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When in Rome…


As it is the Civic Holiday weekend I will offer readers a blessedly short blog entry this week and only offer an observation from a recent holiday to Europe.
For 10 days in July I visited the City of Rome, Italy with my 12-year-old son Jackson, while his older 16-year-old brother Wilson also visited that city and then others throughout the month with his older cousins, with whom he stayed in rented apartments (in Florence, Venice and Naples) on a more or less separate holiday.
Anyway, my Roman holiday with Jackson was, of course, terrific. We stayed in an old fashioned bed-and-breakfast style hotel beside the Spanish Steps, opposite the house in which the poet Keats died, and it was easy to imagine famous people having stayed in our hotel and likely our very room in the past; Oscar Wilde perhaps, or the English novelist Graham Greene.
We toured many of the traditional sites such as the Coliseum, the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel and a myriad other sites. (My favorite was the catacombs.)
In any case, what the trip taught me more than anything else was the fact that the consumer culture is now our culture, and it is global. In truth, and this was underscored by our staying in a fashionable area with designer shops, but the point would hold true no matter, people were passively interested in the ancient monuments, but the real culture, the vital culture that informs their lives nowadays, is the culture of consumerism, and of brands.
And this has implications for those of us interested in waste and recycling issues, and also in reducing the size of our society’s environmental footprint, because we won’t get very far with that as long as our culture is that of the brand and that of consumption for its own sake.
I noticed an energy and interest in the air-conditioned stores that as largely absent in the hot and humid museums and galleries, which people seemed to visit from some sense of obligation. The stores were busy and signage and images of models wearing clothes and other merchandise were ubiquitous.
The ancient churches of Rome were largely empty, while the stores were full to capacity. One doesn’t need to be Marshall McLuhan to notice that these are the temples and churches of our real culture, the places where we worship with our fixed attention and tithe with our credit cards.
While it pays me to admit it, I was more interested in watching the people on the street going in and out of stores than I was in the old paintings and sculptures that I studied in school. This is where our culture has moved and we must acknowledge it before we have any chance of doing something about it.


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