Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The other Rome

Mass tourism leads fluxes of thousands of people a day through areas and monuments that are supposed to show you an image of grandeur and make you "feel the weight of History" (as Michelle Obama told my boss a few weeks ago!).

The other Rome is much less glamorous, but it has History too! You just can't appreciate the "rione" (neighborhood) Monti if you don't know that it was the center of the main business that supported this city throughout centuries: prostitution!
But the areas that still bear surprises even for me, are the ones that still live in what we call History. As if time had never gone by.

When my sister moved to a neighborhood called Pigneto, I started exploring and discovering areas of Rome that seemed to come right out of a Pasolini movie: Two enormous ancient aqueducts stripe the area, and people, ever since World War II, just "nest" in their cavities. That shows you the thin line between considering a bunch of two-thousand-year-old ruins, monuments or half-built half-price solid houses...
Its worth going to have a pizza between the two aqueducts: everyone around you chats lively and doesn't seem to mind the two "dinosaurs" of History looking into your plate...

Close by there is a park, the largest one in Rome, were locals like to go jogging. A friend of mine lives near it and took me once (although jogging is the equivalent of torture for me...). She talked and talked as I struggled to survive. From time to time we'd stumble on a Renaissance farm, or an imperial nympheum, or e medieval chapel: isolated dots in a vastness of green hills. There was no one around, just a few panels that explained a story. Sometimes school field trips go discover these places, but that's it. These are places that belong to the kids that play in them, making their imaginations run wild!

That night we went to a "trattoria" (a restaurant with paper tablecloths, wooden plates and waiters that speak "Roman" and not Italian at a very high volume), one of those places where the traditional cuisine is still served: tripes and brains and other succulent cuts that over the decades the poor have turned from discard to masterpieces.

Rome is not that big: about 1200 km2. With a half-hour car ride you can visit the villages that surround it, where time has stopped at the middle ages. Just last week I went to a jazz concert (talk about contrasts!) in one of these minuscule villages that occupy the tip of a pointy mount, with defensive stone walls around it, cobble stone streets and a castle at the top. Very pictoresque... When the concert was over my friends and I headed towards the door of the village and as we were going down we noticed a little old lady washing her dishes at the public fountain, she had emptied the scraps of her casserole onto the floor. She was dressed in black and told us that she only went down to the local market once every 6 months, because her husband had died 7 years ago. Very... retrĂ².

So, Rome is History, ancient mostly, but recent History gives it its charm too. Many areas of Rome that until no more than ten years ago, were simple, inhabited by the working class, are gradually being transformed by the youth that can no longer afford to live close to the center and that are investing in restyling their neighborhood. So, areas with a rather sad abandoned industrial taste, become popular, with caffes with poetry readings or photography expos, and gain a new charm, sometimes just by illuminating differently that same old building. And that is were students gather, those piazzas and alleys become lively hot-spots of the roman "movida". (Of course, usually the consequence is that after a few years, the prices to rent appartments in those same old crumbled buildings, rise up to infinity, and students have to find some other place)

About Industrial Archeology, as they call it, we picked up the idea from England and France, and by now we've made a few attempts at transforming ex-factories into museums or posh restaurants, that in my opinion are glorious results that tourists often miss. The thing is that because we have this very italian (especially roman) mania that keeps us from throwing anything away, these structures are never completely emptied. For example, the Gare d'Orsay in Paris is a magnificent building, voided, made neutral, to contain an art museum. Well, we just didn't have the heart... you'll find an ex-power plant turned into a museum, with white greco-roman statues next to turbines and alternators. Fascinating!

Yes, we like contrasts, and most of us have never been inside the Colosseum.

Elena is your Tripbod in Rome.
Connect with her now on Tripbod and start planning your perfect trip!

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