When I recovered from the jaw-dropping beauty of ancient art and architecture, I watched people – those who put themselves in the public eye and those who observe them. Italy was a treasure trove of observations.
There were squads of middle-aged female beggars in Rome and Florence – all attired in similar print flowered blouses and long skirts, topped off by kerchiefs. The sprawl prostrate on sidewalks by the most heavily trafficked intersections with their hands outstretched, praying loudly. I watched one woman who wasn’t getting much traction. She glanced around then pushed her tin collection cup out a bit farther so that people had to detour around it or drop in a coin. When we’d finished touring the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, it was late afternoon – shift change. Her replacement strolled up looking neither aged nor infirm, they said a few words then changed places. It was something to see – the new beggar assuming the prone position and folding her body into the pose of pitiful supplicant.
In Lucca, there was ‘gladiator guy’, attired in sparkling white, his face coated with white and the feathers in his tall centurion hat floating in the breeze, he’d stand motionless in his gleaming faux-chariot on one side of the street or the other (depending on the sun direction of the tourist foot traffic). Instead of a coin cup he used an impressive gold-lined vase. On the weekend, he was joined by a dude in a gold suit with what looked like a paint can. He posed semi-squatting with one hand raised or pressed to his thigh. I couldn’t figure out who he was supposed to be but I did admire the power of his thighs. Maintaining that crouch must have been murder after a while.
In Italy, service workers wear the most incredibly colourful uniforms – there are folks in turquoise with acid green safety vests stationed at major intersections like the one by St. Peter’s Square. Their only job is to control pedestrian traffic. They shout out – rosa – when the light is red to forestall jay-walkers and prevent oblivious tourists from becoming road pizza. The ambulance workers wore cherry red overalls with fluorescent stripes or aqua trousers and tops with orange vests. A group of men (I hesitate to call them workers) hung around a utility truck sporting cranberry onesies with orange accents, chatting and rolling cigarettes. EMS wear green and bright blue that actually match their vehicles. At the train station, there are squads of folks in bright red pants and jackets who seem to spend their time smoking.
It takes a self-confident man to deck himself out every day in crayon-coloured uniforms. It certainly made it easy to locate someone in authority in a crowd. I have to say, those guys (and a few gals) – all well-groomed and fit-looking – really rocked the pastels.