Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Door Handles, and Knockers

Near the Anglo-American Book Shop
To say Rome is a visual delight would be obvious, but not all of its delights are, well, obvious.  For years we've been going in and out of, or walking by, Rome's doors.  And at some point we couldn't help noticing the accoutrements that allow access: the door handles and door knockers. Many are old, perhaps very old, some are new, but distinctive.  Some--especially those from the 1950s and early 1960s--announce their age more specifically than most.  Here are some we've found during our trips to Rome.  The earliest photos are from 2013.

Inside what was the home of Ignatius of Loyola, Piazza del Gesu

Straight out of 1960. San Paolo.
Palazzo Barberini
Unusual wood handle.  Belongs to a watch
band shop at via della Vite, 14.
Recent, but cool anyway.

Near via della Gatta

Utensils as Handles.  Possibly Monti.

An interior door, at Largo Ippolito Nievo, 1, Trastevere

An odd knocker with an Egyptian and/or African look, near the Spanish Steps

Casal Bertone.  Nice because one handle has been used, the other not.  Same with the doors. 
Very unusual hands--knockers or handles not clear.
They're on a building by Rapisardi (now housing Bulgari) on the Lungotevere

Location unknown.  Sweet.  Angel holds on tight.  

Trastevere, somewhere on the south side of viale Trastevere

Flaminio.  Recent.  The door on the right is the only one that's used.  


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Best Contemporary Art in Rome is in the....State Department!

One is greeted on the ground floor by Michelangelo Pistoletto's "L'Etrusco" (The Etruscan), 1976, with Pistoletto's
classic use of mirrors, inviting one to join the Etruscan, we we did.
"La paura" (Fear), 2004 by Mimmo Rotella.  How could
  we--film reviewers, and one of us an author of an article
on Zombie films and the Holocaust--not like this one?
The best collection of contemporary art in Rome is not in any museum--not in MAXXI, the nation's 21st-century art gallery, not in MACRO, the City's contemporary art gallery, not in the Gagosian, the city's largest private art gallery, but in the country's State Department building, colloquially known as The Farnesina. 

That's not the Palazzo Farnese, where the French Embassy resides, nor the Villa Farnesina, in the heart of Trastevere where Raphael painted rooms. The Farnesina is the enormous structure designed to be the headquarters of the Fascist party, across the Tevere (therefore, literally Trastevere) but up river adjacent to the Foro Italico, once the Foro Mussolini, the sports complex housing the city's soccer stadium, once its Olympic stadium.

Back to art.  Beginning in 2001, the government convinced artists to loan their works to the Ministero degi Affari Esteri (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, equivalent to the U.S.'s state department).  It apparently purchased some works, but most are on long-term loan, now comprising the Collezione Farnesina, and open from time to time (hey, it's Rome!).
"Battesimi Umanoi"  (Human
Baptisms) by Oliviero Rainaldi,
2006, cement.

The "di quando in quando" openings began just last year to include the last Friday of every month, except July and August, along with an early May weekend opening for Open House Roma, which is when we went.  I'd say run, don't walk, to make your appointment for one of these visits.

The work is also available on Google, but if you think you might go, save your first-time experience for the real thing.
Links are at the end of this post.

The collection is astoundingly rich and unabashedly contemporary.  The works fill the walls and halls of this building, whose construction began in 1937.  The building itself is filled with artwork from the period of its construction and decoration, which occurred mainly in the post-World War II period, with artists such as Sciajola.
From Elena Bellantoni's "The struggle for power, the fox and the wolf," 2014 video.  This video was
filmed in The Farnesina itself.
Our tour included an extensive look at the building and its hallways and rooms, which is essential to view all the artwork.
The large meeting room where Bellantoni's video was filmed.
Mosaics by Sciajola and ceiling art, part of the building decor.
Grand stairway, with original designs on sconces; classic
Fascist use of travertine marble, and use of Roman designs,
including the painting at the end, with a modernist take. 
The collection also includes some original drawings of the building by architect Enrico del Debbio (whose work we've admired in previous posts).
Del Debbio's "first solution" to the "Casa Littoria a Foro Mussolini." The building sits at the base of Monte Mario.
Today's exterior is not too different from del Debbio's "first solution" - minus the marching military, plinth and horses:

For visits, consult the Web site (it says it's in English, but it is not:
Google's "virtual tour" is here:

Mario Sironi's Il lavoratore  ("The worker"), 1936.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Quartiere INA-Casa Tuburtino IV: a Postwar Suburban Public Housing Project

One of our favorite Rome guides is 200 Architetture Scelte: Il Moderno Attraverso Roma (200 Architectural Choices: The Modern Across Rome; pub. 2000).  Obviously in Italian, it has multiple authors: Gaia Remiddi, Antonella Greco, Antonella Bonavita, and Paola Ferri (I just noticed they are all women).  Our fondness for the book has less to do with its analysis of the buildings, which is often quite technical, perhaps meant more for architects than historians or tourists, than its "pointing out" function; without it, we would never have found some of its "choices."

And so it was that in the Spring of 2017 we found ourselves dismounting the scooter at kilometer 7 on via Tiburtina (the right side, going out).  We were there to see and experience a major housing development built between 1949 and 1955.  We've driven by this project dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, and never noticed it.  It has the feel of a protected suburban enclave. The project was coordinated by Mario Ridolfi. The dozen or so architects who designed parts of the project include Ridolfi and Ludovico Quaroni, the latter perhaps best known for a poster designed to commemorate an enormous arch for E42 at EUR, but never built.

When you see the gas station sign (at left in the photo above), turn right and park across the street from the "Snack Bar."

Quaroni and his colleagues designed and built 771 housing units on the site.  Many of the buildings are sited at odd angles to via Tiburtina and to area streets (and to each other), are of moderate scale, and--for public housing units--have a remarkably "homey" presence, to this day.  Despite the overall dimensions of the project. the dominant feeling is of a comfortable suburban community.  Exterior colors are in several shades of "terre romane" (Roman earth).  "INA-Casa" was a post-World War II government entity designed to provide subsidized housing, in this case for a class above working class. "INA" refers to l'Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni, (the National Institute for Insurance), that managed the funds.  One of our favorite architectsGiò Ponti, was critical of the project, though most architects of the day were not.

If you park across the street from the bar on via Tiburtina and walk south, up the street, on via. D. Angeli, you'll find a Ridolfi-designed 2-story structure with an unusual stairway and an elevated second-floor walkway.  The building has this unusual look because of changes in the terrain. In suburban fashion, all units have exterior space.  Our book calls the building case a ballatoio (houses on a gallery/walkway).

Below, on via dei Crispolti, a winding/jointed 4-story complex by Quaroni and Mario Fiorentino.  Communal outdoor space at ground level.  Because the building is composed of several large units set at different angles, the result is that the interior units vary in angularity, from rectangular to octagonal.

At via D. Angeli and via L. Cesana, the tallest building in the complex at 7 floors (below).  Designed by Ridolfi, its distinguishing feature is the intersection at angles of three square buildings--a feature that can be hard to see from some perspectives and from ground level.

Communal outdoor space is a feature of several of the buildings.  When we visited, this space was being used by a group of older men.

Angular businesses, perhaps part of the original design:

There are other project buildings to the south and southwest--explore at your leisure. 

Pleasant as the INA-Casa project was, the most spectacular "find" of the day was a structure that stood in stark contrast to those around it.  This Brutalist masterpiece,  Santa Maria della Visitazione, was designed in the Mayan temple mode by Saverio Busiri Vici, who was active in Rome between 1960 and 1980.  It was completed in 1971. More on the church in a post to come.

The view from the church terrace showcases the surrounding community.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Il Generale: A personal story of an Italian general abandoned by his government in World War II

Gen. Francesco Giangreco. Bologna. 1942
Chiara Midolo and Salvatore Giangreco, the General's
granddaughter and son, at his grave site on the Carso,
where he chose to be buried.  More photos of the Carso
and World War I are at the end of this post.
We are able to bring this story to light thanks to our good friends Chiara Midolo, the General's granddaughter, and her husband, Massimo Vizzaccaro, who assisted Salvatore Giangreco, the General's son, with the editing and publication of this remarkable memoir.

“Gen. Francesco Giangreco:  The Human Costs of an Armistice without Directive” is a fascinating and troubling first-hand account of one Italian caught in the turmoil of World War II.  
Today, the town square in Avola, the General's hometown, and to which he
 returned after the war.  The red wine, Nero d'Avola, comes from here. 
As Chiara quotes her grandfather, "we just called it vino."
It's hard for non-Italians to comprehend just how far Avola is from the Carso.
Born in 1891 in the small town of Avola in southeast Sicily, Giangreco was a career military man. He saw action in the brutal northeast Italian World War I campaign, fighting against the well-positioned troops of Austria-Hungary at the Isonzo River and at Gorizia, both places of horrific conflict that we’ve visited.  He’s buried at San Michele del Carso, at the top of the Carso--a forbidding landscape of limestone rock and sinkholes-- where some of the worst of the fighting occurred.  When asked by his grandchildren why he stayed in the military when Mussolini—whom he said he hated--came to power, he replied, “I’m a general. That was my job.”  
Giangreco was commanding a unit in the now-Croatian city of Knin on September 8, 1943, the day Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. Loyal soldier that he was—and, unlike many Italian soldiers, who simply went home—he stayed at his post.  Instead of the Allies arriving, the Germans were fast approaching.  He repeatedly asked his superiors what he was supposed to do, but he was given no clear instructions and issued no orders; he was simply left hanging.  When the Germans arrived, they tried to coerce him into joining his forces with theirs against Tito, in essence violating the terms of the armistice.  When he refused, they arrested him—a man who had been fighting on their side for years— “for having taken actions against the interests of the Reich.”
Gen. Giangreco in Turin at a war college 1923-24.
He also taught in war colleges around Italy.

Giangreco was sent to several local prisons and eventually to Nazilabor camps.” He spent a year at Schokken in Poland.  Asked repeatedly to join La Repubblica di Salò (The Salò Republic, the puppet government the Germans set up for Mussolini in northern Italy) and having refused, he was sent to the Flossenbürg labor camp in Bavaria, where he was interned for 6-1/2 months before the war ended.  He would remain a prisoner for another month and a half after the close of the war.  By 1947 he was in essence decommissioned.  As his son, Salvatore Giangreco, says in the book’s introduction, “’Democratic’ Italy after the war, obviously, no longer needed men like General Francesco Giangreco.”  After all this, his loyalty to Italy would be questioned.  In a challenge that might have implied he lied and abandoned his post, he was called on by the Commission for Examination of the Comportment of Generals and Colonels to prove he had been a prisoner of war.    

We know the details of Giangreco’s service and imprisonment through a diary he kept from April 15, 1945, when the details of his dehumanizing existence and bare survival were fresh in his mind and while he remained a prisoner, to June 15, 1945, when he arrived in Rome; from letters he
wrote from his home town of Avola in Sicily in January 1946, justifying his actions; and from his missives to the Commission. These documents, “Il Manoscritto” (The Manuscript or Diary) and “Il Memoriale” (The Testimonial), together with the letters to the Commission, photos of the original diary pages and historical photos of Giangreco, form the book, published in 2016 by
ABEditore (available at this time only in Italian).
At the book launch for "Gen. Francesco Giangreco" at Rome's Museo della
Memoria e della Storia.  Salvatore Giangreco at far left.

That a decorated general, who spent 2 years in Nazi camps would have to justify his actions, reveals much about the immediate post-war period in Italy.  If you weren't a partisan (and as some say, there were more ‘partisans’ after the war than the population of Italy), you were a Fascist and
to be denied all succor from your fellow Italians and the government.

If you were a grandchild of “the General,” growing up in post-War Italy when the Left was on the rise and all who participated in Fascism were painted with the same black brush, his past was embarrassing.  You wanted your grandfather to have been a partisan.  Only in reading these accounts can one have a sense of the bravery, loyalty (though one might consider it misguided), and dignity of Giangreco. There is more recent historical work focusing on “passive” resistance: military men such as Giangreco and thousands of others; of civilians who gave shelter to Jews, soldiers, and persecuted people; of civilians who knew and did not report to Nazi-fascist police.

As his son Salvatore writes in dedicating the volume to the General’s grandchildren, the book will help them “understand the price their grandfather Francesco paid for remaining faithful to his oath of loyalty to a king who didn’t deserve it.”  King Vittorio Emanuele III supported Mussolini—until he didn’t.

Giangreco’s account offers a window on the dehumanization that was characteristic of the German camps.  It is all the more searing because Giangreco began his ordeal with a strong sense of his own self-worth as a general in the Italian army.  
Survivors of Schokken gathering at the Altare della Patria in
 Rome May 22-23, 1960, almost 40 years later.
Gen. Giangreco is in the far right corner.

“…[W]e were suffering from hunger, filth, and above all the indiscriminate mixing of people of every race and kind.  There were Poles, Frenchmen, Hungarians, Russians, Belgians, Czechs, Jews, Yugoslavs, gypsies, ex-military, workers, whatever profession, criminals…. General Grimaldi [his colleague] and I (modesty is here out of place) were of a more elevated social condition and, without a doubt, the oldest.”

Giangreco describes the gradual stripping away of, first, his luggage, and then his meager remaining belongings, then his clothes, and then his title, and then even his name.  He became a number - 35305.  We have seen this sequence in many of the survivor records of the Nazi camps.  Giangreco’s stands out as a particularly devastating story, in part because he is a talented writer and in part because he writes this so soon after his experience, in great detail.

On September 9, 1943 (the day after Mussolini was dismissed), he writes "we were led to believe, because of our commitment to the alliance to the end, that almost certainly we would be sent back to Italy, where we thought the Badoglio government would have been returned to power (we were in the dark about everything that had happened, knowing Mussolini had been imprisoned and thinking that the royal government would have taken control of its own house)." [In fact, Mussolini was imprisoned but then was 'liberated' by the Germans, who set him up in his puppet government of the Republic of Salo'.] "At Wietzendorf [between Munich and the Netherlands], the scene changed completely. Before entering a prison camp we were stripped-searched and our weapons and items in our luggage were taken away."

The first camp, where he spent almost one year, is what he called "Schokken," likely "Oflag XXI-C," also known as "Lager 64/Z," a German prison camp for officers near what is now called Skoki, in central Poland, north of Poznan. Wikipedia's entry refers only to Norwegian officers in this camp.

Transferred to another camp and in preparation for the required shower, he writes: "A young Pole called me over and ordered me to put all my things in a large paper bag, leaving me with just two strips of cloth on which was written the number 35305, my camp registration number, telling me that I could keep only that which could be considered toilet articles. I set aside only what was considered "necessary" for shaving and personal hygiene, toilet paper, etc. Excluded from these necessities were personal linens, even hand towels. Then I had to put all the rest in the bag, including my personal documents, receipts, correspondence, visas, family photographs. They left me with 3 small tins of food and 4 biscuits....After several hours, two SS men entered to finish the operation. A table had been prepared for them, close to which was a huge empty bin. We were ordered to pick up the things we had left in the locker room [before the shower]. I understood that I had to take out of my bundle all the food except for one little tin of salmon and some other objects. I was ordered to open my bundle. The military men watched and, for each article, gave a signal. The Pole took the objects one by one, examined them and then, shouting, threw almost everything in the bin. It seemed to me that he threw the best things there. He saw my roll of toilet paper and furiously held it under my eyes, yelling phrases incomprehensible to me, blue with anger and almost horrified: 'In Konzentrationslager...!In Konzentrationslager!' As if to say that it was unheard of to take something of such 'luxury' into a concentration camp....In the final analysis I was left with only a safety razor, the tin of salmon and some Gillette blades. I was totally and legally fleeced. I returned to the ranks, holding in my hands the two strips of cloth with the no. 35305, that by now was my only document."

On arriving at Flossenbürg, he and Grimaldi were put in Block 23, which was one of two considered “euphemistically ‘infirmary’ or, more openly, the ‘antechamber to the crematorium.’” Everyone was near death there.  As Giangreco describes the block, “Most of its inhabitants looked like zombies; there were about 50 who couldn’t get to their feet and seemed about to die any moment....As soon as one of them died, he was immediately stripped of the few pieces of clothing on him, his number was written in red pen on his chest or back (according to the position in which he was found) and he was taken away.” [Giangreco’s term “larve” is more directly translated “larvae” or “worms,” but it is also colloquially translated “zombies,” which seems more apt here.]

He describes those assigned to work in the rock quarry.  “There were intellectuals: students, professors, doctors, lawyers, etc., those who—not accustomed to hard labor—died at their posts.”Partly from luck, partly from being able to speak languages to those internees who had a modicum of power (the “Blockmann”), the two generals managed to obtain work in the clothing facility, where clothes were sorted and somewhat cleaned and redistributed—a relatively easy job.  And they moved, block by block, up to Block 2, away from the constant reminders of death.  Each block housed about 500 internees, with the three last blocks of death housing 1,000 each.

The "blocks" of Flossenbürg,

Giangreco describes going from the hell of Schokken to Flossenbürg, but on seeing what was happening in Flossenbürg, he recasts Shokken as “an Eden.”  He describes “the most pitiful procession that the mind can imagine, that the human eye has even seen.  One, two, three at a time, came forward these beings that could not have been human: zombies that got to their feet, covered with rags, with their eyes fixed on nothing, emaciated beyond belief, faces forward, eyes black and deep, covered with festering wounds.  These unfortunates tried to support each other; all with mouths
half-closed, thin lips from which their teeth protruded, and from which often issued laments.  One in particular I remember, who had a wound on his head from the front to the back, large, deep, pustulent. The puss, mixed with blood, streamed from his forehead; it had filled his eye and ran along his nose to his mouth.  This unhappy man didn’t have the strength to wipe it off, he couldn’t raise his arm, and rid his lips of that pus with his tongue….I thought I was in a nightmare; I couldn’t bring myself to understand that this haunted scene – a haunting not of the devil, but of martyred human beings--was reality….I pinched myself to wake myself from that horrendous dream.  Unfortunately, I was awake.”

For those who read Italian, “Gen. Francesco Giangreco” is a deeply moving account of a camp survivor, as well as the story of a participant in, and a victim of, Mussolini’s war.

Remains of trenches in the Carso, which today is ironically
verdant.  It was white rock, without any green cover,
when the brutal battles of World War I occurred.


The trenches in World War I, from  the Museum
of the Great War in Gorizia, Italy, on the border
with Slovenia.

"Peak #4 - On this peak as in all the other 3 peaks
(1, 2 and 3), unfolded the gruesome and bloody
fights in the battles of Monte San Michele,
contested between the Italians and Austro-Hungarians
in the first year of the 1915-1918 war,
battles the Italian troops won in 1916.
Salvatore at the monument to the "Brescia
Brigade," in which the General served in World
War I, at the cemetery at San Michele dal Carso.

Brescia Brigade officers 1917. Giangreco is seated in the front row, third from the right.

1939. Tripoli, where he was the Colonel
in charge of the 20th Infantry Regiment.
Giangreco's post here documents
Italy's imperial ambitions in North Africa.

This was the General's home on the town square in Avola.
On the town square in Avola, a  plaque to the "unknown soldiers"
who died on the Carso.  A little hard to translate literally,
 but loosely and in essence: "Their sacrifice on the Calvary of the
 Carso shines on later generations, helping to form a new Italian
consciousness from the virtue of  these soldiers' military sacrifice."
Massimo and his uncle-in-law, Salvatore, at Gen.
Giangreco's grave site on San Michele dal Carso.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Playful Romans: Their Decorated Vehicles

We can't be sure that decorated vehicles are more common in Rome and environs than elsewhere, but it does seem so.  Perhaps the tradition began with the Italian Futurists, whose fondness for speed and movement made the painting of fast-moving vehicles, from bicycles to airplanes, a natural.

 Futurism was serious and ideological.  In contemporary Rome, it's playfulness that rules.

 Scooter owners like to sticker their rides. 

This fan of the A.S. Roma soccer team likes stickers that attack Juve (Juventus, a Turin top league team), Rome's nemesis:  Juve Merda (Juve is shit), and Juventino Bastardo (adding the "ino" - means "Little Juventus")

 Near the Vatican, we found a car, apparently abandoned, "decorated" with the owner's philosophical message.

 If you read Italian and have the patience, you can figure out what that message is.  It seems Luigi has a website. 

 Decorated commercial vehicles are common.  Below, the first promises home grocery delivery.  The second is a panel truck from Ariccia, a town in the Alban Hills that's famous for its pork. 

And this one, which bills itself as a Europa Club Fiat 500, advertises a slots parlor while welcoming Mr. Grava.  OK.   

Rome, the streets of Trastevere, a bicycle-driven cart, fully decked out.  And abandoned. 

Finally, back to the (contemporary) art world.  Here, street artist Alice decorates a mini-trailer in the parking lot of the L'ex-Lanificio, an avant-garde art space on via di Pietralata.