The Trevi Fountain continues to be a crime scene. When I developed the idea for “Feeding Frenzy” (Fish Tales, Wildside Press, March 2011), my inspiration came from a real crime. In my story, it’s fish in the fountain. But before that, in 2007, a man named Graziano Checchino had thrown red dye into the fountain, a fact that I allude to in the story. He reportedly had right wing leanings, and called his act of defiance “futuristic,” referring to the art movement founded in 1909 and championed by Mussolini as the “official art of fascism.” Checchino’s motives are unclear. He may have been protesting the Rome Film Festival (or its cost) or perhaps capitalism in general. There was no damage to the fountain that time, but last year someone repeated the red dye stunt, and some of the marble was termporarily stained.
But crime at the Trevi is not limited to things being put into the fountain. Things are put into the fountain daily in the form of coins tossed by tourists. The custom, popularized by the 1950s film Three Coins in the Fountain, comes from the superstition that if you throw a coin in the fountain you are guaranteed to return to Rome. I’ve certainly pitched in my share. The crime comes from taking the coins out.
About €2000-€3000 worth of coins are flung into the fountain every day. Officially, these coins are collected for a charity. But some enterprising Romans have been harvesting this bounty for themselves. Recently, a television crew set out to document the police standing by while the money was being raked out. A scuffle ensued, and the television reporter ended up tossed into the fountain himself. The police intervened only when the thieves attacked the camera operator.
The main perpetrator of this illegal collection is a man named Roberto Cercelletta, who calls himself D’Artagnan. Italian courts have ruled that the coins have been abandoned by their owners and can therefore not be stolen. D’Artagnan apparently sees collecting these coins on par with picking up empty bottles on the roadside. Last week the police tried to arrest him while he was in the fountain with a broom sweeping up coins because, while it may not be a crime to take the coins, it is a crime to enter Roman fountains.
D’Artagnan resisted, ripping off his shirt and climbing high up onto the fountain. There he slashed his stomach to dramatize his “persecution.” He was last seen being tucked into an ambulance. Stay tuned.