Friday, February 28, 2014

Mussolini Dux -- The Foro Mussolini/Italico

I finally made it to one of Mussolini's most bombastic propaganda projects -- the Foro Italico (once the Foro Mussolini).   A network of sports buildings in the Disney-Fascist mode, the Foro Mussolini was designed to glorify the virility of the fascist enterprise and Il Duce himself.  The massive mosaic pathway to the soccer stadium is covered with references to Il Duce and his favorite phrases (such as, following the invasion of Ethiopia, "Italy finally has its empire") and is framed by a series of slabs marking the "progress" of the Italian empire.  I will be returning in a few weeks, accompanied by Valentina Follo, who works at the Academy and whose dissertation is focused on the meaning of the mosaics.

Some questions that ran through my mind:

Why has also this fascist propaganda remained?  (Part of the answer lies with the fact that the American military used the site as their headquarters after taking back Italy.  That presence somehow inoculated the place, changing its meaning).

Should they have removed the obelisk with "Mussolini Dux" engraved, high above the Tiber, welcoming thousands into the sports complex every weekend?

Should they have pulled up the millions of stones making up the mosaic, removing the offending words?

Should they, instead, protect the mosaics, as a part of Italian history?  Should they be restored?  Should the crowds heading to a soccer or rugby match be rerouted?  Or should Italy encourage the crowds to continue to pass over the plaza, allowing the mosaics to steadily disintegrate?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best lines of the day

After a visit to a series of artists studios in an old pasta factory in San Lorenzo, we all went out to lunch (at a famous restaurant, Pomodoro, which was much frequented by Pier Paolo Pasolini).  Over the meal, I spoke with an artist about views of Mussolini.  He said this:  "Its like if you are having trouble with your pipes.  You call a plumber.  He comes over and does a good job cleaning your pipes.  And then he kills your wife.  How can you now be happy that your pipes are clean?"

Via Appia Antica

After all the remarkable experiences in Rome, I was not expecting to be so taken by a simple walk.  But I found the Via Appia Antica, the most important ancient road out of Rome, dating back to 312 BC, to be the most beautiful and evocative place I have yet experienced in the city.

I'll have more to say about this place in the coming days, but I just can't hold back on sharing some more images.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fosse Ardeatine

Tom Mayes and I spent a good bit of time at one of the most important World War II sites in Italy, the Fosse Ardeatine.  When ten German solider were killed by the resistance, Hitler's generals ordered that ten men for every one German soldier be killed as retribution.  They gathered up 335 (the Nazis miscounted and had rounded up five extra, but decided to kill them as well) men and boys -- the youngest was 14 -- and murdered them in the caves south of the city on March 24, 1944. They then blew up the caves to hide the massacre.  The memorial (completed in 1952) includes the caves, a museum, and a moving crypt for the dead, designed by Mario Fiorentino.

My new friend, Adachiara Zevi, the daughter of architect Bruno Zevi, and a key figure in memorializing the Italian victims of World War II (Jewish and non), has just written a book about the Fosse Ardeatine and will be holding a seminar in anticipation of the 70th anniversary of the massacre.

More Textures of Rome -- from the Appian Way

Enoteca Fascista

After the ballet, entitled "Ghetto," at the Teatro Nazionale, Marco Cremaschi, his wife and I, went looking for a place for a drink.  Across the street from the place where a Klezmer-themed ballet was playing, we passed by this enoteca (regional wine store and bar), across from the theater.  And these were the bottles prominently on display.  I was today told, by Adachiara Zevi, that this is a well-known right-winger who freely displays his political beliefs in these wine bottles.

It disturbingly fits into my continuing question to Italians I meet:  where in Rome is there a museum or historic site which confronts the role of the Italian citizenry in the rise and "success" of Mussolini? Where is there an honest confrontation with their own responsibility and culpability?  I have yet to get an affirmative answer.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Piranesi

When I was growing up at 84 McClellan Street, this image stood at the top of our stairs:

It is an image of a portion of the Acqua Vergine aqueduct, portrayed by Piranesi.

I saw it every day, several times, heading up and down the stairs.  It was background to my life.  I never knew what it was, although later I know that my father said it was a Piranesi.  But when I asked recently about when and where he got it (sometime in the 1950s), he thought it was one of Piranesi's fantastical prisons.  It is, in fact, a real work of engineering and architecture, a portion of which still exists.  I intend to go to the remaining piece, which is apparently in the courtyard at Via Nazareno, 14, and fed the Trevi Fountain.

It was an indelible image for me, one of the first images of architecture I remember.  It now sits above  my desk, which, of course, is my father's old desk.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Tempietto

In every art history survey, students learn of the perfect gem of a building, often considered the first building of the Renaissance -- Bramante's Tempietto from 1502.  It was on my first day here, when Tom Mayes showed me around, that I learned that the Tempietto (which I had been reintroduced to in The Great Beauty, a film set in Rome which I saw just weeks before arriving in Rome) was just a hundred yards from the American Academy, set in a courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio.    The Tempietto marks the spot where Christian tradition says St. Peter was crucified.

I had only seen the Tempietto from the outside because there was work going on in the courtyard and the Spanish Embassy and Academy, which is housed in the buildings adjacent to the church, had locked the gate.  But with help from Giulia Barra at the Academy, I was able to get in and was allowed to wander around and take photographs without supervision for an hour.

Panoramas of Rome

I took a hiatus on blogging while Eve and the kids were in Rome.  I'll catch up with images and observations this week.

But to start, a few panoramas of some of our favorite places....

 Trevi Fountain

 The Colosseum

The Roman Forum

Campo de' Fiori

View from the Academy Terrace

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Creation of the Ghetto

It is worth reading the Papal Bull creating the Jewish Ghetto in Rome in 1555, almost forty year after the creation of the Venice ghetto.

Laws and ordinances to be followed by Jews living in the Holy See [decreed by the] Bishop [of Rome, the Pope] Paul, servant of the servants of God, for future recollection.
Since it is completely senseless and inappropriate to be in a situation where Christian piety allows the Jews (whose guilt—all of their own doing—has condemned them to eternal slavery) access to our society and even to live among us; indeed, they are without gratitude to Christians, as, instead of thanks for gracious treatment, they return invective, and among themselves, instead of the slavery, which they deserve, they manage to claim superiority: we, who recently learned that these very Jews have insolently invaded Rome from a number of the Papal States, territories and domains, to the extent that not only have they mingled with Christians (even when close to their churches) and wearing no identifying garments, but to dwell in homes, indeed, even in the more noble [dwellings] of the states, territories and domains in which they lingered, conducting business from their houses and in the streets and dealing in real estate; they even have nurses and housemaids and other Christians as hired servants. And they would dare to perpetrate a wide variety of other dishonorable things, contemptuous of the [very] name Christian. Considering that the Church of Rome tolerates these very Jews (evidence of the true Christian faith) and to this end [we declare]: that they, won over by the piety and kindness of the See, should at long last recognize their erroneous ways, and should lose no time in seeing the true light of the catholic faith, and thus to agree that while they persist in their errors, realizing that they are slaves because of their deeds, whereas Christians have been freed through our Lord God Jesus Christ, and that it is unwarranted for it to appear that the sons of free women serve the sons of maids. [Therefore,]
§ 1. Desiring firstly, as much as we can with [the help of] God, to beneficially provide, by this [our decree] that will forever be in force, we ordain that for the rest of time, in the City as well as in other states, territories and domains of the Church of Rome itself, all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit, and if there is not that capacity [in one such quarter, then], in two or three or however many may be enough; [in any case] they should reside entirely side by side in designated streets and be thoroughly separate from the residences of Christians, [This is to be enforced] by our authority in the City and by that of our representatives in other states, lands and domains noted above.
§ 2. Furthermore, in each and every state, territory and domain in which they are living, they will have only one synagogue, in its customary location, and they will construct no other new ones, nor can they own buildings. Furthermore, all of their synagogues, besides the one allowed, are to be destroyed and demolished. And the properties, which they currently own, they must sell to Christians within a period of time to be determined by the magistrates themselves.
§ 3. Moreover, concerning the matter that Jews should be recognizable everywhere: [to this end] men must wear a hat, women, indeed, some other evident sign, yellow in color, that must not be concealed or covered by any means, and must be tightly affixed [sewn]; and furthermore, they can not be absolved or excused from the obligation to wear the hat or other emblem of this type to any extent whatever and under any pretext whatsoever of their rank or prominence or of their ability to tolerate [this] adversity, either by a chamberlain of the Church, clerics of an apostolic court, or their superiors, or by legates of the Holy See or their immediate subordinates.
§ 4. Also, they may not have nurses or maids or any other Christian domestic or service by Christian women in wet-nursing or feeding their children.
§ 5. They may not work or have work done on Sundays or on other public feast days declared by the Church.
§ 6. Nor may they incriminate Christians in any way, or promulgate false or forged agreements.
§ 7. And they may not presume in any way to play, eat or fraternize with Christians.
§ 8. And they cannot use other than Latin or Italian words in short-term account books that they hold with Christians, and, if they should use them, such records would not be binding on Christians [in legal proceedings].
§ 9. Moreover, these Jews are to be limited to the trade of rag-picking, or "cencinariae" (as it is said in the vernacular), and they cannot trade in grainbarley or any other commodity essential to human welfare.
§ 10. And those among them who are physicians, even if summoned and inquired after, cannot attend or take part in the care of Christians.
§ 11. And they are not to be addressed as superiors [even] by poor Christians.
§ 12. And they are to close their [loan] accounts entirely every thirty days; should fewer than thirty days elapse, they shall not be counted as an entire month, but only as the actual number of days, and furthermore, they will terminate the reckoning as of this number of days and not for the term of an entire month. In addition, they are prohibited from selling [goods put up as] collateral, put up as temporary security for their money, unless [such goods were] put up a full eighteen months prior to the day on which such [collateral] would be forfeit; at the expiration of the aforementioned number of months, if Jews have sold a security deposit of this sort, they must sign over all money in excess of the principal of the loan to the owner of the collateral.
§ 13. And the statutes of states, territories and domains (in which they have lived for a period of time) concerning primacy of Christians, are to be adhered to and followed without exception.
§ 14. And, should they, in any manner whatsoever, be deficient in the foregoing, it would be treated as a crime: in Rome, by us or by our clergy, or by others authorized by us, and in the aforementioned states, territories and domains by their respective magistrates, just as if they were rebels and criminals by the jurisdiction in which the offense takes place, they would be accused by all Christian people, by us and by our clergy, and could be punished at the discretion of the proper authorities and judges.
§ 15. [This will be in effect] notwithstanding opposing decrees and apostolic rules, and regardless of any tolerance whatever or special rights and dispensation for these Jews [granted] by any Roman Pontiff prior to us and the aforementioned See or of their legates, or by the courts of the Church of Rome and the clergy of the Apostolic courts, or by other of their officials, no matter their import and form, and with whatever (even with repeated derogations) and with other legally valid sub-clauses, and erasures and other decrees, even [those that are] "motu proprio" and from "certain knowledge" and have been repeatedly approved and renewed. By this document, even if, instead of their sufficient derogation, concerning them and their entire import, special, specific, expressed and individual, even word for word, moreover, not by means of general, even important passages, mention, or whatever other expression was favored, or whatever exquisite form had to be retained, matters of such import, and, if word for word, with nothing deleted, would be inserted into them in original form in the present document holding that rather than being sufficiently expressed, those things that would stay in effect in full force by this change alone, we specially and expressly derogate, as well as any others [that might be] contrary to them.
Declared at St. Mark's, Rome, in the one thousand five hundred fifty fifth year of the incarnation of our Lord, one day prior to the Ides of July [July 14], in the first year of our Papacy [1555].

Friday, February 14, 2014

Death and Resurrection, Part 2

Heading south, and winding high up into the hills, through ridiculously beautiful scenery, we arrived at the Abruzzo town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio.  Here was a town which had truly lost virtually all of its population over the past half century.  But it has been "saved" by being acquired -- yes, bought -- by the Sextantio corporation, led by a Swedish/Italian billionaire who appears deeply committed to saving the hill towns of the Abruzzo region, of which he now owns nine.  The town's buildings have been converted into homes for sale or as an albergo diffuso -- a hotel with rooms distributed across a number of buildings.  The town has been largely repaired from the earthquake damage (save for the signature Medici Tower, which toppled) and now accommodates wealth weekenders from Rome and beyond.

There is so much to like about this project.  A ghost town falling into ruin has been rescued.  The buildings have been sensitively repaired.  In the rooms and the stores, there are thoughtful interpretive handouts, describing the buildings and the economy.  There are efforts to recover some of the traditional handicrafts, such as the particular hand-looms of this region.

The only frustration is when you look at the price tag -- $250 to $400 or $500 a night.  Given that this is a national park area, and given that the state has provided this billionaire a fair amount of money to do his good deeds, perhaps there is a way to make more of these spaces available for regular people.  Set aside a certain number of the homes for rental, like we do with cabins in state parks.  Or set aside a number for visiting artists, who, in return for free or reduced housing, have an exhibit or open studio days.  The scene is spectacular.  The restoration is laudable.  But perhaps San Stefano can be "saved" for more people.

After walking and thinking, I have a new ending to this post:

We are thrilled that the billionaire has taken over San Stefano because we have no realistic belief that the Italian government could, at this moment, afford to restore the town, nor do the Italian people have faith that they would do so in a timely and corruption-free fashion.  That is simply a commentary on the imposition of austerity policies across Europe, despite repeated evidence that this was a destructive "reform."  And it is a commentary on the self-imposed government (or series of governments) that have produced this lack of faith in the possibilities of democratic governance.

But in a better world, this town, which sits in a national park, would, because of the steady flight of its citizenry, revert to the state and become a national treasure, accessible to all.

Death and Resurrection, Part I

A busload of us spent Wednesday traveling to two sites in the Abruzzo region, to the east and north of Rome.  I'll post about the two, each of which raises a different preservation issue.

It is probably worth going first to Florence before going to L'Aquila,  just as it is worth going to Homestead, PA, or the silver mines of Nevada, or to the railway lines across the U.S., before heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Frick Gallery, or the Morgan in New York.  Because it is in those less famous places where the wealth come from to make those glorious cities and institutions possible.  L'Aquila is the capital of the Abruzzo region and became the sheep capital -- and therefore the wool capital --  of the world in the late middle ages, fueling the cultural ferment of Florence.  At one time millions of sheep would make the yearly trek -- or tracturo -- from the Abruzzo to Puglia in order to maximize grazing grounds and therefore the number of sheep that could be raised.  From high up above the valley, you can the sunken valley's -- a landscape feature created by centuries of the tracturo. Like other places that once dominated by their own crop (think cotton in the American South), this area fell into slow and steady economic decline with the rise of other sources of wool, and then the rise of cotton.  

L'Aquila is a gorgeous hill town town, the capital of this region.  It is also a virtual ghost town, victim to a 2009 earthquake -- the latest in its long history.  It poses the questions posed by Katrina and Sandy and the other earthquakes and natural disasters of recent years.  What do they rebuild?  What should be torn down?  And lurking behind it all:  If earthquakes have leveled this place dozens of times over the past millennium, why persist?

We visited the massive Spanish fort, the home of the region's major museum, which appears to have some serious and thoughtful people involved in securing the building and planning the restoration.  As often happens, the worst hit areas were those built most recently -- using shoddy materials, or failing to understand the structure of the original.   But despite the lengthy and enthusiastic narration of the plans for renovation we received from the project architect, we had to wonder how it was all going to be possible.  There are about five people working on the massive site right now; they hope to get up to 15. But this is a job for hundreds. 

From the start, the rebuilding of L'Aquila, which Silvio Berlusconi promised would happen fast and right, went slow and wrong.  Well, one thing moved quickly:  the money moved with great alacrity into all the wrong hands.  It appears that crane operators and scaffolding companies are the new sheep owners of the Abruzzo, shearing the state and European Union of their investments in the form of exorbitant equipment rents, while little work goes on.  It seems like there is scaffolding or other supports on virtually every building in the historic center.  But throughout out mid-week morning there, only a small amount of work was taking place.  A crane lazily picking up a bit of rubble. A few workmen fixing a road.  This is five years into the "recovery."  You get a sneaking feeling that the historic city is being harvested purely for profit, by the mafia it is alleged. 

A lot of my colleagues felt like perhaps it was time to give up the ghost town. There's no money.  It all goes into the wrong hands.  There's too much to do.

But I remembered the book by my friends Larry Vale and Tom Campanella (The Resilient City, to which I contributed an essay on New York).  They reminded us that virtually no significant city has been abandoned due to natural disaster over the past two millennia.  For economic, cultural, even psychological reasons, cities get rebuilt, even if disaster is lurking a year, a decade, or a century around the corner.  

The L'Aquilese seem committed -- in their temporary structures on the edge of town -- to wait it out.  The population has actually slightly increased in the city (if not the historic center) and the university is in full operation.  

Some are not so happy with the speed of recovery, nor the corruption

They need a plan -- not everything can or should be saved -- and they need a clean process, so that the views of the citizens are incorporated into the plan and so that the money where goes where it is meant to go.   And then a few prayers that the terremoto is a long way off.