Monday, April 22, 2013

Standing stitch stark naked on the corner of Hollywood and Vine

"Have I ever told you about Boom-Boom?" She had of course, a while back, but I said would love to hear it again. The drinks were ordered – for her a gin and tonic, Tanqueray of course, and for me a Woodford on the rocks – we sat, my erstwhile professor and I, near the window in the bar in the sun undisturbed by the lunchtime murmur from the dining room and the also by the barman who, once he's got our drinks sorted, knows now to let us be whilst we catch up, toast each other, and settle down to a good old natter. We'll eat eventually, conversation being the point not food, and we'll eat very slowly.

"Years ago," she began, "I was den mother to a crowd of students visiting Rome ... it's odd how after all these years they remember you ... completely at a loss ...  all their faces, hundreds of 'em over the years, have blended and, and ... when that twenty-something-year-old is now a grandmother ... but one or two stand out and you cannot but wonder what happened to them."

A bowl of soup – surprisingly, for the time of year, split-pea – half a Cobb salad, and veal in lemon butter caper sauce made their way between our glasses, the bread basket, the butter, and our cutlery, silently brought by the barman, who also, when we asked after her, delight and pride written all over his face, showed us photos on his phone of his months-old daughter. There she was, smiling, blue eyes like her dad's crinkling with happiness and, with a swipe of his finger, laughing and looking straight out at the happy man taking her photograph. There is something entrancing about a baby's laugh, even one unheard – the sound of heaven on earth.

"Well, Miss Kate" said Boom-Boom on her return to the lodging at end of the afternoon, "I could stand stitch-stark naked on the corner of Hollywood and Vine and no-one would give me a second glance, but here in Rome ... " It seems she – curious as any nice Jewish girl well might be in St Peter's Basilica – had spotted an empty confessional and had dropped in for a chat with the priest. Such a meeting of minds was it that the young man had whisked her out of the church and spent the afternoon showing her around Rome, after first taking her for a drink at the bar in the Basilica. "Note," said my prof, "not in the Vatican but in the Basilica. Not many people believe that, but it's true and I've seen it and it's right there on the left as you go into St Peter's – and you need a priest to take you there."

As I say, the first time I heard the story, a while back, the Celt and I went looking for the bar – curious as you might imagine and fully prepared to be as thirsty for a warming spirit as a cold wet day in a gloomy basilica can make one. It's not that we pushed open every door we came across – for most were locked or behind a barrier – but there was one that seemed to be in the right place and, if I remember rightly, had grapes and vines carved into its lintel. But alas it was a door that did not open to us, nor has it yet. It stands near Antonio Canova's Monument to the Stuarts.

As my prof used to say to many an unwilling student "you can check if you wish, I might be lying to you."

Photo of the Monument to the Stuarts in St Peter's, Rome, from Wikipedia Commons


  1. Gotta find a confessional first!

  2. Lovely story, expertly written as always!

  3. ArchitectDesign, thank you. Very kind words, indeed, especially from someone who is himself a very good writer.

  4. I kept checking, I thought I had mislanded on the J Peterman catalog!And you gotta' know I read the owner manuals to the last sentence! Somewhere a door is opening in Rome... To hell with the confessional, I think you need to find Indiana Jones!

  5. home before dark, thank you. I fully intend to open that door at the end of the year with or without Mr Jones. He'd be useful, though – if that is, he's not as creaky as am I.

  6. Here in Chicago, the Field Museum has moved stuff around a lot in the last few decades to make room for traveling blockbuster shows--as I remember, the Harley-Davidson show was a big hit, although don't ask me what bikes had to do with natural history--so I think they've removed a lot of them, but there used to be, on an upper floor, a huge gallery of life-size dioramas of exotic animals in their natural habitats: lions on a sun-scorched African veldt, caribou on the frozen tundra at sunset, exotically-colored birds & snakes in a misty rain forest. The displays were incredible, not because I cared much about the animals themselves--one zebra looks pretty much like another--but because otf the artistry that lay behind the creation of the displays. The lion munching on a dead impala in the foreground of one case was clearly real (if just as dead as his erstwhile prey) and the herd of impala at the edge of the water hole in the distance could only have been painted, even though, in their sunlit details, they looked as crisp as a Richard Estes Photorealist painting.

    What always transfixed me, though, was the in-between area. At what point did the carefully stuffed-&-mounted trophies and the dried grasses stop and the exquisitely painted backdrop begin? Which leaves on that tree were real and which only painted? What was real and what illusion? Thanks to careful lighting and exquisite craftsmanship, you could not tell--and I looked, hard.

    Of course, it was all behind glass in a museum case, so in that sense, none of it was real. But that was merely what one knew--intellectually. What seemed to me more important was the way the whole thing felt: that it was all of it, every bit of it, real--certainly, as real as I was. Meaning, therefore, of course, that none of it was real. That it was all made up. That it was, therefore--I supposed--Art.

    This beautiful written piece is like that: you can't tell where one thing ends and another starts.

    1. Simply Grand, thank you! Your comment is a blogpost in its own right and your phrase "the in-between area" reminds me of the post I never wrote. The Jesu in Rome has a ceiling both trompe l'oeil and real and however long I looked I could not find the in-between area. Fascinating.

      Again, thank you.

  7. Lovely hearing from you, bringing a touch of high life - a floral center piece - I just cut onions and make pictures - and dream of a proper frock :)