Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Graffiti Writers at Work: An Unusual Sighting

"Love and Revolution," via del Mandrione
The rear of the unused Casilina train station, via del Mandrione

Graffiti--and its lowest form, tagging--is all over Rome. One gets the impression that "writers"--the young people who do most of this stuff--must be constantly at work to mark up the city so thoroughly.  What's curious, then, is how seldom one observes a graffiti writer at work, given that we have spent, literally, thousands of hours walking the streets of Rome and environs.

I can recall only two sightings of graffiti writers engaged in the act. One was years ago, while walking the Ponte Milvio, when I saw a young man wielding a spray can while decorating one of the Tiber River embankments.  I took a photo--too difficult to locate now--and was momentarily enraged (we yelled at him, but that didn't stop him).

The second sighting was last year.  Dianne and I were walking a desolate (partly because it parallels a railroad track, which limits access, and partly because portions of it have been blocked off from automobile traffic) section of the via del Mandrione, out in Tuscolano. Parts of the street to the south were a favorite haunt of the poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. We were searching--as unlikely as it sounds--for a bank building where we hoped to attend a jazz performance.  It was late afternoon.  Both of the photos at the top of this post were taken that day, on via del Mandrione.

Around a bend, perhaps a hundred meters ahead, three young men, spray paint cans in hand or at the ready, were quite clearly writing graffiti. I took one photo, uncomfortably, because what they were doing was illegal, and I did not want to threaten them by revealing that I was recording their activity. And as we passed, their body language suggested a bit of discomfort, as if there was a possibility that we were not sympathetic, that we might turn them in to the authorities.

Still, they continued their work and, just around the next bend, we found our concert (it could have been the worst jazz band we've ever heard.


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