It is that time of year again! The weather has turned hot - almost sticky with the infamous Roman humidity. The jasmine is fragrant, almost to the point of being sickly. People are thronging the patios and sidewalks of bars and cafes. The gelaterie are doing record business as old ladies lick on their dripping whip cream topped cones giggling to each other about this oh-so-naughty lapse from their diet. People are out strolling, some walking their dogs though more often than not forgetting (?) to pick up after them. And what space on the street is not being taken up by dinners, gelataholics, strollers and doggie doo is often occupied by a host of beggars of various manner and conditions.
Now please don't misconstrue that last statement. I am not in anyway denying the existence here of people who are in real need. Sadly, despite statements from the current Government, there are a growing number of people who fit that description. Nor am I talking about the homeless who camp out in various locales about town like my friend that I talk with every Tuesday with the beautiful little dog near the Isola. Nor am I talking about the number of Sri Lankans or Africans who are selling everything from Kleenex to rip off designer leather goods in a desperate attempt to find that "better life" the people smugglers promised them. I am talking about the syndicate of professional beggars that are working the streets of Roma this time of year. And they don't restrict their "work place" to just the tourist areas of Centro; in our neighbourhood we have our regulars most of whom are there year round but they are now augmented by the "seasonal" workers.
As we tucked into our vegetarian platters (so healthy) at a very nice little local bar I heard a strange voice raised in a pleading cry of "Aiuto me." (help me). It was high pitched, the sound distorted and almost strangled; the sort of sound I remember my father made when he would attempt to speak after his second stroke. There stumbling her way along the tables was a small plump figure in a blue flowered house dress-smock of the sort my mother wore in the late 40s. She was hunchbacked, one arm seem to have been amputated at the elbow and the other was twisted and the hand gnarled in that cup-like claw arthritic hands so often become. As she went from table to table most people were putting coins into her cupped hand. She was almost aggressive in her begging though it could have been the voice and the physical condition that made it seem that way. I'm sure many people were giving her money just to be rid of the sound and the sight.
The older gentleman seated next to me - tailor-made-suited and tied and immaculately groomed - made that dismissive "boh" sound so common here. But I could not bring myself to do that. I was sitting in a nice bar, having a good meal with my tailor-made-suited and tied, immaculately dressed spouse enjoying the warmth and sun of Rome. Other than the odd ache or pain-in-the-ass client I had nothing in the world to complain about. A few euros out of my pocket meant nothing. And for a moment I stopped and thanked whatever power there was for my good life. She continued on her way down the street that strange strangled voice fading - perhaps not quickly enough for my guilty conscience.
After my regular after lunch affogato - a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with espresso and whipped cream - I made my way back to the office. As I turned the corner there was a woman in a blue flowered house dress-smock of the sort my mother wore in the late 40s - unbent, two able arms and talking in a normal voice to a man who was obviously her "manager". All that milk of human kindness that had been pumping through my veins suddenly curdled. I honestly didn't know whither to laugh or become enraged. The talent in the deception astounded me and dare I say delighted me by its shear audacity; the deception itself enraged me.
Ubi caritas - where you find charity.... well let's just say I may not find it as quickly as I have in the past.
15 giugno - San Vito