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 700 posts

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Before and After Series: Piazza San Silvestro

It's better, right?  Piazza San Silvestro, located in the heart of commercial and tourist Rome--2 minutes from Galleria Sardi and 5 minutes from the Trevi Fountain--used to be a major bus depot of the open air kind.  Dozens of buses stopped or turned around there.  It was convenient for shoppers, but arguably a waste of a large piazza, not to mention a source of pollution.

And so the authorities decided the bus depot would have to go--indeed, cars, too, would be banned from most of the piazza, which would become a place for pedestrians to chill out, for mothers to walk the baby in the stroller without worrying about traffic, and for tourists to sit down at one of the long, curving benches, have a look at their maps, and admire the piazza's churches.  

Demolition of the bus structures began in 2012.

And here's the result:

Today, people sit in the piazza (though not much in the heat of the day, for there are no umbrellas or other shelters from the sun), and mothers walk their babies, and no doubt tourists are glad to have place to sit and browse their guidebooks for what's in the area.  So in some sense the new piazza works.  But there's something missing, too: energy, a focus of activity, trees, enough people to more or less fill the vastness and give the space proportion--and a place to get relief from the sun.  In some sense, it doesn't work.


Monday, October 9, 2017

A powerful anti-globalization polemic: Edoardo Nesi's "Story of My People"

Prato; the wool factory was just outside of Prato in Narnali
Edoardo Nesi stares at likely illegal Chinese immigrants eating, sleeping and, yes, running machines in the same building where he and his ancestors made "the most beautiful fabrics on earth," but which is now a "filthy industrial shed."  He knows they are "an astonishingly young army of extortion victims who often fail to recognize the depth of the inadequacy of their working condition."

Edoardo Nesi, who has translated David Foster Wallace
and is the author of  a dozen books, now also a politician.
Although only a decade or two has passed, what's in his sight, as he accompanies a raid on this illegal operation, seems light-years away from his life as a young businessman in the late '80s to mid-90s. He relates a life then that "really could be exciting," flying from Florence to Munich, driving a BMW at 170 mph to meet with clients, and back in Florence in the evening, where he would "watch the dizzying back-and-forth of the workers on the loading docks...or have fabric assortment meetings and we were all focused on trying to select the best items for the coming season."

Nesi's description of his beloved Prato, the town outside of Florence that was the heart of the textile industry in Italy, as it goes from the glories of small artisan shops to abandoned land, at best - or worst - inhabited by the Chinese he sees, is perhaps the best argument I've read against globalization.

The author of "Story of My People" belongs to the tradition of Herman Melville--or in Italy Italo Svevo and Primo Levi--that subset of writer/businessperson.  The lyricism Nesi brings to the effects of globalization that he experienced first-hand almost makes the reader weep, weep over fabrics and their makers.

A third generation businessman, Nesi oversaw the sale of his family's business, sold before it went bankrupt.  "I can't manage to get out of my head that '& Figli'--'& Sons' [part of the name of his company]--that seals the end of the woolen mill, that announcement of continuity...I can't say whether I was a sly fox or a miserable coward, whether I did the right thing or betrayed my birthright....Then, of course, I get over it.  I go home and get over it."

Nesi, whose tale of growing up is of a rich, spoiled kid, merges business and philosophy and provides a good take-down of the myth that globalization would bring prosperity to Italy as the Chinese would buy Italian products:  "things didn't go the way they said they would; the Chinese didn't rush out to buy Italian style, they hurried out and produced it themselves."

And he suggests there was another way:  "We should have fought tooth and nail, every inch of the way, just as all the other nations did.  We should have negotiated, negotiated, and negotiated some more."  I have my doubts that this plan would have succeeded.  And I'm certain Nesi glamorizes the conditions of his family's factory and their workers.  Nonetheless, Nesi grabs our attention with his personal story, the story of his people.

In 2011, "Story of My People" was the first non-fiction book to win Italy's Strega Prize.  Translated by Antony Shugaar.

Prato's merchant class dates at least as far back as the middle ages.  Iris Origo's first book is "The Merchant of Prato: Francesco Di Marco Datini, 1335-1410.

And a shout-out to my mother, who in the 1970s took me to Prato to buy me outfits made of those wonderful fabrics.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Campo Testaccio: AS Roma's Historic Field

Today, it's entirely overgrown, a swath of land in the heart of the city, abandoned to nature and inhabited by the homeless.  You can peer in from via Nicola Zabaglia, just a half block from the entrance to Monte Testaccio, at via Zabaglia and via Galvani, and just across the street from some of Testaccio's best-known bars and restaurants.  You're just five minutes from the Pyramid.  See the historical aerial views at the bottom of this post.

The site was--and still is--known to Romans as Campo Testaccio (Testaccio Field).  For 11 years, from 1929, when it was constructed, until 1940, Campo Testaccio was the home field of the legendary Rome soccer club, AS Roma, founded in 1926.  The stadium held 20,000 fans, and they reveled in the team's success in those years--103 wins, 32 ties, 26 losses. 
Campo Testaccio, c. 1935
Though the team won no championships while playing on that field, the stadium was immortalized in "Campo Testaccio," an anthem written by Toto Castellucci and sung by generations of Roma fans.  Click on the 'play' buttons in this link for traditional and modern versions of the song:

What happened to the field in the 60 years after the team moved to Stadio Nazionale is unclear, though at the turn of this century, when we first saw it, the campo still resembled a place where one could play soccer. 

But in 2008 preparations began for an underground parking lot on the site, and in came the bulldozers.
Bulldozers on their way
Apparently the area proved inhospitable for that purpose, and a grass-roots movement, peopled by Roma fans, took root--a "save the stadium" effort.  Surprisingly, just this year it met with some success; the city council removed the campo from the city's parking program and returned it to a sporting-use designation.  Maybe it'll look different the next time we see it.

Once you've seen the forlorn remains of Campo Testaccio, direct your attention to the area just west of the field, still along via Zabaglia.  Stop in front of what looks like another of the city's many Madonelle--street corner Madonnas.  In this case, we're not looking at the classic Mary.  The "madonna" being worshiped here is, appropriately, the Signora der Futtebball!    

Nostra Signora der Futtebball
         Campo Testaccio Incoronò (Crowned by Campo Testaccio)          
Testaccio Crowned Mother Mary Queen of Roma Football

Left: field center, via Marmorata Post Office upper right, Protestant cemetery lower right, Monte Testaccio lower left.    Right: 1932, from a different angle.  


Monday, September 18, 2017

Luigi Moretti's ex-GIL: Eagles, and an Occupation

It's just one photo--and not our own--but it tells a story.  The photo is of the entrance to the Casa della GIL (House of the Italian Fascist Youth), a stunning modernist structure designed by Luigi Moretti and constructed between 1933 and 1936.  It is now most often referred to as the ex-GIL.
When I first saw the photo, I assumed it was a period pic, though color photography was in its infancy in the 1930s.  My assumption was that "Rome for the Romani" was, even decades ago, a Fascist slogan.  Moreover, the photo shows large, highly stylized metal eagles above the entrance to the building--one of Mussolini-era Fascism's potent symbols--and Dianne and I, having observed the building for about 20 years, had never seen those eagles. So I assumed they were part of the original structure (which they may have been) and, therefore, that the photo was vintage.

Wrong.  The photo was taken in April, 2017, when the building--the ex-GIL--was briefly occupied by Forza Nuova, a militant, anti-immigrant, homophobic far-right political party founded in 1997. CasaPound, a neo-Fascist organization with affiliates in dozens of Italian cities, including Rome, was also involved in the occupation.

Looking more closely at the photo, the smaller flags say FN and "Forza Nuova."  According to Forza Nuova (and the press), the building's elaborate and expensive reconstruction was completed (except, perhaps for those eagles) in 2015, yet the building remained empty.  The occupation was designed to make that point, and to immediately turn the structure into a shelter for the homeless--unless, of course, they were immigrants, socialists, or gay.
The ex-GIL as it looked in 2012, when it was open briefly for an art exhibition.
Some might object to the re-mounting of the Fascist eagles.  Others would point out that the eagles hardly matter, given the prominence of a Fascist slogan on the facade.

And that's the story.


The ex-GIL is located in Trastevere, on Largo Ascianghi, between viale di Trastevere and the Tiber River.  It came in at #10 in RST's Top 40.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Things Change (or Don't): The Garbatella Market

It's said that Rome is Eternal, and that may be true in any number of ways too complex to get into. But having spent time in the city and taken thousands of photographs, often of features of the landscape we had photographed before, we can say with some authority that changes do occur.

The Garbatella Market is an example.  When we first went by in 2009 (or that's when we took the first photos that we still have), the iconic market stairs were in disrepair--as was the rest of the facade-- and covered with political graffiti and an ode to Sancho Panza and Don Quixote.

Two years later, the market had been restored, the stairs repaired, the brick walls cleaned, and the graffiti removed--though a few tags had appeared.  Progress!

In 2017, the stairs had been reborn as a political space--Garbatella is a leftist enclave, and the stairway's bricks, having become impossible to maintain, had been painted yellow.  The 2010 message, about the necessity of struggling against injustice, had been replaced with something similar, but also different:  "In every epoch and in every circumstance, there will always be many reasons to give up the struggle.  But without struggle, one will never have liberty."

Inside the market has changed as well.  It was once a regional city market; then (as late as 2010), it was an empty, derelict space.  Now, on Saturdays, it is a fledgling farmers' and artisans' market.

Maybe Rome--even modern Rome--is, indeed, Eternal.  Everything changes, everything stays the same.