Little Big Stories in Rome II: La Città dell’Utopia 2.0

«La razza umana si trova

nella sua migliore condizione

quando possiede il più alto grado di libertà.»

Dante Alighieri

«La liberté est toujours auto-affirmation,
jamais réponse à l’ennemi.»

Miguel Benasayag


La Città dell’Utopia is a project of the SCI (Service Civil Internacionale) that takes place in Casale Garibaldi, in Rome’s San Paolo neighborhood. It constitutes a social and cultural laboratory dealing with key matters related to a new model of local and global development which is balanced, sustainable and fair. It is based on the concept of «social capital», according to which a region’s resources are not measured by economic indicators but by its capacity to generate social cohesion, inclusion and solidarity.


In this huge house in which, rumor has it, Giuseppe Garibaldi sojourned some time back in the XIXth century, volunteers from all over the world meet to experience cultural and generational exchanges in different activities. It is an open space for anyone who wants to participate, and it also works as headquarters for a number of organizations committed to working on issues such as immigration, childhood, sustainable lifestyles, gender equality and the promotion of culture.

I visited it for the first time in 2013. I remember that the decision to do a work camp there (the No Border Fest) was more inspired by a causality than it was motivated by a clear philanthropic intention: it was my first journey with open wings, I was beginning to test the heights and depths of what I was able to do, and I had correctly assumed that living for fifteen days in the company of “total strangers”, working with a common objective, would somehow give me the nudge I needed to finally let go of the past and gain new heights in my flight towards a different horizon. The experience turned out to be great. Not only because of the work camp itself but mainly thanks to the people I met and their life stories (click here to read more about my first visit).

Roma 2013

This year, the day that Spring began in the Northern hemisphere, I was arriving back again in Rome, for the third time. From Fiumicino to Termini, I gave in to the exhaustion of a whole day of intercontinental travelling and snoozed on the bus, to wake up in the city center itself, on a Wednesday at noon. I let myself go, backpacks and all, with the unstoppable flow of human energy descending into the dense atmosphere of subways: I did not need to check with any map because I knew that I had to take Line B, heading to Laurentina.  As the recorded voice of the wagon announced the next stops, I felt that an invisible and indefinite part of my body began to expand. Cavour (the traditional via that ascends from the Italian capital’s heart up to the Piazza del Cinquecento); Colosseo (and I did not think about gladiators nor emperors, but just about the last time I had seen that monumental building, in 2013, when, together with my work camp mates, we had witnessed the LGTB Collective parade and we had wondered at such a perfect contrast of ancient history and vibrant new world); Circo Massimo (and, as a charioteer, I felt that two huge white horses pushed that invisible and indefinite part of me into even higher places); Piramide (where, as the myth goes, Romulus buried Remus); Garbatella (the mythical area built as a garden city around the Via delle Sette Chiese, which can easily be mistaken for a neighborhood in Buenos Aires)…

Giulia Teaching English

Thus, with the euphoric vibration that dominated my now completely lucid movements, the subway got to Basilica San Paolo, where an impressive church stands which, so they say, hosts the sepulcher of Paul of Tarsus (he who received god through lightning). I began to walk the three or four blocks that separate the subway station from Casale and, to my great joy, from a corner, the voice of a woman shouted my name in Italian. That first meeting after four years was like in a movie: the beautiful Giulia, an activist in La Città, was welcoming me literally open arms (it was at the corners of Pietro Giordani and via Gabriello Chiabrera). Besides being an activist, Giulia’s life story is worth including in a film (read her story and listen to her in this link).

Thus I finally got to Casale, which is also the home of long-term volunteers who give life, during the months they stay there, to many projects within La Città, adding up more than one heartbeat to the big heart of this space.


Via Valeriano 3, where little things happen, those things that utopians call insufficient and we, realists, believe essential. Where one understands from praxis that any theory is merely a hypothesis and that any legitimate change generates from whatever an individual body expresses they need, and not from supposedly scholarly discourses that proudly state what they know to be the basic needs of every man.  The Città dell’Utopia, where you can find people who understand that it is not time to wait until any condition is given, but that it is urgent and possible to create the minimum conditions required by the here and now. People who grow up at a personal level while they sow seeds of new ways and methodologies on the fertile soil they are standing on, which they till and water every single day, without falling into despair, much as though it would sometimes seem like the only thing to do.

Sweet Louison
Sweet Lousion

Louison, from Tahiti, an activist as peaceful as, I guess, the Southern seas that saw her birth, who is fire burning more and more each time and that feeds mainly from Art. In her, universes of words are hidden, stages, clothes and emotions that are making one of the most prolific and colorful stagings of which she is the director and in which she exposes, courageously, her artistic body, telling stories that free all women around the world, empowering them and giving them back the innate right they seemed to have lost, placing them under the spotlight, turning them into examples of persistence and lively and creative nature. The igneous voices of Louison’s characters also redeem those who are left behind, those who suffer from the slavery imposed by the fervent advocates of what I understand to be humanity’s original sin: the belief that there is only one way. Also, Louison cooks the most delicious brownies I have ever tasted and she likes finding a place to sit in nature, under the sun, in cool days. It was she who taught me that it is not necessary to wield any sword to convince anyone of anything. That, as Whitman used to say, not more nor less than a presence of integrity can break loose in others the chains that do not allow them to walk (the truth of which has to be experienced in one’s own skin, needless to read or be told about it!).

Ale and il bello Tsipouro

Alessandra, from Italy, the perfect balance of beauty, intelligence, sensitivity, passion, authenticity, freshness and strength. The first day I saw her, she was weaving a papier mâché magic wand that a certain “signora pazza” had given her somewhere. She probably did not know it but, in her hand, that object, exotic to most people in the world, drawing indefinite doodles in the air of spring, spoke about her way of creating: the efficiency of simplicity, the unity of word, action and emotion, the trust in the truth that wherever we may be, we will always be surrounded only by those people with whom we will have the opportunity to create. In her, the loving energies of the Earth coalesce and create around her that which makes her what she is: a ragazza carina, able to embrace her pet dog, Tsipouro, with the same enthusiasm that she embraces her friends or a total stranger like I was the moment I arrived at Casale. Whatever omniscient and plainly happy authority in the world has said that to change the world magic is not needed?

 Yana welcomes volunteers for the Soup Festiva
Yana welcomes volunteers for the Soup Festiva

Among the long-term volunteers this year, I also met Yana, from Ukraine. She has been in Casale for some months now and I had the opportunity to join a work camp (The Soup Festival) she coordinated. With a cheerful spirit, Yana consummates her desire to give by being a transparent water stream, with her deep will to learn about everything, embracing each one of the volunteers she was leading, reflecting all their gazes in her own eyes, delving into their stories and rescuing from each one of them not only the skills that better suited the context but also, and mainly, those that put them in contact with the best version of themselves (understanding by “best version” that instance of oneself that feels complete and realized). The authenticity and lightness of her movements is evidence of rivers that flow within herself, defining her silhouette with a precision worthy of those who know what they want and what they can do.


Damir, from Serbia, a philanthropic clown who knows how to transmute dense energies into air, with an acute perception of the world, attentive to details that most of us overlook. During the time I was living with this family in Casale (almost a month), there was no single day I wouldn’t be delighted by his timely smile and perspicacious insights. And, of course, the small glass with rakia, which he shared with us after the meals, had its best effects on the group: it not only shook away our siesta ambitions but it also pushed us to keep on working, inspired now also by that exquisite plumb elixir, made by the hidden dimensions of his family’s hands. From him I learnt, most of all, how necessary it is to laugh if one wishes to change the world. Now I am writing it down, I wonder, how ever would it be possible, truly, without the power of laughter? Why not using, in that extremely hard work, which will surely last all of our lives, the most non-lethal weapon that provokes mass rebellions?



 The Master of the Keys
The Master of the Keys

Finally, the person who coordinates Casale, who makes sure, day by day, that this magnificent huge living house feeds and breathes the purest air, that its cells keep on restituting themselves efficiently. Who guarantees that its heartbeat is the healthiest possible: Silvio, an endearing long-haired Roman who smokes rolling tobacco called Pueblo, carries a kitchen lighter as a cigarette lighter and does not hesitate to use it anywhere, with the same spontaneity and grace as that of a child. A born activist, during his early youth he did several jobs until he got to Via Valeriano 3, where his name is on everyone’s lips for the simple reason that they trust him and believe in him. From skillfully and exquisitely cooking for events that take place in La Città, to interviewing the possible work camp coordinators, setting up sound equipment for festivals and exhibiting handyman and gardener expertise, or welcoming wandering friends (like me) as if they were brothers, Silvio is Casale; Casale is Silvio.

One evening, with a spritz drink in his hand, at the Chiringuito opposite the Basilica of San Pablo, while we shot the breeze a little, and also rambled on the labyrinthine doings of human emotions, the nonsense of foreign politics and the so-long-desired revolutions, he honestly and acutely stated: “Give me total freedom, or do not give me anything at all. Teach me to be a `leader` of my own self so that, when the time comes, no one needs to lead anyone. That, for me, would be a perfect society. That means, as I understand it, to be a revolutionary.” The spirit of La Città dell’Utopia, a huge flow of amassed energy, in service of a better world.


Soup Fest Volunteers

All this, more or less, was what La Città dell’Utopia imprinted on my body this time.

And this is and will be for me not only this huge house in San Paolo neighborhood in Rome, but also any other place that believes in the progress of humankind, whose inhabitants are people “who do not have”:

The-Famous-Caffè-Lungo-(and 2 Capuccinos)-to-Go-Back-to-Work
The-Famous-Caffè-Lungo-(and 2 Capuccinos)-to-Go-Back-to-Work

 Shaking each other with Tereza and Margarita to wake ourselves up!

Any reason to help but, in spite of that, they help, giving that which the other really needs and not what any materialistic or idealistic philosophy or theory states they need.

A reason to speak your language when you are the only one in the group who does not speak their own and who, in spite of that, immediately recognize your presence and communicate in the language you speak.

Those people who include others in their world, and give them a room of their own, and gently let themselves be included in your world, appreciating you.

Who make room so that you can sit next to them even though the sofa is so small that it would not even be possible to swing a cat.

Beautiful Renata all ready to walk the Roman streets!

Failing to attest to beauty when one finds it and experiences it is maybe one of the worst things that delay our evolution, I think. Not so much to satisfy a moral or ethical imperative, but to speak up for those who disbelieve in apocalyptic predictions, those who still have not been convinced by the overwhelming machinery of mass media and existential pessimism that hold that the world will soon be over and that there is no new and close horizon at sight.

Margarita and Tereza in One of their Usual Alone Time... It was never ever found out what they were speaking for such a long time ;))
Margarita and Tereza in One of their Usual Alone Time… It was never ever found out what they were speaking for such a long time ;))

Yes, it is true we may be at war, my friends. Yes, it is true that insane people have come to power in more than one country. Yes, it is true that people are starving right now when I am writing, and you reading, this. No one could deny it.

But it is exactly for all those reasons that it is high time to focus the best of each one of us on what IS working, on what IS generating life, on those who day after day share their wellbeing and good will in this precise moment in which the change we have so long desired is in our hands.


There is another world emerging from underneath this one which is crumbling down. The new world is growing silently, without impositions, just because that will be its cornerstone. And, as I always say, we do not need to travel to begin to find its traces, or smell its fresh and sweet fragrance.

Maybe right now, right where we are, if we look again where we thought there was nothing worth noting, we may find a kindling spark.


To read about my first experience in La Città dellUtopia, back in 2013, click here.

To see more photos of the world within La Città dellUtopia, click on the following image:

Roma 2017

To see more photos of the International Soup Fest, click on the following image:

Soup Fest 2017 - Roma

To see photos of Rome, click on the following image:

Roma 2013

If you want to know better what La Città dellUtopia is all about, click here.

More information about Service Civil International (SCI), click here or here.


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