The Sounds of Rome

Of the past 20 days I have spent 10 in Rome, four in Athens, and six on the Greek island Hydra. Oxford seems like a distant dream, home feels somehow within reach. Writing about Rome is daunting. I am constantly distracted by Rome itself. As I sit here on the Piazza outside my friend’s apartment, I hear the ever-present trumpeter who hangs out on the Ponte Sisto. He sits on the concrete ledge, closes his eyes, and plays the same song over and over again. He never seems to improve. I hear him in the shower, on walks, when I eat lunch, and munch gelato. I’m surprised others put up with him, yet they also continue to haunt the Ponte Sisto. There’s the guy with the beer bottle attached to his palm, another who paints pop art–yesterday it was Obama and Marilyn Monroe, a tall man selling knock-off purses. All are accompanied by dogs–big and heavy on thick leashes, usually found napping. It rained yesterday and the bridge was empty. It looked so naked without its patrons.

The other day at the market in Porta Portese, we were assaulted by racks of knock off Louis Vitton, Pradis, Fendis. I used my best death grip on my own purse since the market is an excellent place for thieves. I was a salmon swimming against men and women in swishy workout pants, t-shirts with lewd messages, tight leather, hair dripping with gel (Finally! This is where all the badly dressed Romans go). Moans of disbelief rang out as shoppers haggled with sellers. “Nononono noo-Oh-oh”. To the left shirts and scarves fluttering enticingly, to the right long row of stalls contained stovetop coffee makers, cheap dishes and pans.

At the intersection of two huge avenues of delightful junk people were circling around–wait for it–Bird Man. We pushed through the crowd (Ok, you must know that is a joke, Romans will always push harder than you and better and you will always be left in the back, angry, peering under someone’s elbow), and found ourselves staring at a very interesting creature. His arms were wide open and he was arguing with a stall owner over his proximity to the man’s stall. The gathering crowd was interfering with business. Bird man threw his arms down, pulled his bucket of junk back two feet and prepared to perform. He breathed in deep and placed a beaked cap on his head. It did little to tame his long wild hair radiating in all directions. His boots and knees were covered in bells, his toes were circled with tambourines and the street floor was covered with horns and sound-making gadgets of all kinds. There were toys and trinkets, blow-up hammers and furry play spiders. While I surveyed the scene, he sat down, picked up his multi colored accordion and commenced playing. The music was carnival, accompanied by short trills and whistles from Bird Man’s mouth. The catchy tune livened the crowd who clapped and danced and jittered. The end of the song provoked a happy fall of coins into his hat. Even the polizia gathered around amused. It was far better than anything for sale.

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