Wednesday, September 02, 2009

September 2, 2009--The Dancing Policeman

Traditionally, travelers to Italy have not only returned with stories of the wonders of Rome and the art of Florence, but also delighted in telling about all those gorgeous small town policemen in tight pants who, while atop their sun-drenched pedestal stages, pirouetted and danced as they directed surging seas of traffic.

How handsome was the one in Perugia? He could have been Marcello Mastroianni’s twin brother. And what about that lady-killer with the erotic baton swinging his hips on that twisting coastal road near Rapello?

Not only was this good for traffic safety—who was not prepared to slow down to take in these shows—but also reminded us of the sensual Italian way of life, half the reason we made our way there. (The other half being the Fettuccini Alfredo and bold Barolos.)

Now all of this may be imperiled. According to the New York Times, this display of male ego and splendor may be about to be replaced by, what else, art. (Article linked below.)

In towns and villages all over Italy, claiming they contribute to safety, municipal leaders are presiding over the construction of traffic roundabouts, or what we here in America refer to as traffic circles, and within them the erection of public art. I, myself, have never felt them to be very safe—to enter you have to launch your car into a swirling stream of traffic already rampaging around the circle. Drivers frustrated by the fact that they may have had to crawl toward the roundabout at ten kilometers per hour to even get to it, once there, floor the accelerator as if they had just entered the Milan Grand Prix. But if there were at least a dashing traffic policeman in full flagrant display awaiting them, it would have been worth the wait.

But now, more and more, what the weary driver will encounter is a piece of sculpture. Something usually quite awful—we’re not talking pietas. For example, in Buguggiate, just south of the Swiss border, town officials have installed a piece that is supposed to represent a pack of bicycle riders. Actually two-dimensional cutout silhouettes of riders that are arrayed in the roundabout as if the were biking around it. This, to be sure, does have the effect of slowing drivers down. In large part, it seems, because painted on each piece is a portrait. Not of a local count or cardinal, as it likely would have been during the Renaissance, but in this instance of the very politicians who commissioned the work.

This, as you might imagine, has unleashed a firestorm of protest. Especially from rival politicos. So, as a form of compromise, the elected officials are considering the addition of bikers from the opposition party. I assume they will be arrayed bringing up the rear.

This of course got me thinking about another roundabout, Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. It too could use some spiffing up and a bit more traffic management. With the Democrats in charge, if they were to poach this public art idea from Italy, what might we find on our next visit to the capital? Surely a cutout of Barack Obama in the lead, but with that lead narrowing as his popularity is slipping. Followed closely by . . .? Joe Biden? Nancy Pelosi? Harry Reid? Barney Frank? Or Michelle? Actually, maybe she should be at the head of the pack.

And bringing up the rear, nipping at the proverbial heels of the Democrats, maybe . . .? This one is more difficult. Certainly not John McCain any longer. What about Sarah Palin? Remember her? Of course not Larry Craig or Mark Sanford. How about, then, Rush Limbaugh, the de facto leader of the GOP? And, as another benefit, he could surely use the exercise.


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