vTight Edward Albee, who came to thernUniversit)’ of Cincinnati as a guest speakerrnand graciously told his audience thatrnin the Mapplethorpe affair Cincinnatirnwas attempting a “kind of Orwellianrnthought control.” “Democracy is terriblyrnfragile,” lectured Mr. Albee. “It must alwaysrnbe on the lookout for the bookrnburners.” (Wliat a fool. To watch closeuprnas Cincinnati thrashed out the issuesrnraised by the Mapplethorpe show was tornget a nice little glimpse of how resilientrnand sturd}’ and distinctly unfragile a thingrndemocracy is.) He also announced, “Artrncannot be obscene. Only attitudes towardrnart can be obscene.” If Mr. Albeernwent on to address the cpiestion ofrnwhether something obscene can be art, itrnwasn’t reported.rnMy favorite appraisal of the Mapplethorpernexhibit came from a womanrnwho, seeking something positive to sayrnabout the experience for which she’d justrnpaid five dollars, arrived at this: “At leastrnthere was no group sex.” I’ll bet you tworntickets to a Reds doubleheader that if therndepiction of group sex in art is where thatrnwoman draws the line, countless arts militantsrnare already deciding they won’t restrnuntil they have “challenged” and “disturbed”rnher with depictions of group sexrnin art. After all, nothing less than ourrn”fragile democracy” is at stake. Andrnwhen she discovers that she has givenrnthem a lot more leeway than they haverngiven her, that any line is evidence of,rnsay, “Orwellian thought control,” whatrnwill she say then?rn”At least there was no group sex.” Idioticrnpontifications from Edward Albee.rnIt’s that kind of stuff that makes me longrnfor a Royko-like voice in Cincinnati, onernthat can dish it out a little. But that’s a sillyrnlonging. Even without his recentrn”rube” jab, Mike Royko and the city ofrnCincinnati wouldn’t last a month together.rnHe would start making fun of thernReds, and then we’d really have an uproar.rnAt that point, the New York Timesrnwould pick up on the story and reportrnthat Royko had once made fun of somernbeloved Berkeley institution “without incident.”rnAnd then . . . well, have you everrnseen an entire city break out in mentalrnhives?rn]anet Scott Barlow, who writes fromrnCincinnati, Ohio, is the author of ThernNonpatriohc President: A Survey of thernClinton Years (Chronicles Press). Thisrnarticle first appeared in the October J 990rnLetter From Romernby Andrei NavrozovrnNothing Better to DornI have always wanted to spend some timernin Rome, for a whole rosary of personalrnreasons. As with much else in a person’srnprivate life, to recount these in print is tornexpose oneself to public ridicule. Yes,rnRome is a wonderful city. Yes, the food isrngood.rnBut then in England, where I live, thernnew Labour government came in to finishrnwhat the Tories started. And since anotherrnfamous fact about Rome is that itrnhas already fallen, I figured that over herernmy chances of being buried under thernEurorubble were encouragingly smaller.rnSo I moved. Days are now passing likerncenturies outside my window, to the ringingrnof church bells and the flashing ofrnJapanese cameras.rnThe paramount joy in all this is a newfoundrnsuperficiality. On my terrace, inrnthe suggestively Decembrist sunshine, Irnhave been reading a collection of Russianrnmemoirs from the 1830’s. How peoplernknew and valued their cifies in thoserndays —Petersburg, Moscow—how wellrnthey described every facade, ever)’ littlernbridge they had known since childhood!rnAnd of course we have all read suchrnmemoirs of London, of Paris, of Vienna,rneven of New York or San Francisco, writtenrnby the natural or adoptive children ofrnthose cities with the same tenderness, thernsame observant devotion.rnThis, alas, is no longer possible. Tornknow a great city like London or Romernnowadays, to know it by heart and inrndepth and over the span of a lifetime, is tornsustain an emotional injury that wouldrnrender a sensible man all but mute withrnindignation and shame. Only a giddyrnforeigner, a pliant, impressionable, superficialrnstranger, is ignorant enough notrnto taste the anti-oxidizing agent in his bottlernof bubbly prosecco; nor has he metrnenough cranky old-timers to acquirerntheir inevitable bitterness. He knowsrnnothing of the way things used to be 50,rn20, even ten years back. To him, everythingrnis the real thing.rn”The knowledge that the world is ending,”rnwrote a Russian writer in the I920’s,rn”is what distinguishes an individual fromrna philistine.” In retrospect I am beginningrnto think that this leave of absencernfrom London, a place which during thernlast 13 years I had learned to use and tornlove like the great library it is, was really arnconvoluted means of getting a fewrnmonths’ respite from living the life of anrnindividual.rnOf all the comitries I have ever visited,rnItaly is the only place where one can livernlike a philistine without wearing trainers,rnreading the International Herald Tribune,rnor degenerating into an animal in otherrnways. One look in the dining room of arnmiddle-of-the-road hotel anywhere inrnEurope will remind us that, at the momentrnof pouring anemic, bluish milkrnover their bowls of high-fiber cereal, middle-rnclass Swedish, French, or Belgianrnfamilies look exactly alike; that is to say,rnthey look American. Fhcy are ready forrnlife in the United States of Europe, wherernever)’thing will be “better and more fun,”rnas their predecessors in interest used tornsing, not always tunefully, aboard eastboundrncattle trains.rnBy contrast, in Italy, philistine life isrnpossessed of an aesthetic so richly ritualizedrnthat a Roman pharmacy owner on arnweek’s skiing holiday with his family inrnCortina d’Ampezzo will be mistaken forrna serious nobleman among serious noblemen.rnNeither he nor his wife will gornskiing, of course; hauteur, like couture,rnwill not be ruffled by rude Teutonicrnwinds; instead, they will join the carefullyrntimed round of cocktails and promenadesrnthat exhibit their exquisite, almostrnhypochondriac idleness, his languid wit,rnand her new furs to fine advantage.rnAdmittedly the weight of tradition isrnresponsible. The Italian bourgeois hadrnbegun to promenade when the aristocracyrnstill fenced and boxed. Now that thernmiddle classes of the world have united,rnunder the colors of Benetton, in Americanismrn—sport, most conspicuously, andrnall the attendant trappings of the sportingrnlife—the Italian is the odd man out. Hisrnvision of the active life may be centeredrnon the English country’ house of a centuryrnago, but milike Ralph Lauren he neverrnran and sweated to get there in one generation.rnTo the contrap,’, the Italian simplyrnpromenaded until every bourgeoisrnaround him turned gentilhomme, andrnnow he promenades among them like arngreat aristocratic original. None ofrnwhich, incidentally, has deterred Benettonrnfrom selling the Brooklyn Bridge tornBrooklyn, or at least Brooklyn Heights.rnApart from tiadition, which has savedrnJULY 2001/35rnrnrn