SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Alex Rotundo

Trash and Graffiti in Rome

photo No alla guerra senza ma e senza se, Fermiamo la guerra in Iraq.” The banner spanned from one end of the crowd to the other end. The last part of that Italian anti-war sentence says, “Stop the War in Iraq. The entire number of protestors at the Pace (Peace) demonstration in Rome must have reached the hundreds of thousands.

   As an American watching this peace march it was awe inspiring, so many people speaking their minds in a civil way. The participants just continued to walk down the main street in front of Rome’s government building, like a herd without an end in sight. Marco, my Italian friend, and I decided that we should get moving because it was getting late. There was still so much to see and do before the day ended. First, we wanted to get some food and coffee to keep us going.

   We ate near the Fontana Di Trevi, a beautiful and historic fountain. This area seemed relatively clean compared to the rest of Rome. Trash and graffiti were everywhere else but here. I remember seeing graffiti that read, “Sganciate Bush, non le bombe.” Drop Bush, not bombs. I was a little nervous being in a foreign land while the Iraq War was just beginning.

   We finished our meal and went to get a better look at the fountain, even though it was getting dark and very chilly. As we approached Marco started to give me some history and background on the fountain. Then he told me an interesting little story about an incident involving an American and the fountain. The story went like this…

   An American man is looking at the same fountain on a hot summer day. He decides to jump in the water to cool off because there were no signs prohibiting it. (Forget about common sense) He then decides to sit on the old historic and beautiful tail of a fish coming out of the water. Guess what? His weight breaks the tail right off. It is completely detached from the rest of the sculpture. Of course, he swears his innocence. Rome says that he has to pay to get it fixed. He says no and tries to sue Rome because there were no signs telling him that he could not jump into the fountain and sit on the sculptures. The tail eventually gets fixed. At what price?

(Marco’s inner monologue while telling the tale)

Marco: Su e successo di nuovo! It happened! Il solito turista ha infierito su un monumento, un pezzo di storia, o piu semplicemente un pezzo di citta che e successo al mettuno della fontana di trevi! A typical tourist defaced a piece of history, a piece of town in the heart of the city. Naturalmente non sapremo mai perche lo ha fatto e lui non dei conti la storia e questo.  Of course, we will never know why he did it and he will never understand what he did. La prossima volta, fai il tuo atto non compreso alla Casa Bianco. Next time, do the same to the White House.

I was ashamed and angry with the American that ruined part of the fountain. After hearing the story I felt uncomfortable. I no longer felt like a tourist but an outsider. I would have to think about every word I used and every action I made to make sure I did not add to the negative preconceived feelings and attitudes the Italians had for other Americans.

I was being judged for being American. If only they would give me (us) a chance. The fact that people can judge us for being a certain nationality was truly unsettling. I felt as if I was a child that needed to be rebuked for being something that I had no control over. I got a taste of being an outsider or as the “other” in a foreign land and it left a sour flavor in my mouth.

I learned in a very sudden realization that Americans are viewed very negatively throughout the world. And the fountain story shocked me into that reality. The incident left an invisible mark upon me, that being a certain nationality will affect how others treat you outside of your home. Instantly recognized as being American I then felt like I was the trash and the graffiti in Rome. Pace, now that I am back home with the others.

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