Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Saturday Snapshot: Spanish Steps

      Photos are persuasive in ways that words are not.
      But can you have your opinion changed by your own photo, years after you took it?
      Apparently yes.
      I read in Thursday's New York Times a story about how it is now illegal to sit on Rome's famed Spanish Steps. Of course I was aghast. The steps are a tourist destination, a local hot spot, alive at night with music, with young people gathering, strumming guitars, maybe passing a bottle. One of the most dynamic spots in the city. And now the municipal paper shufflers are dispatching their carabinieri to stop it all—eight of them at one time, according to the NYT's count, blowing shrilly on whistles and handing out warnings—for now. Eventually offenders will have to pay a fine of 400 Euros; or $450. 
     Quite a lot, really. 
     I figured, I must have taken a photos of the crowded steps. And I did. The one above. If the line of girls in the foreground looks a little awkward, I seem to recall it was a school group, singing.
     The Spanish Steps look ... crowded. Very crowded. And I seem to recall ... navigating them with difficulty. The place was certainly too jammed to linger.
      So maybe the Roman authorities are onto something. It's tough, running a city. I can't repost the NY Times photo, but after the law went into effect, the Steps seem ... empty, desolate. 
       Me ... I would have gone for a compromise. The steps are wide. Run a chain on bollards down the left and right sides, leaving those for going up and down. Reserve the center portion for sitting. See how that works. 
      I mean, in Chicago, people flock to the Bean, crowding around it. It can be hard to get a good photo of yourself reflected in its mirrored skin, because of all the people around. I'd hate to see them cordon off the thing, because people were smudging the polished surface with their greasy hands. That's what the Bean's for, why it's loved.  Cleared of humanity. the Spanish Steps are just a way to get up and down. I'm reluctant to go out on a limb and predict anything about a society as quirky at Italy. But I'll bet—or at least hope—the ban doesn't last.


  1. Besides being a gathering place for music and other arts, the steps were a useful spot for tourists to take a load off and rest for awhile. There aren’t many places to sit as you visit the incredible sites in that part of the city. Who knows, maybe there is some logic to the Italians’ mandate. Sometimes gathering places are magnets for the wrong type of person.

  2. Creating a couple of paths for up & down use is far too logical for the political disaster that is Italy!
    Once the UK self destructs, Italy will be next.

  3. Sounds like an Italian response to what the media has dubbed "overtourism"--I've been hearing and reading about how cheap airfares, more leisure time, and higher incomes are enabling everyone and their uncles to overrun too many of the most popular destinations, and to turn them into tourist-choked Disneylands.

    Venice is completely swamped by tens of thousands of day-trippers, every single every day. So are Amsterdam and Rome. Many of the problems are (of course) blamed on the "ugly Americans"--but it's apparently not just Yanks. Folks from every corner of the globe are turning some places into zoos. Eurotrash. Hordes of Asians with phones and cameras and selfie sticks.

    There have been complaints about too many sloppily-dressed and loud visitors playing music and leaving food containers and litter in the plazas, which may be the reason for the crackdowns in Rome. Tourists swim in the polluted canals in Venice. Midwestern twentysomethings are diving off the elegant Venetian bridges. No wonder the natives are restless. What native resident...not just in Italy, but anywhere on Earth...wants to see his hometown turned into Fort Lauderdale?

    My favorite anecdote was about the noisy American tourist who asked an Italian native: "Hey, buddy...what time does Venice close?" As though it were Disney World with flooded streets. Some might find that story amusing, but I didn't laugh. Even if I had the scratch, I've waited too long. So I'll probably remain what used to be called an "armchair traveler"--reading travel books and watching TV shows about places I will never experience first-hand.

    1. People ruin everything. It doesn't surprise me that a mall parking lot after closing is strewn with litter. But a few years ago in California I followed a vehicle from Placerville up into the Sierra foothills. I never saw it but I figured it was two people from the trail of litter I passed while climbing the hill behind them. Burger wrappers, fries cartons, soda and milkshake cups and fast food pie sleeves, tossed out at intervals, obviously as they finished each course of their feast. The beauty of nature or historic Europe is lost on the clueless.

  4. Apparently the problem goes beyond simple crowding. I read about a city in Spain (Barcelona, possibly...don't remember) where so much housing space is going to Airbnb for tourists that residents are getting pushed out of much of the downtown.

    That was in the New Yorker, which, many years ago, ran a cartoon that's somewhat similar to the anecdote Grizz recounts. It shows an American in sunglasses driving a convertible in the desert, shouting at a Muslim devotee who is on his hands and knees, "Hey, Jack, which way to Mecca?"

    1. That one's even better than mine was. And the next time you're at Wonkette and run into a lady known as Lucinda...hell, that's no lady--that's my wife.

  5. The best pictures I ever took of the Bean are from a rainy day. Very few people around and the reflections with water running through them are otherworldly.

  6. A New Yorker cartoon some years back showed a couple of yanks accosting a startled Louvre attendant with: "Quick! Where's the Mona Lisa? We're double parked."

    There are a lot of places in Italy you can get a good helping of "La Dolce Vita" without being trampled by fellow tourists. And going slightly off season is a good idea.



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