Italy is fascinating because it’s so damn old and in being so damn old there is a very high likelihood that whatever village you find yourself in was the site of an ancient battle between warring nation states or begrudged, bellicose Europeans with poor communicative habits. Humanity’s need to violently sign its name into history has never missed a beat.
I spent 3-4 week of every summer in the sleepy Italian town, Velletri, where my pops and my pops’s pops lived. Our home is nestled in the rolling foothills of southern Italy, surrounded by a wild one acre garden kept from entirely consuming the three story stone house it encircled by an old man with battered plastic kneepads and two handed shears.The iron plaque on the front gate reads ‘La Torracia’ meaning evil tower. A long winding road wrapped around the hill like a ribbon, occasionally diverging into driveways that lead up gates like ours. It was a speedway for 500 cc engines that ensured my parents would never entertain the idea of letting me outside La Torracia’s perimeter. One of the few ways out was through our fam’s infrequent side trips to Rome - day trips where I could escape my tiresome understanding of the village and experience Italy as I believed it to be from Greek mythos encyclopedias.
Whether it's Italy's notable lack of surveillance or the population's remarkable nonchalantness , there are certainly certain conditions that have allowed graffiti to bloom in Rome. We stayed attentive as we perused the city, snapping flics of our favorite hand written pieces as we went.
Our means of escape was La Freccia Rossa - an Italian bullet train that crossed 41 kilometers of Italian farmland. The subdued browns, yellows, and greens of the fields would suddenly smear with streaks of vibrant colors when you approached every upcoming station. The density of buildings slowly increased as you pulled up to each stop and each edifice would inevitably be hugged by stark splashes of spray paint. As the train slowed down blurred streams of color coagulated and momentarily became coherent letters before melting back into ribbons of pigments when the car sped back up. Each pause had me scrambling to scrawl letters, words, and shapes into my blackbook, frantically trying to crack the code behind the rhythm and flow of such monumental art. Graffiti popped up at the first sign of humanity. Pink bubbles on a lonesome farmhouse, bright characters on what looked like an aqueduct. Its perseverance blew me away. Each inch of space was taken with conviction. Different artists planting coded flags for everyone to see, less to understand, and even fewer to appreciate. Impetuous and ephemeral, these villainized creative impulses seemed to exist out of necessity - irrational signatures destined for destruction and disparagement. It made no sense someone would dedicate thousands of hours to an infamous craft actively being erased by the majority. It oozed of arbitrary passion and I became obsessed.
Turns out these impulses are basically as old as us. In the Greek city Ephesus ads for prostitution were illustrated on common walkways, in 200 AD Romans mocked Christians by inscribing offensive depictions of Jesus tied to the cross (our earliest images of the guy), and a viking mercenary wrote “Halvdan was here” in the Hagia Sophia. Some of our understanding of ancient Latin pronunciation comes from misspelled, phonetic world tagged on the stands of the Colosseum. You could even argue that the folks painting their hands in that cave in Argentina in 7300 BCE were on a similar wavelength.
As homosapiens evolved and devolved our methods of writing shit on shit advanced into the efficient, diligent menace to public aesthetics we are familiar with today. Walking around Rome with Jen we took note of the technique and lengths people went to let someone they will probably never meet that they, in fact, were there.
Sleepy, lackadaisical Velletri was the epicenter of ancient, medieval, and modern combat. A now sleeping dog that’s lived a long life in the ring. The town was sacked by Goths in 401 AD, attacked by Spanish Neapolitan Bourbons in 1745, and was critical in routing Nazi regiments in WWII. Maybe the lowest common denominator here is a delegation with death and yearning for remembrance. Boil it down further and maybe it’s just a means to cope with life’s inevitable suffering and mystery. Challenging vs. playing with our extensively temporary condition. Conquest vs. irony. A lot of that shit could have been avoided if people took time to stamp their name in a more sensitive, intelligent way especially considering that said stamp has an expiration date the moment you press it into the earth. In the history of the planet everything is already dust so might as well do your best to not hurt anyone along the way. •