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Making it in Rome


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Rome is a crazy city. The traffic is chaotic, the politics quite impenetrable to outsiders, the beauty of its fountains and piazzas in sharp contrast with its grimy buildings, its impressive array of artistic and architectural masterpieces, its rich pagan and Christian history, its saints and its sinners, its nuns and its pickpockets. I've been in Rome the last few weeks taking an intensive Latin-as-if-it-were-a-living-language course at my alma mater, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, where I got a doctorate in canon law 25 years ago.

Some things never change. Rome is rightly called the Eternal City, because getting things done here can take forever. As the Roman poet Catullus once wrote in another context, "Odi et amo," "I hate and love" at the same time. Roma spelled backwards is amor, the Latin word for love. But only backwards. Romans put a lot of stock in "la bella figura," making a good impression. This makes for great fashion and style, of course, but it can often substitute for substance. Romans are big on conspiracy theories, that there is something behind everything, that things are not as they seem. And of course that is often true.

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