Rome, whose population has swelled by persistent migration from the countryside since World War II, is the only major European capital that is still growing. Services of all sorts lag: roads, schools, public transport, hospitals, parking. Tiberius got dispatches quicker from Gaul than today's Romans receive letters from relatives in the United States. And how many other metropolises of 3 million these days have telephone numbers ranging anywhere from four to eight digits?
Rome's arteries are so hardened that expert Bernard Winkler has been summoned from West Germany to mastermind yet one more effort to conquer the city's 2,000-year-old traffic jam. Winkler earnestly promised that vehicular order "will be my Christmas present to the city this year."
"Rome's current difficulties are the consequence of a sharp decline of the city in the last 20 or 30 years," Deputy Prime Minister Gianni De Michelis noted over a cup of inky espresso one recent morning. "Other European cities like Paris, Frankfurt and Milan have gone one way, closer to Europe. Rome has gone the other. More and more, it is like a Third World capital.
"In two or three decades of great change in Europe, nothing was done to prepare Rome for a new way of life as an urban center," De Michelis added.
Proposals to modernize local governments with clearer lines of authority are pending in Parliament--and have been for years.
The rites of this Roman spring also were leavened by a juicy scandal at City Hall, where Mayor Pietro Giubilo resigned after he and 31 others were accused of corruption by an investigating magistrate.
Other magistrates are probing allegations of corruption in the traffic police, the city bus company and the municipal licensing and housing departments. The knaves, if they are uncovered, can only be featherbedding descendants of petty Roman functionaries who tried the patience of the Caesars.