“Your images are always compelling, my friend, but this one is particularly beautiful,” Harold said. He contemplated one of the pictures I took last week at Villa Arbusto.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I’m curious as to how you managed to capture such poignancy. I’ve been to Arbusto many times and I recognize the terrace and flowered vines and arbors, but I’ve never seen it look like this.”
“Well, I’d like to claim that I had a lot to do with it but, as you may recall, last Saturday was an extraordinarily clear day. You could see the mainland all the way to Gaeta and beyond.”
“I hadn’t noticed, actually.”
“The light was rare. It comes perhaps only once or twice a year. It makes ugly things beautiful, and beautiful things almost mystical.”
“Yes, of course. But it takes an artist to recognize the potential of the atmospherics, don’t you think?”
“I was there. I had a camera. And I took the shots.”
“And we are all the richer for it, lad.”
Harold has never been one to let any given subject go. For this man there always is more to be understood, much more to be said. Which is one of the multitude of reasons I am grateful that we are friends.
He wanted to know what, exactly, happens when I raise the camera and frame a scene in the viewfinder. “In what way is that act analogous to that of the poet, who chooses words and their sequence, or the novelist who arranges sentences and paragraphs?” he asked. “To what extent does your subconscious come to play?”
“Jesus, Harold. I’ll have to think about that for a while.”
“Well, allow me to give you a few nudges.”
“You’ve often talked about the Italian Renaissance poet Vittoria Colonna, haven’t you?”
“And you have drawn parallels between her and YOUR Vittoria, have you not?”
“And you’ve said that role playing is the major connection between the two?”
“Yes. Vittoria Colonna wrote love poems to her absent husband, even though by all accounts there was no love in the marriage. For her they were merely a literary topos, a useful convention. She just played the part of the loving wife.”
“And her beautiful but fictional love poems made her famous as a literary figure.”
“That it did,” I said. “But come on, Harold. What’s the connection between all that and my Villa Arbusto pictures?”
Harold smiled. “It’s perfectly obvious, lad.”
I looked at the images again, one after another. What could he be talking about? “I’m sorry,” I said. “You’ll just have to enlighten me.”
“Of the six images, three of them are of columns.”
“Come on, Harold. Spit it out.”
“Colonna is Italian for column.”
I shook my head. “You are absolutely out of this world.”
“And look," he said, "on each column flowers and vines are superimposed. These are an obvious representation of the feminine. And here, in two of the pictures the flowers and vines cast rather ominous looking shadows against the texture of the column. Verrrrry interesting stuff that mirrors your Vittoria’s struggle with the adoption thing, her identity.”
“There is more.”
I laughed. “Of that I have no doubt.”
“Vittoria Colonna’s role playing in the 16th century is a nice parallel to your Vittoria’s biological mother, the famous movie actress Maria Marrella. So perhaps all of this is what moved you to raise the camera on Arbusto’s terrace last Saturday.”
* * *
Back home I went to my photo file and dug out one of the shots I took of the frescos at the convent of Sant’ Antonio di Padova. Back then I was immediately captivated by a lovely representation of Vittoria. It was eerie, the resemblance between that Renaissance figure and the girl I loved. The painting spoke to me. I heard her voice clearly. Still hear it.
I put the picture back on the table.
A strange sensation enveloped me. I’m now in wholly alien territory, I thought. I put both hands over my face. My throat tightened. Harold had nudged me, all right. How long have I gone along, wholly unaware of the stuff always lurking beneath the surface of things?