31 December 2011

The Darkling Thrush

21 December 2011

Roma Trastevere Revisited

Roma Trastevere

A Dance to the Music of Time


It is late October; late evening.  Harsh pop music clammers from a tinny cassette player in the corner of the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere by the end of Via della Lungaretta.  A woman, no longer young, no longer agile, dances to the rhythm, changing feet on a piece of cardboard dance floor, her arms rectangularly poised moving forward and back as her knees rise and fall as if jogging on the spot, warming up for a marathon.  A faded headscarf covers her hair.  Faded clothes and a faded apron cover her limbs.  Her eagle nose and dark eyes face front, to boldly ignore ignobility.  Her stature is short, strong, durable, but slight compared to the passing foreigners. She could be a marionette, such as Geppetto might have carved before Pinocchio, stepping to the rhythm of the changing world.  She dances with a determination born of deprivation.  Her roots in the basalt stones beneath her, her culture in the peeling ochre walls above her.  Her religion housed in the dark chapels of the nearby church.  A sign close by her, written boldly on white paper, taped to a box, states, “Ho bisogno[i]….”

Nearby, blazing bright blue in contrast to the subdued ochres of the walls and dark igneous tones of the sampietrini[ii] cobbled piazza, an illuminated plastic sign says, “Blue Ice,” and the young crowd round to indulge in gelatinous fantasy.

Time dances on.  I have returned to Trastevere in a fit of nostalgia, for it was my home for seven years from 1976.  It is strange to think that that was then only a little more than a hundred years after the Risorgimento and the unification of Italy and just 31 years since the end of World War II, when deprivation and destruction were the orders of the day.  Already there is an adult generation who have grown up since I lived there, connected to a more affluent and technological world.  Then we had neither mobile phones nor computers, and my contact with any other world was via a payphone in full public earshot in a bar, fed by gettoni and hassled by others needing to make even more important calls than mine.  It was a world of noise and contrast.  The delicacy of the virgins with their oil lamps on the façade of Santa Maria in Trastevere were mocked by the scippatori on motorini who snatched bags from the unwary in the piazza, the snarling engines gunning off into the maze of viuzze beyond.  The hand-made clothes of stars such as Lucio Dalla dining in style at Sabatini were ignored by the women who lowered baskets of contraband cigarettes from the upper floors of Via della Lungharetta only steps away.  In the same street, groups of people used to gather round fires lit in old steel cans or drums to keep warm in winter, as there was no heating in their flats.  Cars, motorbikes, ape, lorries, all contributed to the confusion and stress of perambulation.  On a warm night, with the windows open, the occasional vehicle would shatter your dreams and taint the air with its acrid fumes.  The local cinema, a Cinema d’Essai which showed a different (old) film every day, was a place to rest after shopping, or to sleep off lunch.  Footballs occasionally bounced in through the curtain from the kids’ games outside.  It was a carefree, careless world, which came to a roaring conclusion each year on New Year’s Eve when at midnight the streets became insanely dangerous as the detritus of the old year - furniture, empty bottles, boxes of rubbish, even whole carpets (don’t ask) - were ejected from upper storey windows without a thought for where they might land.  Thunder flashes caused blast waves you could feel fifty metres away, and I can still clearly see (and hear) a neighbour on his balcony wildly firing a handgun at the heavens.

Not quite the world captured by Ettore Roesler Franz (Rome 1845 - 1907), in which we see the daily lives of ordinary people in what was more like a village than a city, and where cartwheels and barrows rolled through gates, and artisans worked outside their tiny shops.  The series of watercolours known as “Vanished Rome” were produced in the years after 1875 when the reconstruction of Rome had begun following the turbulence of the Risorgimento.   

Some of Roesler Franz’s paintings would be currently visible in the Museo di Roma in Trastevere (if it were open[iii]) but they are part of the wider collection dedicated to "Roma sparita” which is kept in the Museo di Roma in Palazzo Braschi.  Roesler Franz (who was born and lived and worked in Rome) was moved to photograph and paint areas affected by the rapid urban reconstruction desired by the new government after the unification of Italy.  He concentrated on the rioni most dramatically involved in this tide of change.  His watercolours show the Rome of the medieval papacy, without reference to the new middle classes which were to come to dominate much of the city.  It seems that Roesler Franz, like me, sought to live, at least in part, in a world of nostalgia.

His pictures, most of which are delicate and small, are now much sought after, and this one, “The courtyard of the Anguillara Palace in Trastevere, Rome” (a building which is now known as the “Casa di Dante” as it houses the Dante Institute) was recently on sale by auction in New Bond Street, London, at a price estimated between £4,000 and £6,000.

In fact, I have a bone to pick with Ettore Roesler Franz; in his picture “Arco Tolomei” there is something missing.  This particularly picturesque corner of Trastevere housed one of the last surviving open “Vespasiani” in Rome, a (or should that be an?) urinoir initially provided for the public by the Emperor Vespasian (and not just for modesty or hygiene – he made a fortune by selling the urine on to the Fullers in the wool trade!).  Now whether Ettore used artistic licence to erase the aforesaid convenience or what, I shall probably never know, but I have photographic proof of its existence in the 1970s, and I doubt that it was a recent addition at that time! 

However, there is a further chapter to this tale, which might actually please the soul of the prurient painter.  On my latest visit, I regret to say I found the marble slabs have been broken out and traces of this aspect of Roman civilisation are almost lost!

Some might say that Trastevere is not the “real” Rome, as it only officially became a part of the city in comparatively recent times. Two thousand years ago it was occupied by, or regularly raided by, Etruscans, then Aurelian enclosed a part of it with his walls in the third century AD, but it was for a long time sailors and fishermen and foreigners who made their homes here, and pilgrims who passed through on their way to the Basilica di San Pietro. The streets had no paving until the end of the 15th century. Much of the area was literally closed – with barricaded gates and boarded windows – to prevent an outbreak of plague spreading in 1656.

However, in my “Guida D’Italia del Touring Club Italiano: Roma e Dintorni, Settima Edizione, 1977” I read that, “Trastevere…. is notoriously the most populous and the most Roman quarter of Rome.”  In fact, this intensive guide also says a couple of pages later that the “Rione di Trastevere” is, “il piu popolarmente romano [Rione di Roma] per origine e per carattere dei suoi abitanti[iv].” This may be partly because of the uneven and narrow streets of sampietrini, walled in by cliffs of yellow and pink ochres, but it may also be due to the enduring presence of one G G Belli, whose marble statue stands beneath the monumental Roman Pines at the head of the Viale di Trastevere, where it meets the Lungotevere at Ponte Garibaldi.

Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, who grew up as part of the minority middle classes in the Papal States, before the Risorgimento, took it upon himself to write poetry in the dialect known as “Romanesco[v],” the traditional speech of lower class Romans of the time (the early 19th Century).  This dialect, still heard in Trastevere (and some other parts of the city) and occasionally written in menus, records a vitality and idiosyncrasy that reflects all of Italy of the days before Berlusconi and the media homogenised the way people speak.  It is a rough, abbreviated way of speaking Italian that puts on few airs, but rolls the consonants and probably echoes the guttural sounds of the crowds who once thronged the Coliseum.

His skill was to give voice to the illiterate populace of his world, and to add a waspish humour to that as well.  He wrote over two thousand sonnets, all in the Romanesque dialect, but none were published in his lifetime and he left instructions, thankfully disobeyed, that they should be destroyed on his death.  For example, with a nod to Shakespeare and Jacques’s seven ages of man:

La vita dell'Omo

Nove mesi a la puzza: poi in fassciola
tra sbasciucchi, lattime e llagrimoni:
poi p'er laccio, in ner crino, e in vesticciola,
cor torcolo e l'imbraghe pe ccarzoni.
Poi comincia er tormento de la scola,
l'abbeccé, le frustate, li ggeloni,
la rosalia, la cacca a la ssediola,
e un po' de scarlattina e vvormijjoni.
Poi viè ll'arte, er diggiuno, la fatica,
la piggione, le carcere, er governo,
lo spedale, li debbiti, la fica,
er zol d'istate, la neve d'inverno...
E pper urtimo, Iddio sce bbenedica,
viè la Morte, e ffinisce co l'inferno.

For those who cannot read Italian or more accurately who are perplexed by the Romanesco dialect, this poem charts the “Life of Man” from nine months in the stink of the uterus, through the torment of school, being whipped and frozen, through diseases such as german measles, scarlet fever and smallpox, to the world of work, with hunger and rent to pay, suffering imprisonment, hospitalisation, problems of debt and of sex, until at the end, God bless us! it all finishes with death, and ultimately, Hell!  But as an example of the dialect in writing, note the double consonants at the beginning of words and the characteristic “er” for “il” as in “er tormento” – this is still very much a part of the local speech.

Another poet who favoured both Romanesco and the sonnet form was Carlo Alberto Camillo Salustri who was born in 1871 and who was known as Trilussa (a pseudonym he adopted in 1888; an anagram of his family name).  Although he died in 1950 (before I was born) I once had the pleasure of lunching in a local trattoria with three of his old buddies (and though they were pretty old, they were still full of life).  I was with an American friend, a journalist, one Dale McAdoo, who had spent much of his life in Italy since arriving here in the war as a young soldier, and it was a strangely “impressionante” occasion for me as a naïve youth, reaching back into a past that I was only just becoming aware of, but which seemed very tangible to me.  This picture, painted in 1915, portrays a rakish, confident man, and he clearly drew affection and perhaps awe from those who knew him, though at the end of his life, sadly impoverished and suffering badly from asthma, he had given up his beloved frascati.  Trilussa had admired Belli as a young man and he achieved wide fame for his writings (and was also recognised for his opposition to fascism).  This poem, written in 1940, recounts drinking a half litre of good wine from Frascati, while contemplating the stains on the wall of the dining room.  He finds it amusing that he can see shapes in the combination of saltpetre and mould in the plaster, and allows his imagination to interpret the shapes as an eagle, then abear, a cockerel, wolves, sheep, rams and then even a horse leaping over cannon.  Then in the background he spies a woman, who in some ways represents both love and faith.  He drinks wine and looks at the wall, feeling a little drunk but at ease, and sure of himself.

Vino Bono

Mentre bevo mezzo litro,
de Frascati abboccatello,
guardo er muro der tinello
co’ le macchie de salnitro.
Guardo e penso quant’è buffa
certe vorte la natura
che combina una figura
cor salnitro e co’ la muffa.
Scopro infatti in una macchia
una specie d’animale:
pare un’aquila reale
co’ la coda de cornacchia.
Là c’è un orso, qui c’è un gallo,
lupi, pecore, montoni,
e su un mucchio de cannoni
passa un diavolo a cavallo!
Ma ner fonno s’intravede
una donna ne la posa
de chi aspetta quarche cosa
da l’Amore e da la Fede…
Bevo er vino e guardo er muro
con un bon presentimento:
sarò sbronzo, ma me sento
più tranquillo e più sicuro.

To me this touches on a familiar world, though one that is now part of the past.  Indeed, opposite my flat in Via di S Francesco a Ripa there was, in the 70s, an old ostaria, where only white wine from the Colli Albani was served, and the walls were distinctly cracked and stained.  This has long gone, and now, in its place, I see a smart new restaurant, with shiny glasses and white cloths.  Shining.  Smart.  And empty…..

As a footnote on the dialect, it is not only Trastevere that maintains its own style of speaking, of course.  Trilussa in fact participated in competitions among dialect poets, and to this day the speech of various parts of Italy is far more diverse than the equivalent in England (excepting the Welsh, as always!)  As an example, I remember watching Ermanno Olmi’s film “L’Albero degli Zoccoli” (which won the Palme d’Or for the best film at the Cannes Festival in 1978) in the Novocine down my street and at a certain point a rough local voice called out, “Ma che parlanno?  Italiano?[vi]  Subsequently they showed it with subtitles in “Italian” as most of the dialogue was improvised with amateur actors from the area around Bergamo in the north and was completely unintelligible to most other Italians (let alone foreigners like me!)

Time dances on.  In the Piazza di S Cosimato, while there is still a small set of stalls, there was once a vibrant market which rivalled that of Campo dei Fiori across the river.  Here the daily riot of colour in flowers and vegetables was enhanced by the olfactory glories of cheeses, salted meats, fresh cuts of bloody animals and glistening, slimy fish.  Here you could buy anything and everything that was good to eat, and in any amount you cared to ask for.  One image from these days that lives in a remote corner of my mind is that of a woman buying a chicken.  Chickens were displayed half plucked but otherwise entire, and when you had chosen yours, the butcher would cut off the heads and feet, draw the innards, and then wrap everything up in paper and hand it over (we had some delicious gravies in those days!)  On this particular occasion the woman asked for it to be split open (so it could be cooked on the grill).  As the butcher pressed down on the legs to flatten the carcass, the woman’s hand darted forward and grasped two yellow globules – unformed eggs – from the poor bird’s womb.  Without hesitation she sucked them from her hand and licked her lips, a faint smile vanishing as soon as it appeared.  Then she paid and walked off with her parcel.  That lady could be dancing in the Piazza di S Maria today, but she won’t be plucking neck feathers from a market chicken any more.

Another venerable place of my youth still exists but is somewhat changed.  When I first arrived, there were three of us sharing the flat (as the monthly rent equalled my income at the time).  With reference to eating out, I was told by one friend, who had lived in the area for a few years before me, that we had already missed the best and that now it was becoming expensive!  Well we reckoned that it was still cheaper to eat out than to cook at home (not a very tested argument I have to concede!) and so we trawled the area for cheap eats, and probably dined at least once in almost every trattoria in the area.  Our rule of thumb was that if a quarter roast chicken cost more than 1,000 lire (about 60 pence) then it was expensive; we reckoned that we should be able to get a three course meal with wine, coffee and a digestivo for about £1.  The place we kept going back to was called “da Mario” in Via del Moro (not far from the Antica Caffe del Moro which has preserved its curious sign, though nothing else of its character), and this was an experience.  You had to take a book, and a long one at that, as waiting to be served was part of the game.  It was frequented by young men in uniform, those unfortunates who had to spend a year doing military service after school.  They always found the cheapest places (they were hardly paid at all) and had time on their hands.

It was not a bad place to eat.  Mario served, his wife cooked, and on one occasion his little daughter peed on the floor (Mario scolded her and threw a handful of sawdust over it, and carried on).  Somehow I had the impression this was the real world; the old world; Trastevere as she had been before me….  Then one day I was behind Mario in a queue in a photographic shop I used; he bought a brand new Zenza Bronica 6 x 6 camera with cash…. I couldn’t quite understand it.  How could he afford that?  It was never the same eating there, and, though it is still there, it will never be the same.  Ever.

The flat.  As mentioned, when I arrived the rent equalled my income.  As the years passed, and my income improved, the landlord decided he should have more rent.  He was a hard man who ran a successful sausage and preserved meats company.  The flat was his mother’s property and he had no need of it, but he felt I should pay more.  I had to go to his office once a year to renew the contract and my heart sank when I learned what he wanted.  I consulted a lawyer.  A new, “fair rent” (“equo canone”), law had been passed and legal advice was available to support tenants.  I think this was my first real experience of Left and Right in Italian politics and it was with great fear and trembling that I went for my annual meeting with my good friend the landlord.  I refused his request to pay more.  His reaction was astonishing and for a while I thought I was sausage meat.  However, I got away with it and he never spoke to me again, except to abuse me when I left.  He never even visited when the ceiling nearly came down when a tenant above had gone away leaving a badly fitted water heater to boil over and flood three flats below (that was fun!  We had the whole street in, and the fire brigade, and I climbed up the pipes and railings on the inside of the block to investigate the two flats above me – lovely exposed beams!  Lovely terracotta floors!  Pity about the inundation!)

I loved that flat.  My room was at the back, with an internal terrace overlooking a courtyard below and the back windows of other flats on the next street.  The woman opposite had an exquisite voice, and she would sing snatches of Roman songs while cooking or hanging out her washing on a squeaky line strung between the blocks.  I don’t know whether they loved me – I had a piano, and I am no pianist!  (And the men to whom this was strapped to carry it up, and then eventually down, two floors of tight curling stairs didn’t love me, neither.  Especially those who took it away!  It was June, and 35º in the shade!)

We had some parties there.  There was hardly any furniture (what we did have was either purchased for next to nothing from a junk shop or given by people who would otherwise have thrown it away) so there was plenty of room.  It must have been a pretty mixed crowd – assorted journalists from the International Daily News and Daily American; staff and parents from various international schools; members of the Irish community (through connections at the Fiddler’s Elbow); musicians, artists, priests, au pairs, and at least one German who lived in a beaten up old VW on the other side of town.  We were a couple of doors from one of the best Pizzerie in Rome (Da Ivo), so it wasn’t difficult to get something to eat.  And just a few steps away, under the Arco di S Callisto, was an old-fashioned Vini et Oli where a few litres of castelli wine could be decanted for the price of a packet of cigarettes.

In some ways the tripping of time has not changed the appearance of the street.  What was my entrance is sprayed with graffiti, and the leather man has gone from next door (though the shop hasn’t changed much) but the aspect of the buildings and the sampietrini of the street are still the same.  The nearest bar has become a motor bike shop, but the next bar is still the same.  The newsstand is the same, though the restaurant next to it has become a fast food outlet.

My barber is still there, although his associate died last year (“quel dannato male incurabil[vii]e”) and he had great pleasure in trimming my thinning locks.  Giorgio Rinaldi, now 72 years of age, born and bred in Trastevere, living in Piazza di S Cosimato, cutting hair since he was 14 and at the same shop (Via di S Francesco a Ripa 17/A) since 1978.  A haircut is €15, and, according to his receipts (though I’m not sure it’s all still on offer) you could also have a shave, a shampoo, a perm, a dye, a manicure and a pedicure.  We talked of the passage of time and the changes in the area.  He didn’t lament the increase in the number of tourists, though he did sing the praises of real local food (“Coda alla vaccinara!  Aaah[viii]!”)  I hope I will find him there when I next return, but who knows if we’ll dance together again?

Nowadays Trastevere comes to life mostly at night, when droves of tourists cross the Ponte Sisto and head into the maze of characteristic lanes to find “characteristic” places to eat.  During the day, more serious tourists seek out the art and architecture of the past, whether in galleries and palazzo or in the churches, of which there are a good number (between the stunning cosmatesque paving of S Crisogono - originally from the 13th century and built over an older church and some buildings from the imperial age – to the glittering mosaics of S Maria in Trastevere, there are three other churches in about four hundred metres).  Though I lived there seven years, I only scratched the surface and some parts of the Rione still feel strange to me. 

One part I always liked, however, was the walk up to the Janiculum (Monte Gianicolo). Here, in 1849, Garibaldi defended the Roman Republic against the French (it’s a strange thing that one of my younger daughter’s friends in England is a direct descendant of the great hero) and from the piazza in his honour (presided over by a grand equestrian statue) there is a fine panorama of the city and the surrounding hills – even snowy mountains on a fine day in winter.  From just below this piazza a cannon is fired every day at exactly noon (the tradition was started in 1847 to synchronise the church bells and has continued every day since, with the exception of 20 years from 1939).  It’s a classic bit of Roman contradiction – where time is sometimes slow and sometimes quick, where you can expect trains to only nod to a timetable, this cannon shot is exactly timed and perfectly executed.  You could set your blackberry to it!

G G Belli and Ettore Roesler Franz crossed paths and in their own ways are custodians of a Rome that has really disappeared.  But then, with buildings from the time of Christ rubbing shoulders with buildings from the Renaissance, even they were perhaps preserving a kind of nostalgia.  Belli referred to Roesler Franz’s family, with their aristocratic connections, in his sonnets but they shared a reverence for the world that was changing and we owe them both much for giving life to our imagination; when we see the traffic on the Lungotevere, we can, partly thanks to them, filter out the modernity and perhaps see a picture more like these, one a photograph upstream from Castel Sant’Angelo or the other, painted by Roesler Franz in 1888, and entitled Porto di Ripetta verso Levante, which hints at how the commercial life of the river was highly important, though by the time these pictures were made the busiest days were already well in the past.

This is also borne out by the name of the church dedicated to S Francesco a Ripa.  For some time, in my innocence (ignorance?) I believed this to be some lesser known Saint Francis, from somewhere called Ripa rather than Assisi, though living in a 17th century palazzo on the street of the same name, I suppose I should have cottoned on quicker.  The name in fact commemorates the convent in which San Francesco (the one and only) lodged when he came to Rome, though it was at the time (late 13th century) a Benedictine convent, and the existing church is baroque (and currently most famous for a late Bernini sculpture of a lady in rapture).  However, the addition of “Ripa” signifies that this place was on the bank of the Tiber, and in fact this was where the main port of Rome used to be (as opposed to the smaller “ripetta” mentioned above which was upstream on the other bank.)

In connection with this theme of ports, and sailors, not far from this church, around the corner from that dedicated to Santa Cecilia, is the Ospizio dei Genovesi and the church of S Giovanni dei Genovesi (on Via dei Genovesi) all of which commemorate the significant presence of sailors and merchants from Genova (Genoa) in this area in the past.  Incidentally, this little complex has the most elegant and well kept fifteenth century cloister, in which from time to time I sought, and found, great peace at times of stress.

The Church of S Cecilia in Trastevere, by the way, also has a beautiful garden courtyard, in front of the church, and is of considerable interest, partly for the beautiful sculpture of the martyred saint, which lies below the main altar, but also for the crypt and remains of the Roman house and baths where Cecilia lived (with her husband Valerian), and, perhaps most strikingly, for the fresco of the Last Judgement painted by Cavallini in 1293, which can be found inside the adjoining convent.  It is actually painted on the inside of the façade of the church, but this was sealed away when a gallery was built for the closed order of nuns (who still live there).  It is a beautiful work, and the colours of the angels’ wings convey a depth of care that puts Cavallini (who also embellished the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere) in the highest league of medieval artists.  It is now slightly awkward to see the picture and it is not possible to appreciate how it dominated the church over the main entrance, but, when I commented on this to the aged nun who was guarding it, she laconically observed that at least it had survived.

In July the Rione celebrates the “Festa di Noantri” (or the Festival of Us Others – “Noi Altri”) – a snook at the rest of Rome, when the Trasteverini dance together as a special kind of Roman (though of course they love to have everyone else dancing with them.)  Fellini caught the atmosphere in the penultimate scenes of his “Roma” (1972).  The wealthy and comfortable dine da Sabatini while police bludgeon and chase peace-loving youths from the fountain in Piazza di Santa Maria.  Gore Vidal and John Francis Lane (a journalist, but also walk-on player in some 26 Italian films, including Pasolini’s “Canterbury Tales,” Fellini’s “8½” and “La Dolce Vita,” but, more importantly to me, the landlord of the first flat I stayed in in Trastevere, which was directly below his own, round the corner from Piazza Sidney Sonnino – sorry, I digress) talk of the attractions of Trastevere over a table of food and wine.  In fact the scene is surprisingly modern despite the forty years that have passed since it was filmed.  Rome is hugely attractive to Americans, and English.  It has a romance; it has warmth and colour; it doesn’t care (Gore Vidal mentions the quality of “menefreghismo[ix]”) and yet it has a throbbing heart where people do look out for each other (the man who ran the garage where I kept my 750cc Triumph Trident kindly said he would keep an eye out for some friends’ car when they came to stay – “Just tell me where it’s parked and I’ll see no one touches it,” he said.  And it was fine.)

At the end of the scene Anna Magnani, the most magnetic of all Roman actresses, is stalked by the film crew on her way home (believe what you see!)  Fellini asks her to talk as she enters her portone.  “No,” she says, “I don’t trust you.  Good night.” The smiling ambivalence works perfectly with the huge and impenetrable doors behind which the actress lives her private life.  The camera lights in the darkened street represent the intrusive nature of the Roman character, the desire to carry on partying, the reluctance to go home.  But at the end, the door is shut, and the party is over.  No more dancing; just a polite farewell.

It is late October; late night.  Gentle music plays at the corner of the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere where Via della Lungaretta issues.  A young woman, agile and delicate, dances lightly to the rhythm, her tripping feet hardly touching the dance floor beneath her; her gossamer shawl bright against the fresh ochre walls above.  Her eyes glitter in reflection of the guttering torches which light the night, while her clothes shimmer like the mosaics on the façade of the church dedicated to Santa Maria.  Passers-by do just that, pass by.  Streams of them, in military uniforms of various ages, in rags and finery, unwashed as well as pomaded.  A horse clatters on the cobble stones, and I shrink back in fear of the sparks from the hooves.  There is a taint of sulphur in the air, as I approach the dancing girl.  Her hair slips from her head-scarf, dropping dishevelled over her eyes.  She falls; she curls, she becomes a child, a rag-doll, a marionette who rests from the dance.  Behind me I hear a shriek outside the bar as a flashing blade draws blood from a young man’s midriff.  In the distance I hear a fusillade scatter shot in the leaves on the Gianicolo.  The dancing ends.  A faint glow haunts the rooftops as gradually the moon rises, huge and yellow.  The light completes the darkness as shades deepen and the piazza stills, holds its breath and falls to sleep.  On the wall someone has written in a shaky hand, scratched, not chalked:  Ho bisogno….”


[i] “I have need….”

[ii] Sampietrini are cobble stones, smooth surfaced, but with a tapered underside.  They were introduced as a hard-wearing but flexible street paving (they allow water to soak away and do not crack with subsidence or earth movement).  However, in 2005 the Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, declared his intention to remove them from all but pedestrian areas.  I have noticed that where they have been taken up in recent years (such as for service conduits) they have not been relayed with the care or expertise of old.

[iii] The Museum of Rome in Trastevere – opened in 1976 as the “Museum of Folklore and Romanesque Poets” - is housed in what was once the Monastery of Sant'Egidio, where barefoot Carmelite nuns lived until the fall of Rome. In 2000 the museum was reopened to the public with the name of “The Museum of Rome in Trastevere” and it focuses on aspects of everyday Roman life in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The collection includes paintings, prints, drawings and watercolours, among them the series of "Vanished Rome" by Ettore Roesler Franz, a crib incorporating scenes of daily Roman life in the nineteenth century, and six life-size representations of day to day life in the period, known as "Roman Scenes". The museum also contains some of the personal possessions of Trilussa, which were donated to the Municipality of Rome after his death and are in part exhibited in the video installation space named after him. Unfotunately none of this was available to us on our recent visit.

[iv] The most popularly Roman [of the Quarters of Rome] both for its roots and for the character of its people.
[v] Romanesco or Romanesque is a regional language or sociolect within Italian.  It is spoken in Rome and is part of the Central Italian Dialects and is therefore close to the Tuscan dialect and Standard Italian.  There are few grammatical and idiomatic differences from Standard Italian. It is however rich in expressions and sayings, and is used for informal communication by most natives of Rome, often in a mix with Italian.

[vi] “What are they talking?  Italian?” (ie: “What language is this?”)

[vii] “That damned incurable disease.” (ie: Cancer)

[viii] “Tail cooked in the herdsman’s way!  Aaah!” (A popular way of cooking ox tail)

[ix] The attitude of carelessness – “I don’t give a damn!” (or: “Who gives a shit?”)

Dedicated to all friends in Italy, particularly Gino and Mary, Simon and Connie, Gerry and Maria, and Antonio.