The Decline of Rome
Our Oct. 14 story on Rome's problems incited Romans, their friends and countrymen to champion the Eternal City. Citing Dante, Rembrandt and the Beatles, they took issue with our list of the city's woes.
Is Rome Really in a Rut?
Your Oct. 14 article "'Carp' Diem" (Europe) quite correctly identifies Rome's acute crisis of identity which, in my opinion, stems largely from the attitudes of its inhabitants. For more than 2,000 years, Rome's rulers--emperors, popes and others--have been providing its inhabitants with the proverbial bread and circuses. In the year 1300, Pope Boniface VIII (whom Dante put in the Inferno even before he died!) invented the Jubilee, or "holy year," marking Rome as the center of Christendom to help Rome's weak economy with incoming pilgrims. Nowadays, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is unable to even start the privatization that he had promised in his program. Possibly he is overwhelmed by the resistance of state-owned companies, based in Rome, which either receive annual aid from the government or charge monopolistic rates to their customers. Bravo, NEWSWEEK, for acknowledging and discussing some of these highly complex problems.
What a confused article on Rome! As an American who's lived in Rome since 1985, I can confirm that Romans are as frustrated as Barbie Nadeau about the chaos, congestion and corruption that plague their city. But what she sees as weaknesses, I see as strengths. Those who make the effort to understand this complex and ancient city on its own terms are well rewarded. Visitors who seek an "almost like home" experience should stay away. Torpidity and decay? No! Rome's social fabric is tough and durable; its infrastructure has probably never been better. Electronic supermarkets? OK, they may be a fun experiment, but Romans buy their food fresh from local markets, where they have shopped for generations. Gearing up to get maximum tourist revenues is a double-edged sword. The Romans know which edge best serves their own interest.
How can you write that "cultural liveliness, business vibrancy and the conveniences of modern living" are lacking in a city where we've just had an extraordinary season of cultural events? Where, in the past three years, the economic growth rate has been higher than the Italian national average, and where some of the most important European telecommunications and multimedia-production industries are located? It is not right to say that Rome has not "invested considerable time and treasure in promoting its attractions" when the Borghese Gallery, Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Braschi and countless archeological sites have been reopened and the largest auditorium in Europe will be fully functioning by December. It is equally absurd to maintain that "pop stars and performers of every stripe, finding Rome to be a sure money loser, have written the city off their European tours." Rome has, in recent weeks, been host to the concerts of talents like Paul Simon, James Taylor and Mstislav Rostropovich, to name just a few. As for visual arts, recent exhibitions have focused on Rembrandt, German expressionists, the colored marbles of imperial Rome and the Beatles. And speaking of tourism, Rome has felt the aftermath of 9-11 much less than other major European cities.
Paolo Soldini Head, City Press Office
As an Italian, born and raised in Milan, I'm aware that changes are needed in Rome's organization and infrastructures and, above all, in the Roman mentality. But Barbie Nadeau describes the city without understanding that one cannot expect from Rome what one can from New York; she also fails to appreciate that what you find in Rome you will not find in New York. If Rome lacks "business vibrancy," well, you're not supposed to feel that in the Eternal City. If that's what you're looking for and can't live without, you've landed in the wrong place-- go to Milan, or stay at home. …