The Guest Room
Musings, Memories & Epiphanies Inspired by Place
A Day with the Gods
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
I could feel that familiar restlessness stirring once again . . . that longing that would start as a lingering shadow of an idea and grow until it reached an all-consuming fever pitch. I had lived in Ireland, traveled to Scotland, London and Greece just to mention a few destinations but it had been several years since I had made a major jaunt. Where would it be this time? I was getting fidgety in my relationship with an adorable man of Italian descent but was madly in love with his cultural heritage — Italy would be it.
One week vacations have never been an option — nothing less than a month would do so I cashed in a money market and booked a villa in Calabria; the town was Tropea in Southern Italy. This snapshot is of a moment in time that has become but a shadow of a memory, however; revisiting it brings a smile and, yes, a wistful longing.
After 10 days of driving around this quaint little town that I would call home for 31 days, I came upon a brochure telling of the Greco-Roman statues Città di Reggio Calabria. Given that Greek Literature was a passion of mine in college I simply had to see them — a decision that would leave a lasting imprint on my mind, my heart and my soul.
I got in my rented Opal, Andrea Bocelli in the tape player, windows open and traveled the 58 miles down the A3 coast road through Rosarno, Palmi and Scilla until reaching my destination of Reggio Calabria. I booked a hotel room for more than I could afford, enjoyed a delightful dinner and rested myself for my next day excursion. I spoke no Italian and English was rare in this part of Italy — a minor detail that bothered me not in the least.
Butterflies stirred as I pulled into the parking lot of the Museo Nationale Reggio Calabria — here I was a 44 year-old woman alone in Italy — the epitome of every movie cliché but surely it was a dream for me. I purchased my tickets, collected my map and went straight to the gallery of my intent.
The room was surprisingly small and in retrospect this achieved what I believe to be the desired impact of the statues. As I rounded the corner; there before my eyes stood two of the most amazingly beautiful men I have or believe I will ever behold. There, I sat alone absorbing the wonder of these spectacular specimens of ultimate masculinity. I was frozen in time on a marble bench, wondering about their lives, their loves; their world.The beauty of their faces in the fullness of their lips, the curvature of their muscles, the strength in their presence drew me with the power of the gods that had so overwhelmed me in my literary studies. In the solitude of that moment my eyes began to sting, my heart began to pound and there I was-nothing compared to the wonder I felt. I experienced a realization that I was but a tiny speck in the realm of the universe.
My solitude was abruptly broken when to my right I saw a man and a woman enter the gallery. He held her right arm and she held a white cane in her left. I thought that even her blindness could not keep her from these treasures. At that moment a museum employee entered the gallery, his beauty rivaled that of the statues — he reminded me of the actor Omar Sharif with his salt and pepper mass of curly hair, his full mustache and his golden eyes.
He then invited the woman to touch the statues . . . my heart sank. Oh how I longed to feel the smoothness of the bronze skin and the firmness of the thighs to put my hands where the ancient Greeks and Romans hands had been. For a fleeting moment I envied her blindness. Tears streaked my cheeks as I watched her joy at touching these magnificent beings. Before long these two left the gallery satisfied, but; I could not — I felt as if my legs had become one with the cold marble on which I sat.
Out of nowhere I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to see my Omar Sharif standing beside me with his hand held out to me. I could not understand a word he spoke but his smile was warm and to not follow him was not an option . . . I was not afraid as he took my hand. He led me up two flights of winding marble stairs . . . now I look back in wonder that I followed him so willingly. At the top of the second flight of stairs he opened an incredibly ornate door that revealed a room bathed in sunlight streaming through the arched floor-to-ceiling windows. All I could think is “this is where the gods live.”
This man whose name I knew not led me into a room that had easels and tables with baroque and renaissance paintings on them. There was more art stored in this room that I had ever seen in a museum. He led me by the hand to paintings and described each one in Italian and for a piece of time I understood the language perfectly. Oh — that a Greek God would wield his power through the magnificent panes of glass and freeze this perfect moment. Everything was magnified — the gentle way his left arm draped around my shoulder and his right hand held mine, the smell of paint mixed with age, the dancing particles of dust in the streaming sunlight — yes this could be what heaven is like.
As this man led me out and back down the stairs a sorrow came over me at having to leave him. He walked me to the exit and turned me toward him, kissed both my hands and ever so lightly kissed my lips and whispered Ciao Bella Donna.
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