Friday, January 13, 2017

Rome Journal: Arrivederci, Roma!

If you read the lyrics to “Arrivederci, Roma” the hit Mario Lanza song that became the sound track for The Seven Hills of Rome (l957), you find it contains a scam. The crux is that if you throw a penny in the Trevi fountain you are going to “bind fate” so you will come back. But in the next stanza we learn that the minute the English girl throws her penny in the fountain a kid comes along and grabs it. Popular films were so lighthearted about the kind of poverty and despair more graphically portrayed say in a movie like Bicycle Thieves (1948). There a father Antonio (Laberto Maggiorani) and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) journey throughout the city in an exhaustive search to find a stolen item. De Sica’s masterpiece recalls Gogol’s famous short story The Overcoat where the poor civil servant Akaky Akakievitch is similarly deprived of something that symbolizes his dispossession. Here in a popular song, the notion of the turn around of fortune has far less gravitas but, is in some senses, equally invidious since the magic and enchantment of Rome and of believing that wishes will come true are removed all in one fell swoop—by a street urchin, of the kind that young Bruno threatens to become in the Bicycle Thieves' culminating scene where the father’s loss becomes compounded by a desperate crime. “While the English girl departs/a little kid comes by/goes into the fountain, picks a/penny, goes away!/Goodbye Rome!”  The words are actually quite sad when you think about it since the meaning relates the fact that the enraptured tourist may never be able to recapture the promise of an immortal beauty, symbolized by Rome.

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