Craftworks amid Paradox

Craftworks amid Paradox

We were drawn to Sub Augusta in Rome on a cool Sunday afternoon by the knowledge that this week artisans from the areas around Rome were presenting their craftworks and maybe demonstrating their various talents.

Arriving by Metro I exited towards via Tuscolana and found myself at a large intersection. In front of me on the opposite side of the road was a large stall selling the typical portfolio of cheap goods from India and China, and I wondered …

After crossing the road with and without the support of the ‘semaphore’, three rows of smaller canvas awning stands emerged from behind the large stall – the craftworks market. I meandered down one aisle of about 10 stalls past artisanal jewellery, leather goods, artifacts, ornaments, hats and caps, children’s clothing, woodworking and candle makers to find our TV crew from Germany ensconced with a leather worker engaged with a blade thinning the end of a wide leather strap.

After watching for several minutes, I concluded that creation of his craftworks were as much a matter of love for the medium he had chosen as a means of commercial success.

I found Claudia Bettiol and she explained that these people were all members of an association for artisans who attend this Sub Augusta market. Each had to pass a ‘guild’ test to demonstrate the capability to produce the craftworks being sold. And like this leather artisan, there were several others demonstrating their skills.

While watching a woodworker patiently chipping away at a slab to produce a bowl, finding a knot and working through it, I dreamed of the Wagner opera, ‘Der Meistersingers’ in which the apprentice could become a guild member only after singing his personally composed song – and I imagined the cheap goods stall to be the song thief from that opera.

I toured the about 40 stalls three times to feel the mood and admire the craftworks of the participants, dispensing with my ration of ‘soldi’ (money) on the way. I was perplexed by the fact that there were no artisans of food or drink and commented that this must surely reduce the ‘staying power’ of otherwise interested visitors. In search of warm sustenance, we crossed the road again and sat with various forms of coffee and chocolate in a bar.

While enjoying the rest, the sky suddenly darkened and we looked out to see a scene from a Hitchcock movie, a swarm of birds of Rome appearing from behind a building on the left, arching over the road, and disappearing behind a building to the right.

The swarm lasted for seemingly over a minute as many tens of thousands of blackbirds performed their roles as locusts in the swarm. Each time I am blessed with the opportunity to see this cloud of birds wing its way over Rome, I am astonished how the swarm (flock is inadequate) has a life of its own, how each bird fulfils its close-knit burst of flight, and how the instinctive radar of each ensures that the cloud loses no drops during its passage.

We returned to the market, passing the paradoxical cheap goods stall, wondering why the local powers allowed such pollution of the craftworks market. This encouraged me to become aware of the other surrounds. On the roadside of the stand of the leatherworker and his partner wife stood a large black plastic garbage bin.

Looking over it across the road I was taken by a paradox of buildings and architectural styles that threatened to destroy any image of beauty in the world. A five level building standing near the corner of via Tuscolana consisted of a mixture of unmatched concrete and redbrick ‘lego’ rooms protruding oddly from the box base with diagonal metallic interconnecting stairways.

Words cannot do this failure of the architect’s skills justice. Only a picture could convince the viewer that this building actually exists. Its ‘attraction’ is completed by its front yard overflowing with a TotalErg gas station, its red and green signage adding to the cacophony of colours, unfortunately not in any symmetrical or even amorphous harmony.

With some peace we realised that the sun was setting behind this construction of note and that soon the shapes and colours of this paradox of human development would disappear into the night.

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