Despite my decades-long battle to make the study of Ann Radcliffe and Henry James novels a requirement for all non-Italian humanities departments, young women keep being sent to Italy entirely unprepared to deal with the heartbreak, cursed rocks, and plots to steal one’s Toulouse estate that abound there. And until this gap in our education system is filled, holidaymakers will continue going to Italy and stealing shit, inviting all manner of curses, heartbreak, and lost estates—a travelers’ malady that could be easily avoided with a single semester’s reading.
The latest example comes by way of a piece of ancient marble a young American woman named Jess recently mailed back to the National Roman Museum with a note of apology “for being such an American asshole.” According to the note, Jess had stolen the marble from somewhere—possibly the Roman Forum—and inscribed the stolen artifact with the message “To Sam, love Jess, Rome 2017” written in marker Jess tried and failed to scrub away before returning.
I presume that “Italian stolen artifact curse” inspired Jess to return her stolen rock (just as I presume, if my extensive research taught me anything, her unlucky friend Sam contracted tuberculosis and perished (RIP Sam). After all, there is a documented tradition of people who regularly return stolen bits and bobs to Pompeii after those pilfered items proceed to cast a drizzly pall of despair about their once-sunny domiciles and likely invite secretly poor counts to kidnap them. It’s pretty standard fare for a young person visiting Italy, according to all the literature. If our institutions would just let us teach prevention, this particular strain of malediction could be obsolete within a matter of years. But some, like Stéphane Verger, the director of the National Roman Museum, remain optimistic that we are well on our way towards greater dissemination of the knowledge that going to other countries and stealing shit is wrong:
“Who knows[...],” Verger told the Guardian. “The year 2020, decimated by the Covid pandemic, has made people reflect, as well as moved the conscience. The fact is that three years after the theft, she returned it – it’s a very important symbolic gesture.”
If everyone could please return their cursed objects to their country of origin before New Year for the curse-breaking benefit of the public, that would be lovely, thank you.