Roger Ebert was my teacher. That is, his voice was, and by his voice I mean his writing (and TV as well). When I was a kid, that voice pointed me to what felt like a secret door opening onto whole new continents of film. Sometimes after we watched a film on home video I’d reemerge with one of his books and read aloud his review to my family and we’d consider the picture in that light. Not that I always agreed. But he did that uncanny thing that our favorite critics are somehow able to do: somehow he put into words something I felt but couldn't express.
That voice never really left me. Years and years later, his journal ("The London Perambulator" article, one of my favorites) guided me on my very first walk around London. Funny, his voice almost came to mean more to me after he lost the use of it in the literal sense. On my first first visit to Venice, I kept in the back of my mind the name of his favorite trattoria. One morning I was out exploring and I suddenly looked up and there it was. What’s more, through the window I saw who I thought must surely be the character he’d described so vividly in his journal: Lino, the lively proprietor, busily preparing for the day. Though graying now, I recognized him from Ebert’s description.
I took the liberty of taking a picture. When I returned home I e-mailed Roger the photo, letting him know that I’d stumbled across his favorite trattoria, though I didn’t get to eat there because it was too early. I told him I hoped that this was his old friend Lino, still at it. I didn’t really think I’d hear back. He must get massive amounts of e-mail every day, I thought. Then the response came. He couldn't open the picture and asked me to re-send to his personal e-mail address. I did so, and shortly thereafter came the reply: “Ah, yes! The very place! The beloved man! Now you must go back someday.” There followed an extremely enjoyable e-mail exchange that still feels a bit surreal. Amongst other things, he told me about how beautiful Venice is in the winter, how that was his favorite time to be there.
This only begins to say how much I’ll miss his voice. On Thursday when I first heard the news I sat at my desk and wept.