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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beach Politics: the Ostia "Varchi"

A (mostly) private (or pay) beach at Ostia.  Not a particularly grand operation, with legal access to anyone
through a narrow passageway just to the right of the photo.  The beach is the same one in the last two photos, below.  
Everything's political--even the beach.   But because we're not regular beach goers (when we go we don't even take suits), it took us awhile to pick up on even the basics of beach politics.  Yes, in the past we had noticed that much of the beach was occupied by fancy clubs or expensive restaurants, and we had even made the mistake of entering one of those "membership" establishments and been turned away, with directions for the one public beach within reach.  

Then we saw this poster in several locations on the Lungotevere.  It belongs to the PD--the Partito Democratico, Italy's basic center-left party--and it presents the beach at nearby Ostia as an occupied and controlled space, inaccessible to those who aren't members, or who don't have money.  It suggests that ordinary citizens have the right, under the law and Italy's constitution, to use the beach. And it offers a way to insure that that right is real rather than than a formality.  

The sign notifies beach-goers that anyone can use the last 15 meters of beach--and
cites the relevant laws.  The photographer's back is to the water.  
The method?  "Varchi"--that is, passageways--that would allow anyone to get to the water's edge. Once there, access to the water, and to about 50 feet of sand above it, is guaranteed by law, no matter how "tony" the crowd is just beyond, no matter what club or organization owns "most" of the beach or controls most of the access from the street.  Similar access rights exist in the United States and, no doubt, in many other countries.  If you can get there, you can use it.

A varco (passageway) to the beach, between the
railing of a concrete pier and the chain-link fence on the left

On our latest trip to the sands of Ostia, we came across one of the varchi.  It's not especially welcoming: a rather narrow passageway, fenced in on both sides (to avoid users inadvertently entering the sacred space of the club at its flank), and not well marked (we overheard some folks asking what it was).  But it's there, and the masses will learn its location soon enough, and the PD will have made some progress.  A happy ending, perhaps, to this episode of "Beach Politics."   

In English and German, too

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