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14 June 2013


Congested path

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.

Deliveries, street 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.

Backpack bugbear

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.

Raindrops keep falling

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 repair.

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?

Operatic favourite

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 backpacks.

The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is the Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, and Chaplain of All Saints', Rome.

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