On Friday night I went to NYU’s Casa Italiana to see Una Giornata Particolare (A Special Day), the 1977 film starring Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. It was directed by Ettore Scola, who died last month, and takes place on May 3, 1938 during Adolf Hitler’s visit to Rome.
The day turns out to be special, because while everyone else is at the festivities, the main characters offer each other something unexpected and life-changing. Antonietta, played by Loren, saves Gabriele, played by Mastroianni, from suicide when her wise-cracking Mynah bird escapes. He saves her from blind allegiance to Mussolini and an overbearing blackshirt husband. There is even a touch of the comical as they make love to the boot thumping of Wehrmacht marching songs.
In one day they meet, turn each other’s lives upside down, and then depart, never to see each other again. Antonietta trudges back to her perch overlooking the apartment complex courtyard. Gabriele is taken away by party henchmen for being a frocio (faggot) and thus an enemy of the state.
The movie got me thinking about my special day. It was on September 23, 2012 in Barcelona. It was the first day after a business ethics conference, and Maxi, a German graduate student, wanted to see the sites. I had time, since I always set aside a day after conferences for exploring, especially when I am in a new city. So, after everyone else departed, we spent the day taking in everything the city had to offer: museums, parks, cafes, and shops.
I am not a big fan of Antoni Gaudí, which is a problem in Barcelona, because his architecture is all over the place. To me, his buildings look like a mixture of gutted fish entrails and a melted candle in a chianti bottle. But Maxi liked them, especially the church of La Sagrada Família and Park Güell.
What I liked was being with Maxi. We were on a date without it being a date. What’s more, we were on a first date, which is why I was so nervous I got to the rendezvous point the next morning forty-five minutes early. That’s never done in Barcelona. Maybe I am too used to living alone, but being with Maxi felt right from the moment we met, even at Las Ramblas where a thief tried to steal my cellphone and was nabbed by the police. Even during the long walk to Park Güell and the eventual argument over where to eat. If that doesn’t mark you as a couple, I don’t know what does.
What made the day even more fantastic was that we spoke German for most of it, since Maxi had gotten worn out speaking English at the conference. My German was good enough to keep things interesting and brought us closer together. We were two foreigners exploring a new world from within our private one. We belonged together.
If Antonietta gave Gabriele renewed life, Maxi gave me renewed youth, a chance to be a student again with few cares and time to enjoy life as if for the first time. Sometime during the day I remembered Professor Dirk Visser from Ursinus College and the look he gave me and my girlfriend as we strode by arm-in-arm one spring day just prior to our graduation. I understood that look now.
If Gabriele gave Antonietta a deeper understanding of herself and a chance to face her fears, then I might have given Maxi a deeper understanding of men and relationships, perhaps even the insight that intimacy exists on many levels, some unpredictable. I cannot be sure, though, since we never spoke about it and I have not seen her since.
If we ever meet again, I would like to tell her what she did for me that day and maybe recite the famous line from Goethe’s Faust about those magic moments in life that you never want to end: Verweil doch! Du bist so schön (Stay awhile! You are so beautiful!).
Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Look out for Nine Lives. It’s coming to a theatre near you! Note to self: The first cup of tea is bitter like life. The second is sweet like love. The third cup needs a lot of sugar. It is gentle like death.