Italy: Farewell

In my blogs from Egypt, I conveyed the concern many Egyptians expressed about the dramatic lack of tourists visiting Egypt.  They asked, “Where have all the tourists gone?”  Having spent the last few days in Rome, I think I have at least one good response to the Egyptians question – a good number of the tourists so clearly absent from Egypt are wandering the streets of Rome.  Maps in hand, cameras and cash at the ready… Rome is overflowing with visitors.  And that’s just Rome.  Additional waves of tourists are washing over every part of Italy.  From Florence to Venice, Milan to Naples, the tourism industry is alive and well in Italy.

It’s been a little while since my last visit to Italy, but I was quickly reminded why so many people put Italy at the top of their list when it comes to dream destinations.  The sights alone are enough to keep even the most ambitious travelers busy.  The Colosseum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Sistine Chapel, etc… the list just goes on and on, and that’s just Rome.

There seems to be an amazing building, sculpture, piazza, bridge, or sample of antiquity at every turn.  It’s almost sensory overload.  The remedies to counter the effects of so many amazing things to see and do appear to be: 1) lots of gelato, 2) lots of liquids, 3) lots of food, 4) lots of Euros, and 5) lots of patience.

I noted in earlier blogs that despite its banality, I would likely mention the weather a few more times before my trek was complete.  Rome deserves a special mention for the oven it was on the day I arrived.  I assumed the hottest weather was behind me, having survived Cairo and New Delhi, but Rome was a real scorcher.  A suit and tie doesn’t help things much either.

I mention the weather (again) because it offers yet another analogy.  While my first day in Rome was unbearably hot, day two was a little more interesting.  As I made my way to the Vatican, the clouds rolled in, the thunder and lightning produced a spectacular show, and then came the rain.  Most shop keepers and street vendors closed up and tourists ran for cover everywhere… just in time for the heavens to really open up.

I found the rain a welcome respite from the oppressive heat… so I proceeded to the Vatican.  I was soaked, but I’ll take rain over perspiration any day.  Because of the heavy rain, St. Peter’s Square was empty – an almost impossible scenario on a Saturday morning in August.  A few intrepid (or slightly crazy) souls and I ran across the square to gain access to St. Peter’s Basilica.  What I learned as I left St. Peter’s a little while later is that the rain not only provided a nice break from the heat, but it also saved me more than 4 hours in line to enter the Basilica.

The rain was an opportunity in disguise.  To most, the rain looked like an annoyance.  Something that couldn’t be avoided, so the consensus action was to wait it out and avoid it.  I think many of the challenges facing Italy are similar to the rain storm.  To many observers, they see Italy’s challenges and failings as annoyances; something that’s built-in to their system, so they have to try to wait it out.

For a few intrepid (and perhaps a little crazy) souls, the challenges facing Italy are seen as real opportunities.  Sure, there’s some discomfort that comes with the less-orthodox way of doing things, but those approaches may prove to be significant short-cuts to progress once the clouds have lifted.

Italy has some real challenges and issues – waiting them out or avoiding them just won’t work.  The North/South divide is a big issue.  Unemployment is a big issue.  Overwhelming complexity in the tax structure is a big issue.  Public debt and economic growth is a big issue.  And that’s just to name a few.

Here’s to hoping that a few intrepid souls with sufficient power and clout will throw caution to the wind, head out into the storm of challenges, and find their efforts rewarded with real progress for Italy.  It’s an admittedly optimistic view for this beautiful country… but I’ll go with optimism and hope over doom and gloom every time.  It’s the same approach I’m taking with my decades-long, standing request to Santa for a Ferrari.  Perhaps one day… perhaps one day.