THE SPINE FEBRUARY 6, 2010
First, I'm back. And back from Rome, at that. I'm not sure that modern Romans actually appreciate the antiquity amidst which they live, an antiquity that goes back eight centuries before the birth of Christianity. Which means that the Etruscans, the Greeks, and the Jews were there before, well before the Romans. In my New York city public high school--OK, it was Bronx Science, but still--I had the emperors memorized from Romulus to Romulus Augustus, and probably could then stipulate the significance of at least ten: Julius Caesar, Caligula, Titus, Claudius, Marc Antony, Diocletian, Marcus Aurelius, Caracalla, Julian the Apostate. My favorite was, of course, Hadrian the Zionist. He was more than that. But I already saw him as an ally in the past. During his rule in Rome, a graffiti artist in Jerusalem scratched into one of the huge stones of the demolished Temple Mount a couplet from Psalms 126, "When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like those who dreamed."
Rome today is a stage set. But what a magnificent stage set it is. And, as a Jew, I had (for maybe the eighth or ninth time in my life) a contempt for the Arch of Titus, which marks the dispersion of the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple and celebrates the grandeur of the empire whose work it was.
That empire is now Italy, a society so corrupt, so inefficient, so illogical, so pompous. One of my Italian friends complained that officialdom makes it especially difficult for an honest person to pay his taxes honestly. Another reported, more or less authoritatively, that northern Italy is the richest country in Europe and that southern Italy is the poorest. Oriana Fallaci, a patriotic Florentine, once screamed at me that Italy should be carved up in two, with everything south of Rome being sent out to sea.
Still, Italy wants to be a friend of America--if Barack Obama would let it, if Obama would let any European country be a friend of America. The Italians have a nostalgia for their own imperium. Which is why they are almost always willing to send troops to wherever. Their uniforms are splendid. And they march in step.