Friday, February 24, 2012

Ah Rome! For centuries, artists, scholars and poets have claimed her as their first, last and only source of beauty, learning and inspiration. For centuries, tourists have flocked to her,enjoying the multitude of incredible bits and pieces that make Rome what she is and has always been, The Eternal City. For some, it is the incredible beauty and wonder found in Vatican City. For others, it is Michelangelo or Raphael, perhaps Caravaggio or the ever present Bernini. For this Italiaphile, it is one Claudio Montouri, the "Bird man".

Claudio Montouri is a one man orchestra, a street performer, a "busker". A pseudo-throat singer, he sings songs that mimic jungle animals, birds and frogs. Influenced by African tribal music, he uses a variety of self-made percussion instruments, an ancient concertina and old toys carefully laid out on the ground before him. Animal woodblocks, a bicycle horn and his own head are staples in his charming orchestra. When he dons his bird-scull hat and his orange bird beak mask, he's part clown, part self-styled musician. He moves his act from location to location throughout the city, earning his way as he progresses. As all good buskers do, he draws crowds of passers by, some of them lucky enough to get a playful bop on the head from his foam rubber hammer as he runs in circles for their amusement. All of them attracted by his natural and sincere style, especially the first time observers.

A head of long and unruly white hair tops off a pasty white face,highlighted by soft wrinkles,one that only a mother could love. His age, one can only wonder. A slight body wears blue jeans with torn knees, those usually reserved for younger men. Strapped around each ankle, a set of bells and cymbals, parts of his rhythm band. I'm a very poor judge of age. Oftentimes I find myself assuming the role of theater critic using one's performance on the life stage as an indicator of his or her age. That having been said, Bird Man Montouri is a youngster.

We first encountered Claudio on a stroll from the Piazza Navona en route to the Campo de Fiori on a December's evening. My heart was already full to capacity, or so I thought, with the pleasure of being in favorite place at a favorite time. Christmas in Rome's Piazza Navona brings new meaning to the word's "heart's delight". As we made our way, we spotted a small crowd, in its center, the most heavenly music poured out from a concertina, accompanying a strange vocalization. Honking horns, toys emitting little squeaks as they were stomped on just at the right moment, little bells, tiny cymbals and a little ugly man running around in circles. Heart's delight. I’m a child again, enchanted by the bird man clown, laughing at his antics, loving the music, thinking I’d arrived in temporary Heaven. Now my heart surely would burst.

I've since located a few YouTube clippings of Claudio, most taken by other tourists who were fortunate to have found him. Each time I click on one of these short takes I find myself transported back to that evening in December when I discovered my very own unique Roman treasure. Grazie tante Claudio. A presto!

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