Here's a helpful tip. If you must absolutely, without a doubt, speak urgently with an Italian then what you need is his or her telefonino number. Gli italiani -- from teenaged ragazzi to la nonna in her pomodori-stained house dress -- get oxygen, nourishment and important bulletins about planet earth from these devices all day every day. For me, this is a curious, albeit infuriating truism. It bugs me to no end that a ringing telefonino will without fail disrupt dinner or the climactic scene of a movie. And because Italians need two hands to talk on these magic talking boxes, one would be wise to steer clear of a Roman motorist recklessly chatting away on his telefonino.
But the Italian government believes mobile phones can save lives. And thus, twice this week I received a text message from Berlusconi's boys -- the Protezione Civile to be precise. It was an urgent alert for me and the other 50 million mobile-phone-toting residents of Italy warning us that should we plan to venture into the center of Rome we may run into an enorme affluso ("enormous influx", presumably of people). Regardless of whether you were fishing off the coast of Sicily or skiing in Cortina, the good people at Protezione Civile wanted you to know what was happening in or around St. Peter's Square. The Protezione Civile have had the system for 8 months, but until this week have not (thankfully) had cause to use it to inundate all of Italy. But seeing so many pilgrims in town they rightly considered this to be a worthwhile moment to use the emergency spam hotline. I was told from the Prot Civile that the system was designed for massive events, which includes volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, terrorist strikes, and now, pilgrims.
For emergency crews, pilgrims pose a particular problem. You never know exactly when they will arrive, how many are coming, how they are coming and where they will stay when they arrive. If the New Testament had plagues, you can bet pilgrims would be on the list (most likely replacing frogs). So when millions of visitors (in fairness, roughly half were reporters) came unannounced this week to Rome, Romans were bracing for the worst. You see, on at least one occasion the unannounced visitors sacked the city, toppled the government, destroyed most of the buildings downtown. It was the end of an era, if not an empire, they say. True, those were invaders, not pilgrims. But you can never be too sure, particularly if the unannounced visitors are carrying guitars and singing disarming songs about Jesus. The perfect cover if you ask me. It turns out though these are mainly well-meaning pilgrims. And we are willing to overlook the fact that they are showing no apparent signs of planning to return home. They also haven't shown any signs of trashing the city. So, I think we will give them another 24 hours. The only ones who can stay are the foreign TV journalists who continue to over-pay us freelance hacks for the privilege of setting up nonsense interviews and harassing said pilgrims.