It hasn’t been an easy year for the small shops and enterprises in Testaccio. Another supermarket opened, putting pressure on a neighbouring deli and one of the area’s oldest butchers; more businesses closed, losing intense, important battles that have gone on for decades. Even for those legendary establishments that represent the area more than its archaeological remains, change, it seems, is inevitable.
Alfredo Boattini’s marble-lined butchers in Via Giovanni Battista Bodoni which has been serving clients since 1888 opened its doors for the last time on December 11th. Boattini and son have reopened in a smaller shop down the road, but the old butcher’s counter, crowned with the image of Santa Maria Liberatrice, has gone for good. This shop wasn’t merely a Testaccio institution; the Italian film industry frequently passed by to use it as a set. When I asked Alfredo what will become of the old store, he told me: “Non sappiamo di che morte moriremo.” Literally, his answer meant “we don’t know what kind of death will take us,” an expression of uncertainty, but also in this case, surely a sentiment of sorrow for the passing of a place which stood for tradition, community and family.
Italy is a nation of small businesses and Testaccio is still full of families pursuing the dream of making it on your own, of passing something on to your heirs. For those stores that have survived this year, 2014 will see the battle commence all over again.
After spending some time this week photographing the centre of Rome in all its Christmas glamour, I decided to take my camera round the streets of Testaccio the other night. The plan was to capture a festive portrait of a neighbourhood typically represented as a place that defies time and crises with its peculiar blend of tradition and an almost war-time spirit. What I discovered, however, is that Christmas decorations say more than words ever can about a business’s frame of mind. I’ll let the pictures do the talking and you decide who is optimistic about next year and who has lost a little bit of faith in the government’s promises of economic recovery.
Words and photos © Isobel Lee