February 24, 2024 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:22:54+01:00July 31st, 2006|Area 51|
They pay us €30 a day...

he three Peruvians have issues. Why is everyone at war? asks the flaccid one with the blunt hammer. “Everybody is always fighting,” he says, turning to bang at a section of wall where he says the bathroom will go. He nearly strikes a black marble slab that’s propped up beside the two gold faucets. A chip flies. The promise of precision is the city’s most common lie.

The Peruvian’s face is all white soot.

The three of them — flaccid, gaunt, and portly; a comedy team — are demolishing an apartment purchased by an Italian couple just before summer. “We break it up and others come and put up new ones,” says the portly man with a drill. “For fittings,” he says, and grins. He has, I calculate quickly, between four and six teeth.

The peasant Peruvians arrived last year from a place near Lima, they say. When I ask for their home town they inflict sounds that comes out as “Blagotín” or maybe “Baguton.” It’s hard to know for the hammering. Perhaps the masking is intentional.

One day the real estate agent drops by and shouts. “Why is the wall not broken? Why is this corner still unshattered?”

Later comes the architect, a Napoleonic man who complains about fixtures and drywall and claps a calloused fist on the wooden planks that are leaned up (in threes, like the Peruvians) against the elevator grid.

The architect, an Italian, enjoys berating the Peruvians. Perhaps he does it because he can. Or because he objects to their plebian work.

“They are idiots,” says the architect. He sees me. Scusi. “Excuse me,” he says.

The Peruvian with the blunt hammer looks morose. I see him on my way back upstairs after a shopping trip. “Chu,” he says, which I think is a form a ciao. I smile.

Once upon a time, film director Ettore Scola owned the apartment. I remember him from the mid-1970s, a hulking man with a giant black dog called Nerone that slept on the first floor landing, occupying most of it. In summer, Nerone was a panting pelt at rest.

Scola gifted the flat to one of his daughters, who kept it for a decade before selling it earlier this year.

She allegedly got about €2.5 million for 240 square meters, though I admit the figure is little more than a rumor (though a smaller flat nearby went for €1.4 million last year). Within a month of the transaction the three Peruvians were installed and began their banging.

“At least they are not Albanians,” says the accountant’s young secretary. She is preening on the ground floor with a friend. They are applying different shades of lipstick before boarding a motorino. “Close your door well,” she tells me, expelling perfume. When an apartment is filled with foreigners in summer you never know, she adds knowingly. She doesn’t know I am also a foreigner. Again, I smile.

You are a journalist, says the Peruvian with the blunt hammer. We are ignorant. They pay us €30 a day. You are a cultured man. Why is everyone always fighting?

I don’t know what to say.

They worry about terrorists.

It’s ironic, I think, that three illegal Peruvians transported from poor provinces to Rome would worry about terrorists. Even more ironic since in my building they are the ones who are distrusted and sucker-punched from a distance.

Summer is the time when Rome construction work thrives, some of it illegal. Officials drift from enforcement. Families take to the hills. Few hear blunt hammers, or chose to. In October come the law suits.

Across the way from my place another apartment is being gutted. I see the workers at lunch, sweaty musclemen sipping on cool drinks and recharging their mouths with sandwiches. They are Romanian. Only their foreman, who snuggles into a tiny mobile phone, is Italian.

The foreman greets me from time to time, using the formal Lei. “You are the journalist, no? The one who was on television?”

Yes, I say: I was once on television.

“You know,” he confides, “those Peruvians, they don’t know how to work. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not a racist. But they do not know how to break the walls. They mishandle the hammers and the drills. They know nothing. That’s the way the world is now. People are made to do things they don’t know how to do.”

What’s the skill in ruining a wall, I think to myself? Is the talent the first blow, the second, the third? If the goal is the fall of the wall, why keep at it for centuries?

The foreman falls silent and nods. He breaks the lull.

“Lebanon, Israel,” he sighs. “All this violence, dottore! All this violence!”Come si fa…?

His phone buzzes and I retreat.

They all return to their eloquent breakage.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.