The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Monday, March 31, 2008

Winos, Beggars and Bums

Rome has a lot of beggars. There are some old ladies along some of the big religious/tourist centers who have turned lying on their stomachs, armed outstreched and wailing into something of an art.

It also has lots of homeless people.I stumbled upon a man lying in the middle of sidewalk, the sun shining on his face. I thought something might be wrong so I tried to wake him. A guy at a nearby stall told me not to worry, don't worry, he's not collapsed or whatever you're thinking, he's sleeping. Oh. In the middle of the street? Yes, he drinks.

Aah. Winos, lovely. This is a picture of another chap, in the middle of pleasant piazza facing a beautiful basilica whose name escapes me, his back to an obelisk and a carton of wine within arm's reach. The best kind.

Election posters: La Sinistra

There seems to be elections in Italy for every job from Senate, to City Council to Mayor, to regional president to Prime Minster right now. The place is smothered in election posters, many of them rather quaint. There'll be dozens of the same guy on a wall one day, only to be covered the next by his rival. This has happened every day on a wall I walk past to get to school. There's about 10 layers of posters.

I have a soft spot for the Leftists. They're a feel-good mish mash of social democrats, socialists, greens and communists united under "The Rainbow". Lovely. They've got a weird feel. Sure, they have the generic smiling-old-white-guy posters, but they've also got some who seem to allude to some sort of "chicness" (whether green, commie, or hippie) or else allude to the past or very pre-1989-style class conflict.

First up is a poster of Aldo Moro, moderate president during the "Years of Lead" dominated by communist terrorism, he was kidnapped and killed by said terrorists. His party now leads the center-left coalition.

This guy running for the Senate has a bike. He might even ride it. Take that global warming!

"The difference of the communists within the union of the Left." I think this is my favorite poster. Something about the cigar-smoking old-school commie intellectual is simply charming.

Feminism:"For once stay quiet!" "You know: you only give birth if you want to."

Class conflict: "On the side of the workers, always."

International socialist solidarity: "In Spain Zapataro, in Italy the Rainbow Left."

"24 March 1944 - Ardeatine Massacre - Rome Does Not Forget" This poster refers to the execution by the Germans during WW2 of 335 Italians casually picked up the street, reprisals for an bombing attack by partisans which killed 33 Germans.

A rather ominous final poster given that self-declared fascists run in Italy. Still, one might question the relevance of crimes committed by Nazi Germans 64 years ago to today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

If Ann Coulter Ran for President

I noted that the book I got on Italy in WW2 seemed pretty apologetic. It also seems some Italians are pretty damn "liberal" when it comes to fascism in general... admittedly Mussolini was not all that bad as far as dictators go (he's no Stalin, Mao or Hitler), but still. One of the newspapers I got off the subway says of an interview with Daniela Santanche who introduces it with "the prime ministerial candidate for La Destra (a right-wing party independent of Berlusconi's coalition) attacks Fini (another right-wing politician), Berlusconi and immigrants in the name of traditional values."

She is divorced (funny how all the defenders of old-school values always seem pretty new-school themselves) but has kept her ex-husband's name because she had it for 20 years and "it's a brand, like Coca Cola." She seems to be in conflict with most of the rest of the right-wing, including granddaughter of the big M himself, Alessandra Mussolini (who claims Santanche does not represent the 'true right').

Santanche says she believes in "God, country and family." She claims to be a fascist if that means "to be strongly against the cultural hegemony of the left". She famously acted on those beliefs by publicly flipping off some students she claimed were unpatriotic.

When asked whether she would prove her fascist credentials by joining with Alessandra Mussolini, she said her ambition was higher: to be a "leader of the people". (capopopolo)

Santanche is also, incidentally, Italy's first female candidate for Prime Minister (way to be a 'first'!). So where other countries had Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Hillary, Merkel and Segolene.. here we have this fine pair of legs.

Monuments and Mussolini

Every day out on the weekend I've done in Rome so far have been blessed with sunny blue Mediterranean skies. On every stroll one seems to get a sense of how smothered in history this city (and Italy itself) is. I went to a big bookstore (which was rather appropriately split into two buildings, one solo-Italian, one mostly English, to segregate the tourists) to find a book in Italian on Italian history. I planned to get an easy one, maybe a kid's book. Instead, I browsed the history and politics sections for the longest time. I almost got Romano Prodi's little memoir of his 5 years as EU commission president but that cost something like 15 euros. Instead, I got 500 pages of Storia d'Italia nell'a guerra fascista for a cool 7 euros.

Now, you might say I bit off more than I can chew, and you might be right. But, I managed to slog through the introduction and first chapter with the help of my little bilingual dictionary. I get the gist of it, historians seem to write the same way across languages... It was published in 1969 so, perhaps rather expectedly, it's pretty apologetic. It even claims Mussolini declared war alongside Hitler mainly because he didn't have the troops to safely assert his neutrality (supposedly unlike Franco). Hmm!

I have enjoyed some of the quotes though. When Hitler annexed Austria (Mussolini was scared of Germany, Nazi or not, more than anything else) he declared that:
It would be the end of European civilization if this people of assassins and pederasts should invade Europe. Hitler is Dollfuss’s murderer, a horrible sexual degenerate, a dangerous madman.
Rather ironic given how common pederasty and homosexuality were in the Ancient World, but I digress...

Nonetheless, you can see how a guy like Mussolini would get delusions of grandeur by living in Italy, what with the weight of her heritage.

That the Way of the Imperial Forums, a big road Mussolini plowed through to make walking along the ruins of the Colosseum, the temples and the Roman forums easier.


At the same time, it's a bit schizophrenic...

I was pretty surprised when I saw the side of the Colosseum... almost like it's just some sort of facade.

This view from one of the arches feels like someone has just lumped together half a dozen world monuments with its ancient temples, basilicas, Brandenburg Gate-esque chariots... It feels almost like too much.

I would end this post with a flattering picture of the Vittoriano (the massive marble monument in the center of Rome built to celebrate the unification of Italy in the 1860s) but it (my luck) is largely covered up for renovation.

Instead I have a closeup of the huge equestrian statue of King Vittorio Emanuele II in the middle of the monument. Those bollocks, along with the rest of the statue, were completed in the 1900s (a mere 4 decades after unification.. the original sculptor died it had to be finished by another) and are made of solid bronze.

The guys who commissioned the statue quite self-consciously picked a man-on-horseback in imitation of all those Roman-conqueror statues. They were worried the realism might not be in keeping with the classical style of their models.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Diggs + Night Out

My diggs are lovely. That was partly luck as one of my colleagues landed in a bedbug-ridden, flooding, faraway flat (she's been moved since somewhere else). I practically have the place to myself as I've only seen my landlady (a pleasant, young, pregnant (?) Italian woman) twice.


It's also tastefully decorated with various Italian and American pop culture:

The shower is a bit cramped though the bathroom is nice and even has a bidet.

...very convenient.

After about a week here I realised I had been walking past this building on the way to school every day:


And, of course, a 15 minute walk away is the Colosseum.

That was taken on a night out last Friday. The class went for drinks and then went to a lovely (CHEAP) pizzeria with outdoor heating. They served us housewine for 4 euros a liter, but Donna, a classmate who has been in Italy for years argued with the waitress that it was bad wine ("Questo vino e dell'aqua!" "Blah de blah" "Reteh teh"). We then ordered some 8 euro bottled wine and, I was sorry to note, it's all the same to me. It was good pizza anyway and we all (minus posh-accent, reactionary, Zero-Italian but looks Italian because of Maltese blood, Andy) chatted in various degrees of Italian.

I strike a completely unnatural pose:

The class, one or two missing, looking very chummy + somebody's boyfriend in a red scarf and an Italian incrusting himself with a grimace at the very back (pic was taken with the cam on a car using its timer)

Points to anyone who can guess people's nationality/origin. There's no one exceedingly mixed up in this pic apart from your's truly.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Flight Here

Just some pics on the way here.

In Nice airport (old news I know, but all the more shocking):

In Nice airport's bookstore (I was there for 6 hours):

Totally unrelated to Paul McKenna's You Can Make Me Rich (by buying this book).

Some positively English weather followed me to Rome. However, we had a sunny weekend (which is the only time we have to do stuff), so all is well. Picture of my airplane at Fiumicino airport:

Oh, and on my flat's doorstep, an aqueduct! It's been around since before the farthest back traceable person in your family tree was born.

Real pictures of Rome to come.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

First Day in Rome

Minus some technical difficulties, all is well in Rome. The weather is grey and England-esque.

Other things are going well however. My accommodation is gorgeous, I have the whole place to myself and school is only 15 minutes away. I had my first class today, and it looks set to be intense. My fellow trainees are a young, motley bunch, including a Brit-Maltese, California princess, Brit who is fluent in Italian and has lived here 7 years, a Brit who like me took a Hist-Poli Sci course and loves Peep Show-American Dad, and one (1) Italian who graduated in the UK. They are mostly one form or other of Brit or American. The trainers are very nice and from various Anglo backgrounds.

It really reminds reminds me of Haut Sartoux and the CIV!!

More to come.