Wednesday, July 10, 2019


The sanctuary of the Pasquarella

During a Champions League soccer match at Turin’s San Siro Stadium between Juventus and Real Madrid on June 3rd 2017, a wide screen TV showing of the game was set up in Turin’s Piazza San Carlo. A known criminal band of mostly North African thugs attacked the crowd with pepper spray with the intent to rob attendees. One person apparently died in the melee. Italy’s national police chief, Franco Gabrielli (the Chief of Italian Civil Protection) responded quickly, issuing the Circolare Gabrielli within the month to assure safety at all public gatherings. In the same year, Gabrielli married his long time girlfriend, Immacolata Postiglioni, the Chief of the Emergency Office of Civil Protection. The perfect storm! Two dedicated advocates of public safety joining forces. What could go wrong?

Chief Franco Gabrielli
The original measure proved to be so over-reactive that it put a damper on virtually all social/cultural gatherings in Italy. By July of 2018 a corrective measure was issued to make the order more workable. This one may have actually been named Circolare Gabrielli, while the original was perhaps called something else, despite emanating from the office of Gabrielli. Information about the events on the internet is remarkably difficult to find, limited mostly to the various laws and rulings written in deep bureaucratese, largely impenetrable to the curious foreigner.

Given that we’ve witnessed first-hand in New York City on September 11th of 2001 what can go wrong when government authorities ignore threats to public safety, we feel obligated to compliment the Italian Government for taking quick and decisive action in response to an ugly criminal event. Perhaps Chief Gabrielli could be temporarily loaned to the US to deal with the crisis at the southern border.

Second-guessing public authorities is always easier than carrying out their duties, and we love to do it. Living in underpopulated rural Umbria gives us a particular perspective that the Chief doesn’t have the luxury of sharing. We see his measures as overkill but left to our own devices, ours might be seen in the same light by city dwellers. If big soccer matches breed violence, why not just eliminate them, have them played in empty stadiums in neutral cities, or just ban the sport altogether and let the crowds concentrate their enthusiasm on more gentlemanly sports such as rugby?

Putting city-country differences aside for the moment, we would simply like to draw a little attention to the measures that have been taken. Generally all events involved in public gatherings will have new regulations about the size of the crowds and the number of security people that have to be on duty during those events. The size of the crowds at the Palio in Siena will be reduced from 40,000 to 12,000. What will the economic effect on Siena be? We assume that ticket prices will rise by a factor of three or four, but attendees buy more than tickets. Oh well, that’s a Tuscan problem.

Parking threat on river road
near Pasquarella
 Here in Umbria, there is a little sanctuary up the hill from a ravine near our village of Acqualoreto. It dates back to the 1100’s and is built against a cliff with rooms carved into the rock. For decades and probably centuries, local people have gathered there on the Sunday after Easter (Pasquarella) for a combination of a Mass and a picnic in the woods. In recent years the path up to the church has been improved and at the bottom of the hill, along the ravine, outdoor grilles have been
Porchetta and peanuts
built and parking has been improved. On the day of the Pasquarella, Masses have started early in the morning and have continued until late afternoon, eight in all. However, there have been several other days of pilgrimage to the sanctuary in January and August. Last year the use of the Pasquarella was canceled. It seems that the little piazza to the front and side of the church has been deemed too small for safe evacuation in the case of emergency.

Unsafe for emergency evacuation

Here in town on other occasions such as Corpus Domini, a score of villagers follow the priest out of the church, around the village and down and back to a little chapel a couple of hundred meters along the road. The new regulations require a person wearing an iridescent vest at the front and rear of all such processions. That is manageable enough but now, every little village festival has to have three or four Red Cross people standing by throughout to deal with “emergencies”. The biggest emergency is the cost of this service. Morre and Collelungo canceled their festas last year. Acqualoreto is soldiering on this summer but for how long? These little festivals take in some money, typically just enough to cover their costs, but with considerable new costs imposed, there may not be sufficient residual funds to finance next year’s events.
secured procession

By now, Todi is a small city known around the world for its history, beauty and livability but the entire Comune (county or township) has only 17,000 residents, of which about 7000 live in the city. It does an astounding job of hosting all sorts of cultural events at a time of serious difficulty for retail shops. The big need is more people and more jobs. We doubt that security guards are the answer to the employment problem.

Musicians imitating Ray Charles
play in Todi's
Piazza Garibaldi
Red Cross standing by in case Garibaldi falls on
crowd due to rhythmic music

The road to the river
Several posts back, on June 16th of last year, we commented on the collapse of a short section of the road connecting our village with the river road that runs alongside the Tiber. We called it the Little GrandCanyon of Acqualoreto. Nothing has changed. The men working signs are still in place. A five km stretch of this road connects our village to the road running along the Tiber in the valley below, which in turn takes us just about anywhere we’re likely to go. The pavement is roughly five meters wide, just enough for vehicles to pass each other, assuming that each stays to the right. There are no shoulders to this road, much less sidewalks or paths for pedestrians or cyclists. No stripes are painted, either at the edges of the pavement or in the middle. 
curving metal gutter

 Along one section, metal drainage gutters have been installed to facilitate drainage on the hilly terrain. Sometimes they are a meter away from the pavement, hidden by tall grass, and sometimes they are right at its edge. These gutters have small cross braces at about every three meters.
preferred trajectory

Most drivers seem to prefer driving in the middle of the road, moving to the edge only when forced to by an on-coming vehicle. We are left to imagine what effect a slight excursion off the pavement might produce. Some precautions have been taken by the local authorities, such as installing a few poles with reflectors along the edge of the pavement where the gutter abuts it.
safety measures including posted
10 KPM speed limit

The other notable provision is a 10 KPH speed limit sign (hard to read in the picture due to uncut grass) which would appear to be more an attempt to reduce liability than speed. For US readers, that’s about 6 MPH, a brisk sustainable walking speed.

We would like to invite Chief Gabrielli to visit our area to to see the unintended consequences of his measures but we fear that if he noted the conditions of the roads that connect Acqualoreto to the world, he might conclude that the village could not be safely evacuated in the event of an emergency. If he issues another wide-reaching decree regarding road safety, it could mean the end of all motorized traffic in Italy. Good for the environment perhaps but at what cost?

One day we’ll all be securely dead but in the meantime, while we’re still breathing, we would like to see the politicians of all persuasions who lament the economic difficulties of the country turn their attention from prohibiting cultural and economic activity to promoting it. Small villages suffer from population loss and limited economic opportunities but they offer beauty, cultural traditions and a healthy atmosphere that can’t be matched in large cities. Killing what remains of their traditions and social/cultural events doesn’t seem like the product of the most positive or creative thinking available.