Sunday, February 19, 2006
Tourists from India
When friends and relatives come to visit us, I often take them around the city, explaining the history but most of the time, our guests are very easily bored. I guess that coming from India, for us "tourist place" is meant to be something imposing, huge thing otherwise, it leaves us indifferent. When I go out, the colours of buildings, the shapes of spaces, small details of understanding how people lived two hundred or five hundred years ago, fascinate me, but they bore most of our guests.
"Yeah...", they say, scratching their heads, trying not to hurt my feelings, trying to hide their boredom, showing more interest in front of electronic shops or Armani boutiques. Where I can buy nice Italian shoes, they ask, not even looking up at the wonderful lattice carving from fourteenth century in the Piazza della Mercanzia. They complain about the cobbles in the medieval streets, not even looking at the harmonious beauty of the church façade. "What is there to look inside a church?" they seem to ask me silently as I take them around inside a church, unable to see anything worthy of their attention in the paintings or the simple architecture.
I would like to go to Pisa or Venice they say. Of course, Pisa and Venice are more touristy, they have things to show that are more imposing, huge, monumental. And, I also like going there. But I also love Bologna, and its more delicate, less in-your-face beauty, and the small things laced with history hidden at every corner.
Like the wooden statues in the church on Via Clavature right in front of the main city square, Piazza Maggiore. In the "Santa Maria della Vita" church. Must have walked around that church at least hundred times, never knowing that they existed, till suddenly yesterday I had gone there. Actually, I had gone in to take a picture of a statue of St. Teresa d'Avila, a saint whose prayers I like very much. Her poetry reminds me of bhakti songs of Mira, simple and poignant.
A woman cleaning the candle stand had seen me, standing there, perhaps looking a bit uncertain. Actually I was thinking if I could use flash without disturbing the persons praying there. She had pointed towards the alter, "There, behind the stairs are the statues", she said. What statues, I asked myself but then curious, went in the direction she had indicated. There, behind the stairs in an alcove, hidden in the shadows were a group of most wonderful statues, I had ever seen.
Crying for Jesus is the name of this group of statues made by Nicola dell'Arca in 1463. They were kept hidden for a long time since people felt that some statues were too vulgar - they showed shapes of breasts with clothes clinging to the bodies in an improper way! The two Marys in the corner with their mouths open in a never ending scream, their bodies contorted in desperation, are the ones I like most. They remind me of the more famous Scream by Edvard Munch that was stolen from Oslo two years ago. To be honest, when I had seen that painting, I had not been particularly impressed by it. Take a look at the two Marys tell me if you don't think they are wonderful!
The two Marys also explain the common saying in Bologna. When they say, "She is like one of the Marias of the Vita", they mean to say that she is very ugly. Actually, I think that the two Marias are beautiful, but then beauty is subjective!
Bologna by night is even more beautiful than by day. Perhaps, that is not very accurate. There are parts of Piazza Maggiore, that I absolutely love in the light from setting sun, but in the night the city acquires shadows that soften the rough edges, hiding forbidden pleasures in the dark corners.
Like this view of Piazza Maggiore from Via Clavature. I love the small pieces of sky peeping in from beneath the arches. Bologna is full of archways. On a rainy day, very convenient. Or like the small old street with restaurants next to the medieval museum below.
Yesterday there was this couple singing under one of the archways. They must have been British or Irish. The girl had a wonderful voice, touching the high notes effortlessly, wonderful acoustics from the archway that echoed it. They received lot of coins from the passersby and their bag was full.
After the musical couple, it was the turn of the juggler in the main square. With big handlebar moustache, he seemed to be from another time. And, he was wonderfully clumsy with the flying dumbells. I don't know if it was intentional but when he missed to catch one in time, everyone roared with laughter. Then he took out a funny bicycle. As soon he saw me clicking, he posed for me a few times and showing me his tongue, went on his clumsy way on the bicycle, falling down soon after, provoking another roar of approval from the crowd.
It is election time in Italy. Voting will be on 9 April. Mr. Berlusconi, the present prime minister is everywhere, with new hair transplant, rosy cheeks and fake smile chosen by his spin doctors as the most authentic ones to vow the voters. He uses the Government machinery for making publicity about all the good things his Government did. In the last one week, three letters have arrived from him and other ministers, reminding us of the good things they have done. Your life has improved, he tells us. Sure, we are stupid and can't make it out ourselves, that we much better off. "Do you want more taxes? No thanks. Do you want more illegal immigrants? No thanks." These are the main messages of his campaign. And, in the mean time he merrily makes new laws to safeguard and strengthen his millions.
"We are already rich, so elect us, we will steal less!" that is a common message that people give in different countries and voters are easily taken in. Politicians are thieves is a common perception so one hopes that the rich ones will be smaller thieves!
Anyway, I don't like Mr. Berlusconi. He reminds me of Laloo. But he has huge fan following. People seem to lap his words as the truth and the only truth. I hope he won't win. I had also hoped that Bush won't win. And, Blair too. But, it seems voters any where, don't share my concerns. Perhaps I bring good luck to people, I don't like?
Above, the Berlusconi posters at Termini railway station in Rome. Below is the yellow van of Mr. Prodi, the main candidate opposing Berlusconi. The professor, as he is commonly called, is from Bologna, is ex-president of European Commission. His campaign style is more people friendly but he is serious and boring. To listen to him speak, I tend to sleep off.
I like to listen to some other Italian politicians like Bertinotti (head of far left) and Fini (head of far right), even if I don't like their policies one bit. Yes, I know, it is confusing, the people I like, they put me off to sleep and those, I don't like, I like listening to them!
Who do you think I am going to vote for?
On Tuesday, I am off to Nepal for two weeks. Yes, I know, no one will miss my blog but then, illusions are nice!
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Looking for a volunteer transvestite
Before we had left for India on the Christmas day, I was writing daily in the Hindi blog and perhaps, once in a fortnight in English and Italian. Coming back from India was not easy this time, it was very traumatic, perhaps because underneath there was this feeling that all of us will not be together like this for a long long time, perhaps never again. When we came back, I was depressed. Even now, a month later, every now and then, that feeling of depression still comes back.
Coming back to writing blogs, something happened. Rini didi said that she had read the first draft of my book and she liked it. Of course, she said, there was still lot to work on it, but she knew the different characters, their lives, their problems. I had written that in 2004 and then forgotten about it. That was it. It told me that I must go back and write that book.
And, I have gone back to it, this time writing it in Hindi. An hour or two every day. It takes an hour to write half a page and probably it would take me years to finish it. But this means that there is even less time to write blogs now!
Coming to the book, I am looking for a volunteer transvestite. One of the characters in the book is a transvestite. I think of him as "he", someone who feels to be a man even if he likes to dress and act as a woman. But I am not sure if this actually reflects on the reality of transvestites.
On Italian TV once I saw a programme with someone called Eva, a very nice looking transvestite from Bologna, who had a sex change operation and she had said that she felt wrong in a man's body, she felt like a woman trapped in a man's body. Is that the way majority of transvestites feel? Is it not realistic to think of my character as a man, who thinks of himself essentially as a man, who does not want to change his sex?
At one level, I feel that writing is my immagination, it is "my" creation and I can't let it be limited by reality or perceptions of others. I mean, what does it matter if majority of transvestites feel like women trapped in men's bodies? I can still have "my" transvestite, a man in a man's body who likes to dress and be a woman sometimes, but who can also be a man sometimes?
On the other hand, I think that my imagination may be limited by own experience and knowing the lives and feelings of real persons, can be infinitely richer and interesting. And, knowing about them or reading what they feel about themselves can be a much better starting point for developing the character.
In a way, writing is like being an actor. It gives you the opportunity to be different persons, to think like other persons and to try to look at life from their eyes. Perhaps, it is easier compared to acting because you can do it in your privacy so it does not really threaten you or those around you. Being an actor you are more likely to be identified by the role you play, while in writing you write different characters and be different persons at the same time.
The transvestite is only a minor character in the book but that does not really matter. What matters is that it gives me an opportunity to get intimate with something in a way that most other persons can not have.
Another character in the book is passionate about prehistorical rock paintings. It has been opportunity to read and learn about prehistorical rock paintings. Thank god, there is internet that brings every thing at a click. Wonder how did the writers managed to research their subjects before there was internet?
But the internet is not a good way to search for my volunteer transvestite who can share his diary with me. The word in a search engine takes me to a jungle, where talking about feelings is the last thing on any one's mind.
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