No malice or alcohol was to blame, simply a clumsy American girl losing her standing in a chic Roman underground nightclub somewhere near Piazza Navona and Bernini's glorious Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). When I landed at the bottom, I was fortunate to have my head, teeth and legs intact, but my left wrist was horror movie broken. And the pain was excruciating.
I was walked to a taxi and then whisked away to Ospedale Santo Spirito's emergency room which is within walking distance of the Vatican. An orthopedic specialist on-call, Dr. Pannegrossi or as I prefer to call him, Dr. Big Bread, magically reset and cast my arm. Watching him masterfully stretch my wrist back into place and sculpt plaster on top, it was as if I had asked the Gods to allow me to bring a little of Bernini back home with me.
Fortunately for me, my dominant right hand was doing just fine but not so fortunate were my festival and future travel plans. I managed to see two more films. A documentary from Mexico, Carlos Hagerman's Vuelve a la Vida and an Australian film by first time director Yu-Hsiu Camille Chen called Little Sparrows.
Vuelve A La Vida premiere at The 5th International Rome Film Festival. Filmmaker Carlos Hagerman. Photo-Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images Europe
Little Sparrows premiere at The 5th International Rome Film Festival (l-r) Jason Thomas, Yu Hsiu Camille Chen, Nina Deasley, Nicola Bartlett, Melanie Munt, James Hagan. Photo-Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images Europe)
The first was about a larger-than-life fisherman/diver from Acapulco and how he impacted the people around him. The latter was the story of a woman dying of cancer and her relationship with her three grown daughters. Both were well-received and the air of appreciation generated by the mostly Italian audience was tangible. They really love cinema here.
There was some picketing during the festival. Italy, like the United States and many other countries, is struggling with tremendous debt and in an effort to meet fiscal responsibilities is attempting to cut back on arts funding. Arts are always the first to go. So Italian film unions were using the festival as a stage for protesting the proposed budget cuts arguing that it is a cutback of jobs and industry and culture. Not a bad argument amongst the ruins of ancient Rome.
And also like the U.S., Italy is facing the same issues of an aging population that is living longer and creating a greater drain on government benefits. I too suckled from the state teet. I paid not one dime for the medical care I received. My prescription painkillers, yes, they cost about 20 euro, but everything else was free. Not exactly free in that Italian taxes are covering it, but there were no piles of forms to fill, no insurance or credit card to lay down, no freeing my doctor of liability paper requiring my signature, no bureaucratic bullshit. I was hurt, I was well-cared for and I was sent home.
A week later, I had to seek out an orthopedist in Milan, and while finding the right hospital and the right place within it was a challenge, the care was once again top-notch and no bill was delivered. It was particularly amusing that my doctor in Milan is named Dr. Benvenuto. Italy really did "welcome" me with open arms and when I was injured, she administered extremely good aid.
So less films were seen and an invite by a winemaker to a chateau in Tuscany was declined, but I still managed to enjoy Rome's architecture, ancient ruins, the Sistine Chapel and the Borghese Museum. An additional three days in beautiful Florence brought forth the pink and green-marbled duomo,
Renaissance art, the statue of David, heavenly spinach-ricotta dumplings and a visit to the Basilica Santa Croce, the resting place of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Dante to name a few.
Santa Croce is also the site where Miss Lucy Honeychurch gets lost in E.M. Forster's A Room with a View. And my final day in Italy was in Milan with its heart-stopping gothic duomo and a dinner with a 5-course white truffle tasting menu and a sublime Dolcetto.
I don't know if I could ever take a permanent residence outside of the U.S. I love my big country, especially the West, and the wide, open spaces are something I could never give up. But Italians know how to live. They understand balance between work and home. They fill their surroundings with beauty and culture. They don't have to talk about "quality of life" because they already have it.
Hopefully I will be able to go back to next year's film festival and actually partake in it from beginning to end. And hopefully my broken wing did bring back a little Bernini, a little Michelangelo, a little of la dolce vita.