Romans are a jittery, panicky bunch. The little old ladies who live in my building have been watching me with a he's-up-to-no-good glare for months now. With every stack of mail I claim from the letter box, with every trash bag I haul to the curb, the case builds in their eyes that I am not to be trusted. Well, not entirely. (Once, I helped carry a never-ending load of chairs into the building following a Lenten prayer service and was instantly annointed a he's-with-us hug from a few of my blue-haired neighbors).
Nonetheless, the older generation's suspicion of all foreigners is acute. As proof, a Corriere della Sera poll revealed that 85 percent of the country believes Italy will be the next target. And, elderly and homemakers fear attack the most, the paper reports in shocking bold type. What the story failed to convey is that elderly and homemakers have now predicted attacks from, in this order, fascists, communists, centrists, atheists, Marxists and now Islamists. Dentists could be next.
In the past week, however, the mistrust of outsiders has become contagious around the city, spreading to even young Romans who now talk of when the terrorists will hit. At dinner parties, the subject turns to which of the monuments is most likely to be targeted: St. Peter's (home of the Catholic church), il Collosseo or Pantheon (symbols of Western Civilisation's glorious past) or a McDonald's (the sentimental favorite for rebels of all stripes). In fact, if you walk past the Pantheon today you may see something as culturally jarring as any of Bernini's works. The Micky D's across from the 2100 year old dome was stripped of its letters at some point within the past two weeks. It's a McDonald's senza golden arches, one of many safety precautions executed around town. Another is the installation of CCTV cameras on street corners, which has baffled the locals. Because the assumption is the cameras are to deter terrorists, motorists continue to run red lights with impunity.
The scariest development though is the arrest in Rome Friday of Hamdi Adus Isaac, the fourth bomber in the 21 July aborted London mission. Isaac, or the terrorist formerly known as Hussain Osman, was quoted as saying this weekend he will fight extradition to the UK on grounds he considers himself Italian. He may be of Ethiopian descent, but he says he speaks Italian perfectly well. He has friends and family here, he reminded us. Need more proof? He was busted because, while on the run, he made numerous calls on his telefonino, tipping the police off to his whereabouts.
Let's review: He apparently has no job. He considers himself a hell of a talker. He doesn't know when to shut up and switch off the telefonino. He sounds Italian to me.