Going Begging . . . . .

Beggars have become a regular feature of most towns and cities in the UK these days, though I have to admit that few of them exhibit the boldness often seen in Italy.


A few years ago we were in Rome, exploring a part of the centre which we had never visited before. It was packed with amazing architecture reflecting the grandeur of Rome and was dotted with exclusive shops reflecting the lives of the wealthy Romans. We were gazing at a display of Borsalino hats in one of these lavish shop windows when suddenly a voice said 'Per favore, signori!' I turned to be confronted by the usual open palm and the earnest pleading expression, which I was expecting. However what I was not expecting was that rather than a 'ragged urchin' they belonged to a stylishly dressed woman in her late 40s. Not only was she well-dressed, but dangling on one arm was one of those elegant card carrier bags from an exclusive shop, the traditional display of affluence in Italian cities. Both Lesley and I were stunned, as we tried to make sense of this, and then to cap it all she turned towards us, and just when I was expecting a stream of abuse, she flagged down a taxi and sped off. So whilst other beggars were prostrating themselves on kerbsides or carrying around young children with unfeasibly large bandages, this woman thought it was worth a try to ask tourists for a taxi fare!

Another beggar we saw in Catania had an extremely theatrical approach to her art. One of main squares contains several restaurants and pizzerias however rather than having them wall-to-wall around the perimeter, there are grouped in twos or threes with a space between each group. We were eating at one of the pizzerias when this lady appeared; who was walking with great difficulty. She would stumble one step forward with the left leg before hauling the apparently lifeless right leg forward. It took her some time to reach the edge of the group of restaurants, where a few people went to give her money. I was about to do the same, when suddenly she stood bolt-upright and strode to the next group of restaurants where she stopped and returned to her desperate walk routine. We watched her repeat this across the length of the theatre and back again, wondering whether she ever thought she would have more success if she maintained the pretence whilst 'off-stage'. Or maybe, she just couldn’t be bothered. Strangely, last year I saw a clip on Facebook where a stray dog had not only come up with the same idea but had taken it further, whereby he would drag both back legs along behind him for greater effect. That's evolution for you!

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