The Italian Almanac

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Balls

Approximately 500,000 coloured balls thundered down Rome's Spanish Steps as self-styled artist and activist Graziano Cecchini pulled off his second eye-catching stunt in three months. In October last year, Cecchini poured red industrial dye into the waters of the Trevi fountain, creating a spectacle that angered local administrators, delighted tourists and was beamed around the world. Early on Wednesday, helped by three assistants, the 54-year-old 'artist' struck again. Standing at the top of the famous staircase in front of the Trinita' dei Monti church, he tipped over huge sacks of plastic balls which then went careering down the marble steps into the piazza below.

As tourists rushed about picking up souvenir balls, police quickly cordoned off the area and called in the municipal refuse collectors. They arrived a little later with large nets to scoop up the coloured spheres. Meanwhile, Cecchini, a former militant with extreme right-wing groups, was explaining the philosophy behind his exploit to reporters. ''This is an artistic operation which documents through art the problem that we have in Italy. They're always telling us lies, both the Left and the Right,'' he said.

The significance appeared to be in the Italian word for balls ('palle') which can also mean untruths. There is also an Italian expression, meaning to be exasperated, which uses the same word. Regardless of his artistic intention, Cecchini and his helpers were arrested for interrupting public services and taken off to the police station for questioning. A police official said later that Cecchini would probably be fined for creating a mess in a public place. The official said the size of such fines generally depended on the scale of the mess.