lunedì 25 giugno 2012

Poets and monkeys

This man, with his spiky moustache and  paglietta hat is Trilussa, a great Roman poet

 Walking down this very old street full of antique shops and blessed by an aristocratic flare, you might bump into the ill looking statue of a clumsy silenus, lying on his side pretending to be a gorgeous mermaid. It is the “Babuino”, the baboon, one of Rome’s talking statues.  An awkward, nasty looking thing, with a huge head and a clumsy body. The romans despised it from the start.  It was Pope Gregorio XIII, who decided, in 1576, to place it right here, in the heart of the street that, in those lost days, bore the sweet sounding name of “Clementina” in honour of Pope Clemente VII.
From then on,  the ugly silenus stares in the face of the passers by. One of them, in the XVI century, was a spanish cardinal, Pedro de Deza Manuel,  who lived nearby.  The poor fellow had bad sight. Every day, when  passing in front of the statue, he made  a big bow and took off his hat to pay his respects. And the romans laughed and laughed, their cynical, eternal, loud laugh. Then, one day, the statue started to talk. It spoke the language of mock and derision... It spoke, but in  pure epigrams, the language of the crowds. It told the truth, but in a weird way. Like a  marble jester for the successors of St Peter. The great  poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli (1791-1863) dedicated one of his many sonnets  (all writen in witty roman dialect) to the talking statue of the babuino... And Belli - oh he sure was a genius! -  was the secret voice of another talking statue, that lived in another square, close to Piazza Navona: Pasquino.
Strange but true, in this same Via del Babuino (at number 58) a great successor of Belli, Carlo Alberto Salustri (1871-1950), known as Trilussa, was born. Belli and Trilussa are dear to the romans and they both still live their secret  marble life in two statues in two different  “piazze”, dedicated to them,  both in Trastevere.