Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In the Cell of Saint Somebody

Well, that was a short visit. Do you get a refund for not staying at that god awful place? And how long will you be in Venice? Can you write the book there? I'm so confused.
After reading your email I wanted to rent a helicopter and fly you out of there. It's like
you're in Somolia. Our heat wave has finally subsided which is a good thing. We had two weeks of almost 100 degrees daily. Miss you and hope everything works out...let me know when you are safely in Venice...

xxx J.

--- On Sun, 9/6/09, Gwen Davis wrote:

Date: Sunday, September 6, 2009, 7:01 AM
This place, where I sleep at least, brick floors, one tiny carpet too small to accommodate my yoga, not that I am that stretched out anymore, reminds me of a hotel I visited in my WSJ travels, overlooking somewhere I hoped I could find Thornton Wilder’s ghost. You know the place, where he was towards the end of his life--I just can’t remember the name, as I never knew where I was going while travel-writing, having no sense of direction and lacking the map-reading gene. Fortunately there were always people to Guide me(I have always relied on the kindness of strangers, and I spoke French=some.) It was West of Arles, that I remember, because I could understand why van Gogh cut off his ear, having spent too many days in that city, which seemed to me to lack a soul. This hotel was up a mountain looking down on whatever town it was, a few mountains in the distance, a garden below my window with a very happy, noisy young Italian family down there having a meal, calling to me to join them.
My room there was called the cell of St. Whoever, the place being a former monastery, all of the rooms and very small suites named after someone who had given their lives to the church, often literally. My particular cell—don’t suffer too much for me, it had become a Relais-Chateaux and there were live lobsters in a tank beside the dining room and you got to choose your victim, Michelin-prepared—was named after a saint who had pronounced the queen a slut or something worse, so she condemned him to death and while he was being Cheneyed, as I now like to think of it, he forgave her, so they made him a Saint, but not in time to stop the torture. I loved that cell. I was deep into a fantasy romance with a pallid youth who lived far away and was scared of me, so it was the right ambiance for yearning, much as I tried to keep it spiritual. The Italian family had a gorgeous brother who at their behest helicoptered down to meet me, I think, though I can no longer distinguish between the facts of my life and the fiction I was writing at the time, but yes, I think he actually arrived there. We had a delicious flirtation, or maybe it was the dinner, but he was a terrible kisser and I was still, though aging, in my late adolescence, so not really interested. But I loved that hotel the name of which is inscribed in an unpublished manuscript—it was really lightweight, as were my feelings at the time—so when I get home(if) I will let you know where/what it is, and what that place was the lights of which twinkled down below.
Today is the Festival of the Patron Saint of Capranica, whatever his name is, even the natives aren’t sure, so I went with Cristina, daughter of the proprietor who is mad at me for not loving it here, into the village, such as it is, to observe the celebration. There were cannon shots, and deafening firecrackers and ponderous brass music not unlike the parade in the Godfather, villagers dressed in short bright orange robes with gold braid carrying the huge gold and brass effigy of their Saint, radiating out from a painted wooden sun, looking almost more Buddhist/Hindu/Whatever than Catholic, it was so elaborate, the saint like Ganesha though missing the elephant nose. Anyway I will try and find out what he did before leaving here, which I do early tomorrow, having been rescued by my beloved friends the Rusconis, Pietro, their son, renting me his apartment in Venice, with a garden yet. There are just two obstacles between me and what sounds paradisiacal, and that is the Autostrada between here and Fiumicino Airport which I don’t know how to find( I have for some reason lost the gracious accompaniment of my host) and then getting to the train station in Rome. Oh, and getting a reservation. Trenitalia is closed on weekends, and online they said my credit card was unacceptable(they don’t take American Expresss, see the ads) and my MasterCard they will let me know within 48 hours if they can accept. Dispiriting as this is, I don’t want you to think I was able to overcome my fear and trembling in front of the computer. Cristina’s boyfriend is an electrical engineer at IBM and kindly did all the www. But even he was unable to get any satisfaction.
So pray for me, those of you who pray, that I will find the airport, not crash on the Autostrada(I did that once in Poggibonsi and broke my wrist in many pieces which offered me a nice exchange with John Updike some months later, at the New Yorker office, as being a golfer he had actually heard of Poggibonsi; as he shook my hand he noticed it was in a sling, and apologizing, asked if he had hurt me, and I told him “Not as much as the accident.) Those of you who don’t pray, visualize me arriving safely in Venice, happily puttering around my garden, being inspired at my computer. In the meantime I send monastic kisses to all of you and promise to let you know what the Saint of Capranica did, besides get the hell out of Capranica.