Biking down Cavour today, I heard the sirens wail echo off the buildings and a caravan of police cars cut off the bus in front of me and sped around the corner into Piazza San Marco. Someone important, you think – but the soccer teams get the same treatment, so you never know who is being shuttled around these streets at high speeds and tinted windows. It’s too famous of a place. Sometimes it’s Tom Hanks, other times, it’s apparently the Prime Minister of Italy – like it was today.
As I turned into the piazza, the little caravan had multiplied. Police cars, vans, trucks, carabinieri milling about in the street in groups. No one seemed to be particularly alarmed. (But then I remembered the time that Rami and I thought we were watching a film crew doing a scene of another movie as we drove by one day and then found out later that it was an actual robbery…and I questioned myself.) I bumped my bike over the cobblestones, trying to figure out what was going on. Did I know anything about this? No. Do I ever really know about things like this ahead of time? Absolutely not. Up ahead of me a door opened to one of the vans and a man stepped out with a gun.
“What’s going on?” I, the silly American that has shot more guns than most Italians have ever seen, asked this man casually. as I started to go past him There were no barriers other than his presence. No metal railings, no tape, no signs, nothing but a lot of police hanging around with their arms crossed and chatting like it was a cigarette break. The entire situation was like any get-together in Italy – there’s no pattern, no lines, no indication to what you’re really supposed to be doing.
“Nothing, nothing just please go over that way.” He said and indicated around to the inner street of the piazza. I was going that way anyway, so I didn’t protest and thanked him as left.
And that is how today I walked up and thought it was absolutely fine to casually chat with the equivalent of a secret service agent protecting the US President as he steps out into a public street in one of the most popular cities in the country. Apparently, the Prime Minister was here today to celebrate the publication of works by Giorgio La Pira, once a mayor of Florence that many Florentines deemed a saint in his time (he died in 1977). To me, all I knew was that his security teams we preventing me from getting to Giulio.
I pushed my bike around the crowds and continued on my way. Down past the commotion, the streets were calm and quiet. The same photographer was in the piazza – this time with a couple in full wedding attire. The girl had a friend holding her veil, then tossing it in the wind and running out of each frame.
Tucked among the tall fortified walls of all these buildings built for protection, the little pockets of activity are so tiny and consuming, it’s sometimes like walking (or biking) through a book, chapter by chapter. Turn the page, bike down the street, and a new scene starts, the sirens from the last one growing softer and softer as you go.