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Monday, May 28, 2018

Cows first, then Sheep: Rome trims up its Parks

Rome is going backwards, back to the Rome of a century ago, when oxen were used to plow the earth around the Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia (above).

In a world of tractors, power lawn mowers, and weed-whackers, the city's populist mayor, Virginia Raggi, has asked the city's environment chief, Pinuccia Montanari, to tackle the weed problem in Rome parks by employing--you won't believe this--sheep and cows.  It's well known that both species east copious amounts of "grass," and it shouldn't take long to turn fields of 2-3 foot weeds into neatly trimmed soccer fields and play areas.

Casa del Cinema bar and restaurant, Villa Borghese.
After the city's wettest spring in years, the weeds are of serious concern.  The region's premier park, Villa Borghese, looks reasonable, especially compared to the others.  But it, too, is mostly weeds, trimmed here and there--though never meticulously--so picnickers can picnic without fearing that their children will disappear in the green expanses beyond the blanket.

The photo at right is Villa Borghese.   But the nice grass which the children are enjoying (our granddaughters are upper and lower left) is artificial, put in by the restaurant/bar at Casa del Cinema.  They know what people (those who can afford it) want.

Weeds could be 2 feet high

Villa Adda, an enormous mile-long half-mile wide expanse on the city's northern edge, has always been rather primitively maintained, and we're glad that some elements of it, elevated stretches to the west, in particular, retain a mystery; there's a pleasure in feeling one could get lost, or just feel a bit lost.

Not bad, but not the best, for picnicking 

That said, the most utilized portions of the park, including a small lake at the north end and a lovely wooded glen just to the east of the lake, are not maintained with the attention they deserve.  Narrow paths around the lake are in the process of being swallowed by weeds.

The glen.  8-10" weeds.  

The wooded glen is an idyllic setting for summer social activities, if only it were mowed and trimmed.

The large stone paths running north and south in the park remain open, but fallen trees to the side have not been removed; instead, they're marked off with yellow "crime" tape.  One hillside expanse, obviously mowed when the weeds were long, resembles a farmers' hay field, ready for the foliage to be picked up.

Soccer in the weeds, with garbage cans for goals.  Anything
shorter wouldn't show up.
In Villa Adda as elsewhere, many Romans have given up soccer for informal volleyball, which can be played above the weeds.  On the Sunday we visited, we did find one soccer game, played in tall but not intimidating grass, between goals made up of trash cans.

Half a bike path available.  

Weeds present problems for bike paths too--in this area and elsewhere in the city.

But let's get back to our sheep and cows.  Montanari, who's in charge of the effort, says the animals will be used only in parks on the "periphery," and she notes that sheep are already doing the job on an experimental basis in Parco della Caffarella, to the south of the center.  We can testify that there have been sheep in the Cafferella for years, but we would take exception to the implication that their purpose there is to cut the grass; they're part of a working farm in that park.

One agricultural expert has weighed in on the Mayor's sheep and cows idea, first proposed on her Facebook page.  The problem, he says, is that sheep eat with their heads low to the ground; they're bottom feeders.  But in most parks the grass is already so high that the sheep won't be able to find their food.  Hence the need for cows, which are top feeders.  Looks like a tandem deal: the cows go in first, followed by the sheep.

As other have noted, sheep and cows bring with them an enormous amount of excrement.  Watch where you put your blanket!

We imagine another problem.  Sheep and cows require herding and restraint.  Restraining cows often means barbed wire--probably not a good idea in the parks (though there is already plenty of it).  Sheep can be herded, by dogs (trained to treat humans as threats to the sheep--as we know from experience) and by human sheep herders.  These days, most of the herding in Italy is done by eastern Europeans from Bulgaria and Romania, just the sort of immigrants most Italians are hoping to keep out.  We think Italians, even if unemployed, will not likely take to herding sheep in the parks.

Some have found humor in the situation.  In the 4th Municipio (Colli Aniene-Tiburtino), a group known as "Merlino" (named for the sorcerer Merlin) has cut-outs of lions, zebras, and giraffes in the tall weeds of the area's parks (Baden Powell), green spaces (via Grotta di Gregna), and boulevards (Palmiro Togliatti).  It's a jungle out there!

Lion in the weeds


Newspaper photos: Il Messaggero

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