Austerity measures and global diplomatic realignment have trumped literary romanticism, it seems, and the British Foreign and Colonial Office has decided to close its consulate in Florence.
The New York Times has a nice article on this sorta-kinda historic happening. But if you, like me, refuse to comply with the NYT's new paywall, you are out of luck. OR ELSE you can go to the NYT World Edition, which for some reason is still available free online, the way God intended information to be.
Here it is, Britain to Close a Consulate With a View:
FLORENCE, Italy — It has seen the rise of the Grand Tour and the package tour, the romance of E. M. Forster’s “Room With a View” and the tensions of two world wars. And now, after five centuries, the British Consulate in Florence is closing its doors, a victim of budget cuts and the currents of history.
Once a haven for traveling aristocrats and dreamy Britons escaping the strictures of home for the looser ways of Italy, in recent years the consulate has dealt more with lost passports than lost morals. But it holds a central place in the history of British-Italian relations, and news of its closing has been taken as an affront here.
The mayor of Florence has expressed regrets, one Florentine aristocrat says she hopes to raise the issue at the royal wedding, and a leading British historian here has questioned Britain’s diplomatic priorities.
As the sun streamed through the windows of his office overlooking the Arno River on a recent morning, David Broomfield, the man who will most likely be the last British consul of Florence, treated the news wistfully. “It’s not like I’m the last governor leaving the old colony with a feather in his hat,” Mr. Broomfield said. “But it’s the end of an important tradition here for 500 years.” There was an English diplomatic presence in Florence as far back as the 1450s.
Across the room, lists of his predecessors hung framed on the wall in neat calligraphy. They begin in 1698 with Sir Lambert Blackwell, “consul at Leghorn,” as the port city of Livorno was then known, and continue through Sir Horace Mann, who as consul in Florence from 1760 to 1786 turned the consulate into a salon, receiving all Britons of rank who passed through the city.
On one panel, a line of devastating understatement reads, “No British representation in Florence 11 June 1940 to 1 Feb. 1945.” Every year, the city holds a memorial service for the first British soldier killed in the Allied liberation of Florence.
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“Obviously, I’m very sorry and sad, because the British Consulate in Florence has a very unique and beautiful history,” said the mayor, Matteo Renzi. But, he added, “The world changes, and it’s clear that in the era of EasyJet and Ryanair there’s no more Grand Tour.”
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For its part, the British Foreign Office “keeps the future shape of its network under constant review,” a spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “We are looking both to broaden and deepen our overseas network, particularly to increase our presence in emerging powers.”
Indeed, since 2007, the Foreign Office has opened consulates in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo; Antananarivo, Madagascar; and Juba, Sudan; and closed them in Durban, South Africa; Geneva; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Nagoya, Japan; and Aleppo, Syria; among other places.
Britain is also closing its consulate in Venice, meaning that Britons who need help or lose passports will have to travel to Rome, Milan or Naples for assistance.
“From a symbolic point of view, I’m very, very sad,” Mr. Broomfield said. “From a practical point of view, I understand putting consular resources in three posts, not five.”
Maintaining five consulates in Italy is obviously not in the cards for a nation undergoing severe economic contractions. Which makes me wonder all over again why the U.S. maintains some embassies and consulates in places of little importance to us, such as Burmuda. They would seem to be prime candidates for the budget chopping block.