In addition to lots of other places, gypsies are causing problems around Mestre, the mainland part of Venice, and at the church of san Lorenzo in Mestre they are seriously hassling people who try to get in and out of the church, jostling them while begging. The police move the beggars on, but they simply come back. To try and deal with the problem the ‘archpriest’ (not sure what we’d call such a person in English) has arranged for Brother Michael, a sacristan of the church, together with a parishioner who speaks the Romani language, to stand outside and ask them to move away. This is being reported as ‘the mass with a bouncer on the door’, which is even funnier in Italian as the Italian word for bouncer, ‘buttafuori’, literally translates as ‘chucker out’.
Of course some people are complaining that it is in the tradition of the church to give alms to the poor, while others argue that this isn’t giving alms, it’s an organised begging business, which is in fact the truth of the matter.
But in some ways it’s quite funny, the church service with a bouncer, though in other ways isn’t. Violence erupted outside a hotel in Mestre when Romani beggars attempted to jostle some Italian tourists who were leaving a tourist bus and some of the Italians thumped them, which caused a bit of a fight on the spot. So far as I know punch-ups are not yet a feature of the entrance to the church of san Lorenzo, though it sounds like a thin line.
The Italian police are at a loss to know what to do about all this. The chief of the civil police in Rome – for one of the problems is that Italy doesn’t have a single police force – resigned last month. He was described in the paper as ‘a man of a piece’, the Italian expression for a citizen of respected standing, but he resigned because the new mayor of Rome had told him he must get rid of the growing numbers of illegal street traders plaguing the city. The police have been trying to do that for some years, and failing, and so the chief of police admitted defeat and resigned rather than continue to be shouted at by the new mayor for not doing something he didn’t know how he could do.