Simanaitis Says

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MAESTRO OF THE PIAZZA

THE PIAZZA VENEZIA is as central a location as you might imagine in Rome: The Colosseum is 0.3 miles to its southeast. The Pantheon is 0.5 mile to its northwest. The Spanish Steps (and McDonald’s Roma) is 0.8 mile north. 

Image from Google Maps.

Elisabetta Povoledo writes in The New York Times, March 20, 2021: “If, as it’s said, all roads lead to Rome, then they intersect at Piazza Venezia, the downtown hub of the Italian capital, watched over by a traffic officer on a pedestal who choreographs streamlined circulation out of automotive chaos. For many Romans and tourists alike, those traffic controllers are as much a symbol of the Eternal City as the Colosseum or the Pantheon.”

A veteran traffic officer, Pierluigi Marchionne, directs traffic at the Piazza Venezia. Image by Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times, March 20, 2021.

Hand Signals Well-Learnt. Povoledo reports, “In rain or sleet, or sweltering through Rome’s sultry summers, officers have directed traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestal 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 white-gloved hands is something that all Italian motorists dutifully memorize for their driver’s tests. (Important note: Two hands straight out with palms facing motorists is equivalent to a red light).”

The link in her report leads to a portion of the Italian traffic code test, including information on white-gloved Posizioni del vigile.

A Yearlong Hiatus. For a year, the Piazza Venezia was being repaved, and its pedestal-mounted policemen were MIA. They’re back on duty now.

Povoledo quotes Angelo Gallicchio, 62, who has managed a newspaper kiosk in the square since 1979: “This piazza is the aortic epicenter of the country. Every person of note who comes to Rome has to pass through Piazza Venezia—you can’t avoid it.”

“Today,” Povoledo continues, “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.”

A History of Police Pedestals. “At first, Povoledo says, “the pedestals were made of wood, and traffic officers would carry them into crossings. ‘At one point, a fixed, cement pedestal was installed in the piazza, lit up by a spotlight on a nearby building at night when no officer was on duty,’ Mr. Gallicchio said.” 

The spotlight didn’t help as motorists kept smashing into it. So in 2006 the fixed pedestal was replaced with a mechanical one that rises from the paving stones when required.

“Until the 1970s,” Povoledo describes, “every Jan. 6, the feast day of Epiphany, Italians would express their gratitude to the officers by covering traffic pedestals with gifts.The loot was then given to charity.” Povoledo’s link offers a vintage look at the practice.

A Return to Normal, Sorta. Povoledo quotes Fabio Grillo, 53, who, with 16 years under his belt, is the senior member of the team of four or five municipal police officers who direct traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestal: “In this difficult period, I think that it was seen as a sign of something returning to normal.”

Bravo! (Which is the Italian that Google Translate offers for “Good on ya!”) ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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