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 31, 2016

Rome is Degraded. Can't wait to Return

A personal favorite.  No orange fencing or yellow tape here, probably because this project, intended to protect
pedestrians and vehicles from the collapsing wall at left, was initiated years ago--perhaps decades ago--before
orange fencing was invented.  Maybe before plastic was invented.  The road is via di Porta San Pancrazio, on the Gianicolo, below the steps leading from Acqua Paola.  Via Garibaldi is ahead. 
Because we're in Rome only once each year (though for an extended period), we see both less--and more--than year-around residents.  We miss many of the day-to-day details of the city's governance.  But our absence also provides a greater sense of change, of how today's Rome differs from last year's Rome. 

The picture isn't entirely bleak.  On the positive side, the efforts of Tevereterna and other organizations are beginning to reshape Romans' relationship to the Tevere, a relationship damaged, we once thought permanently, by the enormous walls erected in the late-19th century to control flooding.  The enormous and powerful William Kentridge mural on the west bank may mark a turning point in this regard.  Incredibly, Romans are beginning (but just beginning) to pick up after their dogs.  So, too, the turn to private sources of funding to restore Rome's public monuments and buildings holds promise for cleaning up and repairing Rome's cultural heritage.  More on this in a future post. 

In some ways, however, the city and environs appear to be more degraded (degrado is the Italian word) than ever. 

1) The pothole problem.  The Romans refers to the holes in their streets as "buchi"--that is, holes.  And they are, we believe, rightfully concerned that their streets are becoming more hazardous year by year.  Our perspective on this derives from the 700 miles we put on the scooter each time we visit, over roads in every section of the city.  Hitting a pothole or a rough patch of road can be dangerous, but avoiding potholes is dangerous too, especially when the streets are wet, but any time.  Pothole avoidance inevitably distracts the driver from other problems on the road, and may take the scooter into the path of another, faster-moving vehicle, approaching from behind.

The worst Rome road by far is a quagmire of potholes, bumps and gravel leading to a sports facility on the north end of the city; simply scary.  Of the major consular roads, via Salaria may be the worst; as one exits Rome proper and moves onto the narrow, 2-lane, fast-moving "highway" north of the city, the right 2/3 of both lanes is simply undriveable on a scooter.  The left 1/3 is fine, but it positions the scooter perilously close to oncoming traffic.  In the city, most streets are worse than they were last year, in our opinion.  I was too busy dodging potholes to photograph them.

The Bernini "bee fountain" on via Veneto, nicely framed by
orange fencing
2) The orange fencing problem.  Whoever has the orange fencing contract for Rome is doing very well, indeed.  It's everywhere.  Its purpose is to fence off projects while they're being worked on.

Useless fencing on the Lungotevere

That's noble, except that one seldom sees anyone working in or around the orange-fenced areas, and it's rare that a project gets done and the fencing removed. 

Collapsed fountain, Flaminio, rear of
Tree Bar

Put another way, the city appears to be adept at installing the orange fencing, yet rather inefficient at getting the required work done and the fencing removed.  Hence the impression--and it's really just that--that the orange fencing is accumulating, year after year. 

Almost an art work.  For patrons of bar, right.
appropriate it might be in protecting citizens from say, walking into a hole, it's also bright, ugly, and, as a sign that not much is getting done, all too obvious. On this trip alone,  we took a dozen photos of orange fencing, and could have taken dozens more.  We're sharing just a few.
Protecting peds from fallen tree.  Looks like it
didn't fall yesterday.

3) The yellow tape problem.  Yellow tape is sometimes used for the same purpose as orange fencing: to mark a potential hazard.  Here's a good example: a large portion of a tree has fallen on the sidewalk, and the danger is set off with yellow plastic tape.  The same tape is used for crowd and automobile management, for example to mark areas where parking is prohibited during a soccer match.  As letters to the editor in the local papers reveal, the authorities often fail to remove this "control" tape when as event is over.  So it remains in place, sometimes for weeks.

4. The trash problem.  Not exactly man bites dog.  Everyone--literally, not figuratively--knows that Rome has a trash problem.  Trash is--figuratively, not literally--everywhere. 
Piazza Mancini, Flaminio
Every neighborhood,  almost every sidewalk.  On one street after another, garbage bags, boxes, mattresses, construction debris--you name it--sits on the street next to overflowing trash bins.

Why?  No one seems to know. Too few bins?  Infrequent pickups?  Lazy garbage workers?  Obstructionist unions?  Tight budgets?  Romans who don't care?  If Virginia Raggi, the newly-elected mayor, can find a solution and clean up the city, she's a cinch to get re-elected. Good luck.

Building collapse

6.  Projects that never end--or don't even begin.  We witnessed one of these on our last trip, staying in a building on the Lungotevere at Piazza Gentile da Fabriano.  In February of this year (2016), long before we arrived, several floors of an identical building on the other side of the piazza collapsed, producing tons of rubble that had to be removed from the sidewalk and streets below.  The city moved the debris from the sidewalk but did not remove it, opting to deposit it in a huge mound across the two outbound lanes of the Lungotevere, one of the busiest streets in Rome.  Four months later, when we moved in, the mound was still there, still blocking the outbound Lungotevere, and forcing every vehicle taking that route to turn into the piazza, go around it (passing three major streets), and negotiate a stoplight before moving on.

Rubble storage site: the Lungotevere.  In three weeks at this location, we never saw anyone working here.  Still,
someone dropped off the dumpster.  Progress?
Oh, yes: we can't wait to return.  After all, it's Rome.

"Sorry for the inconvenience.  We're working to improve our city."  Working, maybe.  But not here.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Walls of Rome: 4 Hours in the Life of a Poster

Not all posters dealing with immigration are negative.  This one, found
in the immigrant-heavy (mostly Bangladeshi) suburb of Torpignattara, is critical of the
local government for its failure to make documents available to immigrants.
It's no secret that many Italians are concerned about immigration; under EU rules, the country where an immigrant first makes land must make provision for that immigrant.  There is no plan for dividing up immigrants equally.  This is a particular problem for Italy, which has a long and vulnerable coastline and is a short (but often deadly) boat ride from troubled Tunisia. As elsewhere in Europe, there are those in Italy who identify immigration with terrorism--and, those who don't.

These issues were brought home forcefully on the day we "landed" in Monteverde Vecchio, an upper-middle-class neighborhood on the hill above what is commonly thought of as Trastevere.  Here's the poster we found:

Stop Terrorism, Stop Immigration..  Not sure what "Fdl" is.
 There is an anti-immigration Facebook group known as Patria e Liberta
Four hours later, when we passed that way again, the poster looked like this:

  In the weeks that followed, we found other posters dealing with immigration:

This political poster was part of the 2016 mayoral election.  "Let's Stop
the Alien Invasion
CasaPound's poster, in Casal Bertone: Defend Rome/Enough Immigration, Enough "Welcoming"

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bar Names, Part I: Il Mio Bar and....

We "collect" bar names, and here we offer two: Il Mio Bar (My Bar) and Il Tuo Bar (Your Bar [singular, familiar]). We have yet to find Il Vostro Bar (Your Bar, plural) or Il Nostro Bar (Our Bar). If you spot one of these...or have a favorite bar name, let us know--and send photos.    Bill

Casal Bertone
Monte Verde Vecchio

Monday, August 15, 2016

ATAC's Playground

It isn't the gardens of the presidential palace.  It isn't where the Pope takes his morning tea.  It isn't even the Arco di Costantino (Arch of Constantine) Golf Club, off via Flaminia.

What we have here is the entrance to the ATAC Dopolavoro.  ATAC is Rome's Transport Agency, and dopolavoro means "after work." This is where ATAC employees go to have fun, after work. There's a long history of dopolavori in the transportation sector of Rome; the railroad dopolavoro is storied and quite elaborate.  And we have nothing against workers having fun.

But ATAC is the agency Romans love to hate; it brings one sciopero (strike) after another, causing residents and tourists untold grief.  Its subway system closes earlier than it should.  And its buses are notoriously undependable.  What is dependable is the dopo lavoro--lots of tennis courts and other play spaces, right up against the east bank of the Tevere.  Workers' kids can take a class in canoeing. They may do croquet on that trimmed lawn. You can have a look--from the street--if you're in the area.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Vision on Largo Ascianghi: an Inquiry

We happened upon this large and intriguing paste-up one evening while walking in Largo Ascianghi, opposite Nanni Moretti's cinema, near Porta Portese.  The building in the background of the paste-up, well known to followers of Rome's modern architecture, closely resembles one of four modernist post offices built by Mussolini's regime in the 1930s.  This one is located on via Marmorata, not far from the Pyramid, and it's still used, as are the others, as a post office.  The building haunts the scene in a way reminiscent of Giorgio de Chirico's urban 'scapes.  The mural is by RomaBolognaCooperazione, or RoBoCoop.   
The via Marmorata Post Office, Life Magazine, 1940
Curiously, though, the figures in the foreground ride horses rather than drive cars, and they're engaged in tasks that could be described as pre-industrial, including sawing logs with a 2-man hand saw.  At center, four people carry what might be a coffin.  At left, goods are moved by a primitive cart, with thick and possibly wooden wheels, drawn by an ox.  In front/center, the capital from an ancient column suggests that the glories of that period--and, indeed, any interest in it--are in the past.  In the right foreground, a woman rides behind a man on horseback, one dressed in an animal skin tunic of the sort normally identified with cave men.  The number of people in the scene suggest a community, engaged in construction, or reconstruction.

As it turns out, the Ascianghi mural is a redoing of a late-15th-century work (picture below) by Piero di Cosimo, known as an "eccentric" artist.  The workers in the foreground--the same in both works--are engaged in constructing the building in the background. 

What might RoBoCoop have had in mind?  On the one hand, the artist(s) could be suggesting that as much as everything changes, everything stays the same.  Yes, the nature of work changes, but construction goes on, and with some resemblance in the buildings, even though they are some 450 years apart.  Or the RoBoCoop piece could be a comment on the apocalypse, on a post-nuclear world in which humanity has lost all but its most basic skills, a world marked in time by the survival of at least one 20th-century building, a remnant of a pre-nuclear world.

We welcome members' thoughts and ideas.

PS - We realized only later that we met a couple of the RoBoCoop artists during the Open House Roma weekend - another plus for that spectacular event.
And thanks to Jess Stewart for helping us figure out the artists here.