Tag Archives: parking

Roman parking – shame on you!

Rome has as pretty much many cars as London*. Problem is, it’s a city a third the size, around three million compared to nine million inhabitants. And much of the historical centre consists of tiny windy cobbled streets, some of them – nominally at least – off-limits to vehicles.

Hence, there’s an issue with parcheggio: parking.

We’ve always laughed a bit about the absurdity of Roman parking, about how if the road’s full or somehow off-limits, the pavement seems to be an acceptable alternative. Even if that means pedestrians have to squeeze by – and people with prams, or, god forbid, wheelchair users, cannot fit by at all. (I seriously feel for wheelchair users in Rome: the pavements are in a terrible state, even when they’re not garlanded with dog poo.) Even the cops up the road park on the zebra crossing. While many, many car owners don’t seem to care much about their tyres and ride up onto the kerb if they can’t be arsed to concentrate on parking well, or there isn’t quite enough room.

I even asked an Italian friend about it, and he was bewildered when I said it was largely unheard of, or at least thoroughly frowned on, to simply park on the pavement in London. I don’t think he was being ironic.

Frankly, though, it’s not funny – the packed parking reflects the vehicle ownership situation, and these levels of personal vehicle usage just shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century, here or anywhere else. It’s not viable. Not with all we know about climate change. Not with the basic fact that an environment dominated by vehicles isn’t an environment well suited to people.

I feel very strongly about this sort of thing; always fantasised about writing a book about how vehicles radically compromised the human environment through the second half of the 20th century. I never get my shit together but this guy, Taras Grescoe, has. Must read his book, even though it apparently doesn’t consider the major city I know best: London.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about blogging about Roman parking for ages. Never quite reached that point where stimulus outweighs laziness though. Until today, when I saw a note shoved into the windscreen wiper (tergicristallo – new word for me) of a car nearby. telling the owner off for blocking the route to buggies and wheelchairs. So apparently not all Romans are blasé about random, inconsiderate parking.

This particular location has been bugging me for weeks. There’s a lovely flight of steps near where we live. It cuts through a patch of semi-wild land, dropping down between the hairpins of a street. At the bottom, a zebra crossing – frequently parked on – cuts straight across the road to, well, nothing much: more parked cars, a wall, no pavement. So you have to go diagonally, to a break in the wall, where the pavement resumes.

Except that someone had parked a car across the break in the wall, so you have to climb around. One form of protest I’ve seen here is to pull up the tergicristalli. It’s a quiet, vaguely polite form of protest, which would probably give the driver some irritation, but not really irritation commensurate with that of innumerable pedestrians.

The wiper protest was taken to another level with this particularly vehicle, as it has been there for so many weeks. Someone has broken the wipers. Gosh. This flyer, meanwhile, was left by a woman with a buggy I suspect. (Questo spazio non e’ un parcheggio. Vergognati! – “This isn’t a parking space. Shame on you!”) How she negotiated the blockage I don’t know.


Shame on you flyer

The increasingly knackered-looking car in question has been there so long, however, I’ve come to suspect it’s been dumped. Two other cars opposite were burnt-out earlier this week, so maybe it’s a popular spot for delinquents, joyriders or somesuch. But my suspicions were aroused mostly by the fact that the car doesn’t have Italian number plates. They’re Swiss. A Swiss would never park like that, surely?



* Time Out Rome 2008 quotes a Eurostat survey, that shows Rome to be the most dangerous EU capital for road safety: 8.37 dead and injured accidents per 1000 population. Next in the list is Copenhagen, with 1.4 per 1000. It says there are 950 vehicles per 1000 population, compared to London’s comparatively sane 300 per 1000 population. I don’t have TO’s source material and can’t find anything more recent. Hey, it’s a blog – don’t expect journalistic standards!

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Old geezers with the horn

One of our Sunday routines in Roma is going to theEx-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.

* something I’ve written about before:
Moto city
“Death on the Highway”

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