Kafez

Literary

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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Non-Fiction ( excerpt from my travel story)

Words by Susan Abraham


...my time in Italy was framed by romantic disclosures of a Roman interlude.
I lived for some weeks near the Trevi Fountain in a little guesthouse that measured its steps close to Via Del Trafaro.

I could also rest on the Spanish steps whenever I wanted or walk to the crowded Pantheon which hung onto the 21st century like a gaunt old man with broken teeth. I did all these with some relish, stopping for doughnuts and tiny pizzas along the way. I ignored the men on motorcycles who added long low whistles to my hunger pangs.

My quaint little room, housed by a Kashmiri rug and cosy bedspreads, was quiet. Often I watched television or read. I had come to Rome to reflect and brood somewhat somberly, on a marriage gone wrong. To soothe the soul, I visited basilicas and cathedrals, wearing something of a mystified expression. I prayed. Between trips, I drank soups and ate spaghetti in tiny restaurants, often communicating in hesitant English. I pretended I could speak nothing.

On kinder afternoons, I watched musicians practice their violin recitals for evening concertos. Afterwards, they received pats on the back and strode off looking stylishly eccentric with their long hair, shawls and capes. While waiting to rehearse in the quiet chuch, they had milled about, noisy and boistrous; spilling that classic Italian enthusiasm.

I walked for miles even as I planned a visit to Tuscany, where a man would follow me to the dress shops and coming so close I could feel his breath on my cheek, he would ask to be kissed.

In Florence, the pavements were shiny. Vespas and sports cars circled and zoomed about the wide alleys with sing-song pleasures. Beautiful giggling girls watched me with curiosity and interest.

In Rome, one could pick up dirt in the air like Seville would pick up the scent of flowers, but this old civilization often compensated for its woes with the presence of glorious old statues and fountains that splashed up a formidable welcome for tourists. All amidst the mad honking of cars and scooters.

The guesthouse was managed by Sarimah, a vibrant Moroccan who told me stories of her new marriage to an Italian businessman.

His mother was a tyrant.

She spied on Sarimah through a crack in the bathroom and grumbled that her tummy was flabby. She often complained about Sarimah to friends while they played cards, gossiped, drank black coffee in the patio or went shopping and wasted money.

Sarimah said she was too much in love with her husband to leave but that one of these days, she would yank her mother-in-law's wig off when her sweetheart had gone to the office and give the nosy old lady a bit of what for.

Sarimah often encouraged me to sit on the awning which had been well-gardened and boasted a splendid view of Roma, as she insisted was "the heart of Republica Italia." With this treat, came a chilled glass of orange juice with its classic cherry and umbrella in the middle. Sarimah would also offer me croissants.

It was the close of winter and not yet hot. Still, the in-between weather was humid. Before I left, we hugged each other tightly and exchanged e-mails. Sarmah cried a little.

The night-shift was managed by Antonio, a middle-aged man and half-bald. He was short and portly but commanded a thunderous voice. He indulged in yarns over the telephone and scolded a Bangladeshi assistant who spoke fluent Italian but promptly messed up daytime accounts. The shrill arguments kept me awake. But Antonio was very good with the discreet answering of bells and illegal locking of doors at wee hours, from one or two misadventures, that I never complained.

The metropolitan subways were littered with con-men. They wore foxy expressions, smuggled toothpicks craftily between their dirty teeth and constantly made it a job of whispering updates and flashing finger-signs at each other. Two down, one to go, kind of thing. One soon learnt to tell a wickedly raised eyebrow from a genuinely puzzled one.

I often sat at the Trevi fountain where legend had it, that if you threw a coin backwards, Rome would lure you back from anywhere in the world.

Connie Francis sang a song a about it and Frederico Fellini made a famous film called La Dolce Vita with one of its most celebrated scenes where the blonde bombshell, Anita Ekberg would emerge from the fountain fully-drenched and wearing something very tight. The fountain became instantly famous and my father kept dog-eared calendar pictures of the controversial scenes. Debates argued on the exploitation of Ekberg's regal innocence. The film was made long before I was born.

The Trevi fountain was often crowded with lovers, tourists and Bangladeshis who all spoke Hindi with their sly grins and who sold Marilyn Monroe posters, rose stalks and roasted peanuts. One morning, strangers jostled about and someone pulled my hand, asking me to join in the crowd. "Ronaldo, Ronaldo" she cried gaily. Ronaldo was filming an advertisement for the cinema. Everyone huddled together like a jamboree.

The football star kicked a ball about like a small boy. All the time he grinned, showing perfect white teeth. He was Rome's hero. Policemen, bodyguards, a thick press, fans, lovers, tourists and the Bangladeshis, all milled about celebrating this unexpected carnival. I was so close, I could have touched him if I dared. Instead, I watched Ronaldo studiously while drinking my coffee on the cold winter morning that was still not quite spring.

I think today, that in one of the many calendar pictures my father kept, like rusty chocolate boxes featuring Mediterranean landscapes and Swiss cafes, I could have been a pensive woman lounging somewhere in the background on the Spanish steps while smoking a cigarette and watching a puppet show. All the time, I'd be thinking of my old love with his magic touch. You would never have thought this from a calendar photograph.

In fact, my old love would have been so close in the memory, I could have touched him if I dared. ...

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