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.
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.