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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Piero Bruno: Political Soul of Garbatella

"A Piero Bruno...Chi Sogna Non Muore"  (To Piero Bruno...those who dream, never die)

A stroll through Garbatella--a neighborhood south of central Rome, built as public housing in the 1920s and 1930s, and then as now strongly identified with the political left--will inevitably introduce
one to the name and face of Piero Bruno.  In a sense, Bruno represents Garbatella's radical, militant, in-your-face history and image. Knowing something of Bruno's past, you'll understand better what Garbatella is about, and better appreciate the political fissures--rooted in World War II and the postwar era--that continue to divide Romans and Italians.

Marchers from the Armellino Technical Institute
Piero was born on 8 December, 1957.  He lived with his parents and two sisters in Garbatella and attended the Armellino Technical Institute in the next suburb to the south, San Paolo.

The 1970s was an intense political era in Italy--not unlike the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States.  Piero was involved with the Lotta Continua ("the struggle continues"), a far-left organization founded in 1969 as a spin-off of the student/worker movement in Turin.  Lotta Continua encouraged radicalism and militancy and had a hand in setting up social centers in Italian cities.

Possibly a photo of the demonstration in which Bruno was shot.
On November 22, 1975, Piero participated in a large march/demonstration--some 2,000 people--in support of the Republic of Angola's struggle for independence from the colonial power, Portugal.  As the marchers passed the intersection of via Muratori and largo Mecenate--near the gate of the Zaire embassy--violence broke out (that's vague, yes).  Piero was shot twice--apparently in the shoulder and the back--one shot fired by a Carabinieri (state police) and the second, while Piero lay on the ground, by a Rome police officer.  He died the next day.  No charges were filed.  The website "Maverick" sees the larger issue as the "violence of power" and blames the Christian Democrats (the party that held power through most of the postwar era), including Giulio Andreotti and Aldo Moro, high-ranking Italian politicians, both prime minister at times, for employing a "strategy of tension."

Ahead, the school named after Bruno.  The artwork has changed
little over the years.

Piero is remembered in Garbatella not only through wall paintings and a plaque--and in marches in his honor--but also through La Scuola Popolare Piero Bruno, an after-school help and social center where university students assist middle-school students with their homework on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Marching to protest Piero Bruno's death.  Judging from the winter clothing, probably fall/winter (1975).
via Passino 20

An element of what may be a Piero Bruno
walking tour in Garbatella
To locate the Piero Bruno images in Garbatella, start from Piazza Pantero Pantera, follow via Luigi Fincati southeast, past the central market and onto via Francesco Passino.  The "Chi Sogna" wall, above, is further ahead in Piazza Damiano Sauli.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rome on Fire

Fires in Rome are relatively rare, or so it seems.  It may just be that, like traffic accidents, fires are numerous but almost always elsewhere, out of one's personal sight.  To our knowledge, there hasn't been a "real" fire in Rome's mountains and rolling hills for decades, even though farmers continue to light small fires to burn trash (or whatever), and it seems logical that the practice would sooner or later produce a conflagration in nearby fields or woods. When I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1950s, it was legal (and widely practiced) to have an open, circular iron contraption to burn stuff at the back of the property.  And sure enough, the adjacent fields caught on fire on a regular basis, blackening an acre or two of open land.

Despite the rarity of Rome fires, we have seen a few over the years.  Nothing major, but interesting nonetheless.  Four years ago, while exploring the somewhat dicey working-class town/suburb of Trullo for the first time, we came across not one but TWO burning trash bins (above and below).  Young punks resisting authority, we supposed.  Not good publicity for Trullo, but since then the town has experienced something of a regeneration through a substantial program of wall art and wall poetry

Then, in the spring of 2017, we happened upon--or in one case, read about--several fires.  In one case, we were on the way to a physician's office in the exclusive quartiere of Coppede'.  There on via Adige was this sad sight.  The owners of the burned automobile at left were there on the sidewalk, grieving and coping, a lot of work ahead of them.  Perhaps more young punk activity; privileged, alienated youth. 

Then, on the return from a hike in the Colli Albani, while passing through Piazza Finocchiaro Aprile, we came upon a more serious blaze along the far side of the railroad track, close to the Tuscolana station.  We parked the scooter and had a look.  This fire was in the papers the next day, but it was apparently put out without consequences.

There were, indeed, consequences to the final fire on our list.  This was a river bank blaze, known by some as the gazometro fire because of its proximity to the iconic Ostiense structure.  We knew this backwater area well, having explored it and observed its inhabitants from afar.  No one was killed, but quite a few "residents" of the river bank--Roma living in huts and tents--were rendered homeless by the blaze. 


Monday, November 13, 2017

How the Elite Played in 1920s Rome: The Cadorin Frescoes on Via Veneto Revisited

The elite of Rome in the mid-1920s, including Mussolini's Jewish mistress, are still on display in a hotel dining room on via Veneto.

The frescoes of Guido Cadorin, a Venetian called to Rome to decorate the large room, have been restored to their original vibrancy and are easy to stop in and see any time--whether or not you are dining or staying in the hotel.  We wrote about these gorgeous paintings 7 years ago, as part of our RST Top 40 (#28).  And, yet, when we went back this year, they were better than ever.  We were fortunate to have the room to ourselves and take good photographs.  (That 2010 post has some additional information not included here.)

The Cadorin Salon/Dining Room - one side.
The style is "Liberty," Italy's version of Art Nouveau merging into Art Deco.  And in the hands of this artist, these beautifully dressed men and women of Fascist Rome come to life.

"Fiammetta and I wanted to pass into immortality in the salon's frescoes," explained the mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, of the painting of her and her daughter.  Although Margherita merited a place on the salon's walls--she was a journalist and art critic--her role as Mussolini's mistress perhaps led to Cadorin portraying her with "denti stretti," as some have said - gritted teeth or a fake smile--and in the background.

Sarfatti and her daughter are the two women in the

Margherita Sarfatti
Other notable figures in the painting include the wife of one of the architects of the hotel, Marcello Piacentini, the most prominent and prolific of Fascist architects, and the painter Felice Carena. The figures on these walls seem oblivious to the Fascist politics from which they were benefiting.  That painted obliviousness had a cost, however.  A few months after the inauguration of the salon paintings, an official statement from the hotel said that there were some who were disturbed by the paintings and that they therefore covered them with draperies; the cover-up lasted until after the end of World War II.  The explanation given now is that the paintings omitted a central figure in Fascism, Mussolini. (There's a different explanation in our 2010 post, also involving Mussolini.)

One can also note some unusual figures in the paintings, including dark-skinned men in exotic costumes and the woman smoking, looking aggressively outward with her cigarette hanging out of her mouth (see Bill's review of "Fumo: Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette.").  The architectonic details in the paintings are by Cadorin's brother-in-law Brenno Dal Giudice.  Between the two painters, the paintings flow around the doorways and windows of the salon (see the bottom photo).

For the first time we were able to find a written explanation of the frescoes, and identification of some of the people.  Ask at the front desk.  They don't have extra copies, and it's in Italian, but it's worthwhile to consult this several page explanation while you look at the paintings.
Smoking woman.

Exotic figure.
We included the Cadorin Salon in our first book, Rome the Second Time, as part of Itinerary 5: The Nazis and Fascists in Central Rome.  The salon is even more accessible now, with the paintings easier to see.  Don't miss this gem at #70 Via Veneto, now the Grand Hotel Palace.

More photos below.


Having the room to ourselves.

Figures painted around the door opening.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lazio/Roma: Anne Frank takes the field at Olympic Stadium

In a recent post about an afternoon spent in Val Melaina and Serpentara, I included the above photograph, of a piece of graffiti by a supporter of the Lazio soccer team linking Roma fans with Jews.  At the time, I thought it was just another example--and a simplistic one at that--of the anti-Semitism that appears regularly on Rome's walls.  I was wrong--wrong to see it as simple.

The posting coincided with a widely-reported story (featured in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and of course in the Italian and European press): During a recent soccer game in Olympic Stadium--where the Roma and Lazio teams play on alternate Sundays--Lazio fans left
postcard-size stickers displaying an iconic image of Anne Frank, but  wearing a Roma jersey (above right).  Like the Serpentara graffiti I published, the idea behind the stickers was to associate the Roma club and its fans with Jews, suggesting a mutual insult.
From there things get more complex.  It seems that the city's Jewish community has historically leaned toward support of the A.S. Roma team.  In fact, as a Roman friend wrote us about the Val Malaina post, "Roman wealthy Jews in 1927 were part of the founders and initial supporters of the new team."  But it is also true that A.S. Roma's fans have at times taken an anti-Semitic stance, writing "Anne Frank roots for Lazio" on city walls, according to the New York Times.  Even so, that's a false equivalency.  In one infamous display at a game against Roma 2001, Lazio fans displayed a banner reading, "Auschwitz is your homeland/The Ovens are Your Homes." 

It didn't take long for soccer officialdom to speak out against the Anne Frank postcards.  The Lazio

club president, Claudio Lotito, laid a wreath of white and blue flowers (the team's colors) at the Rome synagogue on the Tiber (the city's chief Rabbi called it a "publicity stunt"; the wreath was soon seen
floating in the river).  Lazio players (above) showed up for practice wearing shirts with Anne Frank's picture and below, the words "No all' antisemitismo."  New Anna Frank stickers appeared, this time with the words "Siamo Tutti Anna Frank" (we are all Anne Frank). Around the league, team captains held copies of Primo Levi's holocaust memoir while others listened to readings from Frank's diary. 

There are all sorts of conclusions to be drawn.  I have only two thoughts.  First, this won't be the last time that Anne Frank plays a part in a soccer drama.  Second, a simple piece of graffiti may have a complex context.


Links to RST posts dealing with anti-Semitism--in soccer and on the walls of Rome:
WWII writer Czeslaw Milosz.
On the "myth of the good Italian."
Rome walls and neo-Fascist iconography.
Death of Gabriele Sandri, a Lazio fan.