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, June 30, 2017

Derek Bruno's "Primary": the Destruction of a work of Wall Art, Ostiense

We're not alone in our interest in the wall art of Ostiense, a gentrifying industrial district on the south end of the city center.  For several weeks we've been walking the area, admiring the creativity and skill of artists from around the world.

For the most part, graffiti writers (some skilled, but working in a different vein from wall artists) and taggers (mostly just scribbling) have respected the larger works, leaving them untouched--or mostly so. 

That's not the case with the geometric piece by Derek Bruno, below, a truncated version of the work of art we found here in Ostiense.  The excellent app StreetArtRoma (links below) describes Bruno as a participant in the international Graffuturism movement, whose members are interested in Futurism's venture into velocity and movement.  "In Rome," writes StreetArtRoma, "the artist painted a white line that represents the measure of reality, crossed by three squares in perspective, symbols of imagination."  Sadly, the work known as Primary has been overwritten and severely damaged by an inferior talent, to the point where it has been virtually obliterated.

It so happens that we lived above Bruno's Primary, which is located in Piazza del Gazometro.  We could see what's left of it--a yellow triangle--from our 9th-floor balcony.  Here's what it looked like, from our balcony. 

And what it looked like close up, thanks to a talentless graffiti "artist" named Guzo. 

Vergogna.  A shame.

StreetArtRoma has a Web site and Facebook page, but the streetartroma app is the best, by far.  Here's the link to the Android App.  There's an Apple one as well.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Ostiense View, to the south of Rome

We've been living in Ostiense, not far from the Pyramid, on the 9th floor.  Although the view from our balcony is to the south--and hence does not encompass the Centro Storico--it is in its own way, we think, not only fascinating but spectacular.  We offer it here in a 30-second sweep (wobbly, yes--we don't take many videos).  Below the video, for connoisseurs, is a left-to-right description of what you're seeing (also available on YouTube at

9:30  In the distance, the Alban Hills (Colli Albani), and closer in, the beginning of the neighborhood            of Garbatella
10:00   The peak at right is Monte Cavo and beneath it and just to the left, the city of Rocca di Papa
10:30   The tall building with lettering is the headquarters of the Lazio Region, of which Rome is a                  part.  Just to its right,  the cupola of San Francesco Saverio, in Garbatella.  This was the first                parish visited by John Paul II after he became Pope.  
11:00  A Calatrava-style bridge, the Settimia Spizzichino bridge, named after a Jewish woman who               was deported to the concentration camps in October, 1943--and somehow survived, the only               Rome woman to do so.  The structure bridges the Metro "B" line and the Lido train and              connects Garbatella with the Ostiense quartiere.  
           To the right of the bridge, wall art by Clemens Behr (he also has a piece in Tor Marancia - for a fuller description, see the app, streetartroma).
11:30   Cupola of Santa Maria Regina dei Apostoli da Montagnola, c. 1950
9:30-1:00, forefront: the remains of the Mercati Generali (General Markets) of Rome, constructed c.                 1913, abandoned 2002.  Now supposedly being reconstructed, but we've seen no workers there, despite the presence of a crane.  
12:30  The slim campanile of the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura (Saint Paul outside the wall).                The church burned down and was rebuilt--sumptuously--c. 1850
1:00  The squarish building in the distance is the Colosseo Quadrato (square coliseum), formally                   known as the Palazzo della Civilta' Italiana, c. 1940, located at EUR as part of what was                       supposed to be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Fascist March on Rome (the war                             intervened).  
          To its left, also at EUR, and only partially visible, the tower known as Il Fungo (the                             mushroom)--something like Seattle's Space Needle.  
          To its right, also at EUR, the church of Saints Peter and Paul
2:00   Across the broad via Ostiense, an old industrial area, now in part vacant, rapidly being                          transformed into housing and museums.  And beyond Ostiense, and across the nearby
           Tiber River, the Marconi quartiere
2:30    Round metal structures known as the gazometri (gas meters).  These structures once held                    expandable gas liners.  They're considered icons of Rome's industrial-era skyline.   

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Open at 5:30 a.m., close at 9 p.m., no vacations: the life of a newsstand owner in Rome

Open at 5:30 a.m., close at 9 p.m., take 4 days off a year.  That's the life of our local Italian newsstand owners.  Perhaps understandably, their children don't want to inherit the business. 

Sonia and Alessandro  - a lot of togetherness.
We've been buying our daily paper the last few weeks--since we moved into the Ostiense neighborhood--at this (photo above), our closest "edicola" or newsstand.  Because we never saw anyone except the same man and woman in the small stand--which seemed open every minute we walked by it, and because the two of them seem to have an amiable relationship in a very small space, we asked one day about their working relationship.  

Alessandro's father is in the stand, in this photo
from the 1950s, before the stand was moved
to the other side of the railway overpass.

Alessandro and Sonia, both good-natured and seemingly happy, explained they've been married for almost 35 years, and they own and run, without help from anyone else, this classic Italian "edicola."  

Now on the other side of the overpass.

In fact, the stand has been in Alessandro's family since 1929, when his grandfather started with a smaller stand on via Ostiense, just on the other side of the railroad overpass that is one of the markers of this neighborhood.  His father continued the business and moved it to the location it's in now, after the war damaged some of the infrastructure around it and the bridge was widened to handle more traffic.  

One can barely see Sonia and Alessandro; the edicola is crowded with
items to sell - from toys to tomes.
We asked Alessandro when he started working in this family business.  "Sempre" [always], he said; essentially, as we would say, "forever."  We asked the couple when they eat lunch or dinner. Dinner, they said, is usually at 10 or 10:30 p.m.  Alessandro ticked off the days they were closed:  Christmas, "Santo Stefano"  (the day after Christmas), New Year's Day, and Easter.  That's it.  It gives new meaning to 24/7. 

The newspaper business, said Alessandro, is "in crisi" (in crisis), and so is the newspaper stand business, it appears.  A stand even closer to us remains shuttered with a "vendesi" and "affitasi" (for sale or for rent) sign on it. And one reason the couple never has anyone else help them is, as Alessandro said, because they don't have the "soldi" (money) to pay anyone else.
Nearby stand with "for sale/for rent" sign.

Alessandro is constantly rearranging the
merchandise - to sell more.
Looking at the stand, it is, as most of them, very "vistoso" (showy, colorful), because in addition to selling print media--magazines, newspapers, books--they sell lots of toys, as well as CDs, DVDs, maps, wrapping paper, some arts and crafts, lottery tickets, used books and vintage comic books.  We have seen Alessandro constantly arranging and rearranging the enormous display that surrounds the edicola, inside and out.  The "gadgets," as Alessandro referred to them, are promoted by the publishers to help the newsstand--and the publishers--survive.

Also critical to the stand's economic well-being are its regular customers, Alessandro said.  The neighborhood has changed dramatically since the huge central fruit and vegetable market (I mercati generali) closed in 2002, after more than 80 years of operation.  Now instead of the "piu' sano lavoratori" (more sane, normal laborers), said Alessandro, there are people coming to the neighborhood in the evening to eat at the many new upscale restaurants and, he said, get drunk. This isn't the clientele that will buy his products.  

In many ways the edicola is another example of the changing demographics of Rome neighborhoods and the demise of the Italian small business owner and, yes, the artisan, a demise often lamented in the newspapers Alessandro and Sonia sell.  

Alessandro, laughing, described himself as the last man standing.  And what will happen when he retires?  Their four adult children all have college degrees, of which they are rightly proud, and they will not take over the business.  He and Sonia hope to sell the stand - that's their retirement.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

There's a new Sheriff in town, and he's on the Spanish Steps

One of Rome's characteristics is the sense of freedom one feels on its streets.  Not much is regulated, or if regulated, not enforced.  Motorists sometimes drive the wrong way down a one-way street. With the possible exception of the Historic Center, parking is a free-for-all, with cars frequently sitting astride pedestrian paths, motor scooters--and cars, too--on the sidewalk. Unlike Seattle, nobody gets ticketed or warned for jaywalking.  The streets are famously strewn with trash, some of it thrown there, with intent.  Restaurants and pizzerias are notorious for taking up all of the sidewalk (and part of the street) with tables, often in violation of the permit they acquired from the city government, and it's not uncommon for residents to build illegal (abusivi) rooms on the roofs of buildings (occasionally, but only occasionally, someone gets caught).  African immigrants sell knock-off goods in places where they have no permits to operate--and must be ready to wrap everything up in a hurry if the police decide to act.  Late night/early morning, noisy public partying--known as the "movida"--takes place in a variety of locations around the city, from Ponte Milvio to Ostiense.  At the beaches in Ostia, a new regulation prohibiting eating in rented "cabins" is flaunted--and not a single fine (multa) is levied.
And so it's unusual when the police take enforcement seriously, and it's especially unusual when the enforcement takes place in a space known, by Romans and tourists, for romance, relaxation, and recuperation. We're talking about the Spanish Steps.

It started, it seems, when tourists couldn't resist sticking a foot in La Fontana Barcaccia---the historic fountain at the foot of the Steps---or, in at least one case last year, taking a chunk out of the fountain with a hammer and screwdriver.

That's intolerable, to be sure.  But the policing of the Steps we noticed recently was only marginally related to the fountain.  The police officer we observed, moving among the hundreds of people on the Steps, was perhaps engaged in a form of  "broken windows" policing, a method based on the idea that preventing minor "crimes" (window-breaking) would send signals that would in turn reduce major crimes (theft, robbery, assault).  The overall goal seems to be the maintenance of "decorum." According to new regulations, among the breaches of decorum will be sitting on the edge of an important fountain, like the one beneath the Steps (possible fine: 160 Euro).  Fine for taking a dip: 450 Euro.

In the few minutes we observed, our Steps policeman:
a) scolded a couple for eating a sandwich while seated on the stairs
b) told a woman who had taken off her shoes to put them back on--all with a finger-wag.

So, if you're thinking of spending some time at the Spanish Steps, don't go into the fountain, don't sit on the edge of the fountain, don't eat on the stairs, and keep your shoes on!