The St. Gotthard Pass was her salvation. The one place she could go after being banished from Italy to hover above her homeland as though she was an angel that soon might fall back down to what she considered her real heaven. Of course, she often wondered if making the sacrifice to be with Carlo had been worth it all. And then, when they dabbled in living in France, she felt all the more certain she had made a mistake. Her effervescent, ebullient Italian nature was at odds with the culture–and oh dio, all that butter they cooked with. Yet it was the only place they were able to finagle citizenship so that Carlo’s horrid wife, Giuliana, could obtain a “French divorce,” one that Italy would recognize despite not being able to sanction its own. That would go against the country’s views on the holy bounds of matrimony.
Being away for so long, she almost started to forget what real food tasted like. Luckily, she cooked for herself and Carlo, who grew expectant of his lunches and dinners as she took on the full-blown role of wife instead of concubine. Yet Carlo didn’t ever seem to hold up his end of the bargain. Always falling short (no pun intended) in some way. Whether getting himself branded as a bigamist, or being arrested for tax evasion (a seemingly true Italian quality), it was almost as if Carlo had made a sport out of embarrassing her. Maybe that was the real reason behind why she “carried out the Cary affair”–because she wanted to humiliate him in her own way as well. Prove that he didn’t have the monopoly on making a fool out of someone.
Cary, like Carlo, was also much older, in addition to having a name that started with a “C.” C is for coglione. Both of them might have been disproportionate to her own age, but it was Carlo who forever embodied the role of her missing “daddy.” Not having a father obviously colored her romantic choice, and it was easy to admit to the press that a large aspect of their dynamic was of the father-daughter variety. There was nothing “filthy” about acknowledging that back then. And even now, at least in Italy, it’s still not a shocking revelation to parade such a “motive” behind what drove their love. But Carlo was dead now, and most people had forgotten about her unless some film anniversary or milestone birthday came along and they felt obliged to dredge up a commemorative retrospective or according article.
Over time, she grew contented to remain in Geneva despite the constant pang that was her yearning for Southern Italy. So she kept houses in Naples and Rome even though it was less and less likely that she would stay in them. The fact that they were there–just in case–was a small comfort to the pain she’d grown used to. The absence of herself inside of Italy, but Italy always inside of her. And anyway, it’s not as though she ever really left her house. She was like Norma Desmond now, only with no desire to seek out a younger Joe Gillis-type companion. She had always been the one who was younger, and she wasn’t about to flip the script now. An Academy Award-winning actress always stuck to the screenplay.
Though there were some alterations she could make, some perceptions she could amend; mainly the ones Americans had about all Italians being “either waiters or gangsters.” She mused, “All they saw was a foreign actress. They tried to change me.” But it was already change enough to move away from Italia in the first place. “Move” wasn’t the word. It was “exile,” bumming around on the French Riviera in rented villas and then hopping to Switzerland to switch to rented chalets. They could try to pretend to dress it up as glamor, but the “diamonds” were rhinestones. And the stain of their shame was evidenced by being unaccepted in their own country, damned as sinners and enemies of God–excommunicated and upheld for all the rest of the married men of Italy to think twice before considering their mistress as “wife material.” Illegitimate in childhood, so she remained in adulthood.
But then, maybe there was something ultimately kismet in the exile. How else would she have found the best fertility treatments Europe had to offer? They were all in Switzerland. And, after two miscarriages, when she gave birth to both of her children there, Geneva suddenly felt more like home. So she began to act correspondingly, decorating the house more fervently, outfitting it with an increasing amount of furniture. If Italy could shun them, she could shun Italy right back, and it would be il stivalo that felt the most agony over it.
That was, oh, over fifty years ago now. She had lived far more of her life outside of Italy than within it. The perpetual outsider, in fact, considering that she had never really “broken” America by way of Hollywood movies. She was only recognized as a serious actress precisely because the bulk of her roles were rooted in her Neapolitan character. In American “films,” she always towered over the men she played alongside, rendering each of them as nebbish as Peter Sellers himself, who, in her estimation, dreamed up the entire business about them doing, well, any business that wasn’t strictly professional. The poor, sad fool–he left his wife and everything.
It seemed that she was envisioned as the exotic bird that might fly men like him away to a place as warm and inviting as Italy. This, too, was part of her success in remaining an Italian import rather than a Hollywood crossover–it shrouded her in the fantasy that made cinema what it was: an escape from the mundane. With such a level of international acclaim, it was only appropriate that she found herself in Switzerland, that famously neutral country that turned its back on her own kind during the war. Now, ironically, she was just like the Swiss, as she remained neutral and immune to the problems of Italy that were no longer hers. She had already taken all she could from it, whereas Italy would continue to pimp her out not only for her lifetime, but well beyond it, centuries after she was dead (that is, if the human-dominated Earth still had centuries left).
She smiled as she walked through her lavish abode in Geneva’s Vieille Ville. The spacious rooms might have been void of people, but it was filled with sumptuous decor and the swoon-worthy art collection Italy had once tried to prevent her from taking out of the country (the government always being so involved in the financial affairs of the Pontis). She stood against the wall, gazing into nothing, at last realizing that it took living in Switzerland for her to completely rid herself of the salacious memories that had plagued her early life and career. She could even forget briefly that she was related to the Mussolinis thanks to her sister Maria’s endlessly vexing whimsy–honestly, what survivor of Fascism in Italy would dream of marrying into the Mussolinis?
In any case, Switzerland mitigated all these thoughts. It created the effect of inhabiting a beautiful, blank–neutral–space. Nothing like the life she had known in Pozzuoli, or any other Italian milieu she graced her presence with. This is now my city. I live in Geneva because my children were born here, it is where our family home is, it is the place where we find ourselves. By losing our old selves.