July 12, 2007

Rome—They changed the name of the most famous city in the world, and renamed the place Valentino, or so it seemed last week in the Eternal City.  What can I say?  I know nothing about fashion, except that I know a beautiful dress when I see one, but I do know a lot about parties, and this one took the cake, all three days of it. 

Valentino’s blend of elegance and sexiness has always attracted brand names.  I suppose Jackie Onassis was among the first to spot his rare talent, but to his credit, Valentino never went the way of Lagerfeld and other snooty seamstresses. In fact to the contrary. The bigger he got, the nicer he became. Mind you, I have always known him to be incredibly generous and considerate of small timers and big shots alike, and this in the cut-throat world of multi-billionaire chancers and fashionistas, a world which makes Hollywood look like the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music.  The festivities even upstaged the Rolling Stones, who were in Rome performing during the same nights, Mick Jagger being among the first to show up at the Valentino parties.

The extravaganza was made possible by the city which turned over some of its most historic sights to Valentino and the Oscar winning film designer Dante Ferretti, who proceeded to put up 40 classical columns illuminated from within in the ruins of the Temple of Venus, adjacent to the Coliseum.  We were driven up by electric carts and then walked on red carpets into this vast space, where more than two thousand years ago Aphrodite ruled supreme. The place was jammed with bold-faced names, fantastic-looking models and Hollywood actresses, yet it felt cozy and almost intimate, the Coliseum serving as a reminder how fleeting beauty and power can be.  Prince Pavlos of Greece,  Princess Marie-Chantal, the Shah’s widow, the princess of Hanover, Caroline of Monaco, Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera and many, many others watched in awe. Dino Goulandris and I were the only other Greeks.

Then came the surprise.  As the moon rose up against the inky, starry sky, high above the Coliseum came ballerinas pirouetting to opera arias by Callas, suspended by invisible wires—a scene so hauntingly beautiful I actually saw some people burst into tears. I could hear the roar of the Roman crowd watching from below, and then came the spectacular fireworks which bathed both the temple and the Coliseum into a phantasmagoric light worthy of the 2000 years of Roman history. I doubt if any of the 300 guests of that first night will soon forget the spectacle.

Next evening there were 940 of us, all seated by one man, Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino’s long time partner and business right hand man, whose taste and Roman charm is legendary among those in the know. The setting this time was the Villa Borghese, a 16th century Palazzo which houses Bernini and Caravaggio treasures, not to mention Titians and Raphaels. A tent in the gardens of the villas resembling a Chinese Pagoda with ceilings over fifty feet high almost overshadowed the setting, and then came Annie Lennox and her cabaret. And the biggest mistake of my life. I got drunk instead of trying to meet the love of my life, Miss Anne Hathaway, of The Devil Wears Prada fame.  I had been told that she was there by the son of a friend, but as young Caspar Bismarck is always pulling my leg, I didn’t believe him and continued with the vodka. By the time I spotted her I was in no shape to make sense and wisely decided on passing up the opportunity in order to be able to fight another day. Ditto for Uma Thurman, Sienna Miller, Natasha Richardson and Jennifer Hudson, all in Valentino and all looking as if the last thing they needed was an introduction to a seventy-year-old drunk.

Mind you, Rome, Valentino parties, beautiful women, and meeting up with old friends was an impossible combination to beat.  I had a wonderful seat next to the Princess of Hanover, then spent some time talking and flirting with the lady who replaced her, Caroline of Monaco.  What a woman, that one. She’s a real enchantress, and had me drooling in no time. As dawn broke, I sat in the gardens watching some of the young laughing and having a good time. It was Gattopardo time, as in the film version of the novel, when Prince Salinas, played by the great Burt Lancaster, watches the young dancing and thinks of his youth and the passage of time, and the changes that have taken place and it’s all there, in his eyes, the eyes that have seen so many things. And for a moment, as always after a great time has been had, I was a bit sad and nostalgic and thought of my youth and the times I had in Rome especially during the 1960 Olympics, but then the sun started to come up my mood brightened and I went home.

They don’t call Rome eternal for nothing. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud famously compared Rome to a “psychical entity in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away, and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one.” Valentino’s three day festivities will not be written in stone, but they will be remembered long after he is gone as the epitome of modern Rome’s tributes to style and taste. 

—The Spectator


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