One of our Sunday routines in Roma is going to the Mattatoio – the old abattoir in Testaccio – to the producers’ market. Wandering home yesterday, laden with veg, cheese, eggs, walnuts, chestnut flour and cose, we headed off Viale di Trastevere, up a snicket we’ve discovered, under looming apartment blocks, towards to our hilltop neighbourhood, Monteverde Vecchio.
Further up, through the labyrinth of looming walls liberally decorated with graffiti (extremist politics and/or football mostly), navigating the perennial Roman pavement adornments c/o sundry cani and their inconsiderate owners (seriously, it’s worse than Paris), we passed along Via Giambattista Marino, behind an ecclesiastical establishment. There are many in the neighbourhood, but this one’s particularly grand. Not sure what it is – a school? A monastery? Anyway, both Fran and I assumed there was some sort of event going on, as music appeared to be emerging from within burly stonework. Except that when we turned the corner at the top of the street, the acoustics changed radically and the music was revealed to be a brass rendition of ‘Strangers in the Night’. Not part of the Church’s typical Sunday program.
Heading up our street, the sound got louder, and clearer until we spotted due vecchi, two old geezers, seemingly serenading an apartment. If serenading is the right word. It looked like they had a small amp and backing track, and while one was giving it his all with a battered old French horn, the other was clutching a trumpet. This chap, a decidedly lively little chap, was so digging the tune, he kept stopping playing to dance, among the giant wheelie bins and closely packed parked cars.
We wandered past, and further up, two other, very different old geezers, were packing their rifles and gear into their car, presumably for a spot of hunting in the hills of Abruzzo.
The day before this scene, we’d watched Fellini’s Roma, a 1972 film that, via a series of loose sketches, recounts some autobiography. We see the young Fellini arriving in 1930s Rome from his native Rimini, and immediately becoming embroiled in a vigorously communal way of life, getting a room in a sprawling apartment full of large woman, squalling kids, a sunburned mammone (mother’s boy) and a selection of eccentric tenants. Going out to dinner, meanwhile, the local community (is it supposed to be Testaccio?) convenes to eat at long tables outside a restaurant, joking, arguing, critiquing the food. This includes, I believe, pajata, a delightful, typically Roman dish of veal intestines, which congeal somewhat on cooking, much like rennet from cows’ cuts is used to curdle milk for cheese-making; and snails, which prompt a few saucy comments about how mastering the art of eating them can educate a young man in how to please a woman.
A little kid sings a dirty song about how the new young man, Fellini, is going to have sex with, well, basically everyone. A young man abusively beckons his haughty sister down from where she’s posing on a balcony. Middle-aged women vie for Fellini’s attentions.
The film cuts between such scenes and scenes of contempory Rome, which is now dominated by traffic. It seems to be suggesting the exuberant, social street life of the 1930s has been destroyed, disappeared. Certainly it’s true that the streets are now overwhelmed by Rome’s very tangible car problem* – not just a traffic problem, but a problem with the sheer scale of ownership. Streets are packed with parked cars, and the character of innumerable venerable piazze and piazzale is utterly compromised by them simply having become car parks. Old neighbourhoods didn’t evolve with car-parking in mind.
These days it’s frequently hard to even walk along the pavement as it’s often appropriated for parking. Not ideal for wheelchair users or people with kids in buggies. Our personal favourite is when cop cars from the station up the road block the zebra crossing.
Anyway, so, yes, of course the modern world has quashed the traditional world of street life, but not completely. Summers in Rome are still defined by al fresco dining into the night; restaurants generally have walls of planters to prevent their spots being used for parking. And, well – the two old geezers with their feisty miniature brass section wouldn’t have looked out of place Fellini’s Roma. Their musical endeavours went on long after we’d got home, the brass still echoing down the street for at least an hour. Quite who they were serenading, I don’t know, but from the duration, she never emerged.