Wednesday, March 08, 2006

That's Amore

“A house like this? Oh, say two hundred thousand dollars. Less even.”

Francis Mayes of “Under the Tuscan Sun” authorship was pointing to a slide of a run down Italian farm house. I had gone to see her speak at my small mountain town bookstore. Me and all the other Italo-philes in town with dreams of someday getting our own slice of Tuscan sun.

I was in the midst of house hunting in the mountains but suddenly there was this possibility. Instead of making a practical real estate investment in the little property boom town where I actually lived, I could use that same money – less even – to buy a stone structure in another country where I did not live with no working plumbing, electricity and perhaps not even a road. I was beside myself with excitement.

Having spent junior year abroad many moons ago, I have always been obsessed with getting back to Italy. To live. I have taught Italian. I have compiled an intended coffee table book with my Italy photography and essays on Italian life. When I yell at other LA drivers, it’s in Italian. It just sounds better. Each screenplay I write has references to if not major story arcs in Italy. My weekend treat is to fix myself a latte with my Italian coffee maker and listen to CDs of some of the bands I befriended during my year there. (Amazing how far a smile and an “I’m a DJ from LA” will get you). In short, I’m obsessed and I have been since I was sixteen and first set foot in Italy.

What is it about Italy? Life. They value family and friends over possessions. Art and culture are part of everyday living. The food is amazing, the language is mellifluous, the landscape is breathtaking. Life seems to have more value and richness there.

Several years after that reading of Ms. Mayes’, I own no property in any town and rent a small apartment in the Hollywood hills. But I still think of Italy daily. Is it possible to feel intense homesickness for a place you are not from?

When I saw the KCRW drawing to win tickets to the “Cinema Italian Style” festival at the Egyptian theatre, I entered right away. And I won. I raced into the courtyard of the Egyptian that first night like a starving person to a banquet. Sure I’d get to see some movies, great. But I’d get to be around Italians. Lots of them. For two weeks running. Maybe I’d find a connection, a way back at last to my promised land.

Hearing Italian all around me I squealed and wandered the crowd with a goofy grin on my face. As hoped, the festival had drawn out all the local Italians and other American fools like me. My junior year was brought full circle to me when I ran into a friend who’d been in my dorm that year. He was actually Croatian but close enough. He’d been determined to marry a California girl and get here and so he had.

I’m learning that this town works on attitude and connections. If you pretend you know what you are doing, most people will buy it and if you know the right people, they’ll definitely buy it. When one of the biggest Italian film stars took the red carpet press line, a gasp went up from the girls. He was hot. Un gran bel figo. And married. But I figured it would be cool to meet him, make that connection. And I could, because he had been in a movie by the Big Deal Director. I kicked myself for not having a copy of my latest Italian script with me to hand him.

I marched through the fans right up to him with my hand out. I greeted him in Italian. His face registered “Please don’t hurt me, tall American” until I dropped The Director’s name. Suddenly, this Italian God’s eyes brightened, he grasped my hand and said it was lovely to meet me. We laughed about the Director. The God’s wife, who was equally lovely, told me they’d love to have dinner with him. Ever so usefully, I passed the Director’s number along to them. Here I was, in the middle of an international film power connection. I felt so damn smug.

Later, at the after-party, I chatted briefly with the God’s wife again. It was thrilling to just have access to fame simply because I had the right name to drop. I’d met several new Italian friends that night and saw them watch my apparently effortless ease in getting this access.

I found out later that the God and his wife never got around to calling the Director so he wouldn’t know I’d dropped his name. I was hoping they would. I wondered if he’d wonder about me and all the circulating I was doing. Then I realized, only someone who really doesn’t have carte blanche access to such strata of the business would wonder such a thing.

I have a great teacher here who says in the most satisfying stories, often when our protagonist lets go of what she wants, she gets what she needs. In the end, I got just what I needed out of the festival. I saw some truly fabulous new films (Romanzo Criminale, La Bestia nel Cuore, Quando Sei Nato Non Puoi Piu Nasconderti, Ma Quando Arrivano Le Ragazze?, La Vita Che Vorrei) And was reminded again that the nature of film storytelling doesn’t necessarily have to follow the rigid American Structure most of our films adhere to.

More importantly, I have embarked on some new friendships with Italians who share my film dreams. And better yet, they understand a different approach to life and movies that many of my American friends miss. Plus they appreciate my Italian coffee maker.

One of my new friends took me to a dinner last week with other Italians. Of course, they were all wonderful. One diminutive woman with a spunky joie de vivre informed me she knows my very favorite Italian rock star and can introduce me when he’s next in LA. Her husband, an American with an obvious love of all things Italian turned out to be a director. I told him about my latest Italian script idea. “Let’s see it when you’re done. I’d love to shoot something in Italy,” he said. You and me both, amico.

Though I am now further in terms of miles from the place I dream of living, I am feeling more and more that I am just where I need to be. Every night, as I walk my dog and take stock of my day, I greet the moon with a “Ciao, Luna.” I figure if the moon speaks anything, it’s probably Italian.

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