ROME -- Protests by city councilmen, intellectuals and even fashion designer Valentino could force the first McDonald's restaurant in the Eternal City to close just a few weeks into its fast-food revolution.
The golden arches went up March 20 a stone's throw from the 18th century Spanish Steps on the site of an old Roman bar and restaurant, Rugantino's. It was an immediate success.
'I'm an American and I haven't been to McDonald's yet,' tourist Mark Clemens wrote Rome's English-language newspaper, the International Courier. 'You can't get in the door. It's jammed with Italians.'
Most of the restaurant's 450 seats, which make it the world's biggest McDonald's, are occupied all the time. The only empty tables are near the entrance where paramilitary police brandish submachineguns before the bullet-proof glass to guard against terrorist attacks.
Some items are off the menu these days because they contain lettuce, which Italy has banned because of radiation from the Soviet nuclear disaster. But other business is booming -- perhaps too much.
At least seven other fast food establishments have opened in Rome and more entrepeneurs are waiting for licenses.
Some protestors carry placards saying, 'Clint Eastwood, you should be our mayor.' Italian newspapers gave wide publicity to the Carmel, Calif., mayor's criticism of cities that allow themselves to be taken over by fast food joints.
The increasing number of fast food restaurants is part of the trouble. The other part is success.
The city council threatened to suspend McDonald's owner Jacques Bahbout's license unless he did something about the crowds of customers spilling out onto the Piazza di Spagna. The customers have been strewing hamburger wrappers in front of some of Rome's most elegant shops and snarling traffic.
The Christian Democrat Party 'does not hold it opportune that a restaurant of this kind be located in the Piazza di Spagna,' said Councilman Elio Mensurati.
Councilman Tomasso Manzo of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement said hamburger bars are 'vehicles for the American mentality.'
A group of actors and left-wing intellectuals gathered outside the restaurant last month imploring Italians to stick to pizza and pasta.
'What disturbs us most is the Americanization of our life,' said writer and director Luciano Crescenzo.
Mayor Nicola Signorella took note. He created a special garbage collection squad to scour the streets for wrappers from McDonald's and other fast food restaurants.
Designer Valentino stepped into the fray a short time later, complaining McDonald's pollutes his nearby studio with noise and the smell of frying food.
Valentino filed a formal complaint with police Magistrate Domenico Bonaccorso asking him to close the fast food store immediately.
Despite the uproar, many Romans feel McDonald's has been targeted unfairly.
'The center of Rome has been prey to a vulgar transformation for 10 years without anyone protesting,' said Ernesto Galli Della Loggia, a lecturer in history at the University of Rome.
'Leftist intellectuals are only waking up to it now because in their eyes McDonald's is a symbol enabling them to protest against the U.S.A. and so-called Americanization,' Della Loggia said.
'Underlying the polemic, I see scorn for McDonald's clients and the typical elitist snobbery of the intellectuals of the Italian left opposed to an America that is egalitarian in consumption,' he said.
'I wanted to bring the two different cultures together and make the restaurant palatable in more ways than one,' McDonald's owner Bahbout said on opening day. 'I think we were successful.'