I don’t remember the last time I went to Fontana di Trevi. It was some year long before it had been massively restored on Fendi’s dime, just recently at the beginning of this November. Or maybe, in my mind, the first time I went was around the age of fourteen, when I was introduced to La Dolce Vita. I was, of course, sympathetic to Maddalena (Anouk Aimée), an affluent woman so desperate for adventure and meaning in her life that she finds herself attracted to an ultimately morally bankrupt man like Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni). She held my attention adequately, but it was Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), naturally, who piqued my interest most of all. Proving the long held stereotype that blondes possess more allure and vivacity (and therefore have more fun), I couldn’t take my eyes off of her in any of the few scenes she was in. To me, she embodied the magic of Rome, a place where you could meet anyone, and end up doing anything with them.
It was she who led me, and countless others, to the Barberini stop to see if the fountain could live up to the celluloid version of itself. As with many ironies that characterize Roman history, the original incarnation of the Fontana di Trevi was an aqueduct with a source of “pure” water allegedly discovered by a virgin woman (what is it with Italians and virgins?) who led the ancient Romans to its location eight miles from the city—hence its name, Acqua Vergine. Considering a history like this, the contrast of a Circe-esque woman such as Sylvia beckoning to Marcello to come join her in the fountain vaguely echoes the tale of Adam and Eve. A woman calls out to a man, begs him to do something he doesn’t really want to do and then doesn’t even offer the full sexual carrot that was dangled before him in order to reel him in.
In the wake of continued terrorist threats, the armed guards in the area do not seem to deter those wishing to pay their respects to the iconic fountain. I sift through the hordes to make my way to the edge, throwing a five cent euro over my shoulder (it’s tradition, after all) into the stream as I wish that I will never have to work in an office again, or at all. After putting every ounce of my will into this desire, I sit down and look at the sky-tone water with reverence. This was the spot. The place where Sylvia had swayed to her dance of the unseen goddesses, performed her whimsical whirl for the wayward.
My virgin visit to the fountain, which I cannot recall as I watch the rushing water burst forth from the backdrop of virile, muscular men aggressively holding on to hippocamps, obviously did not evoke within me the same sort of guttural reaction I’m experiencing now. I tune out those around me and imagine myself as Sylvia, carefree and truly unmarred by the burdens of life. I am running my hands through my hair and wading through the water as though it’s a second skin. Marcello is there, looking at me like I might be crazy, but also like I might be his only salvation.
When I open my eyes, I am startled to find myself being escorted out of the water by the nearby guards who have been assigned there to watch out for Islamic extremists, not people with Cecilia in The Purple Rose of Cairo Syndrome. I did not realize that I had become the type who mistakes herself for the woman she wants to be, not the woman she is. But being dragged out of a major landmark with my soggy clothes (not nearly as elegant as Sylvia’s strapless black gown) weighing me down forces me to come to a new conclusion: I can still be Sylvia. No matter how long they keep me at this mental facility in Trieste (which isn’t the worst place to recuperate), I can go back to that fountain any time I want, transmute into a pear-shaped blonde Swedish-American movie star whenever I feel like it. Sono Sylivia nella mia mente.