Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"Liberation Day" 2019 :The Left turns out (there are not "nice people" on both sides) and parties.

"Liberation...April 25...Pigneto Neighborhood Party"

Bear with me; I'll get to the party after "due parole" ("2 words" - I'm being a bit ironic, because in Italian for us that usually means the speaker is about to launch into a long discourse).  Let me first set the stage a bit.

For non-Italians and others who many not recall, April 25 is Liberation Day in Rome, a date - in 1945 -  selected by the state to celebrate the liberation of Italy from the Germans.  Rome was liberated earlier, June 4, 1944, as the Allies moved up from the South, driving the Germans north.

"In the social fight, LIBERATION!" (One can see why Salvini might not have liked this.)
As Bill pithily and eloquently explained in a 2009 post, it's also a contested day, because the right-wing doesn't want to celebrate a day which communists, the Jewish community, and heirs of partisans see as theirs. Not much has changed in 10 years.

That contestation continued this year, when the Deputy PM and leader of the right-wing, anti-immigrant party the Lega, Matteo Salvini, declared he would not show up at any Liberation Day events, because, as he said, "On April 25 there will be parades, partisans, anti-partisans, fascists, communists, reds, blacks, and greens, blues, yellows, reds. We are in 2019, I am not interested in the fascist-communist derby...." (He chose instead to go to Corleone, a Mafia-infested town in Sicily to show (off) that his government was combating the Mafia.) 

Comparing the liberation of Italy from the Nazis to a soccer game -  a "derby" is a soccer tournament that pits the two biggest rivals against each other - is trivializing it, to say the least. Very clear echoes of "there are fine people on both sides."  (For a discussion of the right-wing brazenness and the dangers of indifference, see Roger Cohen's op ed in the NYT.)
A very short 2 blocks from our door we found, instead of the usual sleepy
enoteca (think 'wine bar') with 1 or 2 customers, this crowd, live music,
lots of emptied wine and beer bottles.

This year the turnout on the left seemed especially high, and, the Jews and the partisan organization (ANPI - Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia) marched together.  They had not in the recent past because (as I recall) of ANPI's support for Palestine.
(For more on Liberation Day, see Frederika Randall's excellent post on the partisan anthem, "Bella Ciao.")

 Almost all our friends in Rome participated in the day in some way.  One took his granddaughter to lay flowers at the Fosse Ardeatine, the caves where more than 300 Italian men were summarily executed by the Nazis in retaliation for a partisan bombing that killed 33 German soldiers in March 1944. (Here is a post on the Fosse Ardeatine, which is also in an itinerary in our book.)
"The future is now; it's time to act" (and something about "big projects
for the environment") - slogan and picnic.

Leave it to the Left to be intensely political and also to enjoy themselves.  The neighborhood we chose to live in this year is without doubt a leftist one. Bill is collecting slogans and posters and will post them at some point.  I've included a few here that were put up for the street celebration.

Posters advertising the party; graffiti protesting gentrification.
The red flag in the distance is an ANPI flag.
A prize ceremony, showing the ethnically-mixed neighborhood. Not sure
what the prizes were for. The "prize" was a red ANPI neck scarf.
Basically our 2019 Liberation Day story is that we decided to walk out our door the evening of April 25 and within 2 blocks were in the midst of an enormous street party.  Pigneto was celebrating Liberation Day as perhaps only Pigneto - a mixed social class and ethnic neighborhood with leftist roots going back to Pasolini - can.  The photos and captions above and below illustrate the day.


Bars popped up where none had been before. Musicians too.
Those open store fronts to the right are bars without any signage that
haven't been open before while we've been here, and may not be again.
One wonders if they are licensed, legal, etc. But, hey, it's Pigneto!

Again, a street near us, usually quiet, now spilling over with customers,
and, yes, it's a car-driving street.

There were games - foosball, ping pong - babies, dogs,  you name it.

Basically a message to the governments of Rome and Lazio (the province in which Rome sits):
"Over our territory, we will decide!"

A good time was had by all.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Badanti: Caring for the Elderly in Rome

A common sight in Rome neighborhoods is an elderly man or woman walking arm-in-arm, or next to, a younger person.  Often that younger person is a son or daughter, but just as often it's a paid caretaker--in Italian, a badante--from the verb badare: to mind, to pay attention to, to take care of. Bada! (take care!).  Most badanti are immigrants, especially Filipinos (described by a friend as the "Cadillac" of badanti) and, increasingly, Romanians, who now can travel freely within the European Union.  Unlike in the U.S., where older people who live alone--even with a caretaker--can be quite isolated, in Rome badanti help the elderly get out on the street and engage socially, if only for an hour or so in the morning and/or afternoon.

Monteverde Vecchio (and those above)

Balsamo Crivelli

via Prenestina


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Raffaele de Vico: Everywhere, but Hardly a Household Name

A dapper de Vico, appropriately in the bushes
If you're headed to Rome and been brushing up on your Rick Steves, you'll have read about Michelangelo, Borromini, Caravaggio, Piranesi, Bernini and a dozen other luminaries of Rome's art and architectural past. Maybe even Marcello Piacentini, who was the creative force behind EUR on the city's outskirts, or Luigi Moretti, who designed several of Rome's best modernist buildings.

A name you won't find in the index to your Blue Guide is Raffaele de Vico, though in your week or two in Rome you'll probably experience more of his work than that of any of his much more famous counterparts. Before Palazzo Braschi gave de Vico his own show in the spring of 2018, we had never heard of him.  And now, for us, he's everywhere.

Raffaele de Vico (1881-1969), an architect, designed a few buildings and other structures in Rome, but none are notable--indeed, none are "tourist attractions."  One that we've always liked--we've been by it hundreds of times and wondered what it housed--is a serbatoio (literally a tank--a building housing a waterworks) --in via Eleniana, a few steps from Porta Maggiore.  It was completed in 1934.

Another, in the famous Verano Cemetery, is an impressive memorial to those who died in the Great War.  We've been in the cemetery more than once, but because it's so large--or because the architect in this case is not so well known--never had it pointed out.

Great War monument, Verano Cemetery

Monument to the regions of Italy, never built.

De Vico also designed (1944) a spectacular monument to the regions of Italy, which--had it been constructed (if it could have been constructed)--would have
been off-the-charts cool.

There's a hint of de Vico's future importance early on, when as a youth he became interested in plants.  Yes, plants.  At the Academia di Belle Art di Roma, he studied classical plants with Giacomo Boni while pursuing a degree in architecture. For a while he worked with many other professionals on the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, making important friends and contacts, including sculptor Adolfo Cozza.  In about 1913 he was appointed professor of architecture at the Liceo artistico di Roma, while exploring "green" (plant-related) projects.

Impressive neo-classical serbatoio, Villa Borghese

After serving four years in a non-combat role in World War I, in 1920 de Vico took up residence in a house in Villa Borghese, where he lived the rest of his life. The Villa is the site of another of his few buildings--a second serbatoio, and an impressive one.

De Vico completed his degree in architecture in 1923, then (1924) took a position as a consultant to the city's garden services agency. Marcello Piacentini nominated him to be general advisor for the EUR gardens, and he was appointed in 1940. He served as head of EUR garden services from 1955 to 1961. In 1950, he and others founded the Italian Association of Landscape Architects.

And that's why you'll see so much of de Vico as you tour the city.  As a landscape architect (and perhaps to a lesser extent, as an architect), he had a hand in designing and planting dozens of Rome's piazzas, boulevards, and parks, as well as some of its hills and "mountains." He landscaped Parco Savello (better known as Garden of the Oranges) on the Aventino (1931). He was involved in the restoration of Villa Sciarra (1930). He worked on Piazza Bologna and Piazza Verbano (1930), on the Piazza Sempione gardens in Monte Sacro (1926), on Piazza Monte Grappa (in della Vittoria, 1930), and the still-lovely Parco Virgiliano (in the Trieste quartiere).

Parco Virgiliano
He drew up some elaborate plans for Monte Mario (1951), though most of his ideas were never realized:

He is also credited with designing Testaccio Park, though, having been up Monte Testaccio, it's hard to see that any of his contributions remain.

Carlo Montani painting of Testaccio Park, 1935
Several of de Vico's "creations" are specially notable.  One is his contribution to Colle Oppio, the hilly area just across from the Coliseum. If you're near the Coliseum it's worth trekking the few paces up the hill--and especially so these days, when volunteers have been cleaning things up.

Montani, Colle Oppio, looking toward the Coliseum
The fountain in Parco Cestio (below)--part of the Colle Oppio--is attractively designed and remains a favorite spot for sitting and relaxing:

View of the Coliseum, fountain in foreground
Here's de Vico, photographed while supervising the the installation of the fountain (1939): 

Then there is the landscaping along viale Carlo Felice, which runs east from the basilica

Viale Carlo Felice (right) and adjacent park, 
of San Giovanni in Laterano. Today it's a favorite place for itinerant merchants to lay out their

The charm of Piazza dell'Indipendenza (charming despite a taxi lane running through its center, replacing the trolleys of yesteryear) is indebted to de Vico's skills. It's close to the Termini station. There's a nice cafe in center of the piazza, which somehow seems immune to the traffic.

Piazza dell'Indipendenza, then with trams

De Vico also did significant "green" work on Villa Glori, on the city's north side, including the viale dei Settanta, in the Parco della Rimembranza (1924) and a reconstructed portal of Villa Capponi on via Flaminia at the entrance to the viale dei Settanta.

Villa Glori, viale dei Settanta, as it looked in 1924
One of de Vico's greatest achievements is the design and landscaping of Piazza Mazzini, and the intersecting Viale Mazzini, both completed in 1926. The sculptures that grace the marvelous fountain in the piazza were done by someone else. The fasci--the symbol of Mussolini's Fascist regime--remain.

Piazza Mazzini, 1926 and, above, painting by Moldani, 1935

Lots of de Vico to see in Rome--if you know what you're looking for, and at.


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Shopping again in Rome - a feast for the eyes

Part of the sweets counter at our favorite coffee bar/pasticceria (pastry shop) off Piazza Mazzini.
Do you believe all those jells and marzipan, not to mention the mini cakes?

My number came up at "Piccolo Forno" (which means "small oven" or
in essence a baked goods shop).
Back to shopping.  This time not signs, but sights - some of the ones that make us drool, make us buy, make us look, make us crazy.

In addition to the delectable-looking sweets above, we enjoyed scanning the many breads and other foods in this not-so-small Piccolo Forno (photo left), which had just about any kind of prepared food (stuffed tomatoes? pasta? salami?), along with breads and rolls. It attracted a crowd, as you can see.  We had to figure out how to take a number and wait our turn (not the easiest thing to do among Italians). Only about 1/3 of the counter space is shown in this photo.  The forno was in a large indoor public market.

Hoverboard shopper checking out at our local
(when we lived in the Salaria neighborhood)
small-sized Carrefour market. Notable and
customary - the cashier sits rather than stands;
you bag your own groceries; you pay for the bag
 (as now in New York and Los Angeles).
Re the customer - he's on a board that lights up.
Besides vistas of incredibly tasting looking offerings, there are strange sights, like the shopper at left on a "hoverboard."  In trying to figure out if this was even legal in Rome (it shouldn't be; we pedestrians need to survive), I learned that, although the vendors have gone out of business where we live in Los Angeles, the state of California allows these devices. And in London apparently one can buy them, but they are banned under the 1835 Highways Act, which states people cannot use the footway (sidewalk? marciapiedi?) to “lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description” which list apparently includes hoverboards.

One of the crowded aisles in a "casalinghi"

We typically spread our food shopping among large (not in the US sense) markets, small markets, chains, family-run places, and mini markets (the last about which we've written before - many run by Egyptians and Bangladeshi). One of our go-to places for non-food items is the "casalinghi" or "housewares" store. In Rome, these are almost all run by Chinese immigrants, and carry very inexpensive (as well as pretty flimsy) goods of all types - think Dollar Stores (photo right).  The aisles are always crammed and narrow, and often you have to ask one of the store employees (who speak varying levels of Italian) where something is.  And someone in the store can find in a nook or cranny somewhere that child's potty chair, those hangers, or that candle. Bill and I still recall being in a casalinghi and asking for candles. The woman at the register yelled at the top of her lungs "candele!, candele!", and out popped another employee leading us to the candles "section" of the store.

And, finally (for this shopping installment), below is a sight from the Centro - the center of old Rome where there are still artisan shops. Here the proprietor is advertising and showing off his or her goods by hanging them outside, in front of the store, on an "Ape" truck (we've written about the "ape" - or "bee" truck previously - it sounds like a bee with its tiny motor and 3 wheels).

You might also note here the bicycle tucked into a parking space behind a scooter, and the Ape tucked into a space supposedly limited to scooter parking, taking up an area that would hold 4-6 scooters (when you drive a scooter
- and have to park it - you notice these things).


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Monte Sacro's ex-GIL

Monte Sacro's ex-GIL, 1935
If you've been a regular follower of the Rome the Second Time blog, or read the book, you might know what an ex-GIL is.  We've written more than 20 times about the most famous one in Rome (below), recently restored, that sits in Trastevere, not far from the river, next to Nanni Moretti's Nuovo Sacher cinema. (It's #10 on RST's Top 40, and the staircase is prominent on the post.)

Luigi Moretti's ex-GIL, as it was in the 1930s
Here's a reminder: the "ex" stands for "former," and GIL for Gioventu' Italiana del Littorio (Italian Youth of the Lictor [the lictors were bodyguards for Roman magistrates], founded 1937)--essentially a center for indoctrination of young people under the auspices of the Fascist Party.  It replaced a similar organization, the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB).  The ex-GIL in Trastevere is a lovely piece of rationalist architecture by famed modernist Luigi Moretti (in the U.S., he's best known for the Watergate complex), and is well worth visiting, if only for a look at the exterior.  The circular staircase, back left of the building, is superb--and usually accessible.

Now that we have that out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.  It turns out there's another ex-GIL, further from the center.  The address is viale Adriatico 140, in the community of Monte Sacro, on the northern edge of the central city, up via Nomentana.  The exterior of the Monte Sacro ex-GIL (sometimes referred to as the Casa di Montesacro) isn't as dramatic as the one in Trastevere, but it's still compelling, its facade covered in thin (2 cm) Carrara marble.  And the scope of the facility goes beyond its Trastevere equivalent; the complex once included sports fields, gardens, a girls' school offering courses in domestic economics, a theater (since demolished), an "ambulatorio" and a "refettorio," an institute for GIL instructors, as well as Italy's largest gymnasium and swimming pools, one inside (coperta), the other outside (scoperta--uncovered).

So it was a big deal when it was opened in 1937, and it's still quite something.

The Casa di Monte Sacro was designed by Gaetano Minnucci (1896-1980), a graduate both in engineering (1920) and architecture (1930). Minnucci spent some time in Holland and brought some of that sensibility to Rome, where he applied it to the design of a building at via Carini, 28, below.

Minnucci's first project, via Carini, 28

He also was the lead architect on the Palazzo degli Uffici (1939), the first building to be finished in the EUR complex, south of the city (below).

His other works include the Policlinico Agostino Gemelli in Trionfale (Rome) and the central hydroelectric building in Castel Giubileo (Rome), both below.

With the fall of Fascism in 1943, the institute for GIL instructors was suspended and later closed.  Until the mid-1960s the GIL building was used primarily as a youth hostel.  During those years, the complex suffered from lack of maintenance and gradually deteriorated.  The theater was demolished to make way for a post office (altering parts of the facade), some offices for the local government (the commune) and a school.  Unused, the swimming pools fell into disrepair.  In 2013, the regional government (Lazio) provided some funding for restoration and brought the facility much needed public attention.

Still, much remains to be done, as we saw the day we visited, on a tour that was part of the two-day spring event, Open House Roma.

The large gymnasium, recently restored, was impressive; boys were playing basketball.

Outside, the entrance to the gymnasium:

Today, the covered pool is a disaster, a favorite of graffiti artists:

Out in back, one could see the damage wrought by time.  Here's what part of the back facade looked like in 1937:

And here it is today, the victim of a poor addition, and disrepair:

And then there's the outdoor pool, once a handsome affair with a high board, all with a modernist look and the Fascist slogan "Credere/Obbedire/Combattere" (believe/obey/fight) on the far wall:

And the pool complex today:

Because the building is in use as a Montessori school and post office, and for some local government offices, it's possible that one could just walk in and have a look around, or ask someone to show you the pool areas and the gymnasium.

But even if you can't get inside or out back, the exterior is an excellent example of Fascist rationalist architecture.

Moreover, the surrounding area is interesting and devoid of tourists.  Finally, there's a convivial bar/cafe' next door: coffee at neighborhood prices, and tables at no charge.  You could do worse.