Thursday, 10 April 2014

Rome: In Color

This is part of a series of posts about a trip to Rome and the surroundings. I also went to Florence, which was more regal than Rome, Herculaneum, which had fewer pickpockets than Rome (they had been killed by red-hot ash many years ago), Anzio, from which the Allied armies found it easy to check out but hard to leave, and briefly Naples, and also Rome again, but in black and white. I took a cute old Olympus XA rangefinder camera and a bag of mostly Kodak Ektar, and a Holga. This post essentially hoovers up the leftovers, which is why it has so much padding.

I begin. In 1884 W Cope Devereux described Rome and Italy as "an empire once so mighty, the Mistress of the World; then for so long desolate and entombed, a city of ruins; and now, phoenix-like, rising rapidly from her ashes, and preparing as "Young Italy" to take her place as a power among the other nations of Europe, many of whom have already welcomed her as a sister" (from Fair Italy, which is available at Project Gutenberg).

Sadly, the other nations of Europe seem to have regarded "Young Italy" as a pesky gypsy beggar girl rather than a sister, and the country had a pretty miserable century ahead of it. Italian people lived and loved, and in the end Italy survived in better shape than Austria-Hungary or the Ottoman Empire, but it had a bad deal. On a geographic-economic level Italy is a bit like Great Britain turned upside-down; the monied landowners are concentrated in the north, the poor tenants live in the south. Without an Empire, Italy lagged behind the other European powers, and millions of the most enterprising Italians emigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. Italy was on the winning side in the Great War, but ended up in the same situation as Britain circa 1945; bankrupt, heavily in debt, with nothing much to show for years of fighting except for a vague feeling of righteousness. Amidst economic malaise and a sense that it was all the fault of the Communists, Italy turned to fascism, which left it worse off than before.

As Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves pointed out, life in post-WW2 Italy was not much fun, although less bleak than Rossellini's Germany Year Zero (at least some of De Sica's characters can afford a bicycle). Fortunately a combination of aid from the Marshall Plan and a general European recovery in the late 1950s gave Italy an economic miracle second only to that of Germany, and by the 1960s Italy's levels of growth were higher than ours. Here in the UK there were was a genuine albeit minority concern that we were heading for some kind of neo-fascist takeover in the 1970s, on account of the parallels with Weimar Germany or post-Great War Italy; things never got that bad, and it seems ridiculous now, but I can understand why people might have been worried about Britain at the time.

Nowadays Italy is one of the PIIGS, although it's not as piggy as Spain or Greece. It's a little PIIG. The country is famous amongst people of my generation for The Italian Job (1969), which might easily have been called Mini Thieves ho ho.

They steal the Minis, don't they? They steal all the other cars, and go to Italy to steal Italian money, because in 1969 Britain was running out of money. Italy is something of a void for British people. It is famous for the cars and clothes and ancient monuments, and it's a popular holiday destination, but it's nowhere near as popular as Spain, and far fewer British people retire there than France or indeed Spain. Very wealthy people such as Polly Toynbee retire to Tuscany, but the average middle-class Briton dreams of retiring to Spain. Or dreamed, because Spain is increasingly notorious for its opaque property laws, and this has put off a lot of retirees.

I would go so far as to say that when British people think of Italian people, they actually think first of the stereotypical Italian-American; Nintendo's Mario, for example. Historically, the Roman Empire conquered us, and Victorian England had a thing for the ancient Romans - we were their heirs - but that wasn't modern Italy. After Imperial Rome fell, we were at war with the Catholics for many years, but it was the Spanish Catholics that were our enemies. Italy is close enough that it is not Eastern Europe, which is one great mass of miserable-looking thin people, but far enough that it was never used as a springboard for invasion, and the naval battles of the Second World War were generally overshadowed by events elsewhere. The Mediterranean is another one of those forgotten theatres, perhaps because is a modern-day assumption that the successful aerial attack on Taranto ended matters then and there and that the attacks on Malta were solely the work of the Luftwaffe.

Nowadays Italy's space agency wipes the floor with ours, their trains are faster than ours and work just as well if not better, fares are cheaper, and there are worse places to be poor.

"mostly in color"

The most obvious day trip from Rome is the Lido, which is the local beach resort; Italian men go there to drive their lowered Fiats back and forth along the seafront.

I went in March, which meant that I had the beach almost to myself, because March is too cold for Italians. And so I stood alone on the beach and imagined that a gigantic ringed planet was rising on the horizon, behind towering clouds of ice. On the way to the Lido there is a miniature Pompeii called Ostia Antica which I ignored because it was baking hot with direct sunshine and I was tired.

Naples-Herculaneum-Pompeii and Florence are both fairly expensive or slow train rides away from Rome, very and very in the case of Florence unless you book far in advance. Anzio is much closer, has a beach, and feels more pleasant than the Lido. Venice is just possible as a day trip, albeit that with a return ticket costing around €160 per person it's an expensive day trip.

And that was Rome. It has been around for some time and will still be there next year, the year after, a thousand years from now. All of the shots on this page were taken with an Olympus XA using a mixture of Kodak Ektar and Fuji Superia, except for the shots taken with a Holga, which were taken with a Holga.

On the way home, in the evening; England is north-west of Italy.