What's Right with the World

Return to Rome

Paul Theroux laments that the world is aging badly, that the world he knew as a young man has nearly vanished, that the decline and decay of precious things is everywhere apparent.  Theroux should know; he travels more than I do.  Also my own ventures at home and abroad depressingly confirm his impressions.  Except when Rome is my destination.

I have been visiting the Eternal City for only about a decade, a ridiculously short period in the life span even of such ephemeral places as Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  Still, history, and with it change, are greatly accelerated in the contemporary world.  And Rome is the city I never hesitate to return to, expecting to find some monumental building or bridge knocked down and replaced by a modern mediocrity, a neighborhood or park bulldozed and replaced by high-rise apartments and asphalt.  And so, every year or two for the past ten years, I’ve gone gliding down through a pastel Renaissance sky toward an early morning landing at Fiumicino, admiring the blue Tyrrhenean Sea smoothly foaming along the narrow beaches beyond the damp, green fields and dark forests of umbrella pine surrounding the terra-cotta farmhouses and villages as they slip beneath the wings of the plane, holding my Italian grammar open in my lap and anticipating the moment when, presenting my passport to Immigration, I catch the terse official’s eye and ask him, “Come sta, Signore?” with...

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