Friday, September 15, 2006

Sciopero: it's a 4-letter word

Well folks, it was inevitable. Any self-respecting blog about life in Rome, sooner or later, will tell the tale of the time-honored tradition of the sciopero, a.k.a. strike.

Oh, dear sciopero, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1) Who should hold a sciopero?
Anyone who wants to, really. But most of the time it is transport workers, and usually city public transport (bus, subway), as was the case in today’s 24-hr. strike. The key is to inconvenience as many people as possible without any real objective, which brings me to:

2) Why hold a sciopero?
No one I’ve ever talked to really knows why the public transport workers strike; therefore, we’ll never really know if they’ve reached their objective. However, I have a theory, which stems from:

3) When is the best time to hold a sciopero?
The jury is out on this one, since it is quite random, but, kindly enough, those in sciopero will warn the TV and newspapers at least a few days in advance of the precise time and date, so you can prepare. They also tend to take a sciopero break between 8 am-10 am and 5 pm-7 pm, so the majority of commuters can claw at each other to get home. Not sure if that is city-mandated, but probably. In my experience, 99% of the time, Friday is the big winner. Which brings me to my theory introduced in 2: you should hold a sciopero so you can have a long weekend. So while they are off catching the last rays of the summer sun on some Mediterranean beach, I recount:

4) What is it like to face a sciopero?
Here’s the fun part! Life in Rome provides such exciting adventures. Tonight, after a couple days down on the movie set in Trani (ooh la la), my train arrived only 30 mins. late to Termini train station, and I knew full well that a strike was in action. Since the taxi queue was looking like the newest ride at an amusement park and walking a half hour home with my luggage was out of the question, I decided to chance it with the “emergency buses.”

Since public transport is, after all, a public service, there are always a few emergency buses that run around. Now, when you consider that Rome has about 280 bus lines, and over 3 million residents, a few just doesn’t cut it, and when I say a few, I really mean it.

I wandered into the bus depot of the station, hoping for a miracle. There were about 3 buses with their doors open, motors off, no drivers in sight. However, Romans being eternal optimists, the buses were full of passengers desperately asking each other “Parte? Parte?” (Is this one leaving?)

We wait. And wait. And wait. After about 20 minutes, a moving bus actually pulls into the parking lot. The doors open to let off the passengers, and within moments it is full again, resembling something akin to livestock transport. It dashes away. A collective sigh fills my forgotten bus, still waiting.

After playing musical buses for a bit, kind of like you do when trying to pick the shortest line at the supermarket, but still with no drivers in sight, I decide to stand outside, in between the buses, readying myself for a mad dash the moment I see a driver get on board. Which is exactly what I do, when a couple minutes later I manage to slip through the doors just as the motor revs up. People start charging the bus, banging on the doors. But alas, it’s too late for them.

By the way, to get into the true sciopero spirit, I decided to hold my own little strike: against buying a ticket. My defiant act of Roman rebellion. You know what they say, after all… when in Rome…

4 comments:

FinnyKnits said...

LOL - I think this should be added to the "You're not a Roman until..." list. As in, "You're not a Roman until you've forgone buying a bus ticket to spite the sciopero". Great post. I can totally picture the long amusement park lines. I can't imagine a worse thing to see after getting off the train from a long trip. Welcome home!

J.Doe said...

When I lived in Florence I also noticed that the majority of these striked occured on either Friday or Monday to give the workers a 3 day weekend and that the majority of workers did not picket or do anything strike-like, just increased their vacation time. What creeps!
After the first one I could not bring myself to pity them while they enjoyed their vacation day and everyone else scrambled to get to work.

avery said...

It's so true! They always strike on a Friday...from public transportation workers to the farmacies and the postmen. It seems like every other week someone is on strike. And brava for you to hold your own private revolution. Viva Shelley!

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

J.: Such a good point about the non-existent picketers. I mean, is that or is it not a condition of a true strike? Or is that just the American in me coming out?

Avery: Grazie for your support! American girls in Rome unite!