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Friday, 21 May 2010

Italy - Where Have You Gone?

By Ernest Leichter

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot

Italy was truly a magical kingdom to me in the 1960s. I was young and had never been overseas. To suddenly be transported to an enchanted place and given a great teaching position on a military base was a dream come true.

I felt safe living in the small, northern Italian town of Vicenza. The townspeople were friendly to Americans. At the school, we had extra vacation time because we celebrated both American and Italian holidays. Who wouldn’t want to spend their leisure time at pristine lakes like Garda and Como. Who wouldn’t want to see a spectacle like the opera, Aida (complete with elephants) at the outdoor arena in the nearby town of Verona.

All good things don’t last forever. In the 1970s, Americans were no longer treated like royalty in Italy. Protests by the Italian masses against the Vietnam War turned ugly. President Nixon was hanged in effigy. The second largest political party in Italy in the 1970’s was the Communist Party. I finally came to the conclusion that I would be better off returning to America. I left Italy in 1975.

In 1984, I returned to Italy to visit old friends. I was shocked at what I saw on the walls of Rome. There was graffiti all over the railroad station and the nearby buildings. No monuments were exempt from the territorial gang writings. This included the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. It seemed like no Italian agency was doing anything to paint over the eyesore scribbling on the walls.

In addition to the graffiti problem, many of the tourist attractions such as art museums were closed for repairs. Near the end of my vacation, while trying to get on a crowded train, my wallet was stolen. Before I realized what had happened, $2,000 had been charged to my MasterCard.

This incident was the last straw as far as I was concerned. It proved to me that Italy was just like any other industrialized country. My Italian friends told me that no longer could people walk arm and arm through the streets at night without the fear of being mugged. The three-bolt lock was now used by many families.

I promised myself after the robbery that I would never return to Italy. I wanted to remember the beautiful Italy of the 1960’s.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

You are right, countries in Europe and all over have changed, but we have all changed too. The first time I went to Italy was in 1958 – it was wonderful. The last time I went to Italy was November 2009 – it was wonderful. I know there are graffiti and crimes, but that is happening all over. I came to the US in the 60s and loved it, and am seeing how it has also changed with people being more greedy, selfish. Italy is still a beautiful country with great landscape, lovely warm people and great food. We walked allover Genoa, went into a small shop where I wished to buy a certain small pressure cooker. The merchant was so helpful and understood what I needed. We at a great expresso by the harbor – and no place has such good coffee, even Seattle. In 2000 I went to Pisa and took the train to Lucca, it is very picturesque. I was alone, never had a problem. You know my daughters and I have traveled all over the world. They both were mugged but in the US, one in Baltimore, the other daughter in Atlanta. Go back to Italy, to the little towns, like Lucca and Montepulciano near Pisa, you will enjoy them. None of us can return to the 60s.

Very interesting and well-written, Ernest. I lived in Japan 1960 to 1966. It was still poor then and the air was filled with charcoal smoke from outdoor cooking fires. On return in 2000 to Tokyo, a city of 18,000,000, we found a spotlessly clean place, not even a cigarette butt on a sidewalk. Still, it definitely was not the 60s though we experienced no street crime like you did. Thanks again for a very interesting story.

I feel this same sense of sorrow for Paris.

Ernest, John & I can relate to your shock at the sight of graffiti on churches & ancient monuments. Also shocking to us were the nasty Bush graffiti messages. But since we had never seen your Italy of the 60s, we accepted it as "a sign of our times" & looked beyond it for the beauty of the country & it's people. Happy to say we found them, & hope to return some day.

I first went to Italy in 1986. I didn't see any graffiti, but maybe I was in the wrong place or just didn't notice. I loved it and toured as far North as Lake Como and as far south as the Isle of Capri. I returned to Rome 12 years later and found it charming.

I was robbed in Morocco. It can happen anywhere.

How lucky you all are to be able to travel to these wonderful places.

I’ve not been to Rome yet, but it will be my next big vacation. My husband was there in 2000 and was involved in an attempted robbery. At least you have your wonderful memories of how it used to be.
I could not help but wonder after reading your story—America—Where Have You Gone? I’ve not seen so many uniformed officers in NYC as this past weekend. So I guess I, too, have memories of how it used to be.

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