May 31 2013
The last day of the month and the first page of a new journal; and if ever there was a month begging to turn over a new leaf this May would have been it. Yesterday, we returned from 3 days in Rome where we experienced one whole day without rain…the only day in the last four weeks without at least one downpour.
But one couldn’t really say the sun was shining in Rome, either literally or metaphorically. Rome is no longer the eternal city by which that description once referred to its everlasting splendor. Sadly one could say it is an example of the larger picture of today’s Italy. Once a city of triumph and invention, it now gives off the stale air of defeat: historic sites continue to crumble, lacking either the will or the funds to preserve them. Streets that even 20 years ago remained a warren of little artisanal shops, along with butchers and bakers and all the other once necessary everyday trades, before our plastic, disposable era took over, are now gone, only to be replaced by clothing and shoe stores. Street after street of them, from the so-called high-end designer shops to the cheap schlock of mass-produced ca-ca.
To walk these streets is to feel exhaustion and depression bordering on hopelessness. What’s wrong with us that we have become a species in constant need of adornment? Is it because there are too many of us and we are afraid of not being visible in the crowd? Or is it that the threat of extinction addicts us to the need to be looking in the mirror not only for proof that we still exist but that with the acquisition of new vestments we can fool ourselves into thinking we are capable of constant reinvention? And what irony that in this need to individuate ourselves we shop in stores the identical ones of which can now be found in every city.
Talking about irony, how can it be that thousands of tourists sitting on the Spanish Steps, shopping bags by their sides, can look so utterly lacking in self-respect. To stand at the bottom of that grand flight of steps and look at what sits on it is to feel a profound sadness and disappointment in humanity. As I made my own way up the steps an image came to me of gentry and workers from the 19th Century dressed either in their black finery or their work-clothes, which although not of the elegance of the upper classes, nonetheless, were patched and worn with dignity. Interestingly, I saw all the shades of the past climbing the stairs, while at the same time I saw today’s population descending it.
I first saw Rome as an 18 year-old, the summer of my 3-month hitchhiking journey around Europe and I remember feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the city’s grandeur and history, I who had so little of either. Yet it seemed full of romance and possibility then. Now it feels close to pillaged and, as if to underline its entropy, we found a chilling lack of children.
Joel, Gianni and I had left for Rome on Monday to do a commercial shoot at Cinè Cittá. Our hotel, boasting 4 stars, was worthy of only 2 of them and although we’re all good sports, there are some things we’re just too old to put up with, brown wool blankets in place of duvets being one of them. So we made arrangements to move the next day to a hotel that had earned its four stars. In the meantime, we spent that first evening walking the streets before dining in a restaurant that nearly threw us out as Gianni and I were goofing so much. Indeed, walking the streets again after dinner, to postpone as long as possible the return to our star-less beds, Gianni made me laugh so hard that I actually had to sit down on the sidewalk to avoid wetting myself.
The next morning we cast the models for the shoot and after lunch-on-the-run, were driven to Cinè Cittá, the famed film studios which once rivaled Hollywood and where, amongst other greats, Fellini shot his masterpieces. More sadness. Not a sign of life, never mind creativity, only row upon row of abandoned film lots, studios and theaters and one lonely prop truck. Fellini’s studio smells of mold and the whole place emanated brown.
Joel, the original optimist and consummate professional, shone his light, choosing locations for the morrow as though he’d come across gold, while I tried not to look at Gianni for fear of needing to sit in ground once more, this time to cry. The hour-long drive back to the city center did nothing to lift our spirits, but the new hotel did, with its grand entrance, friendly staff, marble staircase and deep bathtubs, the 3 of us bouncing on the downy beds like children. And it was then that I decided we needed even more pampering.
I called the Hassler Hotel, just a few steps down the street from ours, to see if they had a table for us in its 5 star restaurant and for once the Roman Gods smiled upon us. And so it was that bathed and dressed, we 3 musketeers linked arms and breezed into the restaurant’s grand room like film stars. Our table, although not next to the wall-to-wall windows, nonetheless provided us with the full panoramic view of Rome graced by the setting sun. From that vantage point, 6 floors up, Rome lay before and below us in the recognizable splendor of its past. A city of domes and steeples, statues and columns, obelisques and angels and, amazingly, completely devoid of tall buildings, it seemed to say, don’t give up, all is not yet lost.
We dined and laughed and philosophized our way through 5 courses before, once again, linking arms and giggling our way up the marble staircase to our beds.
But I was tired. I am tired. I’ve reached another moment in our adventure abroad where recent ailments, lousy weather, lack of a fireplace and the missing of family and friends have momentarily taken me down. And doesn’t the body always have the last word? We can argue with ourselves all we want about how we should feel, but if we don’t accept how we do feel, the body will be sure to eventually let us know.
The truth is, I really hadn’t wanted to go to Rome at all. I wanted to say here, work on my novel and not talk to anyone in any language. But I also wanted to be supportive of Joel, who I know is past doing commercial jobs, not only because he no longer needs to, but because, really, he’s an artist and he’s 75, and he deserves to play in his sandbox. The reasons for taking the job cannot be discussed here, so let it suffice to say that it was for a worthy cause.
So, how very amusing, that I, who really wanted to spend 3 days in silence instead went to Rome on a shoot involving 10 people. And how very interesting that a canker sore on the side of my tongue grew in size and discomfort to the point where I actually couldn’t talk.
This age-old behavior of allowing myself to be pressured into doing what I don’t want to do has always, eventually, led to a level of stress where my body breaks down, thereby finally allowing me to not do what I don’t want to do, but unfortunately, depleting me to the point where neither can I do want I want to do.
This human frailty, which most of us engage in to some degree or another, seems to me one of the most necessary issues for each of us to address, because if we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we possibly take care of Rome?