We have got used to a very high military and police presence in Italian cities. At every major historical site, government building and train station there is an array of personnel; at least two types of police officers standing around marked vehicles and, conspicuously toting semi-automatic rifles, regular soldiers positioned around strategically parked armoured land rovers.
When we arrived in Rome a couple of weeks ago we found this presence rather unsettling, commenting that if this was supposed to provide reassurance then it was having the opposite effect. Then came the attack in Westminster ………….
On our first day in Rome we walked to the Spanish Steps and climbed up to find a spot to sit amongst the crowd of tourists. We began to get our food out (cheese and biscuits ) and then became aware of an officer of the Polizia Roma Capitole. He was smart despite his uniform looking well-worn and had a rather splendid peaked cap on his head. He was scanning the crowd from the bottom of the steps and every so often would blow his whistle and point at a group to get their attention. He would then bring his fingers to his mouth and vigorously shake his head, occasionally shouting ‘Eating is forbidden on the steps!’ Some people packed away their food and moved on but we sat tight, kept our food in the top of our rucksacks and ate when he wasn’t looking (!) I watched him for around 20 minutes – this appeared to be the entirety of his job – he kept the steps a picnic free zone.
Just before we left I saw him approach a group of young Japanese, holding up first 1 finger and then a second. He flourished a third finger and then pointed directly at them and back to himself before indicating the road behind him. His message was clear – if I have to tell you a third time you will be coming with me!