Buongiorno, ragazzi.

Apologies for the delay this week.

My mother is visiting.

Need I say more?

I mean, I would've gotten to the computer earlier but I first had to explain the theory and concepts behind the Internet („No, there isn't a little man inside that telephone making my e-mail messages fit into the little laptop&Mac183;. ) Then I had to somehow extricate myself from a hair-raising explanation as to why manicures are vital to the long-term health regime. Christ, I had NO IDEA of the danger I was courting by allowing cuticle growth.

I've now shaped and polished. I've pushed --- not cut --- my cuticles. I'm ready for some serious work.

This week our topic is Art. Rome is, after all, a helluva place in which to discover, relish, soak up and just completely adore the genius of the painted canvas, the sculpted marble, the frescoed ceiling.

I signed up for an evening course on the History of the Italian Renaissance. I was assured by the course administrator that although the course was being offered in Italian and being taught by an Italian, I would be able to follow quite clearly and there wouldn't be a problem. And besides, she said, this course will introduce you to a lot of Italians and the Italian way of life. She added that most of the participants are male.

Talk about Marketing 101&Mac183; Somehow, the idea of Italian Renaissance art, in all its glory, became inextricably bound with Italian Romance. I admit it. I had myself living with Marcello Mastroanni circa 1968 by the time we hit the Sistine Chapel.

With that kind of fantasy afoot, I prepared for the first class. Still at home, I changed outfits three times. First I went for an artsy look. Something kind of bohemian. One look in the mirror, however, told me that I looked like the kind of woman who keeps thirty cats, each named for a different semi-obscure literary character. („Oh, don't mind Enobarbus! He'll scratch at your eyes, but just push him away! ).

Next change of outfit was equally unsuccessful; somehow, I'd managed to shrink nine inches and gain twenty pounds. („Buona sera. I'm Amy. I like complex carbohydrates and Caravaggio. )


So then it was the old standby: a black sweater, a pair of black leather hiphuggers, a pair of black boots. Checking myself in the mirror I decided that I'd finally struck the right chord: comfortable on the back of a motorcycle, conversant in the major theories of abstract expressionism.

I headed out toward the Doria-Pamphilj, a thumping great palazzo off the Via del Corso, a little worried about the looming prospect of testing my Italian but willing to give it a go on Marcello's behalf&Mac183;I mean, eventually I'd have to meet his mother and I assumed she'd want a daughter-in-law who speaks the local tongue, no?

I walked into the palazzo and was greeted by Shari Weinstock of „the Tri-State area. For the uninitiated, this means New Jersey. If someone's from Connecticut, they say so; it instantly spells money, a piece of the Mayflower in the living room, uber-blond kids in matching plaid trousers hugging Bud, the family golden retriever. If they're from New York, that gets blurted out, as well. So, process of elimination, that leaves the Garden State. A fact to be hidden, if possible.

So Shari (pronounced SHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH-ree) was clearly a New Jerseyite in Roman clothing. Quickly let it be known she's here with her husband, Danny, who's a dentist and a „genius with gingivitis. (I AM NOT KIDDING. Shaaaaaaahri made have had a taste for irony, but I can't swear to it.)

„Good to know, I said, moving quickly toward the alcohol waiting like a mirage at the other end of the room.

Vino in hand, I proceeded to introduce myself to the others. So here they are:

Sandra (SAHN-dra from Toronto. Swears there's better art in Toronto than in Rome, so I'm not sure she and I will be getting real close. Then there's Diane and Stu. They're from Philadelphia and they're buying a place in Umbria. Or at least they think they're going to buy a place in Umbria. Recent events may have cast doubts on that particular plan, confessed Di.

„You know, she explained, „Italy has been nothing but a huge disappointment. I mean, everyone talks about how great the food is and all that, but we've had terrible experiences, haven't we, Stu?

Stu, a hulk of a man in a Philadelphia Eagles windbreaker, grimaced by way of agreement and pointed to his stomach.

„Don't ask. Acid and gas like you don't even wanna know, continued Di. „Stu's been sick the entire time. Tell her, Stu, she instructed.

I quickly held up a hand, Diana Ross style („Stop In The Name of Lunch ) and managed to cut Stu off at the gastrointestinal pass before he could utter the word "duodenum." Quickly, I turned to the woman on my right and introduced myself.

She was a Brit named Christine. She did not appear to want to discuss digestion, so that was a definite step in the right direction. I learned that Christine is on leave from a major British university and is here in Rome to finish her research on the remains of St. Catherine.

She said, „I'm especially interested in the martyr's forearm.

Or at least that's what I THINK she said.

For at that moment Shaaaaaaaahri --- in pure Dolby sound --- decided to introduce herself to latecomers Glen and Hilda. Now, I just have to say this. Glen and Hilda are the teeniest weeniest people I've ever seen. Four foot, four one max. Like Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Little, minus the birch bark canoe. I am not height-ist, but I do find it difficult to establish relationships when adopting the pike position merely to shake hands.

Although I'm pretty certain Christine reads Rilke on the beach, I decided to make her my art buddy for the duration of this class.

So there you have it. Our class. Garden State Shari, Sandra of the Anti-Toronto Defamation League, Christine, Di and Shitting Stu (as I'm now calling him, at least privately), Babes in Toyland (Glen and Hilda) and yours truly. I would be lying if I said this was the group I'd fantasized about studying Italian art history with, but I can guarantee it will provide some rich material.

So dove (DOH-vay) Marcello?

Hm...perhaps the teacher, I thought.

The teacher, Gorgeous Genovese Giorgio, arrived dressed in a black velvet cape and carrying a motorcycle helmet and a discreet „man bag. Within minutes Giorgio told us (in English) that he's been to America twice: once to see Cher in Atlantic City and a second time for the Barbra Streisand farewell concert in L.A. Right. Okay. Gay. No problem. Great source for interior decorating tips. Probably an excellent dance partner. Maybe even a supplier of Barry Manilow Cds (It's true --- I hear „Weekend in New England and always want to cry). But a man who packs his Prada pumps and flies 6,000 miles to hold a candle and sing Sondheim with Babs is probably NOT going to carry me off to Tuscany for a romantic spring weekend and tell me I'm endlessly fascinating.

Ciao, Marcello.

Still and all, I was excited. For when Giorgio distributed the syllabus and I saw what I will be learning and seeing in situ (the Caravaggios, the Michaelangelos, the Berninis, the Borrominis, the Raphaels), I couldn't help but feel a surge of kinship for and with the fellow pilgrim souls around me: from Shaaaaaahri to Tiny Glen and Even Tinier Hilda. The journey upon which we are about to embark will be rich and rewarding and incredible and wonderful.

And I am reminded of a lesson I am learning over and over again: Fantasies fuel our dreams and get us off our asses when it would be just so much easier to stay at home and watch TV. But fantasy is just that: fantasy. Reality, when it arrives, can be surprising. I thought I'd get Marcello Mastroanni circa 1968 and I ended up instead with Shitting Stu. But you know what? It's the fact that I ended up there AT ALL that makes it all so amazing and so wonderful.

The adventure continues. Ciao!

X A.


© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004