Save to List: Farida Alvarez's East Rome

A world’s worth of recommended spots from our global community
words – farida alvarez
location – london, uk

At boom saloon, we’re incredibly privileged to collaborate with a community of hundreds of talented creatives all around the world, stretching from Ecuador to Egypt, China to Canada, Austria to Angola. Our strong relations have afforded us a wealth of insider insights into the best places to visit, eat and stay, all around the world. Now, we want to share this information with you as we work with our community to map the world and share their best recommendations of how to enjoy destinations both near and far. Our version of a city guide, delivered interactively and in real time – curated for all to enjoy and presented as a savable Google Map for our members to save and bookmark a wealth of future adventures.

When Soho House moved into a ten storey rationalist-style building in the eastern Roman district of San Lorenzo in late 2021, for many, it signalled the beginning of the end. Gentrification was nigh.

But what if they were wrong?

Let’s say gentrification wasn’t nigh; that it’s been happening in San Lorenzo since the 3rd Century CE, when urban planning Ancient Romans displaced local marsh-dwelling tribes. And when industrialisation brought in the factories in the 19th Century, only to be appropriated by students and artists in the 1980’s when they were shut down.

The natural order of things dictates that the last to move in are the first for the chopping block, clearing the way for bougie boutiques and Airbnb luxury pads. And it’s true that, with limited options left, those hoping for a slice of the San Lorenzo experience are increasingly having to look further east to neighbourhoods like Centocelle, which, while less homogenous than SL, is a vibe in its own right.

But there is hope for a different outcome. That maybe this time, gentrification might take a different course. Worlds apart from the gingham-clad caricature of itself that is central Rome, this is Roma Est: a Rome that looks to be calling the shots on its future.

Tucked away in a 19th Century building courtyard on Via dei Latini is Studio Melappioni. Every day, sculptor Bruno Melappioni hosts a modest lunch for artist friends, old and new, and occasionally Oscar winners. They eat, talk [the rule being “nothing serious”] and everyone chips in. One sunny afternoon in late 2023, they speak candidly about what community means to them – and how you have to want it, it won’t just happen. Twenty years ago, Bruno moved into the area alone, dreaming of a community. Ten years ago, he met fellow Roman artists including Alessandro Calizza and sculptor Emiliano Granatelli, and things snowballed. Their daily lunches have been a tradition ever since.

They are a far cry from the cheap and noisy student bars described by Nicola Benigni, a local jazz musician and co-founder of the art collective Nina Vian. He told me he feels that “for too long, the lack of investment in areas like San Lorenzo has been pushing business owners into opening lousy venues as a means to survive,” all to the detriment of the neighbourhood.

“We need to change the narrative of SL,” says Alessandro Calizza, founding member – along with Tommaso Zijno – of SA.L.A.D, San Lorenzo Art District. Their goal: to create a network of artists. A literal map of studios, galleries and notable street art. To yell from the rooftops that they exist. Their motto: “Sometimes you just have to give things a name so people know what they are”.

It’s November 2023, and Alessandro is on a walking tour courting a trio of execs flirting with the very real possibility of setting up a new artist space in central SL. Arms flailing, he flits from history to politics to art, ducking in and out of galleries; directing gazing towards notable street art and points of interest along the way, which form a part of this Save to List feature as below.

01_Bar.Lina

Rome [and currently Italy]’s first and only space 100% dedicated to queer themes. Co-founded and curated by the electric Andrea Acocella, Bar Lina hosts regular talks, open mics and exhibitions, offering a unique and safe space for up and coming and established artists alike. 

On show is Calizza’s own exhibition, ‘Broken Dreams and Golden Plates,’ a visceral and visually arresting examination of toxic masculinity and the illusion of permanence. A decapitated and dismembered statue of David is strewn across the floor. Radioactive green coloured foam oozes from his dismembered body.

As the tour of the neighbourhood continues, there’s a whiff of freshly painted wall here, an artisan bakery there, but nothing that screams mass-gentrification. Where’s the Starbucks [or equivalent] in muted colours with children’s drawings on the ‘community wall,’ proving their commitment to the neighbourhood?

 

02_Materia

A smart contemporary art and photography space, Materia is a stone’s throw from the market and within sight of the imposing Basilica of San Lorenzo. Now in tow on the walk is Federica Rugnone, a mixed media artist from Florence. When asked for her opinion of the artistic scene in Rome, “dynamic” is her resounding answer. Especially compared to Florence. While only several months into living in the city, she is excited to be part of SALAD and the community.

On show currently is an installation by Giuseppe de Mattia, a Bologna-based artist from Bari whose work touches on ways we observe the world; what we glean, borrow and steal; thus what is truly our own. Fittingly, a recurring visual throughout the installation is a thieving magpie, which recalls all too well the shape shifting identity of the city.

 

03_Fondazione Pastificio Cerere

Pride of place in central SL is this ex-pasta factory dating from 1905. After ceasing operations in the 1970’s, artists began to occupy the space when the building was abandoned. It later became home to the San Lorenzo School. Nowadays, it is a fully fledged art school and gallery with studios, residences and exhibition space.

 

04_Ombrelloni Art Space

Home to several SALAD artists including Alessandro Calizza, Matteo Bussotti, Federica Rugnone and Cristallo is this former umbrella workshop yard, converted into artist studios hosting events, screenings and talks all open to the public. Cristallo grants a tour of his studio; his artworks, monochrome expressions of negative space and voids in time. Always worth a visit.

 

05_Lore

A local bar/cafe supporting local artists and DJs, running poetry, live music and comedy events. Over coffee at Lore, on Via Sabelli – With their refusal to sell cheap drinks to students [or anyone else] – Alessandro spoke passionately about what it means to defend and be a part of this community.

“Either you’re part of the solution or part of the problem. Whatever way you look at it, even if you’re not aware of it, you will fall into one of the two camps.” Lore, with their dedication to hosting community events and providing quality food and drinks is, he feels, part of the solution. Speaking of multinationals sniffing around SL, he takes a pragmatic approach: “We are not here on a hill awaiting the enemy. We want to talk.” And with something in the region of seventy artist studios in SL, all now connected thanks to SALAD, there is strength in numbers.

“We need to rethink gentrification. No matter what happens, they will come. So you can mark your territory, shoulder them into the direction that works for the community or you take arms and fight.”

This, Alessandro insists, is the power of having a network, a community. It’s all about using Art as soft power. The fighting talk was stirring. It echoed the San Lorenzo workers who stood up to the Fascists in 1922 and attempted to halt the infamous March on Rome. I thought of Cristallo; and about how maybe gentrification is also about navigating the space in between. Tourists and locals. Investors and artists. The present and the future. The problem and the solution.

For a shape of things to come, head to Centocelle: a largely residential expanse of low rise apartments, the likes of which populate seaside towns along the Lazio coast. The metro C line has brought Centocelle closer to the centre, but the crusty and charismatic old green tram is more reliable, and decidedly more fun. 

In the last decade, a number of independent spots have gained traction with Romans and the occasional intrepid tourist alike. Make sure to seek out:

 

06_Forte Prenestino

A self-run, multi-use social centre housed in an abandoned 19th Century military fort. It became occupied on May Day in 1986. Built on prime real estate, Forte Prenestino defies every architect’s vision of a mixed use, office, retail and luxury apartment lifestyle experience with grimy panache. Many SL artists cut their teeth at social centres like Prenistino, where freedom of expression is as seemingly boundless as the grounds it stands on. At once a record label, political activism centre, music and comic book convention venue (CRACK), organic farmer’s market and so much more.

 

07_BAM

The Biblioteca Abusiva Metropolitana is a lending library and art space founded by Yemeni artist Aladin Al-Baraduni. Patrons can symbolically borrow books and/or leave voluntary donations on a pay-what-you-can basis. Books and comics, multilingual and now in their multiple thousands, are donated by supporters of BAM.

A political exile, Aladin began squatting in the abandoned space 11 years ago when nobody in Rome was willing to rent him a room. Along with friends, he converted the space into an illegal library, an art laboratory and a live music venue.

Today, the library risks permanent closure, with the local government seemingly unwilling to rehouse Aladin and his entire glorious cave of art, sculptures and literature – go while you can and support this powerful concept.

 

08_Shah Mat + Centorti

Both Shah Mat and Centorti, in a similar vein to Lore, are dedicated to being sustainable parts of the community. Shah Mat, a local drinking spot, hosts jazz nights every Sunday and offers locally sourced food, wines and beers. Centorti is run by a couple with their own allotment. Farm to table seasonal cooking is their MO [known as kilometro zero in Italy] and the love and attention to detail with which they present their food flies in the face of every Italian chain restaurant you can think of.

 

Bonus: Nomentano

If you tire of the street art and the grime, just north of SL is the Nomentano quarter. Here, nestled among the dreamy pastel coloured rationalist architecture, local trattorie and general urban handsomeness, you will find Galleria Gallerati – curated by photographer Carlo Gallerati, and specialising in mixed media and photography. A soothing counterpoint to a Rome that’s fighting tooth and nail to move forward on its own terms.

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