Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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Saturday, September 15, 2007
How I Blogged About The Tiber*
Often when I am preparing a post involving history or antiquities, my misgivings about writing on subjects of which I know so little bring to mind a long ago reading of Mark Twain's How I Edited An Agricultural Paper. Twain's short story is a satire on newspaper writing (Interestingly, it is as scathingly critical of the typical credentials of journalists then as some in the MSM are of the blogosphere today). So this week, something a little different.
A Fiction

The idea of writing a blog about Italy made me a little anxious at first, it is true. But now that the thing seems to be coming along nicely, I am ready to reveal how I found the courage to go forward. I recalled my earlier astounding success as a guest blogger on a friend's geography website. My friend was getting married and needed someone to fill in while she was away on her honeymoon. Though it was asking the colorblind to describe the rainbow, I felt I must rise to the responsibility.
Surprisingly, the work came easier to me than I had expected. My imagination embraced the task, and I experienced an exhilarating surge of creativity that both reassured me and enhanced my productivity. In no time, I had posted a dozen blogs on various geographical topics.
My worries that the website's readership might fall off in the absence of its creator were also immediately allayed. The comments, rather than the usual brief pleasantries, were a Niagara of outpourings. Busy with writing, I hadn't time to give the remarks more than a cursory glance, but I noted the many exclamation marks, indicative of enthusiasm, in the extraordinarily lengthy discourses. I was pleased.
One day as I was polishing a new post, I heard a heavy pounding on the front door, followed by the sound of a man shouting, his voice hoarse with urgency. Thinking a dire emergency must be underway, I rushed to respond. Standing there confronting me was a distinguished looking gentleman wearing a tweed jacket, flannel trousers, and a suede Panama hat. But what I noticed most was the flush of his face and his piercing stare.
He first asked me if I was the person guest blogging on the geography website, to which I replied (proudly) in the affirmative. “But how ever did you find me?” I asked in astonishment.
“I'm an archaeologist, of no small reputation if I may say so,” he said. “If I can dig up a seven-million-year-old cranium of a chimpanzee, I certainly can unearth a speck of human matter such as you!”
He then fell into a deep silence for almost a full minute as he surveyed the speck from head to toe. The scarlet tinge of his face seemed to me to be deepening. I was just on the point of inquiring if he was suffering the dangers of high blood pressure when he spoke again.
“May I ask if you have ever studied geography?” he asked with a powerful energy.
“Yes indeed,” I said. “I had to memorize all the state capitols when I was in the sixth grade.”
“Anything other than that?” he asked, his eyes narrowing. At my shake of the head, he said, “Aha! I knew it! Are you a comedian, then?”
“No,” I said. “Although I do like a good joke.”
The man snorted so hard his nostrils quivered. “Now I want to ask you something and I beg you to tell me the truth.” He took a deep breath, his neck muscles straining. “Do you really think the Tiber is a mountain in the Dolomites?”
“Yes, I recall that I wrote about it recently. The Tiber peak has an elevation of 8,203 inches and is an excellent place to search for porcini mushrooms in the early spring, I believe.”
“You believe,” the man echoed faintly. “So you really aren't aware that the Tiber is a river? A 250-mile river of central Italy that runs through the city of Rome, and one of the most renown waterways in the world?”
“Really,” I said, surprised. “Imagine that, a river and a mountain with the same name. I'm sorry, I should have included that in my post.”
The man began to tremble. “Listen to me, will you! There is not now nor has there ever been a mountain with the name of Tiber. Only a river. A river, do you understand?”
“Well, if you say so,” I said. I thought it best to humor him. His breathing was growing more labored. “I do appreciate you coming here to tell me this thingy about the Tiber. I'll re-check my facts...”
“Facts! Facts!” the professor squeaked, interrupting me. “You speak of facts! You!”
“Please,” I said, “You must calm down. Come inside. I'll give you some Gatorade. It was a drink of the ancient Egyptians, you know. They served it at their ceremonies honoring the first snowfall of the monsoon season.”
The archaeologist swayed and placed his hand against the door jamb to support himself. “Have mercy,” he gasped. “No more, please.”
He turned to go, but then as if fighting against a strong wind, he pivoted and stared at me. His face was haggard and now alarmingly pale.
“I can't help myself, I must try,” he muttered to himself. He came close and peered into my eyes. “This is important, so try and concentrate. The Colosseum is not a large lake in Umbria.”
“No,” I said, a little disconcerted. “I'll write a correction then. How big is the lake exactly?”
The archaeologist fainted and fell forward full length at my feet.
Quickly I dialed 911. Thank God for modern communication.
* See Mark Twain's How I Edited An Agricultural Paper link1 and link2 (w/audio)
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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