When in Rome, don’t do as the mayor does

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A view of the Eternal city: Rome is as beautiful as it is corrupted

Over the last couple of days, Rome has been monopolizing the headlines of many news outlets across the globe. All for the wrong reasons.

As the Eternal city is exceptionally beautiful, it is also incredibly hard to understand Rome, its own perception of time and the stratification of mafia networks, clientelism and corruption that centuries of bad governance have inflicted to the Eternal city.

I remember the laughter of an old woman at the cafe’, while I was visiting a friend last year, when I confessed that “since tube workers are perennially on strike, I might as well take a bus to get around town”. After drying her tears of incredulity, she then put a hand on my shoulder: “I’ve been waiting for my bus for the past 45 years son, so good luck with that”.

Ignazio Marino

Rome’s mayor Ignazio Marino

The last of a long succession of unsuccessful mayors is Ignazio Marino, 60, a surgeon from Genoa who lived and operated in the States for many years. As people close to him told me during his electoral campaign, “he doesn’t know Rome at all, he’s all but prepared. We had to employ an aid that would accompany him around to explain him the issues of different neighbourhoods, to help him locating places and mentally remember streets and avenues. I’m impressed he won the election”.

Now Marino is in trouble following an expenses row that will potentially lead to his resignations. Turns out, as a matter of fact, that the mayor has been quite loose with the municipality’s credit card, offering expensive dinners and extravagant buffets to friends and family.

Funeral for alleged mafia boss

The flamboyant carriage for the don’s funeral

Then, while Rome was paralysed by pyramids of trash in the middle of the streets and public transport personnel on a strike (not to mention, of course, a Godfather-style funeral for a local don that featured a golden carriage pulled by white horses and a brass band that played, ca va sans dire, the Godfather soundtrack), he decided to leave Rome at its crumbling destiny and take the first flight to Philadelphia, the last stage of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. “He invited me” Marino said while boarding. But on his way back, the Pontiff made it clear: “Never invited the mayor of Rome, nor did the organisers of the ceremony”.

Quite a bummer when you get busted by the Pope.

In his last attempt to settle the case, Marino tried to pay back the €20,000 of restaurant bills but it was a little too late and it resembled a Marie Antoniette-esque attempt to throw croissants to the villagers to prevent the revolution.

Of course it is Italy, so there’s not going to be any revolution (we’re all cousins in the end, and our mothers wouldn’t allow us to fight one another) but the extraordinary Jubilee called by Pope Francis will start in a few months and the Eternal city must have a mayor that is more concerned about the decadent state of the city’s infrastructure beleaguered by the mafia and less about what’s new on the restaurant menu.