Thursday, February 13, 2014

That's Life

My downstairs neighbor was aghast at my audacity.

Out on his porch for a smoke when I came out, he asked if I'd seen the snowman they'd spent an hour last night building.

It would have been hard to miss. It was laying in three parts all along my walkway when I left for my morning constitutional.

After admiring his building skills, I suggested he reassemble it before the second wave of ice and snow in hopes the drop in temperature and ice coating would make it whole again.

Not to mention get it out of my sidewalk.

When I proceeded to clean off my car, he got worried. "You're not going to drive in this, are you?"

The hell I'm not. I'd been looking forward to seeing "It Happened One Night" at the Library of Virginia for weeks and that had already been canceled. No telling if any walkable restaurants were going to stay open tonight.

You're damn right I was going to escape during daylight and before the skies opened up again.

I thought two plus hours with the artistic and well-to-do set in sunny Rome sounded like a grand way to spend this afternoon.

Arriving at the Criterion, the ticket seller informed me I was the third patron of the day. And there are four theaters.

So apparently I was the only person in Richmond seeking an existential Italian afternoon, which also meant that for the first time in my life, I was completely alone in the theater.

I'd chosen "The Great Beauty"- a bittersweet Italian comedy about a man who wrote one perfect book and spent the rest of his life doing nothing more than enjoying literary and society life, going out every night and working occasionally as a magazine writer until he hits his 65th birthday - because I wanted something as far away from a snowy day in Richmond as I could get.

Mission accomplished.

The main character Jep explains that he was destined for sensibility so he was destined to be a writer, albeit one who can afford an apartment with an enormous rooftop patio, complete with hammock, that overlooks the - wait for it - Coliseum.

The whole film is like that, though, with the eternal beauty of Rome as much a character as all his artsy and wealthy friends.

Sometimes it's the city, like a scene where a friend with a case of keys takes him through palaces filled with art at night, or in the country where he attends a wedding where people dance under the shade of huge, old trees.

The kind of people who have elaborate parties with techno music throbbing, go-go dancers and drag queens, people of all ages dancing and casually intellectual conversations.

The kind of party where you'll have a sultry female DJ with a Mac and a string quartet playing along with her.

It's the coincidence of Jep turning 65 and learning that the love of his life, a girl he fell in love with at 18 and then lost, has died.

Bad as that is, it gets worse when her husband of 35 years visits to inform him that he read her diaries and discovered that she'd been in love with him all these years.

There's information that'll change the way you look at life, especially at 65, spurring Jep to observe, "I can't waste any more time doing things I don't want to do."

As a man who's gone through adulthood taking advantage of any woman who offered herself up, he no longer wants to. "At my age, beauty isn't enough," he says after having a pretty young thing pointed out to him.

Even though the extent of his writing is celebrity profiles, he still has the observation instincts of a writer, talking long walks day and night to see what he can see to distract him from his very full life's emptiness.

The film was full of Italian oddities - a recipe-spouting cardinal, a midget editor with blue hair, a toothless, 104-year old saint-to-be, a man wearing only underwear who directs his sexual impulses to masterfully bouncing a soccer ball between every part of his body- and natural beauty.

I found it sad, funny and beautiful, but mostly rueful and contemplative, perhaps an inevitable condition when your each 65.

People, even the saint-to-be, keep asking Jep why he never wrote a second book and he finally concludes, "I was looking for the great beauty but never found it."

Personally, I was looking for an afternoon where the world could have stopped outside and I wouldn't have known it and that's exactly what I got.

When I got home, it was to endless Facebook posts about the house-shaking and fear-inducing "thunder-sleet" that had apparently happened while I was lost in Rome and a sexy, satiric reverie about life.

Somehow I think I got the better end of the stick.

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