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 six: The other side of the coin

Today I will focus mainly to the older residents of Pigneto. I’ve already heard different opinions, some people believe that the residents somehow dealt with the vivid nighttime and they don’t mind it anymore. Soon I discovered that it is far from being truth.

I interview a group of five older women that don’t hide their complaints:

“Basically we cannot leave the windows open at night, we hear everything! After 1AM this place becomes crazy. Normally we stay out until 7:30PM but not any longer. People get drunk and you never know what happens..  We have improvised police controls all the time because it was full of drug dealer here. I can still see them but at least during the day they are hidden. We are not talking only about the immigrants now, it’s Italians as well, but still the biggest problem are Africans. They are unemployed and always sit outside.As soon as the police goes away the hell begins again. This used to be a lovely neighborhood, now it’s disgusting! You as well should take care and don’t go out alone in the night!“ 

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In the evening I rush to the community event to Nuccitelli Park. People meet regularly here to discuss the situation about the newly constructed bar that is about the be opened. They managed to form a strong resistance group and hired their own layer in order to block the opening. Microfon passes freely to everybody that wants to speak. I chose the contribution of an older lady as the most interesting one:

 

“I live here for 60 years. Guys, its incredible whats going on in this neighborhood. And honestly, I have to tell you I am not upset with this man trying to open a bar in here. I am upset with those that allowed this new construction to happen without actually coming here to see whether this little place can handle another bar! I would put THEM into the prison! A person that doesn’t live here cannot understand! We don’t find peace anymore in this place!” 

the full recording here:

 

The arguments are mainly about silent hours, the locals are apparently tired of noise. Another concern is the lack of the public space. Nuccitelli park is an important place for local gatherings and events and the intention of the bar owner is to take also the part of this area. 

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Day five: Making a local business

In the afternoon I hurry up for my arranged interview with Jaime. Originally from Mexico, after numerous travels, he settled down in Rome. He works in a Greek bistro that is tightly connected to the character of Pigneto and that has gained its fame through years mostly by a spread word. We have a lot of time to talk because it is siesta time. Jaime, tell me about the opening hours.

“We are open from 1PM to 4PM and then we reopen at 7:30PM and close at 1AM. It used to be set for everybody to closed at a certain hour but now they changed the restrictions and you can stay open 24/7. Basically it was our decision to close at 1AM.”

Who are your typical costumers?

“This bistro opened 8 years ago, I work here the past 6. First 5 years our customers were only students with a limited budget. The owner knew this since the beginning and he wanted to target exactly this group. Focus to quantity of people and keep the prices accessible. During these 5 years Pigneto has become very fashionable. There was an explosion of nightlife and it has brought also drug dealing to this area. Our customers were these youngsters that came to get their stuff and eventually they also ate here. That time the security of residents was very discussed. Just imagine, two people have died right in front of our bistro.[…] 

People were pointing fingers to us, saying that we are also bringing all these junkies here and we are ruining their calm lives. When you are running a business the last thing you want is to have bad relationships with neighbors. We agreed to close at 1AM instead of 3AM and this was a compromise for everyone.[…] 

So the first 5 years were very wild but then things started to change drastically. The entire neighborhood got mobilized to calm down this place. The security was something that united everybody. This is a place of one hundred ideologies but suddenly we got all together to fight for our security. The presence of the police became constant and this has moved the drug dealers out from here. We have lost around 40% of our profit but at the same time we understood that it was necessary and now we don’t have to worry about having junkies fighting outside.[…] 

I also participated at local gatherings and went to manifestations. To say that I am Jaime and I work here and I really care about this place. I go to the morning market almost every day to get the supplies for our bistro. It is a way of making the local economy circulate. I feel like I need to pay the debt to this place. There is a social aspect as well, to show my face and meet the locals. I find this essential to succeed. Even now there are many newly opened places and it doesn’t matter if you’re a barista or you open a restaurant you always have to interact with locals and build the trust. […] 

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Italians are obsessed with food, if they don’t eat they talk about eating, they go to sleep dreaming about food. Italians will not go to eat to a stranger, they have to know something about you in order to become your clients. I think that this is something that many entrepreneurs did not understand and that’s why many of them fail. If they are not able to create relations and become a little bit personal, they close after two years.” 

I am leaving feeling very thankful. Amazing talk and a delicious pita.

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 four: All that glitters is not gold

I dedicate this day to see parts of Pigneto that I don’t know yet. I don’t ride my bike the quickest or the nicest way, I try to get intentionally lost. I am observing the urban structure, village looking low rise houses mix with mid rise mass housing. I never know what to expect turning in one of the hundreds one-way streets.

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Very soon I find a market which existence was hidden from me. The market reminds me more of a Viennese style markets or the ones I know from other parts of Europe. It is organised within a courtyard, the stands are officially established, but at least half them is closed.

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I talk to couple of vendors and apparently the rent is too high and customers are not many. Outside of the courtyard there is a woman selling garlic without any licence.

“Before I also had stand inside. But I was paying more than I could earn.. “

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Another pair of randomly chosen turns and I find myself in front of Parco Nuccitelli. The fence is covered by numerous posters that catch my attention.

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Translation (short version)  

“ALL TOGETHER FOR PIGNETO!

NUCCITELLI-PERSIANI: PUBLIC SQUARE!

FREE USE AND FREE ACCESS!

The administration of municipality has expressed a negative statement to a proposal of “ urban regeneration” that came from the owner of the new bar: we will keep this position and we want to make it respected in its all content.

The one that speaks about the “regeneration” or “development” will in reality use this place and its surroundings as another of many bars that will attract hundreds of clients during the day but mostly during the night!

We want to defend ourselves from the decay and from the wild nightlife that would eventually invade even this part of Pigneto.

With this cheat of “regeneration” we could completely forget our constitutional right to silent hours and the quality of the dignified life.  …

We demand the respect for the residents of Pigneto.

The next meeting 21st September. 

People that regenerate the neighborhood are these who live here, not those who want to commercialize it! “

So this is something interesting! An event I cannot miss.

 

I enter the park to speak to two man swinging their kids and they explain me more:

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“I was born here so I can tell all the changes this place went through! This used to be a quarter for poor people! Even if some of them were drug addicts it was still nicer than now. People came and build their houses from bricks, there was no plan for this area, just look around – each house is different… But now these houses are worth fortune, people are selling them and so they turn into BnB or bars and restaurants. It is all becoming a part of this radical chique society and to be honest it is making me sick! We are losing even this little of the public space that has remained to us.”

Day three: Necci, the heart of Pigneto

In order to map the differences of nighttime and daytime I decided to spent this day in Necci. It’s a famous place loved by the locals, many of them come here for breakfast, to swap few words and to read the morning news. I am sitting, writing, observing and taking pictures.

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Breakfast hours turn fluently into lunch time. Clients come and go. I can distinguish foreign languages, some people are obviously tourists. Suddenly I notice a lonely man, a Jamaican i guess because of his long gray dreadlocks. I quickly explain my intentions and we soon begin a wonderful interview. So Bedlu, do you often come here?

We are all addicted to this place. The first thing I do after getting up in the morning is to come to Necci. Sometimes I spent entire days here, during the day it is a place that belongs to this quarter, but in the evening it becomes a bar as any other and many people from other parts of Rome come here for dinner. So in the evening I usually go somewhere else because here it temporarily loses its atmosphere.”

I am surprised by the perfection of his spoken Italian. As I got to know, he lives in Pigneto for 10 years already. He will be the right person to tell me about all the changes!

“Oh yes, it has changed so much! Especially the last two years, the commercial aspect has developed. Plenty of new bars and restaurants have open, but who are these people? They are the clever ones, that already had bars in Trastevere or in the city center and now they understood that Pigneto is becoming cool. Somehow they bring this unfamiliar culture here, there are girls in front of the bar inviting you inside… “

Exactly! I noticed that some bar have even the menu written in English! I was shocked..

It seems almost like an antithesis of the meaning of this place.. The pedestrian island is now a trap for clients, I don’t go there anymore i prefer these parts now, if feels like the local spirit is moving in this direction, further away from the center.”

Are you afraid that Pigneto could become a new Trastevere, where you hear more American than Italian now?

“Look, now many other neighborhoods are opening bars that were typical for Pigneto. Centocelle, Tor Pignatara.. All of these local people prefer to stay there and they create they own communities. So I can’t say that something is positive or negative, it is all changing all the time. Everything is just process, I am not scared that this place could become a new Trastevere, I am only a guest here. Even if I feel this space in all my veins and I could not live anywhere else.”

We exchange our mutual affection for this place and my new friend sums it up perfectly.

Pigneto is one of the most particular places in Rome. It unites various cultures, sexual orientations, ethnicities, generations … Pigneto unites everybody that is insecure or somehow problematic, everybody that felt unsettled in their life, all that felt disturbance and the danger. Here it’s all based on the fragility that demonstrates itself in various ways.”

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Bedlu keeps greeting all his friends that are passing around us, so we get often interrupted by a stranger that only confirms what he’s saying. He continues..

“The thing I like the most is that when I walk the street I say Ciao to a 80 years old signora, to a baby girl that is 4, to her 30 years old dad, to a beautiful chick that is 24, to a drug dealer, to a butcher, to a trans, but also to a young fascist haha…. It’s like to stay in a perpetual vacation here. In very precarious conditions, possibly without money but it is still a wonderful place to be because everybody is accepted here. Were you a robber? It’s not a problem. Were you dealing drugs? It’s not a problem. Here people don’t judge the others, they help them and integrate them.”

 

After more than one hour I turn off the recorder to enjoy the rest of the evening surrounded by the “addicted ones” that already accumulated at our table.

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Day two: Calm afternoon in Pigneto

After an exhausting morning at the flea market of Porta Portese i head to Pigneto, the quarter i will try to put my main focus to in the next days. The atmosphere is very calm, amazingly peaceful in fact. The scale of the pedestrian area is welcoming, little bars have their terraces outside. I see mainly young families enjoying their afternoon with their friends and kids. 

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I notice some preparation work at Via Pesaro, after a little investigation i find out that Yetti cafe is setting everything up for an evening event – a book presentation and a movie screening. I chat with an icecream seller pointing out that during the times i lived here, there were no such events.

“I feel like Pigneto has changed a lot, especially in last two years. It is much calmer now, before you wouldn’t see a child on the street but now it has become very attractive for young people with kids. The feeling of community is much stronger now and yes, time to time they organize events like this”

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I wonder what contributed to these changes “You know, before it was full of drug dealers here. There used to be one of them at each corner offering stuff to people passing by, even during the day! But locals were not happy about that, there were many complaints addressed to the municipality, I also went to a protest that tried to kick out the dealers from this area. Then there was a strong police intervention, for a couple of weeks we had cops everywhere and since then all the dealers disappeared. I think it is much nicer to live here now.”

 

Strongly impressed I quickly take a chance to interview a young couple with two kids enjoying their ice creams.

“We are actually not from Pigneto. We live in EUR (very distant part of Rome) but we like to come here during the weekends and hang out with kids. We find it lovely here, usually we take a walk in the pedestrian area and sometimes we arrive all the way to Necci (famous local cafe).”

I am interested if they ever visit Pigneto at night: “No, not anymore. Now we come only during the daytime. But we loved to come here for a couple drinks before we had kids. It was very vibrant area back then, a lot of students lived here. I believe it’s equally busy at night even now, but it has become too expensive for students. I think it’s mostly working middle class and artists now.”

I want to hear if they remember any conflict between generations, the older residents must mind the noise… “No, not really! I think that people who live here have accepted this place as it is, with all its advantages and disadvantages. Everybody who moves in here, must already know how this place works. And the older residents.. they remain, because they don’t find it disturbing, otherwise they would move out…. I am sure you noticed that this place feels more like a village and not like a part of the capital city. People know each other and say Ciao on the street. Here it feels like the elderly collaborates with the youngsters, which reminds me of the old style way of living. Old people go for a walk in the evening, they don’t scream from their windows to shut up the people on the street.”  This is a very interesting answer that i will try to confirm in the next days interviewing older residents.

 

In the evening I come back to Via Pesaro. The event is beautiful, the tiny street has become an open air cinema.

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Day zero: Emotional Arrival

After two rainy but productive weeks in Berlin I’m taking a plane to Rome. My hands are still covered by yellow paint we used in a workshop and my head is full of German bureaucracy that turns the life of its newcomers into one big struggle. My flight is two hours delayed, I have a lot of time to think.

I finally arrive to Rome. There is a table soccer in the baggage claim hall and espresso from an airport machine tastes delicious. All the particularities are popping up in front of my eyes. I breathe in the familiar warm air and try to figure out the way to my bnb.  I am very nicely surprised when I get there. The tiny village-like street is still alive and full of Italians eating their late dinners. My room is perfect. I am exhausted but my veins are filled with excitement.

Research Proposal: Contrasting day-time and night-time use of public space

When talking about “conflicting culture” I automatically thought about the Roman district Pigneto. In this area I found a lot of potential for a conflict to happen, but surprisingly I did not whiteness any. Pigneto is a district with a very strong local history and even few decades ago was considered to be one of the most authentic ones. Its almost rural character of the village on the borders of the city was inspirational also for Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The good location and cheap rent soon attracted many new-coming immigrants and the demography of the place began to change. The multiculturalism and the intensive alternative art scene gave a seed for gentrification. Lot of new bars, cafes, restaurants or art galleries opened which had a massive effect to the public space.

I had a chance to observe a revitalization of a main pedestrian area of the district that, originally, hosted only few stands during a traditional morning market. After the revitalization, the same place is now filled with large benches, platforms for sitting, greenery and parking plots for bikes. This change made the terraces of adjacent little bars much more attractive, people naturally started to gather around the benches, and not only during the night time. The unemployed immigrants have now a place to socialize and together with local youngsters, elderly and parents with kids they frequently
occupy the benches during the day. The pedestrian area gained a new daily cycle; it has turned into a multi-functional place used now by different people for different purposes.

Within the time span of 24 hours there are at least three distinguished modes visible:
. 1)  morning time : market with fresh fruit and vegetables, the old traditional identity of the place, visited mostly by local elderly
. 2)  day time: relax on urban furniture, in the shade of trees, used by unemployed people, parents with kids etc.
. 3)  night time: little bars arrange their popular terraces outside while other people can enjoy their own drinks and food on the benches

The pedestrian area and its surrounding is the core of the whole neighborhood and occasionally becomes a venue of little open air concerts, celebrations, prides or protests. It seems that the public space is now satisfying different desires and is inclusive towards various users. But as they say “not everything is gold that shines”. What about the old original inhabitants? Are they happy with this transformation? And what about
families with small kids? Don’t they find the dealing of drugs in the hidden streets disturbing or rather dangerous?