Aggravated Damage to Objects of Cultural Significance

Renata Forlì, now 39 years old as of 2017, was never really sure about the determinants that compelled her to commit certain acts. Maybe “commit” was even too strong a word to describe her actions. She wasn’t committing to anything so much as fumbling along at random, not so much deciding what to do as letting the whimsicality of life–some would say fate–decide on her behalf.

This is precisely how she ended up in Rome late March, just at the height of the beginnings of what Edith Wharton would call “Roman fever”–that condition people seem to get of falling in love upon entering the Eternal City. But Renata had never been very adept at that seemingly congenital female skill of attracting men. And, in any event, she hadn’t come to Rome to fall in love or meet an ephemeral lover, but only because it had been suggested to her by her brother, who happened to have won a sweepstakes from Condé Nast Traveler, the dates of which conflicted with his work schedule. Renata, on the other hand, hadn’t taken a vacation in years from her job as a menial and middling editor for an online magazine specializing in slightly more sophisticated slop than Elite Daily.

So it was that fortune led her to Rome that March. She knew that she should feel happy. Nonetheless, in between delighting in spaghetti all’Amitriciana and snapping photos of the Tiber River at various stopping points along the bridge, she found a lurking sensation of anger and dissatisfaction creeping and coursing through her psyche. She couldn’t place what this buildup of apoplexy was stemming from. She was, after all, gallivanting around one of the greatest, most legendary cities in the world–and for free no less. So what was eating at her so? A lifetime of not addressing anything real, of never looking beyond the surface of what was supposed to be done? She didn’t want to think too much about it. She thought enough to realize that too much of it could lead to madness. Especially since this was a trait that ran in her family, starting with her great-great grandmother, Herodia Overbrook, a classic American dame in that she was often made to feel like she was going out of her mind for being too vocal, and therefore ended up actually going out of her mind as a result.

Sometimes, Renata felt that way as well. Like if she truly expressed what she was feeling on the inside, it would all come bubbling up in a manner that might either drive everyone away or prompt them to confine her to a mental institution. So she said nothing, did nothing. Went about her days in complacency for fear that acting otherwise would find her too far at the other end of the spectrum of extremes.

Incontrovertibly, this form of emotional extirpation was eating her alive, is what led her to rage unexpectedly while on her nighttime tour of the Pantheon that March evening. She snapped internally as her tour guide, Flavio, an affable 26-year-old from Umbria (aren’t all 26-year-olds affable though?), motioned to a row of eighteenth century candelabra, telling his group of semi-interested listeners that each one measured a height of three meters. No sooner had he delivered this factoid than Renata was swinging her arms about in an initially non-directed tornado of vitriol. Soon, however, her aim was solely for the candelabra. She toppled over the first one completely, decimating its arms in the fall. As she descended on another one, Flavio and a burly male participant (presumably German) in the tour pinned her down. Flavio knew that the carabinieri would take their sweet time about coming to apprehend her, and he wished he knew what to do in a situation as unprecedented as this. Or that he’d just stayed in Umbria where nothing of this nature ever happened–where the tourists were at least far less gauche than the ones that tended to flock to Rome.

Roughly twenty minutes later, with Renata in a somewhat fugue-like state, the carabinieri at last arrived to haul her away. When asked why she behaved so uncouthly, she said simply, “I don’t know why I did it.” And, in truth, this inscrutable spell was a culmination of not knowing what drove her motives for the whole of her life. It highlighted the dangers of existing guilelessly. The world was not made for the non-intentioned. That’s why Renata was such an anomaly, inevitably prone to getting steamrolled by life. For try as she might to “just exist,” the pressures around her–to pursue “something,” to strive for “more”–invariably tended to seep into her subconscious, and, ultimately, her soul. Therefore, it could be no wonder that she became a dormant volcano, erupting at the most impromptu of moments in the manner that she did, and unable to logically explain her behavior to anyone in a fashion that they would comprehend or empathize with.

*******

She was given the maximum sentence, five years, for her crime: aggravated damage to objects of cultural significance. But where was her own cultural significance? She was a U.S. citizen of Italian descent who could not find her place on either continent. Yet, somehow, her place had all at once been decided for her. Like everything else. An invisible hand moved her along, and she let it because she suffered more than mildly from abulia.

Still, the prison wasn’t so bad. The food was certainly better than your average American fare, and she rather thought that Amanda Knox was making a big deal out of nothing as she bit into a prosciutto panino and brushed up on her Italian conversation skills with Silvia, a 41-year-old who had been arrested on charges of drug possession. Maybe this is what her destiny was leading up to all along: transitory notoriety and bilingualism. Or so she would tell herself until the next unexpected plot point in her timeline cropped up. In the meantime, there was parmesan, mortadella and offers for crime docuseries interviews and to turn her story into a bad TV movie on RAI.

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