21

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.

 

20

Pigneto

P intro

 

Benvenuti a Roma!

It seems fitting since we’re in Christianity’s HQ to begin with a confession – I’ve never been crazy about the place. It’s partly because the two times I’ve been weren’t exactly a load of laughs. The first time was as a kid, when I spent most of my Roman holiday in bed with glandular fever and acute tonsillitis. The last time was around 10 years ago, with my then partner. It was meant to be a break from a particularly tough time. Instead he and I fought like cat and dog.

Aside from that, the other reason I’m underwhelmed by what most people find to be an overwhelmingly beautiful city is my complete lack of the tourist gene. I know I should be struck with awe when I visit the Colosseum et al. And maybe, if I didn’t have to queue for hours, I would be. But any time I attempt to do the tourist thing I get really stroppy. In short, it ruins the ruins.

So, much like Paris, I’m hoping that by stepping off the tourist trail and exploring lesser known neighbourhoods, I’ll finally ‘get’ Rome.

Confession over, let’s get on with it. Rome – famous for the Colosseum, St Peter’s, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps etc etc etc. Less so for Pigneto, our first neighbourhood in the eternal city.

Sitting just outside the Aurelian Walls that enclose Rome’s historic centre, Pigneto isn’t one of Rome’s 22 rioni but rather a quartieri urbani – one of the 35 districts that surround the historical centre.

I chose it on the recommendation of Lisa, an Australian blog follower who lives in Pigneto. She said it wasn’t charming or postcard pretty but worth a look.

Some history: While much of Rome is almost 3,000 years old, Pigneto is mostly a mix of low rise and high rise apartments from the 30s and 70s. Name has something to do with the curiously shaped ‘Umbrella’ pine trees in the area. Was working-class and dangerous, now trendy with an edge – pushers live on the same street that sells the best gelato I’ve ever tasted.

Andiamo Pigneto!

 

Part 1: Day one, a wander through the neighbourhood

Pigneto is only a 15 minute bus ride from the tourist trail but so far it’s escaped the spotlight. It helps that it’s not on a metro line (they’re building one, line C, but it’s delayed every time they discover yet another thousand year old bit of Rome) but the main reason is, there’s nothing much to see. Not a ruin in sight and aside from some lovely weathered buildings, pretty charmless.

Which is just fine with the locals. The ones we met were more interested in the low-key vibe of the place and the creative community that hangs out here…

 

pedestrians only on Via del Pigneto

the heart of Pigneto – the pedestrian only strip, Via del Pigneto

 

 

 

First up we meet Mauro, a choreographer who’s lived here for 10 years. He liked Pigneto better when it was full of old people instead of the young crowd of today. “Too trendy now”.

 

Mauro the choreographer

Mauro the choreographer

 

 

 

Coco shows Mauro her dance routine – as you do when you meet a choreographer – then we wander around the back streets until we notice an open door – Francesca, busy at work fashioning pieces of wood into whimsical sculptures.

 

artist Francesco

artist Francesca

 

 

 

 

recycled into art

recycled into art

 

 

 

Around the corner from Francesca is architect Azzurra, who enlightens us about the extreme challenges architects face in getting anything done in Rome. Not only because of the ancient ruins but also the different approach to time – “It’s the eternal city after all”.

 

architect Azzurra needs divine intervention to get anything done

architect Azzurra needs divine intervention to get anything done

 

 

 

Later in the day we meet a beautiful family on a bike ride around the neighbourhood. Simone and his wife, Ana, live in Pigneto with their two year old son, Yago. While Ana loves it for its authenticity, Simone is concerned it may not be the best place to bring a child up.

 

bella boys - Simone and Yago

bella boys – Simone and Yago

 

 

 

 

bambini - Coco and Yago

bambini – Coco and Yago

 

 

 

By early evening Pigneto is picking up pace. On the pedestrian-only main street the food markets from the morning have been replaced by tables and chairs for the crowded bar/cafes. Someone’s giving a book reading, kids are running around, people are coming home on their bikes.

We meet Greta outside one of the bars. Originally from southern Italy she’s lived in Pigneto for years. To her it still feels like a little village, but one that’s more exciting than her home town.

 

Greta and Marilyn

Greta and Marilyn

 

 

 

 

burnt sienna

burnt sienna

 

 

 

Coco demands gelato so we finish the day with two scoops of fragola, per favore. Right near the gelato bar is our last Roman for the day, Roberta, a photographer. I comment on her look of senza reggiseno – bra-less. She says they don’t really get it in Rome but in Milan, for sure.

 

dreamy - Roberta

dreamy – Roberta

 

 

 

 

to wear or not to wear

to wear or not to wear

 

 

 

Part 2: La dolce vita

Life is sweet, particularly when you have some of the best gelato in all of Rome on your doorstep. Its maker tells me it’s because of the love he pours into it. Well, what he actually said was that he uses the best ingredients – but I reckon one of them is love.

Hanging around outside the bar we meet Adiba, from Bangladesh, and her mate, Chrisler, from the Philippines. Just two of the many nationalities that call Pigneto home.

 

 

Adiba, hanging out in front of the best gelato bar in town

Adiba

 

 

 

 

fragola

fragola

 

 

 

 

la dolce vita

la dolce vita

 

 

 

 

melone

melone

 

 

 

 

mmm, yum - Chrisler

mmm, yum – Chrisler

 

 

 

 

cioccolato

cioccolato

 

 

 

 

after gelato - play time :: 1

after gelato – play time :: 1

 

 

 

 

after gelato - play time :: 2

after gelato – play time :: 2

 

 

 

While we’re talking pink…

 

 

Pigneto's feminine side :: 1

Pigneto’s feminine side :: 1

 

 

 

 

Pigneto's feminine side :: 2

Pigneto’s feminine side :: 2

 

 

 

 

green and pink

green and pink

 

 

 

Part 3: Aside from fabulous gelato…

Eating and drinking well is a national pastime in Italy and Pigneto is no different. Whether you’re after pizza or an aperitivo, there’s a handful of cafe-bar-restaurant options, from the classic unadorned to the hip retro-inspired and more chic.

 

life is beautiful

life is beautiful

 

 

 

 

pizza run

pizza run

 

 

 

 

where coffee is a religion

where coffee is a religion

 

 

 

 

and a cool pair of shades - bar/cafe Necci

and a cool pair of shades – bar/cafe Necci

 

 

 

 

strong Romans

strong Romans

 

 

 

 

a fish out of water - Primo

a fish out of water – Primo

 

 

 

 

aperitivo time :: 1

aperitivo time :: 1

 

 

 

 

aperitivo time :: 2

aperitivo time :: 2

 

 

 

Part 4: Inked

Pigneto may have a healthy mix of different groups, but they seem to hang out in their separate corners. There are the African guys (who politely refused my camera) on one corner opposite the laid back crowd that hangs outside “the cafe with the plastic red tables”. And then there are the tattooed all-in-black dudes outside the beer bar.

 

freshly inked - Lidya

freshly inked – Lidya

 

 

 

 

cherries and Frida

cherries and Frida

 

 

 

 

Frida would've liked that

Frida would’ve liked that

 

 

 

 

Mattao

Mattao

 

 

 

 In fact, Pigneto in general seems to be tattoo central.

 

golden light

golden light

 

 

 

 

jungle girls

jungle girls

 

 

 

Part 5: Older Pigneto

Where we met two Marios and a Gina…

 

Mario - his past and present

Mario – his past and present

 

 

 

 

old Pigneto

fading

 

 

 

 

classic Italy - another Mario

classic Italy – another Mario

 

 

 

 

coffee at Gina's

coffee at Gina’s

 

 

 

Part 6: You gotta have faith

There are hundreds of churches in Rome but I could only find one in Pigneto, and not a very memorable one at that. But there were quite a few street chapels and madonnelle, small shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

 

roadside flowers

roadside flowers

 

 

 

 

a modern day madonna

a modern day madonna

 

 

 

 

maybe Saint Giacinta could hurry the metro up

maybe Saint Giacinta could hurry the metro up

 

 

 

 

children, time to go home

children, time to go home

 

 

 

 

a prayer for Pigneto

a prayer for Pigneto

 

 

 

The Wrap

Call me strange but I got so much more out of our time in Pigneto than I ever did in previous visits to the famous stuff in Rome. While the neighbourhood ain’t much to look at, it houses a diverse and interesting crowd that is mercifully tourist-free. But a word of warning – if you take the 105 bus there from Termini, hold on to your valuables – I almost had my stuff nicked by a sleazy little man I hope never to see again. Shame on him.

 

 

Coco, last day in Paris

Coco, last day in Paris

 

 

On the ‘home front’

As promised, a photo of Coco in Paris. She looks happy then but you should see her now – she’s landed in a world of pizza and gelato and she’s permanently beaming.

This suburb has been brought to you by Mackenzie Pronk Architects

See you next Monday.

 

Order my first book online

Buy the 52 Suburbs Book online

Find out more about the Sydney book here

Sponsors

Advertisers

EnglishItalianChinese (Traditional)GermanFrenchHindiTurkish
Site Meter