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Unruly Times
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Unruly Times

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All summer long, I’ve been distracted by news stories that have just bugged the heck out of me.

First, there have been the multiple items about foolish behavior at Rome’s Trevi Fountain – among the most awesome of Rome’s numerous awesome attractions. It’s terrible that crowding has become such an issue that police have to keep people moving so everyone has a chance to take an up-close look. When I saw it 40 years ago, I stood almost alone and studied it for more than an hour, admiring the details and delighting in the cooling effect its splashing water brought on that hot July day.

Some reports attribute the flash of popularity to a recent restoration project that made the whole composition even more special. But why do so many people feel compelled, despite dire warnings of fines and other penalties, to jump in to have their own La Dolce Vita moments? And what on earth was that idiot thinking when he decided he just had to leave his initials behind on the soft marble?

I guess this is why museums have rope barriers and uniformed personnel in every room: They’re always at the ready to remind patrons not to get too close to the artworks, ever alert to the fact that people in crowds can do ridiculous things. Alas, what I fear is that the Trevi Fountain phenomenon will spread and that ropes, barriers and other crowd-control measures will soon be coming to attractive public spaces everywhere.

Second, and along similar lines, I’ve seen an unusually large number of stories about everything from the fairly common addition of soap to public fountains and waterfeatures to the less-frequent introduction of food coloring or, more harmfully, pigments or dyes to change the water’s color to make a statement. The former stories are usually just dumb pranks, but the latter are best described as vandalism and can do real damage to finishes and fixtures.

Sometimes these actions are amusing, even clever. But I’m also aware that they are among a facility manager’s worst nightmares – unexpected, time-sucking misadventures that make their lives miserable in all sorts of ways. For starters, there’s costly staff time lost to clean-ups, but there’s also a toll on local citizens in the form of downtime and the removal of the fountain or waterfeature as a source of civic pleasure or pride.

Third, there was a recent flurry of stories about a 2,000-year-old, Roman-era water fountain unearthed in England about a dozen years ago that was, once extracted to make way for a construction project, left out in a parking lot where it was exposed to the elements to a point where it is now, years later, a crumbling, pale reflection of its original state.

You may have noticed that I’m an ardent conservationist when it comes to things architectural and historic, and I just can’t believe that such a treasure was “misplaced” for such a long time that it has effectively been destroyed. Just think what that waterfeature might have represented as a tourist attraction had those responsible done a better job of caring for it!

It’s said that we live in rude, inconsiderate times and that people are responding in kind by acting impulsively and unwisely. I can see truth in that observation, and in the additional warning that things are only getting worse. Nonetheless, I’m optimistic that we’ll come to our collective senses and recognize the extent to which our cultural heritage and social lives are both at stake.

I’m no fan of rope lines, hidden cameras or crowd control, but given what’s been happening, I guess I’d be willing to put up with some inconvenience if it means my grandchildren will be able to enjoy such treasures, major and minor, in years to come. Here’s hoping!

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