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Letter from Rome

The Eternal City is broken, so who can fix it?

Letter from Rome

People silhouetted near Trevi's fountain in Rome. (Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP)

When I arrived in Rome some 32 years ago the city was at the tail-end of the "Dolce Vita," a post-World War II boom period in Italy that the brilliant Federico Fellini satirized in his 1960 film of the same name.

The country was enjoying three or more decades of ongoing modernization and was experiencing vigorous growth in its economy and jobs market.

The largely agrarian Italy of the pre-war years, the remnant of an ancient feudal society, had already been transformed into one of Europe’s industrial leaders and there was a pervasive confidence that this period of increasing prosperity would never end.

This was not a time of unbridled capitalism, however. Quite the contrary. Strong labor unions, a generous social welfare system and a carefully regulated economic and business sector offered security and peace of mind for the average Italian.

Bald ambition so apparent in other countries, such as the United States, was largely absent or at least masked by that inimitable Italian form of nonchalance and effortlessness known as bella figura — the art of always appearing to look good or at least cool, calm and collected.

"Va piano" — or, go slowly — was an essentially Italian piece of advice bosses and co-workers offered me early on and would repeat many, many times. It was part of an old saying: "Chi va piano va sano e va lotano." Those who go slowly, go sanely (or safely) and far.

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