Â Â Â Â 19 january- 26 february 2008Â Â Â Â
Pommidoro, an unquiet love
â€˜I am not on earth to help my admirers cross the road.â€™
Antonio Lobo Antunes, Book of Canticles, III
Alas, when I was a boy, was I not minded as I am today?
Or why, minded as I am, to I not once again have perfect cheeks.â€™
This morning again I was hanging around in Via del Corso in Rome, grazing on shop windows, on my way to lunch with Pizzi at Pommidoro, doing everything I could to be late, thinking that out of all these cities that have become the same â€“ the miles of shops selling womenâ€™s shoes, I mean, what is it about women and shoes? â€“ Rome is the one that has resisted most successfully. There is a kind of detachment and irony about Rome that saves the place from absolute vulgarity.Â
But with Pizzi one is never late, because he himself is often late, and later than late. Like, Iâ€™ve known him to be a whole day late. With Pizzi the hours of lateness are beads in a rosary that you tell off at every meeting and time goes slowly like a boat on the sea.
â€˜Donâ€™t worry, order some wine. I recommend the Orvieto. Iâ€™m not feeling too good but, ok, Iâ€™ll be with you, in an hour, an oretta, or if you prefer when he can see each other tonight at home with friends, this morning with the southerly wind, the sirocco that has just got up, yes, Iâ€™m still in Ischia but Iâ€™m taking the first boat, Iâ€™ll be there as soon as the wind dies down, in Rome itâ€™s too hot, start, eat, non ti preoccupare.â€™
Not that he himself can so blithely bear the lateness of others, but then great artists are surrounded by a host of courtiers, flatterers and other hangers-on. That is why, as Pizzi says, â€˜everyone dreams of being an artistâ€™, and here he is whistling sonorously and starting up the old Neapolitan song:
Vide o mare quant’e bello
Spira tanto sentimento
Comme tu chi tiene a mente
Ca scetato o faie sunna
Bravo Pizzi, bravo maestro!
And all around me and I myself, too, as one man:
Cicerenella mia, si’ dolce e bella !
Cicerenella tenÃ©a nu ciardino
e ll’adacquava cu ll’acqua e lu vino….
We gallerists, too, are under an obligation to our artists. Half lackey out of love, half parasites or devotees, and at the same time family men, too.
So, I get to Pommidoro half an hour late. The owner, superbly oblivious to my identity for twenty years now, leaves me to find my way to Pizziâ€™s table, the table in the corner proudly sporting the restaurantâ€™s only â€˜riservatoâ€™ plaque. I sit down with my book, ready for the ritual ordeal of waiting for Pizzi, but as I do so I am suddenly overcome with the desire not to wait this time, with the wish just for once to see Pizzi joyously rush in, come up with a big smile â€“ â€˜da tanta tempo no ci vediamo!â€™ â€“ and crush me with one of those big Roman hugs Iâ€™ve seen him lavish on his friends.
I would like us to launch together into a dazzling conversation about art and poetry, which would be such a change from his grunts and my silences: â€˜What an extraordinary Brice Marden show that was at MoMA!â€™ I would say, and he would tell me that he is rereading Dante, and weâ€™d never have to talk about his esoteric accounting in my travellerâ€™s Italian, or about the price of his paintings, which he always finds
â€˜too low, Vida, ridiculously low.â€™
â€˜But in relation to what, low in relation to what, Pizzi?â€™
or about the paintings he promised but forgot to make, making me want to go into the studio and finish these bloody sodding paintings, except that talent isnâ€™t contagious and you canâ€™t catch it over lunch.
But Pizzi does eventually arrive, reluctantly, and on his way over to me, he stops at a table of regulars, racing paper under his arm and cyclistâ€™s cap on his head, mechanically starting up for the umpteenth time an excited discussion about Roma.
â€˜At the last, the very lastâ€¦ in the last handful of seconds, one of those stonking shots, eh, Pizzi, mate?!â€™
â€˜Totti, what a crook!â€™
â€˜When he starts playing ballâ€¦.â€™
â€˜Trouble is, the brute doesnâ€™t often want to play.â€™
Leaving me and my earnestness to nibble grissini.
In Pizziâ€™s paradise artists are in the choir of angels, closer to God even than the Archangels with their peacock wings covered in sapphires and diamonds, closer than the armed and armoured Thrones, or the severe Dominations; the artists are on Godâ€™s lap. One evening, when a whole group of us, Pizziâ€™s gang, were coming out of the casino in Enghien, half-drunk â€“ I wouldnâ€™t recommend it to you: awful place, pale lighting and cardboard foyer, whores just off the tables, hieratic in their black dresses, wax hands clasping their bags, and all those frenzied faces pressing round the games â€“ Pizziâ€™s assistant, who carries with such aplomb the sweet name of Veronica told me, in her best Strada tones, on the steps of that same casino: â€˜Pizzi has a pure heartâ€™. And from that confidence came my revelation.
In Enghien I did not see Pizzi with his white shirt hanging out dragging his raucous band in the wake of his aura and munificence, no, I saw Pizzi taking slow and hesitant steps under the milky way of his redemption:
Pizzi rises at around noon, lunches, spends the afternoon playing cards, dealing with business, dines at home, then goes to the studio at 11 in the evening, rising with the first rays of dawn, dozing off to the noise of the street, at the hour when mothers holding their childrenâ€™s hands are taking them to school.
At night, when the night is black and blue, and the moon sometimes hangs like a balloon from the studio, and the city goes into a huddle, sinking slowly into the ground, he paints the somnolence of Rome, the slumbering palazzi, the noise of rain on closed blinds, the empty balconies. He paints the beautiful dresses lined up in the dark wardrobes and the balls winding down in the light of sparkling chandeliers. He paints all those nocturnal festivities that as a child one images from the outside, and in the morning when the sun rises he paints the shells picked up on the seashore, one bright as agate, the other blood-coloured, the mysteriously crumpled grasses on the dunes and the lizard skittering from the noise of passers-by.
I was alone last night in Rome, at Pizziâ€™s place.
On his easel he had a painting of a black iron chair lost against a great white ground, that magnificent Spanish white, the black lines of the chair in twisted metal on the white, falsely flat surface, a painting he called his â€˜solitare mioâ€™.
In his spacious studio, gigantic paintings on the wall, dark cathedrals rising skywards, piles of stretchers and unused canvases in the corridors, and leading on to other rooms full of boxes and models â€“ Pizziâ€™s studio smells of the blast furnace, of machinery. You can hear the echo of the din of pistons.
â€˜I should write poetry, itâ€™s less tiringâ€™, Pizzi told me, and we went to the restaurant. We stood for a long while on the terrace outside.
It was cognac time.
â€˜Iâ€™m still waiting for a papal commission!â€™ said Pizzi, his nose in his cognac.
As for me, my plane was leaving early in the morning.
But at two in the morning, in summer, in Rome, itâ€™s like the middle of the evening. Superb girls walking past, artists, friends. Everyone knows everyone else. There was youth on every face. The most beautiful city in the world was looking at itself and time was standing still.
A young artist, straight nose and curly hair, came up and greeted Pizzi.
â€˜So, youâ€™re still a conceptual artist?â€™
â€˜But Pizzi, you always told me one must think,â€™ said the artist. His name was Marco.
â€˜But you think too muchâ€¦ nowadays everyone wants to be a conceptual artist!â€™ said Pizzi. He was drawing on the paper tablecloth and the coffee stain on the cloth became, at the nonchalant tip of his spoon, an amphora, shadowgraphs.â€™
When Marco had left: â€˜Itâ€™s always war between artistsâ€™, he told me. And, as I was rising to my feet, â€˜Youâ€™re not going to bed, Vidal, what are you doing? Itâ€™s not worth it now.â€™
I walked back to my hotel, not my usual hotel in San Lorenzo, but a hotel near the Pantheon. On the walls of Rome, in the half-light of the streets, the dark ochre of the faÃ§ades showed images that trembled in the lamplight â€“ vases, mother-of-pearl-ish shells, shadows outlined with soot, traces of delight sketched by fingers on the roughcast, a silhouette hidden in the opening of a palazzo doorway â€“ Pizziâ€™s painting followed my footsteps, pursued me with its nostalgia. But it was past three in the morning, it was late and so the hotel was closed. I banged on the door, I rang to wake up the watchman, and was about to wearily lie down to kip on the ground when, luckily, along came a carabiniero.
â€˜Iâ€™m sorry, but I canâ€™t manage to wake up the night watchman.
â€˜Sirâ€™, the carabiniero courteously replied, â€˜this is not a hotel. Itâ€™s a bank.â€™ And he took me by the arm and, like a true gentlemen, escorted me to my hotel.
Later I told Pizzi what happened. How he laughed.
At Pommidoro, meanwhile, time was getting on.
While I was waiting, I spread a bit of salt on the tablecloth, an oblong pile. I wanted to make a pretty shell in all the shades of grey and white on the cloth, but all I ended up with was a pile of salt between the glass and the plate.
At home in Paris I have a drawing Pizzi gave me, a sketch, hardly more than a mark.
On an ivory-white sheet, the handsome rag paper that goes by the pretty name of carta inglese, in the bottom left, a little cobalt-blue shell and its shadow, edging forward like an inland sea on the paper, a pale sea with absent shores, and underneath Pizzi has written, â€˜una giornata al mare, Ã¨ pur sempre una giornata al mareâ€™.
(â€˜Journalâ€™, excerpts) [/lang_en]