Magazine article The New Yorker

ASK PASQUINO; ROME POSTCARD Series: 3/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

ASK PASQUINO; ROME POSTCARD Series: 3/5

Article excerpt

President Bush arrives in Rome this Friday to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the caput mundi from Nazi occupation. The day promises a collision of two notions of America: the America that rolled into Rome from the south on the evening of Sunday, June 4, 1944, as the German Army retreated northward; and the America that will fly in on Air Force One for a protest-filled one-day visit. In order for the latter America to celebrate the former America safely, overwhelming security will be required; the city is bracing for una giornata blindata, an armored day--a rather unfortunate way to celebrate liberation. Many Italians don't want Bush to attend the celebration at all, preferring to enjoy their pro-American feelings without the intrusion of "the other America," as the papers refer to the present-day United States.

Elderly Romans still like to talk about their first vivid glimpses of the G.I.s on that day, sixty years ago. When the advance units of General Mark Clark's Fifth Army appeared in the city, the Romans weren't sure if they were Allies or Germans; their clothes and vehicles were so dusty that the insignia were obscured. But when the soldiers took out their cigarettes, and the people saw that they were smoking Camels, they knew the Americans had arrived. Italian women climbed up on tanks to kiss the grimy faces of the G.I.s. As the historian Robert Katz recounted in his book "The Battle for Rome," an American soldier named Thomas Garcia, on seeing the Colosseum for the first time, uttered the immortal words "My God, they bombed that, too!"

Photographs of that day are on display at the Museum of the Liberation of Rome, on Via Tasso. In spite of its name, the museum is more concerned with the nine-month-long occupation and the memory of the partisans who died during that time than with the arrival of the Americans. The museum is in a former S.S. and Gestapo command center of occupied Rome, which served as a prison for partisans. Some of the cells in which prisoners were kept, awaiting torture and execution, are preserved as they were, and there are also heartbreaking artifacts, like a chunk of bread on which a condemned partisan carved his last words ("courage, mamma") and the lullaby that a condemned priest wrote for the wife of a fellow-prisoner, who was going to have a baby.

The librarian at the museum, Corrado Lampe, views Friday's celebration with skepticism. …

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