Return of traffic to the landmark Piazza brings improbable joy in Rome

ROME – If, as mentioned, all roads lead to Rome, they cross each other on Piazza Venezia, the center of the Italian capital, after which a traffic man choreographed on a pedestal. streamlined circulation from car chaos.

For many Romans as well as tourists, the traffic controllers are just as much a symbol of the Eternal City as the Colosseum or the Pantheon.

This may explain why the return of the pedestal (plus its traffic man) this week after a year-long break while the piazza was paved caused a media frenzy, even though there was little traffic to lead, given the widespread closure that started this week to contain a surge in cases of coronavirus.

“In this difficult period, I think it was seen as a sign of something that would return to normal,” said Fabio Grillo, 53, who, with 16 years behind him, is the senior member of the team of four or five municipal police are. officers directing traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestal.

In rain or snow, or through the balmy summers of Rome, officers led traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestrian near the mouth of the Via del Corso, one of Rome’s main streets, for as long as anyone can remember. And the gestures they make with their withandskoen hands is something that all Italian motorists dutifully remember for their driver tests. (Important note: two hands straight with palms facing motorists equal to a red light).

“It was compared to conducting an orchestra,” he said. Grillo said.

Apart from regular traffic, Piazza Venezia is also a crossroads leading to the town hall, the parliament, the Italian presidential palace and a national monument where visiting heads of state regularly pay tribute – all contributing to the chaos in the center.

“This piazza is the aortic epicenter of the country,” said Angelo Gallicchio, 62, who has run a newspaper kiosk on the square since 1979. ‘Avoid it. ”

For many years, traffic police Roman was commissioned by Mario Buffone, whose three decades on the pedestal – which made him one of the city’s most recognizable figures – were immortalized in a book. He retired in 2007. “He was an icon for us,” he said. Grillo said.

Giuseppe Battisti, 47, an officer who has been on the pedestal for 12 years, said all that is needed to do the job well is passion and a little elegance. Although the traffic signals are captured in the driver’s code of conduct, it ‘personalizes every agent’, he said.

Pierluigi Marchionne’s elegance on the pedestal (his gestures earned him a “He’s bellissimo! It’s great!” From a passer-by on Thursday) – is probably what grabbed Woody Allen’s attention when he was looking for places for his film “To Rome With Love” from 2012. “After he Mr. Marchionne saw in action, he was so taken with the traffic officer that he rewrote the beginning of his screenplay so that he could play himself in the film, Mr. Marchionne said.

“He saw me, and then we did a screen test, but let’s say he’d already selected me for the role,” he said. Said Marchionne, 45, who went on to study at Actor’s Studio in New York and still occasionally diverts traffic from the pedestal. He is also the artistic director of a production company that organizes an Italian film festival under the stage name Pierre Marchionne.

The work on mr. Allen’s film “was a unique experience,” he said.

It is noteworthy that especially Romans must feel so kind to them someone pays to punish traffic offenses, which are notoriously common in the Italian capital.

Until the 1970s, every January 6, the feast day of Epiphany, Italians expressed their gratitude to the officers by covering traffic pedestals. with gifts. The loot was then given to charity, Mr. Grillo said.

This improbable love may have had a lot to do with Alberto Sordi, an actor who regularly played traffic officers in movies, especially in the classic 1960s ‘Il Vigile.’

Sordi, who died in 2003, was also named an honorary Roman traffic officer. Last year, the uniform and props from these films were shown in a museum opened in the actor’s home in Rome, now closed due to the pandemic.

“Because of Sordi, traffic people have become more sympathetic,” as well as a symbol of Rome, Mr. Grillo said, who can recite scenes from Sordi movies word for word.

However, this love was not without any criticism. The image of the municipal police, of which the traffic officers are a part, has been polluted in recent years by investigations into possible offenses – such as closing the illegal construction and closing the eye.

A history of municipal police forces in Italy posted on the website of one national association traces their origins to the guardians of a Roman temple in the 5th century BC. An educational film from the early 1950s from the national archives of Italy, Istituto Lucehowever, the history of the corps follows up to the first century BC, during the reign of Emperor Augustus (there is a nice touch of a chariot moving in a convertible apartment).

Today, Piazza Venezia has the only traffic pedestal left in the city. “It is part of the architecture of the piazza,” said Mr. Gallicchio, the kiosk owner, said.

Initially, the pedestals were made of wood, and traffic officers would transport them in intersections.

At one point, a solid cement pedestal was installed in the piazza, which was illuminated at night by a spotlight on a nearby building when no officer was on duty, Mr. Gallicchio said.

The spotlight did not help, as ‘motorists were still hitting it’, said Mr. Grillo said. So in 2006 it was replaced with a mechanical pedestal rising from the paving stones to welcome officers coming to work.

Now, with the work done on the piazza this year, officials say they are eager to return to a job they love and will hopefully become a focal point of tourists’ cameras again after the pandemic has passed.

“Maybe we were not as famous as the Fountain of Trevi, but we were a tourist attraction.” Mr Battisti said with a smile. “I bet there are even pictures of us in North Korea.”

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