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Garbatella

G intro

 

For week two in Roma I decided to head just south of the city centre and explore a neighbourhood called Garbatella. I guess it’s only a 30 minute bus ride from Pigneto but it may as well be on another planet. In fact, it’s different from anywhere else in Rome as far as I can tell, a planned garden suburb built in the 1920s for the working classes.

While it verges dangerously on the picturesque at times, its odd mix of faux ancient Roman and Fascist Modern, as well as various slaps of paint about the place indicating the political leaning of the community as well as their favourite soccer team, keeps it from being too pretty – or touristy.

Some background… Post-WWI, Rome needed to house workers. They chose a big patch of empty land on some hills south of Rome and gave a handful of architects a brief – design a village-type settlement similar to the English garden cities of the time, complete with communal areas and tillable land.

The result? A large assortment of lotti (lots or blocks), each different but similar, comprising of low rise buildings set around central courtyards, with medieval, Renaissance and Baroque motifs scattered around the joint.

The name may or may not come from Carlotta, a woman who ran a local tavern, whose nickname was Garbata Ostella (courteous innkeeper).

Okay, let’s meander.

 

Part 1: Country life

To reach the lotti you have to walk five minutes from the Metro, past depressing blocks of crappy high-rise. You know you’ve hit the spot when you suddenly feel like you’ve been transported back in time – or at least somewhere far from urban Rome. The streets start to twist and turn, lined with two or three storey buildings in various shades of burnt orange and pale red. Passageways lead to courtyards inside the lotti, where the apartments look onto communal gardens, some more loved than others, and an area filled with rows of washing lines. Residents relax on outdoor chairs, kids kick a ball around and cats drape themselves over pillars. And because it’s spring, the whole place is dripping with green, purple, pink and blue.

Tourists don’t know what they’re missing.

 

tree house

tree house

 

 

 

 

from another time - Anna

from another time - Anna

 

 

 

 

Lot No 21

Lot No 21

 

 

 

 

green Garbatella

green Garbatella

 

 

 

 

the arch

the arch

 

 

 

 

across the orange-red colour spectrum

across the orange-red colour spectrum

 

 

 

 

orange - Gabriella

orange - Gabriella

 

 

 

 

purple lace - Flavia

purple lace - Flavia

 

 

 

 

summer love

summer love

 

 

 

 

late afternoon light

late afternoon light

 

 

 

 

spotlight

spotlight

 

 

 

 

lazy days

lazy days

 

 

 

 

opposite directions

opposite directions

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Lotto 30

After our initial wander, we honed in on one of the lottiLotto 30. It seemed to be the most social, with regular groups of residents congregating in various corners of the courtyard for morning or afternoon natters.

On one of our visits we met 27 year old Cecile who lives here with her young son, Riccardo, and husband. She explained how the lotti work – if you’re not born into one you’ve got Buckely’s chance of living here. Most of them are owned by families who simply pass them on to the next generation to enjoy. For example, Cecile is the third generation to be born here – her grandmother was the first and her young son, the fourth. Will she stay forever? Maybe not as she loves the sea but…

 

 

family

family

 

 

 

 

watching over the kids - Cecile and friend, Francesca

watching over the kids - Cecile and friend, Francesca

 

 

 

 

roots - Riccardo, the fourth generation to be born here

roots - Riccardo, the fourth generation to be born here

 

 

 

 

star looks - Francesca

star looks - Francesca

 

 

 

 

The gardens here used to be well tended but are looking a little lacklustre now. But what I loved about the courtyard was the pride of place given to the rows of washing lines. They are literally and metaphorically the heart of Lotto 30.

 

 

love blossomed under the washing lines

love blossomed under the washing lines

 

 

 

Next to the washing lines we met young sisters Nicole and Rebecca playing with fellow resident, Sophia, and a long-suffering pink-plaited rag doll.

 

 

play time at Lotto 30

play time at Lotto 30

 

 

 

 

Rebecca, Nicole and ragdoll

Rebecca, Nicole and rag doll

 

 

 

 

The girls were busy making their rag doll as filthy as possible. When we visited the next day we found the doll had found her way into a washing machine and had been hung out to try – next to Sophia’s t-shirt.

 

thank god for Omo

thank god for Omo

 

 

 

the day before and the day after - Sophia

the day before and the day after - Sophia

 

 

 

 

Behind the washing, Marissa, Mirella and Rita had taken up their regular possie.

 

 

at the washing lines - Mirella, Marissa and Rita

deep in conversation

 

 

 

 

the power of three

the power of three

 

 

 

 

covered in flowers

covered in flowers

 

 

 

While we were there Anna and son Andrea, who we’d met a few days before, wandered in. She may only have come up to my waist but I still felt small next to her fierceness. Sweet fierceness that is.

 

 

Anna and son, Andrea

Anna and son, Andrea

 

 

 

 

87 years of use - Anna's hands

87 years of use - Anna's hands

 

 

 

 

sweet fierceness

sweet fierceness

 

 

 

 

I didn’t see many men sitting around shooting the breeze. I wouldn’t be surprised if they felt a little intimidated by the women of Lotto 30. Like Franco, who prefers to hang his washing out his window, thereby avoiding the need to venture down to the communal washing lines – and the signore.

 

 

hide and seek - Franco

hide and seek - Franco

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Holy smoke

There are a few churches in Garbatella, the largest one being the Church of Saint Francis Xavier. Built in the Fascist era of the 1930s, it’s striking for its lack of colour or embellishment – save for an appealing noughts and crosses pattern.

 

 

dramatic entrances - the Church of Saint Francis Xavier

dramatic entrances - the Church of Saint Francis Xavier

 

 

 

 

late afternoon

late afternoon

 

 

 

 

having a chat

having a chat

 

 

 

 

give me your hand and I will show you the way

give me your hand and I will show you the way

 

 

 

 

Now, I know little about the Catholic religion. So much so I had no idea that a major event on the Christian calendar, Corpus Domini, took place last Thursday all over Rome, with none other than the Pope presiding over one of the processions.

Well, someone must have said a prayer for me because it just so happened that the Christian folk of Garbatella didn’t celebrate on the actual day of Corpus Domini but waited until the weekend – on Sunday morning, when we happened to be at the Church of Saint Francis Xavier to take some final shots.

It seemed to be just a regular Sunday ceremony – until the entire congregation started to file out the door, led by two priests – one swinging a metal censer filled with incense and smoke, and another holding the Blessed Sacrament. I grabbed Coco and leapt off in hot pursuit.

 

the procession begins, past the graffiti

the procession begins, past the graffiti

 

 

 

 

must remember to pick up some more frankincense too

must remember to pick up some more frankincense too

 

 

 

 

What made it all the more interesting was that the evening before, Coco and I had seen the same streets being paraded on by an entirely different cast of characters – marching bands at the annual Festa per la Cultura.

Instead of nuns singing hymns…

 

 

take the next left my daughters

take the next left my daughters

 

 

 

 

we’d heard drums…

 

 

Garbatella goes wild

Garbatella goes wild

 

 

 

 

and saxaphones…

 

 

swaying to the music

swaying to the music

 

 

 

 

(We’d only popped our heads in briefly to the Festa per la Cultura – it seemed interesting but totally confusing as to what was happening where – hot and tired we left before it probably really got started.)

Anyway, back to Corpus Domini and the procession…

 

 

a superfluity of nuns

a superfluity of nuns

 

 

 

 

holy blue nails

holy blue nails

 

 

 

 

everyone was transfixed by the Blessed Sacrament

everyone was transfixed by the Blessed Sacrament

 

 

 

 

thankfully it was a car-free day

thankfully it was a car-free day

 

 

 

 

winding their way to the end

winding their way to the end

 

 

 

 

the procession endeth

the procession endeth

 

 

 

 

The procession wound up at a smaller church where everyone piled in for another ceremony. Waiting outside I descended on a few people who spoke English so I could quiz them about what we’d just seen as well as Garbatella in general. I was so busy talking to them I forgot to photograph the nuns as they left – but at least I snapped these two gorgeous things, the daughters of the families I was chatting to.

 

 

their duty done, time to eat pizza - Alessia and Matilde

their duty done, time to eat pizza - Alessia and Matilde

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

If Garbatella was an experiment in social housing, I think you’d have to say it worked. Although one resident told me she found it quite noisy at times because of the central courtyard, it’s precisely because of that design that it works so well. It acts as a shared outdoor living room, where residents meet to chew the fat, ask for help or just hand one another pegs. A case of architecture enabling relationships. Mind you, if you had a blue with someone it might just all be a little too cosy.

 

 

wilting in the heat - Garbatella's washing lines will be full tomorrow

wilting in the heat - Garbatella's washing lines will be full tomorrow

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

I’m not sure if it’s technically spring or summer here – but it’s been hot, often hitting 29-30 degrees C. Nice if you are poolside but not when you’re pounding the tarmac, trying to engage potential subjects with just ten words of Italian up your sleeve.

My solution has been to make shorter but more frequent visits to the neighbourhood and always in the late afternoon. Which suits Coco fine – somehow we always seem to hit gelato hour when we venture out. And, terribly boring news for anyone except celiacs – they have gluten-free ice-cream cones here. Hallelujah! In fact, you can easily get hold of non-cardboard tasting gluten-free bread, biscuits and cereals in Rome – you just order them at any pharmacy and they have it for you the next day. Pronto.

Speaking of pharmacies and fast, Coco has an angry looking tonsil with an enormous white spot on it – I swear it appeared the moment I brought the maths books out. She’s taken to her bed and refuses to talk about quadrilaterals or parallelograms. Sheez.

This suburb has been brought to you by Belinda Radnidge

Seeing as we’re half way through our Rome chapter, I’d also like to say a big gelato-fueled ‘Grazie!’ to Rogerseller for sponsoring our time here.

See you next Monday.

 

  1. Sarah says:

    Thanks for another week! I just celebrated Corpus Christi at my Anglican Church in Sydney – and I too didn’t have a great idea of what was going on – but lots of similarities to your photos! Glad you’re enjoying warm weather – it’s mainly drizzly and raining in Sydney!

  2. Kate says:

    I love your photos blogs, I’ve shared it with many friends around the world to spread the joy. Forgive me if this has been asked before but do you mind if I pin some of your photos on pinterest?

  3. suzanne says:

    Love it. Mojo is back. So many good pics. Hope Coco gets better soon.

  4. David says:

    Sheez…..Louise…..how many pages this bloody book of yours gunna be????? Looking fab anyway Darls!

  5. Brent Wilson says:

    This is one of my favourite posts so far! Bellissimo!

  6. Nicole says:

    I loved this suburb too. There feels like a spring in your step. Thank you Lou x

  7. Louise says:

    Sarah – I realised when I was ‘complaining’ about the hot sunshine that I wouldn’t get much sympathy from those in colder or rainy parts of the world!
    Kate – Pin away!
    Suzanne – Grazie!
    David – Thanks darls!
    Brent – Nice fleurs huh?
    Nicole – A sweaty spring at least.

  8. Germana Frino Crocamo says:

    Loving these photos. Wish I was there.

  9. Chantal says:

    wonderful – I want to go to roma now CX

  10. katie says:

    I think this might be my favourite post. It has so much spirit (no pun intended). I love it x

  11. Pete says:

    Great post! You really capture the spirit and atmosphere so well! :)

  12. Belinda says:

    I love every suburb, but I was reading through this one thinking “gee, this is especially wonderful”. Then I saw that it was brought to me by… me! How lucky :)

  13. Louise says:

    Germana – Grazie!
    Chantal – I can picture you here, sizing up the bella boys!
    Katie – I always find it so interesting what appeals to whom and why.
    Pete – Grazie mille!
    Belinda – Ha! I love that.

  14. Natalie says:

    Love the Power of Three’s floral dresses!

  15. Toni Mostyn says:

    Fantastic Louise. I just love the shutters and the bold colours . I can feel it drawing me back!!!

    • Louise says:

      Toni – grazie! I love that the shutters in Garbatella are mostly the old, original wooden ones. They may require more upkeep than the newer metal ones but they look so much better. Of course I don’t have to keep painting them year after year…

  16. greta says:

    Hi Louise!do you remember me in Pigneto?!?your photos are very very beautiful, expecially me and marilyn..ah ah ah ah!!!!so nice!tanti saluti da roma come back for other beautiful photos!

    • Louise says:

      Of course I remember you! Thanks so much for letting me take your photo and say hi to Pigneto for me. Ciao!

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