So it is that as the sun rises softly in the east, we bid farewell to beautiful downtown Montacatini. The best part of that village, besides the kind and merry people in it with the notable exception of the unpleasant woman in the pricey eyeglass store next to Benetton, so you’ll know which one to avoid, is Montecatini Alto, which I never knew was there. Not that I have been in Montecatini that often, but had I known about Alto I might have come more often, or at least tried the adventure before. There is a truly ancient finicular(about 1895, I think it said at the bottom by way of informarion) that goes up that great Tuscan hill—a mountain it must be, really—every half hour, at the cost of 7 euros round trip. It is as scenic an adventure as you can have anywhere in Europe, including the great finiculars of Switzerland that everybody knows are there, which distinguishes them from this one, besides that the Swiss ones sway in the wind and at the top of them, when there is a celebration which there wouldn’t be if you weren’t going up there, you will usually find a banker or twelve, which I myself did when I visited Luzern, and thought to interview a jovial(for a Swiss)banker I met atop that mountain, very prominent, for my then gig with the Wall Street Journal Europe, except he was shortly afterward indicted or arrested, I can’t quite remember which, before I could go shopping with him, the cover I used at the time for getting people to relax, and/or tell the truth about themselves. I imagine had he not been on his way to jail he might have told the truth about himself, as even Sir Richard Branson( a combination of P.T. Barnum and an anxious 12 year old) did, so caught up was he with the toys he played with at Sharper Image when I went shopping with him.
Ah but the Montecatini funicular led up not to a pageant of bankers, some of them crooked even though Swiss, but a restaurant hostessed by a cousin of Egi’s, the amazingly loving Mrs. Maccioni, mother of the groom whose wedding I had just attended, wife of the restaurateur. Her good nature is so vast it goes all the way up the mountain, where her cousin, Mirelle, I think it iis, but it may be different in Italian, runs a restaurant. A fine thing about Mirelle, if that is her name, is her sister or cousin Silvia, whom I met at the wedding and loved at once,pailleted as she was in black sparkles, as that is my favorite name. It belongs to the heroine of my musical, which may or may not ever get on, but I still have hope. When I first wrote it, Irving Berlin, whose same birthday I have(May 11,no need to send flowers) was still alive and I hoped to get it on in his lifetime. He lived past a hundred, held on as long as he could. Then I wanted to get it on in my mother’s lifetime, as, if you’ve read any of my novels(The Motherland and Marriage being the best of them,) you will know what a ferocious and funny character she was, as you also would if you saw the studio she left me in the Hampshire House, on its walls a badly restored, cracked in the middle Picasso she had broken over my stepfather’s head. Anyway, towards the end of her life, stunning woman she had been, with great legs a dazzling smile, and irresistible charm, she decided rather than grow old, she would crash parties. Sp she printed up press credentials, phoned ahead to inform them that Helen Schwamm of Gannett Press or Diplomatic World(whichever her cover for the event) was coming, always flawlessly chic in black with diamonds, inevitably ending up an honored guest. When New York celebrated its 100 most important people, under Mayor Koch, Mother was among them. So that is why I loved Silvia, and by connection her cousin, delighting in the lights far below as we looked down from our station in the clouds and had a fine dinner, though I cannot remember the name of the restaurant. If you get to Montecatini, I’m sure everyone can tell you.
There is a great faded glory to Montecatini itself. Knowing little of it history, although I knew more when there were pictures of Princess Grace and the glories that had been that were once posted in the elevators, the elevators at La Pace have been modernized, which little else has. I do, however, remember the day that Grace Kelly died, when I was in Saint Tropez and and the news came through, and the woman at the desk in my hotel said :”Il faut profiter de la Vie.” You must enjoy life.”
Damned straight. The path you walk to the pool at La Pace, its water so pleasantly warm even though it is lined in what seems to be plastic, is the same pathI walked with that sweet, stylish woman who likened the place to ‘Last Year at Marienbad,’ where “nothing ever changes.” The hotel had actually changed a little, primped and polished during the time the Communists were in charge of Monetcatini, so proud were they to have a 5 star hotel, they fixed everything. Even at the time the brothers who run it, Francesco and Stefananino, so kindly rescued me, in 1998 or 9 it had to be when I was Swimming Through Europe, there was a sadness to it, a faded grandeur, that I, in my more skeptical, fractious and facetious self might have looked at with a captious eye. But my beloved and loving friend George, the artist who lives in Radda in Chianti, had come to visit me, and pointed out the aspects of the hotel that existed nowhere else anymore: the unobtrusively beautiful stained glass you might not even notice unless you lifted your eyes, which I understand now you need always do. It’s only our own bellybuttons that have lint in them, so that’s not a place we need to spend a lot of time examining.
Giorgio taught me to be merciful; not easy when you have a tendency to be a smartass. I don’t know why it is that when we are young we think being a smartass is such a good idea. It is one of the benefits of age (how is this possible? Wasn’t I just 20? The youngest one in the class, the youngest one everywhere, the youngest to imagine she could get a musical on and everybody actually encouraged and seemed to agree witn her) that you understand, finally, that, as Aldous Huxley said. “What matters is to be kind.”) The other benefit of being older is that we will not have to live in the world that Greed has made, out whole history washed up in oil on the shores of the Gulf, where there is no Alto, as there is in Montecatini.