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 650 posts

Monday, August 21, 2017

RST's 700th Post. Holy Cow!

We've been writing this blog for more than eight years, but it remains surprising--no, astonishing--that we have managed to produce 700 posts.  Yes, 700!  If you figure it takes about 8 hours of work to produce one post (some are less, some much more--like days), that amounts to 5600 total hours spent making content.  That's like having a 40-hour-a-week job for almost 3 years.  Yikes!

To celebrate our 700th, we're offering links to some of our most popular posts (those with the most page views, and some others with lots of traffic).  Click on the link to see the original post.

Richard Meier's Jubilee Church.  The all-time page-view champ at over 15,000.  A ways out of town, but worth the trip.  #17 on RST's Top 40.

Europe's Largest Mosque--in Rome.  We may have a lot of Muslim readers, but the building is quite something no matter what religion you are.  Also on RST's Top 40 - at #24. Interestingly, a post we did on Rome's Kebab was also widely seen.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A Moral Act or Not?  Philosophy professor Raymond Belliotti examines the ethics of the murder by evaluating it against 7 moral criteria.

Riding a Scooter in Rome.  Actually, RST's post on renting a scooter in Rome was somewhat more popular, but this one's more useful--lots of hard-earned tips about riding a scooter in Rome, should you decide to do it, which you shouldn't.

Italy's Liberation Day: Bella Ciao.  Guest blogger Frederika Randall pulls apart the legendary anthem and examines the history of "Bella Ciao."

 Tracking Elizabeth Taylor.  ET spent some time in Rome, some of it with Richard Burton, while she was making movies.  She's still iconic here, but perhaps less so than Audrey Hepburn, whose image is everywhere.

The 1960 Rome Olympics: An Itinerary.  There's lots to see in Rome related to the 1960 Olympics: the Olympic Village; the Palazzetto dello Sport, where Cassius Clay made his name and reputation; an amazing stadium built by Mussolini where the athletes warmed up.

Garibaldi in Rome.  The darling of Italian unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi fought the French on the Gianicolo and lived to tell about it.

Via Tasso.  To most Romans, via Tasso means "place where the Germans imprisoned and tortured their political enemies," or something like that.  It's not far from the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, and you can visit, even walk into the cells and read the messages prisoners scrawled on the walls. RST Top 40, #3.

On St. Paul's Path.  Cities have their "named saints," saints special to the city.  Rome has two: Peter and Paul.  Paul brought Christianity to Rome, and was martyred just outside the city.  You can visit the sites and try to feel his presence.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"No Bolkestein" Say what?

The sign outside the new Testaccio market said, "No Bolkestein."  What?  What could that mean? 

If you spend much time around Rome's public markets, you'll see more of those "No Bolkestein" signs.  Here's some background:  The phrase refers to Fritz Bolkestein, a former commissioner of the European Union.  In 2006, Bolkestein issued an EU directive designed to create a "free market" for certain services, including food trucks, public markets stalls, and beach concessions.  As Bolkestein saw it, services were monopolized or controlled by only a few organizations or families, which held long-term licenses (some for 10 years) that were automatically renewable.  Competition, he claimed, was stifled. 
The sign on the truck, parked at an open-air market in the Val Malaina/Serpentara neighborhood, might be translated "Get Bolkestein out of the markets" 
As we understand it, Fritz Bolkestein had the authority to issue the directive, but it had to be implemented by national, regional, and local governments.  In 2010, The Italian government implemented at least parts of the directive, applying it to beach concessions and "ambulanti"--that is, licensed street sellers. Under the new regulations, street seller licenses would not automatically be renewed. 

New regulations for beach concessions proved especially unpopular among those already licensed to operate such concessions.  They argued that the Bolkestein directive would change a locally grown, "Made-in-Italy" brand of "beach tourism" into "beach supermarkets" controlled by multinational corporations and foreign investors. 

In Rome,  anti-Bolkestein protests began in 2005, anticipating the proclamation of the directive; some 50,000 workers participated in a demonstration that year.  Street traders again took to the streets--to Piazza della Repubblica, actually--in September 2016.
The No Bolkestein protest march, Piazza della
Repubblica, 2016.  The sign in the middle photo reads
"Salviamo Mercati" (let's save the markets).
Newly elected Rome mayor Virginia Raggi--the local leader of the anti-government party M5S (Movimento Cinque Stelle, 5 Star) was behind the No Bolkestein movement.  Under Raggi's leadership, the Rome council approved (31-7) her motion to postpone the implementation of the Bolkestein directive--indeed, all directives designed to increase competition in the services sector.  The council vote included extending trading licenses for stands to 2020.  Although it looks like Raggi's initiative was intended to help individual small businesses, in fact a majority of Rome's food trucks were (and are) owned by one family group: the Tredicine. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bar Names, Part III

RST collects bar names.  Why, we're not sure.  Maybe because bars are so obviously at the center of Italian--and Roman--culture: places to eat, drink (espresso, beer, wine, you name it), talk, watch the street, play cards, read the newspapers, gamble, pass the time, and observe the Americans (that's us) pulling up on their scooter, leaving with backpacks and hiking poles in hand, returning hours later to share a large, cold bottle of Moretti at a table outside.  

Here's the latest bunch (links to the first two parts at the end of the post):   

Europa is a somewhat common bar name.  This one specializes in sandwiches, drinks, and porchetta--the latter a pork concoction especially popular in the Alban Hills.  This bar is located in Lariano, on the southwest slope of the Hills.

Cute but depressing.  Bar Snoopy is in  the small hill town of Monticelio, northeast of Guidonia.  
Á suburban establishment.  Unique, and odd, given that JFK died in 1963 and brother Bobby in 1968, and it's unlikely
this one's named after Ted.  Nice outdoor space.  
Caffe' Cleopatra, a roadhouse bar (situated on a busy thoroughfare outside the city proper), probably
(can't recall) on the way to Cinecitta', where the film Cleopatra was made.
Bar Centrale.  Most of the towns in the Roman countryside have a Bar Centrale.  
Bar del Pino (Pine Tree Bar) is named after that huge pine in the background, which sits in
the middle of via Ozanam, on the side of Piazza San Giovanni di Dio.

For Bar Names Parts I and II, click on these links:

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fai Da Te: The Emergence of Do-It-Yourself Volunteerism in Rome

The commercial side of fai da te (do it yourself)
A few months ago, legendary singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori picked up a broom and began sweeping via Settembrini in the quartiere of Prati, near the Vatican.  No, it doesn't happen often. Rome's celebrities are not often found cleaning up this famously filthy city.  But De Gregori's afternoon on the sidewalks, in the gutters, and among the garbage cans of the Eternal City (at  least the garbage is eternal) was a sign that Rome's citizens had turned a corner, and one of no small significance.

Rome--and no doubt most if not all Italian cities--has no tradition of volunteerism.  Romans believe that the high taxes they pay should be enough for the city to provide essential public services and, furthermore, that it would be wrong for citizens to break that contract with the public sphere by taking on duties that were properly in the government sphere.  It is not that Romans are tolerant of dirt.  Indeed, home interiors are generally spotless; marble and wood floors glisten(rugs harbor dirt and dust), and the stairways of apartment houses are routinely swept and washed.  Outside is another matter.

One city government after another--left, center, and now right/populist, under Mayor Virginia Raggi--has promised--and failed--to clean the streets, repair the seriously pot-holed asphalt and stone streets, pick up the garbage, and mow the grass in the parks.

The good news is that people are beginning to take these matters into their own hands, here and there, bit by bit.  Volunteerism remains inchoate, but there are signs of it.  The phrase of the moment is "fai da te": Do it yourself.  Indeed, on May 10 the newspaper La Repubblica referred to Rome as "la capitale del fai-da-te" (the capital of do-it-yourself).  Hard to believe.

A homeowner doing some hard work on via Olbia
We first noticed the signs of change three years ago, while living on via Olbia (it runs off via Gallia) in the San Giovanni neighborhood.  There, on a street where all the villini (small houses) are protected by stone walls and iron gates, a local resident was sweeping the sidewalk.  Bravo!

Cleaning up after the dog in Piazza Re di Roma

About the same time, we noticed a man picking up after his dog in Piazza Re di Roma. Another first!

Some hope here

And, then, this time in Monteverdi Vecchio, an effort to grow some flowers around the trunk of a dead tree.

Community involvement--a form of volunteerism

In Villa Sciara, also in Monteverdi Vecchio, a handwritten sign about keeping the park clean for school children.

Story in La Repubblica about people in Monteverde cleaning the streets, "fai da te"

Those were signs, but what's happening today is on another scale altogether.  Across Rome, public-spirited citizens have come together in associations to accomplish tasks left undone by the city government.  One of them, named Retake Roma, reportedly has 42,000 followers and, using the internet, organizes 20 events each week in the capital, cleaning the streets and parks.  Organized a few months ago, "Tappami" fills the potholes in the streets.  Another association, working with the city government, conducts "surveillance" activities in the parks, perhaps keeping on eye on comportment while keeping track of areas that need repair or cleaning.  And then there's an organization, "AnonimiAttivisiti" (anonymous activists) that brazenly mark out bicycling lanes where they didn't before exist.  On via Muggia in Prati, the portiere (doorman, super) of one of the buildings managed to get permission from the city government to become an authorized gardener (cost: 100 Euro) and then raise money to buy equipment (700 Euro) from area residents, all so that he could cut the grass once a week.  According to La Repubblica, there are now 94 authorized--voluntary-- gardeners in Rome. 

Finally, in Salario (where we lived for a time in the spring), Trieste (just to the north) and other areas of the city, young men, recently-arrived immigrants of African origin, are sweeping the quartiere's streets.  Each sweeper--and there are perhaps a half dozen within a 12-block area--usually has one or two boxes, often marked with the words "pulisco il tuo quartiere" (I'm cleaning your neighborhood) and, on top of the box, a cup for a "mancia" (a tip).  On the surface, it works; the streets are cleaner, and the guys are making a few bucks.  Not exactly "fai-da-te" (the "doing" is being done by someone else) but a new, and welcome contribution to the city's new "look" and "feel."


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Secret Street in Rome--bet you've never been there!

There aren't too many secret streets in Rome--those off-off-off-the beaten path streets that even the locals may not know.  We've found one, and none too soon, for it's about to disappear, or at the least take on a very different look.  As it turns out, some interesting folks--including a number of prominent artists--live on the street (more below).  But the reason we know about it is because some of the buildings are illegal. 

We're talking about via Paolo Caselli, some 200 yards of homes and businesses that could be said to connect the neighborhood of Ostiense with that of Testaccio.  One end of the street begins precisely across the street from the entrance to the non-Catholic cemetery, which backs up onto the Pyramid. One can drive in this way.  The other end, accessible on foot only, can be found at the end of a small parking lot, directly across the street from the 1930s-era post office on via Marmorata.

via Paolo Caselli, non-Catholic cemetery end
Around the bend
Although we had been to the non-Catholic cemetery many times, we had never "seen" this street--until, that is, it appeared in the newspapers--and not because it was a quaint, unrecognized tourist attraction, which it is not, except maybe for RST.  As reported in La Repubblica, via Paolo Caselli is a poster child for abusivismo--literally, abusiveness, but in this case illegally constructed buildings, those lacking proper construction permits and other authorizations--and probably not paying taxes.

Certainly has the look of a legit business
Indeed, the story as reported is more interesting than that.  At via Paolo Caselli #1 (the first building on the left as you enter from the cemetery side), not only has one of the units been illegally occupied for more than ten years, but the brother of the occupier heads the police unit charged with keeping

A series of buildings at #1
track of the ownership of Rome buildings.  Sounds  bad!  Moreover, it looks like the family has been profiting from illegal building for more than 50 years, dating back decades to when the father of the two brothers distributed mineral water from a warehouse on the street.

A business behind the gate--not sure what.
And there's another angle here that we found fascinating.  There are many other "abusivo" properties on the street, and most of them are occupied not by Mafia types or low-lifes or anything of the sort, but--guess what?--by artists!  Some or most or all of them will be "sgomberati" (evicted), and the buildings they occupy torn down, costs borne by the occupiers (we'll believe that when we see it). Several are sculptors, at least one a woman, an ancestor, so explains La Repubblica, of Naples gypsies. Another is Paolo Olmeda, owner of an historic foundry--apparently located on this street--in which Olmeda in 2006 made bronze reproductions of Amodeo Modigliani's 1910 Tête di Cartiatide. Then there's the German artist, Janine von Thungen, who made molds of the walls of the catacombs of San Callisto and created the work "Eternity," for a time in the Villa Foscari in Venice.
von Thungen's "Eternity"  

Besides these notable artists, it seems the local station of the fire department is also responsible for its own "abusivo" structure, an add-on building at the Marmorata end of the street.

Perhaps only the bocce ball facility is legal.  Who knows?