It was just one week ago (this very moment!) that I was driving home from the airport, fresh (or fatigued, depending on your outlook) from my first visit to the beautiful, exasperating, exciting, strange and wonderful county of Italia, a whirlwind week of food, art, history, and friendship. As if the jet lag wasn’t enough we made sure we wore ourselves out, drinking in (literally and figuratively…I still don’t know how I functioned each morning after the wonderful bottle or so of wine I polished off every dinner) everything we could in the short time we had. Our motto: Do it now, process it later.
I live in Southern Ontario, not exactly Hollywood North (although a fair bit of filmmaking does take place in Toronto and isolated areas) so when I see my environs captured on celluloid, it’s usually Anyplace, U.S.A. over top of places familiar to me with all the requisite flag and sign changes. I can still however scream and point as I see these poorly disguised landmarks in movies like Short Circuit, To Die For and Dawn Of the Dead (shot in the mall I used to work at and okay, I simply screamed in pain at Short Circuit). But here was a country so steeped in history, so utterly familiar to those who have never been there that the very names conjure up vivid images, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica, Pompeii, the Colosseum, mozzarella, pizza, Michelangelo. And so I found in my travels that so much of what I was seeing in person revived memories of movies both recent and long forgotten. It seemed as though each sight, taste or smell elicited a film flashback and so I will give a day-by-day reminisce, mingled with the movies brought to mind.
Day One: Rome (the airport at least)-Flying into Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport in Fiumicino, a suburb of Rome I was reminded of the opening scenes of Avanti!, the Billy Wilder-directed Jack Lemmon comedy about an American businessman wrested from his golf-and-martini life to fly to Italy to facilitate the shipping of his father’s body back Stateside, even as he is engulfed by ‘amore’. The opening scenes are the pilot’s view of the approach to Da Vinci Airport and I looked out the small window over the wing (why does it seem I’m always over the wing?) at the vast sprawl of suburban Rome, feeling somewhat more excited about the prospect than Jack Lemmon did. As I climbed into my tiny Fiat Grande Punto and raced down the Autostrade on the 3 1/2 hour journey to our hotel, I felt at times like Matt Damon racing through the countryside in The Italian Job or one of the Bourne movies…until my wife told me to slow down or the GPS bleated its insistence that I was in fact speeding. We arrived at our hotel, jet-lagged and apprehensive about this strange new country.
Day Two: Paestum-A mere four kilometres from our hotel (although the guide book said one kilometre so we decided to ditch the car and get a taste of the countryside…boy, did we ever) is the ancient Greek town of Poseidonia which the Romans later named Paestum, where lay what most historians consider the best-preserved Greek ruins in the world. Beyond the quiet humility I felt as I thought about my relative insignificance in the long dance of history that played out on this plain, I also felt awed as I envisioned a 40-foot-high Laurence Olivier sitting in the enormous temple of Zeus in the Ray Harryhausen ‘classic’, Clash Of the Titans. But what I was most reminded of, sadly, was the movie that played on the plane the day before, the latest Nia Vardalos fiasco My Life In Ruins. The (unfunny) story of a Greek tour guide finding romance with the hunk bus driver while showcasing the beauty of Greece, I was saddened for a fleeting second by the thought of the wasted potential of Vardalos who wrote and starred in the wonderful My Big Fat Greek Wedding then squandered that with Connie and Carla and this latest dreck. Fortunately, the glory of my surroundings woke me from this sad reverie. After our sojourn at the ruins, we stopped for our first lunch in a small bar/gelateria (a bar in Italy is the North American equivalent to a coffee shop) and it was here that one of the real differences between Europe and North America becomes most evident, the food. In North America, we have a philosophy that more and bigger is better. Grocery stores have become supercentres with several dozen varieties of well, everything. Buffets are ubiquitous, obesity is on the rise and processed is the word of the day. In Europe however, they still seem to take pride in their food, both growing and making it. Everywhere we went, from the wonderful hotel restaurant to the Autogrill, Italy’s expressway rest stop the food was terrific and made with care from fresh ingredients. Virtually every local pizzeria featured what I would term ‘artisan’ food. Which leads me to…
Day Three: Rome-We rose at 4:30 for the 3 1/2 hour drive back to Rome. I know, “Why are you driving all the way back to Rome?”, you ask. Well, you see we had tickets for a papal audience at the Vatican at 10:30 and I had never driven in Rome proper so I wanted to get there in plenty of time, for that as well as REAL reason for the trip back, a 12:45 appointment at the top of the Spanish Steps to have our wedding vows renewed (yes, I’m such a romantic)! Well, we made great time (again, Italian Job) and it seemed as we approached the outskirts of Rome and the GPS informed us that we had a half hour to drive just 13 kilometres to reach our exact destination that we were on the cusp of possibly the greatest day of our lives and everything was falling into place. Then we hit the famed Rome traffic jam, five packed lanes as far as the eye could see!
(In the spirit of my beloved serials)…What dastardly deed had the populace of Rome foisted on our hapless hero and his blushing bride-to-be (sort of)? Would they make it to their appointment with destiny? Are their upcoming nuptials in jeopardy? Would the marriage be consummated (okay, ewww..)? Find out in the next spellbinding chapter of From Italy With Love or My Week In Italy Through Film at this theatre next week (or whenever I get the rest done)!