Day eight: People of Pigneto

My stay in Rome is slowly coming to an end so I will spend this day by interviewing as many people as possible to collect various points of view.

I begin in the market that is closing.

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“Mondays there are only two of us, other days you find maybe 5 stands… The market used to be much bigger before, but nobody’s doing it anymore… It’s a tough job! You have to pack all the stuff in the afternoon, drop it in the stock and in the morning build everything again.  Some markets are covered and there you just lock your stuff in the end of the day. But this is hard…. Saturday is the strongest day. In the morning we open at 6:30 and all the old people that are used to get up early come here. In the afternoon we have to close, we have to respect the opening hours. Before the market was until very late, my uncle was a vendor and I was helping them, I remember very different regime of this market.”

 

I continue my tour passing around Contesta Rock Hair

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“You couldn’t catch a better sun than this. Such light you don’t get it anywhere else, maybe a little bit in New York but only during spring. […] This Contesta Rock Hair (chain of salons) was the first one, now we have branch in Florence, Miami, Shanghai… But it has all begin with this one, twenty years ago. It was always like this, very particular. So you can imagine the reaction that it caused twenty years ago. When we were celebrating the anniversary, we made a huge party here on the street it was beautiful.”

 

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“We have this shop for 15 years. Before the business was much better, now we have only few customers. We have a flat right above the store. I have to say that i didn’t like this place in the beginning, it was too messy but now it is nicer. We still have strong hours in the evening, but it is nothing compared to what it used to be like. Everybody goes to eat and drink to the restaurant …. Now there is also a new restriction for us – from May to October we cannot sell alcohol after 10 PM, it is valid for four months but we can feel the difference.  Our customers are mostly between 18 and 35 years. A lot of them are tourists as well, because now there are many accommodations around. We don’t really interact with neighbors in any way, in our house they also change very often, every three months there is somebody else living. There are 3 other Bangladesh shops around, but we have very good relations, we don’t see each other as competing businesses.”

 

Pigneto is extremely busy today. The Feminist cafe Tuba is organizing a literature festival of woman writers. The visitors are mostly from other parts of Rome or even from another cities. I interview 2 girls from Florence:

“Me and my girlfriend came just because of this festival, we are staying here in the hotel. We very very nicely surprised when we got here. We like it here a lot! It’s a very particular place, somehow isolated from everything else that is surrounding it. I’d say it’s perfect for a festival like this! “

 

My attention gets caught by an old women carrying heavy wooden tables outside of the bar. She explains:
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“This is a bar of my granddaughter. Now i’m waiting for her to arrive. They should open in a while. I am old… I do something, i put candles in the vases, I do what I can.  […]  I was born here in Pigneto and I lived here all my life. My mother had the first stand at the market, she was selling delicacies. That was one hundred years ago and it was beautiful back then… the world was pure, my darling, drug didn’t exist before, now the world is not pure anymore.  […] The bar closes practically in the morning, they work all night. Today is Saturday so they will close very late. I go to sleep very early, at 7 PM I am already in bed. Then I wake up everyday at 3 AM and I come here around 5 in the morning and I put everything in order. Because when girls close at 3 in the morning they are very tired and they don’t have energy to clean. I always need to do something, the day I will stop I will die.”
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“We are doing the cleaning events with people from the shelter. It’s a way of taking them out, doing something meaningful and slowly integrate them in the society by presenting them in a good way. Everyday we go to a different place, we provide them with some food from charity and in the evening I take them back to the shelter. I went through all this before, but now I work for the shelter as a mediator, i try to create the bridge between them and the outside world.”

 

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“You are a student and you are way to nice. Let me buy you an ice cream by Filippo.”

 

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I come back after a couple of hours and the nighttime mode is on.

 

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– I lived here for almost 8 years but now i don’t live here anymore. This pedestrian area was a project run by an ex mayor, before it was a horrible place! There were just pathways on both sides, road in the middle and it was very dirty and smelly.

– Now it’s all bohemian. All my friends that live here now, you know they are no hippies or junkies, they live a very nice life here now. And there are also a lot of people from the city center coming here, I came all the way from Flaminio. As you see now there are all these restaurants, before there was just street food but now there are different kinds of places even for wealthier people. […]

– I don’t feel weird about all the policemen, they were always here. Now there are maybe more of them because of terrorism as well. And there is also this new restriction to not to drink alcohol outside after 10 PM. But I don’t see any logic in this, if they would go around to find people that are making mess.. But they are making fines to everybody drinking outside which is not the same thing. I can get equally drunk in the bar and become a jerk, but because of this I cannot enjoy my beer after work on the bench.

– We like to come here in the evening and we stay maybe until 2 in the morning.

– The prices are good and honest, so you can still meet many local residents in the bars.

 

 

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– We come mostly during the evening or night. Few times it happened to me that I had my way through here in the morning so I saw the market.

– I never did, I’ve only seen this place in the dark.

– To stay here until 2 AM during the weekend is very normal. But you rarely hear or see the local residents, I don’t even have any idea about who lives here.

– Yes I remember times before the pedestrian area was made, the nights were much calmer. I think they made a good job with the re-qualification of the neighborhood. On the other side it was more intimate back then, less popular.

Day seven: Campo dei fiori

Today I need a break from Pigneto. In order to clear my head I choose to observe another reference place – Campo dei fiori. The day-to-night transformation is perfect there. Morning market gets substituted for restaurant tables, flowers and fruit for drinks. But still this place is nothing like Pigneto, no vendor knows your name. Campo dei fiori is located in the city centre and is one of the favourite “must see” of tourists. You hear Italian very rarely, prices get bargained in English, menus in restaurants obviously target foreigners.

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My strange anonymous feeling remains the same also in the evening. I realize that labeling certain place as “chick” can cause a real damage. The fame could be a potential thread also for Pigneto.

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Day five: Daytime in Pigneto

This morning my direction is clear. I want to map the atmosphere in the “pedestrian island” of Pigneto. Market is already open, people go to their well known vendors and buy fruit and vegetable. Quality is great and prices are convenient. Those who already made their shopping can sit calmly and enjoy their sweet breakfast. Retired residents, students but also those who start at work later, the morning coffee is sacred.

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I join the table of Gabriela who’s taking care of her grandson and chatting with a friend. Ladies what do you think about the vivid nighttime in this neighbourhood?

Oh God it’s a disaster! Especially few years ago it was a real catastrophe for us. After 6PM I was afraid to go out. During the day it’s lovely here, even in the afternoon.. I go to take my grandson from school and it’s all calm. But in the night this place becomes another world, mainly young women are completely drunk sitting on the benches!”

What about the morning market?

“Before it was full of schops, there was a butchers, lady selling clothes, you could find everything here. They all disappeared, now we have to go to other parts to get this. But for the fruit and veg we always shop here. People are selling their own products, I know what I’m buying. But also the market itself used to be much bigger! Then they turned this place into pedestrian island so cars cannot enter anymore. And all the shops were replaced by bars and restaurants

“We meet here only during the day and we live further away so we are not disturbed by the noise. But I feel so sorry for my friends that live here and cannot sleep in the night. Fortunately, I have to say, It has all changed with a new mayor, we have signed a petition and its two years already that it has calmed down significantly.“

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Do you ever participate at the community events?

“I know that people are organizing various nice events here. Although I never go there, it’s too late for me and I prefer to stay home with my husband. But those who have remained alone they like to go out and meet other people.

Day two: Porta Portese

This day starts at night. I get up at 5 AM to take a tram to Trastevere. At the tram stop there are only tourists rushing for their early flights and people like me – those who are going to a morning market. Roman famously dysfunctional public transport is much bearable in the morning. I arrive to Porta Portese – the biggest flea market of Rome. There are numerous songs and poems dedicated to this place, the movie Ladri di biccicleta was filmed here. It is running constantly since the 50s and now it is hosting more than one thousand vendors every Sunday.

I catch the time when everybody is only setting up their sands. The noise of folding metal constructions, fully loaded cars are passing around me. After a while everything seems to be ready and the first customers are coming. Articles vary from shoes and clothes to furniture, books and housewares. It is very hard to remember that I am here to do research and not to buy.

 

There is nothing like ice-breaking in Italy. I don’t have to overcome my timidity, people come to me to talk themselves, because they are curious. First interview is with a couple of vendors that came to try their luck with hand-made jewelry. We chat about the history of the place:

“You are too young, but i remember this place very differently. Twenty years ago it was only Italians selling here, there was nothing like licence for the spot. Everybody was selling their stuff directly from the trunks of their cars. It was very wild and atmospheric. […] Now you see a lot of Moroccans selling clothes made in China, they have a huge network. I think Italians are too lazy to do it and that’s why the products are different now than before.”

When talking about the vendors practices i also accidentally discover an answer to 24/7 opened flowers stand in the city, that Lukas was so curious about:

“There is a well organised  chain of people like those who sell flowers… It’s not like you get up in the middle of the night to buy a sunflower, right? Everybody knows they sell drugs, it is a commonly accepted secret and flowers are just a cover-up.”  

“[…] Or those who sell the crap to tourists in Trastevere. Do you think they worry about the licence? No way! There is always one of them –  a cocou standing at the corner. He whistles when the police arrivers, they pack their shit and run away in a second. After 15 minutes they are back to sell.”

 

The same topic continues with Tommaso, a director of documentary movies that sells books at Porta Portese for last 20 years:

“Oh yes i remember the old times here! When you had a jacket to sell you would just put in on the floor next to old comic books and perhaps you would sell it to have enough lira for lunch. Now you have to be registered, and pay for the licences. It is only one hundred of us, the strongest once, that are still doing it the old school way. We had to fight with the police and municipality, we were protesting for 6 months and after that they gave us a special permission so we can continue doing this”

We get interrupted by a man looking for a book by a popular Italian poet, the response of my new friend shocks me “No! We dont sell bulshit like this!” after he explains to me “You know, I only sell useful books. I see it as a service to society, to sell good books for a third of their price to poor people”

 

Tommaso introduces me to Pietro, an old man from Nigeria, selling cleaning compounds at the opposite corner. Pietro (originally Vincent, but prefers to be called Pietro in Italy) came to Rome in 90s and he comes to Porta Portese every Sunday since then. I ask him whether the business was better back then:

“It was not better, it was an absolute paradise! Lira was very strong and the stuff in wholesale didn’t cost anything! We were earning a fortune back then. Now it is very poor, the concurrence is huge plus when you subtract the money you need for licence and for storing the goods you end up with nothing in the end of the month…. I am thinking about giving up, even now I come here just because I like the place. What would I do at home? Sit on my ass? Its nice to come to the market, here you meet people and chat!”

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I am very pleased with his answer, he is getting right to the point i wanted to get to – the social aspect of market places. But still, Porta Portese is not the place I am looking for. It is vivid only during the day, after 2 PM all the stands disappear and the restaurants and kafes close as well. I want to observe a transformer – place that is active in various ways all day.