Flooded river Tiber with a cycle path roadsign just above the water

Living, as I do, just off the Lungotevere it has been an eye opener to see the Tiber’s waters rise. It rained last week. and then the water started to rise, and rise, and rise. The level is now about 12 metres -- that's 39 feet in old money -- above normal. And it just started to rain again ...

On Saturday morning, when the dog and I went for our morning constitutional, it was up over the lower bank, but nothing serious. I guessed a couple of metres. By that evening it was less than two metres from the top of the bank. But by Sunday morning, there was no way to be sure, because the water had washed away the shanty town that had been hidden out of sight down on the banks and the path down to the waste ground was littered -- blocked, in fact -- with its inhabitants.

A very sorry crowd they made too, utterly bedraggled, surrounded by what they could save of their lives, and that was soaked too.

The papers say that Metro stations were opened to provide shelter, but either nobody had told these people or they didn’t fancy going. So there they were, miserable, but at the same time more than faintly menacing. The dog certainly doesn’t like strangers, and barks at them even when they’re not massed. And I don’t like drunks, which many of them certainly were. So we have not been on our customary walk for a couple of days now.

I miss it, not least because it is hard to describe the pull of the river, the sheer amount of roiling, cappuccino water racing down to the sea, laden with old tree trunks and other debris. Watching it from afar just isn’t the same.

I confess to being totally ambivalent about these homeless people. I wonder, often, what they’re doing here, given that their life seems pretty abject even when they haven’t been flooded out. And then I think, how much worse must it have been wherever they came from, for this to be preferable. Sure they’re drunk; who wouldn't need a little anaesthesia or forgetfulness?

The shacks down by the river were pretty sorry too, although during the spring I passed one that had started to create a neat little vegetable garden. I never went back to check on its progress, because even indigents deserve a bit of privacy, but it will surely have been washed away. Then again, on a fine Roman summer’s day, what could be nicer than sleeping under the stars down by the river, where it is generally cooler and the sun sets fire to San Paolo as it sets behind the bridge?

Like I said, ambivalent.

And there they all still were this evening, still bedraggled, as far as I could see, but with the benefit of two huge bonfires.

Stop Press: Julian found a portfolio of pictures. I used one of them above, so credit to the Corriere della Sera, a fine newspaper.

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