Mar 16, 2011
04:12 PM

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

“I’ve spent as much time over the last 30 years as I possibly can because Italians seem so ambivalent about the modern world’s arrival.”
—All Broads Lead to Rome, 
By Michael Wolff, 
Vanity Fair, September 2009

I just came back from an incredible few weeks performing in Florence and Catania, Sicily. As was the case with all of my previous performances in Italy the Italian public was attentive and interested. They showed up in force for the last show: One-thousand people payed homage in Florence. As a performer it was an unbelievably gratifying experience.

We were in and out of Florence and Catania, so most of my stay I was in Rome. I came back from an active audience and accolades to a city of inspiration. The architecture. The sculptures on street corners. The massive fountains.

Being around this grandeur made me feel very sad about the current state of Italy.

It was two years since I had last been to Italy. From the moment I stepped off the plane everyone I spoke with told me that the economic crisis had a huge negative impact. Conditions feel like they are getting worse. Friends in professional theater spoke about how their wages have been cut to almost unlivable levels. And it doesn’t look like this will change in the near future.

I spent an evening walking through the Roman Forum with a group of Romans. One of them turned to me and said: “You can’t invent such a fantasy of history as what you can imagine happened in Rome.” As they pointed out the significance of, what to me was a pile of rocks, I got the sense they were trying to prove something: “See, our country could be great, too!” It also was apparent that this pride takes a new dimension in a time of decay; they are especially proud because they do not have much as a country to be proud of now — and haven’t for a long time.

In The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman he asks: “Does your society have more memories than dreams or more dreams than memories?” Because if you have more memories than you are on the decline. During the course of my stay I didn’t hear one hopeful comment about the future of Italy. When I heard about the nation as a whole it was about one of two periods: Ancient Rome or the fascist period. Fascism was when things went from bad to worse (or temporarily better, depending on who you talk to). But, Ancient Rome — that is the time to remember! Current events? Too despicable to talk about with self respect. All memory and no forward thinking.

The Italians are waiting for someone, anyone, to step through the levels of corruption and muck to do something, anything, to improve the economic situation. Yet, most remain cynically inactive and brooding on the past.

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