Fear in the cities. What are you scared of?

written in large friendly letters

Another report today in the newspapers telling us that terrorist attacks are planned for Italy. More reports telling us to be afraid, be very afraid. I’m usually a big fan of mocking those who piously broadcast these warnings and my heart soared with the Roman response to reports that Isis were on their way.


But, I went to Madrid just after the Paris attacks in November and I did feel scared. I didn’t want to get on a plane, I didn’t want to get on the metro. I was tense a lot of the time. This isn’t like me. Whilst trying to be conscious of what’s happening in the world, I refuse to let anyone tell me I should be afraid. Whoever they may be.

And yet the collective fear and constant rolling news had got to me. When I came back to Rome, I immediately felt better; even though Rome is as much a target as any other European city so we’re told. Perhaps because it’s where I live, I immediately felt more comfortable, it felt normal. And yet how can we feel normal when Rome’s metro stations are patrolled by soldiers with machine guns?

Then one morning, the soldier stationed outside the metro near my work shouted out for me to be careful and for a split second I wondered why, until I very nearly slipped and fell on the icy cobbles. Doh, death via Rome’s notoriously treacherous pavements. It reminded me that in Rome, in life, there are usually far more mundane things to worry about. There’s a great list of Everyday Irrational Fears here –  I particularly identify with ‘thinking the cables will snap every time you ride an elevator‘. If we gave into these fears, these ‘what ifs?’ we’d never leave the house.

Which got me thinking about what really scares me about living in Rome and what are some of the more everyday dangers. So here are a few of my own rather humdrum worries living in the eternal city:

Rome’s roads I will not drive in Rome. Fast, frenetic, the cars are far too close, there’s no lane discipline – my other half says the white lines (if they exist) are there purely for decoration. I’d be dead in a week, if only from the stress. But taking the bus to work is no guarantee either. It’s a miracle every day that I survive the exaggerated braking. First rule: hold on tight, second rule don’t let go. Third rule, watch your bag.

Pickpockets Having my purse stolen. This has not yet happened to me in Rome. I am extremely fortunate. Most of my friends have been victims of bag-snatchers at least once. One person twice in a month. Watch your bag.

Rome wants my teeth Within the first few months of living in Rome I fell face down out of a minibus. I was lucky to escape with what I am sure was a stress fracture to my leg (although not x-rayed at the time) and grazed hands. As I was falling, I was convinced that my teeth were gone. Escalators, stairs, steps, buses – I am wary of them all.

Guano Fear of being pooped on by huge swarms of migrating birds. Every year hundreds of starlings pass through Rome and tonnes of droppings pass through them creating a dirty, smelly, greasy and impossible to clean mess along the banks of the Tiber river. Walking beneath the trees you’re also risking a nasty slip in the filthy sludge that accumulates.

Photo via Repubblica

Mosquitoes Mosquitoes are my enemy. I am engaged in a constant, furious and losing battle with them on a daily basis from April to October. I am a bit obsessive I must admit. But I don’t just get a little red bite, they swell up, they change the shape of my limbs, they itch for at least two days, they are so hot you could fry an egg on them. I genuinely feel a failure that I have not prevented them from attacking me.

The above is in no way to trivialise the dreadful attacks that have happened all over the world, but rather an attempt to put them into a context of what is most likely to happen to me, and perhaps to you, if you live in or visit Rome. To try to mitigate the panic. The atrocities in Brussels happen almost daily on the streets of Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus. Western missiles and Isis bombs kill more innocents in a week than die in Europe in a year. I refuse to be caught up in any media fervour. We are not living in a war zone, unlike the Syrian people. We are not living in time comparable to the Second World War where people were dying in their hundreds and thousands in Europe every day and still maintained their calm. And yet, I started to write this article in December, and have had the fear that as soon as I publish it something will happen in Rome.

I try to remember the words of the great Tony Benn which feel particularly apt.

I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralise them. 

Hope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison in which you put yourself.



  1. enjoyed reading. a reminder that it is easy for us to spend our whole life frightened to death. you say Europe is not a war zone but I think one of the impacts of globilisation is revealing itself in the export of war and effects of poverty back into the West and Europe. I don’t want you to be frifgtened but fear can be a warning to be careful. all my love, michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this post. Thank you for putting the fear into perspective. I no longer watch the news. It winds me up. I watch programs about living in the wilderness instead. So calming. Thank you again!! You’ve made me want to visit Italy again. BTW Zyrtec fixes a mossy bite in minutes. No more itch or swelling. My husband used to react like you. No longer.

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  3. I think like most people my first reaction when I heard that news was oh no I won’t be going to Rome and then I worried about flights or using the channel tunnel to get to the continent. But you are so right, if we considered all the danger in our daily lives we’d get no where. Italy is far too beautiful for me not to visit, I shall be coming very soon.

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  4. A great piece. I think there is an element of fear surrounding travel and rightly so unfortunately – shit is happening! However, I think it would have to get a lot worse before it actually stopped people travelling. I think we all feel the expected emotions of shock and fear when these stories hit the headlines and then common sense and perspective pervail. If we allow fear to rule it is pretty much game over. The risk is everywhere and as you so rightly say, more commonly in the pot-holes and bird plop on our own doorstep so just crack on – what will be, will be! I laughed a number of times reading your post and that is the cure for dealing with most stuff – we can’t always change things but laughter always keep the spirits up!

    As you say -people in other countries live with war and the devstating effects every single day – some will only have ever known it and I agree with Michael – globalisation has brought these problems closer to home. But we can´t have it all ways – create the technology and systems that facilitate us being able to turn up on everbody’s doorstep (and for just £30.00 return fare…separate issue!) and ‘experience’ their culture, tell them they have it all wrong then return to suburbia and carry on with the school run. It works both ways – they too can turn up on our doorstep and tell us they don’t like our culture and try and fix this with whatever ways they see fit. Any problems we are experiencing now are a result of our own actions and we have to deal with them. However, beign fearful will change nothing – we are living history that’s all, nothing different to anything that has gone before or that will come again in the future. The bad guys will be defeated but they will be replaced by others so you either choose to give in or keep fighting.

    My advice would be to fight – take that risk and get on that plane to Rome. Afterall, a life without a visit to Rome at least once in your life is no life at all:)

    Liked by 1 person

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