My trip to the Venice Film Festival was, as it happens, my first time in Italy. It was difficult, in a way, not to see it as somehow tying in with the parting from this world of my mother earlier this year. My mom was Italian—maiden name Petrosino, out of Naples—and had done a not-insubstantial bit of traveling in Italy late in life, and had always wished for me to visit the country some day. When she died, I took the goofy Tower of Pisa keychain she had bought on one of her trips and made it my own. So the offer of a trip to Venice coming when it did held some portent/significance for me.
My Lovely Wife joined me in the mid-point of my work in Venice, and after that was done, we traveled to Florence. We were already half-overwhelmed by what we had seen in Venice—the Tintorettos at San Rocco, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, St. Mark's Square, all that—and were further awed by the gorgeousness of Florence. Both places were spectacular enough that one could easily—okay, almost easily—ignore or at least see past their being clotted with tourists. The tourists in Venice were actually mildly amusing, acting as if the place were a giant theme park with art substituting for rides; hence, the Guggenheim Collection was received by most with a detached respect, as in, "Okay, so this is the 'modern' part I guess." In Florence they were a bit more challenging because they made it difficult to get around. Our hotel was so centrally located it was like, "Leave the courtyard and turn left" and boom, you're on the Ponte Vecchio. Convenient but a little daunting. A cab driver later told us things were even worse, crowding-wise, in July, and we just couldn't see it.
Getting around and observing local protocol in a suitably respectful way were sources of some anxiety for the both of us, but nothing crippling. On our first morning there, on our way to a guided tour of the once-secret Medici cabinets in the Palazzo Vecchio, Claire stopped at a cash machine, and as she finished with it, a little old Italian lady, white-haired and short, but still relatively upright in posture, in her late seventies maybe, just said to Claire our of nowhere, "I don't like those machines." She was smiling as she said this, so Claire asked her, "No?" The little old lady said, "I don't a-trust them. When I need money, I go to a bank!" And she smiled and we all laughed and Claire and I wished her a good day.
The next day, we were getting gelato at a place almost next to our hotel—and good God did we eat a LOT of gelato on this trip—and who comes down the narrow sidewalk but, what do you know, that same little old lady. She says hello, and we say hello, and she points to a building across the street. "I used to live there," she says, and we ask her how long, and she answers, and we ask where she lives now, and she points further up the street, and we say so nice to hear that, and have a good day, and so on, and off she goes and off we go.
Later in the afternoon Claire remarked on how it was kind of funny that we ran into and had words with the same woman two afternoons in a row. "It's kind of like something out of a movie," she said.
"Yeah," I said. And I smirked. "You ever notice in Mario Bava movies, he frequently uses old ladies as portents of some horrible doom...?"
"I don't know as many Mario Bava movies as you do," Claire said, elbowing me in the ribs. "I was thinking something more like a Nora Ephron picture."
"Well, we'll see," I said.
The next day we saw the Boboli Gardens and did a little shopping. In years of old, when shopping in Europe, I would go for the obscure-music and unavailable-in-the-U.S. DVD options; during this jaunt, at lunch, Claire and I discussed whether I ought to buy a (Jesus) 400-Euro pair of shoes. It was determined...wait for it...that I would. But I would do it alone, so that Claire might not be further tempted by a far more expensive handbag in that same shop. Instead, Claire would go to a more modest dress shop around the corner while I procured the footwear, and we'd meet in the bookshop between the two places.
I got the shoes. It was exciting. I learned that when you spend that much money on a pair of shoes, you get a free shoehorn. I think that's what I learned, anyway. I wore the shoes out—aside from being striking, they are remarkably comfortable—and went to the bookstore, and was kind of not too excited by it right off the bat. (I'll admit it: my main interest in the place was in seeing whether it had a DVD section, and it didn't.) So I thought I'd just go and join Claire at the dress shop.
As I came out of the bookstore, I saw some flurry of activity on the narrow sidewalk. An American man, a little older than me, short, with white hair—imagine Dustin Hoffman portraying Bernie Madoff during Madoff's "up" years—was brandishing a selfie stick with a phone on it, not trying to take a picture of himself but of someone else. And he was laughing, not very nicely, and shouting, as Americans do at foreigners when they believe that saying words more loudly will make the person who doesn't speak their language miraculously understand those words. He was saying, "Come on! Why won't you let me take your picture?! Mamma mia!!!!?" And he said those last words with a gesticulation of his free hand, a stereotypical "mangia!" gesture commonly employed on '60s sitcoms and such to connote Dago-ness. And running away from him with a terrified look on her face was, yes, "our" little old lady.
She was gone before I could catch her eye, as if there would have been anything for me to do had I caught her eye. The American's friend, a dumpy fellow of the same age in a purple polo shirt, possibly put off by his companion's behavior, said to him, "You know, it's probably some religious objection," and sure, why not, because it was Saturday. I stood there and seethed. I likely don't need to tell you all the things I would have liked to have done, or said, or done and said. But I kept my mouth shut and went over to the dress store and met Claire, who'd gotten two nice dresses.
I didn't want to tell her the story but I kind of had to. "That makes me really sad," she said, as I knew she would. We got to the intersection where the bookstore was and there were our two American friends still, probably discussing how it would be great to privatize the Boboli Gardens and maybe turn it into a golf course. We hoped that we might find our little old lady one last time and maybe buy her a gelato as a means of apologizing for our boorish countrymen. But we did not. And that was the end of the movie, a movie by neither Mario Bava nor Nora Ephron.