ITALIA: June 25, 2007

Here’s how it works in Italy. You get up early. (Don’t worry, that gets justified later in the working plan.) For breakfast, you have very little. (Again: Bear with me.) Then you get right straight to work, usually before it even strikes 9:00. This is part of why coffee is such a valued invention in the boot-shaped nation. Around 1:00 or 2:00, you’re pretty famished, and it is coming on HOT. I mean: HOT. It’s not there yet, but the promise is extant, and you won’t be able to work much longer without food or shelter. So, owing to your tiny breakfast, you have a huge lunch, preferably three courses with water and wine. Now it really is really HOT, and the only thing that makes sense is to go to sleep. Only mad dogs and Englishmen would be about their business after such a meal and in such sun, so you go take a nap in order to digest and allow the sun to burn off a little. Two hours later, say around 5:00 or 6:00, you get up feeling rejuvenated and get back to whatever work you were up to earlier in the morning. You only have a few hours in which to do it, so it goes quickly, and by 8:00 or 9:00 you’re out to walk around and enjoy the cooling night. Maybe you have a little dinner then; it’s the best time for something like pizza. You’ll be up until at least midnight, and maybe later, meeting and greeting and getting up to whatever you generally do with your free time. Then you go to sleep again, but you won’t need to for too long (given your midday siesta) before you’re up to do it all again.

Today we woke early to finish as much of our food as we could manage, pile our towels and sheets and sweep out our home of the last two weeks. Heather bid adieu to il Gatto—the cat who adopted us during our stay (I kept trying to get them to name it something other than “the Cat”)—and we drove into Orvieto for some last goodbyes and to drop off our recycling. Before too long we were back in the car headed for Rome, sans bottle and cans and with a gagillion LinguaSi brochures and a few new gifts for loved ones.

Finding the hotel we were to stay in for the next twenty-four hours was a challenge. It’s quite close to centro, but Rome is laid out according to thousands of years of cart trails and paths. It’s even more confusing than Washington D.C. With David as navigator, we eventually made our way to the place, compromising our morals a bit with oncoming-traffic-challenging U-turns and desperate spins around traffic circles. The room was tiny, but air-conditioned, which we haven’t really had in the two weeks of our stay. We dropped our stuff and marched off to find a restaurant for lunch. The waiter was a real charmer, speaking a mélange of Italian, French and English, and he gave Heather the hardest time. It was marvelous (sorry Heather—it really was), and we left smiling and probably remained that way until we collapsed into our air-conditioned beds for a couple of hours. This was the hottest weather we had yet known on the visit.

A couple of hours and a new shirt later, we were up to do what-you-will about the streets of Roma. Eventually we decided upon visiting the Villa Borghese, a huge park with lots of areas and interesting features. After a few wrong turns, and allowing time for David’s enthusiasm for architecture (there are some beautiful buildings here, but I inevitably find the challenge of navigation distracting) we approached the Museum of Modern Art, which lies across the street from the main entrance to the villa. We climbed a huge set of stairs to discover fascinating spaces of trees and neoclassical sculpture and monuments. People were all over, enjoying the shade or resting from tourism. From a few signs, after walking about a bit, we discovered the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre we had heard about was nearby. Sebastiano had worked on building it, and we had wanted to see it the last time we were in Borghese. So we set out to.

Eventually we found it across the way from a huge track that looked to be for racing horses. It looked fairly authentic from the outside, and we walked all the way around it before we could find a space over the fence to peek through an open door, drawn as we were by the sound of some rustic music being played. Our limited view revealed the stage, covered in dust but being danced on by a large group of people. Huh, thought we. Perhaps a rehearsal. Heather and I postulated, based on the men wearing boots that covered their knees and the nature of the dance, perhaps for Much Ado About Nothing. This happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play. Hey gang, we suggested, let’s check the front to see what their season is.

Molto Rumore per Nulla opened their season…the next night. The night we were supposed to be flying back to America. We raged (raged, I tell you) at the injustice of it all. We went away to fume and admire gorgeous garden features, and of course aimed our way back by the theatre to see what we could see of what was going on there later. This was around 8:30, and the attori seemed to be outside chatting on their phones, lounging. Some were playing badminton, of all things (a favorite show-time activity of Heather and I). We hemmed, and we hawed, and I did everything I could to encourage David to go make introductions through the fence, short of actually suggesting that. We lamented Todd’s absence; this is what he’s made to do, to make instant friends and get us in to the party…even when he isn’t the only one who speaks the language with gusto. David wished aloud for him. I continued to say things like, “Hm…if a bunch of foreign actors asked to see our dress rehearsal…how would I respond?” Heather grew increasingly ironic in her commentary on how we had been sighted, ergo clearly stalking the company.

And then, dear goodness from above, David approached the fence and, after a while of hanging there, got the attention of a slender blonde man (one who had been involved with the badminton). I could barely make out what was being exchanged, but I picked up on the shift in tone as David introduced the fact that we were actors. It was touch-and-go, but the actor he spoke to was on our side and asked us to wait while he consulted his director (also playing Beatrice in the show). We anxiously awaited his return: “Ritornorette alla nove.”

And so, after fifteen minutes to find one food cart in one huge park, we returned at 9:00 and were let into the theatre for their final dress rehearsal. It’s a great reproduction, as far as I could tell. Anyway, it felt great to be in there. That’s rather underplaying it. I was thrilled. From where we sat, in the first floor of the benches, we watched the moon crown over and through the open roof, lighting up the sheets stretched across the stage in preparation for the start of the show.

It was magnificent. Didn’t get a word of it, of course (not entirely true, because I’ve got bits memorized), but it was definitely the best production of it I’d ever seen. As I sat there, savoring the play, I thought about a lot of things. They mostly had to do with the strange paths a life can take, how it can seem like what we want is never exactly what we get, yet what we get can—at just such moments—suddenly seem better than what we could have imagined. It’s a romantic place, Italy, in every sense of the word, and doubtless the last day of our visit was having its effect on me, but it also felt like a tiny, apt miracle to be in that theatre, watching a play we essentially had to ourselves. When the play finished, we wanted to stay but understood what comes after such an effort and how tiring such work can be, so we left. But we made sure to exit across the pit while the cast was gathered on stage, and we waved goodbye and wished “buon spectaculo” to our benefactor.

He waved back and called out, and the entire company joined him, “Grazie ragazzi! Ciao ragazzi!”

We walked late into the Roman night, eventually finding and enjoying Fontana di Trevi for a while. Maybe the clown version of Romeo & Juliet is just a dream, but we had one last Italian-inspired thought on it while there: to make the poster an homage to La Dolce Vita with Heather and I (or Todd, or whomever) wearing clown noses in the fountain. And, of course, before leaving to walk the silent Monday night streets of Rome, we cast coins over our left shoulders and into the fountain without looking back.

It’s a tradition. It guarantees your return.