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

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life is better with a broomstick: creative solutions to appliance problems in Rome


Italian ingenuity often has to extend to making appliances work.  Here a broom handle is used to keep the oven on.

But it wasn't the only use we found for broom handles.

Below, the only way we found to keep the washing machine door shut:

Needless to say neither the stove (which was in a friend's apartment) nor the washing machine would work without these tricks.

And finally, maybe not crucial - unless you don't want to put dishes away with one hand while the other holds the cabinet door open - our solution to a sky drain door that wouldn't stay up:

We are fans of the sky drain - Italians way of drying dishes. We wish American kitchen designers would use them, though Americans are addicted to electric dishwashers.

We don't think we're dissing Italian products by saying that often design trumps utility, though these aren't the coolest designs we've seen. Just routine appliances that don't quite work.

  BTW, don't expect the Airbnb host to tell you how to solve these problems - just look for the broomstick in the closet.


Monday, September 11, 2023

A statue of Carabinieri leads to the question: What was the role of this national armed force under Fascism?


La pattuglia nella tempesta.

One of the rabbit holes we went down this year started on the day we flew into Rome and wandered into the park across from Palazzo del Quirinale while waiting for the time on our timed tickets for the Scuderie exhibition (more on that exhibition in a future post). The park's center has a statue of Carlo Alberto, father of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of a united Italy in the 1860s. But that's a traditional equestrian statue. We gravitated instead to a statue of two figures, on the back side of the park, and seemingly "lost" on the park grounds. Italians no doubt recognize the flowing capes and (what I now know are called) bicorn hats, but we didn't. After much Google sleuthing, we discovered these figures represent Carabinieri from 1814, when they were formed as the King's police. The statue - from 2014 - celebrates the national police force's bicentennial. 

By Florentine sculptor Antonio Berti (1904-1990), the statue is, in our minds, a gem. It's titled "La pattuglia nella tempesta" - "The patrol in the storm," and is designed to show the Carabinieri - off their horses (or these days, out of their cars), in any weather, helping their countrymen and women. I love those flowing capes. There's something about the work that reminds me of Rodin's Balzac, though I'm probably getting carried away here.

   Outside the museum. The tourists
don't even look at it.

And now the rabbit hole. In trying to find the subject and name of the statue, I ran across an article titled "Italian policemen and fascist ideology," by Dr. Jonathan Dunnage of Swansea University in the UK. Many Italians look at the Carabinieri and Fascists this way: they were the King's police force. The King was a Fascist; the Carabinieri supported the King. When the King separated himself from Mussolini, so did they. Kind of "just doing their job." 

Dunnage is more critical. In a summary of his article, he states, "There is little doubt that, without undergoing dramatic transformations, the Italian Interior Ministry police and Carabinieri played key roles in the enforcement of the fascist dictatorship."  This summary focuses on the police, rather than on the Carabinieri, and, arguably, the Carabinieri were more independent. I contacted Dunnage, who was kind enough to exchange emails with me. In a response to me, he contends, "On the other hand, both police organizations would have been grateful for a government which claimed to restore respect for the law (and for the institutions of law and order) following the 'humiliations' of the 'Red Two Years' (1919-1920)." [Elaboration by Dunnage on this theme is at the end of this post.]

The statue, Dunnage's comments, and a lunch with two Roman friends convinced us to return to the Carabinieri Museum (Museo storico dell'Arma dei Carabinieri) in Piazza del Risorgimento (where most folks are heading in droves to the Vatican). We had been there previously, for a press conference announcing the recovery of stolen art works (the Carabinieri have an art recovery section). Our lunch companions told us the museum had been reorganized and modernized (it needed it; all material was only in Italian, for starters), and that a relative of one of them, a retired Carabiniere, had designed the new exhibition. We couldn't wait to go back.

We found the first floor, in particular, much better organized, and with all placards in both Italian and English. Paintings, more than photographs, illustrated the Carabinieris' bravery. 

The Carabiniere at left was serving in the Barmash (Albania) Carabinieri Station when it was attacked "On December 28, overwhelming enemy forces, which he resisted heartily. Once the ammunition ran out, he did not give up, but with hand grenades faced the enemy together with [another Carabiniere], who fell with him." Note, no mention of who the enemy is.

Looking at the historical panorama that covers the Fascist ventennio (20+ years), one can see a sort of amnesia:

The dates are, left to right, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1942. The painting above 1942 is the painting above in this post of the Carabiniere in Albania.

There are pictures and stories of the Italian African campaign, in which the Carabinieri figured prominently, and of battles raged against "brigands" in Sicily and elsewhere. Nothing about Fascists, Mussolini, or fighting for the State against partisans in Italy. The second floor is laid out similarly, although the English translators haven't yet made it to that floor. There, under 1928, is an illustration of the Carabinieri fighting Sicilian brigands; under 1936, a battle in Somalia. 

Above, one of the more interesting paintings, of the Battle of Culqualber, which lasted from August to November 1941 in Ethiopia ("Italian East Africa"), and is considered the end of the the war in East Africa for the Italians. Carabinieri and colonial forces fought the British Commonwealth forces there.

The only place we saw any reference to Mussolini or Fascism was in the collection of annual calendars, and even then the one with Mussolini on the cover was high up on the wall and difficult to photograph; one has to recognize his profile - which any Italian would:
All of the calendars in the Fascist era use the Fascist
numbering system. Mussolini is on the cover second from
left, middle row, year 1939, XVII E.F. (17, Fascist Era,
i.e., 17 years after the 1922 March on Rome).
The online site for the museum is filled with information. And if one searches for Mussolini or Fascism, there are many citations. Among them is the intriguingly titled "I Carabinieri nel novecento italiano - la fine delle illusioni" ("The Carabinieri in 1900s Italy: the end of illusions"). The post has a good summary of Italy at the end of the Fascist era, but nothing about the Carabinieri in that period. And so it goes with the other entries in which Fascism is mentioned.

With the year 1943, the panels change dramatically to the Carabinieri fighting against the Nazis as part of the Resistance. 

Right, a Carabiniere in Greece, 
trampling the Nazi flag and 
raising the Italian one.

There's no doubt many Carabinieri were significant in the Resistance to the Nazis, after the King abandoned Mussolini.

Some were shot by the Germans, and 12 were murdered in the massacre at the Fosse Ardeatine outside Rome (on an itinerary in our first book on Rome, Rome the Second Time). A monument to the 12 is in the museum:

The exhibitions bring the Carabinieri into the 1970s and 1980s, with their efforts to combat the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse), who assassinated politician and statesman Aldo Moro. In the panels below, his portrait is labeled "'78" - the year he was killed. "'83" is a painting depicting the Carabinieri, led by Mario D'Aleo, who were ambushed and killed in Sicily by the Mafia that year.

There are also some "fun facts" in the museum, including posters of movies featuring Carabinieri.

Right, the beloved "Pane, Amore e Fantasia" 
(In English, "Bread, Love and Dreams"), 
starring Vittorio De Sica and Gina Lollobrigida.

And our museum tour ended where it began, with our rabbit hole. An entire corner and display is devoted to the statue of La pattuglia nella tempesta, which is popular enough that one can buy small replicas of it, as in, Exit through the Gift Shop.

Dianne [see more from Jonathan Dunnage below the photo]

Here is Jonathan Dunnage's more complete response (in an email to me) to the argument that the Carabinieri weren't at heart Fascists:

It has been argued that the Carabinieri were less complicit with the fascist regime because of their loyalty to the monarchy, as a result of which Mussolini decided to entrust policing and surveillance first and foremost to the Interior Ministry police. However, if you consider that the Carabinieri were answerable to the Interior Ministry for matters of policing, and if you look at daily policing activities on the ground, it is obvious that the Carabinieri were complicit, even if their position was secondary to that of the Interior Ministry police. Despite formal adhesion to the regime, as evident in public ceremonies, it has been suggested that the Carabinieri managed to maintain a degree of aloofness. On the other hand, both police organizations would have been grateful for a government which claimed to restore respect for the law (and for the institutions of law and order) following the 'humiliations' of the 'Red Two Years' (1919-1920). Members of the police and the Carabinieri, whether or not they were staunch fascists, had historically been accustomed to seeing the forces of the Left as dangerous for public order, and one can imagine that many saw the fascist regime as enabling them to do their job of 'protecting' Italian society from anarchists, socialists and communists, when the preceding Liberal governments had appeared hesitant (i.e. for fear of infringing citizens' democratic rights).

Friday, July 21, 2023

Barbie Has No Knees (and Superman has no genitals): Reflecting on the historical significance of the iconic doll through an exhibit at the Vittoriano

With Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" scheduled to open tonight in theaters, well, everywhere, we are re-posting Bill's 2016 post below, which is chock-full of historical cultural analysis as well as photos of some of the many Barbies we saw at the exhibit. Yeah, go to Rome and see Barbies! We loved it. (Review here:

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 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 Hedren (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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Quarticciolo: A Visit to Rome's Working-Class Periphery

We knew almost nothing about the quartiere of Quarticciolo when we spent a couple of hours there this Spring, except that it was a working-class enclave with a leftist reputation. It's located on Rome's periphery, a third or fourth-tier suburb east of the city center, not far from the GRA that encircles the city, and bounded on the west by a quasi-highway, viale Palmiro Togliatti. Coming from the center on via Prenestina, we turned right on the first street after viale Togliatti and parked the scooter, just a few feet from what appeared to be an abandoned "ape" (a small, three-wheeled truck) and amid the first of many low-rise apartment buildings. 

Across the street was a church (completed in 1954) and down the way, built into one of the apartment buildings, a substantial altar to the Virgin Mary, constructed in 1950. 

Quarticciolo has been described as the last of the "borgate" (towns or "working-class suburbs") constructed by the Fascist regime. The first buildings--all of Quarticciolo was, and probably still is, "public" housing--were erected between 1941 and 1943, during the war. The units were intended for very large families. The first 300 apartments were designed for families with at least 7 children, and the next 100 were for those with 4 or 5 kids--depending on need, part of the Fascist encouragement of large families.

The north end of the community, where we began our trek, is now the site of a large chain grocery store (and other stores); the basic apartment buildings were not designed for "mixed use." It also has a recently built community sports center ("From the Borgata, for the Borgata," reads the lettering at the top of the building below, an interesting pride in the term "borgata").

Moving along via Alessandrina into the center of Quarticciolo, we came upon what appeared to be a multi-story city hall (although not marked as such)/community center, covered with graffiti and other materials that revealed much about the quartiere. Along one wall, large graffiti letters "Essere un comitato e' prendersi cura della borgata" (to be a committee--the common council, one presumes--means taking care of the town).  

A plaque (far left in the above photo), placed on the building in 2010, honors the anti-Fascist partisans of Quarticciolo who resisted the German occupation of 1943-1944. Quarticciolo was one of several communities, moving east from the center, that were prominent in the resistance to Nazi occupation; they included Quadraro, Torpignattara, and Centocelle (all of which we've written about many times; one post is linked here to each community). 

In the rear of the building, a line drawing appears to show a rapacious capitalist with little regard for needs of the ordinary people. 

The rear façade is decorated with two multi-story figures. Not sure what they are supposed to represent.

And a sign proclaims "Insieme Tutto E' Possibile" (together, everything is possible), more evidence of a desire for community solidarity (it's signed "Quarticciolo Ribelle" [Quarticciolo Rebel]. 

Both sides of the building feature a rich variety of graffiti, old and new. 

Across the street from the community center (maybe the municipal hall) we were surprised to see a theater and library. Although the building has some 1960-era features, it was constructed quite recently, apparently in 2007, on the site of a public market (probably the victim of the supermarket).

The town is long and thin, and in a few minutes we had reached the other, southern, end. Time for a 2nd coffee of the day--served in glass cups, quite unusual for most of Rome--in a nice bar with many patrons, inside and outside.

On our return to the scooter we found lots of evidence of Quarticciolo's liberal (and radical) politics. On the liberal side, we came across a center for volunteers and, next to it, a free book exchange (there aren't many in Rome) housed in an old cooler. 

Housing is a major issue, as it was 80 years ago. A larger banner proclaimed "Stop Sgomberi" (stop evictions), and a sign made a point of the comitato's recent efforts to move the community in an ecological direction: "How can one make an ecological transition when it's raining on your head inside your house?" 

"Stop Evictions. We all have a right to a house!"

"The ecological transition doesn't make much sense when it's 
raining of your head--inside your house!"

Low-income communities such as Quarticciolo are likely to be anti-prison (anti-carcere), and signs confirmed that perspective. We also found standard Communist stuff--Viva Stalin (really?) and a hammer and sickle with the date, 1917, of the Russian Revolution.

And an enormous and striking portrait of (to us) a person unknown.   

One last photo, this one not so political--and yet it is. The wall sign reads, "Quarantine in 20 square meters: You can't do it." 

Thanks, Quarticciolo, for having us!


Monday, June 26, 2023

Sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro and Fendi Put On a Show

Bill in front of the 'opening' piece, Le Battaglie ("The Battles" 1995), which Pomodoro says was inspired by Paolo Uccello's "La Battaglia di San Romano" ("The Battle of San Romano" - first half of 1400s) in Siena. (Hisham Matar's "A Month in Siena" has many incisive pages devoted to this painting.)

A little late to the game, we "discovered" Arnaldo Pomodoro, thanks to a newspaper ad on the opening of a new exhibition of some of his large-scale works at Fendi's gallery at the restored Palazzo della Civilta' Romano in EUR. It's not that we hadn't seen his work before - we have long appreciated the globe/sphere in front of the Farnesina, the Italian "state department" in Rome. His "sphere within a sphere" are all over the world, we now know.

The exhibition at Fendi  - Il Grande Teatro delle Civilta' - "The Great Theater of Civilizations" - is remarkable for its installation of numerous enormous works - on the scale of Richard Serra's (though Pomodoro's are one-sided - one cannot walk in and around them).

The Palazzo (also known as the "Square Coliseum") is itself so imposing that at first we found Pomodoro's works installed outside of it simply too small and squatty.

Case in point, right.  Dianne tries to figure out what it is - against the backdrop of a much more imposing statue from the building's original design. Turns out it's Agamemnon, and the design was for a Greek theater production in 2014 in Siracusa and so, makes sense. It wasn't designed for this place.

Two aspects of the exhibit appealed to us. First, the delight of children grooving to the artwork, as at left.

Second, the excellent and informative flat material that gives shape to Pomodoro's lengthy career. He's about to turn 97 (the English language Wikipedia entry says his active years WERE 1954-2005 - whoops!). These are displayed in bright, large glass cases, slide-out drawers - both vertical and horizontal. We were intrigued by his work in the graphics medium.

And we learned about the placement of his works around the world. Newspaper articles and drawings showed that one of his obelisk-type sculptures had been installed on the Gianicolo, in a highly visible but unlikely spot - the traffic circle on the way up to the Bambino Gesu' Hospital that hosts the large entrances to the bus parking for the hordes visiting St. Peter's and the Vatican (you can also access the Caput Mundi shopping mall Bill wrote about recently from this underground parking venue). Below is the sketch - but it must have been there because there also were photos of it being installed. We missed it "in the flesh."

Left, Dianne checking out one of the drawers with sketches, newspaper articles, graphic works, and explanations. (If only my kitchen drawers worked this well!)

A hand-out at the exhibition shows the location of Pomodoro's works around Rome. We later were on a tour of Palazzo dello Sport (Nervi's ground-breaking building for the 1960 Olympics; Ali - as Cassius Clay - won his gold medal here), which features a Pomodoro obelisk in another once-traffic-circle (named Piazzale Pier Luigi Nervi), now abandoned and rather forlorn.

The photo at right shows the condition of the piazza and statue.

We've heard the complaint (and are tempted ourselves) to view Pomodoro as a "one-trick pony." If you unwrap the obelisk, it looks like the flat pieces. The shapes are similar throughout his work. 

The exhibition at Fendi ends with a newer piece (1996-97, below) that is a complement in white to the introductory Le Battaglie that leads off this post.

To us, it didn't seem to move the needle much in terms of his art. 

The title of the work is Movimento in pieno aria e nel profondo ("Movement in free space and in the depths" - or something like that!).

Close-up at right.

On the other hand, if one looks at his costumes, graphic work, public art - the way it is placed in the world, his vision seems greater.  

We close with some of these other pieces, including our having fun with them - which is a benefit of art as well.

If you can't get to Rome to see Il Grande Teatro delle Civilta' - "The Great Theater of Civilizations" before it closes October 1, the website is comprehensive. It includes all the works, plus a visual tour, plus a map of his works all over the world.

In Italian and English here:


RST with one of the costumes, this one from 1986 for Didone (Dido), one of my favorite tragic heroines. .

There's a relationship between the faux "printer's wheel" outside (Rotativa di Babilonia - Babylon's wheel, 1991) and the graphics-type work inside (Tracce I-VII - Traces 1-7, 1998) (above and below).

A close-up of Il cubo ("The Cube," 1961-62), one of the first works in the show, and one one of us found intriguing - maybe because it had some "white space" in it.

Below is the most recent of Pomodoro's sculptures in the exhibition - Continuum, 2010 - one that seems to highlight made-up hieroglyphics. Pomodoro's large, rectangular pieces remind us of Richard Serra's, but the Italian sculptor's are very much 2-dimensional with bas relief, not the 3-dimensional, run-around-and-through-it of Serra.

The artist with his barbed take on Fendi's Peekaboo bag - on display during the exhibition: 

(Image credit: Carlos & Dario Tettamanzi)