When ever family and friends in Sydney ask me about feeling safe in Italy, my response is always that I feel as at ease here as I do at home. Of course, I take the usual precautions that I do when I am at home. I make sure that I know where are the unsafe areas, which all communities of people have regardless of the hype. I don’t walk alone in dark places at night. I am friendly and smile at people but I don’t let myself get taken in by anyone.
In Florence I have always felt even more secure than most other places I have visited and I think that this is why I have made it my place to come back to. It has the feeling of a large university campus which is possibly the result of the many young people who come here from all over the world to study the language, culture and fine arts. The city bubbles with crowds of students bustling about in groups with folders and books under their arms. They gather at lunchtime on the very narrow footpaths outside good cheap eateries getting sandwiches and drinks and sharing their mornings.
Commerce is the main focus of the city as it has always been as a Roman river crossing town, medieval centre of finance and modern tourist town. The locals are more interested in parting the tourist from their money by conventional means rather than rough. Bus loads of visitors are disgorged throughout the day. They visit the museums and world famous buildings, are guided through ceramic shops and leather markets, take selfies in front of buildings and works of art and then scurry back onto the buses to move on to the next town.
Some tourists, like me, take the time to stay and savour more of what the city has to offer, finding accommodation in buildings which may have stood for hundreds of years. They get to know a little more about the place and its people by enjoying the food and wine and culture at a more leisurely pace. They may be looked after by guides or go it alone but I am sure that, like me, there is very little or no perceived threat to safety.
There is always a presence in the streets, particularly in the centre of the city, of the municipal police strolling around in pairs, looking more like private security guards than government officials. They always seem a little lacking in their attention to the detail of uniform with the ladies sporting flowing hairstyles which make me worry about what would happen if anything serious were to occur.
Added to this are the carabinieri, usually in small groups and resplendent in their dark blue uniforms with red trim. Almost exclusively men and reputed to be selected for their good looks as much as anything else, their main purpose seems to be as ambassadors for the military and eye-candy for the ladies. They do achieve the latter very well.
It is with surprise, then, that this visit there is a more noticeable presence of the fighting army in the main city square. I have seen pairs or groups of soldiers in camouflage fatigues with fingers on the triggers of somewhat menacing looking rifles slung across their chests. Mostly just ignored by the crowds around them or providing yet another photo opportunity, they do not present as threatening in themselves, standing quietly but vigilantly on the periphery. Their presence does not worry me. What does worry me is what has occurred such that someone in charge felt the need to have this increase in security in Florence.
I really should take more effort to keep up with the news.