Roman Holiday

Sometimes, though not very often, one has the occasion to discover that, deep down beneath the surface, things are actually better than they seem. Some years ago, when she was unequivocally and irresponsibly young, my English friend Natasha G— came to stay with her godfather, Franco Zeffirelli, at his villa in Positano, where a newly famous Russian called Misha Baryshnikov was also a houseguest. With her godfather's blessing in loco parentis, Misha started inviting die teenage daughter of a peer of the realm to nightclubs and discotheques, and eventually fell madly in love with her. Recently, I asked Natasha why she had so cruelly broken the openly heterosexual heart of the Nijinsky of our epoch. "Well, you see," she remembered with visible distaste, "he kept asking me out, and I just hated the way he danced. It was really embarrassing."

The moral of the story will arrive later. Though I write this crouching behind a hotel-room desk in Rome on what feels like a warm spring afternoon, with the Forum's white marble bones showing through the open window like the bleached skeleton of some unlamented casualty of social evolution, my mind keeps turning back to Cortina, with all that rude good health, sparkling with snow and brimming with mulled wine. I have just come back, after two weeks of pretending to ski alongside the Romans who make this Alpine village what it is: a wintertime watering hole...

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