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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New Life in the Tiburtina Station - shopping, education, even high speed trains

Tiburtina train station - now inhabited - for comparison, see the 2013 photo at the end of this post - virtually the same shot.
We wrote about the Tiburtina train station 3 years ago, 6 months after it opened, when it seemed like an empty movie set (see photo at end of this post), and we predicted it wouldn't find life in the near future.  We were wrong.  The station may not be chock full, but it's certainly found life.  For those who want to travel without the stress of Termini (made even worse this year with construction and new security procedures), try Tiburtina!

Finally there are coffee bars, in fact several of them.  And, you can sit down for free, you can get your own water, the barristas are nice, the place is efficient, the coffee and cornetti decent.  The arrivals and departures are clearly displayed right there.  What more can one ask?
There's even some shopping at the station - bright, clean, modern stores.  And, we found. a terrific, small exhibit on - mainly - Roman artifacts relating to food.  "Le Vie del Cibo"  - The Roads of Food - from Ancient Rome to Modern Europe -that was up through mid-June.  Hopefully another exhibit will soon go into this space.

The show was a good, fairly simple primer on Roman and Etruscan history, with lovely examples explained in both Italian and English.  And, it was free.

The Tiburtina station is the home station for some of the fast trains, and for a lot of connecting trains. Don't dismay if you find yourself routed through there.  It's also a remarkable piece of architecture.

Tibrurtina Station 2013

Monday, July 18, 2016

Barbie has no Knees (and Superman has no Genitals): An exhibit at the Vittoriano

Sign for the Barbie exhibit in the Vittoriano - which features a permanent exhibit of The Risorgimento -
Italy's battle for statehood.  Interesting contrast of Barbie and Garibaldi.

60s Barbie, Barnaby Street look

It was 1959 when the first Barbie appeared.  A bit late, it would seem, to catch the wave of conservatism, conformity and consensus that hung over the American nation through much of the postwar era.  When Barbie went on sale, the civil rights movement was well under way, with lunch-counter sit-ins to begin in 1960.  Just two years later, Tom Hayden launched the student protest movement with the the Port Huron Statement and Betty Friedan rang the opening bell for the latest version of feminism with her book, The Feminine Mystique.  By 1965 U.S. bombers were pounding North Vietnam.  Barbie should never have survived "the '60s."  But she did. The "Barbie" exhibit at Rome's Complesso del Vittoriano provides some explanations for Barbie's longevity.  One is that Barbie was a well-made and beautifully dressed creature, her every incarnation
a fine-tuned fashion statement.  Having never had a Barbie (I was 16 when she made her debut, and a boy), and having decided that the exhibit was one I hardly cared to see, I was impressed--astounded even--at the "look" of the hundreds of Barbies on display: style, color, elegance, precision, all in abundance.

Right, Barbie as bullfighter.  Left,
hipster exec
Clearly, too, Barbie was flexible, especially in relationship to the burgeoning feminist movement. Barbie could be teen model, a housewife and homemaker, or a stewardess, but over the years she tracked American women as they took on a wider variety of occupations and pursuits--some 180 occupations in all.  Barbie became a pilot, a no-nonsense professional, an astronaut, an eco-friendly architect, a race car driver, a hard rock musician, even a bullfighter, albeit a stylish one.

Barbie's facial expression changed, too, perhaps most famously in the 1970s, when Barbie came to look a bit like Farrah Fawcett, the star of the popular TV series, Charlie's Angels.
Barbie as Hitchcock's Tippi, attacked
by birds
Other Barbies were modeled after celebrities. among them Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn, Madonna, Tippi Hedrin (in Hitchcock's The Birds), Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, and Elvis, Barbie could be the Statue of Liberty, too.

And after 1980, Barbie's look had much to do with multiculturalism and globalization. (See the African Barbie at the end of this post). Even so, the curators of the exhibit go too far in claiming that Barbie was on the cutting edge of political and social change. The first black Barbie appeared in 1980, 12 years after the March on Washington, 16 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels, and 26 years after the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional.  In the racial arena, at least, Barbie was a follower, not a leader.

Nonetheless, as a cultural historian, I enjoyed the curators' efforts to link the evolving Barbie with historical movements and trends, from feminism to globalization to the emergence of a culture of celebrity. However, I must admit that my first reaction to Barbie had to do with her physique, and not just her thin-ness.  Indeed, my first thought--and first words in the exhibit--was "Barbie has no knees."  It occurred to me, then, that Barbie was knee-less because the knee is the least attractive part of the leg; knees have bumps and lumps and stick out here and there.
interrupting the attractive flow of the woman's leg from thigh to calf to ankle (admittedly, also somewhat knobby--as it turns out, Barbie doesn't have ankles, either).

No genitals.  Could be model for
Superman Barbie

I'm writing this today because this morning's New York Times carried an obituary for Noel Neill, the actress who played Lois Lane on the Adventures of Superman TV series.  In the accompanying photo, Superman (Steve Reeves) demonstrates his strength by holding Miss Lane off the ground with one arm.  Then I noticed that Superman has no genitals.  


The exhibit closes October 10.  It's not cheap: Euro 12 or, if you qualify for a reduction, Euro 10.  Most of the hundreds of Barbies in the exhibition come from 2 major Italian collections.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Poems for Everyone - A New Book Inspired by Piero della Francesca

The Rome connection here exists, but first we want to celebrate our long-time Italian friend, Dana Prescott’s new book, Feathers from the Angel’s Wing: Poems Inspired by the Paintings of Piero della Francesca

This gorgeous book was a labor of love for Dana, who lives at what must be the epicenter of the largest number of paintings in the world by this ever more-prized 15th-century, early Renaissance artist.  That location gave her the obsession (and yes, it is that) that led to the book.  As the New York Times complained a few years ago Piero ”took more commissions in Sansepolcro than anywhere else, and his greatest works remain in its vicinity — a source of great frustration for Piero obsessives outside of Europe, who must visit a series of small villages to see his frescoes and altarpieces.”  Though the Frick Museum in New York City now has acquired 4 Pieros and mounted a show in 2013 that the Times called “ravishing.”  The word applies equally to the emotion emanating from the poets Prescott has culled in this meaty book.

Madonna del Parto - is she opening her dress? pointing
to her rounded belly?  Are the angels opening or closing
the draperies?  Note the pomegranate design on the
curtain - a symbol of fertility.
The writers Prescott includes range from the established and revered (long after his death) Pier Paolo Pasolini to the American rock star/writer/poet Patti Smith.  But those two aren’t the alpha and the omega here.  Among the poems that touched me most are two that were read at a book launch in Rome in June.  Both of these poems were inspired by my favorite Piero, the Madonna del Parto (The Pregnant Madonna), which remains in Sansepolcro, where it is treasured as a good omen for pregnant women.  Moira Egan’s “Gravid,” composed of 2 9 line stanzas, each line of 9 syllables, includes the sentence:  “I said no to nature, then nature turned and said no to me.”  Contrasted with Egan’s “grief and guilt come in colors, dull red, queasy green,” is Mongolian poet G. Mend-Ooyo’s, “The Pregnant Madonna.” That poem takes us lyrically “Between the trees, grains thread their way across the fields….Each of the seeds is its own world.”  Mend-Ooyo, who grew up in a nomadic family, still has the nomad’s sense of the power of the earth. 

In her work as executive director of Civitella Ranieri, the international cultural center near Sansepolcro, Dana nurtures many translators.  Perhaps because of this background, she gives tribute to the many translators at work in her book as well, their bios given equal status with the poets.

I would be remiss in not pointing out the quality of this hardbound book – the paper, the colors, the reproductions.  It’s a beautiful gift to someone in your life. [At amazon.comPowell’s and]

St. Luke, in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
And, finally, the Rome connection to Piero is fragmentary and lost, both literally.  There are a few heavily damaged fragments of an unfinished ceiling work in Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore.  Piero also painted frescoes on the walls of Pope Pius II’s rooms in the Vatican.  By order of Pope Julius II, they were painted over – by Raphael.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ariccia: For the Birds, and the Pigs

Ariccia may be our favorite town in the Colli Albani.  The entrance to it is simply spectacular: over
an elegant and long bridge, spanning a deep gorge, the city center just at the end, magnificent views of the coastal plain and the Mediterranean beyond.

The tranquil main square, with a bar and exterior seating, is the perfect place for a morning coffee.
Around the corner is "main street," narrow and inviting, shops and bars, locals sitting--and trimming green beans.

Then there's a whole "other" Ariccia, just through the town and down left: a spilling semicircle with perhaps a dozen restaurants and cafes, all featuring some version of pork, most with some sort of pig logo out front. (The bridge to the right of the photo on the right is the same one pictured in the older photo, below.)

Today, the restaurant area is to the right, and down.  View looking north/northwest.  

And trucks delivering Ariccia pig meat going by.

One time we chose Osteria del Borgo and pappardelle with...pork (wild boar)!  And a plateful of porchetta (photos above and left).  All pork all the time (we first wrote about Ariccia's porchetta in 2011).  On another visit we discovered a street of restaurants heading up the hill alongside the Parco dei Chigi.  Men and women hawking their restaurants even crossed the street to accost us.  Nonetheless, we chose one - Osteria da Angelo (da 1920, "hand made pasta" - those factors attracted us), and had a terrific porchetta "starter" followed by that pasta.  We've now discovered the difference between dry and moist porchetta.  You definitely want the latter.  And, you need to eat it with some of the crispy skin and fat for flavor.  Just do it.
Bernini's Church of the Assunta - he was inspired by the Pantheon dome, as he was reconstructing the Pantheon into a church.
The small fountain to the left in this picture is the Fontana delle Tre 
Cannelli (Fountain of the Three Spouts).  The fountain
also sports the Chigi symbols - the mounds topped by a star.
A tasty town, yes, but the most remarkable aspect of this small community is that it has two monumental buildings by the distinguished 17th-century architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  We think that's two more than any other town in the Colli Albani (but we could be wrong).  The Bernini buildings are on the central square, facing each other.  The entire square, with the palazzo on one side and the church on the other, was designed by Bernini for Chigi Pope Alexander VII, and that is one reason we were so impressed by the view of the town as we came over the bridge.  The bridge, a 19th-century addition to the town, was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt after.
View of "lower" Ariccia (the dome of Bernini's church is visible), part of the immense park, and, beyond, the Mediterranean.  The nets at the side of the bridge are there to catch would-be suicides.  

Across the street from the church, the long white building is Bernini's (and Carlo Fontana's--a Bernini pupil) Palazzo Savelli Chigi (photo of entrance above). The two rebuilt an earlier structure in baroque style in the 1660s.  The palazzo belonged to the
Chigi Pope Alexander VII (we think), eyed by Dianne.
Chigi family for more than 300 years, finally ceded to the Commune only in 1988.

It was a setting for the 1963 Luchino Visconti film, Il Gattopardo ("The Leopard"), starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon, and now hosts exhibitions and events.

From the terrace.

The rather plain facade belies a complex and rich decorated interior.  A balcony/deck overlooks the gorge and park below--what used to be Chigi property - and fascinating enough to us that Dianne is writing it up as a separate post (all Ariccia all the time!).

In the Palazzo Savelli Chigi, we especially enjoyed the "admissions" room, with a ceiling delightfully painted in birds--and an animal we couldn't identify, devouring a mouse.   So don't forget to look up!

Bill and Dianne

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Francesco Berarducci's Brutalist Masterpiece: Villino Colli della Farnesina

It's tucked in the hills above the Palazzo Farnesina, the massive Fascist-era building that now serves as the nation's foreign policy center, but was once Fascist Party headquarters.

Less monumental but perhaps more striking, the Villino Colli della Farnesina hugs the street by the same name (no. 144).  The community is gated, but open for a tour on this particular Sunday, the 2nd day of the 5th edition of Open House Roma.

A gated community, but even the gate is cool brutalism.
The front.  Impressive verticality,
deteriorating concrete below.
RST had been looking for an outstanding example of Rome Brutalism--a style, look, and feel based on masses of raw concrete.  We had come to the right place.  There, at Palazzina 16, stood Berarducci's brutalist palazzo, somewhat the worse for wear--the building dates to 1969--but muscular, and even
majestic, still.  As our knowledgeable guide Elisa explained, the front of the building, despite its obvious weight, manages to project  an impressive verticality, while, as we shall see, the back emphasizes the horizontal.

Cantilevered front canopy, now supported by posts.  

The enormous, cantilevered canopy over the front entrance has suffered significant decay--its reinforcing steel bars (rebar) revealed here--to the point where it no longer can be depended on to hold itself up, and is now supported by construction posts.  That condition is likely permanent, since it seems doubtful that the building's owners would elect to finance the kind of high-tech reconstruction used to reinforce the sagging balcony at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Framed in red, that's the front, glass, door, hinged in
the center.

One enters the building through a center hallway that houses services--stairs and the elevator--for apartments on both sides.  The door to the hallway, like some others in the complex, is a single sheet of framed glass, perhaps 10 feet wide, that pivots in the center.

The Berarducci studio

Concrete-framed hole lets  in light, lightens load.

The Berarducci studio, now occupied by the architect's son--also an architect--is on the floor below, entirely below ground level but lit from the end by a large window that looks out onto a sloping garden, and by a large, round hole (in concrete, of course) that drops down into a square glass container with white stones below.  It not only brings in natural light, but lightens the load on the roof of the studio.

Berarducci (1924-1992) is described in the literature as "schivo" (secretive), and he spent most of his later years in this studio, avoiding theoretical debates while focusing on design and construction.

A stone path meanders around the east side of the building, revealing a projection that from inside seems to have no other purpose that to give the building shape and complexity.
Exterior projection right, in the trees.

Interior view/result of the exterior projection, above.
Tiered, Wright-like balconies--that is, like the massive balcony at Fallingwater--dominate the rear of the building, together emphasizing the horizontal line. They've been repaired and repainted,
unfortunately in a creamy color that doesn't match the raw concrete above, left unpainted.  While necessary (one of the balconies is held up with supports), the repairs and painting deprive this part of the building of some of its expressive power: it's no longer raw concrete, but something else.

A visit to a top floor apartment, originally Berarducci's, allows us to appreciate those balconies from inside, where the great expanses maintain their elegance.

The front door opens onto a very large, essentially square living room, slightly sunken; it reminded us of Don Draper's apartment in the Mad Men television series.  It's been poorly decorated--the remaining furniture is
Living Room
Showmanship in Concrete
almost comical--and painted in an uninteresting white, apparently to the tastes of its last tenant, an Egyptian.  The room to the right is more dramatically elevated.  Otherwise, the spaces seem rather ordinary.  The living room is the spectacular center of things.
A not-so-spectacular view of the living room, looking inward.
Bad art, bad decoration.

Church of San Valentino in the Olympic Village.

Berarducci's influences include Le Corbusier, Pier Luigi Nervi (his teacher at the university, where he graduated in 1950), Victor Morpungo, with whom he collaborated on the Torre Spaccato quartiere, Mario De Renzi, and postwar Scandinavian architects.  Most of his work was residential, including Rome palazzine in Via Cavalier D'Arpino and Via S. Giovanna Elisabetta.  He is perhaps best known for the church of San Valentino, in the Olympic Village (1962) and, especially, for the RAI center on Via Mazzini, apparently--though this is difficult to believe--the first all-steel structure in Rome.

The most famous concrete building in Rome is Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport, on RST's Top 40.

For more on concrete, see Adrian Forty, who lectured on the topic this year at the American Academy in Rome and has inspired RST to do more posts on this topic.