...iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses. ... (Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81)
Juvenal here makes reference to the elite Roman practice of providing free wheat to some poor Romans as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power through popularity.
Saturday night was the 5th edition of La Notte Bianca, or, White Nights. To spend a white night in Italian means to be up all night/can’t sleep/you get the drift. In my opinion, it would make a bit more sense to call it a black night, or dark night, because of how you’re going to feel the next day, but… who am I to argue with such a colorful language?
So, the white night is when hundreds of cultural events (theatre, music, art, acrobatics…) take place in hundreds of venues across the city. Just like in days of yore, our enlightened Mayor Veltroni has truly got this right. Although it costs the public coffers gazillions of dollars in expenses from overtime for bus drivers, to the national guard, to the doormen and security people in every museum…(and that’s not to mention the army of garbage trucks rolling out at 5am…no wonder the Italians had to pull out of Iraq). This, some spoil sports would argue, while basic services like superfluous school teachers and day care and housing for the poor remain fundless, of course.
Like the money-losing Olympics, cities across the globe are clamoring to repeat this folly. But, it’s loads of fun, and, I can attest that, while some of the acts are tedious or, lame like the hip hop guys whose sound was fab, except it was pre-recorded…all in all, it was terrific (having taken in a real art collection, hip hop performances, a bell concert at the lake, and drinks on the famed via veneto, all by 4am).
I must, however, for the sake of my readers, describe the scene which took place at the new & improved Palazzo delle Esposizioni…a contemporary art venue obviously dedicated to minimalist something or other: After waiting an entire hour in an Italian ‘queue’, finally fighting our way to the top with hundreds of people suddenly vaporating (alà Harry Potter) always just in front of us, we wandered through 7 empty rooms where musicians should have been, while discovering ridiculous installations, most of which used bank spy cameras for us to view ourselves. Wow. Neat. Awesome. For music, we were treated to something that sounded like a car crash for flute in Bminor. But, hey, that’s just an opinion. Other than the 20000 of us who wasted our time at this venue, a good time was decidedly had by all.
The only (other) downside was that around 4:30 or so, I started having a coughing attack, a slight case of asthma.
I realized that, although I had been out of doors for the better part of 7 hrs., I was suffocating from smoke inhalation. No cars or motor scooters were permitted on the roads, so…what was the deal?
In a country where they abolished smoking in public places and actually enforced the law, it would appear that this event attracted every smoker from Turin to Trapani from Bolzano to Bari. They say 2 million people crowded the streets -- I think that's the entire number of Italy's smokers -- so they could finally enjoy terrific indoor events, outdoors, smoking all the while. It felt as though I had been in a dark bar for the last 7 hrs.
Like an alcoholic awakening to an empty refrigerator after a bend, the Italians have woken up to the fact that although nearly all of Europe abolished smoking, they were incredibly the only country to have actually respected the law. And, the headlines love to bring this up; but not out of pride -- out of a ‘hey, who pulled the wool over our eyes?!’ kind of reflection… They can’t believe that the French just keep puffing away shamelessly while here, smoke is nowhere in your eyes… except outside, that is.
The only way I can think of improving on this event and give the people what they truly want, while going one step further than the Ancients? By holding one of those great ‘smoke-ins’ like we used to have every April 1st in Ann Arbor – smoking marijuana, that is. Along with, of course, vouchers for low-cost bread. Now, that’d be an event to go down in history.
From Wikipedia: Panem et circenses is given as the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which has given up its birthright of political freedom:
... Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man,
the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time
handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now
restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things:
bread and circuses