My guests were shaken when they got back to the flat.  They had been on the metro and her bag had been cut open and purse taken.  She’d actually seen the little thief – an eastern European gypsy child pushing his way through the carriage – but been so crushed up against others that there was little she could do.  She said she’d also felt it was too paranoid, and maybe a little racist, to hug her bag to herself in her arms.  Besides she’d needed to hang on. 

I managed to dissuade them from seeking out an open police station – not always an easy task – to queue for hours for a police report for what little the insurance would pay.  The whole incident though left a rather sour taste for the rest of their stay.  Petty crime here is a problem.  Whilst you are most unlikely to be violently attacked – Rome is in this sense a very safe city – there are plenty of pickpockets out to prey on the easy tourist pickings that there are in abundance.  I’ve seen a young thief – again another gypsy child – casually emptying wallets next to a bin before throwing the wallets themselves away.  Again I debated reporting it before deciding it would be a pointless waste of my time adding another petty crime report to the rest clogging the system.  I’m getting better at spotting pickpockets – last week on a nearly empty tram a young woman chose to sit immediately next to me. She sat down heavily pressing against my leg by way of checking my pocket.  I moved my bag out of her reach, whereupon she went to stand some way down the tram.  Watching her I saw her eye up the bulging pocket of a nearby passenger and quickly look away. 

When you live in a country in which organised crime still permeates the infrastructure it isn’t really surprising that seemingly organised begging, flower selling and street musicians who can barely string two notes together are rife.  The flower trick where a man presents you with a rose…and then expects you to pay for it still catches out plenty round by the Trevi.  Fine if you don’t mind that your rose will be rather the worse for wear in a couple of hours.  Actually if you buy them at the end of the day the sellers are desperate to get rid of them and you can get a whole bunch for a couple of euros.  Its always amusing watching them surreptitiously dunk their roses in the fountain to try to freshen them up a bit.  I’m fed up though of being approached on restaurant terraces by an endlessly rotating string of accordion player-watch sellers-religious postcards/beggar-rose seller.  Oddly you never get say, two rose sellers in a row.  It seems well organised to me and I suspect the restauranteer probably takes his cut.  Their ever-presence is a nuisance when you’re trying to natter with your friends.

Much nicer are the African guys selling all kinds of junk from fake Louis Vuitton to knocked off software and DVDs.  They are mostly polite and helpful – anxious to avoid official notice and awkward questions about their immigration status.  The DVDs I’m told don’t always work but they are usually happy to exchange them.  No guarantee though that the new one will be any better.

 Then there are the gladiators.  Unfortunately looking nothing like Russell Crowe they haunt the Colosseum area (and bizarrely one is usually to be found on the Spanish Steps).  Apparently their pasta guts are more authentic though – some bulk was an advantage and gave your internal organs an extra layer of padding between them and whatever nasty sharp object was aimed at them.  Strictly speaking the gladiators are illegal too and went on strike about a year back to try to sort out their legal status.  Only in Rome. 

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