ROME :  This story tells an ancient story. It also tells a modern one.

Behold the Colosseum. The other day I did, and I was blown away, not by its link to the past but by its luster in the present.

On previous trips to Rome and during the two years I lived here, I knew it as a gray and grimy relic. Now it's stripped of soot and the color of ivory, thanks to the elaborate cleanup.

But a few hundred yards away, in a hilltop park, there's a badly cracked pavement, wildly unkempt grass and oodles of trash, because there's trash almost everywhere in Rome, whose officials keep promising - and failing - to get the problem under control.

That's the first thing that Romans mention if you ask them about their city these days. It's also the second and third.

''A tragic situation,'' Massiliano Tonelli told me. ''No other country in Europe has a capital in this condition.''

Tonelli doesn't just bemoan it. He along with other Romans, chronicles it, on a sadly popular website, Roma Fa Schifo { '' Rome Sucks '' }, that he helped to found it.

It posts pictures of such eyesores as defaced subway signs, Dumpsters that are disappearing under mountains of uncollected garbage and even, recently, a man in a kitschy gladiator costume taking a leak in public.

Type the hashtag, #degrado {''degradation''} into Twitter and up comes a gallery of similar scenes.

They're not new. The website has been around for almost a decade. But the situation is arguably worse than usual and more demoralizing than ever, because Romans last year elected a young new mayor from a young new political party who pledged to turn things around.

Almost 11 months later, she has done nothing of the kind.

On top of which, there's the shocking, mocking contrast of monuments that gleam for tourists while everyday Rome reeks for its residents.

The contradiction constantly reminds Italians that ''the public sector is inefficient and totally disorganized while the private sector functions better,'' Tonelli said.

A roughly $30 million donation from Tod's, the Italian shoemaker, is financing a sorely needed restoration of the Colosseum. The impressive scrubbing of the of the  Spanish Steps, which was completed last year, reflected a $1.7 million investment by the Jeweler Bulgari, which has a flagship store close by.

Fendi forked over some $3 million for the rejuvenation of the Trevi Fountain. It glistens as it hadn't for decades     

The honor and serving of the Operational Research on great cities of the world continues. The World Students Society thanks author and research Frank Bruni.


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