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     Volume 7 Issue 22 | May 30, 2008 |

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A Roman Column

Anniversary Letter

Neeman Sobhan

The everyday Italian word for 'year' in the plural is 'anni'; and the point of all anniversaries is to commemorate the first occurrence of any landmark event on an annual basis, right? But my perspective is: why wait a whole year to celebrate anything? These days, with time zipping along on fast-forward, I am having problems thinking of life in terms of years. I live from day to day; an anniversary is far too long a wait for me. Moi, I don't even believe in celebrating on a yearly basis what the French would call 'mon anniversaire' or 'my birthday'. The anniversary of one's birth, I feel, should be celebrated each day that we wake to find ourselves safe and sound in the same old body.

The other day, I received a delightful text message sent to me by one of my Italian students, written in Roman Bangla, translating 'Buon Giorno' or 'Good day' into what she considered to be acceptable Bangla. It wasn't. Nevertheless, I considered it a beautiful greeting. She had written: "Shubho Deen!"

What I'm trying to say is that let us not wait a year to rejoice or celebrate any occasion; or honour any person after they have moved on or are about to. Instead of emphasising the anni or year in anniversaries, let us celebrate every day of the year, call it a Diurnaversary. So each day, let us commemorate yesterday. Why? Perhaps because, it was a normal day, a restful day, a day when the rose bud in the balcony pot finally exploded into flower; you reached office 10 minutes earlier; or the afternoon cup of tea was just right. Any reason will do to hug and call out: "Shubho Nobo Deen!"

Still, with a genuine, well-deserved anniversary upon us, I have been wondering how best to celebrate this magazine's special day. Then, as I sat back to reminisce my long association with SWM, I thought, what better way than to dip into my earliest articles. My column has been a part of this magazine right from its birth, more than a decade ago, and has gone through many avatars and titles: Ruminations from Rome; Antipasti: Notes from Rome; and the current, A Roman Column.

Today, looking back at my earliest writings, I have come up with the piece which was probably the very first, kick-off article. Parts of this were included in my book 'An Abiding City' which was a collection of some of my columns. With some fine-tuning and plenty of best wishes I present to my readers, my very first article on this Shubho Deen:

In my three decades of living in Rome I have often found myself in the role of an informal, self-styled tourist guide to many kinds of visitors: family and friends, as well as friends-of-friends. Mostly, I embrace my role with enthusiasm because I enjoy showing off my bella citta to any interested visitors. But over the years, my experience has taught me to be wary of two types of tourists. One is the clueless kind; the other is the over-enthusiastic one.

In the first category I place those who finding themselves in Rome incidentally, feel obliged to ‘do’ the city quickly and painlessly just to be able to go back and say that they had seen the major sights. I don’t even mind those who, at least, know what they want to see, but I feel murderous when asked the question ‘what is there to see?’ And believe me, there are many of this kind among those who come to Rome, perhaps to attend a conference or to shop, and who then feel a last-minute obligation towards history and tourism.

One extreme example went like this: "So, where is this fourteenth chapel....or is it the fifteenth?" "You mean the Sistine chapel?" "Yeah, the sixteenth chapel, whatever. Might as well see it since I’m here.” I know I should not take it personally, but I do.

In the other category are the History and Art buffs that come with an overflowing luggage of information, and demand to be taken to inspect the navel of some obscure statue in the nave of some obfuscated church tucked in some obtuse corner of the city.

One such asked to be taken to see the bust of St. Bernard of Clairvaux by Melozzo da Forli or perhaps it was the fresco of the ‘Apotheosis of S. Cecilia’ by Sebastiano Conca...surely I had seen that?

Again, I know I shouldn't take this sort of thing personally, but I do. I mean, it's okay when someone else is the ignorant party! So, not to be seen as the art-deficient person I can be, I recklessly mutter, "Oh that! Sure, I’ll take you" while I briskly and surreptitiously thumb through my books on Roman History and Art or Google it to bone up on the objectionable object d’art and locate it on the map.

I have a predilection for exercise of all sorts, and needless to say, I prefer this latter kind of tourists for they keep me on my mental and physical toes. And through them, I have amassed a copious and confusing mess of History and Art trivia, which I unfailingly produce to impress a third category of tourists -- my favourite kind.

This group comprises all the impressionable, wide-eyed romantics who, like me, love Rome passionately and unconditionally, and are ever eager to lap up whatever comes their way. With these special sightseers I like to share my Rome. In between doing the conventional rounds of cloisters and crypts, arenas and arches, galleries and fountains, I also show them the back alleys, the quiet piazza, some hidden steps, a quaint doorway, my Bengali tailor, the flower market, the 'Almost Corner English Bookshop,' the juiciest mozzarella, the ultimate cappuccino, the teashop overlooking Keat's window, the special view from my terrace, my favourite Caravaggio, my patch of sky, my slice of history.

I don't often get this favourite category of tourists, but when I do, I know that they leave Rome with a true sense of this city, which is an acceptance of the fact that to enjoy a place so deeply rooted yet timeless, one must return again and again to it, and that once here, one must stop and sit quietly among the decaying stones and the flowering oleanders; the pines and the pillars; the vibrant cafes and the cold cobblestones; so that, above the noise of cups and cars, of tourists and the ticking of time, one may listen to the voice of its eternity.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008