Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona (half-invented creatures).  And while he concentrates on Bomarzo and Tivoli, he also references Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati, Villa Lante in Bagnaia and Villa Farnese in Caprarola, both in northern Lazio; Sovana in southern Tuscany; and Florence's Medici Sculpture Gardens.

A threatening (and large-spouted) hybrid female in Villa d'Este.
I recommend Morgan's book for the sheer number of concepts he addresses.  In addition to the few mentioned above, others are: grotesqueness and monstrosity; the world as a giant human body (citing Leonardo); the giant or colossal mode; hybrids (usually female, reflecting male anxieties about the sexuality of women); Renaissance representation of more than one time at once; the role of the Fascist reinterpretation of the Italian garden (to privilege man, the rational, and the male).
Another Villa d'Este hybrid;
this one not so threatening.

A hybrid in Villa Sciarra, Rome (think she's a force for good?
 note the skull).  Once you start looking for these creatures,
they seem to be everywhere.
The full title of Morgan's work is The Monster in the Garden:The Grotesque and the Gigantic in Renaissance Landscape Design.  I saved writing it out until now because I didn't want to scare away lay people from the book.  Morgan also is deeply steeped in lit-crit and other theories. So you have to wade through references to Debord, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Foucault.  But is it worth it?  In a word, yes.
Another Hellmouth - this one in Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati.

And a fine small restaurant
after viewing all those
 monsters l'Ape 50, in Tivoli.
Luke Morgan, The Monster in the Garden: The Grotesque and the Gigantic in Renaissance Landscape Design, U. Penn. Press, 2016.


Tourists enjoying the many spouts.  Villa d'Este.
Required shot of one of the gorgeous Villa d'Este vistas - sans monsters.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Saving Rome's Buildings, with Capitalism

Rome is being repaired--building by building, monument by monument. Signs of this effort are ubiquitous: one structure after another covered in canvas, and behind it, scaffolding.  The Trevi fountain, emptied of its water for months while reconstruction crews do their thing.  Restoration work on both of Rome's coliseums: the ancient, famous one in the city center, and the Colosseo Quadrato (square coliseum), an elegant Fascist-era building in EUR. 

This is mostly good news; at least some of Rome's historic structures are finally getting the care they need.  The bad news is that these reconstruction efforts come with strings attached.  The core of the problem is that much of the restoration work--just how much cannot be gleaned from newspaper reports--is funded by corporations.  The corporations want something for their money, hence the strings.  One string (a minor one, to be sure) is that whatever company is funding the project gets to put its name, or its product, or both on the cloth that shrouds the buildings and the scaffolding.  While undergoing repairs, the building becomes an advertisement, a billboard.  Americans are used to billboards and other very large advertisements, and may even regard them as essential to a vibrant urban scene.  This is surely true in Los Angeles, where notice of the latest blockbuster film may occupy the entire side of a very tall building.  Romans, however, have no billboard history that I know of, no experience until recently, as wall art has achieved a certain popularity, with visual clutter akin to advertising gigantism.

Yet there it is.  An ad for Jaguar looming over Largo di Santa Susanna.  More than one pitch for a company known as Mediolanum, which apparently has something to do with banking.

A huge picture of the latest Samsung Galaxy phone (probably the one that catches fire and is no longer being produced), positioned between Piazza Venezia and Hadrian's column. 

Ads for the New Tiguan--that's an automobile--dominating the Tiber end of via della Conciliazione.

An enormous ad for the second season of the TV series "Gomorra" on the historic Palazzo della Cancelleria (see the top of this post).  So that's one "string" attached: visual pollution.  It's advertising, not art.

The other string is more interesting, and arguably more disturbing.  The corporations that do this work not only want to advertise while they're doing it.  They also want--and get--a degree of control over the property whose restoration they're funding.  That brings us to Fendi, a company with Roman roots, and one known for many years for its fashionable furs.  Beginning a few years ago, the company embarked on a plan to restore several of the city's best-known fountains, beginning with the Trevi, where the company invested about $2.9 million.  The restoration was completed in the fall of 2015, just in time, as it happens, for Fendi's 90th anniversary.  To mark that occasion, in July 2016 the company drained the fountain, installed a 66-yard-long glass catwalk, filled the Trevi again--and, in a sunset display of haute couture, brought out 37 models, who seemed to walk on water.

That spectacle, which allowed the company to identify its brand with one of the world's great attractions, continues to benefit Fendi.  On the following November 15, the company featured the July event in a two-page spread in the New York Times

One could reasonably argue that's a good deal for Rome, Romans, and tourists: a landmark spruced up, used for an evening by its benefactor, powerful images of the Trevi circulating in the media. 

More problematic is what's happened recently in EUR, where Fendi is also involved, this time with the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana--the iconic "square coliseum."  Apparently as a reward for financial assistance with repairs to the building (we're assuming that), Fendi was able to rent the building for 15 years for 240,000 Euro per month.  Under the agreement with EUR Spa, a public entity, Fendi also became the exclusive licensee of commercial images of the square coliseum for that same 15-year period. 

All this came to light, at least for us, when a gay pride organization, Roma Pride, used the building  as a backdrop for its publicity--3 guys in bikinis on the stairs, framed by the building's many arches. Fendi didn't like it. The cultural minister sided with Fendi: it was OK to sell the rights to commercial images, and not OK for Roma Pride to use the image of the Square Coliseum for commercial purposes.  And there the issue stands: symbolic, if nothing else, of corporate encroachment on Rome's historical heritage, for better or for worse, or both.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

L'Aquila: A lesson in Italy's failure to rebuild after the 2009 earthquake.

Post-earthquake reconstruction?  Six years later, this is L'Aquila.
The most recent devastating earthquake in Italy hit in the Marche province on October 26, followed by aftershocks. An August 24 quake not far away killed almost 300 people. 
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is promising complete restoration.  We are - sadly - skeptical.  As a poignant piece of evidence, we give you L'Aquila, where a 2009 earthquake in this large, historic center in the Abruzzo region that neighbors Marche, resulted in 309 deaths.

We had been in L'Aquila many years ago.  This classic medieval city, capital of the Abruzzo province, is less than 75 miles from Rome, but 75 miles that can seem like centuries, and that took several days to cover in Margaret Fuller's time.  The city sits at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountains we intended to (and did) climb; they reach over 10,000 feet, the highest Italian mountains south of the Alps.

Last year, 6 years after the quake, we decided to see what had been accomplished after the earthquake.  We had heard of the slowness of the rebuilding, mafia involvement, scandals, and the like.  But nothing prepared us for the ghost town L'Aquila still was - 6 years later.  The photo above of one street is, unfortunately, typical of most of the streets of L'Aquila. Buildings shored up, at best, but unreconstructed and uninhabitable.

A closer view of the cracking produced by the 2009 earthquake.

Here one can see efforts to protect the older, classic building windows and doors.
Again, this is the best the 'reconstruction' seems to offer.

Businesses stopped in their tracks.  And not re-opened, of course.  This was a
unisex hair salon.
We'll get back to the destruction.  But we must take a couple sentences to describe the highly unusual setting in which - without planning on our part - we found L'Aquila in May 2015: it was the annual national 3-day "raduno" or "adunata" - a gathering of the Italian Army's Alpini units - gatherings that attract several hundred thousand men and a few women.  And this year, in an attempt to bring life and attention to the devastated city, they were meeting in L'Aquila, even though there were only a handful of rooms available to them in the city itself.  Many took 1-2 hour long train rides into L'Aquila daily; others set up tents and slept in vans. 

The Alpini were formed as a northern mountain unit of the Italian army.  One finds Alpini almost everywhere in Italy these days.  They still are a significant branch of the army.  And, since my family is from the north (15 km south of the Swiss border), all the men belonged to the Alpini (see a photo of my great-grandfather below).  The Alpini would recognize L'Aquila, and its location in the Gran Sasso, as part of the mountain regions that Alpini love.
Our first shot of the Alpini, recognizable by a black feather in their caps
(officers get a white feather) was of them being tourists.  Here they are at L'Aquila's
famed 13th century "Fountain of the 99 Spouts" (Fontana delle 99 Cannelle)
The poster for the 2015 Adunata.  Note the emphasis on the mountains and the black feathers.
Here's how the Alpini managed their gathering in L'Aquila - they brought in their own pop-up restaurants and beer tents;
this one set up right next to the scaffolded building.

The Alpini gathered in St. Peter's Square at their 1929 adunata.
One of the empty L'Aquila buildings had a small exhibit of prior Alpini "adunate,"
which is where we found this, among many other photos and artifacts.
The Alpini here were singing a traditional song.  To the left is the hotel in
 which we stayed many years ago.  This is in a newer part of the city, 
where there was less devastation because of better building practices.
  The Gran Sasso can be seen in back.
Back to the destruction.  

The sign scrawled on this wall says "L'Aquila  will be arise (be reborn) from the Mafia."
It's not clear these buildings will be rebuilt.
The blocked-off streets are in the "red zone," where one cannot even walk.
This banner in the main square says:
"One finds a red zone everywhere and the issue is a national one."
Outside an obviously newer but poorly built "Students' House," photos
of some of the more than 100 "angels" who died there in the earthquake.
 Arrests followed the collapse of the building.
Housing built for displaced residents - but not near any work.  From the train,
we saw these on the outskirts of Paganica, about 15 km from L'Aquila.  
A view of L'Aquila from a distance.  The cranes are there, but where are the workers and the work?  Snow-capped (in May)
Gran Sasso in the distance.

Elizabeth Povoledo wrote about L'Aquila in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Remarkably, her photos don't look any different from ours of 2015.

There were a few signs of hope.

A bar on the central square, run by the Fratelli Nuria, was open. It was
 not simply an Alpini pop-up. Signs announced it as the first business
 to reopen after the quake. The family also made its own, excellent torrone  
(which we bought and ate). You can see a couple Alpini among the patrons.

This surprising restored house, with a woman watering her plants, was the lone
exception we saw.

Our hotel receptionist rode with us on the train from L'Aquila to Paganica where many people were housed (photo above).  She told us that 6 years later her house was not habitable but that she had to continue paying her mortgage, and continue living in Paganica, about 15 km away.   We wrote last December about a church, built into rock, in Paganica.

And below is Giovanni Mambretti, my Italian grandmother's father, standing at left, with his Alpini.

We hope to visit L'Aquila again, and that we will see significant progress the next time.  Should you wish to visit L'Aquila, our hotel was ideal.  It was in a newer building, below the city (you do have to walk up and down hills a lot in L'Aquila), and in 2015 it was fully open, including the excellent restaurant serving Abruzzi specialties.  It's the Hotel "99 Cannelle", because it's across the street from that famous fountain.