<%-- Page Title--%> Straight Talk <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 145 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

March 12, 2004

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A Surreal Roman Holiday

Nadia Kabir Barb

The scene was almost surreal. Six women running through the streets of Rome at one in the morning through torrential rain. Our raucous laughter would have woken even the deepest of sleepers had it not been for the rain drowning out all other sounds. Despite getting soaked to the bone, avoiding one giant puddle to walk straight into another and looking less than glamorous, the feeling was exhilarating and liberating. There we were in Piazza del Quirinale at an ungodly hour making our way back to the hotel after an exquisite meal.

How I got to be there was really a matter of chance. A half serious comment made by my cousin who was visiting us from the States suggesting that we should go away for a couple of days to somewhere in Europe seemed a rather tantalising proposition. Normally this would have been dismissed off hand as juggling three children, school runs, homework etc. would have made actually going almost impossible but as fate would have it, the children's half-term holiday was almost upon us and when my husband kindly offered to take a day off work to look after them, it all started to look viable and I wasted no time in booking my ticket. Destination - Rome. Thus you find me and five of my rain sodden companions hot footing it to the warmth of our hotel in Rome aptly named the Eternal city.

We only had two days and three nights to try and absorb as much of the sights and sounds of Rome as we could, so we decided to be military in our use of our time. We booked ourselves on various guided tours rather than wandering around aimlessly achieving very little at the end of it all. Our first tour was to the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Paul's Basilica (Cathedral). When we arrived at the Vatican Museum, the queue was daunting, snaking its way down the road and stretching over a mile. However, it took less time to enter than we had feared and we were now eager to start our tour.

The tour guide requested us to follow the "yellow umbrella" and would stop every now and then to point out paintings of greater importance or give us a brief history of the rooms we were in. The information she was imparting was in itself fascinating but I was almost mesmerised by her she had a set of rather discoloured teeth with numerous silver teeth interspersed amongst them and the more I tried to avoid staring, the more my eyes were drawn to the unpleasant sight. However, when we reached the Sistine Chapel painted by Michael Angelo, nothing could draw my gaze from the masterpiece above me. The second guide was just as fascinating as our first. Her face was stretched so tautly across her face that we were concerned as to how she would actually move her lips without permanent injury to her face! In fact I ended up having to try and lip read as she had a very strong German accent and it was rather difficult understanding much of what she said. But we walked through the ruins of the Roman Forum and stood in front of the Colosseum just awestruck by the architectural brilliance of the Romans as many of these remaining sites were almost two and a half thousand years old. Last but not least was our guide who took us inside the Colosseum. Her appearance was totally non-descript but the moment she opened her mouth, it was as if she were in an auditorium performing for the audience. It was wonderful listening to her taking us back to the time of emperors, gods and gladiators, a time where people were so advanced in so many respects yet so barbaric in others such as their love for blood sport.

In spite of being my third time in Rome, I find that no matter how many times you go back, Rome is as charming and fascinating each and every time. History seems to ooze from every corner of the city you could almost close your eyes and imagine Julius Caesar walking through the Roman Forum or the Roman Emperors watching charioteers hurtling around the Circus Maximus. But oddly enough every time I opened my eyes I was greeted not by Russell Crowesque men in gladiator costume, but Bangladeshi men selling their wares on the cobbled streets of Rome! It was like being transported back to Newmarket. The man selling the roasted chestnuts on the corner of the street was a deshi bhai, the men producing umbrellas at the faintest hint of rain or even the costume jewellery sellers were deshi. In fact when we went to restaurants and the waiters asked where we were from, they cheerfully informed us that the chef was called Bulbul or Kamal! The irony of it all sitting in an authentic Italian restaurant in the middle of Rome being served the most amazing Italian food cooked by a Bangladeshi! At one point, while we were ambling across the Spanish Steps being typically "touristi", my 18 year old cousin wanted to have a look at some of the jewellery on offer by one of our fellow countrymen, who having established our nationality asked us suspiciously whether his wife had sent us to check up on him! We had to convince him that we were in fact random tourists on a holiday from London.

Having decided to pack as many things into two days as humanly possible, we even squeezed in an opera on our last night. The hotel had suggested La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi and we took them up on their advice and booked tickets for the evening performance. We decided to have a coffee (tea in my case) before the show and found a cute little café very close to the opera. Of course the gentleman at the counter was Sylheti. While serving us he kept giving us extra large slices of cake and not charging for this or that when we objected politely, he said that he would be very sad if we did not accept his hospitality as in his words "ador kore dichchi". The opera was enjoyed by the six of us in varying degrees. There seemed to be a direct correlation between level of enjoyment and age the younger the person the lower the level of enjoyment and the older the person the greater the pleasure. As we left the building, discussing our various takes on the story, singing etc, we were dismayed to find that the heavens had opened up in the mean time and it was pouring with rain. Finding a taxi became a task of utmost importance. We managed to find one and three of our six got in (taxis only take a maximum of 5 people) and I was one of the remaining three. As everyone else coming out of the opera had the same idea as us, we realised that standing in one place waiting for a taxi was probably a bad idea so we began walking down the road. After half an hour we were still on our hunt for a cab. By this stage it was midnight and we were once again getting soaked to the bone but this time irritation had replaced exhilaration. Finally we saw a taxi making its way towards us and as we were about to get in, two Italian women came over and started shouting that they had seen it first. We disagreed but the two women gave the poor cab driver such an earful that he decided to drive off without any of us. We eyed the women with great hostility and they glared back at us. Soon we saw another taxi approaching and from their body language; it was obvious that the two ladies were going to pounce on the cab as soon as it drew up. Luckily there was another taxi right behind and just before I got in, I told the two women exactly what I thought of them (very politely of course). Having got that off my chest, we headed for the restaurant where we were supposed to meet the rest of our group. It did not take long for Kamal Bhai's pasta Arabiata to make us forget the taxi fiasco.

The next morning when I got back home I was almost knocked over by my three children, hugs and kisses being lavished upon me and the thought that I should do this more often did cross my mind. But even though Rome was great, being home was even better.



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