Splendor vs urban blight, love for the monuments against the neglect of letting them getting dirty because of the smog, the spirituality of the Vatican opposed to the amorality of political power. Arrogance, popular wisdom, detachment, where is the truth? “We don’t know”, says the famous roman actor Carlo Verdone speaking at the release of the book of his old school fellow Filippo La Porta Roma è una bugia (=Rome is a lie). XIX century poet Gioachino Belli told the misery and popularity of the higher clergy, his pope Sisto said an ignorant but noble “nice stones” referred to the pave of Fori Imperiali street, just to make an example.
“Skepticism survives because of generations like mine”, adds Verdone, 64 years old, “we’ve been lucky to live in a time of ferment, respectable, without this culture of suspects against everybody, neighbors first. Even crime had something poetic, like in the movie La banda del buco (=The hole gang, 1960, director Mario Amendola, with the famous singer Claudio Villa).
Rome is a “city of conflicts, continually cheating. It promises an illusory happiness that doesn’t keep and hides eternity in ephemeral”. Starting from piazza del Popolo, one of the most representative meeting points: the name doesn’t stand for “people”, as would seem, but it’s an alteration for the Latin word “pioppo” (=the tree “poplar”), explains Filippo La Porta in this portrait for his hometown, mixed with his autobiography and, in a way, every roman inhabitant’s biography. On a stage that can “make play every role but being yourself”.
Terminology Contradictions affect the way of talking, in the mixture of reception and rudeness there’s room for the emotionless “chettefrega” (=what do you care about?) such as for the astonished “anvedi” (=look!). “It’s a precious clue to understand the mentality”, says La Porta. Even in vulgarity, “sti cazzi”, used in the rest of Italy as an amazed expression, here becomes a couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude, “but it’s a moral careless, used just in certain occasions”. Like after the death of the former S.S. Priebke, who spent the last years of his life in Rome, it wouldn’t never be used for the newsvendor of Testaccio (one of the oldest and popular neighborhood in Rome) who passed away in the same days. “It’s used against powerful people, it contains a critical core inside”.
Humor La Porta describes a funny anecdote connected to roman slang. An old barber of the center of town saw a rider running fast through the tiny streets of downtown and said “he’s signed at the civil registry with a pencil”, showing a “disenchanted wisdom” that in the north of Italy isn’t appreciated. “I was in Turin when I told this story, they didn’t get it and they asked me to explain it”. But it would have ruined the immediate impact.
Rome’s guests There are also people who aren’t born in Rome but lived there and understood it better than the others. Since always destination of any kind of artist, La Porta narrates in his book the sojourns of many writers and actors after World War II. From Garcia Marquez, who was moved by the “soundtrack”– with roaring lions – of the zoo in Parioli to Carlo Levi who understood the catastrophe of an always postponed apocalypse. Because “everything that comes in Rome falls, from Christianity to the national union, but never ends to precipitate”. Finally the acceptance of Pasolini, although homosexual, and the writer Manganelli, although fat.
Rome on the big screen With a set ready for shooting, cinema had to take advantage of the beauty of the “eternal town”. Roma, by Federico Fellini, is the manifest, but many other films symbolize “the last heart breaking look that falls upon things”. One is the first episode of Caro Diario (=Dear diary) by Nanni Moretti, before the real odyssey lived amongst various medical studios. Then the final scene of Io la conoscevo bene (=I knew her well) by Pietrangeli, where a very young Stefania Sandrelli drives for a long ride with her Cinquecento before committing suicide at the first lights of dawn: “here, historical times melt in an eternal present”. Last but not least the Academy Award Winner La grande bellezza (=Great beauty) by Paolo Sorrentino, opposed to the ugliness of the characters.
In the “warm indifference” of Alberto Sordi’s “who are you?”, Rome doesn’t even sees you. Nor when you come or go. Going on, imperturbable, to repeat itself.