A Rough Guide: Rome Life & Style

7/5/2011 by Mike Dilien Belgium

TERMINI – Bright franchise outlets make the station’s entrance hall look rather like a department store. While dressed-up twenty-somethings try to sell you all sorts of useless things, you try to make your way through herds of tourists. A large advertisement promotes a coach trip: three millennia of civilisation in thirty minutes sharp. An irritating tune is played over and over: “Emporio Armani… Emporio Armani… Emporio Armani”. The smell of pastry and grease makes you feel nauseous. Hold on! Take a deep breath. A city trip is not what you want. You want to get your shoes dirty. Why not throw away your travel guide and buy a newspaper? It’s the modern Rome you are after, isn’t it? Indulge. Off you go.
Walk through Rome’s Chinatown until you arrive at Piazza Vittorio. Don’t let looks fool you: the minimum wage doesn’t pay the rent of a tiny room in one of these run-down apartments. Tour guides will tell you that only one insula remains but contemporary Rome is stacked with it. After all, this is the Eternal City.
Further down the street is Porta Maggiore. This monument marks the Pigneto district, the place where “Rome, Open City” was shot. Check out the homeless immigrants that are asleep between the access ramps of the highway. Notice how the area is covered with used condoms: at night, under-aged East European prostitutes claim their space.
Catch tram 14 on the Via Prenestina. Observe the passengers and get the idea of how apartheid must have looked like. The only thing that seems to be missing is the “Italians only” sign. As you go along the Via Prenestina, you will notice less and less natives. Take a look at the premises of the city's public transport company, ATAC. Read your newspaper. Page four. Over six hundred employees –relatives and mistresses of local politicians– have been hired without any procedure: a quick phone call was enough. Italians call this privilegio. Whilst the majority of Italy’s university graduates barely make seven hundred Euros a month, ATAC’s managing director earns seven hundred thousand Euros a year.
Get off at Viale Palmiro Togliatti and start exploring the periphery. Bleak open spaces separate solitary apartment blocks. In between spots of burnt grass there is litter everywhere. Hot air carries the smell of excrements. You notice tiny footpaths and wonder where they might lead to. Behind the hill you distinguish improvised shelters. Little gypsy girls are carrying junk. Hold on! Retrace your steps. Do not look back. Once, this used to be Pasolini’s playground. The main achievement of Italy’s economic miracle is that, now, the “ragazzi di vita” are immigrants and the clients locals. You guess this must the Italian idea of moving up. If you want to see the World’s Best Lovers in action, than come back here at night. You will be amazed about the traffic jams. Cars, all bar none with an Italian licence plate, queue for Brazilian transsexuals. The word says that there is a peculiar difference between Italian clients and clients elsewhere in the world. It is this difference that makes the “girls” love to work in Italy.
From Tor Sapienza station take the train to Lunghezza. Lunghezza is a vast no-man’s-land, a desolate landscape marked by a total lack of urban planning. Remember the ambulant vendors who try to sell you all sorts of things? The ones who sell umbrellas when it rains (and sunglasses when the sun shines)? Well, Lunghezza is where they live, ten of them cramped in a tiny room. There are two shifts: those who work by day sleep here at night and vice versa. It keeps the beds warm, you see.
Take the train back to Tiburtina station. Try a sandwich from the Rumanian supermarket. The sign “Roma – Bucaresti: 1500 km” makes you reflect upon history, etymology and nowadays racism from the people of Rome towards the people from “the land of Rome”. After all, most of the construction workers who build those cosy 500,000 Euro apartments are Rumanian. They sleep in the open, near the beach, close to the railway track and water fountains. In the morning they await to be picked up by local middle men to do a job, any job.
Stroll into the historic centre and admire the stunning landmarks and the impressive palazzi. Your newspaper turns out to be a real treasure. Page six. A spider web of dodgy entrepreneurs and bent politicians serves as a Who’s Who of the Anemone scandal. For years an entrepreneur has been bribing government officials in order to win tenders for restoring public buildings. Because the works have not been carried out properly, or not at all, Rome’s monuments are near crumbling. Now, the city council has to turn to corporate sponsoring for preserving the patrimony, its main source of income! What’s next? The McDonald’s Coliseum (as a 21st century “panem et circensis”)? The Capitol turned into the head office of Disneyland Roma spA? There’s more news about public money turning private. Page eight details on the so-called Affittopoli scandal: whereas ordinary citizens have to indebt themselves massively in order to afford a dwelling in the suburbs, politicians, businessmen, fashion models and designers are being offered top-notch properties at ridiculously low prices. You start discovering that there is a dark side to La Dolce Vita.
When the sun sets it is time to head for Campo dei Fiori. In this square, a Sociology student could write a thesis overnight. Every evening, legions of Italian males are chatting up blondes. All great art takes practice, doesn’t it? "Ciao. Come ti chiami?” (whatever) “Che bello nome. Di dove sei?" (wherever) "Interessante. Ma… parli bene italiano!" The smooth operators will then inevitably take the conversation to the subject of Italy (rule number 1: Establish common ground). Italian males and Northern females… From your courses in Economics you remember this is called the double coincidence of wants: she came to Italy and wants to taste the local dish; he is from Italy and needs a free lunch.
Take the last bus down south. It is packed with dead-beaten Pakistanis who did the late shift. Until they can prove that they have been living in Italy for at least ten years, and are entitled to Italian citizenship, they have to fear police razzias in the centre, where they work. Once Italian citizens, they still have to fear raids by gangs of neo-Nazis in the suburbs, where they live. But they do make your authentic Italian pizza!
Why not check out the San Lorenzo night life? This neighbourhood once resisted the fascists. The walls are decorated with politically inspired graffiti. Students are singing and playing the guitar. You overhear a discussion between an Italian and a foreigner. You become thrilled. Is this really happening? Tue, it’s an Italian male talking to a foreign female –again– but exceptions confirm the rule, don’t they? After all, this is supposed to be the alternative scene. If there is one place in Italy where there are Italians whose minds aren’t corrupted by Mediaset and centuries of mafia, Catholicism and mass tourism, San Lorenzo is it. You start listening. "Ciao. Come ti chiami?" "Di dove sei?" “Ma... parli bene l’italiano!” AIUTO! Try to dig deeper. Bear in mind that you are now moving into post graduate territory. You are already familiar with the invisible wall between Italian girls and foreign males but close observation tells you there is a second wall. And it is barb-wired! No Trespassing. It’s the wall between Italian girls and East European girls. You start wondering why. Is it because of the good old law of supply and demand?
By now you are quite fed up with this city. Throw away that newspaper! Go back to Termini. All of a sudden, you find yourself standing in front of the façade of the university. You remember having read an article about the dean of the faculty of Medicine whose wife, son, daughter and son-in-law all lecture at this faculty. Turn 180 degrees. A giant eagle is staring at you. It turns out to be the air force military school. How peculiar: both buildings are in the same, genuine fascist style. Out of the blue it dawns on you. The university, EUR, the Olympic Village, the imperial forum, the Mussolini calendars… It all fits! Even the ghetto does. Fascism: it has always been there, shouting at you, right in your face!
Dawn. Termini. All you need is a strong coffee. Take breakfast amongst a fresh load of excited tourists. A female, obviously Anglo-Saxon, sighs: “I like the Italian lifestyle. It’s so relaxed and stylish, so unlike home. And, God, Italian men are so romantic.” Please, restrain. Do not throw up.

Mike Dilien Belgium

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