Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Magic of Trajan's Market at Night

Baritone in the Great Hall
The views after dark Saturday evening at Trajan's Market (I Mercati di Traiano) were breathtaking.  The market itself was glowing with lights inside.  Add soloists from Teatro del Opera--two arias on different levels of the complex--and the night was magical.

Trajan's Market is an ancient Roman site we've enjoyed for years - mainly from the outside looking in - easy enough from via dei Fori Imperiale.  We have visited the site as paying customers once or twice in the past, always taking pleasure in its vast Roman streets, vistas, archways, rooms, and great hall (not to mention the bathrooms).
The Knights of Malta occupy this gorgeous palazzo and were preparing
for a fancy dinner on the terrazzo.

This time, and for only one Euro, it was simply spectacular. We also got in on the end of a guided tour in very clear Italian. Our guide, standing at the highest outdoor spot in the market, pointed out the places where Michelangelo and Raphaele lived, and where the Knights of Malta still own property (thanks to Pope Pio V from the province of Alessandria, hence the name of the road - now re-opened to pedestrians - and the district, Alessandrina).  He showed as well where 5 Roman castles could be seen - or at least located.  The presentation of photos showing the destruction of this area at the hands of the Fascists was intriguing as well.

This was a special evening. Anyone could take advantage of this well-documented and presented site (explanatory material in both English and Italian) for only one Euro, when the going rate is 13 Euro.

Because the market usually closes at 7.30 pm, only in the dead of winter can one have these wonderful views and the sense that one is stepping into ancient Rome.

Walking Roman roads in the market.
After all the complaining in the papers here about Rome's neglect of tourism, give Rome credit for pulling off this magnificent evening - one of several in April that the museums put on for this low price.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Salario: Rome's Unsung Hot Neighborhood

Right, our apartment building on the Via Simeto side.
Our place is on the 4th floor above the ground
floor--the one with the "cutout" that is our
terrace.   No market when this was taken.
When we arranged to rent a Rome apartment months ago, we thought we were headed for Parioli, a ritzy area of north Rome known for its fancy avenues (Viale dei Parioli and Viale Bruno Buozzi among them), expensive restaurants, and high-end shopping.

But we're not in Parioli--at least we don't think so.   More likely we're in one of Rome's lesser known districts: Salario.  Our 4th floor apartment is on the corner of Via Salaria--one of ancient Rome's consular roads--and Via Simeto, which is two blocks south of Viale Regina Margherita, the main drag with trams that go all over Rome.  We think Parioli "officially" begins on the other side of Via Salaria.

No, we're not in Parioli.  But what we've found--by sheer good fortune--is one of Rome's most
dynamic neighborhoods.   Curiously, we  had lived nearby a few years ago--just to the north of Viale Regina Margherita, in what's known as Trieste.  But we almost never ventured across the Viale. What a mistake!

Our building is of early 20th-century vintage, but
beneath it are catacombs!  We discovered they are open
one day each year - November 23.
It didn't take long to discover the pleasures of our Salario neighborhood.  It's full of small shops. On one side of our streetside apartment door is a barber.  On  the other side, a sartoria (a shop for sewing repairs of all kids). There's a ferramenta (a hardware store) nearby on Via Simeto, as well as the Rome version of a general store, crammed with stuff (and run, as many of them now are, by Chinese). Via Simeto also has a key shop and a butcher shop and an orto-frutta (fruits and vegetables).

Our "Tigre" grocrery, located in what used to be a movie
theatre (note the U-shaped lettering of the theater).  While
a chain, the Tigre has an informal book-exchange in
a room off the entrance.  

There's a nice wine shop just across Via Salaria--but of course you can buy wine almost anywhere, including at the medium-sized chain grocery store that you can see from our living room window (right).  The 4-star Beverly Hills Hotel (no joke!) is across the street.

The high-end shopping is on Via Po, two blocks down: men's clothes shops that drew the attention of a friend who's lived in Rome for years; a shop that sells only olive oil; a salumeria (a cheese/salami/bread store).  As that friend - who's lived in Rome 30 years - said when he met us for dinner nearby, "How did you find this place?"
Hugs at the market

Dianne with her home-made vignarola
Oh, yes.  There's an outdoor market on our side street (and up the next one) every day but Sunday--cheap clothes, kitchen items, and food: shelled peas and fava beans, trimmed artichokes, you name it.  In 5 minutes, we had bought those ingredients for vignarola - all ready to cook up.

Eating out?  There must be a dozen restaurants within a 10-minute walk--maybe more.  On our block alone there are three, all traditional trattorias serving Rome cuisine; we've tried two and they were both worthy, highlighted by a pasta with seafood and truffles.

Kilo, red meat capital of Rome.  Dianne on the prowl.  
Toward Via Po, we discovered Kilo, an enormous corner restaurant with elaborate outdoor seating--all in hip modernist style--serving meat cuts from animals raised around the world - Danish and Uruguayan beef, not to mention Chianina (from Tuscany), Kobe and "American" meats.  It's full of young people, which we like.  A wine bar called "dietro le quinte" also looks promising.  And there are a couple of popular places for the sushi crowd.

Hip outside cushion seating at "dietro le quinte"

After checking out a dozen "bars" for our morning coffee and cornetto, we finally settled on a somewhat upscale place on Via Po--where you can sit down and read the paper without paying extra. Indeed, the trend here in Salario--and Salario could be trend-setting--is toward larger places with ample seating at no extra charge. Dogs get in free.

An entrance to Coppede'
It would be too much to say that Salario is centrally located. It's well to the north of the Centro, with no subway line nearby.  Still, the famed Via Veneto is less than a mile walk, and the Galleria Borghese is at most 10 minutes.  The fantastical neighborhood of Coppede', named after the architect Gino Coppede', who designed its structures in the 1920s, is 5 minutes away.

A tram got us to Prati (near the Vatican) in about 30 minutes for some jazz at Alexanderplatz  the other night, and in the other direction (east), a tram will take you to the university, to the hip young scene at San Lorenzo, and just beyond to Porta Maggiore, with its enormous aqueducts, a short walk from another hip scene in Pigneto.

Life could be worse!


Could have been and would have been our
regular coffee bar, but they overcharged us--twice--because they
thought the Americans wouldn't be back or wouldn't notice.  Big mistake.
It's on Via Salaria if you don't want to go there.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pasquetta: in Villa Borghese:

Unlike most Americans, who go back to work on the Monday after Easter, Italians celebrate Pasquetta, or "Little Easter."  There's more eating to be done, of course, and most of the museums are open, which is unusual for a Monday.

But for Romans, anyway, the great pleasure of Pasquetta is spending the day at one of the city's enormous parks.  Most of the parks--Villa Ada, Villa Pamphili, Villa Borghese--were once owned by very wealthy families,usually families lucky enough to have royalty or a Pope  or two in their genealogy.  That all ended after 1871, when Italy became a nation and began to expropriate lands and buildings that had once belonged to the Catholic Church (in the case of Villa Ada's case, the land was purchased in 1872 by the Savoia family for their Royal residence in Rome).  One by one, the parks became public property, available for everyone to enjoy.

And enjoy them they do, especially on Pasquetta, as we discovered this past Monday on a walk through Villa Borghese, the massive and complex green space that lies north of Piazza di Spagna and
and northwest of Piazza del Popolo.

Very unusual--a table
The park has no picnic tables--at least we didn't see any--but Romans love to sit on the grass, with or without a blanket, and even if the grass has gone to high weeds, as it had in some areas of the park.

One family (out of hundreds) had brought a folding table on which to put food and drink, but by and large the eating had been done earlier.

Playing on the statue, or kicking a ball against it
Granddads and Dads (and now and then Moms) were everywhere kicking a ball with a kid or kids.

Three young men were throwing a regulation-size American football (though only one had any real sense of how to do it, and one of them gave up after a few wobbly throws and a dropped pass and retreated to a fountain bench to finish a beer--you can buy beer in the park, in glass bottles no less).

There was some tanning going on.  The Italians were/are late to quit smoking, and now, it seems, they're late to the recognition of skin cancer.

Bicycling was popular on the broad avenues that run through Villa Borghese.  You can rent a single bike or, for a healthy sum, a covered vehicle that can be pedaled by two or four.  Pedestrians watch out!

Line for the bathroom

Our goal was to see exhibits at two museums in the Villa, both of them free: the Carlo Bilotti Museum, named for the wealthy American who financed most of it, and the Museo Pietro Canonica Museum, home and working space to the sculptor (1869-1959) by that name.
Neither was crowded, and the long line at the Carlo Bilotti was for the restroom.
Notwithstanding beer sales, the police had little to do. 
We had a grand time watching the Romans have a grand time, en masse on Pasquetta.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Casa delle Armi: a little-known gem of the Foro Italico

One of the most striking and elegant buildings that make up the Fascist-era complex known as the Foro Italico (Italian Forum--once the Foro Mussolini), is also one of the least well known.  That's especially odd, given that the architect, Luigi Moretti, is a legend of Italian modernism.  The building's location accounts for at least some of the discrepancy.  The most common entrance to the Foro Italico is far to the north, opposite the Ponte Duca d'Aosta, while Moretti's building flanks a less-used entrance, at the far southern end of the complex, opposite the recently constructed Ponte della Musica.

We "discovered" the building last year, while living so close to the Ponte della Musica that we could see the Moretti building from our 6th-floor terrace. With hundreds of others who were headed for a tennis match, we turned into viale delle Olimpiadi--and there it was.

The larger concept.  The Casa delle Armi is at left. 

Just built, 1935.  The center section, now open only on the 2nd floor, may have originally been open on the ground floor, too.
As a fencing academy, 1930s.
Moretti designed the structure in 1934, and it was finished the following year, clad in white Carrara marble.  It was originally conceived as an experimental Casa Balilla, a Fascist youth organization.  When completed, it was assigned to the sport of fencing and took on the name Casa delle Armi (literally house of arms), then the Accademia della Scherma (academy of fencing). Abandoned after the fall of Fascism in 1943, it apparently was unoccupied until the early 1980s, when it was used as an anti-terrorism "bunker" in the Anni di Piombo, housing both a courtroom and a prison for convicted followers of the Red Brigades. Today, having shed most of its Fascist reputation, it is used by CONI, the Italian National Olympic Committee.  When we were there, CONI was advertising on the facade of the building that the city was competing for the 2024 Olympics; the current mayor, Virginia Raggi, cancelled that bid.

Seen from viale delle Olimpiadi, Moretti's sleek high-modernism is set against the backdrop of wild, wooded Monte Mario.  This side of the building appears to be in reasonably good repair, including
the mosaics at the near end of the long pool.  The mosaics evoke Fascism's interest in the body and the Mussolini regime's effort to link its ideology to the glorious Roman past (let's "make Italy great again"!).

At the far end, the original design featured a space open at the top--presumably to allow more visual access to Monte Mario--and that space remains open. The space directly below the opening has been

Sten and Lex design, c. 2010. 

given over to the well-known pair of Rome graffiti artists Sten and Lex, who have fashioned a black and white geometric pattern that detracts as little as possible from the building's overall look. From the street behind, the building shows considerable deterioration, especially a rounded section on its southern end.
Great potential, poor maintenance. 

Current location of the statue.

A 1930s-era statue, once situated on viale delle Olimpiadi, now resides forlornly at the corner of the back of the building--next to a recently constructed handicap ramp--where it has no obvious function.

Former location of the statue.
We haven't been inside, and today's interior, having been given over to a bureaucracy, may not resemble the one Moretti designed.  Period photos reveal Moretti's command of the modernist pallette, in all its grace and simplicity.  The stairway below is perhaps not the equivalent of the one he created for the Casa del GIL downriver, but it is lovely, nonetheless.

Another elegant Moretti staircase, right. 


Thursday, April 6, 2017

La Follia di Giovanni (the Folly of Giovanni): A Tuscolano Story

We were walking around the back of the Basilica di San Giovanni Bosco, the enormous mid-century modernist cathedral in the quartiere of Tuscolano, when we saw it: a "container"--likely a simple shipping container--in a small park (Piazza Quinto Curzio) behind the basilica.  The sides were painted--on one side a portrait, on another vivid lettering of the standard graffiti kind.  And the words "La Follia di Giovanni" (the folly, the madness, of Giovanni).
The container in 2016.  Compare with the 2014 photo at the bottom of this post. 
For a few afternoons and evenings each week, the container is occupied by Antonio Calabrò, a physician who works a regular job at hospital Fatebenefratelli, on the
"One fights the abundance of misery by sharing"  

island in the Tevere.  On those days, the shipping container functions as an ambulatory care center for those who might find it difficult to access standard facilities: rom, the homeless, the elderly, and

The doctor at work.  Photo Daniele Malajoli.  
"clandestini" (undocumented noncitizens eager to keep knowledge of their activities from the government).

Dr. Calabrò and his equipment.  Photo Daniele Malajoli.  
Dr. Calabrò chose the name: "follia" to represent the sheer craziness of the undertaking; "Giovanni" for a variety of associations it had for him, bringing to mind the Vatican Council of Pope Giovanni XXIII; Saint Francis, who was called Giovanni; San Giovanni Bosco, the patron saint of the church next door, and a formative influence for Calabrò in his youth; and San Giovanni di Dio, founder of Fatebenefratelli.

Between its founding in 2006 and 2012, the center had 800 medical visits.  Photographer Daniele Malajoli brought the facility considerable attention with a photo exhibit on "La Follia di Giovanni," prepared for the Rome International Festival of Photography and on display in November 2014 at the Centro Culturali Gabriellae Ferri.


As the container looked in 2014: "Ambulatorio Medico."  That's the doctor at his desk.  Photo Daniele Malajoli.