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

Monday, July 29, 2019

Retiring in Rome: a Guide

A very good friend is thinking of retiring, hanging up the spikes.  He's American, but he lives in Rome and has worked in Rome for decades.  He speaks Italian.  So we thought it appropriate to help him imagine what it's like to be a retired older man in Italy's capital--or on the periphery--and to help him prepare for the day when retirement becomes a reality.

The retirement wardrobe deserves attention.  The required piece of clothing is a sleeveless fishing jacket.  All the older men wear them, and not because they go fishing regularly.  No, the fishing jacket is popular because it has so many pockets, apparently for carrying all the objects that retired men carry around, such as house keys and spare change. Ironically, the number of pockets increases as the items to fill them decreases, after retirement.

Regardless of the purpose of the fishing jacket, you'll need one to fit in.

Practice the retired man's walk: slightly bent over, hands behind the back--that's crucial.  Older women don't do the behind-the-back thing, but men do, even though it's not safe (with hands behind the back, it can be hard breaking the inevitable falls).  To compensate for the added danger, walk very slowly, as if deep in thought, contemplating the infinite.

One table for talking, the other (in back of this one) for
playing cards.  

Think about moving to a small town, where older men abound.  You'll spend your mornings at Bar Centrale in the main (or only) piazza, talking with other retirees about Serie A (the premier Italian soccer league), Roma/Lazio, Totti, and all that sport stuff--so read Corriere dello Sport, the sports newspaper, carefully.  The Bar Centrale at left is in Rocca di Papa, below Monte Cavo.

When sitting outside the bar gets boring, you can move into the piazza proper; even that will be crowded with older men.  Lunch you'll have at home, prepared by your wife, followed by a nap and then a return to the piazza around 4 p.m. for more small talk.  Some older men begin drinking in the morning, so

you should consider gearing up for elevated alcohol consumption.  Older men in Italy do not read books--at least not in public--so put the book away and prepare to spend the day chatting, or nodding off.

No matter where you live, but especially in the big city, street life will provide plenty of entertainment.  You'll join other older men enjoying the spectacle of someone moving a piece of furniture up to a 4th floor apartment.

When the city decides to trim the trees on your street, that's a special 2 or 3 days, watching the city workers (and some prisoners who get out of jail to provide labor) trim the trees and cart away the branches.  It's especially exciting when the workers decide that a tree isn't worth saving and cut it down altogether, leaving long stumps.

There's always something going on outside the bar
It's exciting, too, when the "detenuti" (we would say prisoners) 
who are helping with the tree-trimming, come into the bar for coffee
--supervised by armed prison staff, of course

Or you can observe the tree trimming from your balcony (above right)
Of course, you can always walks the dog(s):

Bocce ball remains popular with older men. You don't have to be "in shape" to play.  This club is in Testaccio, near the Pyramid (a bocciofila is a bocce club):

Or, you could rent out your apartment using the Sweet Guest service, and play basketball:

As you get older--and if your wife isn't around to care for you--you'll want to consider hiring a badante (a caregiver).  Your badante will get you dressed, take you out for a walk in the morning and get you to your local bar (the bar's name at right is, in fact "Your Bar").

Most badanti are women, some are men.  Most are recent immigrants, from the Philippines, Romania, and north Africa.  With your badante, you can learn about distant lands and different cultures!

Enjoy retirement!


Friday, July 19, 2019

Sweet Guest: 2019's Ad Campaign of the "Year"

When we're in Rome we read the Rome edition of one of Italy's national newspapers. These days we're reading Il Messaggero, mostly for its local coverage of city issues, from the garbage problem to the closing of Metro stations.  Now and then we are also attracted to an ad campaign.

This year's favorite advertising campaign featured a company known as "Sweet Guest," which apparently has a relationship to the home rental company Airbnb.  Most of the Sweet Guest ads ask, "Do you want to get more from your rented apartment?"  The company offers to help the owner value the property correctly, and it manages the rental, freeing the owner, as the ad says, from all worries.

Our interest in the ads had little to do with the company's purpose or business model, and much to do with the old folks used in the ads--the same man and woman every time--and the way they were presented.  Over two months, we found 4 different ads.  The first one is at the top of the post.  Here  are the others, in chronological order:

The ad directly above makes a somewhat different pitch: "You've hit the ground running, now you can only accelerate."  Beyond the words, our first reaction was that the characters in the ads were simply designed to attract attention, because they're so different--and not just in age--from the younger people that dominate advertising.

On second thought, the ads seemed to be targeted at the older people who, in a rapidly aging Italy, own the majority of Rome apartments.  They suggest--possibly, we're not sure--that if you use Sweet Guest, you'll have time for, and be in a relaxed mood for, leisure pursuits: playing basketball (make sure to wear goggles), serving donuts in your stylish clothes, riding a motorcycle (without helmets), and....well, we're not sure what's going on with the short-sleeved, striped 1980s shirts, white undershirts, and winter hats--maybe just enjoying one's bad taste.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Laurentina 38: a Controversial Public Housing Project

Entrance to Laurentina 38, other side of the circle.  
Laurentina 38 (which begins on via Ignazio Silone, south of EUR, not on via Laurentina), is one of 3 major public housing projects constructed in Rome in the 1970s and 1980s.  The others are Vigne Nuove (to the north of the city) and the monumental Corviale, also on Rome's southern end.

Whatever their deficiencies, they were part of a major governmental effort to provide inexpensive, subsidized housing for the poor.  In the United States, at least--and likely Italy, too--such efforts no longer exist.  In the States, whatever low-income housing is built is constructed by private developers, who agree to allocate a certain number of units to "affordable" housing. 

Designed by architect Pietro Barucci, Laurentina 38 was inspired by the larger projects of Le Corbusier as well as the New English towns.  Design work was done in 1972/73 and construction carried out between 1976 and 1984.  The basic idea was to create a "satellite city" on Rome's periphery. Some say the community--which would house some 32,000 residents--was intended to be self-sufficient, though what that might mean in a highly interdependent urban world is not clear.

As originally conceived, Laurentina 38 consisted of "islands" of high-rise housing, the buildings separated from one another but united by a series of walkways (which were never built).  The apartment buildings were arranged along a 4 km ring road (via Ignazio Silone), where cars, trucks, and buses would travel.  Pedestrians could use the sidewalks along the busy ring road, but they were expected to move about on a second level, above the street, under covered walkways.  We found some of those walkways intimidating, others blocked with refuse or foliage.

The buildings on one side of the street were integrated with those on the other side by 11 bridges  (ponti), placed at intervals along the road, designed in the brutalist style of the day and made of reinforced concrete.  The ponti, one level above the road, are the distinguishing architectural feature of the complex.  They were intended to house offices and shops (perhaps that's the note of self-sufficiency that was said to be built into the project). Some think that the offices/shops idea was flawed from the start; others argue that the services were never "installed," though in a capitalist economy it's not clear how shops (say, a hardware store) could be "installed." Apparently market forces were insufficient to populate the ponti.

At any rate, the ponti were empty from the beginning and remained so, creating a void that was filled by hundreds of homeless people--many, apparently, new immigrants--who took over the bridges as squatters, building walls to separate families and living there without bathrooms or, in many cases, windows.  The residents of the bridge below have installed satellite dishes.

The sign below celebrates 28 years of "occupation" of ponte #6.

According to the most common narrative, failure of the bridge idea, and other peculiarities of construction of the high-rises (no interior hallways, empty spaces on the second level intended for leisure pursuits but never used, the lack of connections between the buildings) led to the degradation of the complex and to high levels of crime and drug use.  Others blame the prominence of the road (below).

An example of the empty spaces on the second level:

One of the 2nd level walkways:

Probably because of the arrest and incarceration of some of the project's residents, there is opposition within the complex to the idea of prison, and in particular Rome's Rebibbia prison.  "We hate the prison," reads the sign below. And there's information about a 3 day event in June at the 6th bridge, with concerts, food--and tattooing.

We also found opposition to "gentrification" (Italians use the English word, apparently because they don't have their own).  L38!

Three of the ponti--#s 9, 10, and 11--were demolished in 2006.

A small group of young Americans interested in architecture visited Laurentina 38 for two days in 2009.  They were not welcomed by the residents.  "We were shouted at, cursed at, told to back home, teased, harassed."  When we visited in May 2019, we experienced no such hostility--despite poking around a good bit.  We did notice the trash and more than one scooter carcass.  But that's just Rome.

We enjoy seeing public housing projects and are interested in brutalist architecture.  But our visit to Laurentina 38 came about because we had heard that there was new and important art on its walls.  We found only one piece--and that may be all there is--by street artist Ericailcane (Erica il cane, Erica the dog).  It's near the 5th ponte, on the right.  Looks like the theme is greed.

Another positive sign: an association of volunteers ("Gocce di speranza" means "drops of hope"):

Laurentina 38 is about a half mile from the Laurentina Metro stop on the B line.  The project is located between via Cristoforo Colombo on the west, and via Laurentina on the east.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tracking down a muralist in Rome - Carlos Atoche plays with decay and regeneration.

It's not often one finds murales or wall art, right outside one's door - even better, viewed from one's apartment.  But here we are in Pigneto (a now rather hip, but still working-class neighborhood of Rome) looking from our balcony at a fine work using images of ancient Roman statues, and placing them under water. I also like the fish floating just above the "Carrozzeria - auto e moto" sign (car and scooter repair, down the block).
We're one of those balconies on the left. Our view of the murales
is really only of the left side, as seen in the top photo.
Always eager to explore our immediate surroundings, we tracked down the painter of the mural, which is on one of the very old buildings that are now dwarfed by housing blocks. We thought we had seen this theme of Roman statues, under water, around Rome and, indeed, we had.

A small plaque at right indicates that Atoche did this mural in 2016 as part of a project by a group of tour guides to raise
money for earthquake victims.

We saw a plaque naming Carlos Atoche as the author of work above, in Torpignattara, as we were giving ourselves a tour of murales - as they are called in Italian, using the Spanish word for "murals" - in that area.
"The Fall of the Gods," a 40 meter-long mural in Ostiense, which Atoche did in 2015 with Mexican muralist Luis Alberto Alvarez.

Explaining another of Atoche's works, this one in Ostiense (which we've seen many times, including when we lived there 2 years ago), StreetArtRoma - a superb App (the link is to the Web site, which is not as easy to maneuver as the app) - says "The fall of Gods, between busts of mythological giants and historical figures, is a symbolic representation of the decay of power; the glories of the past consumed by the passing of time. What remains is the unstoppable force of the universe, the energy of the oceans, the drive of life, the animals, the sky, the plants and the tides."  That's a bit high-falutin' as we might say, but not bad.

No doubt about the artist here. "atoche" appears at the top of this painting in

We like that Atoche tends to put his work on older, even abandoned buildings, perhaps emphasizing the theme of decay. At the same time, he's decorating the neighborhood - or is he gentrifying it? And is that good or bad? (I vote for "good.")

Not identified, but clearly Atoche.

StreetArtRoma also notes that Atoche is Roman by adoption, born in Lima in 1984 of an Argentinian mother and Peruvian father.

Atoche works out of this studio in Pigneto. 

Below, several other Atoche works, all in Pigneto.  Horses are among his favorite subjects. 

We're glad he's decided to enliven our environs. Here's his Web site. 
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