I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The day I was arrested

This post is about what happened to me one early morning of 1977.

At the time, I was sharing a large rented apartment with three friends: Bruna, Maia, and Annamaria. In case you are wondering, yes, they were three young ladies. The apartment was in Parioli, a rich quarter of Rome, and included four bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, and a large hallway that functioned as a shared space.

We were all in our twenties and, as you can imagine, we often had lots of visitors, some of whom, not infrequently, stayed for the night and shared the bed with one [or more] of the permanent residents. It was a bit like a family and Bruna and I, being the eldest and the only ones in employment, assumed sometimes the role of the parents, although, truth be told, no one was interested in making it a permanent feature of our little community.

But I am digressing.

The evening before that fateful day, with what turned out to be a lucky break, we had not had visitors. So, as it was, there was only the four of us sleeping in the apartment, each one bravely alone in his or her bed.

At around four o’clock in the morning, I was woken up by Bruna with: “Giulio, Giulio, the police is here! Wake up!”

Summer nights in Rome can be quite warm, and I had taken up the habit of sleeping naked. From Bruna’s tone, I had had the impression that she had not yet opened the entrance door. As a result of that assumption, as soon as I woke up, I became concerned that the police might knock it down. I jumped off the bed, grabbed a Vietnamese kimono from the back of a chair, and rushed out of my room.

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that a dozen police officers, some in uniform and some in civilian clothes, were already standing in the hallway. I found myself surrounded by stern-looking men in my [perhaps-not-so-glorious] nakedness, holding in my right hand a white kimono with a black floral design. I recovered quickly and, after mumbling something like “just a second, please,” I turned by back to them and returned to my room, where I put my kimono on in privacy.

The police scrambled through all the rooms and collected a series of items that they considered suspicious. Among them were a small wooden pipe, the couple of spent cartridges of the high-speed automatic rifle I had kept as a memento from my time in the army, and some cinnamon sticks bound together with a stripe of maize husk. No cannabis or hashish, which I actually found quite surprising. They put everything into a cardboard box and took us to the police station.

The three officers that squeezed with me into the lift couldn’t refrain from commenting on my uninhibited little community. They found it particularly interesting that I was the only male and didn’t doubt for a second that my three friends were in fact nothing else than my private harem. I said: “they are just friends,” but that didn’t manage to wipe off their faces the grins of ‘I know better than that, you sultan’. In a sense their opinion suited me fine, because they would then treat me with more respect, and when you find yourself at the receiving end of a police action, everything helps.

Anyhow, at the police station we were told to sit on four chairs in a room in which the only other pieces of furniture were a desk and a chair with an officer sitting on it. Somebody came to take Maia to another room and the other three of us began speculating on what was going on. We were in the middle of the so-called Years of Lead, and the first thing we thought was that our arrest had to do with it, although we knew that we had not done anything that could even remotely be associated with terrorism.

Potere Operaio (Workman’s Power) and Lotta Continua (Sustained Struggle), two extreme-left movements that had been going strongly in the early seventies, had been recently shut down, and some of the leaders of the Red Brigades had been arrested a couple of years earlier. But the climate of terror would continue for years. Less than a year after the events I am describing, the horror of terrorism in Italy would culminate with the murdering of the prominent Italian politician Aldo Moro.

The officer sitting behind the desk must have felt disturbed by our chatting, because he raised his eyes from the newspaper and barked: “Shut up!” We decided that it was prudent to comply. You have no idea how different the world looks when the police have you in their sight...

After at least a couple of hours, the mystery of our arrest was revealed. I had been suspected to be the leader of a terrorist cell. Those days, some young professionals with an irreprehensible curriculum sometimes devoted some of their money and time to topple the established political system. Such small cells operated almost independently from each other. Therefore, it was a tedious and unrewarding job to root them out one by one. I fitted the profile beautifully.

Some time before the events I am narrating, Maia had met on a bus an old friend from her same region of Sardinia. After a chat and promises to meet again, she had given him our telephone number. That fellow, as it turned out, had been (or was later; I am not sure) involved in acts of terrorism and even killed a carabiniere in a shootout. When the police finally arrested him, they found in his pocket a booklet with many contacts, including Maia’s (i.e., mine).

Fortunately, Maia managed to convince the police that she had not had any further contact with her terrorist acquaintance and that she, in any case, didn’t share his views. To be honest, I am not sure whether she told the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help her God, but that is now immaterial. It also helped to exonerate us that at the time I was an army commissioned officer of the reserve and the son of a decorated police officer.

The lieutenant who gave me back the cardboard box with our stuff was even a bit apologetic. Not apologetic enough to drive us back home, though. When I arrived home, I noticed that my spent rifle cartridges had not been returned to me. Of course, I thought, civilians are not allowed to keep anything that has to do with military weapons and ammunitions. But I was a bit annoyed. What damage to the state could I have possibly caused with a couple of spent 7.62mm NATO cartridges?

I leave that up to you to decide...

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