Rick Steves' audio tours were a mainstay of our recent visit to Rome. They tend to be a bit flippant for my taste, and sometimes a bit raunchy, but they come with a lot of great information, too.
The following paragraph pulled me to a complete stop, however, right in the middle of the Pantheon.
[Italy's] Victor Emmanuel III ruled for 44 years but lost favor because he collaborated with Mussolini and the Fascists. During World War II, instead of standing by his people, the king abandoned Rome to the Germans and fled. After the War, the Italians voted for a republic, and proclaimed that no male Savoy could ever again set foot on Italian soil. In 2003, descendants of the Savoy kings were allowed back into Italy for the first time. But they've demonstrated a knack for bad press relations, and saying stupid things. They still complain that Italy owes them money, even while they live in stunning wealth in Switzerland.
What's wrong with this? Why did it have me scratching my head? It's the final sentence: They still complain that Italy owes them money, even while they live in stunning wealth in Switzerland.
Maybe it's the math major in me, but I hate logic that isn't logical, and that sentence—and even more, the derision with which it was spoken—makes no sense.
Perhaps the Savoy descendants are stupid and rude; many of us are. Perhaps they do live in stunning wealth. What does that have to do with whether or not Italy owes them money?
There's a Rockefeller somewhere who owes me 25 cents. Her children and ours were in the same YMCA swimming classes. This was back in the days of pay telephones—when not even Rockefellers had cell phones—and she borrowed a quarter from me because she didn't have the required coin. I expected her to pay me back at the next class, but she forgot, and I didn't ask. The amusement factor of being able to say that the Rockefeller family owed me money was well worth 25 cents.
Technically, she still owes me the money. And if the situation had been reversed, and I owed her the quarter, my debt would still stand, despite the fact that the wealth of the Rockefeller family is now estimated to be some eleven billion dollars. If that's not "stunning wealth," I don't know what is. (Maybe their famous ancestor's wealth, which in today's dollars would make him more than three times as rich as Bill Gates.)
You can argue over whether or not Italy really owes money to the Savoys. But that question is completely independent of how much money the Savoy family has or does not have. In Switzerland or elsewhere. As it stands, Rick Steves' statement is a travesty of both justice and logic.
Does it matter? In a light-hearted tour guide, no. But I'm afraid there are all too many people today who would not have been stunned by the statement, nor would have descried any inconsistency with logic, justice, and reason—and that's a problem.