Neighborhood and sense of community: Garbatella (Rome)
Barbara Bartolomei, Author
In my life I have carried out voluntary activities for more than 35 years, collaborating with non-profit organizations operating in various sectors and helping families and individuals in need. In recent times, among the most enthusiastic, exuberant persons determined to contribute to the improvement of their neighborhood, through a newfound and renewed sense of community, I found Barbara Bartolomei, Author and, as she would call herself, "Romana de 'Roma", born in Garbatella, one of the most typical neighborhoods of the capital. Barbara is a beautiful, outgoing lady who speaks to you looking you straight in the eye and, without too many compliments or pleasantries, tells you exactly what she thinks. It is a great pleasure, therefore, for me to host her today on my Blog and Cultural Salon and to talk a little with her not only about life in the neighborhood, but above all about that sense of community that to many of my generation seems to have almost completely died out. Before considering this aspect, therefore, I want to welcome Barbara.
MTDD: Hi Barbara and thank you for accepting my invitation to participate in this interview.
BB: Hi Maria Teresa. My pleasure. When you contacted me, I was very impressed with your positive approach to life. A rare thing these days.
MTDD: Barbara, let's start by introducing ourselves and explaining who you are, what studies you have done, what you do and / or any other information you want to share with our readers.
BB: I could answer you with the presentation you find on the back of my book "Se son rose ... sei ar semaforo" (= If they are roses … you have reached the traffic light”) (*):
The author. She says… talk to me about yourself… oh no, not so… my brain gets overloaded…what can I say?... I was born in Rome… When?... Ooh… You want to know too much! I was born, isn’t that enough? Be satisfied with it! A friend of mine told me that I am like Pope Sixtus. I took offense. In Rome we say that Pope Sixtus is “the faithful devil hostile to Christ”… My friend later explained to me what he meant, and I forgave him. Pope Sixtus used to get out of Sant’Angelo Castle whenever he could and would go and pry about what was going on in Rome… he was looking for… What exactly was he looking for I don’t know…what I do know is that I look for …stories…to tell you…, to make you laugh, to make you cry, to excite you… I tell you them in Roman dialect because they are short stories, of people who come and go… and are forgotten… or maybe not.
But thinking about it, my reply doesn't look serious. So who am I? I am a person who always loved writing. They gave me a toy typewriter when I was eight years old and I remember that not having a great literary ability back then I just used to copy my favorite books. Until I started writing on my own.
Rome has always been my great love. It may seem strange, but as a girl, to overcome difficult moments, I strolled across the historic districts of Rome: Garbatella, Trastevere, Monti, Pigna, Testaccio ... and there I felt at home ... protected. Great merit for my "Romanesque" culture had my mother and my maternal grandparents who filled my childhood and adolescence with stories about the history and legends of Rome. At twelve my grandfather gave me a book: "History, mysteries and legends of Rome". I still keep it. With such a history, how can you not love Rome?
As for my biography: I graduated in languages in the distant past ... okay it is not important, and I work in public administration. I like theater and cinema, I love acting and of course reading; reading was my first travel occasion, when my parents wouldn't let me go out.
(*) This sentence derives from the Italian saying, “Se sono rose …fioriranno…”, that is, “It they are roses…they will bloom” (which indicates that if something good is meant to happen, then it will)
MTDD: What does it mean to be a "Roman from Rome"? For those who ignore it, do we want to clarify what "Romanity" is?
BB: Nice question ... difficult answer. Especially for those who live in a country like the United States. Let's see ... the true Roman is the one who always has an opinion on everything, the one who gets excited about the game or the government at the bar. The Roman seems to take everything to heart ... and instead always maintains a certain indifference. It is indolent but passionate, ironic to sarcasm and above all irreverent and noisy. Sometimes bulky but "de core" (“with a big heart”).
MTDD: “In Rome, a city that is always in a hurry and that gives us no respite ... maybe Garbatella has become a silent and an angry place like the rest of the world? Far from it! Garbatella is a magical place ... " (Bartolomei, 2020)
How has Garbatella changed in recent decades and why has it remained "a magical place"?
BB: Garbatella is a neighborhood that has many facets. The historic district "I Lotti" (The Lotti) has maintained the spirit of its early years, with large common areas and a great desire for sharing. The neighborhood, however, has expanded a great deal and modern buildings have been added to this first settlement to the point that Garbatella has become a very densely populated neighborhood. And unfortunately the degradation has arrived here too "Pieces of junk, garbage, rubble and whatever still left in between". The magic of this neighborhood lies in that first nucleus which was to be a human-sized "garden neighborhood" and which should be studied to understand how life could be different in a neighborhood that makes sharing, cohesion and reciprocal support his passwords.
MTDD: “Maybe this neighborhood is intended to teach us something. To teach us that a neighborhood – all neighborhoods for that matter – belong to all of us and are meant for all of us and it’s up to us to turn it into a garden.” (Bartolomei, 2020)
I congratulate you for these wonderful verses recited in Roman dialect that center a fundamental aspect of social life: the SENSE of COMMUNITY, of solidarity and the consequent importance that every neighborhood – wherever it is in the world – should play in the life of each of us.
I would like you to elaborate these concepts explaining them from your point of view ... In recent decades, in your opinion, people and, consequently, neighborhoods have changed ... because – as you have rightly mentioned in your verses – the neighborhood it’s all of us ...
BB: Ah well now you have to listen to my lecture ... as they say in Rome. In my opinion, the main problem in human relationships in recent years is that everyone has the tendency to blame others for everything. Is Rome dirty? It’s the institutions’ fault. Too many cars? It is because there are few buses and those in service are not working and so on. We Italians then have a distorted concept of "public affairs". It's not my business so I don't care. Furthermore, the widespread mentality is that a small gesture is not enough to solve big problems. Instead you have to start thinking that every little gesture can and does improve the situation. Many small gestures become a big change. Fortunately, the situation is changing. The new generations seem to me more attentive, more aware. However, there remains an underlying distrust in the institutions, which are seen as distant, absent and above all inefficient. But even in this case the rule is the same. If every person who works for the public administration or for any other institution begins to feel part of a gear, sooner or later this gear starts to turn. The path will be slow and painful, but I am confident that this change will come.
MTDD: The depth of your verses makes me hypothesize that you have used - perhaps completely unconsciously – Roman poetry as a social, almost political instrument ... to get to the heart of the people and solicit a change, a renewed interest in life in the neighborhood, for the sense of community, which in fact is also a civic sense, for the contribution that each of us can give and that should feel as a personal responsibility in solving problems in a practical way and the satisfaction that can derive from feeling part of the WHOLE, in participating all together to make a difference ... to change the world for the better ... starting from what surrounds us ... instead of just being passive observers of an evident degradation ...
Am I wrong? And what advice in this regard our 'Lady (or Sora) Garbatella' ... could give to all those who are following us or will follow us?
BB: No, please, let’s not talk about politics. Social yes. That's a word I like. Social is a round word that gives the idea of inclusion ... Social ... listen how good it sounds. Politics, on the other hand, is a dark, hard word .. politics ... no ... it's a dirty word (laughs). But it's true. What is missing today is the feeling of being part of a common project. We are all locked in our own individuality, making sure that others do not disturb us, do not break our lonely microbalances and this leads us to think that nothing is important but us. And let's open up to others! We will discover many people who want to speak, who want a smile, a gesture of affection. Of course there will also be people who refuse us, who will go on according to their very personal egoisms, everyone is free to make themselves unhappy as they wish. But the loneliness, the sense of despair that derive from this attitude should be enough to have a change of heart. And when we open up to others, we realize that everything around us can be improved. An example. In my neighborhood (Marconi, just behind the Garbatella), I happened to stand in line at the supermarket and have an elderly lady in front of me at the checkout who was doing the math to understand if in addition to bread and food for her cat, she could also buy half a liter of milk. In the end she didn't take it. When my turn came, I paid for the liter of milk and then I ran after her, telling her that she had forgotten the milk at the counter. The smile of that lady gave me the charge for the whole day. And I am convinced that with the heart warmed by a small gesture, the lady also applied the rule of "kindness brings more kindness". Why Romanesco: Romanesco allows me to be ironic, to face serious problems lightly. Furthermore, dialect is the language of all of us Romans, we feel it close, it gives confidence, it makes everyone feel the same, without political, cultural or class distinctions. My "Garbatella" as an ironic Roman hostess would say: “Ehi, guys. If you don’t like what you see, you must change it… and don’t talk nonsense to me that you are not able to… all you need to do is to think a little more about the others and less about your own business.”
MTDD: Barbara, you are also the author of the book Se son rose… sei ar semaforo: Brevi storie in dialetto romanesco. How the idea of the book came about, who did you want to dedicate it to, and why did you feel the need to write it?
BB: "Se son rose ... sei ar semaforo" was the result of my desire to talk about the Roman spirit through stories that happen to us all, every day. The traffic, the small injustices, the particular characters we meet when traveling around Rome. I ride my bike and walk a lot through Rome (which is a way to not complain about the traffic) and you have no idea how many strange things you can see. One part of the book is dedicated to the stories of my childhood, and to the characters who populated my life. It is the chapter dedicated to "Family Stories", my family was a weird one in which the cross-dresser who was the house painter, the watchmaker who looked like Mephistopheles and the neighbor unaware of being used as a bogeyman so that we, the children, would obey to our parents they all lived together. Sometimes you find notes ... sometimes serious, sometimes ironic, which help to explain some more difficult words.
In the book you will also find some drawings of my daughter Ludovica, who after reading her mother's stories decided to draw something to make the book look better.
The book is dedicated to my husband Luca and my daughter Ludovica who have endured and supported me in this adventure and who both deserve a standing ovation for their patience.
MTDD: Is there any verse in your book that you would like to share here with those who follow us and that have a special meaning for you?
BB: You are a specialist in asking difficult questions. There are many. "Che d'è na madre" (“Being a real mother”), "Vita" (“Life”), "Er giorno de la memoria" (“The Day of Remembrance”), "A frittata" (The omelette”). I choose, however, "Er soriso" (“The Smile”) since it summarizes what I perceive as being the best attitude towards life.
This morning my bicycle broke down compelling me to walk...
I got on it and pffffffffffff the tire deflated
As to say: That’s enough, I am tired, give me a break!
Therefore I just walked...
From my home to the office it’s some five kilometer walk...
But if you are not in a hurry it’s a nice walk.
I took Viale Marconi, turned onto Lungotevere Testaccio
And reached the Fatebenefratelli bridge...
I stopped there. Since there are no crosswalk
To cross the street is really up to the drivers...
A poor devil stops, I wave at him to thank him and smile at him.
On the other lane of the road a car stops dead to let me cross the street...
I am surprised ... two in a row ... Maybe I should play the SuperEnalotto...
I wave and smile at them too...
I cross the street... and yet the car is still there...
That very moment I turn... and see a girl calling me...
I am sure I don’t know her... I get closer... and I say: - Go ahead... -
And she replies – Ma’am, Do you want to know why I let you go first? – she asks me
- If you so wish – I reply – I let you go first because of your smile...
Because you have not only thanked... you have smiled as well...
And I terribly need smiles.-
And what I was supposed to do after such a statement?
I gave her my very best smile...
And I went to work somewhat happier.
MTDD: Should some of our readers wish to order a copy of your book or get in touch with you, how can they do so?
BB: On Facebook they can find my page "Se son rose ... sei ar semaforo" which allows them to connect to the site www.lulu.com and buy the book. And, of course, there is my email email@example.com . I try to reply to everyone.
MTDD: Is there any aspect that we haven't covered that you would like to add at the end of our interview?
BB: Only one. Optimism. Life is never easy. But optimism always helps. Even in the most difficult situations. I give you an example. At twenty-two, within a few months, I lost both my mother and grandmother, the most important people in my life. It was a very difficult period. My father had never been very present, and my sister and I ended up facing life alone. There were days when I thought I would never make it; that the burden on my chest would crush me. And so I started acting "as if". I faced the days as if ... I was happy, as if ... my life was a fairy tale, as if ... everything was fine, as if ... the ray of sunshine that I saw from the window would make the day better. And slowly that ‘as if’ became real. And the dull and gloomy pain turned into a melancholic lightness, a regret of unlived things suffused with the pleasant memories of the people I loved and the smile returned overbearing. Optimism ... and acting ‘as if’ ...
MTDD: Thanks Barbara for participating in this interview and for your wonderful verses. I hope to have you again as my guest in the future. Best wishes for a great success with your book.
BB: Thanks Maria Teresa. You gave me a wonderful opportunity. Your positivity is an contagious balm. I would be happy to be your guest again.