June 12, 2009
This afternoon I passed through Cetona, a thimble-sized town knwn for its oblong piazza (pictured below), its fat old men sitting on the shady patio of the only open bar around 4 p.m., and, my business acquaintance told me, Valentino's vacation home -- tucked behind a thick wall.
"Are you serious? You have it on authority that Valentino lives here?"
"Yes! Only in the summer, on weekends. Not all the time."
"So what are the chances that he's here now?"
"It is possible."
After a day of meetings, we were heading back to the train station so I could return to Florence. As we passed through Cetona, he drove slowly, and then indicated the palazzo from the car.
It was massive, the color of orange sorbet.
What I wanted to do: Get out, run up to the buzzer and ask Signor Valentino to tea, coffee, a drink, a conversation, anything. But I held back. What if this man driving me to the station, who is not exactly a client, but certainly someone with whom I need to act professionally, thinks I'm a totally immature American tourist with a star-f*cking complex? (And hey, maybe I am, but does he need to know?)
I decided to test the waters.
"Have you ever had the impulse to ring the bell? I mean, do you think people ever do that?"
"I'm sure they do."
"Do you think he'd be nice?"
"I heard that he is. When he's in this town, especially, he acts like one of the locals. Has coffee in the square, talks to people."
"Would you be interested having a coffee, the three of us? If I rang the bell?"
"What do we have to lose. If he says no at least we tried."
A kindred spirit! Eccellente.
Behind the wall, the villa was barely visible. The door was huge and imposing and wooden, tall enough to let a horse carriage with lit torches to pass through, wide enough for an RV.
We both got out of the car.
I approached the buzzer.
My heartbeat quickened.
"Si?" an old woman's voice answered.
I looked into the eye of the camera that was surely watching me.
"Buongiorno. Cercavo il Signore Valentino. E a casa?" (Hello. I am looking for Mr. Valentino. Is he home?"
"Non c'e. Chi lo cerca?" (He's not here. Who's asking?)
"Va bene. Non importa. La ringrazio. Arrivederci." (Ok, forget it. Thanks. See you later!)
Gained: Nothing, and yet something. I tried to ask a fashion icon to hang out for the afternoon. Or even just chat for a minute. Something I would have never done before last July... It was an attempt that could have ended with coffee at his villa, or maybe a swearword and the boot. But at least I went for it. Worth this story, if nothing else.