The first time I visited EUR, Mussolini's failed Fascist wonderland on the outskirts of Rome, was back in July 2001. That was the year the Eternal City's left-wingers were fomenting dissent in response to the recent re-election of right-wing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. By chance, I met one of said left-wingers at a gay sauna called Europa--but, of course, the only reason I was there was so I could sit in the steam room and sweat out all the champagne I had drank the night before.
Luis, a Colombian immigrant and self-described Marxist/Buddhist, took me on a political tour of Rome which began with the rarely visited Fascist buildings of EUR and ended, more or less, with the socialist/anarchist stronghold of San Lorenzo--the radical-chic 'hood populated by politically active squatters and students. (Also on the tour, because it was convenient for one of our dalliances, was the apartment that belonged to a former Communist Party senator where sofa-surfing Luis was currently crashing).
Our visit to EUR (pronounced AY-oor and stands for Esposizione Universale di Roma) was a highly memorable one. I was fascinated by the deserted de Chirico-esque ambience and haunted by the often derelict appearance of much of the area. The kitschy Roman Empire-inspired warrior statues that Il Duce had erected around his "square Colosseum" in the late 1930s were stained with age, their pedestals surrounded by sprouting weeds. The only sign of life was a teenaged Italian couple tucked away behind one of the statues engaged in a heavy petting session. After enduring hordes of deplorably dressed tourists and cheesy minstrels in bad gladiator costumes at the real Colosseum the day before, Mussolini's melancholic, ersatz Rome certainly appealed to me.
The next time I was in Rome, in 2005, it was at the invitation of the Turin Film Commission who had arranged an interview for me with Dario Argento. When the taxi from Fiumicino Airport passed by EUR's square Colosseum, which is highly visible from the highway, my heart sank: a gigantic banner ad for a mobile phone company hung across the building, reducing its stoic, enigmatic appearance to that of banal scaffolding. Given the average Roman's blase and unsentimental attitude toward even authentic ancient ruins, however, I shouldn't have been surprised.
Fortunately when I returned to Rome this July to attend AltaRomAltaModa, the plot to turn EUR into a backdrop for crass advertising seemed to have been foiled. My driver took me there straight from the airport and this time I found the square Colosseum surrounded by a wire fence and evidence of construction and restoration. The muscular statues had been stripped of their decrepit patinas and shone brightly in the sun, while the square Colosseum was as white and polished as a Hollywood actress's veneered teeth. As Mink Stole declares while a gun is shoved up her ass in John Waters' Desperate Living: "Go ahead! A single bullet can never destroy the beauty of fascism!"
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