Opposite my apartment building in Testaccio is a piazza or open square, which is right in front of the church (Monte Testaccio). Piazzas are very common in Rome and all over Portugal too. El Hubs is Portuguese so we’ve been to both the north and south of Portugal many times. I always noticed in every town, no matter how small, there is a piazza – usually surrounded by individual shops and a church. That’s another thing about Italy (and Portugal), they still maintain the individual fruit and vege shops, butcher shops, small clothing boutiques and so on. Yep, there are shopping malls but they are about 30 minutes outside of Rome and you apparently need a car to get to one. I haven’t even bothered going because you can get all you need in any shop here in Testaccio.
What I love about the piazzas is how they encourage a community life. You can find people just sitting under the shade of a tree or you’ll find a group of people passionately discussing politics. Kids will be playing somewhere in the piazza and older people will be quietly sitting and chatting. This mingling encourages engagement with others. Old and young inhabit the same space instead of the old being shuffled off somewhere; to be made invisible. That’s the thing here in Italy, the old are still respected and are a part of the community.
I’m sure there are rest homes but old people here in Testaccio are a vibrant part of life. I see them in shops, walking the streets for exercise, going across the road to the piazza to meet friends and indulge in a coffee or two.
In New Zealand, we have our 10 acre sections (or larger) and we remain inside our properties, which are protected by large hedges of macrocarpa. Protected from the winds that often hit the Canterbury region but also protected from each other. We choose to go to a cafe to meet a friend. Or we rush up to the local supermarket to stock up on essentials. Thankfully, there’s still a butcher’s shop in Oxford but no fruit and vege shop.
The piazza is the centre of public life here in Testaccio; it’s a cherished space that provides people with a common, shared experience. I’ve noticed that piazzas are usually beautiful areas, full of grand old trees or shady areas where you can sit down and watch people go by.
Sure we have some parks in New Zealand towns. We have one in Oxford but the only people I’ve ever seen there are kids with skateboards or mothers with small kids. I don’t see the shared public life that the Italians enjoy on a daily basis. Thinking of the park in Oxford – the shops face away from the park and onto the main street (which is called Main Street can you believe it!!). It’s as though we in New Zealand have literally turned our backs on a public life.