Archives for category: Italy

This same trip to Italy, in the late spring of 2001, involved further exploration of the Amalfi coast and a visit to Pompeii – impossible to skip but strangely unaffecting, perhaps because of the crowds and also because of my own confusion, in the vast network of ruins, over what was original and what had been reconstructed or heavily restored.  The Greco-Roman ruins at Paestum, which were virtually deserted and had beautiful roses growing among them, had been more enjoyable, in part, I suppose, because I had fewer expectations attached to them.

At this point, our group had gone its separate ways, and my traveling companion and I found ourselves with a last night in Rome before our flight home.  We didn’t have a hotel reservation, and I lobbied hard to stay, just for this one night, at the Hotel Eden, which my trusty Fodor’s had informed me was “superlative”, had a rooftop bar with a famous view over the city, and – the unanswerable selling point – had been the favorite hotel of Federico Fellini.  We walked in off the street and were given what must have been one of their prettiest rooms.  I’ve been looking at the hotel’s website just now, and none of the rooms photographed on the site have that wonderful green wallpaper.  I hope this doesn’t mean they’ve gotten rid of it!

The sheets were linen… this may have been a first for me, but it was not a last, because I got a couple sets as soon as I could after getting home, and have never looked back.  Linen sheets are not cheap, but they last forever (so far), and I’m surprised they’re not much more popular.  I can still feel the warm air as I sit on the window seat and eat my room service breakfast… heaven.  My traveling companion was complaining about the expense, but once in a while, something really is worth it.

Ordinarily, I’m not given to photographing bathrooms, but this one was so spectacularly be-marbled that I had to document it:

It’s been my idea of the ideal bathroom ever since.  Such an elegant combination of luxury and simplicity.  I see, on Flickr and elsewhere, that others have felt compelled to photograph their Eden bathrooms as well!  But I think ours was the very, very best.

I don’t know what the Eden’s ownership situation was ten years ago, but I see that today it is owned by the Starwood chain, and I hope it doesn’t mean that things there are somehow a little less fabulous, because I would dearly love to stay again one day.  Or is it better, when something is perfect, not to try to go back?

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I recently downloaded years’ worth of old photos – everything since I’ve had a digital camera, which was early 2001 – from a semi-forgotten hard drive onto my laptop.  The images flashed on the screen in front of me as they were imported into iPhoto, and it was sort of like a near-death experience, life flashing before my eyes!

I must say, one of the most memorable and fabulous episodes in that life is the trip I took with a lively and creative group of people to Italy, on the occasion of the burial of the ashes of the poet Gregory Corso in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.  After the events surrounding the interment, we drove south to Positano, to visit Vali Myers.  Born in Australia, Vali was a ballet dancer and artist who moved to Paris as a young girl – a phase recorded in the 1954 photography book Love on the Left Bank, by Ed van der Elsken, available in reprint here.  

She had later lived, at times, in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC, which is how various people in our party knew her, before retiring to her tiny homestead high in the mountains above Positano with a flock of little white dogs, some chickens, and her considerably younger lover and major domo, Gianni.  Vali was seventy years old at the time that I met her.  I was entirely intimidated by everything that I’d heard about her – friends with Cocteau! with Salvador Dali!  subject of films and a book! –  but she turned out to be extremely nice.

The approach to Vali’s hideaway.  This was quite a challenging journey, possible only on foot, and of course we were laden with a picnic and numerous bottles of wine.  In certain spots, if you’d slipped, you could have broken your neck.  I think I took this photo about halfway up.

Vali’s remarkable compound sat in a ravine, at the foot of a cliff and at the edge of another.  Her tiny, domed house, I was told, had been built as a folly by a local aristocrat in the 18th century.  Vali had a sleeping loft in the folly, and Gianni had his own annex.  There were various outbuildings for livestock, whose numbers had gradually dwindled over the years.  Especially, there had been a donkey.  It was very sad when the donkey died, and getting rid of the body had also been extremely problematic.  I think there may have been a similar problem with a pig friend.  

photo by James Rasin

Vali in her house, with dear friend Bobby Yarra, who led us on this visit.  Bobby brought a cassette tape of Tin Pan Alley songs to play on Vali’s battery powered boom box, and they danced outdoors as they used to do at the Chelsea (there was no electricity at Vali’s folly).  You can see why the locals supposedly called her the Witch of Positano.  I would hope that this was an affectionate nickname, because she really was a dear, kind lady.  She called everyone “love”, in her Australian accent.  

She took us up to her sleeping loft and showed us some of her intricate, meticulous, rather shamanistic, pen and ink drawings.  She explained that they could take months or years to complete.  As I recall, all the shading of the forms was composed of infinitesimally tiny dots.

photo by James Rasin

Gianni Menichetti, outside his annex.  He was very quiet in person, but later published a well-received book, Vali Myers: A Memoir, available here.

The view from the front door.

More of Vali’s compound.  I think the stone structure in the foreground must have been an oven, and I do remember that the vine-covered recess in the cliff at the rear housed the little trickling waterfall that was the household’s source of water.  

Some chickens – and notice the curious pink animal pen (I think) that was sculpted to look like you’re looking up someone’s nose!  I wish I had asked about this. 

Two of the cheerful little dogs, by the fireplace in the folly.  Vali had famously lived with a fox as a pet in the past, but the fox was long deceased by the time of this visit.  

Farewell to the folly.  It was essential to leave before dark, because of the precipitous journey down  into town.  Of course we had been having such a good time that the light was starting to get dim, so Gianni kindly conducted us back.  

A dramatic and rather terrifying cavern along the path back down.  It is moving to reflect that Vali, in her extraordinary life in “Vali’s valley”, must have been the latest part of a lineage of interesting and mysterious goings-on in the area that stretched back to the time of the Romans and earlier. 

Within two years, Vali had passed away.  She came down with stomach cancer and moved back to Australia, where she died.  A few weeks beforehand, as I’ve just found on Wikipedia, she was profiled from her hospital bed in Melbourne’s newspaper, The Age; the article concluded with her quote:

“I’ve had 72 absolutely flaming years. It doesn’t bother me at all, because, you know love, when you’ve lived like I have, you’ve done it all. I put all my effort into living; any dope can drop dead,” she says.

“I’m in the hospital now, and I guess I’ll kick the bucket here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everybody. You come into the world and then you go.”

To read more about Vali Myers and to view her art, visit the website of the Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust, here.  I am so glad to have met her.