Report from Rome

Paul Arpaia
Editor’s Note: History Department professor Paul Arpaia is only the second IUP faculty member to win the Rome Prize. (Daniel Perlongo of the Music Department was a Rome Prize winner in both 1970 and 1971 in musical composition. He took leave from IUP and was resident at the American Academy in Rome from 1970 to 1972.) Arpaia is filing dispatches to IUP Magazine throughout his year at the Academy. He sent this one in late November.

“We Are All Feeling Roman”

Now that we’ve been in Rome for a while, we’ve all begun to hunker down and work in earnest on our projects. We’ve also become much more used to living in the city.  And, though I’d hate to admit it, I, too, am among those who have become accustomed to the Roman landscapes of ancient ruins, medieval and Renaissance buildings and monuments, and umbrella pine trees. 

I no longer stop breathless at the sight of Rome, viewed from the large fountain Pope Pius V had  constructed on the Janiculum between 1610 and 1612 as a way of connecting his name to the emperor Hadrian, whose aqueduct supplies the water, and as a way of showing off his benevolence as king of Rome. Instead, I nod to the carabinieri guarding the Spanish ambassador’s residence next to the giant fountain and simply head down the 119 steps from the Janiculum to the Trastevere neighborhood below.

I no longer need to hold onto the railing, and I can now make it back up in the evening without needing to stop even once to catch my breath. I pause only twice on my way to the archive where I work—both times forced to stop as I cross the heavily trafficked avenues along the sides of the Tiber River.

I plunge into a medieval section of Rome, nonchalantly ignoring churches bedecked with fantastic artwork, taking no notice of the aromas that emanate from the shops filled with enticing salamis and cheeses, and indifferently passing the high school students feverishly finishing off their last cigarettes before the start of school.

Yes, we are all feeling Roman. We take the city in stride, mentally making notes of a museum, archaeological site, or church we want to go back and visit during free time.  But, we no longer stop in awe and leave off what we had planned to do to take in this incredible urban space.

Even my research has become part of a comfortable routine. For the past ten weeks, I have gone every day to the Historical Archive of the Italian Encyclopedia, which houses the papers of Luigi Federzoni, the Nationalist and Fascist figure whose biography I am writing. I arrive at 9:00 a.m. and leave at 5:00 p.m. with a fifteen-minute break to eat a delicious sandwich prepared for me by Mirella, one of the sous-chefs at the Academy.

I am happy to note that I have reached an important milestone in my research. I have finally finished my work in this archive. I’ve learned a lot from Federzoni’s papers about his interactions with intellectual and artistic elites during Fascism.

But, I also come away with more questions than answers—something that comes naturally when one begins doing historical research. I haven’t quite decided to which archive I will go next. But, I think I may start going to the Central State Archives, which is located outside Rome and where I hope to find answers to some of these questions.

In particular, I want to know more about Federzoni’s efforts to clamp down on liberals, leftist Catholics, socialists, and communists who tried unsuccessfully to bring down Mussolini’s government in 1924. Federzoni was appointed that year as minister of the Interior (a position that oversaw the police throughout Italy) when it became known that Mussolini had been involved in the murder of a famous Socialist legislator who had dared to speak out in parliament against the Fascists.

I also want to understand more about why Federzoni was chosen for the post. It appears from evidence that I found in the Historical Archive of the Italian Encyclopedia that he was chosen because of his close ties to the king of Italy and to the pope. He was a politician who had made his reputation as a proponent of law and order, family values, and patriotism. He was someone who could bring respectability to the neo-conservative coalition government led by a prime minister accused of complicity in a murder.

In 1924, and more so after World War II, Federzoni defended his actions as minister of the Interior as an attempt to restore law and order.  The problem with this argument (which most historians have accepted) is that the Fascists themselves were the ones breaking the laws, murdering, beating up, and intimidating outspoken political dissidents.

If Federzoni did try to curb Fascist “excesses,” he also used his police powers to crush any political activity that might threaten the government. So, I want to understand more what Federzoni was up to. I also want to see if he was correct in arguing that his measures were modeled after ones that had been approved by the government during a crucial phase of World War I, when Austria-Hungary had broken through the Italian lines and it seemed that Italy was on the verge of losing the war.

Italy was no longer at war with any of its neighbors in 1924. So, it would be significant to discover that Federzoni, the leader of the moderate political current within Fascism, used the excuse of some trumped-up domestic threat, posed by the opposition parties in parliament, to crush the existing liberal political guarantees of free speech, freedom of association, and a right to a fair trial. These measures hamstrung any legal opposition to Fascism and laid the foundation for the authoritarian Fascist state that would last until 1945.

All is not work. This week is Thanksgiving, and the mood in the Academy has turned lighthearted, despite the soaring euro that has us reeling every time we have to make a purchase. With the holiday season now in full swing, the arrival of our spouses or significant others adds to the merriment.

The kitchen has been preparing our Thanksgiving feast for weeks now, and most of us have given a hand peeling the chestnuts or cracking the walnuts that will fill the twenty turkeys that will feed our community of artists, scholars, and family members. We fellows are also preparing a holiday play for the children of the Academy staff, which we will produce at a party in a few weeks.

As Christmas decorations begin to appear in shop windows and as the churches begin to prepare for Christmas Day, Rome takes on a new look. And, while I prepare to start going daily to the Central State Archives in a different area of Rome, famous for its modernist architectural style, I find myself slowing down again, stopping and gaping in wonder at new marvels, and Rome becomes again for me the Eternal City.