How Rome Celebrates The First of May

On the first of May, every year for the last 20 years, Rome has celebrated the day with a mega concert - something like Woodstock in the middle of Rome - held right in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, a magnificent  historic building and the seat of the Pope as the bishop of Rome:

The concert generally starts at 3 pm and goes on well past midnight, until 1:30 am, with sound that reverberates so loudly that the statues on top of the Church threaten to fall. But it all starts five days before with the stage being set up in front of the Church, a huge steel construction like a giant Lego:

Then, three days before the concert, every morning and till late in the afternoon, the musicians come in and exercise their talent as loudly as they can, testing the limits of the speakers and the nerves of the residents.

When the big day comes, people start to flock in several hours early and sit everywhere, waiting and drinking:

Before the real concert starts, they have already filled up on beer and Coke, leaving the bottles and cans all over the place and running to the (few) public toilets that have been set up:

Then the concert opens at 3 pm, with flag waving and screams of delight:

That red flag with Che Guevara? No surprise there, he's never stopped being an icon for the young...Perhaps the bigger surprise is that all these people are not here to protest. The rest of Europe - especially in Greece and Spain - is celebrating May Day with protests against the government and austerity policies that are killing employment.

But not here on Piazza San Giovanni. 

Here people sing while unemployment among the young reaches levels of 40 or 50 percent, one out of two is unemployed. Which probably explains why so many young are on this Piazza for the concert. They don't need to wake up early on May 2nd and go to work...

Is it all good, clean fun?  Perhaps for those who like that type of loud music that empties your brain of any thought. And it's free, everything is paid for by the trade unions (of course!) and Rome's Mayor Alemanno who is increasingly under attack for the corrupt and inept way he has governed the city in the last few years :

A tough guy issued from the conservative party that has its roots in nostalgia for Mussolini and fascism. He is up for re-election and the concert is a good way for him to get votes. Certainly he doesn't care that the concert is held just a stone's throw away from St. John's Hospital, one of the biggest public hospitals in the city and a historic institution. Hospital patients won't go out and vote, they're stuck in their hospital beds! 

On this photo, you can judge for yourself how close St John's hospital is to the Basilica of St John Lateran and therefore to the blaring concert:

The Church is on the left and that lovely classic fa├žade in the background is the hospital.

How do you think hospital patients feel like, being rocked by loud music for 3 days before the concert and then all afternoon and all night long on May First?And how about old residents who cannot move and leave their homes and are forced to listen to that music as if it were played in their bedroom?

Is that a civilized way to celebrate May First?

There is one blogger, a resident in the area, who has done every year his best to draw the attention of the local press and the town authorities to this scandal. Those of you who read Italian will enjoy the irony of his latest blog post, click here . For him, this is an unacceptable violation of a holy Catholic site...

The fact is that no amount of protesting or defending either the Church or the poor hospital patients and residents subjected to this audio-torture moves anyone to do anything to solve the problem - and yet, the solution is simple enough: there is a huge public park in Tor Vergata that was set up for the purpose over 10 years ago.

To no avail.

Everyone thinks it's cool to invade a historic piazza of Rome like San Giovanni, a piazza that cannot sustain the numbers of barbarians who must - they are human after all - relieve themselves after drinking cases of beer while listening to music all night long. In the past music fans brought their own beer cases. This time Heineken has set up a stand:

The city has foreseen very few extra toilets for the 500,000 and more (some say up to a million) music fans that occupy the piazza for hours on end. The day before the concert there were only 6 toilets installed:

That's a jolly nice setting against the old Roman walls, very romantic! But there are only six of them...By May 1st, that had grown to 100, still not enough for all those people.

It's no surprise that due to the lack of public toilets, the surrounding streets serve as urinals:

Italy is in a deep recession, budget deficits are supposed to be reigned in, tax money ought to be used to create jobs rather than play music. On May First, in San Giovanni at least, nobody gives a damn about austerity or job creation. So much better to belt a song and swig a beer!

It's a sign of the times we live in. 

My question for you: Do you have any complaint of the kind? I bet you must have suffered from similar, thoughtless impositions on your own personal "free space". Do tell us about it!

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