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For years young lovers have come to Il Ponte Milvio (Mulvian Bridge) in the north of Rome to declare their undying affection by writing their names on a lock, attaching it to a lamppost on the bridge and then throwing the key into the Fiume di Tevere (Tiber River) below. It’s a iron-clad promise to love each other until the end of time. Eternity ain’t what it used to be!

The bridge started attracting sweethearts after the publishing of Federico Moccia‘s popular book and film ““Ho Voglia di Te” (“I Want You”) in 2006.  Unfortunately the barrage of locks started to bend the lampposts and the practice had to be limited to steel posts added by the Mayor. When the posts become filled, the locks must be removed to make room for newly-passionate visitors.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times? Along with the City’s reasonable attempt to keep its infrastructure from crumbling under the weight of thousands of metal locks, the solution perhaps mirrors the devotion and commitment of modern couples these days. Happily ever after is hard to come by and having your declaration to the one you adore chopped-off by an orange suited city worker with a wire cutter seems to underscore the changing landscape of amore a Roma.

But being the hopeless romantic that I am, I like to imagine that someday an old couple will walk arm-and-arm across the Ponte Milvio and recall when they too placed a lock on this bridge to commemorate the beginning of their love story. They’ll smile because they’ll know that love can last even when the symbol of that love has long gone.


by Toni DeBella

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I have never been overly-superstitious and take great pride in my healthy cynicism.   I don’t throw salt over my shoulder or avoid black cats.  As a muralist, I walk under ladders frequently and don’t believe I have ever fallen victim to the evil eye.  Thinking or saying something out loud does not make it come true.  If it did, I’d be a size 6, rich and living in a palazzo in Orvieto.  But I digress.

My grandmother was normally a very serious and solemn woman.  One day a year she would transform into a madwoman, wielding a broom and running in circles shouting and screaming like a banshee in an effort to ward off the evil spirits who had apparently taken up residence in our cellar.  It was spring cleaning run amok.  I don’t know much about the tradition that had this small, fragile and shy lady fearlessly take on a bunch of ghosts in the basement of our house.  I wonder if it was folklore passed down from her childhood in Contessa Entellina, a small Sicilian town 80km from Palermo.  I did a little research and found quite a few references to sweeping away evil spirits with a broom — a common practice especially among southern Italians, but was unable to find any mention of the “screaming and running around” part.  Perhaps that was my grandmother’s own personal stamp on the custom.

Superstitious Minds

A superstition is a belief in something that has no rational foundation in science and is most often based on the prevailing religion or culture that contains these otherworldly beliefs.  The word comes from the classical Latin superstitio, meaning “a standing over [in amazement]”.  Greek and Roman pagans were believed to have scorned men who displayed a fear of the gods and thus, the behavior came to be referred to as superstition. This could explain why Greeks and Italians are famously known for their mythology and have a common legend in the “evil eye” – Malocchio in Italian, Mati in Greek.

Hope-On-A-Rope

When I wrote earlier that I am not particularly superstitious, I wasn’t being completely honest with you.  The fact is that in the last few years I have come to believe a certain necklace I own has developed supernatural powers that, if worn daily, will someday bring me good luck.

It started out as a simple chain with a silver bar hanging from it.  One afternoon while in St. Peter’s Square I looked down to see something glittering in the sun.  I removed it from between the cobblestones to discover it was a tiny medallion of the Madonna.  Convinced this was an omen, I instinctively hung it onto my necklace.  A birthday present of a charm with the word “Friend” engraved on it followed — then a Chinese coin and a 4-leaf clover.  On one arrival in Rome I wrote the message to my friend Angelo, “Io sono in Italia…mi sento come una farfalla” (I am in Italy…I feel like a butterfly).  When he presented me with the gift of a tiny crystal butterfly dangling from a pink heart of course I had to add it to my collection.  This “chain of fortune” is getting rather heavy!

Out of the 365 days in a year, I probably wear the necklace 360 of them.  The other 5 days I just don’t feel quite right without it.  Could I have inherited from Grandma this propensity to make weak associations of cause and effect where there are none?  What can I say? I don’t like tempting fate.  Writer Judith Viorst said it very well: “Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational — but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?”
by Toni DeBella

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A picture is a poem without words.” -Horace

A revolution has been brewing for almost a decade on the Piazza Navona, one of the most famous and historic squares in Europe. Millions arrive to see Bernini’s magnificent Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of 4 Rivers) and to stroll along the road, hoping to acquire an original picture of a Roman scene painted and signed by the artist in front of them. Now the tensions are high: real artist are pitted against counterfeit ones.

Art is not a thing, it is a way.”- Elbert Hubbard

I can’t intelligently speak to the political or economic ramifications of the most recent decree approved by the City of Rome to regulate painters and street artists on the piazza.  What I can say with certainty is that I believe society is obligated to defend those among us who have the ability to suspend reality and, with a brush in hand, transfer it onto a canvas to make a thing more beautiful – to make l’arte. George Bernard Shaw said it best when he wrote,“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

Performance Artist

In 2005, the Mayor and Council approved a ban prohibiting any type of commercial activity in the center of Piazza Navona. It was declared that permits would no longer be issued to paint in the city. Then came a resolution to govern the artistic profession, but nothing came of it. Nearly 6 years later the absence of rules means anyone (real artists and fakers) can enter and do what they want. The result has been a dilution of creativity and a strengthening of chaos and clutter. The legitimate are at a disadvantage to the counterfeiters who defraud tourists by peddling reproductions passed-off as originals. But why should the artists, some of whom have been on the Piazza since the 1960s, pay the price for the City’s failure to control those who bring urban decay to this beautiful place? Why should the people who have promoted all that is good about the Eternal City and have contributed to its charm and mystique now be threatened with displacement? Leonardo is turning in his grave!

No heirloom of humankind captures the past as do art and language.” – Theodore Bikel

What is at stake on the Piazza Navona is the keepsake of a city. Art has defined Italy since the renaissance and just like the oxygen in our atmosphere, civilization and Rome need it to survive.

Photographs by Toni DeBella and Massimilliano Balletti

Paintings by Massimilliano Balletti

by Toni DeBella

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