Monday, January 22, 2018

Rome Journal: The Great Library at Termini

photo: Francis Levy
Not far from Termini, the central train station in Rome, with its ominous sounding name, are a number of sodden green painted wooden bookstalls, of the kind you still see in Paris along the Seine. The only difference is that these are more beaten down and forgotten. Some just sell editions of old paperbacks in all languages, some are devoted to art books, but a few sell pornographic tapes and magazines with titles like Sex Slave. Even in terms of porn the material displayed is the kind of dated stuff that can only be found on old VCR tapes. The purveyors of these goods are the kinds of guys in raincoats who used to haunt the old 42nd Street peep shows. This lost landscape is really Graham Greene territory. Readers of Brighton Rock might be looking out for the local Pinkie. But in our era of political correctness these stalls may turn out to be the last place on earth that you’ll one day find copies of banned classics like Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. If the world continues to spin in its current direction, there may, in fact, be an upsurge of traffic to the bookstalls near Termini which will be the last place on earth where free speech still exists. Libraries will only be carrying the sanitized version of Huckleberry Finn.  So if you want to read it in the original, you will have to fly over to Rome where it will be lined up alongside work by other banned authors like Sophocles and Garrison Keillor, whose triggering warnings have given them an X rating. The stalls at Termini may one day rank with Alexandria as one of the great libraries of history.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Rome Journal: The Fast Lane

The collective unconscious of Italy possesses a massive superego known as the Catholic Church. Placing the Vatican City in the middle of Rome is like having power brakes on a high powered car. There's no secret to the fact that the degree of liberalization in a society is inversely proportional to degree to which the so-called pleasure principle may be compromised. Steven Marcus demonstrated this years in ago in his iconic tome, The Other Victorians. Could the profanity, apostasy and lustfulness of Italian society that Americans so covet be the result of having a strong papa or Pope. You can only waiver and test when you're reassured the parent is safely ensconced in home. It’s not surprising that one of the most sacrilegious films of all time, Pasolini’s Salo, a brilliantly lurid take on Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom was made in Italy. And let’s not forget the same director's The Decameron, Bertolucci’s Last Tango or Bellocchio’s Devil in the Flesh. Tourists from more permissive societies should look not only at the hedonism of antiquity in trying to understand the sensuality of Italian society. It’s precisely the oppressive manners and mores of a powerful religion that allows the populace to go nuts.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Rome Journal: A Taxi Ride

Mussolini and Hitler in Berlin (photo: Ladislav Luppa)
An otherwise innocent taxi ride can turn into a hijacking. On a recent afternoon in Rome, a tourist decided to grab the first cab he saw because of a one day strike which had shut down the buses and subways. The driver wasn’t familiar with the address and there was some back and forth as he failed to get the name right and find it on his Google maps. Finally the driver found it and the tourist lay back feeling he had made the right decision in taking a cab rather than trying to walk to his destination in the light rain, which had begun to fall. He’d relax and watch the scenery which consisted of the Aracoeli Steps and the Colosseum. But just as he lay his head against the window, the driver started to talk. The tourist knew a few words of Italian, yet he strained to understand the argument which was that the Germans were responsible for the strike that was occurring. The price of gas had gone up for Italians and it was from what the tourist could make out the German's fault. As they rode along the Tiber, the driver then commented that “gli Ebrei,” were the ones to blame. It just so happened that at this very moment the cab was passing a synagogue and the driver pointed to it indignantly to underscore his point. The tourist being a Jew wasn’t sure exactly what to do. Italy had a history of fascism and there were still fascists in the country, the way France still had its apologists for Petain. “Where are you from?” the driver asked in English. “Sono Ebreo di Manhattan,” the passenger replied.  There was a pregnant pause. “Non sono razzista,” the driver said with a shrug. His passenger wasn’t sure what to say and not  being able to remember the Italian word “pace” simply said “peace.” The driver looked nonplussed. Fate L’amore non fate la Guerra. The 60’s expression came back as the cab reached its destination. The tourist paid his 10 Euro fare and slipped away into the night.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Rome Journal: Servizi per il territorio

They are the genial storm troopers who patrol mass transit in Rome. Wearing a black uniform on the back of which read “Servizi per il territorio” with Roma Capitale embroidered in red underneath this officer of transportation law stopped passengers without valid metro tickets. Romans apparently take their transportation seriously and those caught trying to sneak under the wire, will be brought to justice. As a 75 bus on its way to Termini passed the famed Colosseo stop, several passengers were showing their identification to a second officer who was dutifully recording their statistics on his smart phone, before stepping off the bus and disappearing into the rush hour crowd. There are soldiers carrying machine guns and automatic rifles all through the downtown area in front of major sites like the Teatro Marcello and the Vittorio Emmanuelle monument on the Piazza Venezia. And though the era when the Carabinieri created fear and loathing are long gone, there's still a residue of the old days when the separation between church and state was less palpable and the laws of the church, especially pertaining to sexual indiscretions, were upheld with similar dispatch.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Rome Journal: An Oasis for Depressives

It’s nice to speak another tongue. It’s a way of thinking. For instance, if you’re a depressive, it can be a change of pace to be depressed in French or Italian. Rome is a wonderful place in which to fall into a depression, once you’ve got a hang for the local dialect. It’s a lot different than say being depressed in your usual metropolitan New Yorkese.  New Yorker’s have a world weary affect that reflects itself in the slang acronyms they like S.O.S. But Romans employ lots of friendly little words like “quindi,"“supratrutto”‘purtroppo,” and “communque.” They're armed with qualifiers which ęnable them to convince themselves that feelings aren’t facts and they're not in as bad a shape as they may originally appear to be. Artichcoke is a favorite Roman dish and "carciofi alla Romana," is the opposite of suicidal ideation. Fellini’s intellectual in La Dolce Vita, Steiner, who commits suicide, might have been spared (at least creatively) if he had been in café on the Via Veneto mouthing the name of the dish and the same goes for "cacio e pepe" or for that matter "Cinecitta," the name of the famous film studio on the outskirts of Rome. "Gianicolo," "Fontana di Tortuga," "Parco degli Acquedotti" are all the name of places in Rome which are like serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Once you say them, you feel the cloud begin to lift.