VIA del Babuino (Baboon
Street, as it was fondly known to British residents of the 19th
century), the situ-ation of All Saints', Rome, and where I have
lived for nearly 14 years, has very narrow pavements. People
(occasionally, mea culpa, including me) park bumper to
bumper on both sides of the street, and the almost continual
one-way stream of rapid traffic is a danger to life and limb.
Therefore its status as a
prime window-shopping thoroughfare seems, at best, perverse.
Attempting simply to walk along it presents a variety of human
obstacles: crisis-hit Italian couples, who can afford to breakfast
only at Tiffany's, and their polar opposites, well-heeled shoppers
from Gulf States and Russia, unsure where to start their spending
spree; crocodiles of French or German schoolchildren being dragged
and pushed to the next art historical wonder; elderly local
residents assisted by their carers, usually from East Asia,
painstakingly taking a constitutional.
cleaning and maintenance, and policing also contribute to the
clogging of the pavement. An occasional gypsy beggar crouched at
the kerb, or a barbone, rough-sleeper, sprawled in a
temporarily closed shop doorway, completes the sense that "all
human life" truly plays its part in the chaos.
As my extended sojourn
here implies, I have learnt to live with these inconveniences -
perhaps even come to love some of them - but there is one element
contributory to pedestrian congestion which I note is on the
increase, and which I actively detest - the carrying of backpacks.
So, permit me a rant.
THE use of this
abomination is imprinted on the Italian mind and behaviour from
early on. The Italian schoolbag, even from kindergarten,
is a zaino, rucksack, and however prettily or jauntily
decorated with Hello Kitty- or Transformer-themed images, it is the
spawn of Satan.
Year on year, it will
swell like a poisonous growth as it fills with the enormous
text-books required for the instruction of Italian youth, until it
doubles or triples the space occupied by the scholar. On the bus,
tram, or underground train, every sudden movement of the backpacked
child transforms him or her into an offensive weapon. On the narrow
pavements of Via del Babuino, these monstrosities close off any
faint hope of overtaking on foot.
And, of course, it is a
vice not only found among children. Passengers with backpacks on
budget airlines - are they possessed of eyes in the back of their
heads? Are they aware of the inconvenience meted out to others
behind them, in the scrummage to board or disembark as quickly as
possible? No, they are not. Do they care? I doubt it.
The backpack is the
luggage option of choice of the habitually selfish and
temperamentally clumsy. They should buy sensible briefcases and
suitcases, and give the rest of us, and their spines, a break.
End of rant.
HIGH above Via del
Babuino's pavements are its buildings' gutters. An unexpected fact
is that the an- nual rainfall in sunny Rome surpasses that of
drizzly Manchester, rendering these water-chutes essential.
For some time now, I have
been aware of the precarious condition of the guttering attached to
the church's palazzo, the building in which the chaplain's
flat is loca- ted, and the letting of other parts of which
generates a substantial part of the chaplaincy's income. The
chaplaincy council, so alerted, has set its mind to expeditious
It came as no surprise,
how- ever, that the necessary permissions to block off a section of
pavement so that scaffolding could be erected were extremely
difficult to obtain. The idea of urgent intervention to prevent a
serious accident is blunted by the necessity of employing an
architect to present an official plan, and the absurdity of a
period of three months' being obligatory after the removal of the
gutters before their reinstatement.
I would not relish
standing beneath our gutterless eaves during a July downpour, but
have to admit it would form a fitting punishment for
backpack-users. Maybe the civic authorities have broader intentions
behind their regulations. Vendetta?
REGULAR readers of this
diary will perhaps be interested to hear that I have added Don
Carlo at Covent Garden to my Verdi tribute list, and look
forward to an imminent concert performance of Un Ballo in
Maschera at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, in Rome.
Viva Verdi! I am sure that he, too, would have hated
The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is the Archdeacon of Italy and
Malta, and Chaplain of All Saints', Rome.