There are gypsies on the piazza behind our apartment. It’s not the first time we’ve had to put up with unwelcome visitors – local kids who litter the square and vandalise the streetlamps, the occasional camper which stops to offload its rubbish, even other gypsies have turned up in the past – but these take the cliché to another level. As soon as they arrived, the camper doors flew open, and out scampered 5 or 6 grubby-looking kids, the oldest of which at just 11 or 12 years of age, provided us with a perfect demonstration of why he will almost certainly grow up to be a professional lawbreaker, pretty much like his fathers before him.
Stones were launched at the windows of the derelict farmhouse on the other side of the piazza, the waste bins emptied and their contents scattered across a wide area, glass bottles hurled onto the neighbouring football field, its goalposts torn down. Swinging like a monkey from the net and taking obvious delight in his own ability to destroy everything in his path, the little monster displayed more pent-up aggression than you would imagine possible in an orang-utan, let alone a child. The ‘parents’, unsurprisingly took no notice whatsoever as they hurled bags of rubbish from the caravan windows and fought among themselves in an unknown – probably Eastern European - language.
Not one to stand by and witness such events without taking some sort of action, I picked up the phone and promptly called the Carabinieri – Italy’s answer to the Bad Cop. Sounding like I’d maybe interrupted his pasta lunch, the police officer half-heartedly assured me that he would send a car round to ‘have a word with them’. An hour passed, and we continued with the task of painting the second bedroom – keeping half an eye on the piazza, expecting a little blue car to turn up at any minute. Two hours. We ate our Penne al Ragù with one eye on our forks, the other on the window like we were on a stake-out. Three hours. “OK, that’s it”, say I, picking up the phone and planning a speech in my head along the lines of “Listen, officer. I pay 600 euros per month in taxes” (seriously, I do), “and when I call the police and ask them to come out because I have a problem, I expect them to do just that! Capisci??!!!”
I would never have gone through with it, but fortunately in any case a car arrived at that moment. Having done a little tour of the square, it promptly drove off again - no stopping, no confrontation, not even time to ‘have a word’. Is that it? Is that all that decent, tax-paying citizens can expect from the forces of law? Do we have any choice but to put up with lawless behaviour, literally in our own backyards? It would appear so. As I write this, the gypsies are still in residence, the dog who lives across the road is whining loudly as he does whenever his owners leave the house, the local teenagers are racing each other with their scooters up to the end of the road and back again, whilst the church bells which have been plaguing us ever since we arrived provide an appropriate soundtrack (chimes on the hour, chimes 5 minutes past the hour, chimes on the half hour plus an extra little ding, fanfare at 07:00, fanfare at 12:00, fanfare at 19:00. 24 hours a day).
Quiet life in the country, anyone??