I visited Italy for the first time as a little girl over forty years ago. Among many lovely memories of that trip to Florence, Pisa and Venice, are two, more shocking snapshots: a dead cat that clearly met a violent end and was rotting on the side of a path on Murano Island (location correct?); and gypsy children begging on a bridge. I now know they were Roma.
I had never seen beggars even though I lived in Baltimore, a rough, industrial city brought to popular attention by the brilliant and accurate TV series, The Wire. On that long-ago bridge, the children sat with outstretched arms and pleadings faces. Maybe their mothers were selling trinkets? I don’t remember that detail. I had never seen such a display of active poverty and the picture stuck in my young head. My father would try to divert my attention and buffer me from the scene. He did this with the cat, as well, because we had to pass it several times and he knew I was curious enough to sneak a peak.
New York City is the only place I have lived in the States where I remember regularly seeing mendicants. I gave money when I felt moved by some extra-ordinariness of the situation but mostly I ignored them. That was 17 years ago.
In China, there were a few beggars near some of the tourist markets. They were either crazy or careless, but they had to be one or the other to dare work a sidewalk that way. Eventually the police intervened and they disappeared.
India had more desperate and deformed beggars than my conscience could bear. They were hungry, homeless and many suffered lost limbs and grotesque, unimaginable indignities. I gave money, sometimes, but mostly offered food and clothes and even limited friendship, as I’ve written about in my India postings.
And now, in Italy once more, I have frequent and regular contact with beggars who line the streets of my daily routine. Like in New York, beggars in Rome seem incongruous in the bustle and wealth of the city, but there are many, some clearly more needy than others, who take the opportunity to ply the sympathy of tourists. Most of the beggars are Roma.
Some women kneel, prone and folded with their arms extended, hands cupped to receive a coin:
There is one young girl who works busy intersections in the center of town but I don’t see her often because she rotates location. She approaches my car and paints a soapy heart with a squeegee on the windshield and smiles to ask if it is OK to wash the window. I always say yes and give her a Euro.
Simone, one of my near-daily regulars works the Ponte Sisto. He stands all day on the bridge, leaning on a cane with one hand, his hat outstretched for coins with the other. We’ve given Simone bags of clothes and shoes but most often, money. I also buy nuts or fruit for him. And, on Valentines Day, I gave him a copy of this photo:
Simone helped me on Christmas Eve when I tripped over a chain fence while running on the bridge. The fall knocked the wind out of me and the chain scraped and bruised my shins and ankles. He stood by me while I caught my breath and slowly collected myself. Then he helped me stand up and made sure I was OK.
Maurizio offers items of convenience for a donation and he works an intersection near my apartment:
He’s a pleasure to see because he always smiles and offers kisses into his hand as a gesture of thanks. When I don’t have change to give him he never seems to mind. He gives me a pack of tissues anyway.
Mayor Marino, why didn’t you cancel the soccer match between Roma and the Dutch team Feyenoord last week after Dutch fans trashed the Spanish steps and other precious sites in Rome?
Is it because Soccer Is Sacred and the favor doesn’t extend to Rome’s antiquities?
Shame on everyone who did this and let it happen (photos from Reuters):
And the rest in pics: