ROME — If, because it’s mentioned, all roads lead to Rome, then they intersect at Piazza Venezia, the downtown hub of the Italian capital, watched over by a visitors officer on a pedestal who choreographs streamlined circulation out of automotive chaos.
For many Romans and vacationers alike, these visitors controllers are as a lot an emblem of the Eternal City because the Colosseum or the Pantheon.
That could clarify why the return this week of the pedestal (plus its visitors cop) after a yearlong hiatus whereas the piazza was being paved, set off a media frenzy — even when there was little visitors to direct given the widespread lockdown that started this week to comprise an upsurge of coronavirus circumstances.
“In this difficult period, I think that it was seen as a sign of something returning to normal,” mentioned Fabio Grillo, 53, who, with 16 years below his belt, is the senior member of the crew of 4 or 5 municipal law enforcement officials who direct visitors from the Piazza Venezia pedestal.
In rain or sleet, or sweltering via Rome’s sultry summers, officers have directed visitors from the Piazza Venezia pedestal close to the mouth of the Via del Corso, one of Rome’s primary streets, for so long as anybody can bear in mind. And the gestures they make with their white-gloved hands is one thing that each one Italian motorists dutifully memorize for his or her driver’s exams. (Important notice: Two arms straight out with palms dealing with motorists is equal to a pink mild).
“It’s been compared to conducting an orchestra,” mentioned Mr. Grillo.
Apart from common visitors, Piazza Venezia can be a crossroads that leads to City Hall, the Parliament, Italy’s presidential palace and a nationwide monument the place visiting heads of state routinely pay homage — which all contributes to the chaos on the hub.
“This piazza is the aortic epicenter of the country,” mentioned Angelo Gallicchio, 62, who has managed a newspaper kiosk in the sq. since 1979. “Every person of note who comes to Rome has to pass through Piazza Venezia — you can’t avoid it.”
For a few years, Roman the visitors police have been instructed by Mario Buffone, whose three a long time on the pedestal — making him one of the town’s most recognizable figures — was immortalized in a book. He retired in 2007. “He was an icon for us,” mentioned Mr. Grillo.
Giuseppe Battisti, 47, an officer who has been on the pedestal for 12 years, mentioned that each one that’s required to do the job effectively is ardour and “a little elegance.” Though the visitors indicators are enshrined in the motive force’s code of conduct, “every agent personalizes it,” he mentioned.
Pierluigi Marchionne’s class on the pedestal (his gestures earned him a “He’s bellissimo! It’s marvelous!” from a passer-by on Thursday) — is probably going what grabbed Woody Allen’s eye when he was scouting places for his 2012 film “To Rome With Love.” After seeing Mr. Marchionne in motion, he was so taken with the visitors officer that he rewrote the start of his script in order that he may forged him in the film, Mr. Marchionne mentioned.
“He saw me, and then we did a screen test, but let’s say he’d already chosen me for the role,” mentioned Mr. Marchionne, 45, who went on to take programs on the Actor’s Studio in New York and nonetheless often directs visitors from the pedestal. He can be the inventive director of a manufacturing firm that organizes an Italian film festival below the stage identify Pierre Marchionne.
Working on Mr. Allen’s movie “was a unique experience,” he mentioned.
It’s notable that Romans in specific ought to really feel so pleasant towards somebody paid to punish visitors infractions, that are notoriously frequent in the Italian capital.
Until the Nineteen Seventies, each Jan. 6, the feast day of Epiphany, Italians would categorical their gratitude to the officers by masking visitors pedestals with gifts. The loot was then given to charity, Mr. Grillo mentioned.
That unlikely affection could have had a lot to do with Alberto Sordi, an actor who ceaselessly performed visitors officers in films, most notably in the 1960 basic “Il Vigile.”
Sordi, who died in 2003, was additionally named an honorary Roman visitors officer. Last yr, the uniform and props from these movies went on show in a museum opened in the actor’s dwelling in Rome, now shut as a result of of the pandemic.
“Because of Sordi, traffic cops became more simpatico,” in addition to an emblem of Rome, mentioned Mr. Grillo, who can recite scenes from Sordi films phrase for phrase.
That affection has not been with out some criticism, nonetheless. The picture of the municipal police, of which the visitors officers are an element, has been tarnished in latest years by investigations into potential wrongdoing — like closing an eye fixed to unlawful building and taking kickbacks.
A history of municipal police forces in Italy posted on the web site of one nationwide affiliation traces their origins to the guardians of a Roman temple in the fifth century B.C. An instructional movie from the early Nineteen Fifties from Italy’s nationwide archive, Istituto Luce, nonetheless, as a substitute traces the corps’ historical past to the primary century B.C., through the reign of the Emperor Augustus (there’s a pleasant contact of a chariot segueing right into a convertible).
Today, Piazza Venezia has the one visitors pedestal left in the town. “It is part of the architecture of the piazza,” mentioned Mr. Gallicchio, the kiosk proprietor.
At first, the pedestals have been made of wooden, and visitors officers would carry them into crossings.
At one level, a hard and fast, cement pedestal was put in in the piazza, lit up by a highlight on a close-by constructing at evening when no officer was on responsibility, Mr. Gallicchio mentioned.
The highlight didn’t assist as “motorists kept smashing into it,” Mr. Grillo mentioned. So in 2006 it was changed with a mechanical pedestal that rises from the paving stones to welcome officers arriving for work.
Now, with the work executed on the piazza this yr, the officers say they’re eager to get again to a job they love and hopefully, change into a spotlight of vacationers’ cameras once more after the pandemic passes.
“Maybe we weren’t as famous as the Fountain of Trevi, but we were a tourist attraction.” Mr. Battisti mentioned with a smile. “I bet there are even photos of us in North Korea.”