fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
President Obama has made a unilateral decision to place the American Embassy to the Vatican in the same building as that to Italy, excusing that with expenditure and security considerations. This is my comment on it, as a historian who knows a little about diplomacy and its conventions, and an Italian who knows a lot about Italy and Rome.

Right. To begin with, the diplomatic world is a very artificial world, and there are things you do and don't do according to its own code. The do-est of the do things is that any country or organization of importance gets an embassy. They don't have to be huge mansions – several embassies in several capitals occupy little more than a flat – but they have to stand on their own. And states are not the only thing you send ambassadors to. You have embassies to the UN and to various UN bodies, to international organizations such as Organization of American States, to NATO, and so on. You DO NOT have the same embassy in Brussels merely because you have one mission to NATO, one to the EU, and one to Belgium. That's expensive? Sad. If you are not disposed to spend a certain amount of effectively wasted money, you are only proving that you are not a first-rate presence on the international circuit and that you are not able to afford what such presences are. Diplomacy money is in good part display expenditure, but anyone who does not see that display of various kinds is utterly essential to status in foreign eyes (and that in diplomacy it is part of a fixed system that you simply don't have the power to rewrite, since it is shared by every other state and international organization) should not be in politics in the first place.

Now from the point of view of Washington DC, both embassies in Rome (there is a third, to FAO, of which nobody seems to be talking) are first-rate missions, for wholly different reasons. Italy is a major ally, with the third or fourth largest fleet in NATO, two aircraft carriers, over 120,000 men under arms, NATO and UN missions in various places, efficient and wide-reaching security and secret services, one of the world's top ten economies, a crossways of trade and industry, and a strategically dominant position in the Mediterranean. It is also visited and lived in by millions of Americans who need consular services every day of the week.

The Vatican, on the other hand, is by far the single most important trans-national body other than the UN and its various parts. In some ways it is more important. For one thing it has a far better information service than the USA or anyone. They have men in places where the CIA would not dare send a drone, and because of the nature of priestly work and the close relationship of priests with their bishops, they get to hear things fast. Have you noticed recently that a country called the Central African Republic has come to the attention of leading governments? I had been trying to get people to notice the civil war – or rather, the pseudo-civil war – in that country for about a year. Why? Because I follow the missionaries' information agency, Fides, and I knew that the country was being invaded by a bunch of thieving, murderous jihadis under the guise of a local revolt. And that's me, a private citizen. How many more interesting bits of information like that would a friendly government get from all those nice, unworldly celibates in the Vatican? But Obama has a problem with that, obviously. And he does not want the operational and political support that any American presence in any country could get if they were friendly with the local priests. Obama does not want to be in any kind of debt with the Church, because he has long since declared war on the Church over abortion. And from this point of view, it makes sense that the change was an entirely one-sided affair which the Vatican had to swallow, with no consultation, no previous warning, no courtesy of any sort. And courtesy is the soul of diplomacy.

On a purely local and operational grounds, the two embassy complexes have remarkably different aspects, that correspond remarkably well with their two very different missions. The American Embassy to Italy is in a former World War One military hospital on Via Vittorio Veneto, the famous shopping avenue, near Porta Pinciana; a major highway, densely trafficked, within walking distance of the Italian Confederation of Industry and of the Ministry for Defence (if not to the Italian Foreign Ministry, which is located in the eccentric and distant Farnesina), close to a couple of underground stations and comparatively easy of access to any American in need of help or any Italian in need of any of its services. On the other hand, the US Embassy to the Holy See is in Villa Damiana on the Aventine Hill: a super-luxurious residential neighbourhood made for old money and a few of the more discreet institutions, isolated from main roads (although well connected) and served by churches of incredible antiquity. The head office of the Knights of Malta (a theoretically independent state and the last redoubt of Europe's bluest blood) is not far. It is about as likely to be struck by a riot or invaded by terrorists as one of the more exclusive gated communities in the richer towns in America. And it seems to me rather evident that each of the two settings was chosen – by wiser judges than Obama – with their different role and use very much in mind, and that they confer on each a clear atmosphere that means that the workers of each would find themselves terribly ill at ease in the other. The Embassy to the Holy See is, as I said, in the most expensive, quietest and most secure neighbourhood in inner Rome, a place for soft contacts, fine manners, delicate suggestions and careful deliberation. The Embassy to Italy, a former military hospital, is a large building that towers over the bend of Via Vittorio Veneto, one of Rome's busiest and most luxurious highways, surrounded by hotels, businesses and splendid fashion shops, and constantly at work with American citizens and foreign visa seekers. To bring them together in the Via Veneto building is an act of brutality.

There is no organizational or practical advantage in the transfer, either. Neither location is at all near the Vatican. They are both on the eastern bank of the river, within the circle of the imperial walls, but they could not be much further from each other either. Anyway, physical closeness to the actual territory of the Vatican does not matter. Visit your own capital city; see where the embassies of the main powers are. I shall be very surprised if they are all next door to the White House or to Foggy Bottom. At any rate Roman distances are smaller than American ones, and a healthy man can walk both from Via Vittorio Veneto and from Villa Domiziana to the Vatican in an hour or two (and enjoy some of the world's finest sights along the way). And if we are talking security, the Villa Domiziana, surrounded by high walls and a garden, isolated in quiet residential streets where any intruder would be easy to spot, is considerably safer than the Vittorio Veneto building, open to anything that can come up one of the city's great highways (and there were, in fact, some security scares a few years back). Obama and his accomplices are simply falsifying fact, as is obvious to anyone who knows Rome.

To finish with, it is not just the Vatican that receives a savage and undeserved insult with this crass decision. In case nobody had noticed, Obama has implied that the streets of Rome are no safer than those of Benghazi. Thank you so much, Mr.President. You may not be aware of it, but one of the things that binds Italians together is pride that we have police, carabinieri and security forces loyal, brave and competent enough to have broken the Red Brigades and brushed back the Mafia at the price of many, many courageous dead. This is an insult to them.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
The drift away from normative lifelong monogamous marriage seems to be as old as the human race. That seems to me to be what Our Lord meant when He said: "Moses told you so [allowing divorce] because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so." Jesus had asked "What did Moses teach you [about marriage]?" And he had been answered that Moses - the biblical character Moses - had allowed a man to repudiate his wife. But Jesus answered that Moses - the traditional author of the first five books of the Bible - had, before that, taught that God Himself had made men male and female, and had ordered that they shall leave their respective families and become "one flesh". This is what God ordered, "and what God has put together let no man tear asunder."

In other words, the drift from monogamy had taken place even in the history of the Chosen People. Indeed, this was one thing in which Jews, Greeks and Romans were very like each other. It was not that the ideal of lifelong monogamy was not known; in the area I know best, Rome, it was implicit in numerous features of religious and ritual ideas, for instance the prescription that the priest of Jupiter (Flamen Dialis), highest ranking of all priests in Rome, should be married with a single wife who shared his duties, or the fact that the children who assisted in certain important sacrifices should be "patrimi matrimi", that is, having both parents living. This indicates that the condition of being married to the same wife, in an unbroken partnership, and having had children with her, was regarded as a religiously pure and desirable condition. But what was more likely was the life story of Caesar - who had actually briefly been Flamen Dialis at seventeen - who was married four times, and eventually had his much-desired male heir not from his wife but from Cleopatra, who was never married to him - but was the highest-ranking and most powerful monarch at the time. Caesar's enemy Cato the Younger "lent" his second wife Marcia to his friend and ally Hortensius, divorcing her so that Hortensius could marry her, and remarried her, with no problem at all, when Hortensius died! In the Greek world there are several accounts of brothers marrying their own sisters to keep the family patrimony intact, something, indeed, that seems to have become a system among the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the Greek dynasties that ruled Egypt and Syria after Alexander the Great. Cleopatra herself (Cleopatra VII), Caesar's lover, was the product of more than a dozen generations of married incest. How she felt about that charming family tradition is shown by the fact that her first act as a ruling queen was to have her brother murdered.

All this has one clear, visible and easily identifiable common feature: power. Violations of the natural rule of monogamy always come from displays of power or consideration of political and economic convenience. Poor and middling folks did not take more than one wife, and did not divorce, things that would have cost money.they did not have; at most, they may have wasted a little money on a girlfriend, or a favoured slave, or a prostitute. (And their culture, from King Lemuel to Plautus, always warned them that such women were financially ruinous.) It was the sovereign kings of Egypt or Iran or China who kept harems, as a display of their personal power. It was the importance of holding large inheritances, or even royal power, in a single line, that led that very practical nation, the Greeks, to allow married incest. When Cato "lent" his wife to his friend Hortensius, it was because Hortensius, an older man and the greatest orator in Rome, was an important part of the alliance he was establishing against Caesar. (He would not give him his daughter, as would have been more natural, because she was already married to Caesar's worst single enemy, Bibulus.) Wealth, kingship, political power, and the display that go with them, were the levers that had broken monogamous marriage across the civilized world from Rome to China.

Even in the Christian West, and in spite of Our Lord's clear and revered teaching, the way of political power to get around His prescription was visible, often to the point of hilarity. In Ireland, indeed, polygamy was accepted by the local Church until at least 1200 in theory, and until 1500 and more in practise; in other words, it could not be uprooted until the English had set out to destroy the whole class of Irish lords in earnest. In the Germanic countries and in Italy, they took advantage of the fiction that the kind has two selves - his public and his private one - to invent the "morganatic marriage", a marriage that involved only the king as a private person. So many kings (such as the founder of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II) had two wives, one official and married as a matter of policy, but also meant to give him the heir, and one private, whose children were usually ennobled. In France we reach the height of farce: girlfriend of the King becomes, by the seventeen hundreds, an official post, and great balls are held to find the lucky candidate. As a result, the languid and undersexed King Louis XV chose the beautiful and accomplished Madame Pompadour as he had been expected to, but did little more, all her short life, than have friendly and enjoyable talks with her. It had taken enough out of him to have a son - the future guillotine victim, Louis XVI - with his official wife.

Obviously, nothing is clearer than that divorce, outlawed by the Catholic Church for more than ten centuries, re-entered the Western world thanks to the most brutal exercise of naked political power, that of Henry VIII. The results, for him, were absolutely disastrous; the first symptoms of that mental and physical illness that destroyed his life and ruined his kingdom were when he had Anne Boleyn, the very woman he had "married" after forcing his first wife away from him, murdered under form of law after less than a year of "marriage", out of a mere and monstrous suspicion that she had been having incestuous relationships with her own brother! Nobody ever saw any evidence of this beyond the King's suspicions, and I for one have no doubt whatever that this is nothing more than the paranoid fears of an aging and already very guilty man (he had already murdered his friend Thomas More and dozens of others, and unleashed the monster Thomas Cromwell upon the Church) when he saw his beautiful young "bride" chatting and enjoying herself with her brother - a young lord as handsome and charming as Henry himself had once been, and would never now be again. Mind you, Anne Boleyn was a home-wrecker and a slut, and while I don't say she deserved to be humiliated and murdered under form of law by the man she had seduced, she took her chances when she set her cap at an aging and already married tyrant. Kings are dangerous. But the principle of divorce, born in such elevated and admirable circumstances, remained on the English statute book, migrated to America with the first English settlers just as slavery did, was slowly broadened, and eventually spread across the West. And we are still lucky: if the Lutheran Philip of Hesse had successfully managed what he had plotted in secret together with Luther and seven of Luther's chief followers, Europe might have been saddled not only with divorce but with polygamy. But that proved a bridge too far, even for them.

Feminists ought to oppose divorce, polygamy and all other marriage "variations", because they are historically always born as displays of male power and that is what they are nine times out of ten in reality. However, I do not agree with what seems to be the implication here, that the degeneration of ordinary marriage has anything to do with the invention of "gay marriage". I think the issue there is quite different. Caesar may have married four wives, but did not consider marrying four husbands. Even in the most degenerate environments, men saw a fundamental difference between attachments between or within the sexes,and never thought of granting the status of marriage to the others. Juvenal makes a savage joke out of the very notion that a man might marry another.

No, the fact is that a new, and bad, doctrine has been introduced. It had, originally, nothing to do with sexuality at all. You may find it in a famous play, "Henry IV" by Pirandello, in which the protagonist manages to force the people around him to act as though he were the emperor Henry IV (a historical figure from the Middle Ages). Its basic doctrine is the omnipotence of the will, the notion that will forms the identity of a man independently of his/her birth, characteristics, connections. or anything else. This, it may surprise you, was the central doctrine of Fascism, I mean the real thing, the doctrine formulated by Benito Mussolini after he abandoned Socialism in the wake of World War One. Not surprisingly (although his admirers tend not to discuss the matter) Pirandello himself was a black-as-coal Fascist, a favourite of Mussolini's, and the head of Mussolini's Academy of Italy. The political relevance was that Italian Fascism promised Italy, a middling power in the shade of mightier neighbours, the ability to change itself into the Roman Empire, merely by concentrated will. Willpower was the god of the Fascists.

Having failed politically in the most extreme manner (and having shown for all the world to see that Willpower was exactly the quality which Mussolini most lacked), the doctrine of the omnipotence of the will and the malleability of the self migrated, of course, to the universities, especially in the USA. That is where you got people like the horrible Professor John Money applying them to real human beings in the context of sex. The rest you know. But the point is that, whatever evil we may have done or accepted in the context of normal marriage, "gay marriage" and the associated evils of gender ideology are something new. The drift away from the norm of one man, one woman, for life, is ancient, universal, and - taking the word to refer to fallen human nature - natural. The doctrine of the subservience of self and gender to will, on the other hand, is a wholly modern evil. It would be disastrous whether or not the situation of marriage were bad, just as it was disastrous - look at what it did to my country - when it had not yet been associated with gender and sex at all.

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An English translation of Luigi Pirandello's three most famous plays, including "Henry IV"; http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42148/42148-h/42148-h.htm
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125 years ago, Theodor Mommsen gave crushing evidence to prove that no piece of Roman history - meaning the traditional history, as told by Livy, Appian, Polybius and the other ancient historians - before 380 BC, and few before 275 BC, were reliable. Theodor Mommsen was not only one of the greatest historians of ancient Rome who ever lived, but one of the most widely read. Every specialist since is familiar with his work. And in fact his powerful argument - first set out in an article in a magazine called Hermes in 1886 - has been expanded and proved again and again by many other scholars, in particular the Italian Ettore Pais.

Get it? No story told about Rome before 380 BC, and precious few before 275 BC, are reliable history. The matter is complicated by the fact that, while the stories are certainly unhistorical, the stages in political evolution they describe do seem to have happened as they are described. Rome started out as a monarchy of sorts; it was ruled by Etruscan kings for about a century; when the Etruscans were driven out, it became a republic. And there seems to be a basic reliability, in spite of numerous variants, about the lists of consuls and other officials that were handed down. But the history, the history itself, is not history. It is a bunch of stories. It is a vast, indeed amazing, body of legends.

This is perhaps more significant to me than to many of my readers, because, being Italian - and with family connections with the city of Rome itself - these are my heroic past. Italian children learn stories about Romulus, Numa, Tarquinius the Proud, or Furius Camillus, at school, like American children learn about Washington and Lincoln and Irish children about Brian Boruma and Daniel O'Connell. But the fact that these stories are all just stories struck me very forcefully.

Now when the Greeks came to look at the Romans, the one thing they did not find was a large body of stories such as they had, about various gods and their interactions with each other and with heroes who were themselves sons of gods and often hardly to be distinguished from gods. (Herakles, Helen, Menelaus and Diomedes, to mention only a few, received divine as well as heroic cult.) And not seeing the kind of mythology they were familiar with, they concluded that the Romans - these people with their enormous amount of "historical" stories and heroes - had no mythology.

The Greeks could be excused for this gross category mistake. Scholars ever since Mommsen cannot. That textbooks, and indeed scholarly investigations, about Roman origins, continue to be produced, in which "the problem of Roman mythology" is seriously argued and repeated, is inexcusable and an intellectual scandal.
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An excellent account of what actually happened two days ago in Rome, by an American visitor: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/may/10051702.html . As I was in the city at the time (thouth I wasn't able to see the ceremony, being busy some twenty miles away), I can testify, first, that she has caught the atmosphere exactly: the little details sound just right; and second and perhaps more significant, that she has badly underrated the weather. It was not just bad or unseasonable: it was a monsoon, with days of steady and often vicious rain. On Saturday evening it had got so bad that, when I had to wait in the rain for half an hour for a bus, my very umbrella started leaking. The rain must have broken through the waterproofing. By the time the bus came, I was looking so wretched that, for the first time in my life (I am not yet 48), someone gave me a seat in a crowded public conveyance, as though I were a little old person. (I know that this was not just someone getting off, because he stayed for half a dozen more stops, chatting away with a friend.)

And this was the weather in which up to 200,000 people went to St.Peter's Square to show their support and affection for the Pope. I suggest the leading spirits in the BBC and both the London and NY Times commit seppuku, because there could be no more blazing proof that their hate campaign against Pope Ratzinger has comperehensively failed.
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I have taken these photos at various points in the last couple of years, but I never thought they were up to much. I am rather unhappy about publishing them when so many of my f-list are so astonishingly good. However!
Read more... )
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Quite apart from the appalling mutual hatred that has poisoned the air for years, and in which at this point it is useless to blame the original culprits - since the whole political spectrum has thrown itself in it with a will - there is the quite extraordinary self-importance, vanity, lack of sense of proportion, and preference for empty and useless show initiatives. For instance, a few months ago, nearly a dozen Italian cities offered to hold the Olympic Games. Now, it is quite clear that only cities of several million inhabitants and/or national capitals will be considered by the International Olympic Committee (Barcelona a couple of decades ago was an exception, but then the head of the IOC at the time happened to be from Catalunya). With the possible exception of the capital, there is not one city in Italy of anything like the necessary size - which is all the better for us; we don't need Mexico City-sized blots on our all too crowded landscape. And Rome itself has repeatedly failed, while Milan, our second city, has been informed that, for all their prestige and prosperity, they stand no chance. But this did not prevent ridiculously unsuitable municipalities such as Venice, Bari and Palermo from putting themselves forwards. The only reason why the whole world did not start laughing at us loud and long is that foreign journalists do not report from Italy. And now here is something even worse: the city of Rome seriously proposes to host a Formula One race, not even on a new circuit, but on city streets in the modern EUR quarter! Forget for a minute that we have a legendary circuit in Monza which is in need of improvement but still popular with racers and fans. Forget that if we needed a second circuit in Italy, there is the beloved and neglected Imola one, the spiritual home of Ferrari, in dire need of restoration but with a history second to few. Forget all that, I say, and just ask this: my family live in Rome. The city is overcrowded, thick with problems of every sort, in constant need of attention. Who the bloody Hell, I ask, who in the name of everything that's insane, needs this obstruction on public roads, making a frightful noise, interfering with public life (several government authorities and offices are located in EUR), costing a fortune, and achieving very little for the price? And in the name of God and Jesus Christ, does the city of Rome - Rome, I tell you - require any kind of advertising fillip, when every feature of the history of the West points you back to her, and Chinese tourists with no English crowd her roads? And I am certain - heck, I have lived in Rome long enough, and my family are all from there - that the citizenship positively does not want such a thing there. I am willing to stake my head on the certainty that nine citizens of Rome out of ten will react to this piece of news with anything from indignation to horror to disgust. For what damned reason, then, has Mayor Alemanno - a right-wing outsider elected on a reform and "clear out the bums" ticket - given this useless piece of extravagance a second thought? For what reason, indeed, other than if he ever were a reformer he has now evidently gone native, and cares more for extravagant prestige projects calling the attention of the rich and useless of this world to his person, than for doing his duty by those who elected him.
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...I can recommend you a place to eat. Of course, Rome is full of good restaurants - if you are lucky; and equally full of bad, rip-off places meant to exploit careless or ignorant foreign visitors. However, I can speak for the quality of this one. The name is Emilia Romana, and as the name suggests, it is untypical of Italian restaurants in that it draws on not one but two regional traditions - that of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy, and that of Rome itself. That is because the owner - a forceful yet charming lady in her thirties who presides over the service herself - is from Romagna, while the chef is Roman, allowing for successful cross-pollination. The place is tiny and quite new, only established, I think, since last year. The food is very good indeed, traditional rather than inventive, and well made; the prices are moderate, designed for the local office workers, and the service is excellent. In spite of never having been abroad, the owner speaks decent and confident English - I was able to compliment her on it, although some of you may struggle with her accent. And as everyone knows, you judge a public place on the quality of its toilets; I had occasion to use them, and they sparkled. It is near St.Paul's Gate and the Ostiense train and underground stations, a frequent tourist destination, so you will not struggle to find it; and it has its own website - www.emiliaromana.com, featuring a map showing the exact location.

If you visit Rome, go try it. I feel sure you will not be let down.

The buzz

Jun. 10th, 2009 02:15 pm
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I recently spent a couple of days in Rome on business. I mostly live and work in London, but I am involved in a company in Rome and from time to time I have to make brief dashes south. On this occasion, however, I was struck by a difference in mood, in the quality of activity and even attitude, between London and Rome - or rather, Italy. Rome is not regarded as the most entrepreneurial or industrial part of Italy; that honour belongs to the legendary industrial triangle of Milan, Turin, and their deep-water harbour, Genoa. To the contrary, the joint heritage of state administration and Church institutions - by no means restricted to the Vatican; for instance, practically every religious order in the world has either its leadership or a major office in the city - have given it a somewhat sluggish and cynical self-image. In the eyes of the entrepreneurial North, Rome is an idle, immoral Great Wen sucking in tax revenue. And yet, at practically every turn, I was struck by the practically universal presence of individual enterprise. There is supposed to be an economic crisis? Well, I dare say that the difference can be felt by those who live there; but a visitor from a genuinely blighted London, where people look for "jobs" to be given by others, is struck by just how much everyone, Italian and immigrant both, have their own projects, their ideas, their little plans on the boil. Go into a bar in mid-day, and you will find that half the people drinking coffee are talking business. Walk home through a residential area in the evening, and you will see two middle-aged gentlemen sitting in a parked car; they certainly are discussing something to do with the business plans of one or both. The average company is small, but busy. You see little workshops and moderate-sized storehouses and factories everywhere. The sense of activity is pervasive. I have no doubt that a certain amount of this activity will be at the edge of legality, or perhaps beyond; I well remember, years ago, doing a translation for a Roman intermediary who wanted to purchase American arms for Libya of all places - and would not take no for an answer from his American contacts. I have no idea how that particular business went, but though the idea would disgust most Italians, it would surprise none. The point however is that, coming from England, the sense of commercial alertness, and above all of individual willingness to have ideas and back them, to take one's risks instead of expecting work to be created by large institutions above, is absolutely impressive. I do not think there is a word to describe this atmosphere; the one that came to me as I awoke to it is simply "the buzz".
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...they say that you know that you are a Roman when you find yourself saying: "Most of the time, this town drives me crazy. But every now and then it just stops my heart how beautiful she is."



Roma capoccia

by Antonello Venditti


Quanto sei bella Roma quann'e' sera
How beautiful you are, Rome, in the evening
quanno la luna se specchia
dentro ar fontanone
When the moon comes out to see itself in the Great Fountain
e le coppiette se ne vanno via,
And pairs of lovers slowly stroll away
quanto sei bella Roma quanno piove.
How beautiful you are, Rome, when it rains.

Quanto sei grande Roma quann'e' er tramonto
How mighty you are, Rome, when the sun sets
quanno l'arancio rosseggia
ancora sui sette colli
When red and orange linger over the Seven Hills
e le finestre so' tanti occhi,
And all the windows are like so many eyes
che te sembrano dì': quanto sei bella.
That seem to say to you: How beautiful you are!

Oggi me sembra che
Today I feel as though
er tempo se sia fermato qui,
Time had stopped right here!
vedo la maestà der Colosseo
I see the majesty of the Coliseum,
vedo la santità der Cupolone,
I see the sanctity of the Great Dome,
e so' piu' vivo e so' più bbono
And I am more alive, and I am a better man for it.
no, nun te lasso mai
No, I shall never leave you,
Roma capoccia der monno 'nfame,
Rome the head - of this damn world!

'na carrozzella va co' du' stranieri
Two foreigners go by in a horse-drawn carriage.
Un robivecchi te chiede un po'de stracci
A rubbish dealer asking for some used rags -
li passeracci so'usignoli;
Even them damn sparrows, they are nightingales.
io ce so' nato, Roma,
I was born here, Rome,
io t'ho scoperta stamattina.
And I discovered you - only this morning!
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I think I have got straight, to my satisfaction at least, what makes Italy, and especially Rome, so special. It is not even beauty; it is what beauty points to. Think of Samuel Johnson's famous meditation on the isle of Iona:

We were now treading that illustrious Island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish, if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona!

True, noble, and beautiful. But if a man can get so much out of a small, tempest-tossed monastic island in the north seas, what can one get out of Rome? Piety would feed not only on the memory of St.Peter and St.Paul, not even on the succession of Popes and great ecclesiastics, but also on wholly local saints such as St.Frances of Rome or St. Philip Neri. Patriotism? I still remember my grandfather taking me to see the French cannonballs embedded in the walls in the Gianicolo Park, where in 1848 Garibaldi and his volunteers held back an overwhelming French enemy for a month, and Goffredo Mameli, the writer of our national anthem, died of gangrene from a wound at twenty. Art? No city in the world compares. Science? Enrico Fermi, one of the greatest scientists in history, established his group of brilliant researchers in the 1920s in Via Panisperna, and the group was ever since known by the name. Rome has the most ancient Jewish community in the world - and one of the few which is neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi - the memory of great musicians from Palestrina to Liszt and Respighi, the grief and horror of the Second World War, great parks, buildings from every style and age from pre-classical to twentieth century modern (Palazzo Civilta' del Lavoro, in the EUR quarter, has often been used as the background or inspiration for science fictional or supernatural settings) - everything loaded with grandeur, emotion and significance. And then there is the rest of the country. A person who travels through Italy travels through his or her own life, in every way that is significant.
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Hundreds of former and current students spent six months to organize a huge reunion in Rome to celebrate the retirement of their old elementary school teacher, Giovanna Bittoni, who reached the legal retirement age after forty years of unbroken service in the same school, Villa Paganini. Several made time to come from abroad, as far as China, and one person drove down all the way from Switzerland - a mere ten hours' drive.

It took long hard work, mostly on the phone and internet - tracking down old classmates, passing the word and hoping it would be passed in turn, even trying a name on e-mail companies such as yahoo and hotmail in the hope that the person concerned had an account there. Eventually, pretty much everyone was tracked down. A surprise party was organized. A few who really were unable to come, sent presents. There were piles of personal presents and a common gift from the whole group - a luxury trip abroad. It was their way of showing that they understood how much of her life she had given: "Giovanna has had a tough life, but she never asked for a moment's rest," said one of the organizers.

The lady, not being altogether a fool, had felt that something was being organized, but she was stunned at the scale of the event: "I could never have imagined such a surprise," she said. She recovered and more or less reviewed everyone present, remembering almost everyone back to the first year she had ever taught: "You," she would say to a successful-looking middle-aged man, "you would do nothing but play football. Italian and you were two completely alien things." But when she was given the presents, she was near to tears: "All this enthusiasm and generosity from my kids, and to think that they still remember, makes me feel happy, feel rich inside".

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Ms.Bittoni on realizing the scale of her retirement party

Some of the ex-students added that more good had come out of it: a lot of friendships have been born and reborn, and "now that we found each other again, we're not going to forget each other so easily again." "We send dozens of e-mails a day, chat away, swap views and advice, or simply remember the old days".
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[profile] bufo_viridis' suggestion that the Roman Republic must be seen as more aggressive than the Empire was not exactly what I meant either. So let me give you an overview of how I see early Roman history up to and including the Second Punic War; this, apart from anything else, will help to clear my own head with respect to subjects in which I am doing research, and provide a basis for future writings.

The first thing we have to remember is Mommsen's important discovery that practically everything that passes, on Roman testimony, for Roman history, until the fourth century, was in effect fabricated by Roman, probably patrician, writers, between 390BC and 275BC. Such is the fascination that Roman pseudo-history exerts on historians, that neither Mommsen himself, nor anyone - or almost anyone - since, has really drawn all the necessary conclusions from this shattering revelation; and to this day, we have historians seriously discussing the Etruscan and - even worse - Sabine presence in early monarchic Rome, although Dumezil has long since shown that the whole story of Etruscans and Sabines is not only a legend but a myth. All these things must, as a matter of sound method, be dumped; as must all the stirring stories of conflict between patricians and plebeians - all conveniently located before 275BC - and even, after Carandini's earth-shaking archaeological discoveries of the last twenty years, the famous story of the destructive Gaulish siege of 387BC.

Let us, instead, consider Italy as a whole. Rome, after all, only becomes important in Mediterranean and Western history when she becomes important in Italy. Read more... )
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...only a few days after Professor Carandini's discovery of the archaic royal palace on the Palatine, Vatican archaeologists have found what seems like the tomb of the Apostle Paul in the basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura. Wow...
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Roman Legend Legitimized?
ROME, Feb. 14, 2005


Legend has it that Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars, the god of war, who were suckled as infants by a she-wolf in the woods.

Now, archaeologists believe they have found evidence that at least part of that tale may be true: Traces of a royal palace discovered in the Roman Forum have been dated to roughly the period of the eternal city's legendary foundation.

Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's Sapienza University who has been conducting excavations at the Forum for more than 20 years, said he made the discovery over the past month at the spot where the Temple of Romulus stands today.

It is next to the Sanctuary of Vesta - the Roman goddess of the hearth - just outside the Palatine walls, site of the earliest traces of civilization in Rome.

Where previously archaeologists had only found huts dating to the 8th century B.C., Carandini and his team unearthed traces of regal splendor: A 3,700-square-foot palace, 1,130 square feet of which were covered and the rest courtyard. There was a monumental entrance, and elaborate furnishings and ceramics.

The walls were made of wood and clay, with a floor of wood shavings and pressed turf. It was tests on the clay that allowed the archaeologists to confirm the age of the find.

Carandini said the residence had "absolutely extraordinary dimensions, dimensions not formerly known."

"It could be nothing other than the royal palace," he said, adding that during that period the average abode was about one-tenth the size.

Carandini also found a hut where vestal virgins are believed to have lit a sacred flame.

Eugenio La Rocca, the superintendent for monuments for the city of Rome, said Carandini's interpretation of the ruins appears to be accurate.

"It seems to me that what is emerging from the excavation of Carandini, who can be considered the highest authority in this field, is a very coherent archaeological reading," La Rocca told the newspaper Il Messaggero.

"Whoever created the legend did so with the knowledge that behind it there was a historical foundation," he told the newspaper. "That doesn't mean the story of Romulus and Remus necessarily happened that way, but only that memory as it was handed down by the majority of the Latin writers is much more than a hypothesis."

In Rome's founding myth, the daughter of a king deposed by his brother was forced to become a vestal virgin to prevent her from having children. But Rhea Silvia became pregnant with sons of the god Mars.

When the infants were discovered, the princess was imprisoned and the babies were set adrift in a basket on the Tiber River - which today winds its way through Rome.

The twins floated ashore safely and were suckled by a she-wolf until they were rescued by a shepherd, who raised them.

When they learned the story of their past, they killed the usurper Amulius, restored Rhea Silvia's father - Numitor - to the throne, and set off to found a city on the site where they were taken care of by the wolf.

The image of the two naked babies looking up to drink the milk of the she-wolf became a recurrent theme in Roman art, and sculptures of the scene are scattered around museums throughout the nation.

While there is little evidence of the historical existence of twins called Romulus and Remus who founded Rome, the discovery of the palace offers tantalizing indications the legend had roots in fact.

Carandini began his career as an art historian before becoming involved in archaeological digs.

(From CBS news)

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