Travelogue 3: Italian Experience

This time, without fail having noted my route from the train station to my hotel, I was all settled in after the warm welcome by the elderly lady at the reception. Having quickly refreshed, by late evening, I set out to see the city. Bologna, since I didn’t expect much, was a big surprise. It has beautiful architecture all around the city, and with comparatively less amount of international tourists, its Italian character more evident. Since the Italians outnumbered the tourist the chances of numerous languages merging was minimum. Musicality of the language- its intones, the lyricism- is always defined when one hears a unknown language; and this was what I enjoyed in Bologna immensely. Well, having dropped away any faint idea that may have emerged of chalking out a routine for the coming two days, I made the decision to just hang around the place, walk in any direction that the mind wanted to and sense the Italian-ness of Italy.

I was lucky to have had a home stay with my friend- and experienced the Italian hospitality- because the cities after all cater to tourists like me and hence in a way have a put on a mask. Italians and their mannerisms in general- the volume of their voices when they converse, the boisterous laughter heard, the often soft yet loud accompanying expression (infact even the men speak with a lot of body expressions)- made me feel at home. Unlike the northern Europe where people speak, almost, in a hushed voice, a loud laughter is scorned at, the constant pleasantries acknowledged to the point of making them superficial- I was at ease. Not to say that I am for people in Mumbai who are completely insensitive to others, for ex- so often they speak on the phone unconcerned that they are almost screaming into your ears, play loud music over phones and so on. The extreme insensitivity is when our local trains and buses add to this unbearable sound chaos by having advertisements with most terrible music screaming at you too. But that apart, the local Italians were much amiably disposed with a great sense of hospitality.

The architecture splendour was around every turn that one took. It’s difficult to explain the experience in words but at times it felt like I was walking through a museum that was bringing to life the ancient world. Probably you have entered a time machine -like in those movies- and getting a peep into what would have been the old world. After I had witnessed a belly dancer, heard a musician playing the excellent violin, a group of young musicians creating an interesting sounds cape, and finally, had taken a lazy stroll after dinner, I finally decided to call it a day. After a good night’s sleep, I woke up all excited to discover the traveler in me. Well aware that there is no clear definition of a traveler, not looking into the dictionary ofcourse. Traveler for me- one who travels, and gathers as one travels some wide and varied experiences, such, that one gets a more substantial reason to ‘live’, one that widens the horizons of our ‘life’.

As i walked out in to the streets, next morning, I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to and settle wherever it wanted to. What a relaxing feel this is, a way to unwind by not wanting to know what to do next. One thing that I need to share is that I decided to keep walking and not visiting any monument for this remaining trip. My morning stroll took me to some beautiful streets that were waking up to visitors settling for breakfast. Bologna, as I came to know, is a city for students who come to pursue their academics. At a point i sat in a coffee bar that was close to a university. It was buzzing with young students and felt like a college canteen in India. Some were coming in before attending their lectures, some pouring over academic books n discussing, some just whiling away time and a few travelers- all engaged in something or other and myself observing others. It was here in Bologna that the sound of Italian language hit my ears more distinctly. In fact in the afternoon too i went, in search of Italianness, to a small lunch cafe in a thin back street distanced from the main street filled with tourists. The Bologna experience till the departure next day, however small it may be as per the time frame, was very exciting because in a way I was finding the traveler in me.

Much that I don’t want to but i feel the need to digress from the travel experience to the thoughts that kept invading my mind the entire day, the end to the trip they were reoccurring, infact as I started this writing venture they emerged again. I don’t know why but seeing the number of tourists that come to see that art and culture of Italy or rather Europe I was thrown back, in thoughts to India. Wondering, I am sure many have pondered over this, why India can’t become the tourist destination for the world traveler. Why can’t the Ministry for tourism see the amount of income that can be generated for so many Indians and then India ofcourse. We are a living culture and how many countries can boast that. For so many of us the art and culture is living with us and not practiced separately. As I was discussing with my Italian friend, the fact that the gods- Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Devi, Hanuman and so many of them live with us daily. They are just stories but a belief that flows in our blood and veins. We have beautiful languages, superb architectures, and fabulous history — a kind of unparalleled culture that is celebrated in our lives. Why don’t we make it visible to the people beyond India. I am aware some states have made a remarkable mark in this direction. But I feel the market is untapped for a progressed state like Maharashtra. The basic infrastructure that is tourists friendly is not impossible to achieve. Hah… how?

Only last month, in May 2016, I was shooting for a short tele-serial in an interior location in Maharashtra. The producer wanted a 13th century location feel and he found an amazing location with old temples of black stone, a ghat besides a river, isolated spot yet close to the city. It could be an important destination for historical locales in Maharashtra, especially for foreigners. Can’t the local village be sensitized to this fact and made aware that if they maintain the place the tourists will get them good financial gaining’s. The ignorant village panchayat or should I say insensible heads there have white-washed two beautiful of these ancient black stone temples. I don’t know how but there is so much potential if we can make it happen. Take into consideration the famous December Chennai music and dance season which has innumerable dance and music performances all over the city. Its one of the incredible and unique Festival in the world according to me and if, all the shows by independent organizers, were to be well conducted, coordinated, collaborated- I am more than sure- hordes of international tourists will fly down to Chennai for this experience. Why is it that we can’t turn it into an Edinburgh of India. What stops us from achieving this?…. Lament…. Probably I too, in this matter, am a part of this delinquency or negligence or complacency. Anyways enough of this digression for it’s a project that should be undertaken along with the Ministry of tourism. I had to pen this, hopefully, to quieten these recurring thoughts for a while till I can do my bit about this.