At journalism school I was taught that one of the narratives that makes an event newsworthy is the so-called man-bites-dog scenario: a surprising role reversal is always titillating. Hence the story of a 52-year-old Austrian man being fined €300 for sleeping in a hammock in a Trieste park is almost too delightful an example.
Why? Well, the assumption – at least from the Italian point of view – is that Mitteleuropean citizens are used to being subject to, and respectful of, stricter rules. Italy, on the other hand, has built a reputation on being the homeland of a lax dolce vita. So how could something like this happen? Italy is, in fact, a country of surprising bureaucracy and idiosyncrasies. And if Article 36 of the Public Green Regulation stipulates that it is forbidden to hang structures of any kind from trees, that includes hammocks.
Yet there’s a moral lesson to be gleaned from this instance of very literal policing. A city that’s pleasant to live in is not a free-for-all but it’s still one where rules can occasionally be bent if the situation calls for it (and the result is innocuous enough). There’s a big difference between camping in a public park and stretching out for an afternoon kip. Trust your residents to get it: self-regulation is an empowering and helpful exercise. Sometimes it pays to let it all hang out.