Recently, the powers behind Roma Capitale decided, in their ongoing (and totally losing) battle to reinstitute decòr and decency on the streets of Rome, to go after the hodge podge of dubious enemies in our midst: The Centurions of Rome.
These are guys made up of Italians, Romanians, Poles, Albanians, just like in days of yore. Except our Centurions, even with their armour, hardly look in shape to climb the steps of the Colosseum let alone defend it in battle. To the delight of tourists everywhere, our hunky men (only because their armour shows off spectacular pecs) spend their time roaming the streets around the Colosseum and Forum posing for photo opps.
The City decided that this was a bit too close to those figures of Prince Charming and Mickey Mouse roaming the Main Street at Disney. And so, they closed in on their ranks, sweeping them off the streets. If they had truly wanted to get these nefarious imposters, they could have done like the Americans and Al Capone: and shake them down for undeclared tax revenues from their all-cash business. [Which also begs the obvious question: Centurions had pockets?!]
I have had nary a houseguest whose children didn't take magnificent photos with these guys. Yes, it's tacky. Yes, it's touristy. But so is taking a photo with an over-sized penguin at the Aquarium. And I don't think the penguin colony imprisoned there find it so offensive, either. But for some reason, Centurions - albeit ones with great paunches patrolling the Forum are an assault to our public decorum.
I took a stroll myself recently around Piazza Navona; the tourist focal point for admiring the artists, the street performers, the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini. Instead, none of the tourists could go anywhere near the fountain for their own photo opp and moment of romance. A place where lovers stood or sat close to each other, flashbulbs burning in the wind had now been transformed into a Bangladeshi street market. Except in Bangladesh, they sell local works made by locals. The dozens of vendors here peddle their Gucci knockoffs (declared illegal with tourists being forced to pay huge fines should they try to do so), cheap sunglasses, florescent headware and other such cheap Chinese bric-a-brac, including a dancing pair of mickey & donald -- (very Italianate indeed -- in the very least they could give us the Savoy Kings & Queens tripping the light fantastic).
These guys have now formed a human shield round the fountain, right under the eyes of the people policing the square. Buskers belt out their gypsy tunes using loudspeakers and Chinese street artists fill the air with the acrid scent of acrylic paint.
Roma Capitale is looking to restore decorum? Maybe they should start with enforcing the rules in place and leave our Centurions well enough alone. Hopefully, like all else in Italy, after the big bust up the story will die down and our Centurions will be reinstated in their ranks right under the Arch of Constantine.
All they need to do is take a cue from the prostitutes whisked away from the Via Salaria (yesterday at noon I counted only 18), or the squigees washing windows at every intersection all the way down the Cristoforo Colombo. They too, were vanquished - for the fortnight that it took our Mayor to forget that they ever were a pockmark on our pristine capital city.
For a photo gallery of the epic battle between the Law & Order and our Lawless Rogue Centurions, click here.