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Monday, June 7, 2010

The Germans Occupy Rome--for an Evening

The Germans occupied Rome Thursday night. Yes, we were all, about 2,000 of us, occupied and entertained at Villa Massimo, the German cultural academy, just steps off Piazza Bologna. This year's rendition was special, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Academy, a space that had hosted Richard Strauss, Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergmann, Renata Guttuso, Pablo Picasso and Pablo Neruda, among other luminaries.
But first we had to get in, and that proved more difficult than we had imagined while reading the 2-page spread in La Repubblica, which announced "Porte Aperte" (open doors). Indeed, the doors were open, but only for the press and those with invitations. Like others in the small, disaffected group adrift outside, we complained--"it was in the newspaper" and the newspaper had said nothing about invitations, was our argument--but only when Dianne mentioned that we had written a book about Rome that included mention of the Academy did the guard relent and allow us to progress to the next challenge: the press table, manned by three young women. I explained that whatever policy they were applying was "bad public relations," but it was Dianne's Patton-like tactic--brandishing the book, flashing a card with the cover on it (one of the young women actually knew of it)--that brought success, and in we went.

Phase I (the Germans, we found out years ago, don't do free-for-alls), during the waning hours of the day and into twilight, took us into the dozen or so studios of the fellows of the academy, all lined up in row along a wide lane of small stones. This was a no-alcohol phase (though Dianne later claimed to have found some Martini Rossi at one of the drink tables),
but there was lemonade and other bottled drinks, and plenty of salty french fries and chicken fingers served in small, waxy paper bags.

The art and music offerings seemed on the minimal side, a recyling of the avant-garde, new music sensibilities of the German TV serial "Heimat" in more than one studio, a recording of birds singing in another. One woman, interested in what changes could be wrought in the public sphere, had decorated some picnic tables in blue and on them had put bowls of lemons (see photo). Another project involved printing and framing all the newspaper articles written about a 1938 Rome meeting between Hitler and the Pope that never took place, and then there was the decorated saw horse.

One studio was almost entirely taken up with a boxing ring, where at 9 p.m. two young men dressed in the vestments of priests duked it out for 3 rounds until the one dressed all in white knocked out the one with the black trim. When it was over, Dianne said she was surprised that the spectators had clapped.

Our favorite artistic moment was a seductive and complex video by 42-year old Christian Jankowski, which took a TV/newsreel ("Tableau Vivant TV") approach to introducing the artist's work, which involved living tableaus featuring real people "frozen" at their work.
One of the tableaus featured the artist being interviewed (or, should we say, talked about, since he was locked in that pose) in a bathtub where he was coming up with ideas for future tableaus. I hope that's clear. Later we met the artist; Dianne did her networking thing, suggesting that Christian might be interested in Favretto's the 19th-century tableaus (getting pretty esoteroic here). Christian took it all down on his Blackberry, and Bill took this picture.

Phase II was dinner and, at long last, beer and wine, in which we fully indulged, having left the scooter in the garage, all in the dramatic setting of the Villa's main courtyard, its pines and cypruses lit seductively from below. One section of the courtyard was set aside for specially important people, which we knew was not us. The food was served at an enormous oval-shaped table with waiters inside. It was soon mobbed, 3-deep, "pigs at the trough," said Dianne, and it was 40 minutes before we could penetrate enough to grab a few chicken legs and, finally, some white soupy stuff that may have been fish. We spent much of the dinner hour people-watching over a glass of wine, standing on a small podium and leaning against a giant granite column, telling each other how much in love we were and what a grand time we were having (I kid you not).

We had somehow missed dessert, but the evening was not over. For Phase III we ambled over to a make-shift outdoor disco with a classic disco ball overhead, where (after waiting for "qualche minuto" several times), we joyously danced in semi-darkness, first with a bevy of energetic children, then with two tall gay guys, then in a conga line, finally in the full density of the crowded disco (I've been told the current word is "club").

Seldom have we been more, or better, occupied. Nice work, Germany! But next time, make sure the "porte" are really "aperte."


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