Over the next couple weeks I'll be sharing some of those experiences. Part I - The Roman Birthday Party...
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Maria and I inadvertently discovered an unfortunate truth. When one arrives in Europe with sleep deprivation and an 8-hour jetlag, and one is allowed to nap for only 45 minutes upon arrival before being rocket-propelled along curvy roads to a party being held in a 13th century castle where one is made to consume a six-course meal and interact exclusively in a foreign language, one has exactly 4 hours and 23 minutes of afternoon brain function and adrenaline to expend before one’s energy reserves give out and one’s exhausted head hits the table amidst raucous Romans dancing the electric slide.
Franco’s birthday bash started with an enormous meal worthy of whatever noble type used to occupy the castle. Plates continually appeared; we kept pace with the voracious eaters at our table, forks bouncing amiably while a singer crooned poorly-pronounced American tunes to the appreciative diners. An emcee, who was part comedian/part magician/part late-night talk show host dressed in a retro white suit, wended his way through the tables performing tricks and word plays.
Just when we thought they were going to roll out the cake, Franco’s wife yelled, “E adesso balliamo!” thus turning the dining room into a stage set for Dancing With The Stars. Music poured out of a large speaker and started bouncing off the stone walls while a multi-colored disco light show commenced. The stars –or at least their Italian look-alikes- strutted to the dance floor. We watched Richard Gere twist his hips while his scarf swished in time to the beat. Two couples over from him we spotted a young Tony Bennett gracefully twirl his well-heeled partner in perfectly-executed loops. At one point, when the emcee shouted out instructions for an interactive game-dance, Peter Lorre came and grabbed my hand, forcing me onto the dance floor while smiling and jovially whispering to his friends, “I’m dancing with the Americana.” I think maybe points were being racked up in some manner. Maria was forced into a line dance and passed around like a trophy.
Then things began to turn hazy. Through the fog of fatigue, the lights and music started to warp and it seemed like I was watching a live Fellini film from the inside out. The dancing couples seemed to be all in synch, and the scene appeared to alternately speed up and then slow down while misty camera work gave it a dreamy appearance. Big smiles from Tony Bennett, then the camera cut to a lady with her head resting on her husband’s perfectly-fitting suit jacket, all seen through pearlesque light that would suddenly gain brilliance before fading back to a soft glow. Then Tony Bennett laughed, his face right in front of mine, and I realized that we were not watching the scene so much as the performers were watching us, and being very amused by our droopy eyes and tired heads bobbing toward the table in search of pillows.
I don't think Fellini could have scripted it any better himself.