A cherub’s face, really a sex-stunned preteen’s face, the true face of an Italian country boy introduced to the world just as the forbidden fruit falls from the tree—he turns that face toward her. As a cameraman, Giorgio has seen pretense when it is moving but when she and her putti-proof look laves him in life with the once-over—once, twice, three times—pretense lifts its theatrical skirts high and laughs.
The director is just then addressing her in a babytalk so unintelligible that it might be code or Serbo-Croatian. Replying, she purses her lips in such a way that Giorgio loses focus, watching her again instead of the talking head. He’s been trying hard not to do that, rumor has it that the director screams, and indeed the director turns from another of his mumbled eenie-weenies and begins.
Giorgio lifts a film can to shield himself and nods in perfect agreement, a Yes to everything about her, the index finger’s worth of décolleté, the Magyar cheekbones, the smooth turn of elbow she makes, walking away, To lunch, we will go to lunch, she announces between the director’s Idiot’s! The director has never made a film before, it takes him a long time to fix a shot so he’s lavish with his Idiot’s! in case in playback it is actually himself who’s screwed up.
She is the producer.
With its pizzas in the piazzas, its prix fixe, its piles of pasta prima, Rome insists on lunch as much as she does, and Giorgio and the film crew accept her invitation with eagerness, for they are an especially underpaid documentary crew, enslaved by the promise of pastries and a week in Europe with a director who screams, yes, but who is still paying something. They all cut and walk through the Via Whatever that Giorgio has been trying all morning to capture behind the head-that-talks. I will fix it in the edit, the director says to the producer by way of his apoplexy, by way of explaining the morning’s half-wasted effort, by way of not saying the name Giorgio so she knows it.
O Giorgio, Giorgio, where art thou? says the grip to prompt Giorgio to order.
The producer sits across from him behind a plate of melon covered with the pink salty leather of prosciutto, eating the melon out from under, and Giorgio is dreaming of saving her from a gauche moment, a flagrant disregard for the cuisine by refusing the ham, but at last she spins it onto her fork and takes it into her mouth whole. Does she lick her lips?
Pasta de jour is all he can manage to order.
The director cannot decide what he wants—the al fresco or the al dente or the pizzicato which Giorgio points out is more a musical movement but the director doesn’t hear a word of his. He has the waiter repeat the specials.
Giorgio has been hired for three days of work, and since they are on location, three days becomes only two shared meals and two evenings in which to find this woman alone, or seemingly. Just enough time to lean forward and put his hand on her leg under the table.
Giorgio, you have the face of an angel, she says when he knows his hand is safe enough. Her merely addressing him makes the director declare that he has a headache, to wave the waiter aside with Anything, anything, and ask loudly after her digestion. Has she tried the quince?
He pronounces quince so British-ly, she pulls her legs together and laughs.
The moment the director leaves for the W.C., Giorgio’s Florentine-accented quince sends the rest of the crew into hysterics. They have many reasons to laugh, the least being the impossible director. Exhausted, they have shot nearly one hundred castles in three days on their way to the piazza. But for now, all pretend to be completely happy with the coffee and Giorgio’s cherubic quince.
The producer has not made it to the set before because of complications, she says and offers a smile so dazzling to Giorgio he stops chewing.
A friend of a friend has recommended Giorgio. The promise was that he would give the project entrée where before it only had entrées, provide lite-Fellini even though all they will ever have to film are those talking heads. Begrudgingly, the director introduces them while they wait for the check she will sign. Bella, repeats the producer, imitating Giorgio, her tongue lingering on the Italian.
Your profile, Giorgio says to the subject after the director has beaten him into silence, your profile is Roman.
The subject smiles then, and Giorgio captures this, despite the director’s command of Cut.
This is bad, to disobey the director, to use up film without my express permission, screams the director. The first time Giorgio’s caught doing it, he defends himself: Loose ends, it’s only loose ends. The director glares at him with fury but later, tired of directing, he waves Yes, yes, go ahead with his free hand. His other squirms near the producer’s breast, feeling for it with seriousness.
She could pay for six more films.
She is so rich she doesn’t know about tipping, Giorgio tells the crew, she’s never paid for anything until now. And she speaks perfect Italian from a Swiss education, or so he says after night number one. Very good Italian, he says, Bella, bella. The crew makes him repeat this in soprano, in falsetto, in castrato, until they are crying from laughter.
Those Giorgio-shot bits and loose ends win the film ribbons and awards. The director in the dark of the editing room uses them all, does not disparage or even rage over those bits he can’t remember shooting and certainly not directing but he does make sure to bury Giorgio in the credits. He also cuts all the crew from his wedding list, why, he’s not sure but he gets this funny feeling after all the machinations around his proposal, the severity of the prenuptial papers, the babytalk about the expensive ring that no one but he could possibly translate. He couldn’t.
But this is later, long after the dinner that fetes Giorgio’s departure. Another cameraman made cheaper by a new exchange and country will arrive the next day at the next airport. The crew will miss Giorgio and his putti face, his mimicking English, the hilarious story he tells in Italian about the producer negotiating her proscuitto. Such an angel, they say. In just a few hours, Giorgio’s sleek cases will sit in serial-numbered bundles awaiting pickup in the piazza. At the gelato, the producer excuses herself to make a phone call, and they are not surprised when Giorgio exits behind her.
Instead of reviewing the next day’s shot list, the director toasts all those who remain. To my friends, he says, and they drink to that because it is Italy and they are employed and perhaps out of pity, then he quickly consumes all that’s left of the bottle and has to be steered to the elevator and his number punched.
She arrives at breakfast in flipflops. Giorgio has long ago checked out. Has she left her Milanese pumps in his room and can’t retrieve them? Or did he beg for a fetish? Or has the director locked her out? No one dares offer their own shoes because that would acknowledge her impropriety. They have been made to understand, by the concierge and others, that in Italy, shoes are more important than clothes. No shoe shop will open for hours. Even the waiter is offended, backing away from her table with an Excuse me in English. At last, the director stumbles in, holding a pair aloft. You forgot these, he says, and they kiss so chastely both the staff and the crew look away.
This fall Dzanc Books published the novel Pirate Talk or Mermalade, Terese Svoboda's sixth book of prose.