Rome Travel Guide

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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.


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