I'm a dual national, so, in more prosperous times, I'm often lucky enough to spend some time in my hometown (Melbourne) as well as Rometown (Rome).
Obviously, COVID19 has thrown all that out the window.
I've spent almost a year now working mostly from home - feeling a bit Hitchcocky constantly looking out my rear window - as I work away on my day job and my writing.
With Australia's closed border policy, and restricted movement in Italy due to the ongoing high number of COVID19 cases here, there are times when I feel neither here nor there, a sentiment that I think we've all been feeling this last year.
That said, with the lifting of some restrictions here in Rome, I managed to escape out to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to check out the 2020 Quadriennale.
I did have a date back in October to see the Quadriennale with two of my most dedicated gallery loving friends, but we were sent into lockdown the day before we were due to see the show.
It's billed as Fuori (=out in Italian) and, as pan-contemporary exhibitions often do, it left me delighted and perplexed (and sometimes just plain unimpressed).
But that said, I was so hungry to get out of my living room and experience some culture first hand, that even when I found the artwork underwhelming, I was just happy to be seeing things through someone else's perspective for a change.
As a huge exhibition designed to push the boundaries over two enormous levels, there were obviously still some gems in the line up.
Among the highlights for me were Irma Blank's gorgeous indigo blue panels. They sent me back to Japan and the old ukiyo-e prints that I studied at uni.
Also enjoyed the playful nature of the work by the Tomboys Don't Cry collective and the adjoining room in which Diego Gualandris did things with painting and textiles that I've never seen someone do before and Raffaela Naldi Rossano had my fatigued little brain working overtime until it eventually decrypted her powerful textual messages.
Getting out and about to take in some culture or feed off of other people's ideas is not an easy prospect at this point in time. And maybe you're neither here (Rome) nor there (Melbourne). But wherever you are, you can take a free virtual tour of the Fuori show if you're interested.
It's a lovely 360 of the huge exhibit that allows you to take in the cavernous spaces and representations of all the artwork in the show.
Want to get out? Do it here.
What a busy year. My job has eaten away much of the time I usually spend writing and researching, but a boy's gotta pay the bills... and have something that resembles a social life.
A boy's also gotta travel. See things. Get inspired.
Aside from having a bit of a Roman summer, I'm moving around the country a bit, visiting people and places and getting back into the swing of seeing as many exhibitions as possible.
Recently I finally got around to visiting Macro's Street Art exhibition Cross The Streets. I had rocked up to the opening night but it was a mess and there were too many people and too little organisation to make it worth my while. So I headed back and visited - curious to see the work of a friend of mine who has a substantial number of works in the exhibit.
As chuffed as I was for him, I'm a bit indifferent about institutions hosting street art, and about how selective the exhibit was. All I will say is that you can't have a major street art show in Rome, which in recent years has become a major centre for open air/street art and not include the works of Hogre. That said, I did love the work of Lucamaleonte (pictured). His tumblr feed here.
You - like most of the international press - were so excited about the prospect of Rome having its first ever female mayor. And one who has promised to make it a transparently run city free of graft and the sordidness of Mafia Capitale.
Romans on the other hand looked at the new mayor like the best of the worst- a rejection of the establishment more than anything else.
But Virginia Raggi is struggling and just a couple of months in has already been plagued by high profile resignations, accusations of improper process and, worse still in the eyes of Italians, incompetence.
After watching some of the Rio Olympics I've decided that I too want to become an Olympian. I'm thinking something sexy like archery or shooting or the like so that I get to maintain my current physical state and still get to be an Olympian.
But it looks like Raggi is going to quash my dreams of competing in Rome in 2024. It looks like Rome is not going to proceed any further in its bid to host the games. On this one, I can't say I blame the mayor. Rome is still having all sorts of woes with the basics that it has never been able to achieve; sanitation and transport. They're the issues that are as eternal as the city itself.
You might notice the occasional stink if you're in Rome, but if you're planning on visiting Rome you'll barely notice the transport problem. You can see most of its greatest hits on foot and there are a plethora of sightseeing buses that offer pretty comprehensive itineraries.
But if, like most Romans, your plans don't necessarily revolve around the Colosseum or the Vatican, you might just want to do as Romans do- or as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck once did- and experience it from the back of the scooter.
"But Italian roads are terrible" I hear you cry! It's true. A lot of Italians drive like insane people but most Italians are capable of driving alongside the hoons and getting from A to B quite safely. And in Rome moving from A to B isn't always logical when it comes to transport. I have a friend who has to travel 15km as the crow flies to get to work. That takes her almost two hours by public means. So, to that end, the newish batch of apps that have hit the market make a lot of sense to Romans, and the more adventurous folk amongst you.
You see you can now choose from a variety of apps to organise a scooter pick up. You'll get picked up and taken wherever you want to go in the Eternal city for just €3 a ride. It's Uber, Roman style! Of course there are restrictions on how much of Rome is actually serviced, but if you want to see the sights from a scooter ala Audrey I can highly recommend it. It's bumpy but there's nothing quite like it!
So my Olympic journey is not likely to take me out into outskirts of Rome where they'll have spent millions making stadiums that will then go unused, but next time I'm in town, I just might treat myself to a little nip about town on the back of a scooter to remind myself how beautiful that city is regardless of its eternally incompetent administration.
I just spent the last month back in my hometown of Melbourne. I have to say aside from having the chance to spend time with family and friends, and to soak up the Australian summer amidst the backdrop of events like Midsumma and the Australian Open, being back in Australia was like a breath of fresh air.
This is my sixth year in Italy, and getting on the plane to come back here was difficult, not just because I was coming back to winter, but also because it meant re-entering the fraccas that is the never ending polemica.
Today is Australia Day and there are some major ongoing issues that need confronting in Australia including the divide between rich and poor, ongoing racism and a growing anti Muslim stance, but for the most part I think Australians are a tolerant and respectful bunch. Differences of opinions are rarely the source of deep divisions in society and in the media. It's not often a case of us versus them, let's just say.
Here in Italy, things are different. Italy, in my mind, has to be one of the capitals of divisive thought. A fractured, splintered media makes a huge contribution to this, as does the existence of organizations like the Catholic Church. There are so many entrenched, vested interests in this country that it feels as if Italians are stuck under a net so intricately weaved that if they ever make it up to the surface, the only thing they are capable of doing is taking shallow breaths.
I'm Australian and my partner is Italian. We've been together for more than five years. The thing is we come from two opposite spectrums of the world: I'm from the new world and he's from one of the historic centres of the world as we know it. Yet, as an Australian and an Italian we both share one thing in common. We both come from the last Western countries in our cultural worlds that don't offer equality marriage. Italy is the last major Western European nation that doesn't recognise same sex unions, and Australia is the last major country in the Anglosphere that hasn't enshrined things in law.
Now, don't get me wrong. It's not like I want to get to married. In Australia, my long term relationship with my partner is technically recognised to some extent by the existing de facto laws there. But not wanting to get married and not even having the choice or right to choose really infuriates me.
What do you care? You might think. You're happy - you've been together for five years, what will a piece of paper change?
Nothing. Not on a daily basis. But not all people marry because they want to feel different about each other. Some people marry for practical reasons. And married friends who have been together less time than I've been with my partner have a host of financial, employment and medical rights that we can only dream about.
What do you care? Well. Let me illustrate how this works. You see, I come from a state in Australia called Victoria. Although Australia doesn't offer same sex unions or marriage, Victoria at least recognises same sex unions from other countries, has just passed same sex adoption laws and at the moment offers a register (although as it is purely symbolic why would I bother?). And if something happens to you, you need the protection of the law. As a human being, if something happens to me or my partner, I would like to think that either one of us would have the support and the right to decide what happens, what needs to be done, and that the other will be protected.
For those who aren't able to comprehend what this means on a human basis, Iet me draw your attention to this recent and shocking set of events that occured in South Australia, Victoria's neighbour state which doesn't recognise foreign same sex unions.
This is the senseless, inhumane setting in which same sex couples exist in many countries. Even with the protection of the law it's not a fun and games scenario.
So, having travelled over 30 hours to get back to where I am now based, two hours after landing at my local airport, I found myself in a piazza in Lecce at a demonstration.
And why was I there on Saturday? Because this week, the Italian parliament is due to debate the Renzi government's bill to introduce same sex civil unions. The bill is likely to be defeated? Why? Because of a provision for same sex couples to adopt which has courted the ire of the Catholic Church which is deeply entrenched in the Italian political system (and surprisingly, also incredibly powerful on the Australian political right- hence the failure to legislate despite overwhelming public consensus).
Now I am all for everybody having their own opinions. I believe it is your right as a persoon to choose not to agree with certain aspects of a wider society. I get that. I don't agree with it, but you as a person are entitled to your opinion. But in my books, what nobody is entitled to is the denial of an identical set of rights to another group of people or individuals. I respect and value your life and I expect you to do the same with me. And as a result I am infuriated by news in recent days that the Catholic church speared Family Day demonstations (as cynical a name as possible for an event which seeks to diminish any idea of a family that doesn't correspond to what the Catholic church defines as 'normal') are privvy to yet more rights at the expense of others. This time, transport group Italo is offering discounts to those in Italy who would like to attend the Family Day demonstration this coming Saturday in Rome. This on top of local churches who are offering a 50 euro picnic+demonstration package to parishioners who agree to attend the marches. Even the city of Rome's public transport group is offering discounts.
I made my own way to the demonstration on Saturday. I didn't get offered a discount for that, and I attended in part because I demand the right to be treated equally under the law as anyone else. What I don't appreciate is that aside from the ridiculous hipocrisy of the organisers of Family Day (the idea of a twice divorced, philandering politician and priests who have no idea what modern life resembles), their push to ensure that the GLBT community continues to live on the fringes of what is acceptable in society and by law is being backed by both public and private organizations. I won't even go into the idea that some churches are even offering a cash handout to those who are willing to head to Rome for the day.
All that is left to ask is, is this the kind of world that we should be living in today in 2016? How is this acceptable in any place in the world? Appalling. I'm not anti Catholic, but I tell you what, living in Italy really makes me wonder whether common sense simply suggests I should be.
It's not that I'm sorry. I'm not.
But its coming up to six years that I've been writing this blog, and as a result, there's room to revise some ideas from time to time.
Not for example on selfie sticks, or on anything Vatican-y (except Ratzinger and Padre Georg: I loved them: such a cute couple!).
But a while back I posted about how Taschen and Gisele Bundchen had teamed up for a Gisele coffee table book.
A very expensive, don't head over to the bookshop if you're having trouble with the rent or your mortgage payment kind of book. I mean, I didn't say it was going to be a flop or anything, but I guess I was questioning the whole Why? of it all as Tim Gunn would say.
Well, we needn't worry for GB. Girl's gonna have no problems paying her rent and in selling out her ludicrously overpriced book she has proven that there are a lot of people with some warped priorities. Like your coffee table book could feed a village kind of shit, but what would I know?
But really, was there really any doubt its run was going to sell out?
Supermodels are recession proof!
Someone needs to bottle their essences and study that stuff at the Harvard Business School to better prepare us for when there are no arms sellers left in the world to keep the economy spinning.
(I know that sounds a little Silence of the Lambs but I don't mean it in that way).
Anyway, while I'm at it...
Almost six years ago I moved to Rome. And I was immediately struck by how street art was still in its infant stages even though graffiti per se has existed in Rome since, well, Roman times. Back then when I posted about the burgeoning scene I thought it was going to take a while for Rome to get to a point where its edginess as a city was matched by what you see on its walls.
Well, lo and behold. I sit corrected. When the Huffington Post calls you out for being the emerging European capital of street art, you can start to believe it.
It's not really mentioned in the article, but there are a few reasons why certain parts of Rome are becoming open air galleries. On the one hand, galleries like the Wunderkammern in Tor Pignatara and the colletive Laszlo Biro - (hi boys) - have had a huge hand in this. They paved the way for much of East Rome's street art/urban renewal by encouraging large scale projects in conjunction with residents and the local municipal offices. Or by simply producing great, very graphic friendly work (as in the case of the LB crew).
In addition, a lot of Roman suburbs are the subject of wear and tear. Asking a tenants committee if an artist can have an external wall in exchange for its repair and adornment is a no brainer in cash strapped Rome.
Keep an eye out though for other emerging hot spots in Italy. Palermo and Genova are the cities to watch for if you ask me. They've got some great up and coming scenes and artists that rival what's happening in Rome and Milan.
In the meantime, you can find Laszlo Biro here and the Wunderkammern here.
I spent the weekend in Rome catching up with some of my nearest and dearest. And while I did that I had the chance to meet some friends of friends.
They're currently working on a really cool project at Rome's biggest exhibition space, Palazzo Delle esposizione, which is on Via Nazionale. In recent years the multifunction site has become one of Rome's most important and has hosted some major blockbusters (some of which I was tasked to write reviews for). But the site is also home to a little known cinema which runs some of the most amazing retrospectives and mini film fests- often for free or for a pittance.
Anyway, FOF (that's a new acronym I've decided I'm going to use; Friend of friend) was telling me about his rather ingenious project that he's currently involved in there. Way back in time, and I'm talking silent movie time, people, les vampires had tongues wagging. It was a kind of silent series with a crime bent that just had cinema goers going nuts.
Musician by day and crim by night teams up with a reporter as they take on the dark, noirish (I think I just invented that word too) Parisian nights and the inbuilt criminal element. It's the kind of stuff that inspired a million copy cats and that continues to do so.
Well, the PDE is currently running a brilliant series of events based around Les Vampires- using ten of the original episodes but partnering them with musical and visual interpretations. A series of musicians and groups have been invited to play alongside the footage and basically add their own interpretation to the old classics.
What I love about the project is how it seems to be built around adding an appreciation to three different mediums, and bridging time as well as the visuals and sonics together. I think it's a really inspired idea which of course has been done with other things but, adding such an element to the silent films is effectively bringing them back to life in the face of a million other reincarnations and references.
Sounds pretty brill if you ask me- and runs until November 15, so if you're in Rome over the next week or so, visit the PDE site which has a full run down of events in English in addition to the other things on at the complex.
There are certain things that we all consider necessary in the big smoke. Transport, medicine, sanitation, utilities...these are the kinds of essential services that our cities tend to revolve around. Some get it right- and that's often a matter for Monocle or whoever to decide as to how well- and others have problems with even the basics.
Having spent a really long time in Italy (and Rome in particular)I can tell you that some cities here get it right and that some...um...don't. Or can't. But if it's any consolation nobody seems to be happy about how things are run: those in service and those who use service are all often miserable.
The most noticeable thing that goes wrong in a place like Rome is the transport. Let's face it. It's really shit. If you were to set your watch by the next due bus you'd be the new Marty McFly. Honestly, it's the worst public transport system I've seen in Europe, but whatevs. One of the annoying layers of transport in Rome is that you often have to factor in strikes on a Friday (or Monday). Because transport is legally deemed an essential service though, even on a strike day there has to be a minimum service on offer and a minimum notice period advising of the upcoming disruption.
Rome's traffic is like those annoying accordions that you get held hostage to on the metro. It expands, gets noisier and becomes more unbearable on any day there's a strike when services are limited to the essential.That happens on days when things have been reduced to a bus an hour or, as often happens in Rome, morning and evening peak with a limited service and the rest of the day with virtually zilch.
Why the long talk about the minimisation of services to their essential? Because in recent days a new law has been passed in Italy. One which now deems cultural sites- or rather, access to cultural sites- as being essential.
Going on strike in a country like Italy where working conditions can be testing to say the least is something that happens in nearly every sector. Last week supermarket staff were on strike. But what made the news was a day a few months back when the staff at sites like Rome's Colosseum also went on strike, making the city's landmark symbol off limits to tourists. Workers in the arts and heritage sector here have it rough. There's very little money invested in sites and their upkeep, the average Joe works for a pittance and pay is often backpaid in many cases. But in going on strike, the cultural industry workers did something that not even the transport workers can. They literally robbed visitors of the opportunity to visit a site that many would have purposely made the trip to Rome for.
And in doing so, at least in this version of the interpretation, they harmed Italy's international reputation more than the endless train, airport and sanitation service strikes ever could.
The Italian government has decided that this is unacceptable. And as such, a very clear majority decided to pass a law that now renders cultural sites as part of the network of essential services in the country. This means that workers, regardless of how their issues may differ to those in the transport or other sectors, will now be required to file notice of their intention to strike, communicate that, and allow for some contingency which will allow the sites to remain open even on a strike day.
Is it a good thing? Tourists may argue yes. Nothing like a certainty when you're doing the greatest hits tour. But for workers in a field where competition for roles is fierce, remuneration is poor and there's a murkier distinction between public and private operation, does singling that sector of the tourism industry out as being essential really count as being fair or lawful? Enshrining the erosion of their bargaining power into law seems a little heavy handed in my books. Particularly because for all the wealth tourism brings into a city like Rome, I would hazard a guess that most Romans wouldn't see access to those kinds of sites as being part of the essential services the city needs to offer- particularly if the end benefit goes to foreigners rather than the locals who, for better or worse, manage the sites.
Before I start a rant I have a question to ask. If and when hell freezes over does it mean that the end of world will have arrived?
Because if that's the case, I'm not going to be a happy little camper. I have a book that is coming out and that I have to promote. It will be a real shame if hell really freezes over and it's the end of the world as is being predicted to happen in December. On December 12 to be precise.
I mean, it will be really awful if we really do end up living in Madonna's Ghosttown. Firstly there will be no time for emoticons (and I love them). Then people are going to be so focused on buying golf clubs and grills to protect themselves that no one will spare a thought for my ebook, let alone coffee. Nightmare!
Wait, what you didn't hear the news? I'm not surprised, as it only seems to be doing the rounds here in Italy in Italian.
One of the advantages of living in another country for a while is that you gradually start to understand what's happening and what people are thinking about more and more.
There are times when that is really annoying because ignorance (like people's choices of souvenirs or collectables) is bliss and it can be lovely to ricochet around a place without being able to really fully recognise what it is that people are grumbling about. Conversely laughter is infectious and international and rarely needs a translation. Ain't that a great aspect of life.
Thing is there has been a rumour that's been floating around the web (and on Facebook in particular) that Starbucks are finally opening a store in Rome.
People have been getting in a tizz about that news because the novelty of having a Starbucks in the land of coffee is apparently just too strong to resist. KFC finally opened a branch in a Roman shopping centre last year (the first in Italy I think- I don't know I can't be bothered researching that) and apparently more than a few people got their jollies about that too. Like a friend of mine who will remain NAMELESS!
But seriously, SB were being touted to open a store on December 12 in Rome and I can't tell you how many people I know took to social networks to pop open the champagne in celebration. Well now it's my turn. It was a hoax! Haha! Suckers!
I just hope no one perpetuates a similar rumour about Uniqlo or Muji opening superstores here otherwise my heart won't be able to stand the commotion.
Just goes to show we always think we want what we won't have. Okay, I miss using my coffee name (secret) but there's already enough crap, average and really good coffee in this country. I don't think we need Starbucks in the equation. I mean friends isn't even on the air anymore. Move on people.
If you want to investigate the hoax in more detail...actually don't bother. Go and download an ebook instead.
AS I mentioned, when you live in Rome, despite the many grievances you might have with the way the city is run, there are very few things that unite all Romans.
One of them is the abject stupidity and disrespect of visiting tourists who clearly get overwhelmed by the amazing city centre and treat it like a theme park or a water theme park in the summer months.
You see, apparently, some people still think they are in a Fellini film when they visit Rome and that jumping into priceless, world heritage listed fountains is nothing to be ashamed of.
Latest example of tourists gone wild? Wantedinrome reader posts photos of tourists swimming around in Bernini's recently restored Piazza Novana fountains.
Expect a shit storm to (rightfully) explode. Seriously!
Via Wantedinrome Facebook.
Are you heading to Rome?
Moving around a city like Rome can be tough.
Traffic, an unreliable and slow public transport system and the city's proneness to flash flooding makes Rome quite a b*tch city at times. Yes, I love it, don't worry, but I loved it the most when I had my piece on the side: Cholo.
Cholo, despite his Latino name, was not a Mediterranean lover, but rather my Japanese made scooter with whom I zipped around the city. Before he was stolen from me (twice) and stripped like a chicken wing for the illegal parts market, we were a kind of Bonnie and Clyde, Han Solo and Chewbacca situation. Unhealthy, but good for each other, and zipping around the city and surrounds with him made me feel molto local. And it was so practical: Cholo made it possible to transform an already busy schedule into an even more hectic one.
In addition to everything else I was doing in Rome (teaching, pretending to be boss like at a language school, writing a novel, having a social life etc.) during my five years there I also did a stint as columnist for kunstpedia (now artwis). Kunstpedia is a fascinating, not for profit organisation whose aim is to stimulate appreciation of fine and applied arts (but not contemporary arts).
Due to the lack of time in the face of all my other commitments, unfortunately I had to let it go, but a few of my reviews are still up online, and although some of the exhibits I reviewed are no longer, the spaces I visited are still there, and routinely put on some quality offerings in Rome.
So, I'll spare you the full run down of what to see in Rome. It's all but been written before. But if you're looking for something different and memorable, consider these..
The Andersen museum is barely known even to locals. It's a hop, step and a jump from Piazza del Popolo and the Villa Borghese, but it's another world. A utopia in fact. If you're in Rome I absolutely insist you visit (and then come back and tell me about how crazy the place was). My review here.
One of Rome's unsung gems in my opinion is its museum of Asian art. It's near S. Maria Maggiore and Termini. It's an old palace that's been transformed into a museum with a collection that is quite heavy on Middle Eastern and Central Asian pieces. Lovely, quiet place that will give repeat visitors to Rome an alternate angle.
The Palazzo delle Esposizioni is Rome's biggest exhibiting space, and holds blockbuster exhibits each year. This summer, David LaChapelle's exhibit is the talk of the town. It's in the city centre and worth a visit (with a gorgeous little cafe and courtyard to give you some respite from Rome's smoggy traffic. Here's an old review I wrote for Soviet Socialist Realism.
And, although the Orientalist show is no longer on, il Chiostro del Bramante is a must visit in Rome. It's in the historical centre, and in addition to seeing whatever show they have on, you can also visit the bar and have a glass of wine in the cloister. It's gorgeous. Here's my old review for Italian Orientalism.
Have fun if you're heading to Rome, and let me know if you pop into any of these places.
To learn more about artwis or access their amazing, online resources go here.
I often get asked what life is like for the gay community in Italy by friends abroad. People assume that because it's a Western European country that life is reasonably progressive here, as it is in neighbouring countries like Spain, Germany and The Netherlands.
Had they asked me in the month of July or August I'd probably be too distracted by the good looking locals, the gay beaches and the brilliant electronica parties to think too much about the situation.
But the month of June has delivered with it all the answers we need for the question at hand...read on and hopefully I'll have given you a pretty comprehensive snapshot of what the situation is like here.
From the outset let me say that I am not an activist. I probably quite naively believe that there is room for everyone in a society, even if reality continues to prove me wrong. But I have a brain and a conscience which is more than I can say for some parts of the wider community, and community leaders in particular who always seek to divide.
Earlier this month Rome celebrated its annual Pride event with crowd estimates ranging between 500-600k.
Alongside Milan's Pride, Rome consistently attracts huge numbers in part because pride there acts like a magnet for many people in the south of Italy.
While a number of southern cities are now hosting events (including Naples, Palermo, Bari and my new base of Lecce), the LGBTQI community still has less of a presence in the south and therefore those who want to march often do so in the protection of the country's capital.
In the country's capital and across its political offices, the current centre-left government, run by Matteo Renzi is busy trying to enact a number of huge reforms including the reforming of the public school system and the drafting of legislation to introduce civil unions on a national scale.
Renzi's goal is to have the legislation enacted as soon as possible - it's been one of his platforms since coming to power - and the idea is that the civil unions will in the main part replicate the system used in Germany where the protections are all but identical to marriage but without that pesky word being mentioned and, as in Germany, without provisions for gay couples to adopt.
Italian opinion polls show that despite the tentacle like reach of the church, the majority of Italians are in favour of civil partnerships. Any political organisation worth its salt has done its own polling to confirm this trend, and as such, even the usual suspects on the right are not demonstrating opposition to granting the right of legal acknowledgement to the unions, even if they are playing the political game and obstructing thousands of points in the draft legislation to slow things down.
Having realised that the public tide has turned, the right is shifting its stance.
The new line is that on the whole, they begrudgingly support civil unions (after all, their constituents are already on that page), so the debate has shifted towards gay parenting and the alleged perils that Italian children and families face, and its an attack that is being propelled by the usual suspects.
This month, a Family Day march was convened by pro-life and pro-family groups and the Catholic church and attracted a crowd in Rome for which estimates ranged between 300K and 1 million people. Even the Catholic press cited the 300K figure, but suffice to say the "Difendiamo i nostri figli" (Protect our Children) march drew in the parishioners in much the same way that occurred in France when gay marriage was legislated. This after months of lobbying and preparation from the network of churches and parishes that dot the land. Stepping into a church the other day to photograph the art, I was shocked that there was actually a poster inciting people to join the march.
But this new pope? Isn't he the good guy in all of this?
Well, some will have you believe so, and the church's involvement in the march was more grassroots in nature, with the Bishop's Council not formally being involved. That said, any negation that the church was involved would be a blatant lie (as I said, I spotted the poster in a church, and it was a mass produced poster some 600km away from the march itself).
But Francis has actually been doing a lot of late to fan the fires and to stoke the church's underlying agenda. While the perception is that he's gay friendly, the reality is that the Church's stance has not changed at all, and that he in fact is opposed by large factions within for conceding any public ground on the matter. As such, he has been releasing well timed statements to reinforce the Catholic church's fundamental belief in the traditional family. Every family needs a mother (female) and a father (male). Any sentiment to the contrary is unacceptable. Period.
And so, in sensing that civil unions are now politically untouchable, talk has shifted towards the idea of family and gender as being the perils that civil unions will bring with.
The march, although ostensibly one against civil unions, was presented as a march for traditional values, attracting its audience by opposing the idea of gender ideology that conservative groups believe is being piloted in Italian schools as part of the education system reforms.
What they are mistakedly, but conveniently, referring to are a series of initiatives based on improving social cohesion and harmony through the use of materials which challenge stereotypes. Materials that, the likes of which have been in circulation in Western schools for decades.
Materials like Salvero la Principessa which champions the use of words over violence, or Zaff, or E Con Tango Siamo in Tre, children's books which are designed and written to help children overcome their prejudices towards minority groups. These titles sit alongside conventional materials in some libraries in an attempt to acknowledge the growing diversity of society, but that right wing groups and certain politicians are demonizing, suggesting that there is no place for them in schools, and no space for these ideas to be considered.
Ultra conservative media outlets like Breitart (like Fox but exotic) and the dozens of Vatican connected media outlets will have you believe that these materials are indoctrinating children into cross dressing and, you know, basically trying to destroy the entire society because they are an affront to the church's agenda.
And what of Arcigay, the national LGBTQI group that attracts so much foreign press? Aren't they using their resources to help the government sensitize the public to the nuances of the debate? Well, although they have chapters in many Italian cities, (some of which are more active than others), much of the gay community here views them as being inneffective, so other groups like Mario Miele, or even much smaller groups like LeA- Liberamente e Apertamente here in the relatively small town of Lecce are using their own resources to strike back at the misinformation that is polarising the community on a piecemeal scale.
It's a long running debate which, in shifting the focus away from gay marriage, is tapping into another form of ingrained discrimination that the LGBTQI community has yet to overcome. LGBTQI people are conditioned into thinking certain things by society, one of which is that they are not entitled to become parents. There's a self flagellation that occurs suggesting that the ingrained religious beliefs are very hard to overcome in the quest to get over self loathing, especially when society as a whole is doing little to counteract it.
We've seen celebrity scalps in the debate already: Dolce and Gabbana waded unnecessarily into the debate in a classic case of this self-perpetuating loathing, and are now paying for it at brand level (good luck to them, as tax evaders, designers and self conflicted social commentators I can do without them).
The children in danger argument has though, infiltrated the mass media. Even local starlets like Lorella Cuccarini (I know, that name means nothing to me either) are becoming embroiled in a debate which substantially seems to be reinforcing the idea that, yes, we'll concede on partnerships, but in doing so, you, the gay community need to acknowledge that whatever you do you won't be seen as part of any family unit, and your yet to be enshrined rights have no place in our education system, nor should they be acknowledged in any other way. This is the case for adoption. But in a way it also addresses the consensus towards members from the GLBT community who have children of their own. (Surrogacy and assisted fertility is not provided to singles in Italy, though many hop over to Spain or other nearby countries to get around the law).
The overall message. Strides are being made and Italy (like my homeland Australia) will inevitably get on the right page of history. But before that happens, or perhaps while it does, groups like the church will continue to use kids as pawns in their own political agendas. Is their goal to obstruct the presence of non nuclear families so that they can instill just enough hate and self loathing in the next generations as well? That's my guess. What's yours?
Fear not! There's a meme for everything...even when there's no funding for the arts. Hello George Brandis.
My old stomping ground in Rome, Torpignattara is fast becoming an open street art museum. One of the most notable additions is this mural in dedication to Pasolini, whose connection to the area was documented by its inclusion in classics like Mamma Roma. These days the Torpigna quarter as its affectionately known, has one of the highest concentrations of migrants in all of Europe. More on that soon.
Mariah Carey's Vegas "residency" already subject to cancellations (bronchitis?), but never mind, there's a new match.com inspired video to tide her lambs over with. We live in a time when product placement is just the norm.
Speaking of...had a nice and disturbing chat with someone involved with the documentary Europe for Sale which looks at the current trend of selling of public heritage to private corporations. More on that soon, but the link will take you to the trailer for the documentary which looks at the absurdity of this type of quest for monetizing public spaces and public goods.
I AM not a huge fan of MAXXI in Rome. Aside from being a means through which the Northern parts of the city can be better utilized to capitalize on the Art Academy quarter of the city, and playing its part in re-asserting the presence of contemporary art in a classical city like Rome, MAXXI leaves me cold.
When the Zaha Hadid designed building finally opened in 2010, it already felt stale to me. No coincidence that years of delays and other issues saw to the project taking almost ten years to be realised, by which stage the revolutionary building design seemed to scream; you've seen me before in a million other capital cities.
The art at MAXXI feels more modern than contemporary, and this is an important thing to understand in Italy, because modern art in Italy envelopes the last few hundred years, whereas contemporary art is that which is produced in the now.
Invariably, when you visit MAXXI, you get a mixed idea of what modernity means. You're as likely to encounter artwork from the seminal 1960s and 1970s, when Italian artists were at the forefront of the contemporary and avantguard scenes, as artwork from more recent years, in which the collections place emphasis on international artists, partly because Italian artists haven't connected with their public in recent years to the same scale as international artists, because they haven't been able to maintain the urgency, that cutting edge ability that seemed to come so naturally in the mid twentieth century. This is a direct result of the destruction of arts education and training in this country, a brain drain which has weakened innovation in the arts here in the same way that it has weakened Italy in technology, science and pretty much any other smart industry.
MAXXI was envisaged as being the centre of Italy's contemporary arts scene, and as such, was part of a huge push to rebrand Rome as a pivotal European centre for contemporary art, a huge undertaking, given the identity clash between old and new that is constantly played out in Rome.
But MAXXI, in just its second year, is already facing other big challenges. Recently spotlighted in the news due to funding issues, the museum finds itself in the unenviable position of being a big new player that already has an uncertain future. Coupled with the appointment of an administrator, talk currently suggests that the government, in its current austerity drive, has drawn the line and plans to cut funding, emphasizing the point that its initial funding was provided under the condition that MAXXI sought out private partners to sustain it on an ongoing basis.
This brief Italian article suggests that MAXXI has so far failed to do so, and that in not doing so, risks not being able to pay staff wages beyond another few months, let alone continue to stage exhibitions and events that it so desperately needs to in its attempt to define its place in the contemporary European scene.
MAXXI of course is not alone in this dire situation. In recent weeks, by museology standards, events have turned almost apocalyptic.
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IF YOU'RE in Rome between April 14 and April 21, you are in luck.
Rome's state museums and historical sites are opening their doors to the public with free entry during Culture Week. With the exception of some major sites such as the Colosseum and special exhibits, a lot of Rome's collections are pretty much free for the taking.
For those who have visited Rome before, this is a good opportunity to explore some of the more left field spaces that the city operates in addition to the bigger national museum centers whose collections are worth at least one visit to. Yes, the focus is often on classical art, but not always. For a different way to see something classical, two of my recommendations would be the Museo Andersen and Centrale Montemartini. Located outside of the historical center, these sites are invitations to explore a Rome that few visitors venture out to, and that often hide the more modern side of its identity. Traveling smarter, doing a bit of research, and picking up a bit of free press can go a long way in helping you get a better feel of a place.
There has been talk that Woody Allen's latest film To Rome With Love has caused a spike in visits to the city. I am not so sure of that, particularly because the film has not yet even been released. It could well happen later in the year when it gets its cinematic release in the States and other territories, but whether or not it will simply feed the obsession with the historical center or not remains to be seen.
Rome already commands about 10 million visitors per year, and for a city of its size, sits comfortably near, if behind its bigger neighbors London and Paris. Although it has less than half the population of its northern neighbors, it has some of the best flight connections in Europe, a heavily developed tourism industry and show stopping heritage that screams "Look at me! Look at me!" I can't think of any other European city, perhaps with the exception of Istanbul, that has such a multi-layered history that is readily accessible to visitors.
ROME is considered part of the cluster 6 cities of Europe, along with Berlin, Paris and London (Madrid and Istanbul are also in this group) in its status as a metropolis with heritage, arts and cultural industries. Because it is a cultural hub, it does pretty well at a local level in sustaining a growing amount of events, even if it is still paradoxically a city that is still finding its modern feet.
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I COULDN'T get my financial act together this Easter to escape the throngs who are descending on Rome for the Holy Week. This is my third consecutive Easter in Europe, but the first that I find myself in Rome, as much as I had wanted to escape. Perhaps I will, even if just for a day or so, but at the end of the day it doesn't really bother me.
Rome is big enough to be able to avoid a lot of the crowds who come in to soak up the atmosphere and to feel physically closer to God. Last week I went to a village mass service in the far south of Lazio. I tagged along with some devout relatives and although it wouldn't have been my way of choosing to spend a Sunday morning, I didn't find it offensive. I love to observe people and although the service was all fine and well, it was more interesting for me to watch the latest generation of teenagers flirting in the gallery where I was sat. When they eventually bored me I started to focus on the architecture of the church, which felt like a modernized minimalist sixties building, just done on the cheap.
The other day I was thinking about how this city in particular has come to be associated with Christianity, and how ostensibly, it's an association that began as in import of a foreign culture or tradition. Of course, Catholicism developed into something completely of its own here, but I couldn't help but think about the way in this country in particular, people picked up the ball and ran with the idea, creating a huge visual and structural heritage and iconography along the way.
It would be like South Africa deciding wholesale that it was going to be Buddhist and then over the course of a couple of millenia reshaping the land so that it was completely dotted with temples, Buddhist icons on street corners, mini shrines built into the facades of apartment buildings. It's fascinating really.
A cursory check will tell you that there are almost 1000 churches in Rome.
This is an interesting figure, because it is well documented that during the Roman era the city's population peaked at over a million, making it at one stage the world's biggest city, but with the fall of the Roman empire it contracted to less than 50,000 right through until the mid 1900s when Rome's population first returned to seven figure numbers. Christianity didn't become the official religion in ancient Rome until the time of Constantine, which was in the later part of the Roman era, long after the Tetrarchy had been established, splitting Rome's power base. The majority of Rome's churches date long after the Roman era, and arose with the shift of Rome's history towards the papal state. If you take a walk around the city centre, you will find church after church, often one annexed to the other, and it would take some imagination to think of how these would all be filled with parishioners and not with bureaucrats.
But the pilgrims still come, and this city has a fantastic legacy of Christian inspired cites that run alongside its Roman and Etruscan heritage. The point for me this weekend will be to find a way to avoid too many of those 1000 churches and the thousands of pilgrims who, if not here to fill the temples are here to fill the adjacent piazzas.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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