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Report 1396: Roman Holiday

By Doug Phillips from Canada, Fall 2007

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Page 9 of 16: Saturday September 8 – La Notte Bianca

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The Campidoglio on La Notte Bianca

Our apartment is only a few steps from Via della Lungaretta. I have noticed several people walking along the street, map and/or guidebook in hand. Now I now why. It is on several walking tours of Trastevere, including Spiral Guide Rome. BW & I decided to spend the morning following the walking tour which took us over to the St. Cecilia Church in Trastevere where we saw another wedding; then across a bridge where we walked along Via Giulia and over again to Campo dei Fiori where we bought fruits and vegetables for dinner at the apartment. We paused for a beer at a café on the Campo where we were joined by two other couples, both Canadians from the Toronto area. One couple had just arrived in Rome and were unable to check into their nearby hotel until later in the day. We recommended both Slow Travel and Grappolo d’oro Zampano. Then I was off on my own for a few hours – over to an Internet Point then up the Corso for a return visit to Via dei Condotti and the area around the Spanish Steps.

In the late afternoon I sat outside the apartment reading a book and sipping a glass of wine (or two). I began to understand the pattern of life in this quiet corner of Trastevere – the friendly exchanges on the street, the importance of scooters as a means of transportation, the young and not-so-young men heading out for the evening, the couples strolling by. I say “sera” often. A young couple approaches me, asking directions – sorry.

I had read a bit about La Notte Bianca before we arrived in Rome, but wasn’t really sure what to expect – except that it would go through the night. This was the fifth edition of the event. Around 10:30pm BW & I walked across the bridge with vague intentions of making our way up to Piazza del Poppolo but we were distracted by a steady stream of people walking up to the Campodoglio and decided to join in to see what was happening. On the Piazza we saw a very large group of people milling around, a TV crew wrapping up a report and a stage set up at the far end. “Wow, I thought, there must be 10,000 people here,” and they kept coming up the steps. We were at one end, on a slightly raised section. Many people were sitting down, so we joined in to see what would happen. The crowd was predominantly young, very friendly and very Roman. Everybody around us was speaking Italian. We had no idea what we were waiting for. Privately, I feared a punk band. Shortly after 11:00pm two musicians appeared and played several pleasing jazz-like selections to a polite reception. But obviously they were not the main attraction. All the while more and more people were crowding onto the already full square.

The Campidoglio on La Notte Bianca

At midnight several musicians appeared and began to play. The vocalist was the obvious star attraction, singing several familiar (to the rest of the audience, if not to us) songs. His voice, phrasing and presence were all very appealing. I partially turned to a young woman sharing much of the same space as I, and asked,

“Who is he?”

“Franco Battiato” was the reply.

“He is very popular?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she said, “He is from Sicilia and studied philosophy and music.”

It is difficult to convey the magical feeling on the Campidoglio that evening. I know I will remember it for the rest of my life. It was wonderful.

The Campidoglio, Franco Battiato

It is also difficult to judge the size of the crowd. If there were 10,000 people on the Campidoglio when we arrived, by midnight there were three or four times that many. After about an hour we decided to make our way off the Campidoglio. We didn’t want to get caught in the crush at the end of his concert. It was very difficult to push our way through, but eventually we made our way down the steps where we were rewarded with another amazing sight. Franco Battiato’s performance was being shown on a giant screen to the right of the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument. There must have been more than 200,000 in the area around the monument. We enjoyed a few more songs, including “Ruby Tuesday” before heading back to our apartment around 2:30am.

Franco Battiato on screen

I am now a big fan of Franco Battiato.

Over then next couple of days, I was able to decipher enough of newspaper reports to understand that La Notte Bianca in Rome in 2007 involved over 2,500,000 people, an increase of more than one million from the previous year. If I was planning another trip to Rome in the future around the same time of year, I would want it to coincide the La Notte Bianca. It was great.

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