Pigneto: The Rome For Outsiders, and Me

Here’s a little rule of thumb I learned yesterday: if a neighborhood has a shitton of street art, it’s probably the neighborhood I wanna be in.

It’s funny coming back to a place; I never really do it. I was interested to experience the difference. Three years ago, Rome was hands down my favorite European city—probably because it was the most vivaciously chaotic of the cities I’d visited in Europe. Life was different then; for one, I was traveling with my then-boyfriend, who I’d break up with a month after returning home. Nuff said.

Rome didn’t seem so intense and frenetic this time around; it felt much more manageable. I landed with 8 hours of scattered sleep within the previous 48 hour period, and decided to power through the day in order to acclimate myself to the time difference (it worked).

I wandered through the city in a haze of memory, surprised by how my legs took me to all the familiar spots—muscle memory of a city. There was the Colosseum, aching in its magnificent crumble; there was this piazza and that piazza; there was the terrible Chinese restaurant I dragged us to in a vegan moment of tofu craving. It’s funny when a place has only existed in your mind, at one very specific time, funny to see it still going on, living and breathing, like going back into a dream that had kept on dreaming without you.

I remember my dad saying that Rome made him feel his own mortality, and I can definitely say that’s still true for me. There’s something about the ancient greatness, the ruins and remains of glory, that really serve to check you. Just in case, you know, you got to thinking your shit really mattered, there’s Rome to remind you how inconsequential it all is—how small, how much of one shining moment you are. All your joy and heartbreak, your own impending ruin—it will all come and go, and Rome will still be there. You’ll be lucky if your bones last as long as Rome’s.

That being said, Rome isn’t really about anything I’m about. It’s one of the world’s great cities, and has been for thousands of years, and I love it for that, but everything that I get stoked on—diversity, punk rock, hip hop, street art, tattoos, counterculture—Rome doesm’t give a shit about. Why should it? It had Julius Caesar; Rome doesn’t have time for trends.

Walking around center, you get to feeling like an absolute slob—an(other) American slob. Everyone has so much style and grace in Rome; how do their clothes fit so well? How do they all look so effortlessly chic and beautiful, and what the hell is wrong with you in your Toms and Talk Is Poison shirt?

And then you take a rickety street car down, along desolate tracks and amid rows of block buildings, into the rundown side of town, and you realize: that’s because all the Romans in the center are rich. Rich people of any culture look good, and are inherently alientating (to me at least). You get amid a neighborhood a little more like your own, and you realize there’s more to Roman life than tailored suits and killer shoes.

Pigneto is the Mission Dolores/Williamsburg of Rome—an old-school, traditional neighborhood first overtaken by immigrants, now overtaken by hipsters artist types otherwise entirely abscent from Rome. Along its shady streets, you see little old Italian men shuffling around; African, Chinese and Bangladeshi immigrants hanging out, free of their blankets of goods to sell; young Italian sitting in doorways smoking. I love dynamic cultural collisions like that; they’ve been known to bring much of the forementioned things I love. Including street art.

I’d headed out to Pigneto in the first place to meet up with Jessica Stewart, who runs the very kick-ass Rome Photo Blog, covering contemporary art, street art and other radom wonderful things around Rome. I had some time to kill before we met, so I roamed around and took photos.

Swear I saw stuff from this person in Brooklyn...

Loved this series

Well, lookey who...

My favorite series

I met Jessica at Necci, a bar/restaurant that’s been around since the 1920s and was featured in an issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller last year. We sat at a table under a tree (which only kind of shielded us from the rain) and she told me about the neighborhood, about the art scene and ex-pat life in Rome.

“Rome is a very play-it-safe, stay-with-the-pack kind of city,” she told me. She spoke about the city’s slowness to accept street art in its galleries. “It’s a very traditional city. It’s hard to impress people in Rome—you know, when you’ve got the Colosseum right there, it’s hard to feel like you can do anything in comparison, or anything that matters.”

There were, she told me (and as she’s documented on her blog), a small handful of artists, living out in Pigneto and San Lorenzo, that were doing their own thing. And acceptance was growing, along with recognition.

“The one thing one of the artists said that was true,” she told me, our shoulders hunched under the branches and drizzle, faces half-lit from the barroom light, “is that, if you can make it in Rome, you can make it anywhere.”

It seemed true enough.

9 Responses to “Pigneto: The Rome For Outsiders, and Me”

  1. 1 Ekua September 22, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Love the art where the men are drawing their own legs and arms. Did you by any chance catch the name of the artist?

  2. 3 Leia September 23, 2010 at 12:41 am

    This is a nice different perspective of Rome. I fell in love with Rome the minute I stepped out of the station… the only other city other than Brisbane where that happened.
    I was blown away by the Italian women… who made me felt drab in my bulky sweater and jeans and a backpack bigger than me. All the architecture made me realise that humans live long after they are gone… both the good and bad.
    But the non-central part of Rome I saw was… very like any other suburban city in the world. Block and blocks of apartments without any of the architectural character the central part of it, or even the riverside, had.
    I wish I had found this part of Rome…

  3. 4 Angela September 23, 2010 at 1:49 am

    True that in Rome clothes seem to always fit so well on who wears them, but you can also find some trend/punk/street art 🙂 You just need to go off the beaten path and stay away from the most touristy spots, although there are some second-hand little shops downtown that make the alley off Corso Vittorio Emanuele quite trendy.
    Also Trastevere and Campo de’ Fiori at night are very nice!

  4. 5 Kristyna September 23, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I dream of going to Rome one day. My best friend went there last year and fell in love with the city. I hope you’re really enjoying your stay there. Also, these photographs are simply rad. xx

  5. 6 Jessica September 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Hey, it was great getting a drink with you.

    @Ekua – The artist’s name is Hopnn, check out more stuff on my Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/search/ss=2&w=24593122%40N08&q=hopnn&m=text

    @Lauren – The artist you saw in Brooklyn is C215. He’s French and travels a lot.

  6. 8 Jessica September 27, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Yes, just read your post and it sounds great…typical Italian amazing hospitality. Hope you’ll post more pics and write even more when you have time!

  1. 1 Thank God for San Lorenzo Street Art « Lonely Girl Travels Trackback on October 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm
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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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