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 800 posts

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The New Corviale: Failed Public Housing AND Street Art Center

We've been drawn to and appalled by Corviale, the massive, kilometer long, 1970s housing project in the south of Rome, since we first saw the place more than a decade ago.  It's still there, and it's still intimidating, especially for those who, like us, obviously don't live there and don't "belong." We're voyeurs, and we know it. On the sunny early June day we visited, we were once again in awe of the sheer size of the complex, as well as its sameness; we were once again taken aback at the exterior corridors that seemed to stretch into infinity; and we were surprised at how few people we saw--Corviale seemed empty.

If that were all there was to this world-famous housing project, we would be repeating ourselves and risking boring our readers.  There's another side to today's Corviale: it's become one of Rome's premier sites for high-level wall art.

After parking the scooter in a near-vacant parking lot, we walked over to the structure.  This is the first thing we saw:

Turning right, there's this work by the artist SFHIR, a minor piece but interesting for its message, as if all of Corviale's street art had been done illegally, under cover of darkness.  We doubt it.  There's too much art here, and much of it too large and complex, to have been completed without knowledge--and permission--of the authorities.

We found the mermaid below, the first of several works that combine wall art with poetry. We asked our Roman friend MV, a professional translator, to help us with the words, and we're glad we did, because almost every line is difficult.

Here's what MV came up with, starting from the top:

Open your shutters         [serrande] there's something great to [see]
It stirs your mind, but not your senses/snake      [the rhyme is mente (mind) serpente (serpent, or                                                  snake, a reference to Corviale, whose nickname is The Serpent)]
It welcomes you in her arms                        [or breasts [seno], or lap]
The 'hood' [periferia] is a state of [my] mind  [MV adds, of course here the pun works much better in                                                English; it's obviously referring to the mental clinic next door]
People pierced by splinters            [schegge, misspelled here; MV adds that the word schegge is                       usually associated with wood, but the word trafitto is usually associated with spines/thorns]
It's been a prison         [or, it is a prison state, or if the mermaid's tail covers the word "in," it could be                                 "it did time in prison"]

Mille Grazie, MV!

And another with a message: "If you have no memory, you have no knowledge."  More snakes--again, reflecting Corviale's nickname, "serpentone" (big snake).

Some of the art is clustered in and around a small stadium (which we missed on our first trip), including a whimsical tableaux by LAC 68, one of  our favorite street artists. His "signature" is a white figure with a shopping cart (far right side).

LAC 68 also did this portrait of a woman. "Pupo" translates as kid; "geloso" as jealous. Looks like she's stroking a cat-like creature.

It was one of a number of depictions of women:

Including several by Pier the Rain, an artist unfamiliar to us:

On the level below the stadium, where there is a functioning business or two, we found the lovely "Corviale" mural that for the past few months has served as the cover photo for our romethesecondtime Facebook site:

And this piece, with some serious word content, perhaps referring to life at Corviale:

Our reality is tragic,
but it's only one fourth:
The rest is comedy.

One can laugh
at almost everything.

On the level above, the artist QWERTY has fashioned one of his well-known, playful--but also deadly serious--stick figures (left side).  Shades of Guernica?

And a painted walkway.

With a police station close by:

Aside from the wall art, and while exploring Corviale and near-environs, we found a few objects of interest.  One of them was a old rusted sign for an alimentari (a small foods store), an indication of what used to be and isn't any more.  As far as we know, there is no commerce in or near Corviale.

And across the street from Corviale proper, we saw what appeared to be an abandoned social space:

Just beyond it, a short tunnel with words by Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Roman poet, novelist and film-maker known to have visited the city's public housing projects--though not this one.  He was murdered in 1975, the year construction of Corviale began.

"Beauty can pass through the strangest streets."

Within a stone's throw, an upscale sports facility, likely not intended for the mostly downscale residents of Corviale, though the complex also harbors some wealthier folks.

Corviale has a small, comfortable library:

As well as a modern art gallery!

And now, its own worthy collection of outdoor public art.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Grocery shopping 2019: quantity, quality and detours

Grocery shopping in Rome can be a pain - no 24-hour true supermarkets (no Wegmans - Buffalonians and Brooklynites). At the same time, it can be a great pleasure - as in, no 24-hour true supermarkets. We shop in open-air markets (our favorite, in Piazza San Giovanni di Dio, we've written about several times), mini-marts (ditto), the dying classic alimentari (small grocery/deli), and specialty shops. Among the pleasures we enjoyed in 2019, above - the incredible offering of wines under $3 in our local "super" (not at all large by US standards) market - and those above aren't the cheapest - you can also buy wine "sfuzi" - from a tap - fill up your own bottle, at even lower prices).

We also found this gorgonzola-by-the-scoop fascinating (photo right). The spoon and the amount of cheese is significantly larger than you can imagine from this photo. And, it's Euro 14.90/kilo, or about $7.50/pound - not that anyone buys a pound of gorgonzola at a time. At the deli at another not-very-large "super" market.

Part of what made our eyes pop is simply the quantity of what's being offered that one doesn't see in the US - the numbers of bottles of wine, the size of the gorgonzola, the multitude of waters (below), and the list goes on.

Left: in front of a Pigneto mini-market we found this list of prices for water - yes, that's all for different brands of bottled water (at least until you get to the Coca-Cola at the bottom). All selling for under Euro 3 (about $3.30 today) for 6 bottles of 1.5 liters each or more than 2 gallons of water. Romans still like their bottled water, even though the local water is quite good - though hard. Climate change may erode this practice over time.

Above, a small portion of the elaborate variety of desserts
at our local cafe'/pasticceria (Fattore) in Pigneto.

Left, enough salumi and prosciutto for you? (At a local, small market in Pigneto.)

It's not just food and drink.  Below, we found this plethora of "sfuzi" (unpackaged - bring your own container) laundry detergent at a local market:

Of course, you also can choose between 3 different kinds of asparagus (when in season) - at our old standby, the tin-shed open-air market in Piazza San Giovanni di Dio:

At the same market, we also could buy fruit and vegetables for the a single price/kilo - Euro 1.49 - by the way, that included bottles of wine.

Kiwi from Lazio
There's also the practice - likely an EU law, but also important to Italians - that requires the markets to label the source of all the produce, as in this Tivoli market (looks good close-up, but unfortunately seems like it's on its last legs):
Lemons from Amalfi

Tarocco oranges from Sicily "natural,
with leaves"

Melinda apples from the Trentino
(northern Italy); "offerta" = sale price

The alimentari (small, classic, usually Italian-owned and run, grocery/deli) near us in Monteverde displayed its dog food outside:

and inside was a photo of "Mama," who, it was explained to us, made the mozzarella:

Two more unusual presentations in 2019. One, a tiny stand that offered a plethora of baked goods from Ciociaria, a province near Rome noted for its food (and for the Academy Award-winning film, based on the book by Alberto Moravia, starring Sophia Loren, "Two Women" - in Italian, "La Ciociara" - the woman from Ciociaria):
"Ciociara bread- cooked over wood"
And, finally, we encountered - still in Pigneto - a street blocked off. The solution for which was one had to walk through the Todis grocery store to get around the block:

Yes, that's me, taking the detour through the store.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Gentrification: Rome's new Problem

We're familiar with a variety of Rome social movements, but until the latest trip we had not encountered the latest variant: opposition to gentrification.  It might have been there for years, and we failed to notice--because we generally rent in middle-class neighborhoods (Monteverde, Piazza Bologna, San Giovanni) where residents appreciate the amenities of gentrification: a sleek, modern coffee place, an art gallery, a (dare we say it) wine bar.

Gentrification involves investment in shops and housing.  The irony is that the neighborhoods that most need investment--poorer neighborhoods that today feature a mix of native Italians and immigrants--are precisely those where resistance to gentrification is strongest, judging by what's written on the walls.  These neighborhoods are Quadraro, not far from the center, on both sides of via Tuscolana; Tor Pignattara (just north of Quadraro, off via Casilina), and Pigneto (not far from Porta Maggiore, and between via Prenestina and via Casilina).  Tellingly, all of these neighborhoods have a strong street art scene.  We also found anti-gentrification sentiment at Laurentina 38, a massive public housing on the city's outskirts.

We first encountered hostility to gentrification--and hostility to one of the symbols of gentrification-- on a walk from Pigneto, where we were living, to Tor Pignattara.  We had just seen for the first time Etam Cru's "Coffee Break," 2014, the tallest piece of wall art in the city, located between via del Pigneto and via Ludovico Pavoni.

Nearby, another large piece attracted our attention.

But the words below it were of more importance, for they served as our introduction to the problem: "muralismo = gentrification," followed by the sign of an anarchist/feminist group.

The word "murales" (murals), from the Spanish, is now commonly used in Rome to refer to wall art; the English word "gentrification" is the word most often used by Italians to label the phenomenon.  And the message was clear: some people believe that wall art is a sign of the arrival of gentrification, or anticipation of it.  We don't know that that's true, although the area between Tor Pignattara and Pigneto might seem an ideal setting for the young, rising middle class: some large and ordinary apartment buildings, but also many smaller houses, tucked away on quiet side streets, ready to be bought up and redone.

There are no wine bars in Tor Pignattara, though the area has been home to a premier small art gallery, Wunderkammern, for several years.  And we did find one development that deserves the term gentrification.  It's not far from the intersection of via Casilina and via Acqua Bullicante, and next door to a defunct art deco style theater.  There's a sign for "Conti Suites," a sales office for the apartments above.  And a mural designed to appeal to the more-or-less upscale folks who might want to live there:

Pigneto does have a wine bar--indeed, there are at least four of them, including the famous Necci dal 24, where Pasolini hung out 50 years ago--as well as several coffee bars designed to attract the upwardly mobile--so maybe the horse of gentrification is out of the barn.

Even so, some of the locals don't like what's going on. The poster below states "La gentrificazione [an attempt to Italianize the word] distrugge la vita del quartiere" (gentrification destroys the life of the neighborhood).  The illustration is a reference to Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" (1942).  It looks like the self-satisfied life of the gentry, relaxing at the cafe, has been disrupted by a violent demonstration--perhaps against gentrification.  Other interpretations welcome!

Quadraro has a long history of anti-fascism and a shorter, though distinguished one, of street art.  For about a decade, street artists have been welcomed.  They've decorated the sides of elevated via Tuscolana, which splits the town; the ends of a tunnel that runs under the highway; and dozens of walls on side streets.  There are no art galleries that we know of in Quadraro, no wine bar, and--with an exception or two--not much redevelopment.  Below, one of our favorite pieces of Quadraro street art:

For whatever reason, there is growing opposition to gentrification in Quadraro, and particularly to the street art that has given the community its contemporary definition.  The photo at the top of the post, of the side of via Tuscolana at it runs through the community, illustrates the conflict:  On the one hand, a 2011 note celebrates the street art tradition: "art pollinates Quadraro/l'arte feconda Quadraro."  On the other hand, more recent scribbling, on top of some of the original art, has another message: "Il quartiere non e' il vostro museo" (the neighborhood is not your museum).

Not far way, around an entrance to the tunnel, insulting comments about street art ("fanculo la street art"/fuck street art), gentrification ("gentrifica sto cazzo"/gentrify my ass!), and dislike of "hipsters," whom the writer identifies as the agent of gentrification:  "Barbe strappate"/"occhia i rotti"/"ve sfondamo" (plucked beards, smashed eyeglasses, hipsters [beware] we're going to kick your ass).  Nota bene: we got some translation help from a Roman friend, who adds: "The Italian sfondare (=smash), used in Rome, refers to not very pleasant activities, such as 'sfondare di botte' (=beat you to a pulp) or worse, 'sfondare il culo' (=break your ass)."  Thanks, M!

The anti-gentrification statements above are all by one person (which to some extent vitiates their importance as evidence), and are sited just to the left of one of the elaborately decorated tunnel entrances.

And then there's Laurentina 38, the failed housing project, its architecturally significant bridges now populated by immigrant squatters--a complex, and a neighborhood, that could use new money, whether that of hipsters or anyone else.