We stood up and boarded the red train, seats jammed close together but it would be fast and then we would be in Rome. We had spoken about Rome for a time, trying to go in November but then we had been obstructed. We continued to speak about going. Rome as the ultimate capital, the famous layers that Ivan and my mother and everyone spoke about, civilisation upon civilisation in the chaos of that antique city. From Florence, it felt like a first step into the Italian South, the beginning of the fiery half of the peninsula and it promised commotion and warmth. I was pleased as we boarded the train because it had been some time coming, and it was an opportunity in between the duties of home. K had a meeting the next day and we decided to envelope it with two slow nights in a little room in the city.
O’Malley left us the other night just before a filthy day, wet and dark and suitable to mourning. He was our old cat; he had just turned thirteen years old and this made him the equivalent of an old, aching man. He was aching by the end, but not for long and only a little: he became slow and without energy but also without much pain. Only the evening before he passed did he cry a little bit, but more out of confusion. He was confused but then he slept and he passed in peace, and we found him in the darkness of that filthy day. It was raining and the ground was wet but not so wet that it was not difficult to dig a hole deep into the earth. These days both my mother and I lack physical strength, and we had to call on Sonia to be our gravedigger, and she was very good in saying yes. She dug the rusty spade into the earth at the back of the wet olive grove and we stood by and watched.
It is coincidental that I was recently enamored by the black and white of Roma, and that Dean for Christmas happened to gift me a 36 roll of black and white film for my little automatic Olympus Mju. Dean is sweet: he knows something about photography and saw me playing around with the camera. He wanted to encourage the hobby I had been enjoying for the past months. I’d never tried a black and white film before and wasn’t expecting much, especially given my poor focus skills and the slight unpredictability of the Mju. And yet, here I have gathered some of the photos from that film, and I am happy with them. They convey the spots I visited in the first days of January, where I walked, and the persons and creatures I walked with. Although some are lacking in the sharpness of pixel, they are warm and delicate and, perhaps, worth a share.
The charm of the black-and-white in contemporary film in my mind frequently gives way to the dribbles of cliché, echoing the cheap vulgarity of something like Sin City. Even Schindler’s List, in all its historical power, and the brutal beauty of its script, I always found was perfectly emblematic of Steven Spielberg’s somehow formula-oriented, and predictable, way of filmmaking. And yet, yesterday I watched the colorless lights and warmth of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and I was mesmerized. It is shot in black and white, and this is immediately noticeable, but within those limitations Cuarón managed to create a breadth of heat and emotion that I found spectacular.
It was a dim Sunday in winter, when you rise in the afternoon and the day is already dead, but then you take a walk into the darkening evening to make something of the day. It was cold and in Paris and there was a market on not far down the main street. I had arranged to meet Nina there. It was not planned but she lived close to me and I suggested for her to come down. She was free so we took a stroll to the market and walked a little in stale conversation and we had a warm mint tea. They often served a dark, sweet mint tea at the market, with many North Africans, or French with this heritage, living in the city. I liked the tea but I thought at the time that it could have been hotter, and we sat drinking it on one of the wooden benches in the middle of the crowds. It was very busy and I was hanging from the night before, feeling tired and sagged, and I could see that the light was dying. Nina’s eyes were looking at me suggestively and then around the crowds. She looked beautiful but bored.
I met a deaf person today, although I only saw that they were unable to speak, so they may have been just mute. It was in the hospital, a starkly ugly woman in the bed next to mine, just overlapping with my visit by twenty minutes or so. I had seen her before, but never been close to her, and I still had never spoken to or interacted with her. I am unsqeamish, and I frequently say yes to all things and I am not uncomfortable to be around the other older people in the ward. But my heart sunk when I had to lie next to this woman. She was androgenous in her old age, with a grey hair almost spiked, and a slow and cautious body. It was her face that was difficult to look at, and this does not happen frequently to me, but it has sometimes happened to me in the hospital.
My friend Bruno was on the phone the other day, describing his days and life and lamenting the end of the season. It had been the end of the warm season for a few weeks and it was certain now, although the heat was still strong. It was late September, and it was that moment for smiling regretfully, for opening your palms and admitting that it was gone and would only be back beyond the wall of winter. The riverside bar that K and I liked also closed last night for a final time. They held a jazz jam session and it carried on a little past closing time. I had seen Joy there, he was doodling on his guitar on a busy stage with his funny faces. The arm’s chill on the ride back home through the Via delle Sentinelle also reminded me of autumn, and turned the key once more in the lock. Bruno laughed, and confirmed it.
The black car was hot, a furnace boiling under the canvas roof. When I had gotten between the green blades of the gate and had a moment to stop I opened the roof and let the hot air out. Before the roof was off it was a furnace but for a moment it felt good, a dry heat that toasted your body all over. Toasted bodies relieved by the chill of the slight wind. Mariana was giggling and very happy, waving at the girls sitting behind boyfriends on the motorinos at the stoplight. She would wave and say “ciao bella”, and the girl would smile, and then turn back to the boy driving and kiss him on the cheek. The girls sitting on the back of the bikes must have felt funny about this sudden stranger’s affection. They took that affection back to the familiar boys sitting in front of them. It was a hot Friday morning, and the people on the roads were smiling and baking in the sun.
From the marble steps, a large arm stretches out toward me and I instantly recognize him from his photo. Lawrence Osborne is a tall man, with elegant dress and a deep, warm voice. “Should I wear a jacket for this?” He asks, and we look outside, where Florence is soaking in a hard rain. He has just come from his home in Bangkok, where, in early monsoon season, the rain is worse he says. We grab a hotel umbrella and head over to the Gabinetto Vieusseux in the Palazzo Strozzi.
Funny to pair a wine with a moment, and pull cheeks back into a thin smile, twirling the warm blood in the glass. Twirling blood and saying “Yes, a Bolgheri is excellent with game”. It is a silly game, except maybe coming from certain guests or special aficionados, I would guess. What a word, aficionado. From Hemingway’s Fiesta, the word used to refer to bull enthusiasts at San Fermin. The narrator Jake was an aficionado, if I remember it right.