2019 Summer Italy Senior Scholar Susan Cohen Temple Rome Temple Summer

From Festa Della Repubblica to Musings on the Tiber River

Today was Festa della Repubblica in Italy, which celebrates the day in 1946 when the public voted thumbs down on the monarchy and thumbs up to a new republic. All male descendants of the House of Savoy were sent into exile. Here in Rome, the day is commemorated by a military parade that is presided over by the president. There are whole company formations of various armed units, military bands, police, firefighters—basically if you wear a uniform here for your job, you’re in this parade. I was somewhat hesitant to go because I’m not great in crowds, but I wanted to see the famous frecce tricolori, the aerobatic demonstration by the Air Force’s ten fighter planes, which fly over Piazza Venezia and leave a trail of green, white and red smoke. In general, there’s not a lot of flag waving here—basically the only Italian flags you see are on government buildings or in souvenir shops and tourist T shirts. But today is different — today everyone is patriotic, and I wanted to experience that.

I missed the first fly-by because I was stuck on a bus in a gigantic traffic jam, but I soon made the rounds of the parade highlights, once or twice getting myself trapped in a bottleneck of chaotic humanity. Luckily, it didn’t last long, and eventually I found my way to more open spaces. I did catch the second and third fly-by of the frecce tricolori but wasn’t fast enough to capture a good photo—all I got was the tail end of the colored smoke, as pictured below.

Eventually, I departed from the parade crowds and crossed the bridge to Trastevere in search of a quiet, cool spot for lunch. I really like this neighborhood. Even with lots of people it feels calmer, away from the action. I like that the streets are windy and narrow and you can get lost here. But today, unlike years ago, it’s just about impossible to get lost if you have a cell phone. I make an effort to put my phone away and only when I want to find my way home do I take it out again to get my bearings with GPS.  I walk home along the Tiber foot path until I reach Castel Sant’Angelo. The footpath has got to be 4-5 stories below street level—there are a lot of steps down to the river from the street. I’ve heard stories of the Tiber flooding but wow, it’s got to get incredibly high to breach these walls. I try to compare it to the Schuylkill in Philly, where it doesn’t take that much to cause a flood. How is it possible that these steep walls can’t contain the raging river? The foot path is not so busy, but then again it’s a holiday and all the action is elsewhere. I welcome the quiet. There’s another person taking photos, and like me, he stops at all the opportune photo ops—we take turns taking shots of what we hope will be a great image.

In my photography class I picked the Tiber River as my subject for my semester project. This walk home along the river is a good opportunity for me to add images to this ongoing project: a look at Rome from the point of view of the river. It’s there wherever you go, cutting a swath through the city. As a tourist or a commuter, you are constantly crossing and re-crossing the Tiber River, often at a standstill as buses wait their turn at the busy crossroads. Down below it’s a different world, and I want to show this city from that angle. Next week a summer festival along the river will begin and I’ll get to photograph the festivities at night — but today I focus on a weekend afternoon.

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