By Brendan Boyle
It’s easier after three exhausting days in their capital to understand how Italians tolerate Silvio Berlusconi.
Surrounded as they are by 2400 years of history and in a city so full of life, Romans probably feel that like Nero, the iron grip of an intolerant papacy or Mussolini, their affliction will pass.
Instead, amongst the throng of tourists clogging their narrow streets, many seem to be reveling in the stimulation of their vibrant city.
Books, newspapers and magazines are everywhere – not just on the back shelves of supermarkets or in shopping malls.
The book market on a tree-lined pavement of the Piazza del Cinquecento outside the main station offers everything from Italian, French and English literature to pornography.
One vendor has leather leather bound volumes on the great composers, another offers art from the academic to the coffee-table style.
There are old copies of Rolling Stone, biographies of Bob Dylan and Shakespeare in languages I could not identify.
Near the Pantheon, a corner news vendor sells newspapers in Italian, English and French and a host of magazines under a green awning carrying the brand of The Economist.
And in the throbbing Trastevere, where life seems magnified, the warm glow of a book shop invites visitors from amongst the crowds promenading past and another outdoor vendor reflects the support, perhaps long past, of the venerable International Herald Tribune.
On the Circus Maximus, where chariot races and their super stars were the equivalent 2000 years ago of today’s Formula One circuit and champions, Romans jog or walk their dogs in the 9pm twilight.
On the banks of the nearby Tiber, an anonymous couple sit face-to-face on the broad stone wall of a staircase sharing a bottle of wine with bread and cheese.
Rome has died at least once in its long history. The Catholic Church, responsible for much of the awesome architectural heritage that anchors the city’s wealth, has not always been kind. Now Italy’s massive debt threatens the country and, by extension, its capital.
But with so much going for it, Rome seems bigger than any Berlusconi in a way that Africa’s promise doesn’t. Not yet, anyway.
ALL PICTURES BY BRENDAN BOYLE