The word that I will never forget in Italian. Translating to “look!” these two syllables echo around our neighborhood of Trastevere every evening. It is the signature slogan of the local icon, “Guarda-Man”. No he is not a Superhero, but rather is a character that has been established as part of the Trasteverino culture. I do not know him, and I have never talked to him, yet he has been ingrained into my memory, and has become a cherished part of my experience here in Rome.
Guarda-Man is a street performer, a magician in fact. He posts outside of the hottest restaurants and bars with his assortment of mystical props just as the crowds start coming in for aperitivo around 6 o’clock. He gets out a mini-guillotine and chops of his hand. He somehow shoves a meter-long sword down his throat. He continues his act, escalating to the grand finale, in which he tears off his (quite realistic) wig, to the surprise of us all. He then gathers his things, and moves to another location before repeating the spectacle, all the while yelling “GUARDAAAA” at the top of his lungs.
By now I have memorized his routine display. At first, I found it a bit annoying. Whenever I was eating dinner or sipping on an Aperol-Spritz I would constantly hear this man yelling this one word over and over again. His cheap illusions would distract me from the conversation I was having, and from the meal I was eating. After a while however, it began to grow on me. I never see him begging for money or nagging for a cigarette. He simply does his act, and accepts whatever coins come his way.
I now associate Guarda-Man and his incessant chant with the culture of Trastevere. Not because I like magic and wigs, but because he managed to separate himself from the other performers and street vendors of the area. With one creative and catchy phrase, and a few cheap props, he managed to become unique and memorable to all those around him. I don’t know his name, and I’ve never talked to him, but ask anyone who has been to Trastevere, and they will know Guarda-Man. They’ll probably give you a smile and a laugh as well.
As for seizing the day; Most would assume that because Guarda-Man is a Bangladeshi street performer he is therefore a vagrant. He is an underachiever and uses his set of cheap skills to make a buck off of unaware tourists rather than seize his opportunity to get a real job. I like to think differently. After all, Guarda-Man performs his routine daily, and I still see people enjoying his act. While Guarda-Man may not be cashing in checks for thousands of dollars, he has still been able to seize the chance to transform himself into an emblem that no one will forget.
What can we learn from the Guarda man? Don’t blend in like the rest. Separate yourself.
JCU Class of 2015
Major: International Affairs
Hometown: Kailua, HI