The Last Afternoon in Roma

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First published on SVA blog on June 14th, 2016 under the title “Rome Day 14: Tangible Memories.”

“An orgy of goodness” is what Steven Heller called our final presentations which were a mix of tangible memories of Rome in the form of reinvented intricately illustrated postcards, a bracelet of Italian female role models donned the Sorelle Sante (Sacred Sisters), and of course, a typeface or two. All were deemed marketable entrepreneurial endeavors which is not a small feat given the timeframe we had to cook up something fresh and exciting. 


As we dispersed for what was most people’s last afternoon in Rome, I felt the need to jam-pack as much of the city in the few hours before our farewell dinner. A couple more gifts here and there, but mostly I wanted to walk the streets and take it all in – this place that had me enamored so quickly because it reminded me so much of home. I didn’t even mind that locals would seem utterly confused as to why I couldn’t understand Italian; I was flattered that they thought I was one of them. I passed by the same streets, dropped by Roscioli, snapped some photos of the places I felt I would frequent on the regular if I was ever a Roman resident. I was creating a memory palace for my next walk down memory lane. Sorry, too much Sherlock. And I did manage to see St. Valentine’s skull at Santa Maria. It was too far away to inspect which wasn’t a great loss considering those tiled floors. Those alone are worth the trek. If you don’t have time for the Vatican, go to this little church. It’s what most beautiful places of worship are: understated and underrated.

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Our farewell dinner was all things Italian meaning food, wine, and good company. We swapped stories and plans for the weeks ahead. It didn’t feel like we were going anywhere; it felt like a regular Saturday night with friends that continued at our dorm’s common room (the hotel lobby) as we polished off the bottles of wine and Prosecco left from our working nights before.

But alas, we said our goodbyes and now we’re all on different ends of the earth. Luckily, we’re all just a text or a call away thanks to SVA.

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Italian Vernacular Typography in Rome with Louise Fili

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Louise speaks with owner of Ristorante Settimo about their signage from the 1960s

“Fare la coda” or the inability to stand in line is not the only thing that Rome and Beirut have in common. Much like my own home city, Rome has a tangible warmth to it and I’m not just talking about the temperature. There is history here that can be seen in the ochre tones of the buildings, heard in the undulations of the language, and even tasted in every scoop of black raspberry gelato. When it comes to design, it’s as if things look the way they’re supposed to without much thought put into it. As our first lecturer, Louise Fili, said, “in Italy, everything is beautifully designed even though no one is a designer.”

She walks us through 35 years worth of her carefully curated collection of signage. Not only is Italy the birthplace of Latin typography, it seems it’s also where every sign has a lineage. Rather than reading a plaque or pocketbook guide, each sign forms a graphic timeline because the style of type used corresponds to a particular historic era. Leave it to graphic designers to learn about history via type, right?

But oddly enough, it works. Not only does Louise tell us about each sign’s historical significance but also how the style of signage can tell you what part of Italy you’re in. It seems that each part – be it Florence, Bolognia, Rome, or Torino – has its own flavor and trademark when it comes to their storefronts.

What I find most interesting is the businesses that the signs represent tend to belong to a family that has been in that business for generations. The symbol becomes representative of part of their legacy, not just indicative of what they’re selling thus becoming a visual landmark in that neighborhood’s collective memory. It reminds you that there’s a story behind every sign and all you have to do to find out more is walk through the doorway underneath it.

First published on SVA’s website.