Bocca della Verita
(Mouth of Truth)
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An Excerpt from
Travel Tales of Michael Brein: My Best 100
When it comes to stretching the truth once in a while, telling occasional white lies or seeing what we can get away with in our travels, we are not necessarily corrupt, evil beings: we are often just people stretching and expanding our boundaries a bit to see what more and how we can be.
Below is one of my best travel stories in my collection involving my visit to the famed “Mouth of Truth” statue in Rome. Not only have I placed my hand in this infamous mouth (and fortunately managed to retract it as well), but I spent a few hours one day observing others and came to a few interesting conclusions.
Bocca della Verita
(Mouth of Truth)
Rome, Italy, 2001
by Michael Brein
In travel you are often willing to a take a calculated risk. The ‘Actor’ in you, for example, is constantly trying out new roles and behaviors.
And the ‘Scoundrel,’ for whatever reasons, is always wanting to get away with one thing or another, and not always with the best of intentions in mind. And the ‘Fool’ or the ‘Idiot’ in you is always seeking a new thrill, often at the expense of good common sense.
In travel there are numerous games people play. One I call the “Mouth of Truth” game. And this I played on at least two occasions, once in Japan and later in Rome. How you play this game, is that you stick your hand inside the mouth of a very ominous-looking stone face or statue.
If you are a truthful person, you get to remove your hand from the mouth all in one piece. If you are a liar, well . . . it is said that the statue will never release your hand, and you are doomed to remain with your hand forever ensconced inside the mouth of the statue, for all tourists to gape at.
Why do people take such chances to stick their hands inside the mouths of these statues? What is the draw—what’s the big deal in doing so? I’ve done it myself, and I’ve seen it happen time and again. Every Japanese tourist visiting the famed Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) in Rome HAD to have his or her picture taken with their hands in the mouth.
But why? We all get a charge out of doing so, because we are all ever so slightly scared that maybe, just maybe, the statue will actually NOT give us back our hands. So why are we so scared? Oh my, oh my! It’s because we are all born ‘white liars!’ We are all consummate ‘Actors’; we are ‘Scoundrels’; we are ‘Idiots’; and we are all ‘Fools’ now and again.
In a word, we are all not completely honest or pure in spirit with ourselves and with others. And rightly so that we all have the innate fear that the mouth just might not release our hands.
I was indeed taking a very big risk, myself, as I have been known to proffer a white lie on occasion and even taunt the statues at the very instant of inserting my hand inside the mouths of a variety of statues. I have been known as well to mouth vociferous bald-faced lies while in the very act of doing so.
Now why in the world would I want to do that? One might think that I would exercise better judgment. But no! The more I taunt the mouth—the more I lie—the more exciting it all is.
As rumor has it, tell the truth and you’ll get your hand back out unscathed. But craft a clever or outright lie, and you will NOT be able to retract your hand, and you shall suffer the fate of your hand remaining in the mouth of the statue for eternity. But just because you stick your hand into the mouth and happen to get it out this one time, all in one piece, does not guarantee that your karma will NOT come back to haunt you on some other occasion when you least expect it.
I have indeed nearly similarly chanced as well, the mouths of hippos, lions, tigers, and elephants on occasion. And I have tempted fate by venturing into mouths of caves and the entrances to bad neighborhoods, perhaps going where I should not go. And I ask: are these not also ways of teasing or provoking analogous—“mouths of truths,” but in their other myriad forms?
Perhaps these were not lies told by me, after all, but rather half-truths stretched beyond their limits, yet without quite crossing the line to where they become veritable untruths. Does this not parallel the notion of seeking thrills in some similar way? If you think of ‘exciting’ to mean broaching real danger just to the point where it is not quite truly a risk to life and limb, then not quite lying, might it conceivably be thought of as being nearly the equivalent?
So telling white lies, getting away with things, taking chances—for example, going canoeing on the Zambezi River, dancing with tigers, sticking your head into the mouth of a lion—are all somewhat exciting and thrilling, are they not? I am just as guilty as any other about sticking my hand where it probably should not be!
Does getting away with something in your travels now and again intrigue you ever so slightly?
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