While in Italy, I ended up paying a lot of attention to the informative and often cautionary signs that towns or visitor sites have posted. I realize they’re a cultural “thing”, and what image an administrative entity may choose to signify danger in one place may not signal danger to someone else who grew up elsewhere and interprets the posted signals otherwise. Example: what may clearly, to one culture, indicate “fire” may look, to someone from somewhere else, like a stack of french fries. I looked back through my other photos that I’ve taken on other trips and realized, I apparently have a taste for public signage, and there’s a lot of unintentional funny going on in the world. Some signs are just…hilarious. Or weird. Or too WTF-y to ignore. Wordy. Thumpingly moral. Too far outside my American framework of expected public signage. Or creatively doctored. And so. Presenting: various signs from the places I’ve been, in no particular order, with my interpretation following.
Seen in Rome.
I like this “no access” sign because of two things. One, the guy on the sign is clearly yelling at you to stop, it’s like he’s saying, “NOOOOOOOOO!” And two, I loveloveLOVE the perspective on the hand! It’s, like, flying off the sign at you, and if you don’t listen then he will smack you down.
Seen in Rome.
Apparently, the Italians are more than happy to convey several messages on one sign. So whatever happens, when lightning strikes, DO NOT throw soda on your meringues, because NOOOOOOOOOOOO! They’ll melt, you see?
Seen in Florence.
I suspect this was supposed to mean “Danger” or “Watch Your Step” or something like that. But it was right next to the Duomo and so, to me, it means that the Duomo? Is awesome! Exclamation point.
Seen in Murano Island, Venice.
No Pic Nic! It’s as though they don’t want you to choose Nick and have lost all of their k’s. So, Murano Island merchants, I understand why you want to hang “No picnic” signs in front of your stores. I get that people will drop down on the nearest set of steps and have their lunch, impede traffic flow, they may irritate your customers and, if an area gets a reputation for being a good “Pic Nic” spot, then I’m sure that could legitimately, seriously impact business. Who needs to step over a bunch of hungry backpackers when there are literally fifty stores in easy walking distance of any given spot on the main drag selling pretty much the same things you’re selling? But the gnarly sign is nearly as off-putting as a lunch-wielding flashmob, and weirdly looks like a sunset. Maybe it’s a clue, and if you say “No Pic Nic” three times fast at sunset, a genie will show up and transport you to a nice restaurant so you don’t have to make do of your own accord. Damn. I should have tried that.
Seen in Ireland.
This is among my favorite of the cautionary signs, courtesy of the good people of Kinvarra, Ireland. It does kind of speak for itself, but in all seriousness, if you’re ever out driving along a road and you see this sign? Proceed with caution, because some kind of cliff is nearby. And remember, Americans…Europeans don’t put up forty thousand reinforced barriers to prevent you from going over the edge, you just have to be responsible for yourself. Good luck with that.
Seen in Canada, at Niagara Falls.
Yup, those are Niagara Falls in the background. Yup, there’s a sign telling you not to climb over the fence. But what I really love? Is that the fence in the warning sign is kind of ornate, with a swirly cast-iron top piece. It’s nicer than the actual fence they have up. So does this mean that only the fences with a great sense of aesthetics are dangerous to vault? If so, then major sign fail.
Seen in a ladies’ room, Dublin, Ireland.
Fact: When I saw this sign, it was all I could do to not take it off the wall and hug it. And there’s nothing like an outburst of maniacal laughter followed by the whipping out of a camera in a restroom to cause some consternation among your fellow pottygoers. Though I did ask myself, what sort of bar was I hanging out in? I only saw this in one restroom in Ireland. Was I in O’Shea’s Publick House and Iniquity Den, or something?
Kids, stay off the cocaine. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your penile function. This public service announcement brought to you by a ladies’ room in Ireland.
Seen in Florence.
I admit it. I’ve got nothin’. The best I can figure is: cloudy days are banished when the phalanx of Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs (Bang Bangii?) depart. I don’t quite think I’m right–and believe me, I’m willing to learn–but this one has puzzled me since the day I took its picture. Anyone?
Seen in Rome.
This was a sign on a subway door in Rome. What I like is, while the captions tell you what not to do, the pictures have no such markings except for one. There is no circle with a slash, no NOOOOOOOOOO! hand guy. What if you can’t read Italian and you have to determine what these images mean without benefit of words? (Going from left to right in rows.)
1) Zero gravity can be attained by pushing subway doors outward.
2) Do not rip doors open with bare hands.
3) Interpretive dance mandatory upon exiting the carriage.
4) Your genitals can be located between here and here.
Seen in Pennsylvania.
Here’s the hometown nominee! I love how this was doctored. Is it simple? Yes. Is it kind of stupid? Yes. But should one of The Dark Lords of Stonehurst find himself at the Allentown rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there’s a parking spot ready and waiting for him.
Seen in Venice.
Remember the Keep On Truckin’ guy?
Mr. Keep On Truckin’ himself.
Right. So. I think this means, the Illuminati support your decision to keep on truckin’ over the canals in Venice. He’s way too jaunty to be doing something theoretically forbidden. What else could that triangle be about? R. Crumb-imagined, Illuminati approved.
Seen at the Vatican.
CAUTION! You may have the inexplicable urge to ska-dance, and then act like nothing happened, on these stairs. Vatican City does that to a person.
That is all.
Seen at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.
I’ve probably given this sign more thought than it warrants. I’ve even asked other people what they thought it might mean. Thus far, the most satisfactory interpretation I can come up with is: Do not step into the lair of the fire gull. And indeed, I never have.
Finally, here is my favorite (thus far) cautionary sign, ever.
Seen in Paris.
(Full disclosure: the picture I took of this sign turned out kind of grainy and less than visually stunning. This little beauty–which I assure you is the same exact image–came from the October, 2009 edition of Wired magazine.)
Greatest. Sign. Ever. It achieves exactly what it’s supposed to achieve; it wordlessly expresses that one must use caution while near this sign, or else you can die a grisly and untimely death. YES! That a warning sign actually makes you come face to face with your own mortality, without seeming cheesy or funny, is an impressive feat. And this sign does that in spades. I remember seeing it for the first time, while waiting for the Metro. Slack-jawed amazement. I couldn’t stop looking at it. We sanitize what could happen in our warning signs, we have electric bolts and large, attention-grabbing letters but to actually depict a body in the throes of electrocution? Wow. What I am, is impressed. What I’m not, is trying to touch that power box. I’ll leave that to the pros.
One other thing: is it me, or would this make one of the greatest album covers of all time?