Madonna’s Namesake

Madonna was born to offend you, now wish her a Happy 54th Birthday.

Every single Italian I met when I lived in Rome had the same reaction to my last name: “Ciccone, like Madonna!” They know that Ciccone is Madonna’s last name, what they’re not buying, however, is the Madonna part.

“Carla, what is her real first name?” my friend Massimo asked me. “Madonna,” I said. He laughed and shook his hands the way Italians do when they want to say, “mamma mia! Whaddaya talkin’ about?!” without actually saying it.

While they wholly embrace Madonna as her stage name, it’s unthinkable blasphemy that Madonna’s real name is Madonna. In Italy, that name is reserved for the one and only Holy Virgin Mother of God.

“It has to be Maria, Mary, Marie,” said Massimo, and after a trip to the World Wide Web proved him wrong—as she is indeed Madonna Louise Ciccone—he was left shaking his head.

Madonna had offended him. Not with her singing or stage humping or cross burning or boob flashing, but with her name.

Etched on her birth certificate, the seven letters that make up her bold first name contain within them an inherent contradiction. It represents the antithesis of what she is. If faced with the choice of being the Madonna or the whore, Madonna is the whore every time, and proud of it.

I don’t have to tell you about the impact Madonna’s had on music and culture. She ushered in the seminal music video era of the early 80s with so much sass that she transcended the corniness of the decade and transformed a generation of tween and teen girls (and boys) into lace sporting, multiple cross wearing, messy haired, gum chewing, cheeky little queens.

She was a fearless, fun, envelope pushing badass who challenged the norms of her Midwestern, motor city Catholic upbringing with so much gumption that, though many people were put off by her, they still believed her.

I remember my grandfather smiling down at me in the basement of his house in Toronto as he held up a poster of Madonna in 1987. He told me that we had the same last name as her and were from the same part of Italy, and I was in awe of the beautiful blonde woman with the dark eyebrows, red lips and mean face who, thrillingly, could possibly (but probably not) be my fifth cousin.

The video for 1989’s “Like A Prayer” featured a mélange of scandalous taboos at the time: interracial making out in a church, bumping and grinding, also in a church, and cleavage bouncing in front of burning crosses next to… a church! So it was perfect for a bunch of 7-year-old Catholic school girls to imitate at school.

My friends and I did so over recess one day, happily dancing and acting out the words of the song on a grassy hill. Life is a mystery… Watching us from her pious corner was the hawk-eyed relic of our Catholic elementary school, my second grade home room teacher, Mrs. Van Kant. Everyone must stand alone…

Van Kant somehow found out that Madonna the hussy’s last name was also my own, and pulled me aside before class. “You have the same last name as Madonna,” she said, her stale coffee breath assaulting my nose as she hiss-whispered through her teeth. “She is defiling the church. You better pray for her soul.”

Mrs. Van Kant was terrifying. All tightly wound white curls and high-collared, starched blouses, she constantly rapped a long, yellow pencil against the palm of her hand while patrolling our desks. She’d whack kids on the head with it for chewing gum, looking sleepy, or not praying loud enough. Madonna would’ve despised her.

Had I been 12 at the time, I would’ve been like “screw you, you tight ass bitch and hell yes Madonna CICCONE!” but I was not 12. I was 7. I was scared to death of teachers, hell and the devil and wanted nothing more than to be a good Catholic girl. Madonna was really messing with my elementary school God game, so after praying for her, I viewed her with severe side-eyed skepticism and hated her very much for three years. Until, that is, she became Mae Mordabito.

“A League of their Own” was the zenith of Madonna’s film career. The 1992 movie had a talented ensemble cast and was about women stepping in to play big league baseball for the masses while the men were off killing Nazis during World War II. They faced ridicule and sexism, they had to play in skirts, and they kicked ass.

Not unlike Madonna herself, #5 Mae Mordabito was lippy, feisty, and wicked. At one point, she poisons her team’s female chaperon Mrs. Cuthburt so the girls can sneak out to go swing dancing. More than anything, Madonna, and the rest of the Rockford Peaches (Geena Davis, fist pump!) made awkward prepubescent girls like me want to be sporty and play baseball, which I did, for a little while.

My musical tastes have always run more rock ‘n roll gypsy than pop princess, and I’d be the first to agree if you told me that Madonna’s songs, voice, words, face, performances, antics, or life choices have offended you, but love her, hate her, hate to love her, or love to hate her, Madonna has been the pinnacle of female pop stardom for the better part of the past 30 years. She’s sold over 300 million albums, which makes her the world’s top selling female recording artist.

Two years ago, I took an Alitalia flight from Rome to Sicily. I gave them my passport, and upon seeing my name, the attendant looked at me and smiled wide. She then called a coworker and said, in Italian, “I have Madonna’s niece at my desk!” They bumped me to first class and didn’t charge me for my extra heavy bag. I didn’t correct them. Madonna wouldn’t have wanted me to.

She’s been condemned and rewarded in grand fashion throughout her career, and in much more insignificant ways, I too, have been condemned and rewarded for my name-association.

As she turns 54, my wish for Madonna is to keep on living unapologetically, to keep on pushing (which she will, because she’s Madonna).

Fairground stripper, beret wearing rapper, new-age yogi, whatever’s next for Madonna, it’ll be provocative, because Madonna Ciccone was born to be a controversial anomaly fighting against the majority. I haven’t always liked or agreed with her, but I have always admired her.

She might have the name of a saint, but she’s got the balls of a lion.

Today is Eddie Vedder Day!

I have declared today Eddie Vedder day because I like to declare things and because every day should be Eddie Vedder day.

When I was 13, I had a poster on my bedroom wall of Vedder pulling up his shirt while singing. I was a little pervert, I guess.

Look I found it!

But more than a man with killer abs, Ed Ved has been a constant source, or voice, of comfort and inspiration throughout the years. He’s an insanely talented, passionate musician, and he has that silky but towering baritone that can tear you apart one minute and melt you like butta the next.

I took the above picture at Virgin Fest 2009 in Calgary where I got to be up close and personal with the band from the press pit. As I prepare to see Mr. Vedder this evening at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, where he’s playing the second of two sold-out shows in support of his album Ukulele Songs, I’m telling the 13-year-old girl inside of me to calm down. This concert will be one of contained passion – just Ed and his uke, singing songs, sotto voce.

While the soulful crooner may no longer occupy any scandalous wall space in my bedroom, he’s made an indelible impression on my life. I sincerely thank him for what his music has given to me and I can’t wait to spend tonight singing along with him.

Here’s a video of Eddie singing Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town – one of the first songs that started off my lifelong love affair with Pearl Jam.

Ready? 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3 . . .

The Big Man

Everyday, I open up my laptop to this image:

Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen. The perfect rock pairing. Clemons is the smooth, soulful yin to Springsteen’s energetic, rocking yang. This picture makes me happy because it reminds me not only of a great album (Born to Run), but of great friendship as well.

Springsteen and Clemons adore each other, and their onstage interaction makes every concert with the E Street Band a little more playful.

Clemons is a big man. In fact, Bruce refers to him as the “big man” because he’s built like an oak tree. Tall, sturdy, lovely – a calm, sweet, big presence, even on a massive arena stage.

And like an oak tree, I’ve always thought of Clemons as an invincible and ever-present being. He was there at the beginning – an original member of the E Street Band, and it’s oldest at 69 – and he adds much of the soul to Bruce’s rock n’ roll.

His sax contributions to Lady Gaga’s latest album Born This Way have put Clemons on the map for millions of her “little monsters” who might have never heard of the great saxophonist save for from their parents, maybe.

Clemons has recently suffered a serious stroke and is said to be quite ill right now.

I’m praying for him and I hope you will too. Get better big man!

The Tweet, The Bruce, The Retweet

Last Friday night, I was at home working on my screenplay (my social life these days would bore my grandma), and I got hung up on a character who wasn’t quite saying the things I wanted him to say, which seems to be a familiar story with the men in my life, even in fiction. So when my iTouch started making that annoying “bleepity-bleep” sound it makes when I get a new email, it was hard to not become fully distracted by it.

I tried to focus and not check it right away, but I then received three more “bleepity-bleeps” indicating three more emails, and I could no longer ignore it. I’m really not that popular, so four emails in two minutes is kind of a big deal for me.

Expecting to see four forwards from my mom, I was surprised that the emails were all from this blog. They were notifications of comments made on one of my posts – that being the one about my serendipitous run-in with Bruce Springsteen at the Rome International Film Festival last Monday (I still can’t believe it really happened, and I’m still just as happy as the moment it did).

Usually my dad, a couple of my friends and a few of the people who follow my blog regularly write me comments (hi guys, and thank you!), so it shocked me to see that these comments were from people I had never heard of-or from-before.

Being the curious little sleuth that I am, I checked my blog to investigate my sudden popularity.

The Gypsy Lied gets a reasonable amount of views everyday, nothing out of this world, but I’ve been generally content with the numbers. On this day though, when I looked at the graph that shows viewership for the month, I saw this:

At first, I wondered what could be wrong with my blog. Clearly I hadn’t received thousands of views in a matter of minutes just because.

I clicked on the very tall bar, and it took me to a page that indicated that all these viewers had been referred to my blog by a certain website. That website being: www.twitter.com/springsteen aka Bruce Springsteen’s twitter page.

Look!

My name, my “tweet,” and a link to my blog were at the top of Bruce Springsteen’s twitter feed! Now, being the nerd that I am, I get excited when anyone retweets me, but when Bruce Springsteen does it, it’s like a full plate of happiness with a side of  “Oh My God” and Tiramisu for dessert.

While candy rainbows and magical unicorns collided to create blinding fireworks in my happy little head, I did what I always do when I’m at home on a Friday and Bruce Springsteen retweets me. I called my mom.

The conversation went like this:

“Mom!”

“Who is this?”

“Carla… your daughter.”

“Why are you calling? What’s wrong?” (I need to call my mom more often)

“Nothing’s wrong. I just got retweeted by the Boss! Bruce retweeted me!!!”

“I don’t understand. What’s a retweet?”

“Ok – I tweeted a link to the article I wrote about my Bruce encounter the other day, and he – BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – retweeted it. That means all of his followers can see my tweet!” (The generational digital divide is not going to interrupt my elation, dammit!)

“Ohh that’s wonderful! Did he say he liked your article? Did you talk to him?”

“No, I don’t even know if he saw it, probably someone who works for him did, but my blog is exploding!!!!”

“Is it going to be ok?!” (Damn you, generational divide!)

“Yes. It just means lots of people are visiting my blog.” (My mom and I clearly need to have a chat about Twitter, blogs and the like so this conversation goes a bit smoother if it ever happens again)

I got off the phone and did a little happy dance, jumped around a bit, ate a cookie, sent an incoherent email to my sister that looked like this: “THE BOSS, RETWEETTTTED, SO HAPPY, BLOG,” and that was that.

I realize that Springsteen probably doesn’t man his own Twitter page, but the fact that whoever does it for him saw my tweet, read my blog and liked the story enough to retweet it, well that’s just awesome. Here is the post, if you haven’t read it and you’d like to:  http://tinyurl.com/65phusy

A huge thank you Bruce Springsteen and to the guy or gal who runs his twitter page for retweeting me and giving my blog such a nice plug. You made my day. Ok, maybe my year.

Springsteen’s in Rome – I think I’ll Meet Him

Italy is a country blessed with beauty, food, culture and an incurable disorganization that boarders on humorous, even when it messes with you. Like when you’ve been waiting for the bus for an hour in the rain, only to find out from a passerby that the transit workers are on strike for the day because they collectively decided they needed to watch the football match instead of go to work.

Things in Rome seem to work by not working. They fall apart so obviously and dramatically, and in the end, they come together so calmly, like: what do you mean you were worried? This is Italy. Living in Italy is like watching a never-ending soap opera, full of stress and emotional highs and lows. But when it counts, Italy usually comes through.

Such was my experience when my friend Ale and I decided on a whim that we should go meet Bruce Springsteen at the Rome International Film Festival. I knew he was going to be there. Did I think I would see him? No. Did I think I would meet him? No.

I’ve never been to a red carpet situation before, (the Calgary International Film festival doesn’t count…sorry Calgary, love you!) so to pop my red carpet cherry with the premiere of the Boss’s new film The Promise: The Making of the Darkness on the Edge of Town was like losing your virginity to Ron Jeremy. There were lots of people, lots of press, and lots of excitement.

We just walked up, stood at the barricade for about a half hour with a whole bunch of enthusiastic Italian men, and some women, and then, there he was. Il Boss.

The Boss

If cool was a man, he would be Bruce Springsteen. There’s no pretense there. There’s ego, obviously, but it’s contained within a soul that’s so sincere and deep, the ego’s a warm one. He talks to his fans, engages them, signs everything they put in his face. This would have been a bonus for me, being that the people around us spoke to him only in Italian, however when my time came, when the Boss himself was looking at my face, the only words that would come out of my mouth were: “Hi Bruce, Ciao Bruce, Hey Bruce… Bruce!” Words, which ironically are my livelihood, seriously failed me. But he didn’t mind the blubbering. He just smiled and said “hi sweetheart,” and then after he walked away, he turned around and smiled again and waved, and I’m going to say he was waving at me, because to me, he was.

I still haven’t processed the evening. I don’t know it’ll ever really sink in. It was magic. I felt like a child. Yes, I choked in front of a man I call Uncle Bruce because I’ve known and loved him for my entire life, but it was a such a calming, transcendent experience that I don’t even care.

I’ve been getting asked a lot lately if I’m into older men because of my Bruce love. To clear this up, I have never thought of him in a romantic way. He’s the same age as my dad. I look at Bruce as a sort of “favourite uncle” who I’ve known through song since I was three and who just happens to be the world’s best rock star.

My Aunts and my mom’s friends keep emailing me about how lucky I am to have met the Boss and how sexy and cool they think he is. Even at 61, there’s no rock star on earth that has what he has.

Springsteen is the last of the great rock performers. The ones who did for the love of doing it. The ones who did it, who do it, because, in his words: “More than rich, more than famous, more than happy, I wanted to be great.” And he’s kept that promise to himself and to his fans throughout his over 30-year career.

He treats his fans well. This is something not all rock stars do because they don’t have to. The Boss is a man of the people, by the people and for the people, so he gives to his people.

One of the loveliest things I have heard him talk about is the conversation, the dance, he’s had with his audience for all these years. Like we’re all talking shop with him in a dimly lit watering hole in Jersey. We’ve all been with him on this crazy ride. In the world of selfish, narcissistic rock stars, this is an acknowledgment that makes lifelong fans smile, reassured that they’ve picked a great artist to dedicate their time to. And it makes his music more enjoyable because you know that he’s not lying to you. He’s there with you.

So yes, meeting Springsteen was the realization of a dream for me. I still can’t quite believe it happened. It would be like my devout Catholic Nonna meeting the Pope… or, better yet, Jesus himself. Being that I named my beloved little blog after some of Bruce’s song lyrics, I felt I needed to share this experience with you.

I don’t think it will be the last, however. I think I will meet the Boss again in a setting where we can talk about music and life  (delusional self-confidence is my new thing), but for now, I have a smile, a wave and a hello from him. For now, that’s more than enough.

For all the bitching I’ve done about Italy, I really do love it here. It is as much a part of me as my love for Bruce is. And I truly believe that this experience could have only happened here. Only in Italy could you walk up to the red carpet at the movie premiere of the world’s biggest rock star a mere 30 minutes before his arrival and have this kind of experience.

The reason it all happened so “smoothly” was because it was raining, and Italians don’t like rain, so only the diehards “braved” the weather. Please, I’m from Canada!

I also think the experience was able to happen because security here is more like a relaxed conversation between drinking buddies.

“Security, what do you mean? Nah, we don’t need much security. Not to worry.”

“True. Who would want to hurt Bruce Springsteen, the Boss? We love him!”

Really. That’s the logic here, which goes back to what I was saying before about how things seem to work by not working. Because Italy is a country shaped like a boot, and the head of the body it belongs to is in the clouds, among the stars.

I also decided that I don’t like men who like Bruce as much as I do, which is pretty funny, but apparently three’s a crowd in my lifelong love affair with Springsteen.

Me and Ale

For everyone who has written me about how lucky I am to have met him – thank you. It was a thrill and an amazing experience. However, I’m a big believer in going after what you want. For me, this was something that was always going to happen. To borrow a quote from the Boss himself: When it comes to luck, you make your own.

From this Gutter, we see the Stars

To say that the traffic in Rome is chaotic would be an understatement. It’s Vespas weaving in and out of messy lines of cars, riders scraping their knees on the sides of buses as they squeeze by; it’s old women not stopping at red lights—not because they couldn’t see the light—because they saw a chance to go; it’s honking, yelling, arm waving craziness.

And so, Roman or not, Italian or not, if you come to Rome, you must acquire certain survival skills, if only to successfully cross the road.

A little puppy named Blackie knows this all too well. At two months old, she comes when she’s called, sits when she’s instructed to, and she waits patiently (and with aching cuteness) when her owner steps inside a bar to punch back an espresso.

Following her owner, and with no leash on, Blackie cautiously navigates through pedestrians and traffic. She looks up at her red pants wearing guide as they cross the street, her clumsy little puppy paws swiftly hitting the pavement behind him. She waits patiently by his side when he stops to chat with someone on the street.

He’s stern with her, but loving, bending down for a cuddle as they wait to cross the road again, and as he does, she becomes the 2-month-old puppy she is, jumping onto his lap, licking his face and getting his red pants all muddy while he laughs. Blackie knows that she’s lucky to have such a great Roman tour guide.

For the rest of us, though, Rome is an ancient urban jungle without a kind navigator leading the way. The city will open her loving arms to you, but you’re not safe to rest there for long. It’s transient. If you don’t move with it, you’ll be swallowed up by it.

You can be amidst the most mind-boggling chaos, noise and confusion on the street, only to walk up a hill for ten minutes and find a serene rose garden surrounded by an enchanted city view that’ll make you thank God, even if you don’t believe in one. This dichotomy is nothing new. It’s everywhere in Italy. In the landscapes and the people.

They are both saints and sinners.

Rome will kiss you as she kicks you.

As it is in Rome, so in life. We have to walk the gritty streets, eventually climbing out of them to gaze upon a lovely vista. And there’s good and bad both above and below.

Some people are born into easy, or seemingly easy, lives. They walk through the great big building that is life and doors open for them as if by magic. People smile at them. They go to school, they get good jobs, they find love. They make it all look so effortless.

Other people are born into lives that seem stacked against them from the start. They fight for breath on the day they’re born and they scrape their way through: banging on locked doors, clawing at walls, screaming and spitting and struggling for a chance to prove themselves. Prove themselves great in whatever form of great they dream of.

But whether we’re blessed or cursed or, like most humans, somewhere in between, nobody goes it alone.

Even the most successful, self-made people would not be so if it weren’t for the help of others. Be it the teacher that tells his student that she’s good at math, or a soccer coach who recognizes and nurtures a young athlete’s potential, or a manager who takes a chance on an inexperienced employee who has the drive, but nothing to show for it yet. No matter how hard we work and how ready we are – we succeed or fail based largely on the support of a few.

Seneca, that wise old Roman, said: “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” We learn, train, and get ready for battle, and when one comes, we go for it – con la forza (with force) – and hope for the best.

I find it hard to explain, but being surrounded by Rome and her vibrant Romans has lead me to think about personality and where it comes from. How everything we do and see shapes who we are and who we are becoming. Ultimately, it’s what we do and how we do it when the cards are stacked against us, when we’re staring into a loaded gun, when we’re trying to cross the street and cars are honking and nearly hitting us and people are yelling, when we’ve fallen down so many times we’re not sure it’s worth it to get back up again. It’s how we handle these moments, not those moments when the sun is shining and roses scent the air, that gives us integrity and character.

You can be the most beautiful person in the world. You can have the best job and the most money and the nicest clothes and the perfect family. You can have houses in France and Hawaii. You can know the difference between Chateau Rothschild and Domaine Leflaive – but if you don’t have much character, you don’t have much.

Lately, this city has been kicking my ass. Nearly a year of being away from friends and family, order, politeness and consistency, and living among the madness, rudeness, and illogical entertainment that is Rome has begun to transition from fun, new, and touristy to real, draining, and unstable.

I’m not giving up, on myself or on Rome, but when I saw Blackie, the little puppy following her owner with the undivided attention of a much older dog, it reminded me how much we – dogs, people, beings – need each other. Need to be loved, hugged, cared for. We need kindness – from strangers, from friends, from family, from lovers. We need to draw love out of wherever we are, and whomever we’re with. Italians go for this love thing with reckless abandon. They love their lifestyle, they love their food, they love their cities, regions, and country, they love themselves, and they love each other.

Someone once told me that if you love Rome, she will love you right back – and this is true.

It’s in the way the sun always makes her buildings twinkle as though they’ve been bathed in fairy dust. The way even her most ruined of ruins beam with haunting, ancient beauty. It’s in the way, right now, the soft sound of a classical piano music slices through the abrasive street noise—motorinos, booming voices of arguing Italians, sirens, the hum of water running from an outdoor fountain—like a silk scarf falling slowly over a sharp sword. Watching it happen was so beautiful and so peaceful, that you hardly care that your scarf is now on the floor in two pieces.

It’s in these moments that I don’t want to ever leave Italy. When I hear that piano played so delicately, so masterfully, producing sounds so cutting and so sweet that they leap into my stomach and writhe it until my eyes are watering and my heart is aching. I picture the pianist weeping, tear drops spilling onto the keys as his fingers bounce delicately over them – long and lithe. Like Rome, he makes me smile and cry at the same time. I can’t see where this beautiful sound is coming from, but I can feel it all around me, inside me. It’s always there. Just like Rome.

“We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Pavarotti’s Protégé

Italian opera is an emotion unto itself.  Sad tales of love, heartbreak and sorrow sung with over-the-top falsettos and booming baritones. It combines the purest form of musical talent with painstaking training and minutely intricate details, and here lies the duality of the opera, and of Italian culture. Part free-flowing, beautiful and romantic, part laborious, tedious and almost unattainable.

“Opera” means work in Italian, and to work for the sake creating beautiful art is the legacy of many of the greatest artists and musicians from this country.

In Rome, you can go to the Opera, but it’ll set you back 100 Euros or more. Alternatively, to get an opera fix, stroll through the various piazzas by night and you’ll usually find at least one tenor belting out an aria. If you’re in the ancient city centre,  open your window and you’ll probably hear random men burst into song as they stroll slowly down the cobblestone streets. Another option is to wait until late at night and listen to the drunks as they stumble out of the bars singing their best rendition of O Sole Mio to the sleepy streets of Rome.

Rome, with its many gorgeous sculptures, romantic light, and expressive people, is the kind of city that makes people want to sing. This is Italy, after all. If you feel like singing – you sing!

A few weeks ago, I was walking by the Pantheon by night and came across a man singing a beautiful opera in the middle of the Piazza della Rotonda. A large crowd had gathered around him, mesmerized. The trained but potent emotion in his voice was the kind that leapt right out of his mouth and into your stomach, clenching it. It was razor-like. Delicate, but like a razor, it still draws blood when it cuts you.

Hearing his song made me think of sad things – heartache, losing people you love, disappointment. But the longer I listened, the more I could feel the darkest, coldest places within myself begin to thaw. Even though I wasn’t the one singing, I began to feel exposed, unglued. I felt that if I listened for long enough, this song might heal my wounds, mend my heart, help me start anew.

That’s the power of beautiful music – it speaks directly to the soul.

I watched Piazza Tenor for a few minutes, because any longer than that and the tears would have started to flow, and I continued on my walk to Piazza Navona. Navona a tourist hotspot, but it’s spectacular. I never get sick of seeing it anytime during the day or night.

Walking through Piazza Navona is like a trip to an enchanted, peculiar circus where…

…artists sell beautiful paintings of Rome and all of her many attractions,

…sketchers will draw your exact likeness, or a caricature of it, in under 10 minutes,

…performers paint themselves and dress up as statues and hold the same pose for hours on end as giddy tourists marvel over them and take pictures,

…foreign men sell light up toys that can be thrown into the air and caught with a spiral stick-like device,

…gypsies with folding tables sit patiently in front of cardboard signs that read “Italiano, English, German, Spagnolo, Portugese,” waiting to tell your fortune,

…guitar players jam, singers sing, drumming circles pound out beats that make you want to shake your hips, accordion players stroll slowly up and down the street, serenading the crowd with romantic classics.

And then, there’s Pavarotti’s Protégé.

Armed with a CD player, a little speaker and a microphone, Pavarotti’s Protégé is an old man whose lust for life shines dimly through his hazy eyes.

He’s so old that he seems to be shrinking right in front of you. His clothes are too big for his frail body. His shoes too large for his small feet.

From his loud-speaker comes a familiar voice: the booming tenor of the one and only Pavarotti. It’s boisterous, loud and beautiful.

The old man moves his mouth to lip synch along to the song, but he can’t keep time. In fact, he doesn’t seem to actually know the words.

His right hand waltzes along to the music, swaying back and forth in the air, and his left hand holds his microphone limply, as though it’s a ball and chain he’s tired of carrying.

Pictures of Pavarotti are posted up on his rolling bag, which stands beside him. A little wicker basket sits in front of his feet, collecting more ashes from passerby’s cigarettes than coins.

And there he stands.

A small old man pretending to sing a dead man’s masterpieces.

He is a spectacle for tourists to gawk at, but he doesn’t seem to care.

The opera he lip synchs along to is healing the ache inside of him.