Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

There's a new Sheriff in town, and he's on the Spanish Steps

One of Rome's characteristics is the sense of freedom one feels on its streets.  Not much is regulated, or if regulated, not enforced.  Motorists sometimes drive the wrong way down a one-way street. With the possible exception of the Historic Center, parking is a free-for-all, with cars frequently sitting astride pedestrian paths, motor scooters--and cars, too--on the sidewalk. Unlike Seattle, nobody gets ticketed or warned for jaywalking.  The streets are famously strewn with trash, some of it thrown there, with intent.  Restaurants and pizzerias are notorious for taking up all of the sidewalk (and part of the street) with tables, often in violation of the permit they acquired from the city government, and it's not uncommon for residents to build illegal (abusivi) rooms on the roofs of buildings (occasionally, but only occasionally, someone gets caught).  African immigrants sell knock-off goods in places where they have no permits to operate--and must be ready to wrap everything up in a hurry if the police decide to act.  Late night/early morning, noisy public partying--known as the "movida"--takes place in a variety of locations around the city, from Ponte Milvio to Ostiense.  At the beaches in Ostia, a new regulation prohibiting eating in rented "cabins" is flaunted--and not a single fine (multa) is levied.
And so it's unusual when the police take enforcement seriously, and it's especially unusual when the enforcement takes place in a space known, by Romans and tourists, for romance, relaxation, and recuperation. We're talking about the Spanish Steps.

It started, it seems, when tourists couldn't resist sticking a foot in La Fontana Barcaccia---the historic fountain at the foot of the Steps---or, in at least one case last year, taking a chunk out of the fountain with a hammer and screwdriver.

That's intolerable, to be sure.  But the policing of the Steps we noticed recently was only marginally related to the fountain.  The police officer we observed, moving among the hundreds of people on the Steps, was perhaps engaged in a form of  "broken windows" policing, a method based on the idea that preventing minor "crimes" (window-breaking) would send signals that would in turn reduce major crimes (theft, robbery, assault).  The overall goal seems to be the maintenance of "decorum." According to new regulations, among the breaches of decorum will be sitting on the edge of an important fountain, like the one beneath the Steps (possible fine: 160 Euro).  Fine for taking a dip: 450 Euro.

In the few minutes we observed, our Steps policeman:
a) scolded a couple for eating a sandwich while seated on the stairs
b) told a woman who had taken off her shoes to put them back on--all with a finger-wag.

So, if you're thinking of spending some time at the Spanish Steps, don't go into the fountain, don't sit on the edge of the fountain, don't eat on the stairs, and keep your shoes on!  


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