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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

RST Turns 10 and Reaches 800 - Years and Posts on Rome

                                                                    Our 800th!

Here at RST we can't hide our pride in our longevity (we've been writing on Rome for more than a decade!) and in the volume of our work product (800 posts, each requiring from 4 to 8 hours of labor, and some much more, not counting "experiencing" whatever it is we're writing about).

To commemorate #800, we're offering a list of some of our popular posts (though not necessarily the most popular), one for each decade of the site's existence.  In developing the list, we tried for balance, for a batch of posts that more or less represent the content we offer (got to have something on Fascism, on graffiti, on the scooter we ride daily, on hiking, on religion, on a neighborhood seldom visited, on something quirky, and so on).  Below is our list, starting more than 10 years ago, and a link to each post - should you want to engage in a bit of nostalgia. Here we go:

2009  Europe's Largest Mosque -- in Rome  (4th most popular all time)

2010  Centocelle: Rome's New Rochelle

2011  Renting a Scooter in Rome  (most popular all time, over  20,000 hits)

2012  Fascism and the Reconstruction of Rome (with a heavy nod to Paul Baxa's book)

2013  Tracking Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's stormy love affair in Rome

2014  The 6-legged Dog: the story of Eni's famous logo (6th all time)

2015  Richard Meier's Suburban Jubilee Church (2nd all time)

2016  Hiking near Rome: Tivoli, Train to Trail

2017  Anna Magnani, Rome Icon

2018  "Love Nests"/Exploitation in the Woods: Rome Prostitution (7th all time)

2019  Cy Twombly in Rome

Bill and Dianne

Coming soon: revised TOP 40 list

Friday, September 6, 2019

Art for Tourists? and is that bad? Three exhibitions in Rome: Gallerias Corsini, Borghese and Nazionale.

Juxtaposing art works by a theme other than historical context seems to be the new-ish rage. A couple Rome examples.

First, the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at Galleria Corsini. I'm sure the Popes, cardinals, and royals who established and contributed to this gallery would roll over in their graves had they seen (a bit hard to do from the grave) Robert Mapplethorpe's stunning black and white photographs of sadomasochism next to paintings of saints. That's what the Corsini did - the show has been extended until October 6. I was fascinated by it; Bill not so much.

Then I wondered if I was falling into the trap of simplistic viewing of art - art for tourists rather than art for those who know and appreciate art, to steal a distinction used by Christopher Knight recently in a screed against the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) new building design and curator goals. A nicer way to put it, per Knight, is that "Every art museum serves two publics - an art public and a general public." In his polemic, Knight says LACMA's current plan "puts a thumb on the scale for the latter."

The extension of the Mapplethorpe exhibition was justified, according to the gallery, because public viewing of the Corsini doubled - part way through the current show - compared to the same period last year. In our experience, the Corsini is generally not one of the most visited museums in Rome.

Here's one of the more audacious Maplethorpe juxtapositions, as I reference above:
Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon, 1981. The three paintings are by Bolognese painter
Guido Reni (1575-1642) of Christ with the Crown of Thorns, the Sorrowful Virgin 
and St. John the Baptist. The sculpture is "Silenus Head," Roman, 2nd Century AD.
The curator places the photography of body-builder Lisa Lyon in sadomasochistic garb below the three Guido Reni paintings of pained saints. What is the viewer to think about these works? That depictions of sorrow and pain can have similarities and differences over centuries? That Mapplethorpe's work is rooted in the classical?  It seems to me these are worthy questions, and they don't make the works "homeless," a term Knight uses.

I recall a pamphlet on the exhibition (which I lost on the way back from Rome) that explained Mapplethorpe's deep ties to classical art. And the image below demonstrates that:
Mapplethorpe, "Black Bust" (1988) and "Apollo" (1988), The sculpture is by Luigi Bienalmé
(1795 -1878), "Dancer with Finger on her Chin," in Rome's Galleria Corsini. Another sculpture from the 17th century "framed" Mapplethorpe's photographs on the other side.

Another exhibition illustrating this 'trend' is one I didn't see - Lucio Fontana's work placed in the Galleria Borghese, apparently the first 20th-century artist to be so "honored." It closed August 25. This one, too, keeps the Renaissance works in their own context, and adds Fontana. I'll leave it up to you to decide if the interplay adds meaning (photo below right).
"Terra e Oro" (Earth and Gold), Fontana exhibition at the
Galleria Borghese in Rome.

A third exhibition - on view until November 3 - takes a similar approach.  "Joint Is Out of Time," a follow-on to 2016's "Time Is Out of Joint" (yes, from "Hamlet") uses works in the Galleria Nazionale's collection placed in a context with each other that is not related to their style or chronology,  This is more of the type of exhibition Knight complains about - it takes everything out of context.  Each room in the exhibition has a different theme or way of connecting the pieces in it.

I liked one room that I would call "war" (the Gallery's descriptions of the rooms were non-existent for the most part, and there was very little information about the art work and the artists), even though it takes very different types of works in different media from different periods and puts them together. On the other hand, is this just "art tourism"? Art for the general public?  What more can we say than that the theme is one of fighting? Does the juxtaposition make us understand or appreciate any of the works more than if they were in context with other artists/styles/periods that are similar?

The sculpture of the fighting dogs, which is disturbingly real and well-placed in the gallery, is by Italian sculptor Davide Rivalta. It was in the 2016 exhibition as well. I don't recall the artist of the painting on the wall (one of our readers might). At the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome.
Unlike the pamphlet for the Mapplethorpe exhibition, the limited material available for the Galleria Nazionale exhibition was, frankly, close to unintelligible curator high b.s. And there was no attempt to tie the works together in the different rooms of the museum. You were on your own.  Or, if you were like these teenagers at right, in the room on "war," you were bored (whatever was on their phones was more interesting, apparently).

Below is an example from the Mapplethorpe exhibit that seemed to me too simplistic.  Each is a portrait of a dandy, from different periods. Each artist selected a similar profile; each subject has a high forehead and trimmed beard. Should we appreciate the similarities, or are the similarities simply superficial?
Left, Simone Cantarini, "Self-Portrait" (1612-1648);
Right, Mapplethorpe, "Harry Lunn," 1976. Galleria Corsini, Rome.

Another benefit from this type of exhibition is that it uses primarily the works already in the gallery. It doesn't require the loan of an entire show worth of works (in the case of Galleria Nazionale). It doesn't require rehanging an entire gallery (in the case of the Corsini and Borghese museums). In other words, it's economical compared to travelling or entirely new shows, at a time when galleries are underfunded.

Jason Farago, in a recent article in the New York Times on an exhibition at the Pompidou Center entitled “Préhistoire” ("Prehistory"), made a similar distinction in reviewing a show he says demonstrates - in detail - how "prehistory" influenced modern artists. He states, "This show doesn’t merely juxtapose hand axes and fossils with superficially concordant modern art, but grounds these juxtapositions with the artists’ notebooks, interviews, and other primary sources."  He is critical of some works in the show, noting "the curators' engagement with modernity and thickened time gives way to a few too many wink-nudge sendups of old rocks and fertility goddesses."  It's these "wink-nudge" comparisons that trouble me.

A contrast to the Rome exhibitions highlighted above is the Galleria Moderna d'Arte's (the city of  Rome's modern art gallery - once the Mussolini gallery (!)),exhibition on the depiction of women in art in the 20th century (a specific theme, a chronological approach, but also using its own collection) and the Palazzo Merulana (the private gallery about which I wrote a year ago) exhibition on the works of Giacomo Balla - a specific artist, again of the 20th century. (Photos below.) More traditional shows, not likely to draw as many visitors perhaps, but, to me, giving the viewer more opportunity to learn about the art.

Balla, "Autocaffè" 1928, in the show:
"Giacomo Balla. Dal Futurismo astratto
 al Futurismo iconico" (Giacomo Balla:
 From abstract Futurism to iconic Futurism)
 at Palazzo Merulana.
Photograph in Rome's Galleria Moderna d'Arte from its
show "Donne. Corpo e immagine tra simbolo e rivoluzione"
 ("Women: Body and image in symbol and revolution").

A respected gallery curator with whom I was speaking recently (who knew the three shows I highlighted above only from my descriptions) said these types of placement of works could encourage people who have previously seen the works to look at them in new ways, or could cause viewers who don't normally relate to one period or style to come to see it and possibly appreciate it because they came to see a style with which they are familiar. In either case, one is expanding the art public or the public's sense of art or both. Or are these shows just encouraging simplistic conclusions?

My ambivalence remains.


A PS to those who read my screed on private galleries, highlighting Palazzo Merulana and Los Angeles's Marciano Art Foundation: Palazzo Merulana recently won the "Best Practice - Public Patrimony" prize for 2019 ("Premio Best Practice Patrimoni Pubblici 2019"). So much for my opinion!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

TAV or NO TAV: 30 Years of Conflict, and Counting

NO-TAV Leftist Wall Art, Pigneto
TAV--Treno Alta Velocita'--refers generally to high speed rail corridors, but more specifically to a planned high-speed, 170 mile rail line between Turin, Italy, and Lyon, France.  The project has been a contentious one from the first days of planning, in 1990. Recently, a parliamentary vote split the governing coalition, with Matteo Salvini's northern-industrial based Lega party in favor, and Luigi Di Maio's 5-Star Movement, with its anti-government ideology, opposed. In a non-binding vote, TAV was approved. Some of the tunneling had already been done. In the poster below, opponents suggest that the project will produce environmental devastation, strikes, and evictions. Probably all true.

Italian proponents of the new line, most of them in the country's industrial north, argue that the TAV to Lyon will increase trade; that the travel time by train from Turin to Paris connection will be roughly equivalent to air travel; that truck pollution would be significantly reduced--and, anyway, the EU has agreed to pay for about 40% of the cost, and maybe more.

Opponents, aligned under the NO TAV movement, are especially numerous in the many small towns that would line the non-tunnel portions of the track, and especially in Italy's Susa Valley. Because much of the work would involve tunneling through the Alps (one tunnel alone would be 36 miles long), in areas where the rock may contain asbestos, opponents also raise environmental and health concerns. Others are concerned about the inevitable cost over-runs and the corruption that typically attends large infrastructure projects in Italy. And there's doubtless a small-town, rural concern with quality-of-life issues (proponents would call it NIMBY-ism).

NO TAV emerged with the first planning, in the early 1990s. Opposition intensified after 2000, with demonstrations, squatting, trade union actions, and flash mobs, all of it linked, if superficially, with the Partisan opposition to the Nazis in the last years of World War II.

The fire burns. No Tav. 

The Italian part of the project was officially approved in 2011, though not much work has been done on the line since then, and opposition continues. Beppe Grillo, the 5-Star co-founder, has described the project as "a crime against humanity."

In back of the old slaughter house, in Testaccio. Mourning animals, the train driven by death. 
Although most of the hostility to the high-speed line has centered in the rural and small-town north, the issue appeared on Rome's walls as early as 2012 (when RST first began photographing evidence of opposition. TAV continues to be an issue in Rome, though perhaps an increasingly minor one--especially compared with immigration.


Saturday, August 17, 2019


You can't be in Rome long without knowing that the suffix "ia" refers to a shop or business that does what the prefix says.  Well, it's a bit more complicated than that, but not much.  Hence the Caffeteria Porta Furba refers to a place where you can get coffee near Porta Furba, out Tuscolano way. (And, unlike English, which puts the accent in the related word, cafeteria, on the second e, the accent in caffeteria in ALL these words (including trattoria, please) is on the 'i', but it's pronounced 'ee'.)

The same place is a Cornetteria (referring to the most common Rome pastry, a cornetto) and a Gastronomia (you can get food there; the prefix "gastro," seldom used in English except for doctor's appointments, refers to the digestive tract and now the trendy name "gastropub").

Everyone knows that an Osteria is a low-end restaurant, but may not know that the word actually defines an inn, where there's a host (an old-fashioned "ostia").

A trattoria is usually a step above an osteria.  In this case, the establishment is also a pizzeria and a birreria (beer, "birra" in Italian, is available).

Food shoppers will likely be familiar with the local "salumeria" (which sells salumi (salami, which may or may not be a related word, and which also describes a delicatessen or a pork-butcher shop, as the logo suggests).  A "norcineria" is more specifically a place where butchered pork is sold - pork in the classic style of Norcia, the Umbrian town whose name is given to this method of traditional pork products.

A "sartoria" is a tailor's shop (and the sign "sartorie" suggests there's more than one person doing the sewing).

The local tabaccheria sells tobacco products and matches and may recharge your phone.

But here's the thing.  It's OK to make up new words with the "ia" suffix, even if the prefix is in English.  Here's an example, from the town of Rocca di Papa in the Alban Hills. At the Jeanseria, you can buy....JEANS!


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Calatrava's swimming pool: viewed from Rome's mountains

This post is about a swimming pool.  It's in the photo above, but you were probably looking at the Alban hills, or the moon, or the city at dusk.

Rome is circled by mountains on 3 sides: to the southwest, the Colli Albani--the Alban Hills--beckon with a set of charming small towns, including Frascati and Rocca di Papa, sitting below the highest mountain in the chain, Monte Cavo.  To the north and east, Tivoli provides  access to the higher mountains in the Monti Lucretili, a group that includes Monte Sterparo and, beyond it to the west, the highest of Rome's nearby mountains, Monte Gennaro. Then, much closer to the city--indeed, right in it--there's a low chain of mountains (hills, really) that includes Monte Mario (about 400 feet vertical from the river), with its close-up views of the Vatican and one of Rome's great bars, for its view: Lo Zodiaco.  And to the south of Monte Mario, and in the same chain, the Gianicolo.

We've been all over these mountains--walked every trail and been to every peak in the Colli Albani, done most of the major mountains in the Lucretili range, and walked the length of the Monte Mario complex more than once. Each hike has its pleasures (and, we should add, its irritations).

One of the minor pleasures is catching a glimpse, from any of the summits and many of the trails, of one of the outstanding architectural features of Rome's periphery: a swimming pool.

But not just any swimming pool.  To be seen from a distance, of course, the pool has to be a big one, and this one is.  Up close it's a soaring, curving, triangular hulk of a building, set in the far suburbs to Rome's east, near Tor Vergata, the newest of Rome's universities.  It was designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava for the 2009 World Swimming Championships, and construction began in 2007.  But before it could be completed, Rome's right-wing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, cancelled the project. Here's what it looked like a few years ago:

And here's how it looks as we journey around Rome's horn of hills and mountains, beginning with the Alban Hills and moving counterclockwise.  In the photo below, Monte Cavo is to the left--with antennas--and the pool can be seen on the right, just above a dark set of lower hills.  The photo was taken from a mountain to the north and east of Monte Cavo.

Frascati is only a few miles from Monte Cavo, and set lower in the Colli Albani.  Here's the pool from Frascati.  Surprisingly close:

Tivoli is on the edge of another range, the Monte Lucretili, further north.  Here's what the pool looks like from the hills above Tivoli (about 600 vertical feet from the town).  Charming Tivoli is in the foreground, the white triangle of the pool about 1/4 from the right edge and near the horizon.

Below, the cross on Monte Sterpara--about a two hour hike from Tivoli, which is out of the photo to the left.  The pool, near the horizon, is to the left.

Monte Gennaro is the tallest mountain in the Lucretili range, with a hike up of from 2,000 to 3500 feet, depending on where you start.  Because Gennaro is high and further away, the pool gets smaller.  Below, we've cropped and modified the photo to make the pool more visible (if barely, at far upper left).  Don't complain.  In the foreground is the concrete platform atop the mountain.

Now, as we move back into the city to its west, the pool gets closer and, thankfully, more visible--though not much.  Below, photographed from the path up Mont Mario (near the Foro Italico), the pool is at left, against a backdrop of the Colli Albani:


We've raved before about the views from the top of Monte Mario, at the Lo Zodiaco bar.  Here's proof.  That's Rome, the Colli Albani, and the Calatrava pool, at dusk:

You don't have to climb even Monte Mario to see the pool.  The photo below is from the terrace of the American Academy in Rome, during its yearly open house showcasing the work of its fellows.  Put that June event on your calendar--if only to see the Calatrava pool.