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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Grocery Store Surprises: a Rome SMA

Different kind of cart
Rome grocery stores--the chains that is--are not all that different from American stores. They're smaller yes, but they have a similar mix of departments and items.  Unlike some state-side stores, where legislation prohibits the sale of alcohol, Rome/Italian stores all stock wine--and better quality than that carried by the California stores we know.  Another difference is how metal shopping carts are regulated. In the US, you just grab one and go.  In Italy--at the big stores in Rome, at least--it takes 50 ore more centessimi (Euro cents) to free the cart from the lineup; you get it back when you return the cart.  Most stores also provide smaller, plastic carts with handles and wheels for which no deposit is required (guess which ones we use)..

Underdressed shopper




Despite the similarities, as a tourist one can still be surprised at what one finds inside one of those Rome supermarkets.  On our last visit to the city, we were regular customers at a SMA, tucked in behind the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.


The first surprise was a scantily clad cut-out in one of the aisles. It's safe to say you'll see nothing quite this provocative in the US, where prudishness--or one might say decorum--prevails.

Culture at Checkout








The second surprise was of another sort altogether. Across from the checkout lanes was a series of murals, illustrating the store's neighborhood setting, but nostalgically so, in a era before the automobile.


One of the murals (above right) featured a piazza and courtyard on the backside of San Giovanni in Laterano--a place seen by thousands of Romans from their automobiles every day, but one seldom visited and relatively obscure.

Another mural was more of a mystery.  The scene depicted somewhat resembles the intersection of via Druso and viale delle Terme di Caracalla, perhaps a mile from the store.  The curious "booth" at the center looks like one at that intersection, and the ruins in the background may be the baths.  No matter, we loved the dash of "culture" at the checkout counter!   Bill

Terme di Caracalla?  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mario Sironi, the Melancholy Fascist. A review by Frederika Randall

Pittsburgh-born guest blogger/reviewer Frederika Randall is a long time resident of Italy.  She is a superb translator of Italian works into English, including 3 books by historian Sergio Luzzatto; a near impossible task - the translation of Luigi Meneghello; and her latest achievement, Ippolito Nievo's important 19th-century novel, Confessions of an Italian.  She also writes for The Nation and for the Italian weekly Internazionale. Her other contributions to the RST blog include treatments of Roman poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, the Partisan anthem "Bella Ciao,"  and the 2013 Vittoriano exhibit on artist Renato Guttuso.  
---------------------------------------------------------


Sironi, Self Portrait
You have a great artist in your midst, perhaps the greatest of these times, and you don’t know it. Picasso, addressing feckless 20th-century Italians, was talking about Mario Sironi. It was a peculiar tribute, coming from a man who belonged to the Communist party until the day he died. While Sironi, on the other hand, was a believing Fascist even before1921, when he began working as graphic artist for Mussolini’s paper, Il Popolo d'Italia and the review Gerarchia. He even adhered to the Republic of Salò, the German-backed Italian puppet state of 1943-45, and that was much more of a minority camp than Fascism ever was.

For a taste of this political outlier—and yes, great painter—I recommend Sironi 1885-1961 show at the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome until February 8, 2015. There are ninety paintings, graphic works and sketches for murals neatly organized to follow the artist’s life path: born in 1885, studies in
engineering, a nervous breakdown, art school, meeting Boccioni and Balla, Futurism, the Novecento, bleak urban landscapes, a brief Metaphysical phase, Fascist illustration, publicity for automaker Fiat, an Expressionist turn, followed by the huge murals commissioned by Mussolini for new Fascist public buildings in Milan and Rome.

Things looked bad for Sironi when the Liberation came on April 25, 1945. He took the road out of Milan toward Como and Switzerland, like many Fascists who feared partisan reprisals, and not wrongly. On foot, his dog on a leash by his side, Sironi was stopped at a partisan checkpoint, and only when the poet and children’s writer (and partisan) Gianni Rodari stepped in, was he saved from being shot. After the war, Sironi continued painting, and the vein of melancholy that colors everything he produced seems to have deepened into something like despair. There was no place for a man like him in a postwar Italy where all the artists and intellectuals were anti-Fascists.
This exhibit, the first in Italy dedicated to Sironi in twenty years, was curated by art historian Elena Pontiggia, who provides a very useful biographical framework to hang the artwork on, both in a short film and the good wall quotes.

This doesn’t quite compensate for the fact that not many of Sironi’s greatest paintings are on

display, or that this show is much smaller than that of 1994, which had 400
artworks. But Pontiggia does bring out a crucial fact: that Sironi was a life-long depressive, a man of melancholy who it would seem should have been quite unsuited to the Fascist regime’s celebration of might and right.

Even as a young man Sironi would close himself up in his rooms, seeing no-one, drawing obsessively. “He’ll copy a Greek head 20 or 25 times!!!” reported  Boccioni (exclamation marks his). The Futurists disapproved of antiquated art.
Urban Landscape, 1922
Yet Sironi’s most powerful works are those that don’t celebrate Fascism, modernity, or industry. His urban landscapes, some of them painted in the early 1920s, others after World War II, are haunting, and haunted. When in 1922 he produced one of several paintings titled Urban Landscape, Sironi was staying alone in a cheap hotel in Milan, too poor to bring his new wife there to live with him. Dusty white and brick-colored industrial buildings, a great black swath of train track, a tiny tram and a tiny truck. The only thing that looks animate in the composition is the lowering green and grey sky.

The Yellow Truck, 1918
In another cityscape shown here, an ashy black truck stands immobile where two utterly empty streets of factories and warehouses intersect. There is no life or movement in the painting, just beautiful volumes. Once again, only the sky is alive, with big brushstrokes of smoke and cloud.
The Yellow Truck, 1918, is another work from this period. Big rough brushstrokes, in part painted on newsprint, it suggests a Futurist enthusiasm for the vehicle itself that is utterly absent in urban scenes done even a few years later.


Urban Landscape, 1920













In another urban landscape painted in 1920, a hard brown wall hides what seems to be a construction site. Again, the night sky is roiling overhead. Sironi is no longer celebrating the dynamism of the machine that was Futurism’s trademark. The only thing that’s dynamic is the air. When it comes to the work he did in the 1930s, Fascism’s heyday, the show tries to persuade us that although he worked for the cause, his murals and wall decorations (here, sketches for his mosaic Justice Between Law and Force in the Milan Court of Assizes) were never propaganda for Fascism. But like so many efforts to rescue Sironi from his politics, this doesn’t really ring true. Fascism was not just Blackshirts and castor oil; it was a political creed based on just the kind of myths that Sironi produced in his large allegorical murals. They embody a kind of immobilism, an image of the best of all possible worlds that need never change. Sironi was happy to accept those mural commissions because he wanted to make art for the people, not for bourgeois sitting rooms. But that, too, was a thread of Fascism.
Urban Landscape, 1922


My Funeral, 1960
After the war, Sironi continued to paint, and there are several more gloomy cityscapes here, often painted in a thick impasto of brown, blue and white, that are very striking. He died in 1961, not before producing a small tempera work, My Funeral, in which a tiny hearse in one corner of the picture is followed by a tiny handful of mourners. “Let us hope that after so many storms, so many gales, so much bestial suffering,” he wrote, “that there will nevertheless be a port for this miserable heart to find peace and quiet."  

Fifty years later, his reputation as an artist has been largely detached from his role as a Fascist, but you couldn’t exactly say he rests in peace.

Frederika Randall, Rome




Monday, December 1, 2014

Marcello and Sophia's Wild Ride in the South of Rome OR, an RST itinerary for the Jet Set

Sophia - photo explanation below
Arizona State University historian friends of ours asked us to lay out an auto itinerary for them… outside Rome, à la the second time.  We asked what they liked – small towns (we’re okay at that), beaches (hmmm, we’re not so good at that). 
We came up with an itinerary mainly to the south of Rome that includes the Castelli Romani, Norma/Norba, the Mussolini-created town of Latina (near the beaches), Anzio (more beaches + WWII), Ostia (more beaches), and Ostia Antica.   The itinerary is a full and interesting one, developed mostly by Bill.  We’ve included Bill's original itinerary at the end of this post; for those RSTers who want to go farther afield.
Brian and Cathy amended the trip somewhat, as we hoped they would.  They went off in a convertible with an unusual June rainstorm looming and added more religious sites – the latter makes sense since Catherine – of the Loren car scarf - is a specialist in Catholic church history.
Brian dutifully wrote us a report of their trip – which we found interesting and funny and fun.  And he included photos.  We asked him if we could use his text and photos as a guest blog post.  In a weak moment, he said “yes” – and so it follows (again, with Bill’s original itinerary and a map at the end):


               I will send in a moment a link to a set of photographs that will bore you [included rather than linked here, and photos of Italy never bore us], but they do demonstrate a high level of compliance to your commands. Obedience paid nice dividends, thank you very much.  Our getaway into the Castelli Romani was smooth, and the temperature dropped 10 degrees—on the road trip the front brought in rain, but not all the time, hence Marcello and Sophia (pictured) looked really sharp with the ragtop down, RayBans on. 

Norma - and to the left, Norba
        I freaked out over Norma, its precarious position alone quite stimulating save when drunk.  
I provide photographic evidence of the scholastic role the Mussolini family played there, but the best part were the chistes [Brian, being Arizonan, prefers Spanish to Italian; apparently this means “jokes”] between the old men and the old ladies in the piazza. The old ladies won. 







Meanwhile, Cathy danced in the street, flipping her Loren car scarf at the pious inhabitants of the tortured dank alleyways. 











We dropped down onto the malarial plane [the Agro Pontino] and found it a place not unlike Phoenix…agriculture being king as it once was in that American desert city.  And, like that city, there are some pretty conservative views there, as a photo of a sign on the gate to a “pilgrim’s way” suggests.  







Near Latina, we found an inexpensive luxury beach hotel, and you will see the proof of that. 

Someone with an engineering sense had laid out these weird, for Italy, straight roads called migliara [ok, Brian – that refers to “miles”].  Once we found these we were set.  Primarily to head back to the hills and examine monasteries that my perfect spouse insists on visiting.  I think she prays in them, god forbid. Indeed, it was claimed we stood in the very cell in which Thomas of Aquinas died, joining in that moment the natural law with the divine one. 
I attach a shot of me standing around while Loren recited the rosary, and of the cool Solomon’s riddle that the Cistercian monks had placed in the chapter room of their truly beautiful abbey. 

I failed in my search for porchetta.  Sophia kept insisting I could get it in the next town, waving her scarf “adelante,” until we ended up in another monastery town, Sermoneta, in a torrential rain.  The waiter, hearing the word as I pronounced it and seeing as I pointed to the trattoria sign that said they had it, motioned us to sit down at a soaking table under a suspect umbrella, napkins drenched, water dripping on our heads, and Italians in doorways barely suppressing their laughter at these Yanks, too slow to come in out of the rain.  I did prevail upon the man to seat us inside.  He presented us with bending plates of excellent cheeses and first-rate olives and scrumptious red peppers, the display heavy with delicious meats, all of the porcine variety but well cured and lacking a trace of porchetta. [Hey, Brian – note we said porchetta in Ariccia – in the Castelli Romani.  Local means local in Italy.]

We surmised that, desperate for customers, he had decided that the Americans were going to get a “big pig feast” all right, just not the one we indicated.  It was grand, as was the cool castle at the top of the town where we listened, with some comprehension, to the tale of the Castiglione, dukes of the town and of the pestilential plain, one of whom, at the battle of Lepanto, met a fetching Aragonesa and married her, bringing Spanish ducados into the ducato.
Sermoneta

As we returned we visited Anzio, a sad thing really, all those young, slender boys with smiles on their faces and guns in their hands. Going along the road to Ostia Antica, with its mosaics and its Roman playwright’s coffin carved in honor of the muse, we encountered what Bill once did, a sign for a bar named Tom and Jerry, a reminder of my purpose in life, which is, it appears, to give a TnJ party every year.



Ciao!

PS… threw in your picture again, as a sign of thanks for being so kind to us.  We offer sincere congratulations for finishing the f*!@#g wall.  [You may surmise that Brian accompanied us on one of our “wall walks” of Rome.  That section was posted on the blog in early November.  From his comment, you may – or may not – want to replicate that section of the wall, esp. in blistering Rome heat.]

           
The itinerary as offered by us:

Hi Brian and Cathy,
   "Small towns, a beach" isn't much to go on.  But with those guidelines, here's something you might like: 
1.  First day.  Drive into the Alban Hills (Colli Albani/Castelli Romani) on highway 7, catching towns of Castel Gandolfo (Pope's summer residence, town just OK, not so fascinating; view spectacular), Albano (great cistern there, better town), Genzano (famous for Pane (bread) Genzano); Ariccia (home of porchetta, and a Bernini church, castle, etc., one of our favorite towns).  There are two lakes up there, Albano and Nemi (smaller), though if you choose to explore them you likely won't be able to reach your "destination" (Norma), archeological sites, etc.  Then through Velletri (site of 5th army breakthrough; mostly rebuilt after the war) and onto an area on the fringe of the Monte Lepini that's pretty cool.  Latter includes Ninfa  (an amazing park-like area, sometimes open to the public - on the flats before Norma/Norba) and, on the bluff, Norma (where's there's a hotel - and it's decent).  Norma is paired with "Norba" - an ancient Roman site, mostly buried now and the land used for grazing - but Norba/Norma is spectacular area for views and distinctive tiny town.
2.  Day 2   Drive southwest off the bluff and (back) onto the flat plain of the Agro Pontino, once famous for mosquitos, then for eradicating them, to the town of Latina, one of several in this area constructed by the Mussolini regime.  Nifty Fascist-era modernism. Don't miss the "M" building.  From there, over to Nettuno/Anzio, where the allies landed and where I assume you can find a beach.  Good (if idiosyncratic; run by an individual) World War II museum and, of course, cemeteries.  OR from Latina you can head to the coast and go SOUTH, cruising along a spectacular beach /Lido, spending some time in another of the Fascist cities, Sabaudia, and finding your way (not far) to Monte Circeo, which you can hike--it's not hard and there's a great view from the top up the coast.  There are hotels in Circeo and wine (labeled Circeo) is made there.  If you stop short of Circeo, there's another very small fascist town, Pontinia, which has one (good) hotel.  Note that the hotels often have the best dinners.  It's sometimes not easy to find good dinner eating (lunch, yes - including full meal lunches) in small towns.
3.  Day 3  (assuming you don't head south on Day 2).  
From Anzio you can either shoot straight north to Aprilia, then left to Pomezia (both Mussolini towns) or putter along the coast going northwest til you find a good beach.  Lido di Ostia is a great large beach town and has some wonderful modernist architecture.  From there, head toward Rome to Ostia Antica, the 2000 year old port city, the remains of which are quite something.  Then to Rome.  OR if you're into the Etruscan scene, continue NW to Cerveteri for some quality time with tombs.  Another good beach town, instead of the more crowded Ostia, is Fregene.  You can get access to public beaches in all these places (though many beaches are private), and there's a good public one in Fregene.  Then to Rome.  You can also do Ostia and Ostia Antica by train from Rome.  Fregene no.  
   Nota bene:  though we've seen everything mentioned above, we have never done this as a three day itinerary, and we don't know your habits, whether you're into 3-hour lunches, etc.  Some of the roads are very curvy and slow, others straight and fast.  Traffic and curvy mountain roads will slow you down, maybe significantly.  So it's hard to know if this sequence will work for you. 
   You'll need a Lazio map to get a sense of distances and to plan in detail.
Hope this helps!
Bill (and Dianne)


Friday, November 28, 2014

Progress on the Gianicolo: Before, and After

Progress in Rome?  About as unlikely as Hannibal turning back at the Alps or Attila the Hun tossing candy to toddlers.  But once in a while it's there--shockingly there.  Humanity redeemed. 
We found an example on the Gianicolo, a place we know well.  While taking notes and photos for a stairwalk (it appears as a chapter in Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler), we noted with disapointment a long line of posters, perhaps 20 in a row, that were not only ugly for what they were--rusty, abused, abandoned, but for those walking on via Giacomo Medici they managed to ruin the approach to one of the city's loveliest fountains and to block the view from the front of Aqua Paolo into the basin below.  That's the corner of Acqua Paola, center.
Before (2013)
When we returned to the spot the following spring, the posters were GONE.  The city government had promised to remove certain poster lines and, lo and behold, THEY DID IT.  We were incredulous, but also pleased.  Progress in Rome.    Bill
After (2014)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Galleria Doria Pamphilj - the Third Time

Courtyard - hard to believe this is off via del Corso
Galleria Doria Pamphilj (or Pamphili) is a stupendous gallery of  paintings and sculpture in the heart of Rome.  For many years it has been on the path of those seeking to see all Caravaggios in Rome and perhaps a few others, in a seen-better-days enormous palazzo sitting on Piazza Venezia.

Bagno di Diana
I always loved the gallery, where I first went in 1993 with Nancy DeConcillis and her intrepid group of international women "stuck" in Rome while their husbands worked (that was me!).  I had been back once about 10 years ago, but returned this year and found the Galleria and the Palazzo totally transformed.  Hard to believe John Cheever lived in an apartment here (and didn't like it, as I recall). I tried to go in through the entrance on the nondescript Piazza del Collegio Romano, which is more a parking lot than a piazza, but even the entrance had changed to the more accessible via del Corso.

You now enter through a lush courtyard and are taken immediately to a previously inaccessible, exquisite "bath" - "bagno di Diana" - built by Prince Filippo Andrea V for his British bride, Mary Talbot.

A family room (!)  Space for foosball--or soccer.





The next set of rooms are the "family" rooms.  These are the main objects of  restoration in the last decades.  Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj (the British-raised adopted son - he lucked out!) is your audio-guide voice for the family rooms, and he does a wonderful job of conveying the wealth and restoration while not seeming arrogant - no mean feat for a prince.  The audio guide is free with your ticket.


You must pay an additional Euro 4 for permission to photograph (in the middle of the upstairs galleries at a small bookshop, not when and where you buy your ticket).  Worth it, I think.

Gallery

Most of the sculptures are in this odd room; turns out the sculptures were from the
Pamphilj gardens and moved inside for protection (from the proletariat after
unification?), but the roof of this room collapsed, damaging most of them.
This room now also has the 3 Caravaggios, seen here.












Family chapel
The art galleries themselves are, of course, what one comes for. With more than 500 paintings, among them works  by Caravaggio (3), Guido Reni, Annibale Carraci, Titian, and Raphael, and sculptures, including ones by Bernini.  The audio guide for the paintings is also excellent, allowing you to tune in when you want to and providing just the right amount of information.



Via del Corso, 305 (first block after Piazza Venezia), open 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. every day except Christmas, New Year's, and Easter.  In other words, it's often open when other galleries are not. At 11 Euros not cheap, but you get your money's worth.  There's now a nice cafe in the palazzo as well.

There is more information on the Web site: http://www.doriapamphilj.it/ukhome.asphttp://www.doriapamphilj.it/ukhome.  There are concerts held here at times too.

Worth a visit the second time, or even a third, or fourth or more.

Dianne

Fra Lippo Lippi's Annunciation

Donna Olimpia Aldobrandini - a sole heiress,
she combined the fortunes of the Doria, Pamphilj
and Aldobrandini, and bought a whole lot of art
in the 1600s.