When in Rome ... Do not have a nap in the street

By Peter Popham

Nothing might seem more natural, under the cloudless skies of Rome, than to stretch out in view of some crumbling monument and crack open a can of beer.

But, this European summer, extra caution is in order after Rome's Mayor, Gianni Alemanno, declared war on such activities.

In a new law passed with immediate effect last Friday, the following activities are now forbidden on pain of a 50 euro (NZ$103.80) fine: littering, sleeping, eating and drinking by the wayside, graffiti, sticking up posters, shouting, singing and selling merchandise without a licence.

Most were in fact already banned by other laws but Mr Alemanno's intention is to make the police actually do something about them.

If the new law was imposed rigidly, life in the city centre would come to a dead halt because Rome's touristic life consists of little else.

The Bangladeshi who goes from table to table selling roses, the Senegalese selling counterfeit handbags, the accordion and violin players, the tourists who eat pizza in sight of the Pantheon or the Trevi fountain, the visitors sleeping off the Chianti under the umbrella pines - all would become fugitives.

Mr Alemanno knows that, of course.

"The checks must be made using common sense," he said last week.

The law's real objective is to tackle the drunken squalor that prevails at night in the city centre.

This week, police made their first effort to enforce the rules.

Closely trailed by a posse of reporters, they pounced on three Tunisians who were eating their lunch and drinking beer on the Spanish Steps; two Indians, one eating near the Forum, the other napping on the pavement nearby; two tourists asleep on the steps of Santa Maria Maggiore and another on the steps of the Trevi fountain.

The Tunisians were predictably miffed.

"If I've done something wrong, I'll pay," said Hafed, 30, "but this is a strange law".

His friend, Mario, added: "There are no signs saying these things are banned. It's absurd!"

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