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Rocca Priori, Italy, July 9, 2009

We were in Rome yesterday and the day before, but apparently so were representatives of the G8 nations and other dignitaries. Sights/sites closed or opened arbitrarily to accommodate their whistle-stop visits. At one point, for example, we wanted to cross the road in the middle of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Just cross the road, mind you, like the chicken, to get to the other side. Suddenly, that was no longer possible. Policemen and police cars had materialized and deployed themselves on either side of the road and, from one second to the next, no one was allowed to cross. No explanation was offered, so we, and perhaps a hundred other tourists, milled around, wondering what was going on.

It turned out that what was going on was the simple exit of one Japanese dignitary – the Japanese flag tied to his black, shaded-windowed car was the giveaway – from the Vatican. Presumably he’d had an audience with the Pope.

In less than a minute, the whole operation was over: the tourists were allowed to resume their wanderings, the policemen faded away in their small Italian-made police cars, and the St. Peter’s Square returned to its normal chaos.

the Forum

the Forum

Yesterday we set out in the morning to see the Roman Forum. We arrived at the gate at 11:07. It was closed. People had clearly recently been allowed in: we could see a line of tourists going through the entrance turnstiles with their tickets. Again: no explanation was offered, other than a sign posted on the door that the Forum would be closed from 11 until 5.

11 until 5? Could anyone spend that much time in the Forum? It’s not that big, and it’s awfully hot as well this time of year. Certainly the G8 dignitaries couldn’t be expecting to spend that much time there, in their formal jackets and ties? My theory is that the Forum was simply closed just in case the G8 chose to show up.

The thing that bothered me, again, was the lack of explanation. If the sign had said something like “The Forum will be closed today just in case any of the important G8 dignitaries want to see it,” I wouldn’t have minded as much. If the policemen who stopped us from crossing the road had said “Wait just a moment until the Japanese foreign minister drives by,” then, okay, I’d accept that.

It happened once more yesterday, after we went back to the Forum after 5. We were walking back toward the metro, which means we were also walking toward the Coliseum. A large black van – not the police this time, but the Carabinieri, whatever that is – was parked on the sidewalk, not lengthwise but crosswise, blocking the sidewalk entirely. The uniformed carabinieri (weapons, helmets, full riot gear strapped to their sides) said nothing, but gestured us across the street.

Fair enough, if they wanted us to cross the street, we’d cross the street. But if you’ve ever been in Rome, you’d know that in Rome you don’t cross the street where there isn’t a light, or at least a zebra crossing! Yet that’s just what they were telling us, and everyone else who came along, to do: walk out into Rome traffic and cross the road. And they weren’t stopping traffic to help us do so either. If one of us had been hit by a car, could we have sued? Who would we sue? The carabinieri? The G8?

Anyway, again there was no explanation, but presumably someone far more important than us was going to visit the Coliseum. Some day, I would love to hear about VIPs turning down these whirlwind sightseeing visits in order to spare hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tourists the inconvenience (and possibly danger) they cause. I won’t hold my breath.

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