Watching the Streets of Rome

Retreat Hannah333 views

My first observation of Rome was that it was rubbish. However, it turned out that in my random wanderings I had managed to miss all of the cool parts of Rome. Rome is in fact fantastic. There are many beautiful views, fountains and buildings to be seen in Rome.

Rome, however, exhausted me. I walked a minimum of 18,000 and a maximum of 27,000 steps per day across my four days in Rome. I wondered why people had been talking about taking the metro on their travel blogs when everything is clearly within walking distance! But now I get it, being on your feet all day is tiring and there is actually quite a distance between some of the sights.

There is a massive military presence on the streets. I assumed due to terrorist threats and a quick Google search told me I was right. I don’t really get how having two soldiers with guns and one truck outside every tourist attraction helps but I’m not an expert on these things.

The thing that really struck me about Rome though, above anything else, was the number of people trying to make a living, or just living on the streets.

I walked past a homeless guy that was strewn across the pathway as if he’d passed out, or worse, was dead. He wasn’t begging, there was no hat left out, or handwritten sign with a plea. Hundreds of people walked past this guy, possible rightfully so, you can’t involve yourself in everyone’s business. However, the way he was lying just didn’t sit right with me. I doubled back and bought a bottle of water from a cafe. I went up to him, said ciao and offered him the water. He blinked his eyes open and accepted the water. He was covered in vomit and urine, but he wasn’t dead. I couldn’t have forgiven myself if I just walked past a dead man without thinking twice. After that I walked away. I didn’t know why else I could do. I don’t speak Italian, I don’t live here.

I walk past homeless people in London all the time. When you’re in your usual life mode, got to get to work, late to meet so and so, trying to remember to pay the electricity bill, you have a hardshell around yourself that stops you ruminating on these things too much, it helps you survive and carry on with life. But me, I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything. I have all day long to think about the people I pass by.

Crowds of tourists at the Spanish Steps

I came across one or two other homeless people that looked in a bad way and gave them a bottle of water but that wasn’t even the start of it. More apparent than the homeless people in Rome are the street sellers. The streets are flooded with men selling bags, scarves, water and selfie sticks. There are also street performers a plenty. Although some of the costumes are so low grade that it’s more like begging with face paint on than performing.

Rose garden at Aventine Hill

Whilst sat on the Spanish Steps a guy told me his squeezy widget was very good price, very cheap. I asked his name. He said he was Saboor from Bangladesh. When I made it clear I wasn’t going to buy a squeeze widget, unsurprisingly Saboor lost interest in talking to me. I know that the people selling tat on the streets of Europe are often migrants working illegally. I have never seen so many of these street sellers in my life as I have in Rome. From time to time you’ll see them scoop up their wares with practiced grace and full on leg it. I often can’t see any police when they do this, but they must know something I don’t.

Yesterday morning, legs already weary from all the walking I set out from my hostel to head to Vatican City, but I got a far as via dei fori imperiali and I lost my motivation to march onwards on my mission of sightseeing.  Instead I just hung around watching all the street sellers and performers. I dug all of my change out of my purse and decided to give a little bit to to each different person I can across. First up was floating geni. I can’t figure out if he’s there legally or not. He has a friend that seems like a lookout but he has so much kit that he couldn’t possibly hop off his bottle and collect his gear if the police came.

Whilst hanging out by the above genie, I might Pooba from Kenya. Most of the street sellers aren’t particularly pushy you can say no thank you and smile and they will just smile back. Pooba is a bracelet seller. Bracelet sellers tend to be more pushy, seemingly trying to get the bracelet on your wrist at all costs. Pooba was cool though. I told him I was going to Perugia next and he kept thinking I was going to Paraguay until I showed him on the map. His English isn’t very good but we still had a laugh.

I stopped by a few street performers, some seemed to be Italian, others not. One guy, painted white, was intimidating. I gave him €2, but he could see that I had another €2 in my hand and seemed quite insistent on trying to get it. I tried to explain that I was sharing my money around.

Gallery – click to enlarge picture

Next I met Mustafa and his English speaking friend. They were my faves. I bought a selfie stick from Mustafa. I didn’t need a selfie stick (who does) but taking selfies is definitely more fun now I have one. I bought some water from Mustafa’s mate even though I had water in my backpack. I just felt like it. They were very helpful with their explanation of how to use the selfie stick – I felt old (apparently if there’s no auto button you have to use the timer).

Mustafa’s English speaking mate translated everything. He told me that Mustafa buys the selfie sticks for €8 and sells them for €10. He normally sells 1 to 3 a day. The water business isn’t doing so well at the moment (it’s April) but will be booming come June. The water is bought for €1.5 a bottle and sold for €2, which makes me wonder why someone sold me a bottle for €1.

I have seen some of the water sellers inside paid attractions such as Palatine Hill – it costs €12 to get in so I’m not sure how that fits into the business model. Maybe they use discarded tickets, as the tickets can be used for 48 hours from purchase.

I visited the colosseum, where I noticed that people were selling their goods right in front of the police who were just sat in their cars chilling. I tried to ask one guy selling water why they didn’t need to run away from the police but he didn’t speak much English and also seemed deeply suspicious of my question. He thanked me for buying some water and moved on.

On exiting the colosseum  I saw a guy with decorative resin cubes half heartedly running from a police lady who was shouting something at him in Italian. As soon as she turned around he walked back to his spot to continue selling his souvenirs. Since then I have seen police close by to street sellers on mutliple occassions, and the sellers just keep on selling. I don’t understand when the police take action and when they don’t, and how the sellers know if they can carry on or if they need to run. The consequences of getting caught selling goods illegally can’t be too disatarous, as they are often running with smiles on their faces.

On the trip advisor forum there’s a thread where tourists tell other tourists that these people are ‘illegals’ and shouldn’t be encouraged but a selfie stick or bottle of water in the heat are pretty tempting buys, expecially when you know the seller is likely going to walk home with about €6 in their pocket at the end of the day.

Read more about Rome’s street sellers on Euroviews or Al Jazeera.

Retreat Hannah
There's a reason more and more people are giving up their jobs to travel - modern working life leads to burn out and is unsatisfying. I am a woman on a mission to find the world's answers to the stress of modern living.

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