Megaphone menace destroys peace of the piazza

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The Independent Online

The menace comes in the form of a miniature, battery-powered megaphone. In the middle of the night, on one of the capital's finest piazzas, they are now being used for chatting, at high volume, with friends across the square. It's the cool young Roman's answer to the cellular phone.

A modest clampdown has started, with three youths reported to the police by a vigilance body and some 30 megaphones offered for sale by a hawker confiscated.

The megaphone craze is the latest round in the war between the residents of Rome's beautiful Piazza Campo di Fiori and the young people who flock there nightly to drink. It is one of the prettiest, most desirable corners of Rome.

But Campo di Fiori is a Jekyll-and-Hyde space. By day humming with innocuous life including a morning vegetable market, at night it is an inferno. Besides cafés and restaurants, the area is infested with nightclubs, shot bars, shebeens and similar haunts. They get going in the evening and carry on deep into the night. Rome is hot in the summer, the traffic-free piazza an ideal place to kick back - and by midnight, any night, Campo di Fiori is stiff and raucous with boozers.

For the residents of the tall 19th century apartment buildings it's beyond a joke. They cannot sleep. Barmen stand at bar entrances screaming out their discounted prices to lure trade while the high, smooth façades of the buildings act as loudspeakers to the boozers' repartee below. As the drink continues to flow, the volume rises. Fights break out.

Last year the local residents' association, Abitanti Centro Storico, declared it had had enough, and after a fierce campaign persuaded the city government to ban the serving of alcoholic drinks in glasses and bottles after 10 pm - glass being one of the worst sources of noise. The bar owners who constitute a powerful lobby bleated that they were losing trade. But bleat was all they did.

The drinkers, on the other hand, decided to take it personally. They vowed to get their own back. If the problem of the local residents was getting enough sleep, they did everything they could to prevent them getting any sleep at all.

Their first gambit was footballs: around first light they improvised huge, chaotic, drunken games of football between Campo di Fiori and the elegant, sober Piazza Farnese nearby. The police were run ragged trying to close them down. Now they have hit on a less exhausting way to drive residents to the verge of a nervous breakdown: miniature megaphones, sold by itinerant hawkers, with which they communicate with friends in preference to mobile phones.

"Wha' ya doin' Nando?" booms the voice in Roman dialect from one side of the square at three in the morning. "Nuffin' much, might head to a disco," booms the reply.

The worst news for anybody in earshot hoping for a night's rest is that the megafonini have now become the summer's must-have accessory.