Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

 In the age of twitter and  instant online polls , it sounds unreal that a crowd of thousands stand awe struck, braving the rain and the cold  , waiting patiently , looking at the rather ordinary chimney on an old  building to announce result of a vote by a group of about a 100 plus senior citizens  . But then that ordinary looking chimney is perhaps the most famous chimney of the world. Atop the Sistine chapel , this chimney is what will announce to the world that a new successor of Saint Peter and the Bishop of Rome , the pope , has  been elected . This morning , there were hundreds of TV cameras zooming to this chimney and people were gathered at 6 am to watch the history being made . It’s not only media , the clergy or the people of Rome who are glued to this Papal conclave with great excitement . One finds many  ordinary people from all over the world gathered to witness this big ticket entertainment  here in Rome .

But then , there is a limit to the patience of the world which enthusiastically awaits the  formal traditional  announcement of Habemus Papam (We have a Pope). History tells us that when the conclave took too long to decide, it took bit more than divine intervention to hurry them up. In 1268, a papal conclave began that lasted nearly three years — 33 months to be precise . Pope Gregory X was elected pope, but not before residents of Viterbo, north of Rome, tore the roof off the building where the cardinals were staying and restricted their meals to bread and water to make them conclude . Hoping to avoid a repeat, Gregory decreed in 1274 that cardinals would only get one meal a day if the conclave stretched beyond three days, and served bread, water and wine if it went beyond eight. While the meals served these days at the Vatican's hotel are by no means gourmet, the cardinals won't go hungry — no matter how long they take picking a pope. Statistics however suggests that it will be around 3 days  before we see the white smoke from the chimney .

Ever since the last Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, the media started flocking the city of Rome and since yesterday , it’s like a football match about to begin. Everything related to Vatican stir up a lot of interest from world media. The pope’s red Prada shoes or the secrets of Vatican archives , problems of the Vatican banks and of course the views of the Vatican on every subject possible  . Dozens of movies , novels and documentaries have explored all kinds of happenings and conspiracy theories related to the Vatican . The Vatican and the church do not seem to mind the talk . I have a feeling that they even relish the bad publicity and the angry debates about their way of functioning. But then that is also perhaps a Papal tradition. The long line of popes over the centuries has perhaps the most number of juicy stories and scandals.  Even the official tour guides of Vatican will not fumble while mentioning the atrocities of some medieval popes or the flamboyant and ostentatious  life styles of some others. They will gleefully point out the portraits of  Pope’s mistresses and illegitimate children decorating their historical buildings. There are no secrets about burning people at stake for their views or the washing of worldly sins in lieu of gold by some of the earthly representatives of God many centuries back . It is , however, very curious  that though there is so much information about the ways of Vatican in public domain , the Vatican  still remains a mystery .  In fact even in Rome, not many know about the happenings behind those medieval walls of the world’s smallest sovereign nation.  I find it fascinating how easily they accepted that perhaps mystery is also their connect to the generation who reads Dan Brown and JK Rowlings .  There is no violent protest, no fatwa for  boycott  and of course they started a new guided tour after the Dan Brown book (Angels and Demons) . That is very very papal way of handling the bad publicity .
But ancient or modern, political or religious - elections are finally elections ! No wonder that the city is buzzing with the names of runners and the riders. The regions, languages spoken and even the colour of skin may play a role. There will be canvassing and discussions, prayers and meetings all around. The qualities that get a person elected are not always the best virtues in him but the vices of the others. In all probability with the 2/3rd vote needed it will be compromise candidate.  In fact I read in a blog that it will actually have all the ingredients of the popular reality TV show Big brother. A bunch of oddballs locked in a big room incommunicado with the world and the rest of us watching obsessively.   So the best man may not always win the race  but at the end of the day,  it will be as they say ,  the Winner takes it all !
            St. Peters Square is a great place to hang around anytime of the day, even on a normal day .  It’s a place of a fantastic mix of art and faith, legends and history .  Who lives inside the apostolic palace, does not matter much to an ordinary person like me.  Neither does it interest me much what are the views of this old man or his advisors. And yet, call it by any name – obsession, excitement or mere lack of work … is very interesting to be around the majestic Basilica of St Peters these days and watching the papal conclave creating yet another smoky chapter of Church history .

Sunday, March 10, 2013

For here lies Juliet ....

“Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!

For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.
Falling in love with characters in the books or movies is nothing new for many of us . There is also nothing unusual in worshipping a character in story much more than real like heroes (and heroines) . There is   something very basic about tragic love stories that attract people across the world. Come to think of it , tragic tales of couples belonging to  feuding families is one of the pet themes of romances in all languages of the world . Perhaps that is why they say, It's Love that makes the world go round . You can’t help realizing the depth of this thought when you are in the city of Verona. 
The Famous Balcony of Juliet 
 A beautiful, historical city of Italy, Verona, has many claims to fame. But of course, top of the list is the immortal tale of Romeo and Juliet. The city attracts hundreds of tourists every day just to visit the so called balcony of Juliet and the supposed tomb of Juliet .  So solid is this association of the tale with this city that the city claims to be la città dell'amore- the city of love, even in its not so touristy affairs. The historical authenticity of these claims ( though largely immaterial for the believers  ) is  however, not  as solid . But then, that is the power of written word. Most of us know about these characters from Shakespeare’s version where the scene is set in the fair city of Verona . Who cares that it was perhaps Siena and not Verona where the original story was set in the  Italian version which inspired Shakespeare’s tale .

Verona is a beautiful town, with abundance of art and natural beauty . The city , remembers its historical past  with a mixed emotion . During World war II , many of its Churches received a bad fate . A lot of art was destroyed. The city fall into the hands of the French and in many places , one finds remembrance of those- not so happy days . With bombing and bans on church, destruction of life and faith  in recent past – it seems incredulous that  the city today relates more with a legendary ( yet tragic) love tale of star crossed lovers than any other  bare fact  of life . Its love and music that provide lifeblood to the city . The former comes from the tale of Romeo and Juliet and the latter from a great tradition of Opera and jazz fests of the town. One can almost feel the romantic heart of the city in many not so romantic ways. The way corner of the city lanes celebrate the verse of the Bard  and even the road leading to Juliet’s Tomb named after the English poet who made her immortal and famous across the world . No wonder Juliet still lives in her ‘Casa’ at Verona and if you choose to believe she would even talk to you through letters and e-mails .
 Come to think of it , where else the famous couple would live when Romeo himself famously proclaimed:
“There is no world without Verona walls
But purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence “banishèd” is banished from the world,
And world’s exile is death.”

In the beginning ,it may sound very tourist like propaganda and even silly to many of us  but its only when you see old couples  holding hands in the lines  like teenagers to pose at Juliet’s balcony or to put a lock on the metal door , marking their love that you realize the power of this celebrated emotion . Still not convinced about the universal appeal of this emotion ? Just go to Juliet’s tomb and you will find a statue of Chinese duo  Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, a love  story much similar to that of Romeo and Juliet . 

True or false, historical fact or a poet’s imagination, Verona celebrates its Juliet  love every single day .  The story lives inside  the hearts of hundreds of its fans  and after all , as the poet himself said –
“For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Walking in the Water Painting

“ Mum, It’s like walking in a huge life size water painting”, I overheard the teenager speaking over phone. For a moment I just wowed the thought. It was like giving words to my own feelings  . Yes , that is exactly what Rome is .  A huge painting where you are the child in the window on the left hand corner looking out at perhaps nowhere . You do not count for the overall beauty of the painting but just the thought that you are also there in it- is exciting .
This time , it is even more fun. May be the excitement of discovery is not there as it was the first time but then there is this soothing familiarity with the place which makes it even more special . Every morning I marvel at the colour of the river water, the magic flowing at the piazzas and the amazing energy in the messy city scene. It’s like a child watching ripples in the  water for the first time . Interestingly, it is also like a householder looking at his old house with fondness and affection. I try counting the shades of life and fail everyday .

 The other day walking back from Vatican , I thought about the art and the faith . How one inspires  the other and how they complement and contradict each other simultaneously . It was like finding  an ancient church celebrating the Galileo and his views about Sun and earth . It’s also like finding a statue of a Dominican monk burned at stake for his theory of mathematics.  The best part perhaps is away from the flickering digicams and the souvenir shops. It’s the beauty hidden in the small lanes and cobbled pathways . You turn a corner and may be you find the most amazing church , you peep through a keyhole and may be it gives you the most perfect view of St Peters .

 So I hunt for such turns and keyholes, sideways and the tiny little door on the other side . They keep on appearing and finding me. So ,the mysterical water painting keep on changing its colours and like an amazed child I watch in awe and admiration .
Its such a unique blend of modern and ancient that you cannot admire one without mentioning the other. Sometimes it looks ironical, even funny.  Imagine the modern real time media , chasing the ancient tradition of choosing the successor of St Peters- the pope . It is a place where modern SUVs zoom through the ancient roads and where the  flamboyant politicians and their girlfriends share headlines with the 85 year old pope resigning from his post. But then one realizes that this is exactly the texture of this fascinating city .  You keep digging in and you keep finding treasures – layer after layer. 

Quo Vadis ?

Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis, Rome

 Its again many months of non-blogging. Well, there was no dearth of things to write about  nor words to spin the yarn but something holds me back. Partly the busy nothings of my mundane life and partly the thought that I am not to write about the work I am engaged in office. The current work assignment, which took majority of my time last year , was so damn interesting that the temptation to write about it was very high. Looking back, these were some interesting months I lived. I visited fascinating places and met extraordinary people. Did some silly things , tried to come out a winner and all in all, it was  a good existence  and loads of  happy memories. May be some day I will write about it too. But look at me now, I was in Rome last year then touched Banaras in between and am back to Rome again. Its like a circular bus touching all ancient cities .
I knew it even then. It had to be this way.  We were not done last time. Me and Rome . Rome left me desiring for more – more of Rome, I mean . So I am back. Back to my favorite piazzas, my favorite walks and my favorite city.  All this was going in my mind when I climbed the bus for catacombs on via Appia Antica ( the ancient Appian way ) . 

There was no fixed program and it was a bright  Sunday morning .  As  expected ,  I got down at the  wrong stop. Good that happened , for it made me walks miles on the  picturesque ancient highway . It was then that I noticed “Quo Vadis?”.  First on a pizzeria and then the Church nearby . It was so ironical. As if the question was addressed to me.
Quo-Vadis? (Where are you going?)- a question that  can hardly ever have one perfect answer. Well, the Church was fine but the story was fantastic. The resurrected savior appearing to give courage to an old man to be a martyr  and later on Saint . I am not a big fan of St Peter at all. He sounds so unsteady in his faith , so terribly wrong in his choices and so timid mostly  that he needed divine interventions at many points in his life  . But then he rose to the occasion and become the rock on which the Church was built. May be it was all this that made him the connect between the God and the world. He became the saint , because he returned. He returned knowing  that he will be crucified . But still he  changed his mind and he returned .

So walking the serene ancient Appian road, admiring the sun and the grass, I thought about journey of life and I thought about the return. The latter because the church (Church of Domine Quo Vadis ) is in fact located just in front of the sacred campus dedicated to Rediculus, the Roman God of the Return. So It was on this 2000 year old road that I decided to return to my blog again ( among many other things )  and to tell where am I going , both in a worldly way and in a metaphorical one .