True he had only this small stone house and an old car that had belonged to Barbara and was still covered with all kinds of save the world and environment stickers. I found it curious that there was no bitterness in him, that he had no regrets.
I believe it was his personality, his wit, which made people want to help him. Even now he was the darling of the English-speaking contingent. That evening, he had company, Tim, a boy who dealt in wine, and his parents. A sweet young man in G’s words, who was head over heels in love with a girl who took advantage of him, did what she wanted and made him miserable. Then he would come to Giulio. For advice, which he never followed. It was a lovely evening. People accept Giulio for what he is, appreciate him and pay no attention to his surroundings. Tim had even brought a small electric oven where he roasted potatoes and sausages. A sort of bringing of offerings to the gods.
I did ask Giulio what he did all day and he looked at me rather surprised. “Why there are so many things to do. Music, reading, and just sitting outside where I can see the sky, hear the birds – I know them all – feel the warmth of the sun. I watch television sometimes too – there’s one program which has pretty women in it – it’s one of the soap operas.”
Yes, he did love women. How many had there been in his life? At least in our phone calls, I finally figured out who some of them were. There was N, his first wife, who used to sing and play Mozart all the time and gave him a gift no money could buy, he said (even though she was the one who deprived him of all his property). Then there was G with whom he lived about six years. And then Barbara, the mother of his third Italian daughter. Yes, he was fascinated by women. And was delighted when he asked me what he should tell his daughter about me coming to visit him and I said, well, tell her I’m your lady friend.
As we sat outside we could hear guns going off every so often. It was the hunting season. How he hated it. He mentioned it in his letter of November 10th.
November 10, 2006
“People come here, even all the way from Florence, to hunt in the hills and woods around my house. They take the pheasants and hares that they themselves have released for the purpose, but they also shoot the songbirds. Other hunters organize “battute di caccia” whole squads of men with powerful rifles, packs of dogs and men with hunting horns corner the boars and slaughter them.”
“Now I feel that we all, humans and animals and plants are all closely related, all mysteriously part of the film of life that covers our little planet, all kindred, all miraculously generated in some warm primordial pond. I understand that we must kill for food and for self-preservation, rid our fields of insects that devour our crops and eliminate the bacteria that threaten our health and I’m sure the intestinal worm should die the death. But because of this unique kinship with all living things the death of any creation whatsoever concerns us all. So it’s repugnant to me that anyone should kill for fun. I feel that the cessation of a life, any life, should be attended with a proper reverence and awe.”
November 19, 2006
“So I have finished the book (I had sent him A Tuscan Childhood by Kinta Beevor because I was sure it described his world as well as hers) and liked it a lot. Some people in it I knew, others I knew of and others, older ones, my mother knew. The handsome naval officer, for instance, who came from Spezia to the castle to greet them on their honeymoon, I did not know because he was soon killed in the war. His widow, however, Marcella, married my oldest friend David Lus, a photographer. This officer, Alessio Oulionfieff (?), had previously had a son with Marcella – also a handsome dashing lad, who was my daughter Chris’s first lover when she was a teen-ager.”
November 25, 2006
“This morning I got your letter… also the Rembrandt, one of my favorite paintings. But what makes it so good? We know the story and see she’s disturbed, “sovrappensiero”, perhaps having disturbing intimations of what might befall. Her husband’s murder, Solomon. But surely the greatness of the painting has nothing to do with the story (Sometimes it’s best not to know – Giorgione’s “Three Kings” for instance). It’s something hard to describe, to do with the quality of the painting, the way it is seen by painter (and us too). What do you think? (The way he makes us see). Sometimes great music makes me feel a privileged communion with a great mind.”
Called Giulio yesterday. He was doing exercises. He had Brahms on the radio. I tell him that for his age he’s doing great. Almost 86. Physically, he may have his problems – pacemaker, catheter (which I hope he’ll get used to – at least it lets him sleep and not feel the urge to urinate all the time), diabetes (which he seems to have under control) – but mentally he’s fine. That and a lack of pain – isn’t that what matters?
Then as old age finally caught up with him, the phone calls became descriptions of his problems – of his incontinence and how the bag he had hooked up came unhooked and wet him through and through, of his suffering and pain, of the time he fell.
Don’t forget me, he said every time we ended our phone conversations. No, I never will, I reassure him.
He had told me his story or at least part of it, roughly sketched it in. And he had taught me many things. Perhaps, symbolically, it can be summed up by the fact that a boiled egg is just as good boiled in a chipped enamel pot without a handle as it is in the most modern shiny stainless steel pot.
Giulio was unique. As we all are. But he was not afraid to be unique and perhaps that makes all the difference. He had lived and had loved, both his fellows and the world around him. I was talking with a friend about Giulio, and he asked me “Do you miss him?” I hadn’t ever thought about it, but yes, I miss him and I always shall.
To be continued . . .