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

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.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tracking down a muralist in Rome - Carlos Atoche plays with decay and regeneration.

It's not often one finds murales or wall art, right outside one's door - even better, viewed from one's apartment.  But here we are in Pigneto (a now rather hip, but still working-class neighborhood of Rome) looking from our balcony at a fine work using images of ancient Roman statues, and placing them under water. I also like the fish floating just above the "Carrozzeria - auto e moto" sign (car and scooter repair, down the block).
We're one of those balconies on the left. Our view of the murales
is really only of the left side, as seen in the top photo.
Always eager to explore our immediate surroundings, we tracked down the painter of the mural, which is on one of the very old buildings that are now dwarfed by housing blocks. We thought we had seen this theme of Roman statues, under water, around Rome and, indeed, we had.

A small plaque at right indicates that Atoche did this mural in 2016 as part of a project by a group of tour guides to raise
money for earthquake victims.

We saw a plaque naming Carlos Atoche as the author of work above, in Torpignattara, as we were giving ourselves a tour of murales - as they are called in Italian, using the Spanish word for "murals" - in that area.
"The Fall of the Gods," a 40 meter-long mural in Ostiense, which Atoche did in 2015 with Mexican muralist Luis Alberto Alvarez.

Explaining another of Atoche's works, this one in Ostiense (which we've seen many times, including when we lived there 2 years ago), StreetArtRoma - a superb App (the link is to the Web site, which is not as easy to maneuver as the app) - says "The fall of Gods, between busts of mythological giants and historical figures, is a symbolic representation of the decay of power; the glories of the past consumed by the passing of time. What remains is the unstoppable force of the universe, the energy of the oceans, the drive of life, the animals, the sky, the plants and the tides."  That's a bit high-falutin' as we might say, but not bad.

No doubt about the artist here. "atoche" appears at the top of this painting in

We like that Atoche tends to put his work on older, even abandoned buildings, perhaps emphasizing the theme of decay. At the same time, he's decorating the neighborhood - or is he gentrifying it? And is that good or bad? (I vote for "good.")

Not identified, but clearly Atoche.

StreetArtRoma also notes that Atoche is Roman by adoption, born in Lima in 1984 of an Argentinian mother and Peruvian father.

Atoche works out of this studio in Pigneto. 

Below, several other Atoche works, all in Pigneto.  Horses are among his favorite subjects. 

We're glad he's decided to enliven our environs. Here's his Web site. 
This is RST's 792nd post.  Use the search engine at far upper left to explore Rome and environs. 


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Fosso di Cecchignola: An unexpected Adventure in Rome's Countryside

RST's 791st post.  Use the search engine at upper left to explore Rome and environs.

Beautiful downtown Cecchignola

On a Saturday in mid-May, we took advantage of the unusual sunshine and headed out on the Honda Forza 300 for a day exploring wall art at Laurentina 38 and Corviale.  We never got to either one, but we made a day of it.  We landed in a piazza/park at Cecchignola, where we found a decent piece of wall art by Atoche, and another of Bugs Bunny, apparently by Diamond (both artists we know).

We also found a map of the area, labeled Fosso della Cecchignola (a fosso is a ravine, likely with water running through it).

We were intrigued by the open countryside around us and by an unusual water tower in the distance (and near it, a great "ship" of a building).  Off we went, on a path (the yellow one on the map, beginning lower right) through the undulating countryside, passing several women carrying small shopping bags (where, we wondered had they shopped)?

Intriguing water tower center right, building to the left 
After about 20 minutes, we found ourselves underneath the magnificent water tower, then wandered (still on paths) to the enormous monolith of a building, which turned out to be the Hibiscus Center, housing dozens of companies. It was lunchtime, so bunches of 30-somethings were chatting in small groups or walking back from lunch they had obtained somewhere.

Hibiscus Center

In the process of trying to get around the back of the building (we couldn't), we met a woman who told us we should see the church, specially decorated for a day dedicated to Mary (who else?).  Inside, the decorations seemed minimal. Speaking broken English, she could us she was Catholic in the morning and Hare Krishna in the afternoon, or something like that.  She proved hard to shake.

We backtracked around the building, back onto the rural paths, still scrambling to find a way around a local 18th century castle (occupied, as it turned out), but to no avail.  A lovely path through the woods led nowhere, though it did take us along the fosso, here with a huge stone wall built on another wall, and it led us to a good view of the castle. (The castle is open to visits about once/year, it appears, usually in May  - with reservations on its web site.  It's now owned by an architect. Obviously we have to go back.

Path in the woods

Walls in the fosso.  Some of these may be from Roman times, since the castle is
built on the foundations of a Roman military base.

Close as one can get to the castle. 

Backtracking again, we walked past a large popular complex of athletic fields, found a narrow path through the woods to a meticulously maintained pathway. People walking their dogs.

We decided NOT to backtrack to the paths we knew ("never go back" is one of our mottos), instead opting to walk a couple of highways.  To get to them, we passed through an architecturally interesting apartment complex (below).

The roads were a mistake.  Lots of cars, narrow roads, no shoulder, sticker bushes, trucks and buses.  Anxiety approaching fear.  After about 30 minutes we came across a break in the barbed wire fencing and headed off across a field of high and dense grasses in the rough direction of where we started.

Castle and water tower in the distance. We headed left.  
A fence loomed ahead--the only way out--but proved to be "moveable."  Small miracles.

 A few minutes of walking through "developments" got us to the Cecchignola piazza, where we found some Ama (garbage collection agency) workers actually collecting garbage!  I couldn't resist a photo.  The blond woman looking at the camera objected vociferously, though I have no idea why.  Illegal to photograph public employees?  Embarrassed to be caught working?

On the bike and home.  Estimated length of the expedition: 6 miles. Strenuous.

Not what we bargained for, but quite an adventure!


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

QWERTY: Square-Eyed Girl

This is RST's 790th post. 

QWERTY (the name is taken from the keyboard, upper left) is one of Rome's most intriguing street artists.  His work has great range, from the very large stick figures in the Nomentana train station to small, thoughtful paste-ups, including his "Think Poetic" series (from 2018 or earlier).

In 2019 he's been busy posting versions of what I call "qwerty girl" or "square-eyed girl."  Although they all seem the same, there are subtle differences, which become more obvious when he mounts two images in the same space, making a comparison simple--and inviting it.

Lips as Italian flag. Ostiense

Mounted on SPQR panel

Same basic image, same panel, with interventions.
It's possible the girl's floppy black hair "invited"
references to Hitler.
Another added mustache, it would appear--but an odd one. 
The next two images are of the same "box" (in Pigneto) and, as one would imagine, appear to have the same images.  But not quite.

Eyes of different colors. Photo taken 4.15.19, Pigneto

Eyes of different colors, and below, the mouth at a noticeable angle.  The top paste-up is direct and
in control, the bottom image troubled, insecure.  Photo taken 4.20.19
Latest find: square-eyed girl in Aurelia, in back of a market.  Looking quite assertive, almost defiant.