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 750 posts

Saturday, August 17, 2019


You can't be in Rome long without knowing that the suffix "ia" refers to a shop or business that does what the prefix says.  Well, it's a bit more complicated than that, but not much.  Hence the Caffeteria Porta Furba refers to a place where you can get coffee near Porta Furba, out Tuscolano way. (And, unlike English, which puts the accent in the related word, cafeteria, on the second e, the accent in caffeteria in ALL these words (including trattoria, please) is on the 'i', but it's pronounced 'ee'.)

The same place is a Cornetteria (referring to the most common Rome pastry, a cornetto) and a Gastronomia (you can get food there; the prefix "gastro," seldom used in English except for doctor's appointments, refers to the digestive tract and now the trendy name "gastropub").

Everyone knows that an Osteria is a low-end restaurant, but may not know that the word actually defines an inn, where there's a host (an old-fashioned "ostia").

A trattoria is usually a step above an osteria.  In this case, the establishment is also a pizzeria and a birreria (beer, "birra" in Italian, is available).

Food shoppers will likely be familiar with the local "salumeria" (which sells salumi (salami, which may or may not be a related word, and which also describes a delicatessen or a pork-butcher shop, as the logo suggests).  A "norcineria" is more specifically a place where butchered pork is sold - pork in the classic style of Norcia, the Umbrian town whose name is given to this method of traditional pork products.

A "sartoria" is a tailor's shop (and the sign "sartorie" suggests there's more than one person doing the sewing).

The local tabaccheria sells tobacco products and matches and may recharge your phone.

But here's the thing.  It's OK to make up new words with the "ia" suffix, even if the prefix is in English.  Here's an example, from the town of Rocca di Papa in the Alban Hills. At the Jeanseria, you can buy....JEANS!


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Calatrava's swimming pool: viewed from Rome's mountains

This post is about a swimming pool.  It's in the photo above, but you were probably looking at the Alban hills, or the moon, or the city at dusk.

Rome is circled by mountains on 3 sides: to the southwest, the Colli Albani--the Alban Hills--beckon with a set of charming small towns, including Frascati and Rocca di Papa, sitting below the highest mountain in the chain, Monte Cavo.  To the north and east, Tivoli provides  access to the higher mountains in the Monti Lucretili, a group that includes Monte Sterparo and, beyond it to the west, the highest of Rome's nearby mountains, Monte Gennaro. Then, much closer to the city--indeed, right in it--there's a low chain of mountains (hills, really) that includes Monte Mario (about 400 feet vertical from the river), with its close-up views of the Vatican and one of Rome's great bars, for its view: Lo Zodiaco.  And to the south of Monte Mario, and in the same chain, the Gianicolo.

We've been all over these mountains--walked every trail and been to every peak in the Colli Albani, done most of the major mountains in the Lucretili range, and walked the length of the Monte Mario complex more than once. Each hike has its pleasures (and, we should add, its irritations).

One of the minor pleasures is catching a glimpse, from any of the summits and many of the trails, of one of the outstanding architectural features of Rome's periphery: a swimming pool.

But not just any swimming pool.  To be seen from a distance, of course, the pool has to be a big one, and this one is.  Up close it's a soaring, curving, triangular hulk of a building, set in the far suburbs to Rome's east, near Tor Vergata, the newest of Rome's universities.  It was designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava for the 2009 World Swimming Championships, and construction began in 2007.  But before it could be completed, Rome's right-wing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, cancelled the project. Here's what it looked like a few years ago:

And here's how it looks as we journey around Rome's horn of hills and mountains, beginning with the Alban Hills and moving counterclockwise.  In the photo below, Monte Cavo is to the left--with antennas--and the pool can be seen on the right, just above a dark set of lower hills.  The photo was taken from a mountain to the north and east of Monte Cavo.

Frascati is only a few miles from Monte Cavo, and set lower in the Colli Albani.  Here's the pool from Frascati.  Surprisingly close:

Tivoli is on the edge of another range, the Monte Lucretili, further north.  Here's what the pool looks like from the hills above Tivoli (about 600 vertical feet from the town).  Charming Tivoli is in the foreground, the white triangle of the pool about 1/4 from the right edge and near the horizon.

Below, the cross on Monte Sterpara--about a two hour hike from Tivoli, which is out of the photo to the left.  The pool, near the horizon, is to the left.

Monte Gennaro is the tallest mountain in the Lucretili range, with a hike up of from 2,000 to 3500 feet, depending on where you start.  Because Gennaro is high and further away, the pool gets smaller.  Below, we've cropped and modified the photo to make the pool more visible (if barely, at far upper left).  Don't complain.  In the foreground is the concrete platform atop the mountain.

Now, as we move back into the city to its west, the pool gets closer and, thankfully, more visible--though not much.  Below, photographed from the path up Mont Mario (near the Foro Italico), the pool is at left, against a backdrop of the Colli Albani:


We've raved before about the views from the top of Monte Mario, at the Lo Zodiaco bar.  Here's proof.  That's Rome, the Colli Albani, and the Calatrava pool, at dusk:

You don't have to climb even Monte Mario to see the pool.  The photo below is from the terrace of the American Academy in Rome, during its yearly open house showcasing the work of its fellows.  Put that June event on your calendar--if only to see the Calatrava pool.


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.