25th March 2017
A Roman Spring by Sue Boyle
Six days after the vernal equinox, there were balmy breezes on central Rome’s lungoteveri to which, since midnight, many of the access roads had been closed. The 27 EU leaders were meeting to congratulate themselves on their continuing domination of the continent. By breakfast time, the polizia and the carabinieri had taken up positions on the various bridges which might have given the marchers access to the suburb of Trastevere. Across the city, an estimated 35,000 people were assembling to play a variety of parts in the beautifully planned unfolding of the day.
Around the world, other people were presumably celebrating rather differently. March 25th is apparently National Lobster Newburg Day. It is Brothers and Sisters Day. Also Tolkein Reading Day, Pecan Day and International Waffle Day – this last alluringly appropriate for the kinds of political sloganising which had taken over the streets and marbled halls of central Rome.
Assembled in the morning near the Bocca della Verità – the stone carved mouth of truth just outside Santa Maria in Cosmedin – were various good tempered groups of EU enthusiasts and federalists, waiting without complaint to be given the go-ahead to march. Their costumes and banner slogans were underscored by a sightly surreal playlist from the stage…. Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien , the barricades song from Les Miserables, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy….. the federalists had chosen themselves a rousing selection of good tunes. It was springtime. The police were relaxed. A man had created a walking parasol of interesting thoughts. There were union jacks, plenty of blue face paint and lots of people cloaked in the EU flag. There was a lopsided balloon.
The afternoon march of the anti-EU protestors was expected to number 8,000 and a suitable number of fiercely armoured carabinieri and polizia and heavy vehicles had been deployed. The starting point was close to the Pyramid of Cestius which flanks the Protestant Cemetery where Keats lies beside his friend Joseph Severn and where Shelley, Mary Shelley and Mary’s son William also have their graves. More relevant to the day, this cemetery is the burial place of Antonio Gramsci, founding member of the Italian communist party, many of whose members were marching up with their scarlet banners from Testaccio. Gramsci’s theories how ruling bourgeoisies consolidate and maintain their power are as relevant in today’s elite-dominated Europe as they were in his lifetime, but March 25th was a day for photographs, not for political debate.
The groups streamed up Via Marmorata towards the Lungotevere Aventino. . The polizia maintained their blockade of the Ponte Sublicio and the Ponte Palatino. When it became necessary, they skilfully prevented access to the hill. The marchers waved their flags and raised their banners. The watchers took photographs. The press did interviews. The blindati , like a herd of blue elephants, closed ranks, advanced a little at a stately pace, halted, advanced again. We took more photographs. A man in a wheelchair moved into the path of a police vehicle, whereupon everything had to halt. A passionate woman on a pale pink bicycle joined the man in the wheelchair to argue the protestors’ case. Now the forest of cameras and tablets and phones had to be held high if the lenses were to glimpse the unfolding scene. We crowded in. We took more photographs. The march could not move forward and for half an hour the police were not given instructions to move back. To fill the time, we took more photographs.
Eventually the blindati were given permission to back slowly down into the piazza, where the marchers followed them and where it seemed unlikely anything much was going to happen, except more standing in the sun and – yes, of course – more photographs.
On the way home, spring really did announce itself unequivocally. Two rose-ringed parakeets flustered themselves down into one of the plane trees that line the lungotevere and started their mating ritual which consisted of one jumping uncertainly on to the back of the other, flapping his wings, failing to achieve balance, tumbling off, and choosing instead to start a tender sequence of beak strokes and gentle nibbles, as if feeding his rose-ringed beloved tiny grains of corn.
Spring had arrived in Rome.
19th March 2017
An uphill walk by Susan Jane Sims
Chris and I braved fierce March winds on Friday afternoon to walk the mile up hill to my children’s old secondary school. I noticed several gardens bordered with yellow forsythia and made a mental note to cut a sprig from our bush to bring Spring in to the house. Our reason for going was, that at the instigation of an ex teacher the school is planning to create an award in Mark’s name and we had been invited to discuss what we feel would be appropriate. It is eleven years since Dave and Mark left the school and we are very touched that they want to do this. Our suggestion is for an inclusive annual award for a student who has ‘beaten the odds’ in some way, be that socially, health wise or a specific act of kindness or bravery.
The head teacher had never met Mark but told us that he found his blog inspiring. He took us for a tour around the school and we got to stand and gaze at the fantastic artwork and design projects on the walls and to peep into several classrooms including one with a bunch of excited Year seven students making scones. Whether it was the scent of baking or the cheeky grin of one of the boys who looked across at us, but Mark’s face came to mind. He would have been in his element there amongst his friends creating something good to bring home to surprise us all with.