Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Art of Begging

A regular in Piazza Maggiore

 “Begging is much more difficult than it looks. 
Contrary to popular belief, it’s a high art form 
that takes years of dedicated practice to master.” 
~ Sol Luckman

Begging—or beggars—are a problem all over Bologna, but I should point out that Bologna is not alone in facing the problem.  I haven't been to any large city in any country, including my own, that does not have a problem with beggars. Those of you in Las Vegas will probably agree that we have more than our share all over the city, not just on the Strip. In other words, it's nothing new, but I want to talk about the ones in Bologna a bit tonight.

Il cowboy
I think I mentioned before that there seems to be a "beggars' code of honor," if you will.  Everyone has his or her own place, and they don't impede on each other's turf.  The gypsy woman in the photo at the top of this post seems to get around, though.  I see her in Piazza Maggiore a lot, but on market days, she works Via d'Independenza, too.   She stays away from the cowboy (photo above), though.  Every Saturday and Sunday, he dons his terra cotta paint-covered clothes and make-up and stands for hours in the middle of the street for tips. (The city closes the two main streets, Strada Maggiore and Via d'Independenza, to all but bike and pedestrian traffic all day Saturday and Sunday.)

The bubble blower setting up.

The cowboy is just one of a number of people who dress up to get money from anyone.  There are two or three guys who stand in Piazza Maggiore every afternoon and blow bubbles (photo above).  They don't exactly blow bubbles. They have a bucket of soapy water into which they dip rope on sticks. They then flip the ropes, and huge bubbles appear (photo below).  Crowds form. Kids run to break bubbles.  People take photos. Buskers get euro.

The bubble blower in action

Usually I just walk by beggars, or I'll say, "No." I was saying, "No, grazia," but I started thinking that I shouldn't thank them for my refusing to give them money.  If one seems to be a little aggressive, I say, "Nein. Nein."  It sounds a little more abrupt than a plain, old, "No."

I should explain that by aggressive, I mean that they get into your face or interrupt you personally. I've been here five weeks, and the same guy is always standing on the same corner no matter when I walk by.

"Please, signora," he pleads. "Some euro." He's not aggressive, and I just walk by now.

Another guy has been standing outside of the grocery in the afternoon lately, and he will walk right up to me (and anyone else).

"Can't you give me your change?" he asks.  That, to me, is aggressive, so I answer, "Nein! Nein!" because, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, German sounds a little more terse.  I also have stopped going to that market if I see him hanging around.

Get your own corner, Dude.
I had the unique experience of witnessing two arguments between beggars today.  The first was rather gentile, as arguments go.  I was walking through the old section of town when I heard one guy yelling at another (photo above).  The guy sitting down is always on that particular corner, and the guy standing was trying to beg from just a few feet away. The seated guy got a little perturbed and told the other one to find his own place.

Interestingly, the interloper is the same guy that I saw another beggar yelling at about two weeks ago for the exact same thing on a different corner a few blocks away.

I decided today to have lunch out.  I have not eaten in a restaurant except for cappuccino and pastry for a month, and I thought I would enjoy lunch in Piazza Maggiore.  I also wanted to take photos of people walking by, so the restaurant afforded me a good spot from which I could do it.

I had just started eating when a young gal dressed in white and with white paint on her face walked up to the table.

"Signora," she said, "some euro?"  I shook my head.  "Some centavos?"  She put her hand close to my face.

"Nein. Nein." I said, and she moved to the next table and asked the guy sitting there for money.

"Nein," he said a little loudly.  She shrugged and left, and he said something in German to me.  Oops.  I just smiled.  The waiter brought out my food, saw the girl walking up to another table, and yelled at her.

"Get out," he insisted. "Let our patrons eat in peace. You know you can't come here."

I was in the middle of my lunch when I heard shouting about 20 or so feet away from me. I looked up to see the gal in white standing by two gypsies who were obviously not happy with one another (photo above).  I have no idea what they were fighting about, but the gal in yellow was the really angry one.  She kept screaming something I couldn't understand, and the other one would answer with something I didn't understand.  Neither was speaking in Italian, as far as I could tell.

The gal in white continued to hold her hands on her hips and just stand there until the Yellow started to get physical.  If you look closely, you can see that Yellow had a bottle in her left hand. It wasn't water, believe me. She was shaking her fist and moving toward the lady in blue who, by that time, had stopped speaking all together.  (To be honest, Yellow was so upset and so loud Blue would never have gotten a word in edgewise anyway.)  What you can't see, by the way, is a man standing a little behind White-face. He was part of the quartet, I guess, because when Yellow and Blue started circling, he and White-face held Yellow back.

The guy and White-face had to drag Yellow away. They pulled her to a little courtyard area, and Blue walked silently away in another direction.  From the courtyard, Yellow continued to scream for at least six or seven more minutes. I'd love to know why and what she was screaming, but that will remain mystery.

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