Notes from Rome

I just returned from a long weekend in Rome.  I stayed with friends in the Nomentana neighborhood, about 3-4 km northeast of the city center.  Among the weekend’s activites was a stop by the Protestant Cemetery (where non-Catholics have been buried since the 18th century), a bicycle tour through the Caffarella Valley, a visit to two new contemporary-art museums built in converted industrial spaces, and plenty of aimless wandering about.

First, some photos from the Protestant Cemetery, built near the Cestius Pyramid, monument built in the 1st century B.C. to commemorate Caius Cestius, an otherwise-obscure Roman praetor and tribune:


Beginning in the 18th century, non-Catholics who died in Rome were permitted burial near this pyramid, which was then on the outskirts of the city.  Eventually, the burial place was more or less formally recognized by the Pope, although many conditions were put on non-Catholic funeral services (for instance, they had to be carried out at night).  Now, the cemetery, officially called the Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma, has about 4000 graves, mostly of English and German Protestants and members of the Orthodox Church.  There are also some atheists (such as Antonio Gramsci), and even intermarried Italian Catholics, who are allowed to be buried in family plots already existing in the cemetery.

The cemetery is home to dozens of cats, "Guardians of the Departed," who have the run of the place.  You can donate to their care and feeding here.  Here, one relaxes in a play area composed of stray bits of architecture.


A general view of the cemetery:


Keats’ grave:


Shelley’s grave:


Gramsci’s grave:


In a nature preserve called the Parco di Castel Fusano on the Tyrrhenian coast, a sign that’s seen some agression.  Note the bullet holes (!):


The least intimidating police car in the world:


Lizard in Italian is "lucertola" (loo-CHAIR-toe-lah).  A fine specimen from the Castel Fusano park:


And a wooded trail:


Italian meadows, like this one in the Castel Fusano park, are some of the most gorgeous landscapes you’ll ever see:


We also went on a bicycle tour through the Caffarella Valley, a designated national park just north of the Via Appia Antica, and home to many ancient estates and villas, such as the (possible) mausoleum of Annia Regilla:


And yet more soothing, velvety landscapes.  Here is a profusion of green, with the 13th century tower of the Vaccareccia farmstead in the far background:


Other creatures were enjoying the landscape in a more literal sense:


The first stanza of a poem by Osip Mandelstam:

Nature equates with Rome — and is reflected in it.

We see its images of civic power revealed

In the transparent air as in the blue Colosseums

In colonnades of groves, in the forum of a field.


And finally, some images from Rome proper.  First, the outside of the Macro Future exhibition space, located in a converted slaughterhouse in Testaccio.  Here is the sculpture atop the entrance — notice the frieze of cow skulls just below the sculpture of the steer being slaughtered:


Past the front gate, you reach the museum proper.  They preserved the giant metal scaffolding on which carcasses were transported by means of still-extant meat hooks:


After touring the gallery, we had pizza "shovel-style" (as it’s put in Italian) in small pizzeria.  Shovel-style pizzas are baked in large rectangular pans.  You point to how much you want, and they cut that amount out of the rectangle, put it in the oven to warm up, then cut it in two and fold the two halves together, with the crust-side facing outward.  You eat it wrapped in butcher paper. 

The pizzeria we visited was dedicated to Alberto Sordi, perhaps Italy’s most famous actor, whose gently socially-critical comedies never really made much of a sensation outside of Italy.  One of his most famous roles is Nando Meniconi in 1954’s An American in Rome, a young man so besotted with the USA that he tries to dress, eat (cornflakes with ketchup) and speak completely ‘American.’  I’m told the results that are side-splittingly funny, if you speak Italian.  Desperate for a visa to the U.S., he climbs to the top of the Coliseum and threatens to jump unless the Americans issue him one.

To close out, some signs and placards from Rome, a city in which public signage is still an important means of communication.  Here we have a meeting of one of Italy’s many Communist parties and movements:


A local band:


A prosthetic shop, which are unsettlingly common in Rome:


A universal favorite (‘beware of dog…and of owner’):


"Do not touch the lines — risk of death"


A garden-gnome island outside an ice-cream kiosk in Tuscolana:


A street sign near the Villa Celimontana:


A poster mocking the lasagna-like stacking of posters around election time:


And, to wrap things up, two nuns asking for directions in front of the military barracks on the Via Nomentana…


…and a group of Italian teens waiting for the train at the Nomentana suburban-train station:


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