Rome. My favourite city

Rome has had a tough year, with some of the familiar stereotypes about mob rule being vindicated in style. But it is still the most fantastic city on earth, and you couldn't make a better choice for a summer break

Rome: the jewel in Europe's crown
Tim Hedges
On 2 August 2015 05:43

Thinking of coming to Rome for your holidays? Don’t do it, advises the New York Times. Certainement pas says Le Monde. Rome, they say, is in a terrible state.

Now, to be fair, the NYT article is not the caricature, Trip Advisor whine. It is indeed true that some of the buildngs have had no maintenance done for nearly 2,000 years but that is not what the article is about. This was a studied piece recounting the declining quality of life in the Italian capital, what the Romans themselves call ‘degrado’: degradation.

Rome has not had a happy time of it this year. A while back I wrote about ‘Mafia Capitale’, where it turned out that a home grown mafia were being awarded a variety of public sector contracts, even management of refugee centres. A suspected mobster, in an intercepted call, described them as more profitable than cocaine.

Since then, there have been scores of arrests and a number of resignations from the city council. Mayor Ignazio Marino has been forced to enact an emergency reshuffle of the ruling body.

And still the scandal comes out. Salvatore Buzzi, one of the alleged central figures, has described to magistrates how PD councillors, those of the ruling party, were ‘ravenous’ for bribes.

In addition there has been the transport system in Rome. A series of strikes has made life for the Roman commuter a misery. And there have been much publicised stories of buses with broken air conditioning, and a crowded underground train setting off with the doors sill open.

At the main airport of Fiumicino (proper name Leonardo da Vinci) a few months ago a fire in a coffee bar wiped out Terminal 3. Last week someone burning rubbish started a forest fire outside the airport which caused flight cancellations, only to be followed by a complete power outage.

And oh yes, the rubbish. All the papers, and every local website has pictures of rubbish abandoned in the streets as the local system struggles to keep up.

Naturally, there have been calls for the mayor, Ignazio Marino, to resign. Prime Minister Renzi, despite being of the same party, has offered only half-hearted support, saying that if he can govern he should do so, and if he can’t he should leave.

No one, it should be said, accuses Marino of having anything to do with the mafia scandal. He is far too nice and had no idea what was going on. And that, for many, is his problem: far too nice.

But people realise that previous administrations, who perhaps did know how the city worked, did nothing to stop it.

The reaction of Romans too all this is mixed. Some are delighted that the New York Times article and the follow-up piece in Le Monde have brought international attention to a problem they have been highlighting for years.

The website Roma fa Schifo (Rome is disgusting) has been pointing out the shameful bits since 2008. This is nothing new.

Others are more resentful: it really isn’t that bad for most. My flat is in the centre and there are plenty of police, the rubbish is emptied two or three times a week (better than London), you can drink the water from the public fountains and scenically .... well, the place is just staggering.

There are a few beggars, but there always have been. Occasionally the bars or restaurants are a rip-off, but they publish their menus outside and by and large you eat very cheaply. For many, the boneshaker buses hurtling along the cobbled streets are an attraction.

Go there, not to the suburbs where the refugee camps are. Go to the centre, to the Eternal City. Eat the wonderful food, have an ice cream at Gioilitti, experience the life. Where else in the world can you see wonderful churches, breathtaking monuments and unique ancient ruins all in the middle of a modern, functioning metropolis?

It is my favourite city on earth.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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