The victorious Vittoriano

Monsters are scary. They are bigger than us. They represent the greatest evil, what we fear most. They are our worst fears personified. They are our worst mistakes and illustrate how far we fear we may slip from good.

What do our heroes represent? They are what we aspire to be. What we ourselves cannot always be. They are our goals, hopes, and desires in living form. They are the antithesis of monsters, the repelling force against evil.

How can a monument to a hero be a monstrosity then? Vanity, pride, deceitfulness, and lies can easily be represented in artistic and creative forms. Such is the basis for propaganda. Usually the word propaganda brings forth overt images like those used by all sides in WWII or the style used during the Cold War to keep the American public away from the commie lies and ease the everyday fears the people of the day faced. But those are more aggressive and obvious instances of propaganda. Could something maintain that in your face quality while still being a more subtle and refined instance of progaganda? Certainly. Allow me to introduce you to the Vittoriano.

Situated in the heart of Rome, at the terminus of Via del Corso, and casting a shadow upon the Roman Forum sits the monument to Victorio Emanuele II. It is a beast of a monument. It is so big that it seems to be even bigger because a visitor cannot keep it all in their field of vision unless they cross the Piazza Venezia and even then it seems impossibly large as it stretches off into the distance and toward the heavens. What could the designers possibly have been trying to convey with this marble monster?

Power. Unbridled and unmistakable power. The country of Italy was official formed into the debacle that we know it as today in 1861, with later conflicts to take over the hold out city of Rome, after a series of civil unrests that could be called revolutions if the commentator felt so inclined. These fights were spearheaded by Giuseppe Garibaldi, a man who knew how to stir a crowd. The fighting finally lead to a small government forming and proclaiming Victorio Emanuele II king. This was the first time in the modern era that the Italian peninsula had been under the control of one form of government. It was a fantastic achievement, akin to that of successfully herding cats; an accomplishment deserving of a monument befitting the fantastic achievement.

The monument dedicated to this event is astounding. Its massive and purely white forms eclipse everything in size and in blindingly white contrast. It dominates your thoughts and controls them, but to what end? Most people don’t even really know what it is for. It is an impressive display of governmental might, but why is it there? Quite frankly, because the Italians want to show you how awesome they are and to glorify their history. That is the propaganda element of the Vittoriano. The rest is purely to boost the ego of the Italians that see it. It is a heroic image for those it represents and at the same time a gaudy monstrosity to the thousands of outsiders that visit it.

Mussolini’s Center of Fascism

Mussolini was quite the P.R. master. One of his many masterpieces of public imagery was the building crusade around the Mausoleum of Augutus. Every part of this project was carefully managed and calculated to make him and the fascist state look beautiful and powerful. It worked pretty well too. This area continues to be a site for current governments to display their power with the conclusion of a recent design contest to revamp the crumbling site.

If you were just walking along the street and came upon the ruin of the mausoleum you would notice it for sure. Its huge, old and dilapidated, much more so than everything else in Rome. But would you notice its surroundings? The mausoleum is surrounded by fascist architecture. The four surrounding blocks are some of the most densely fascist in the entire city. And that is impressive.

When Mussolini began his selective curation of Rome, the Mausoleum was being used as a theatre. This was one of its many converted uses throughout history. Mussolini removed this sore upon history and all of the buildings surrounding it, most of which were from the middle ages. Mussolini viewed himself as Augustus reborn into the modern world. It was his pet project to rebuild and restore Rome to its former glory of ancient times. Some old ratty buildings stood in his way, but not for long.

One of the most iconic images of Mussolini is of him wielding a pick axe and destroying an obstacle of construction not fitting with his vision of Rome, glorious Rome. This images captures what Mussolini did best, aside from ruin Italy during a thing called World War II. Mussolini carefully carved away at Rome like you would a potato, removing the ugly parts, the bumps, the dirt, the ugly skin, and leaving behind the pure flesh. It’s still a potato in the end but my, ain’t it purty? What was left in Mussolini’s Rome was a glorious history, filled with power and triumph. Some of it was even true.

Some of the lumps and bumps in Mussolini’s way were more than one hundred buildings surrounding the ancient mausoleum of Augustus. The plan was brilliant. Remove these insignificant and “worthless eyesores” and replace them with new and impressive buildings, glorifying the fascist state and all of its might. But being Mussolini’s project, this had to be done in the most impressive way possible. What is more impressive, a bunch of buildings built sequentially over a long time or a bunch of buildings built at once in record time with a gigantic workforce? The second option, naturally. Though actual figures are impossible to find it is safe to say thousands of workers labored away, on the country’s dime, at one time. Monumental buildings with sculptures, carvings, artwork, and inscriptions glorifying the fascist state went up at an astounding rate. Witnesses to this rapid construction would have been easily awestruck.

Today, the Piazza Augusto Imperatore sits with a large portion of its history removed but with  more artificial history. It is one of Rome’s most curious historical sites, with its life bookended by ancient artifacts and modern ones. It is the perfect example of Mussolini’s sweeping hand across the city’s history. History will soon be altered again as the work begins to revamp and revitalize the crumbling mausoleum into a freshly polished jewel in the city’s crown.

Mi Casa, Su Casa, Ina Casa

The Ina Casa projects are a curious thing. They were developed using a strict set of rules formulated to replicate the regional style of architecture that each one was built in. This was a good gesture, but ultimately something went awry. You see, when you apply rules where none existed, mimic and recreate what just happened on its own, and try to synthesize what is organic things don’t turn out perfectly. This is what happened to the Ina Casa projects.

If you don’t already know, Italy has many regional styles of architecture, with some varying more than others. Sure the construction methods are quite similar and fairly interchangeable but there is a certain overall look and feel to each one. A photographer could take pictures of towns in different regions and ask you to compare them, tell him what is different about each one, and have you analyze what you see. And you might be able to do it easily, but most of the differences aren’t just at the surface in material choices or color palettes.

Italy is a country built over centuries. Large and dense areas of rapidly built construction stick out in any part of Italy very badly. Also making these projects stick out is the city planning. While they typically have the meandering roads and non-grid based layouts that are typical of Italy, it is quite obvious that they were planned. Looking at these areas in plan or on a map makes this all the more painfully obvious. The little games designers played stand out. This lines up with that, which intersects this, which is connected to that, and these are all laid out relative to one another. That doesn’t happen here.

There is also a great deal of repetition that takes place in the Ina Casa projects. This isn’t a surprising thing. Its efficient, not only from a design aspect but also from a construction one as well. Repetition does not happen from one building to another in Italy. Most everything is one off. It is rare to find a copy of a building in the same city. So when you have a cluster of six identical three story buildings with identical and mirrored facades in a new area, it sticks out. It sticks out badly.

When we visited the Ina Casa projects in Rome they created a very eerie environment. The places were of course filled with average Italian folk going about their lives, walking their dogs while chatting with neighbors just like you would find anywhere else. However, something was off. It all seemed fake, like a set used for a spaghetti western. It was all quintessentially Italian, yet undeniably fake. They share a similar quality with gift shop trinkets found throughout all of Italy. Kitschy little trinkets that capture the essence of where you have been in the most fake and cheap way possible. No one could deny though that these synthetic distillations are born of the pure essence of the place that they are purchased at but they are not authentic, or remotely genuine. This is the same issue that seems to surround the Ina Casa housing projects. Despite the careful attempt at first to stick to strict rules regulating the methods for design and construction that follow the regional practices and history, the projects are far too fake to be viewed as authentic by even the casual and uneducated observer.

Come on baby, do the loco-motion with me

You know what’s great about Europe? Trains. Trains everywhere. Slow trains. Fast trains. Red trains. Blue trains. Twenty-seven smelly, old, car trains. Trains to Paris. Trains to Milan. Train rides next to old man John.

Stop! But you gotta know the territory.

Florence is north of Rome. Let’s go to Florence. We need to buy a ticket. We buy tickets at the station. If you’re brave (or dumb as a rock) you can try buying tickets at the window which are run by people who hate their jobs and get paid the same regardless of whether or not they help anyone. But you must be there between the hours of 0927-1053, 1127-1346, 1555-1556, 1643-1801 on most weekdays except Tuesday and Friday, religious holidays, federal holidays, undeclared holidays, transportation strikes, when the powers off, and when people forget to go to work. Good luck.


You can use the automated machines, which are 100% reliable 68% of the time. After pecking away at the abysmal touch screen, you are confronted with a myriad of poorly formatted choices. Blindly you choose one. “Warning! : The train you have selected is a train!!” I’m sure that makes more sense in the original Italian version. You dismiss the warning while simultaneously fending off the station’s designated homeless man’s arrant “helpfulness”. Basta! Basta! Basta! Finally, all is sorted out and it’s time to pay. Congratulations! Your stupid face managed to pick the one machine that only takes cash and you only have 10 Monopoly monies with you. Chance: Go back three spaces and start over at a better machine this time.

Regardless of where you are going in Italy it seems like you are going to pass through the madness at Roma Termini at some point, even if it is out of the way. Just think of Steve Miller. “You know you’ve got to go through hell before you get to heaven.” I highly recommend pulling up some Steve Miller, or anything that can be piped through headphones at high volume, while you trundle along the countryside on the Frecciarosa, Frecciabianco, Frecciagento, or Freccia-holy-cow-this-was-an-expensive-ticket. You are guaranteed to sit in a group of four seats of which yours is the only one not belonging to the Minicucci family and their three screaming kids all in desperate need of a diaper change the instant the train rolls away from the platform.

Fear ye not. When this baby hits 180 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious scenery. Before you know it, or manage to cram down that over priced tremezzino sandwich from the dining car, you’ll be in Florence wading through a sea of umbrella salesmen.


I had just removed myself from an incident involving the police and an umbrella salesman when an old and familiar sensation wracked my body. I was hungry. And none of that “Hey, let’s eat because you’re bored” nonsense. Ho, ho, no sir bubba. This was a true, raw, animalistic feeling.

I need a sandwich.

Repressed, instinctive actions kick in and I’m on the prowl. One minute you’re a civilized member of society and the next you’re some crazed animal drooling at the mouth, nose pressed to the ground, hunting for any scrap of nourishment. This is what life in the big city looks like.

As I comb the cobbled streets I encounter an obstacle in my path. What could this be? Ye gads! It makes noise. It moves. It seems familiar, yet I know it not. It’s another animal, a human. My eyes peer upon him, distrustfully, as he makes a multitude of gestures and throaty noises. Suddenly he latches on to me. He’s dragging me to his lair. Every fiber of my being wants to snap at him and run.

Wait. What’s that smell?

Food. And it’s getting stronger. This crazed mustachioed person is pulling me toward food. My animalism lessens suddenly. I am pushed down into a chair. Another man wearing an apron that might as well be a dress, begins arranging a multitude of things on the table before me. Suddenly a hateful looking female drops a generous load of pane in front of me. I eye her cautiously as I stealthily slip a piece of warm, fluffy goodness from its berth. This woman could be trouble later. Fine now, but a threat nonetheless.

Shut up, you fool! Eat.

A book, filled with what might as well be hieroglyphs, is put in my hands. The man with the mustache waits with his beady eyes staring at me, for what I do not know. Wait. I’m supposed to say what I want from this volume of things which I cannot read. Uh. Uh. Uhhhhh.

Suddenly the moustache wiggles and says, “Vuoi un panino con prosciutto e pomodoro?”

Well when you say it like that, sure. I’ll have one of them things with them pompadours or whatever.

“Si, e una bottiglia d’acqua, per favore.”

“Frizzante o naturale?”


As he leaves, I begin to contemplate what place sparkling mineral water holds in this world. Surely its somewhere between that ring of white stuff boiling water leaves in a pot and the last bit of soap that won’t drain out of the shower. Perhaps I should bottle well water from out of the ground in Sulphur, Oklahoma and slap a label on the bottles heralding its foul taste as “Mineral Water – Fresh from the source.” Then I can pump CO2 into it and the world will finally know what static tastes like.

I’m disturbed from my musings by a series of clunks in front of me. The man in the apron-dress has returned, this time with food. His dress is of no concern now. There’s eating to be done.

A thought crosses my mind in between sounds of my teeth breaking the crusty bread and squishing tomato slices. This is a darn good sandwich. Not five minutes ago I was contemplating eating my own hand and now I’m devouring a fantastic sandwich, prepared by strangers in a foreign land. And to think, I nearly missed the opportunity. My, my, this gets better with each bite. Aaaannnd, it’s gone. Well nothing left to do here but leave.

“Scusa. Il conto, per favore.”

A small sliver of paper is brought to me. What does it say? €8,50 for a sandwich! €2,00 for water! What’s this? €1,50 for bread. This is an outrage. This is highway robbery. This aggression won’t stand.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten lunch so close to a major monument.

I leave the funny coins and monopoly money on the table and make for the door. The sun strikes at my eyes before I can slide the borrowed aviators onto the bridge of my nose. I’m nourished, refreshed and peeved. It’s time to wade through the teeming masses of humanity. It’s time to cause trouble.

One little letter

My name is Grant Newby. You may call me what you like. I tried to mail a letter. Just one little letter. I wrote it. I signed it. I folded it. I sealed it. I addressed it.
Shoot! I need a stamp!
The post office is where I need to go. They take care of my letters when I let them go. They sell me stamps, or at least they do at home. Home. Where is home? It’s far away. In a place called America. I live in the middle, in Oklahoma. No, I do not ride horses. Or sleep in tepees. No, there are no hills full of people named “Billie”.
I’m outside the Poste italiane. I use deductive reasoning to decide that this place is the post office. I’m glad I can read and understand, because there is an ATM next to the entrance.  An ATM at the post office? I guess it’s convenient when you need to buy a ton of stamps and forget your cash monies.
It smells loathsome in here. This has to be the post office. Only the post office and the DMV smell like anguish. But why so many people? Young people with many pieces of paper. Old people with little booklets in hand. Middle aged people with briefcases full of papers. No one has a letter. Everyone is standing around. There are a dozen windows. One is open. I put on a cheerful face and decide to ask Adreanna to mail my letter. It’s to my girlfriend.
I immediately regret this decision.
I run away in a hail of hateful sounding words. Un turista fastidioso! My pride is hurt. I am embarrassed. All of Rome is staring. Old women are shaking their heads at me and pointing their fingers. They aren’t pointing at me. What could it be? A little yellow machine. It has buttons. I like buttons. Buttons make things happen. I think I’ll push a button. There’s one with an envelope. I have an envelope! It says servizi postali. Hey, that’s Postal Service.  They’re an ok band. “Such Great Heights” was their one big hit, from a while ago.
I push the button. It throws a slip at me. P097 This is what my life has been reduced to. I am a number.
I hear a loud beep. Lights flash. There are other numbers on a board on the wall. Wait, there is some sense of organization going on here. This isn’t Italy. Italians don’t get organized.
BEEP! P094
That’s close to my number!
BEEP! P095
BEEP! P096
Boy, this is going fast. Maybe I’m not really ready. Maybe I should think this through a little more. I’m still young. I have a lot of life left to live! AAAAHHHH!!!!
BEEP! P097
I am thrust forth by my own stupid will. Uncertain of what lies ahead. It can’t be pleasant. Nothing in this dingy place is pleasant. I’m at Adreanna’s window again. Her dark eyes stare into my soul. I’m suddenly flustered as I remember I need to speak Italian. I don’t speak Italian. Claudia hasn’t taught me what to do at the post office. Un pezzo di pizza con prosciutto, per favore. NO! You dingbat! You want to mail a letter to your girlfriend. You miss her pretty hair, you said so. The act of sliding the envelope under the glass signifies not only my helplessness but also my defeat and surrender. Adreanna pecks away at her keyboard with a smirk. I need to pay €0,85. The strange brass coins clink as they hit the counter. I can’t even look up. I just miss my girlfriend. I just wanted to tell her. She puts a stamp on my letter with a bureaucratic slap and tosses it in the bin.
“Buongiorno.”  I mutter as I turn toward the door.
Well, I mailed my letter. Just one little letter. Now my girlfriend will know how much I miss her, when she gets my one little letter, in three weeks’ time.