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, May 13, 2021

Simone de Beauvoir in Rome


While reading Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Cafe, I learned that Simone de Beauvoir and her life-long companion, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, had spent a good deal of time in Rome--a month or two every summer in the 1950s and 1960s, and some summers before and after, about which I have less knowledge.  I was intrigued.  I ordered two volumes of de Beauvoir's autobiography (each 400 pages): Hard Times: Force of Circumstance II, covering the years 1952-1962, and All Said and Done, covering 1962-1972.  

What I learned was not what I anticipated. Both Sartre and de Beauvoir were known as deep thinkers and careful, elaborate analysts, and I expected de Beauvoir to apply their considerable intelligence to the city of Rome, to enlighten me with one insight after another. It didn't happen. There's plenty of analysis in the autobiographies--of postwar Japan, or France's poisoned relationship with its Algerian colony (one of de Beauvoir's obsessions), of the social structure of Rio de Janeiro, and so on (the duo traveled relentlessly), and of the distress of growing old and contemplating one's death--but not of Rome, where they spent, cumulatively, several years of their lives. What was going on? What did Rome mean to these two brilliant intellectuals?

In some respects, Sartre and de Beauvoir related to Rome as other tourists--though they were not so fond of those "other tourists." Although de Beauvoir wrote that they had once enjoyed staying outside the city center, and did, in fact, once live in a hotel near Ponte Milvio, their preference was for the center (they would take a car from Ponte Milvio to walk in the old city).  One hotel was the Hotel d'Angleterre, just off Piazza di Spagna [named as such, because of its popularity with the British, and now known as "Hotel d'Inghilterra"]. Another was on the Piazza Montecitorio (the Albergo Nazionale), and still another, the Hotel del Senato, on the Piazza della Rotonda (overlooking the Pantheon). [All three are still operating.]

De Beauvoir (and sometimes Sartre) did some sightseeing, inevitably at sites frequented by those "ordinary tourists," and most of them in the city center. On the Aventine Hill, looking through the keyhole, de Beauvoir wrote: "so by fixing my attention upon a small corner of the earth, beyond it I see an entire country, together with its relationship with the world." With Sartre she visited the Castel Sant'Angelo, saw the city's Caravaggios, walked the Corso ("now made commonplace and ugly"), and waxed eloquent about the beauty of St. Peter's dome against the sky. 

Beyond the city center, they traveled to Hadrian's Villa, Ostia, Cerveteri, Orvieto, the Alban Hills and the new Roman suburbs ("a ring of concrete," in the words of Italian politician Giancarlo Pajetta, quoted approvingly by de Beauvoir). But seldom are these places worthy of more than a mention, of more than the name.  In 1968 and 1969, writes de Beauvoir, "we did not leave Rome at all, and it had never seemed to us more delightful....We walked about less than we had in other years because we had the feeling of being in all the streets and all the squares of Rome at one and the same time." 

Like other tourists--at least those of means--Sartre and de Beauvoir haunt the familiar squares. Coffee in the morning in Piazza della Rotonda; for a time, Piazza Sant'Eustachio (until it got too noisy and crowded); dinner in Piazza Navona or, later on, Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere; late evening whiskey in Piazza del Popolo; the "best ices in Rome" (a standard tourist trope) at a "little street near the hotel." In these volumes, at least, there is no mention of Piazza Vittorio, Monte Mario, the Gianicolo, Ostiense, Piazza Bologna, Monte Sacro, Garbatella, or EUR--Rome's marvelous 19th- and 20th-century neighborhoods. 

At the Pantheon--a favorite piazza 

De Beauvoir could be romantic, even poetic, about Rome.  In the early 1950s, she wrote:  

"Even when its bricks are being scorched by the heat of the ferragosto [the August 15 holidays when all of Italy shuts down], when the asphalt is  melting along the deserted avenues, occasionally punctuated by a solitary, useless policeman in a white helmet, we still feel comfortable there.  This great bustling, crowded city still calls to mind the  little town founded by Romulus.  'They should build cities in the country, the air is much cleaner,' goes the old joke; for me, Rome is the country.  No factories, no smoke; there is nothing provincial about Rome, but often in the streets, on the piazzas, one feels the harshness, the silence of country villages. The old designation 'people,' in which all factions were dissolved, really applies to the inhabitants of Rome, who sit in the evening along the Trastevere [her words], on the Campo de' Fiori, on the fringes of the old ghetto, at the tables on the wine merchant's terraces in front of a carafe of Frascati; children play around them; calmed by the coolness of the streets, babies sleep on their mothers' knees; through the fragile gaiety hanging in the air, impetuous cries rise up from below.  You can hear the popping of the Vespas, but a cricket sings as well." (There's more, but you get the idea.) 

De Beauvoir and Sartre were workaholics. Both were voracious readers (that was part of their "work") and prolific, usually every-day writers.  They were also well connected with various Italian and Roman left-wing networks--they knew Carlo Levi, Alberto Moravia (a terrible driver, by the way), artist Renato Guttuso, literary critic Mario Alicata, and journalists who pressed them for interviews--and these relationships took time. Their days were long but dominated by work: breakfast at ten (reading the newspapers, with the Pantheon as backdrop); writing or reading in the hotel until mid-afternoon ("we also spend many hours in our rooms"); a sandwich on the terrace; a brief walk; work until 5--and often into the evening.

Yet for de Beauvoir, Rome was a certain kind of workplace--a workplace melding into a vacation place, a retreat from frenetic travel and (sometimes) writing. "We were both," she wrote in the 1950s, "Sartre as well as myself, a bit worn out with all the traveling we had done; above all other countries we loved Italy, and above all other cities, Rome; so there we stayed."

For her, then, Rome was, at least in part, an escape. In Rome, she could ease up on being a committed (and exhausted) tourist, and ease up, too, on the writing. In the early 1960s she wrote: "[Writing] is still necessary for me, but sometimes I like giving myself a break from it: I do so when staying in Rome, for example, where I could have all the spare time I want to work....I read for hours when I am in Rome during the summer."  In language that sounds disarmingly simple, even simplistic, she describes Rome as "happy's all so familiar, so happy, there's no need for words." "Rome" is for de Beauvoir a license to read (and not write) or, conversely, a license to return to writing: "Today," she wrote in 1958, "is very beautiful, very blue, I feel the happiness of being in Rome for a long time take hold of me again, and the desire to write. And I write." 

In All Said and Done de Beauvoir describes a variety of her dreams, including several that take place in Rome--"an agreeable place."  


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Things SHE misses in Rome - part I


1. Statues to tax guys! This one, to Quintino Sella, Minister of Finance for the new Republic, 1869-1873, statue in front of the Ministry of Finance in Rome...

(1. a.) complete with naked people at its base - I'm sure they're some kind of mythological figures who loved collecting taxes.

(One of our favorite tax man statues was featured in an earlier post here.)   

2. Creative ways to advertise     


3. Holes in the formidable Roman Aurelian walls or views through other Roman buildings that make one think of a James Turrell skyspace. (We've also found those elsewhere in Rome, here, and here.)

4. Weird exhibitions of this case, Tupperware (with the theme of bringing color to a piazza near you).


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Things I Miss in Rome: 6th in a Series

 Things I Miss in Rome....

1.  Weird structures in the countryside. 

2.   Dianne getting a Lemoncocco

3.   Spectacular Balconies 

4.   Piano Day

5.   The Cult of Pasolini 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

History by Walking Around: the new tourist destination of Quartiere Giuliano Dalmata


As usual with Rome, we find some of the most interesting information - and add to our knowledge of history -  just by walking around. Last year - when we were walking back from our intended destination of the Laurentina 38 housing project (about which Bill wrote in July 2019) we ran across this "monument" (top photo) - with the words "To the fallen, Giuliani Dalmati," placed on a large boulder from the Carso - a rocky region of Italy that was the subject of Italian/Austria-Hungary battles in World War I, and was a focus of competing armies and political interests again in World War II. 

We also saw on a nearby building this plaque, 

which basically reads:

March 1947: The Exodus of Italian Pola: Hospitable Rome welcomes the Istrian, Fiumean [Fiume is now called Rijeka] and Dalmation refugees. President Oscar Sinigaglia [a street in the map below bears his name], with the National Organization of Repatriated Workers and Refugees, gives life to the "Giuliano Dalmation Neighborhood"  The plaque is marked as put up by the National Association of Venezia, Giulia, e Dalmazia (Venezia-Giulia and Dalmatia)

Quite difficult to make sense of this if one is less that fully knowledgeable about Italy's role in World War I, Fascism and World War II, plus some post-World War II history. In giving it a try recently, we ran across an article touting the restoration of the monument at the top of this post, "after years of neglect and degradation" (it didn't look so bad to us in 2019!) only this past October.

And, even more recent, on December 30 of this past year, the "Quartiere Giuliano Dalmata" (map at end of post) was welcomed - with a plaque and Q Code - in the tourist layout of Rome. 

Not exactly readable here, but the plaque relates that the "quartiere" or neighborhood started in 1939 as workers' housing for laborers building Mussolini's E42 expo grounds (now the fully developed EUR zone, which is featured in our books) a few miles further south of Rome. 
When the war brought Mussolini's unfinished international exhibition construction to a halt, the workers abandoned the housing. The Allies occupied the buildings for a while. When they left, in 1947, a nucleus of 12 families - fleeing their homes in Pola, which was ceded to Yugoslavia and is better known as the Istrian Peninsula - were settled here. The dorms were converted to small apartments, and in 1955 another 2,000 people from the ex-Italian Pola region settled here, giving the quarter its name. 

There are still some political joustings and resentments over the "exodus." Apparently (I'm trying to tread lightly here) some of the Italians were settled in the Istrian Peninsula by the Fascist government, which claimed the area and wanted it settled by, and dominated by, Italians.

The boulder monument was put up in 1961, and in 2008 a sculpture (photo below, right) was erected in the nearby Largo Vittime delle Foibe Istriane ("Largo [something like a piazza] Victims of the Istrian Foibe").  Bill commented on the sculpture in a 2011 post here. 

Delving into the foibe (deep sink holes into which victims were thrown, sometimes alive) and their political ramifications is beyond my pay grade at this point - perhaps for a later post.  Because the Day of Remembrance for the victims and those in the exodus that resulted in the neighborhood described here is February 10 - not long ago - we offer a link to an Ansa article describing the reasons for the Day of Remembrance (and a bit of the politics).

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Things I Miss in Rome, 5th installment


Things I Miss in Rome (part V):

1. Scaffolding without workers (or, never-ending work on the tomb of Augustus). Heard it just opened--but no tickets available through June (another thing I miss in Rome). 

2.  Anna Magnani

3.  Curious Wall Sculptures 

4.  Living in somebody else's apartment

5.  Discovering someone actually cutting grass