"Eternal City, Sawdust Caesar": Americans on tour in post-WWII Rome (1944-1960).
Post-war American visitors to Rome, of course, shared some of these characteristics with their forbears, and their writing and touring were demonstrably shaped by the vast library of travel literature that preceded them. Nonetheless, their receptions of the Eternal City were also bound up with what were essentially new ways of conceiving of themselves and their relationship with Europe as a whole. Fascism, the war, and reconstruction had each contributed to narratives about an American "rescue" of the Old World, while the Cold War added urgency to the idea that the rebuilding of Western Europe should be done in
the image of the United States. This view not only complicated earlier notions of Americans as "innocents abroad," but also placed new tension on what had been conventional ways of viewing empire and republic--ideas central to contemplation of both Rome and mid 20th-century America (Vance 2: 404-21; Boddy 240-41).
All of this informed an American interest in contemporary Italy that, for at least a decade or so after World War II, rivaled and sometimes surpassed fascination with the Classical or Catholic past. As the years passed, this interest was increasingly fueled by Rome's emergence as a film, fashion, and otherwise "jet-set" capital. But fascism and the war loomed large enough in the imaginations of the period that the attempt to recognize and reconcile the changes that these had wrought on the city made a regular appearance across a wide variety of tourism and travel-related writings. While acknowledging that the "telling" of fascism and World War II is generally a peripheral concern in this writing, I argue that such accounts alter both the material city--by instituting new sites, paths, and touristic practices--and the metaphorical one--by framing Rome, its history and people, with fascism and the war. In Duncan Kennedy's words, "Rome not only has a history but is identified with History, and Rome visited is always in a sense History revisited" (20). For the writers and readers of these narratives, travel to Rome seems to have functioned as a way of domesticating war (both "hot" and "cold"), justifying the enormous human and material cost and in the process relegating fascism to the lessons of the past.
The Eternal Return of the Eternal City: The Problems of Reading Rome
Travel writing by its very nature constitutes a point of convergence between material and imagined places. As Terry Caesar reminds us, "travel writing which knows itself knows how much of the world seen has to be negated before it can be built up again; how much of the world experienced is ephemeral unless it can be made over into an image of something lasting" (27). Travel writing is best considered a hybrid literary form: not fiction, it frequently adopts fictive techniques, but does so with the purported goal of providing a "true" account of places and the traveler's experience of them. It is the claim of truth that gives authors their authority; authors act as translators of foreign places, peoples, and customs for those without firsthand knowledge of them. As many scholars have pointed out, this translation is an act of power both towards the culture being translated, which is inevitably circumscribed in an interpretation that does not fully account for local meanings and practices, and towards the intended readers, who are provided boundaries for proper understandings (Duncan and Gregory 3-5; Campbell, "Travel Writing" 263-67). What authors include, how and when they include it, and what they leave out, all constitute choices, and scholarly attention to travel writing over the last three decades has demonstrated the ways that those choices can illuminate the fears and desires of the producing culture (Said), or work to advance or justify imperial goals (Campbell, The Witness; Pratt). In the case of the works treated here, the specific meanings that authors place on fascism and the war, the choices they make relative to their descriptions of the people and places of post-war Rome, reveal first and foremost some of the shared assumptions of Americans on tour (and armchair travelers as well) at the height of the "American century" and the spread of its "irresistible empire." (2) Any attempt to read Rome, the place or idea, in the pages of their works must take all this into account.
But post-war writing about Rome must also, of course, be situated within a vast web composed of other texts and images which, when written, had channeled the concerns and longings of earlier times. Teasing out what is new to the period in question becomes a particularly daunting prospect, considering that perhaps more than any other city, Rome has in every age been "told" to travelers by other travelers, many of whom were the great writers and artists of their day. There is constant and not always credited or even conscious citation happening in writing about Rome: to read even a seemingly innocuous phrase such as, "all roads lead ..." or "Roman holiday," for example, opens a maze of references, counter references, and puns. Writers of new works regularly expounded upon the importance of earlier travel writing to their own experiences of Rome; doing so enabled them to illustrate their knowledge of the city's place in literature and also to identify themselves as belonging to the litany of authorities. Even as travel became possible for ever greater numbers of people in the 20th century, the influence of written accounts remained remarkably resilient, shaping the practices of those who actually visited the places described, and supplementing or even supplanting their own direct experience. For a city as written and re-written as Rome, guides established "what ought to be seen," and a whole host of other works vied to suggest what ought to be thought and felt upon seeing. (3)
Moreover, for at least three centuries, the city of Rome has been an active partner, though not always of course an equal one, in what Dennison Nash has called the "touristic process" (462). Romans learned early on how to give tourists what they wanted, so that the imagined city has not infrequently become substance in the packaging of sights, the laying out of routes, the manufacture of souvenirs, the institution and modification of services. (4) These in turn become points of departure for new imaginings that inform material intervention: the process spirals on. A more complicated "place myth" than Rome, to borrow John Urry's term, is difficult to imagine. Post-war travel initiated its own manifestations of this process--one obvious example being the re-centering of "foreigners' Rome" from the Piazza di Spagna to the Via Veneto. Although the Via Veneto scene merits an entirely separate study, and has rightly been placed by scholars of the boom years in the context of Americanization and consumer culture, it is important to remember that patterns of development in this area were the direct result of the war. The requisitioning of Palazzo Margherita, first as headquarters of the Allied Military Government and then as the U. S. Embassy to Rome, meant that area hotels were used to house U. S. military personnel during the war and various civilian staff afterwards. Businesses that arose or adjusted to accommodate them naturally transitioned, after the occupation, to service the American tourists whom one British travel writer of the period, in implicit reference to earlier Grand Tourists, called "the 'milords' of the new age [...]" (Morton 52).
Thus, there are many Romes told in post-war travel writing, all of them shaped not only by the shifting material boundaries of the city and the imaginations of the teller, but also by a vast array of other texts stretching back centuries. As Eleanor Clark points out in her immensely popular Rome and a Villa (1950), yet another factor complicates any attempt to pinpoint the Roman narrative. In her estimation, Rome is a city that fosters more "alcoholics of the single object" than any other, and where the phrases "'It's not in my field' or 'it's not in my period'" (36) give testimony to the array of motivations that travelers bring to their stays there. Visitors potentially consumed (and occasionally produced) travel writing related to their specific interests, and had a wider choice available in the 1940s and 1950s than at any time prior. Alongside the "classics," there were new materials produced by the U. S. military and the State Department, the Italian government, the Catholic church, various airlines, magazines, newspapers, tourist agencies, and publishing houses, to say nothing of the period's film and fiction set in Rome, ancient or modern. I have thus chosen to cast my net wide rather than deep when it comes to sources, privileging published material that targeted a wide audience, but also dipping into more personal accounts for insights on ways that various discourses overlapped and blended. (5) I am likewise unconcerned here with laying out the standard distinctions between travel and tourism, between guide books and more literary offerings, between commercial writing and journalism, not because such distinctions are objectively unimportant, but because it is precisely by looking at the treatment of fascism and World War II across a variety of disparate works that we can gain insight into how those experiences were written--and read--into Rome.
Though they recur frequently, the recent war and the fascist past are with few exceptions marginal rather than central concerns in this writing. Most Americans who came to Rome in the aftermath of World War II did not come expressly in order to see Mussolini's Rome; they came for the same reasons that travelers had come for centuries: to see ancient ruins, religious sites, Renaissance masters and baroque sculpture, or to "escape" from their daily routines (Lofgren 117-18) in the hope of connecting with some romantic ideal of the past (Enzensberger 123-35). They came as students, as artists, as writers, as pilgrims and, most of all, as tourists. These time-honored motives were inevitably informed by the recent past and were unleashed on a city that was undergoing dramatic political, economic, and physical transformation. The years between 1945 and 1960 saw the creation and installation of a new system of government in Italy, and an economic boom that, in the space of a generation, transformed a poor, Mediterranean country into one of the leading industrial nations in the world. The population of Rome itself grew from 1.15 million in 1936 (the last census available before the war) to 1.6 million in 1951, to more than 2 million by 1960; a corresponding and often unregulated construction boom added suburban sprawl (Insolera 187-203). Commentary on contemporary Rome became an increasingly prominent part of post-war travel writing. Writers reminded their readers that "amid the ruins and monuments of her past [Rome] is a modern city as she has always been a modern city in every period of her existence" (Rothery ix), or produced whole volumes promising to focus on "the sprawling, fabulous metropolis you see today, the people you meet in the streets" (Streeter and Weisbecker viii). Even the most resolutely forward-looking of writers, though, occasionally succumbed to the temptations offered by the vast library of earlier writing on Rome; this tendency to resurrect the observations of Goethe or Byron or Hawthorne or Twain to "explain" contemporary Rome demonstrates the strength of a canon, and further complicates our understanding of mid-century views with claims of a supposed "timelessness" uniquely at work in the Eternal City.
Framing Rome Between "Hot" War and Cold.
In 1947 Lydian Russell Bennett, a 49-year-old high school Latin teacher from East Liverpool, Ohio, attended the summer session at the American Academy in Rome, the first held since the war. She wrote a description of her experience, entitled "A Roman Summer," that subsequently appeared in The Classical Journal. Bennett's narrative of her trip to Italy and summer in Rome reads in some particulars like any number of familiar accounts given by 18th-century grand tourists: there are the lectures at the Forum and the "climbing over the majestic ruins of the Colosseum," the excursion to Tivoli and the reciting of "favorite sections from the amiable Horace" while picnicking near the site of his villa (363). When not engaged with the remnants of the ancient world, Bennett visits churches, museums, gardens, attends the opera or engages in shopping excursions and social gatherings with her fellow Americans. Her characterization of the whole experience as a "quest for adventure and knowledge" is likewise in keeping with long-established travel writing tradition (359).
What most notably sets Bennett's brief story apart from those of prior centuries, and situates it squarely in 1947, is that her Roman sojourn is framed by the recently ended war. Her group arrives in Italy via the port at Naples, where she "gaze(s) in awe at the fearful havoc wrought by war"; she describes passing through a gauntlet of beggars made up of starving children and disfigured Italian veterans in order to get to the bus that would take her group to Rome. Her description of this bus trip through the "typical Italian countryside" flashes back and forth between the almost giddy language of travelogue and the grave tones of a European Recovery Program (ERP--or, more commonly, "Marshall Plan") documentary. In one paragraph, Bennett enthuses about the Apennines "dotted intermittently with the quaintly lovely hill towns of ancient Italy," and confesses "a thrill" on passing sites of famous excavations, while the next paragraph she begins with, "All along the way evidences of bombed-out villages met our eyes" (361). Significantly, she notes signs of war damage decreasing as the bus approaches Rome, with only the temporary bridge spans recalling "the newspaper stories of the stand the Germans made as they retreated northward from river to river." When the bus passes at last through the Aurelian Walls, Bennett writes, "[... ] we found ourselves in a changed world. Lights were gleaming brightly. People were dancing and eating at the innumerable sidewalk cafes. Soft Italian voices rose in song. The magic of the July night was everywhere" (361-62).
That magic is to hold throughout Bennett's stay in Rome, which she describes without ever returning to the subject of the war, and even extends through her return trip to Naples, this time described purely in terms of the classical sites that she visits there and along the coast. Only after she mentions visiting the American cemetery at Salerno just prior to the end of her stay does the war intrude again on her narrative. She closes with a "poignant memory" of laughing but malnourished children and the affirmation that "first-hand observation and study of the relics of the past should give us keener insight to interpret the problems of the present. Everywhere we were welcomed by the bravely smiling Italians, who often sing for a supper which does not come. Knowing them, living with them, we now understand and like them better" (365).
Bennett was not a professional writer, and her account, published in a small journal, was probably read by a very limited number of people. I have nonetheless chosen to include it here because it is revelatory of a number of factors that bear remembering when considering post-war travel to Rome, and because the themes that entwine rather ingenuously in Bennett's short narrative are characteristic of a great deal of American writing about Rome after the war. Her careful separation of what we might call "war sights" from tourist ones suggests a tension between the language of leisure or educational travel and the language of war, a tension that Bennett tries to resolve through the exhortation about learning from the past. Her learning to "understand and like" the people better hints at her pre-travel attitudes, shaped in part by the fact that Italy had been for a time an enemy nation. Above all, "A Roman Summer" provides a useful reminder that American visitors to Rome, indeed to any part of Europe in the period, were in some sense "battlefield tourists." That is, in addition to whatever primary motives they might have had for their travel, they found themselves contemplating the sights, places and people of the recent war. As scholars of battlefield tourism remind us, examining the reactions of visitors to the sights of a "recently ended conflict means asking how they conceived their relationship to history" (Semmel 10). Often their travel had itself been made possible by the technological advances associated with the war and was informed by the post-war idea of tourism as something that promotes international understanding and peace (V. Smith 202-27). Bennett's circumstances provide a perfect example of the traveler in the wake of war. An early recipient of one of the numerous scholarships instituted after World War II in the name of fostering cultural exchange, Bennett traveled to and from Italy on the S. S. Saturnia, an Italian liner that had been used as a U. S. troopship during the war. Her description of passing through the Aurelian walls in the gathering dusk of a June evening, her going out of war-torn Italy and into Rome, her careful description of the poor-but-plucky children and brave adults, all suggest a vision as heavily influenced by war reporting and post-war concerns as by the classical past she had come to study.
In Bennett's account, the war seems to have been fought entirely by Americans and Germans; the Italians are viewed only as victims. The single mention of Italian soldiers does not challenge this fundamental characterization; they are victims, too, "ex-soldiers exhibiting the stumps of arms or legs" (361) alongside crying children in the crowd of beggars she encounters at Naples. Though Bennett makes no mention of Mussolini or the fascists, her piece is nonetheless informed by a narrative about the war and Italy that had been well established in the final years of the fighting. Any American traveling in Italy after the war would most certainly have been familiar with propaganda stereotypes regarding Mussolini and Italians; such representations had been ubiquitous during the war years. Perhaps the most prevalent of these had been of Mussolini as a kind of sawdust Caesar, a ridiculous figure presiding over a realm of empty gestures. Popularized first by journalist George Seldes, this characterization was a dismissive response to Mussolini's own posturing and self-aggrandizing claims to be a modern Augustus (Seldes 366-72; Begg 19-20). Although it had been heavily contested in the twenties and thirties, when Mussolini had many American admirers (Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism, especially chapter 4; Vance II 317-40) from a variety of political leanings (Diggins, "Flirtation with Fascism" 487-99; "Mussolini and America" 559-84), the image of the sawdust Caesar was particularly useful during the war because it allowed simultaneously for the belittling of the enemy and for the interpretation of the Italian people as essentially victims of their own weakness, first fooled and then forced into following a leader whom they did not really understand. (6)
Moreover, the nature of the Italian campaign, with the armistice followed by a period of co-belligerency and the continuation of the war against the Germans and Mussolini's Republic of Salo, meant that the issue of the "real Italy" and the "real Italians" remained of great interest throughout the war and its aftermath (Whitaker 54-95; Sforza vii-viii, 137-40; G. Smith BR5). Writings on the subject drew on earlier debates surrounding Italian fascism, and contributed to the victim interpretation (Packard 1-16; Whitaker 74-94; Vance 347-52). These texts arguably also drew on a long tradition in American and Northern European travel writing that asserted a fundamental Italian weakness of character or proclivity towards irrationality, which left Italians vulnerable to bad or divisive leadership and in need of outside intervention. (7) Ultimately, this view became central to how Allied decisions about Italy were presented to the American home front. As President Roosevelt himself synthesized in his address on the occasion of the Allied forces' entrance into Rome, "For this quarter-century, the Italian people were enslaved, they were degraded by the rule of Mussolini from Rome.... I think the American people as a whole approve the salvage of these human beings [...]" (Roosevelt 5). This characterization of fascism would also lend itself well to the political climate of the Cold War and, as we will see, feature regularly in post-war travel writing about Rome (Wingenter 116-20).
The actual Italian campaign lasted longer than any other in the European theater, and dispatches from the front or from newly occupied territory had filled American newspapers, radio broadcasts, and newsreels from the summer of 1943 until April of 1945, taking second place to the "race for Berlin" only after the D-day invasions in June of 1944. Because Rome was the first Axis capital to be taken, and because D-day coincided almost precisely with the Allied entrance into Rome, that city, first as objective and then as accomplishment, had dominated the coverage of Italy. Not surprisingly, many of these accounts, even those detailing military movements, were sprinkled through with classical and touristic references, casting contemporary battles in historic context and including mention of places made famous by earlier generations of travel writers. There were, for example, reminders that "our boys" had landed on "the beaches where Caligula and Nero once played" (Bracker E5), or were "fighting with magnificent heroism on the spot [Cisterna] where, according to local legend, St. Paul was met by his friends from Rome on his first journey to the city" (McCormick, "What Government" 20). Writers left little doubt as to what lessons to draw from such occasions. About the fighting at Cisterna, Anne O'Hare McCormick reminded readers, "There is a certain symbolism in this, too, for Paul came to lay spiritual siege to Rome. The disciples he met on the Appian Way were hunted men, men of the underground, who finally came forth from their catacombs to overcome a great pagan empire with the force of a new idea" (20). (8)
The coverage of the push towards Rome was unique in war journalism, not only because the power of Rome-as-symbol offered so many opportunities for underlining its importance, but also because of the intense debate surrounding the "open city" status of the capital. In articles regarding the possibility of Rome becoming a theater of war, an almost guide-book-style cataloguing of the ancient sights and artistic treasures that were potentially at risk was a regular feature. When the troops finally moved in, journalists rushed to underline both the symbolic import and to account for the physical integrity of the Eternal City's monuments. "Rome is the first capital in occupied Europe to be liberated. It is the birthplace of fascism. For centuries it was both the secular and religious center of the world [...]. Rome means something to Europe above any other city. [...] it is potent as a symbol of the conflict between civilization and the new barbarism (McCormick, "The Americans," 18; see also Matthews, "Rome is." 4). Leaving aside the accuracy of calling Rome "the birthplace of fascism," it is in such accounts of the liberation that we first see the incorporation of fascism and its fall into both the imagined and the material tourist city. Time magazine's coverage of the Allied entrance into Rome, for example, juxtaposed "relics" of the fighting with those of the ancient past, and ticked off the historic sites that soldiers encountered as they made their way into the city:
The tanks, followed by infantry, piled into the city. For a few hours there were sporadic skirmishes. But by sundown the last relic of that kind of fighting--a burned-out German car--lay blackened and dead almost in the shadow of Trajan's Column. The Allied troops pressed on. They passed the Colosseum, slogged through the Piazza Venezia where Mussolini once harangued his people. They marched and motored over ground that had been trod by Caesars and the Gracchi, by Alaric and St. Paul. But there was no time to think of history. They and their enemy were making it. (From Rome to ...)
The mention of Piazza Venezia alongside the classic sites of Trajan's Column and the Colosseum is a telling, shorthand evocation of Rome. It served, like the subsequent list of ancient Romans and invaders, to emphasize that Mussolini now belonged to the past, another "relic" of the history there "was no time to think of--as opposed to part of history in the making.
This insertion of fascism, the war, and the occupation into descriptions of the tourist city and vice versa was not limited to the press. We know, for example, that the Allied Military Government published guidebooks and organized excursions and lectures for personnel in occupied Italy even before the end of the war, and soldiers' private correspondence with home was often interspersed with descriptions of tourist interludes. Special postcards were produced which depicted troops taking in the sights, and editorial cartoons and photographs contained similar images. Travel writing in the first years after the war drew on all these influences, as "tourists in uniforms" gave way to civilian reconstruction advisers and then to mass tourism, "the peaceful army which perpetually invades" (Rothery ix). Continuity was further assured as war reporters stayed on to cover the peace (including the revival of tourism), and former soldiers or civilian support tried their hands at travel writing, journalism, or fiction (Diggens, "The American Writer" 602-11).
War reporting had guaranteed a sustained interest in the peninsula and in Rome, in particular during 1943 and 1944. Later, the peculiar Cold War situation of Italy, viewed as problematic even before the "hot war" had drawn to a close, kept attention fixed there. The U. S. and Britain considered it crucial, for both strategic and symbolic reasons, that Italy remain in the Western sphere of influence. Yet the Italian Communist Party (PCI) was the largest outside of the Soviet bloc, and seemed capable, especially in the immediate post-war period, of coming to power through elections. Not only did this result in concerted U. S. intervention, both covert and overt, on behalf of non-communist political parties and unions, but it also kept contemporary Italy, the plight of her people, and the debate over their "true" nature, in the American spotlight for many years after the war (Del Pero 1304-34; Miller 35-56; Brogi 200-37). American assessments of Western Europe at the time relied primarily on so-called "economic determinism" models to explain the danger of communism to the American public. Descriptions of "sickening social rot" and "the filthy, tumid slums of the poor made even uglier by the extravagance and luxury of the rich" (White 349) were common in monographs and periodical literature (Rosenberg 177-98). Italian neo-realist films, popular with American critics and audiences, supplied images that were easily understood in such terms. Travel writing on Italy and Rome was no exception; the "communist threat" made not infrequent appearances, as did characterizations of Italians as particularly vulnerable. Some authors devoted space to describing a debased and fascism-tainted upper class (E. Clark 245-50; Wilson 66-69), familiar also from some notable works of fiction in the same years (Hayes; Burns; Williams; MacInnes). More common were the descriptions of poverty, especially of needy children, that appeared in accounts like Bennett's and regularly, though briefly, in guides and other travel literature on Rome, up until the mid-1950s.9 Many of these were accompanied by implicit or explicit calls for continued U. S. intervention to keep Italy from falling into communist hands (Rothery 93-101; Wilson 41, 70-71, 216; S. Clark 107-08). The Catholic Jubilee year of 1950 added a variety of titles and articles directed at pilgrim-tourists, where the defense of Rome, and by extension of Christian Europe, against communism was a major theme (Pattison 3; Dugan 49; Weeden 23-37).
Even as the boom years progressed and images of the starving and sickly were supplanted, interest in the "true" character of Italians remained, and old stereotypes were recast in light of Cold War concerns. Most writers assumed that readers were interested in "getting to know the people," and more space was dedicated to this pursuit than ever before. It seems no accident that the Trastevere neighborhood emerged in this period as an important destination within the Roman itinerary, not for specific sights to be found there, but because it was where "the true, rich Roman qualities exist in their greatest purity," and where the women "all resemble Anna Magnani" (Deutschman 116). An evening in Trastevere offered the opportunity to observe Romans in their natural habitat, as they shouted, fought, drank, sang and engaged in "undercover operations of every kind" (E. Clark 61). "Slumming it" Roman style could be shocking, but it was the best way to be "steeped in the true essence of Rome" (Deutschman 116). The people met on such excursions were vaguely familiar from much earlier travel writing; readers were warned, for example, that "wrapped in a tangle of emotions [...], the average Roman has little delicacy [and] no self control" (Streeter and Weisbecker 91). The implications, in the context of the Cold War, were clear: Romans were passionate, vain, simple, earthy, fundamentally child-like people, which made them delightful, of course, and sometimes scandalous, but also vulnerable to emperors and dictators of all stamps. Their new democracy required vigilance.
Besides the "hot" and the Cold War, we can detect here a third factor that greatly influenced the way American visitors saw Rome and its people: a new understanding of travel itself. The Marshall Plan, which was geared toward rebuilding Europe after World War II and enabling the West to resist the spread of communism (as well as toward maintaining U. S. markets), not only kept contemporary Europe in the spotlight, but also made tourism a subject of scrutiny, and posited a new value-laden understanding of the very act of travel. Marshall Plan officials specifically targeted the tourism industry as representing a promising area for investment. The decade or so after the war was characterized by the conviction that tourism represented a special opportunity for so-called "dollar diplomacy"--a way of simultaneously pumping much needed currency into a struggling Western Europe, and strengthening those cross-cultural bonds which would cement "the Atlantic community" and allow "the American way of life" to prevail (Endy 9-10, 103-10; Dulles 178-80). By 1955, Time magazine estimated, U. S. tourists had spent $100 overseas for every $36 the U. S. Government disbursed in aid to European governments ("Travel"). American Express pamphlets urged tourists to be "ambassadors of good will." Civic groups, universities, churches, and professional organizations chartered so-called "friendship tours" to promote international understanding; airlines, shipping companies, hotel chains, and travel agencies were only too happy to profit. Tourism, though it continued to appeal on familiar promises of adventure, romance and escape, was given the gloss of an almost moral imperative, the freedom of movement of the American traveler contrasting pointedly with the immobility of those behind the Iron Curtain.
All of these factors--World War II, the Cold War, and the new understanding of travel--came together to affect both the physical and the metaphorical space in which tourists in Rome moved. Materially, this resulted in an expansion of tourist Rome to include new requisite sites and practices; metaphorically, it altered for a time the meanings assigned to even the most traditional of tourist activities. Although physical damage had been relatively limited due to the wartime "open city" status, "battlefield tourism" nonetheless informed post-war travel writing. Some authors went out of their way to demonstrate that not all of Rome had escaped destruction, and they guided visitors to places where damage was still visible, or described recently completed repairs. Agnes Rothery, for example, included a chapter entitled "The Scars of War," and carefully tallied numbers of Roman dead and wounded, and of buildings damaged (19-26). Writers who did this almost always added a visit to the American cemetery at Nettuno to the more traditional array of Roman excursions, like Tivoli or Hadrian's Villa, and guidebooks of the period began to do the same. Works that covered more of Italy were more likely to emphasize the degree to which Rome appeared comparatively unscathed, though few made as neat a separation between the war and Rome as did Bennett in the piece described at the beginning of this section. Here too, though, the war became a frame to tourism, with severe damage or extensive rebuilding contrasted with the preservation of Rome. In effect, the very integrity of the major churches and monuments provided a way of assuring tourists of the importance of the Eternal City--"even the Nazis showed some respect" (S. Clark 21)--while evoking the war.
Perhaps the best known example of the war as frame for tourist activities or musings can be found in William Wyler's 1953 Roman Holiday, the film most associated with the romantic, Hollywood fantasy of Rome in the 1950s. (10) Much of the film amounts to travelogue as the protagonists, American newsman Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) and Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn), spend a day taking in the sights. Early in the film there is a comic scene in which Joe's landlord/doorman must guard Joe's apartment to insure that the princess sleeping there does not leave. All of the scenes involving Italians in Roman Holiday are played for laughs, but Giovanni's shabby appearance, complete with an old rifle that seems too large for him, and his comical "patrol" performed in front of the door to Joe's apartment, revisit war-era jokes regarding Italian militarism, suggesting Giovanni's fundamental ill-suitedness to the task. Later in the film, Joe and Ann pause in the midst of their whirlwind tour for a moment of reverence and reflection near a stretch of the Aurelian Wall where, Joe tells her, Italians had brought prayers during the war after one person had been spared during the bombing. It is a brief scene, used to suggest the princess's longing for a "normal" life, and is immediately followed by dancing beneath the Castel Sant'Angelo. Nonetheless, this interlude instructs the audience on Rome's recent past, modeling for them a proper tourist appreciation of the war in the same way that the film models other idealized tourist behavior--sight-seeing, cafe-sitting, gelato-eating, hilarious interactions with colorful locals.
Roman Holiday incorporates the war into an essentially traditional tourist itinerary. For some writers during the years in question, however, the war seems also to have temporarily upset what had long been the conventional metaphors for talking about ruins. Edmund Wilson, who toured Europe for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and was one of the first Americans to write about Rome after the liberation, suggested that the "first involuntary reaction to the Forum" for one arriving and still feeling "part of the American war-machine that has clamped itself upon Europe" was that "all that irrelevant old rubbish--the broken stones and chunks of brick--ought to be cleaned up and carted away" (56). A decade later, one British travel writer, well known and much read in the U. S., wrote of the forum:
It is terribly dead, like old bomb damage. The visitors peering about the ruins with maps remind one of people looking for a buried safe. A visitor today is, unhappily, unable to indulge in the romantic musings possible to his ancestors, for the decline of civilization is not, to us, a remote and romantic speculation. Secure in the belief that the world was getting better and even better, our forebears could afford the luxury of delicious and poetic moralizings amid the ruins: we have wept in them instead.
(Morton 40) (11)
And on Your Right, the Palazzo Venezia: Fitting Fascism into the Frame
The impact of "battlefield tourism" in Rome was for the most part temporary .The addition of day trips to Anzio and the cemetery at Nettuno seems to be the only long-term change to the tourist landscape. As the boom years got underway in Italy and rebuilt cities across Europe emerged from the rubble of the Second World War, the "scars" both material and metaphorical faded from Rome-focused travel literature. References to war damage re-emerged occasionally in articles on specific anniversaries or with the dedication of new monuments, but were largely absent from longer works. Attempts to deal with fascism, on the other hand, left more permanent changes. The ways of processing Mussolini's rule in the travel literature of the post-war period became somewhat institutionalized; to varying degrees, they are preserved in the writing that presents Rome to tourists even today. Though many writers, especially those who had been to Rome earlier in the century, discussed the changes wrought by fascist urban planning, travel writing after the war most often addressed the fascist period through places narrowly associated with Mussolini--sights like the Palazzo Venezia or the Foro Italico. (12) The telling of these places allowed authors to incorporate stories about Mussolini that were either salacious or ridiculing in tone, and to convey a history of fascism that considered it entirely in terms of ceremonies, parades, gestures. (13) Viewed in the context of the early Cold War, the ways of dealing with "Mussolini's Rome" for tourists can be understood as a way of working out the "problem" of fascism and of rehabilitating Italy, while simultaneously arguing for a sustained American engagement to protect a vulnerable, but basically good, people from their own fatal flaws. (14)
In the historic center, the setting of many of the traditional sights visitors came to see had been dramatically altered during the ventennio. Mussolini's insistence that Roman monuments "loom gigantic in their necessary solitude" gave later tourists the kind of "uncluttered" view of the ancient ruins that foreign visitors to Rome had longed for since Addison (qtd. in Notaro 60; see also Stone 205-20). The fact that it was fascist urban planning that had isolated key monuments of ancient Rome and laid bare others did not usually go uncommented. A number of writers gave credit to the regime for what they saw as improvements to the city, and frankly admired the application of technology and the attempt to rationalize traffic. Sometimes singling out particular projects like the Via dei Fori Imperiali or the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, many agreed with fascist-era assessments that the revelation of Roman ruins and clearing of "decrepit structures," "slums," and "debris" from around key structures had enhanced the beauty of the city and greatly advanced the study of the past (S. Clark 160-61; Wilson 39; McNamara n.p.; Rothery 236). Even where the changes were viewed positively, though, authors made a point of including what we might call a "disclaimer," denouncing the intentions behind the excavations or demolitions and instructing readers to include a larger condemnation of the fascist past in their musings. "I have no wish," wrote Sidney Clark, "to sound like a propagandist for the Sawdust Caesar, whose mighty sins against the world should not blind us to certain fine things he did" (161). The results of fascist archeology could be cautiously admired, but the regime could not.
Some authors were openly critical of the changes and lamented--or mentioned that others did--the lost charm of the old Rome (E. Clark 109-31; Morton 41). In such accounts, any appreciation of fascist architecture or excavations was to be avoided because they were inseparable from the grandiose and overreaching ambitions of the regime. For these authors, treatment of fascist-era urban intervention served as a way of simultaneously recalling and dismissing Mussolini's pretensions to Caesar-hood. The attempt to harness history in the service of fascist propaganda, one writer suggested, was not an exception to, but rather one of Mussolini's crimes:
One of the words that gained most in currency during fascism was the verb sistemare. The ruins among other things were systematized; they were made useful, not in the lusty old Renaissance sense of being hacked to pieces for building materials. They were physically propped up and clamped together and pasted over[...]. They were given a mental purpose[...]. Almost everything over fifteen hundred years old and over has come in for a fury of exhibitionism^..]. The past, like love, was never so precarious and abused and useless; it was never so thoroughly investigated.
(E. Clark 109-10)
Such passages are a useful reminder to the historian that if it is true that "dictatorial propaganda designed to influence a nation's understanding of its past often will reverberate long after the dictator has departed or been forced from office" (Galaty and Watkinson 2), it is certainly also the case that such reverberations do not necessarily faithfully reproduce the original message. (15)
The turning of fascist propaganda on its head in "sawdust Caesar" fashion was also the approach of choice for the more sensational places associated with the regime. The "over-showy" Foro Italico (formerly the Foro Mussolini), "lavish in statues, lavish in tribute to the Caesar-who-fell" (S. Clark 149), was of particular interest just after the war, because it offered a distinct fascist project to contemplate, and because its mosaics and statuary recalled the public face of fascism familiar from before the war (McNamara and Long n.p.). (16) The visual parallels between the compound and the imperial fora, which had been central to the regime's plans during its design and construction, were not lost on post-war tourists, although the lessons they drew were not the same. This "hallucinating image of imperial Rome" evoked the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and not, as intended, its heyday (E. Clark 133). This is not surprising, given that the fall of fascism, the death of Mussolini, the loss of colonies, all were fresh in the minds of visitors, and all seemed points of exquisite irony while contemplating the stone celebration of the regime. Reading the various inscriptions, Eleanor Clark wrote, was "like hearing a troubled person talking in his sleep; you would like to help him" (135).
Perhaps more interesting, though, was the other side of the comparison, the vision of ancient Rome that was offered as explanatory counterpart to the Rome of the "sawdust Caesar." Agnes Rothery, for example, described the Foro Italico at length at the beginning of a chapter dedicated to Roman leisure activities both ancient and modern. She began by expressing admiration for the complex itself and for its cultivation of physical fitness, and assuring readers that, while it was immensely popular (and despite the "Mussolini Dux"-inscribed monolith), "few associate it with Il Duce any more [...]. For today the Foro Italico is a true sport center, quite different from the one of Mussolini's ideology" (119). That ideology and the militant goal of using sport to mold future soldiers she expressly condemned. Then, calling the grounds a "very humble architectural successor to the Colosseum" (122), she went on to discuss ancient games and entertainments and their perversions. It was the Roman baths, though, that in Rothery's estimation represented the closest ancient counterpart to the Foro Italico. These too, she insisted, were magnificent in scope and had had the potential for good, though they had been built for "vanity and vice" (130). Finally, Rothery employed the baths and the uses that their ruins had been put to by modern Romans to make again her larger point: fascism was finished and should be relegated to the lessons of the past. She wrote that "Mussolini had an admirable idea when he conceived of a new sport center for Roman youth, although the idea of training them to brutality and unscrupulousness was far from good. But those days are over, just as the sins engendered by the baths of Caracalla and Diocletian are over" (130).
A decade after Rothery's book was published, this assessment was tested, and for the most part proved dominant. In 1960 Rome hosted the Olympic Games, with many of the events taking place on the grounds of the Foro Italico. Although there had been some discussion in political circles and among the members of the Italian Olympic committee of the potential embarrassment that the Mussolini obelisk and mosaics might cause, and there was some pressure to hide or remove reminders of the fascist past, in the end not much was done ("Mussolini pillar ..." 3; Maraniss 81). The American press was more likely to discuss the "embarrassing nudity" of the statues in the Stadio dei Marmi (a baseball catcher with a chest protector but no "britches"! (Daley S2), and the Vatican-influenced decision to affix fig leaves or other covering (Zimmerman G13), than it was to remind readers of the fascist past. For U. S. observers, the dynamics of the Cold War had by then so outstripped the memory of World War II that when debate over the venue was reported, it was framed almost entirely by contemporary ideological concerns. "Communists sought in vain to have any memory of Mussolini erased. Roman authorities stood their ground against it on the premise that however distasteful, this was part of the country's history, just as the martyred Christians were" (Zimmerman G30). Here, too, we have the echo of the sawdust Caesar, with ancient Rome evoked not in its glory but in its decadence in order to relegate fascism to the lessons of the past.
Devices like this seem also to have been a favorite tool of travel writers when it came to fitting the ventennio into historical overviews of Rome. Comparisons between Mussolini and the Roman emperors would have been recognizable to readers familiar with Mussolini's own oft-declaimed portrait of himself as a modern-day Augustus. But also before, during and after the war, American scholars, journalists, and others had frequently asserted that ancient Rome was "key" to understanding fascist Italy (Spencer 230; McDaniel 162). Such accounts were reinforced by Hollywood's take on ancient Rome during the years in question. (17) As has been convincingly demonstrated by film scholars, popular "sword and sandal" films not infrequently, and with varying degrees of sophistication, cast the fall of the empire as an object lesson in the inevitable downfall of dictatorship. Drawing comparisons between the fate of ancient Rome and that of Mussolini's Italy, they employed crowd scenes reminiscent of war-era documentaries, shots of tyrannical emperors giving addresses from balconies, and, in a marvelous historical spiral, re-appropriated for ancient Rome the ancient Roman symbols that had been appropriated by fascism, rendering them with modernist strokes to make clear their contemporary connotations (Winkler, "The Roman Empire" 170-80; "Cinema and the Fall of Rome" 140-45; Wyke 20-22, 128-45).
The other figure that emerged with some frequency in post-war travel literature, as a historical precedent to Mussolini, is Cola di Rienzo (Streeter 40-41; E. Clark 49-51, 133; Rothery 149-50). (18) His story was sketched, often on the pretext of identifying the statues of the Campidoglio, almost exclusively in terms of parallels with Mussolini--his humble origins, his desire to restore the glory of Rome, his over-reaching delusions of grandeur, his death at the hands of the people. His statue thus became, temporarily, a sight for contemplating fascism. Cola di Rienzo's history as synopsized for tourists was a further lesson on the inevitable fate of dictators and the danger of too much power, but also a way of suggesting some fundamental flaw in the Italian character--a character that produced not only demagogues like "poor crazy Cola di Rienzo" (E. Clark 49), but crowds swayed into following them or turning on them with equal fervor.
Ultimately it was the infamous balcony of the Palazzo Venezia that would provide the most common and most enduring sight for contemplating fascism. Familiar from newsreels, photographs, and war-era reporting, this balcony offered the best--and for those on a schedule, the quickest--"fit" for early assessments of fascism. It allowed for the identification of fascism narrowly with Mussolini, echoing also the "great man" interpretation common in popular histories and biographies at the time. In the context of the Cold War and the "rehabilitation" of former enemies, this attribution avoided opening a wider debate on historical responsibility. Highlighting the most demagogic and histrionic moments of the regime also helped maintain the view of Italians as, if not victims, at least psychologically vulnerable, thus furthering the argument for continued U. S. engagement to protect them from themselves. Post-war writers reminded their readers that
The Palazzo Venezia [...] is the historic building where Mussolini embarrassed his callers by making them walk across the marble floor of an enormous room to arrive within range of his desk in a far corner. The building's balcony is the one from which, jutting his chin and popping his eyes, he made his clangorous speeches to the multitudes.
(S. Clark 183-84)
Palazzo Venezia, or more commonly "the balcony," thus became for tourists a kind of shorthand summation of fascism (and arguably remains so in today's guides), its emptiness an assurance that with Mussolini's death--also frequently recounted in lurid detail--that era had come to a close and "his hypnotized followers [had awakened] from their trance" (Rothery 18).
If It's Tuesday, It Must Be.... Conclusion
Cold-War tourism in Rome and the various kinds of writing that contributed to it brought together pleasure, politics, pop culture, history, identity, and memory. Like all travel, this too elicited reflection on both the destination and the home country, and necessitated the negotiation of culturally situated discourses that reveal much about the assumptions, fears, and values of the post-war era. That an attempt to "process" fascism had become a component of the standard Rome "package" in the period seems clear. It is especially evidenced by guides or articles that purport to boil down a Roman or even Italian vacation to the "essentials." For example, in a special 1955 issue of Holiday magazine devoted to Italy, Paul E. Deutschman promised a "modern Grand Tour" where, "by careful planning and absolutely no stinting you can 'do' Italy thoroughly in eighteen very full, very exciting days," and all for a cost of $275! (102). He allotted three of the eighteen days to Rome, "the seat of almost everything." Even in the rushed and selective inventory of sights and activities laid out he managed to find a place for "Mussolini's balcony" in the itinerary (110-12). This is not to say that he attached particular emphasis or importance to it; on the contrary, it received no more and no less treatment than the Trevi Fountain, Piazza del Popolo, and the Spanish Steps. It was simply one of a number of key sights that "ought to be seen" in order to properly appreciate Rome.
Contemplation of war and the fascist past was just a small part of most travelers' experience of the Eternal City, one layer of overwriting in a post-war tourist palimpsest--to exploit a term much loved by students of Rome. A visit involved multiple ways of viewing and interacting with the city, and most of the same sources used here to explore how fascism and the war influenced the tourist experience could be used to examine any number of other aspects: American influence and the resistance thereof in the travel industry, for example, or the onset of the "made in Italy" craze; changing attitudes towards Italian cuisine, or the impact of "Hollywood on the Tiber" and the advent of the jet age. Only by looking at each of these layers and how they fit together, overlapped, and/or canceled each other out can we begin fully to understand the cultural connections or misconnections made. After all, for many an American on "Roman Holiday" in the 1950s, a morning at the Colosseum, a walk through the Forum, some minutes to ponder and photograph "the balcony," shopping on the Via Condotti, drinks at Doney's, and dinner in Trastevere often happened in the same trip. And all on day three, perhaps.
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(1) My thanks to Cristina Mazzoni for her patience and editing advice, and to the two anonymous readers whose suggestions and comments helped me to think more deeply about the sources that serve as a basis for this essay.
(2) The term "the American century" was coined by publisher Henry Luce in 1941 to describe the spread of American values he envisioned for the post-war world. "Irresistible Empire" is Victoria De Grazia's term (and the title of her book) describing the spread of consumerism and American market capitalism in 20th-century Europe.
(3) Already in the 19th century, as William Wetmore Story famously quipped: "Every Englishman abroad carries a Murray for information, and a Byron for sentiment, and finds out by them what he is to know and feel by every step" (qtd. in Buzard, "The Grand Tour and After" 50). The expression "what ought to be seen" is borrowed from a 1998 article by Rudy Koshar on guidebooks and national identity.
(4) A couple of fascinating examples of this still ongoing process can be found in the "Angels and Demons" tours now operated by a variety of Roman agencies and in the "Luoghi del cinema" initiative of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali, which has placed bilingual (English and Italian) signs around the city making sights of piazze, buildings or street corners that have served as filming locations in well-known movies.
(5) Although my concern is with non-fiction accounts, I have also tried to recognize and account for the ways that fictional renderings, whether print or film, influenced views of the recent Roman past.
(6) American war films likewise adopted this basic portrayal in the rare cases that they focused on Italy. In "A Walk in the Sun," for example, John Ireland as Private Windy Craven sums up the Italian situation as follows: "Poor suckers, they don't even know what hit 'em and in a way it's their own fault. They let themselves be sold a bill of goods that they were gonna boss the world, and now the guys that sold it to them are gone and they're left holding the bag. Poor suckers. Right now they don't even own their own country."
(7) Agnew has suggested that similar characterizations persist in present-day views of Italy and has traced what he calls the "myth of backwardness" to the temporal coincidence of the age of "discovery" with the "rediscovery" of the ancient past centered on Rome (29-35).
(8) It perhaps bears noting that McCormick wrote with the fervor of a convert. A staunch Catholic, she had been an enthusiastic admirer of Mussolini, especially in the years surrounding the signing of the Lateran Pact.
(9) Even the I Love Lucy show, which sent Ricky, Lucy, and their neighbors the Mertzes on a European tour in the 1955-56 season, marked the entrance into Italy with a plot line involving a plucky but poor shoeshine boy and assorted other urchins ("Lucy...").
(10) The films of the period surely rate a separate analysis, and using them as "travel literature" is admittedly problematic. Nonetheless, particularly in the case of Roman Holiday, it seems to me a justifiable inclusion. A large part of this film's appeal was its visual language of tourism. It certainly reached a broader public than the writings I have examined, and its content, along with the very circumstances of its production, that is, the incarnation of Rome in this period as "Hollywood on the Tiber," contributed greatly to the allure of Rome as a tourist destination. It and the many similar films that followed also influenced tourist practices, as visitors sought out associated sites and experiences or simply frequented Rome "hot spots" looking to catch a glimpse of whatever movie stars were in town working on their next picture (Hofmann XX13).
(11) Morton, perhaps the best known English language travel writer of the period, was the best-selling author of more than thirty travel books, and also contributed frequently to American travel magazines and newspapers.
(12) The EUR neighborhood also got some attention, but perhaps because it was largely still incomplete at war's end, discussion of it tended to be split between a view that emphasized the angle of grandiose plans unfulfilled and one that focused more pragmatically on the building boom of the post-war era.
(13) For a brief time in the 1950s a restaurant, Palazzi, located in what had been Clara Petacci's villa seems to have capitalized on just this sort of interest (McNamara and Long n.p.; Matthews, "News of Food" 6).
(14) For how such a view influenced U. S. policy towards Italy see Del Pero 1304-34; Wingenter 115-18.
(15) There were also, it should be made clear, a few writers who seem to have been unaware, or at least unwilling to make their readers aware, that the famous sights they described were at all altered since Addison's day, and such a perspective appears to have won out in the long term. The allure, perhaps especially strong for Americans, of "walking the streets of Cicero" and the desire to "see" Rome with famous authors may have contributed (and contribute still) to some reticence about discussing how fascism had changed the "Eternal City."
(16) The fact that it had been temporarily used as recreation center by the U. S. Fifth Army Division may also have contributed to awareness of the place, so far from the usual tourist circuit. In addition, it was used as a location in the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain.
(17) Though it certainly had a more limited impact, theater, too, contributed. To Orson Welles's infamous pre-war production of Julius Caesar, where actors wore fascist and Nazi-type uniforms, can be added the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1959 production of Coriolanus, directed by Peter Hall, during which Coriolanus (Laurence Olivier) was strung up by his heels, and his dead body was stabbed by Tullus Aufidius (Anthony Nicholl) ("Coriolanus ...").
(18) The fascination with Cola di Rienzo seems to have been short-lived, as least as far as travel writers were concerned; he gets much less treatment after 1960. Perhaps post-war travel writers were drawing on scholarly works from the 1930s-50s that had re-interpreted di Rienzo as proto-fascist. By the 1960s scholarly trends had moved on and invited other interpretations (Musto 13-18).
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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