Friday, June 23, 2006


I took the train to Rome to have lunch with my good friend Gore Vidal. "Gorino," as the Italians call him, was in town for a literary festival. He's as spirited and instightful as ever. Our party was large, but he was gracious, being sure to work his way to each of the writers seated at the table. I knew that he wanted to give each of us a chance to say what we're working on within earshot of the hovering journalists. A man who knows how to hold court.

When he leveled his beneficent gaze at me, he leaned back in his wheelchair and smiled.

"So, BT, how've you been occupying your time?"

"I'm in Florence at the moment. With a class."

"Ah, you've a reputation of taking great care with your students." (Chuckles around the table) "Finish that novel you told me about? It's due out, isn't it?"

I froze. From the shadows behind Gorino, an attractive arts columnist from Il Manifesto leaned forward, her pen poised over her notebook.

"Should be out soon," I lied. "Just slapping on another coat of polish, Gore. I've been a little busy lately."

"Fishing, no doubt," he said. "So what's it called...this novel?"

I smiled. Scratched my beard. I hate lying. "Hurricane Lili," I said. In truth this is the working title of one of my new manuscripts. But when you no longer have an agent or publisher, it's bad luck to toss around titles.

It was hard to enjoy the meal. Classic Roman cuisine, but I much preferred dinning with Gore and Howard at La Rondinaia before he moved back to the States. Howard was a true gourmand. His cooking put mine to shame. "Boy, you sure no how to put on a feed, Howard," I once said. They enjoyed when I played at being a rube with one of my midwesternisms. I miss long has he been gone now? I remember sitting on their balcony so many years ago, staring at the sea, sipping a glass of Nero d'Avola. Slowly the great mother rolls on her side and we all slip into the darkness. Time does us no favors.

On the train back to Florence I wept. It wasn't that I was bothered by my half-truths: I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I'm in the twilight of my writing career. What bothered me was leaving a mentor behind. When you part with an older friend it is always sad, but especially so with one as vibrant as Gore. You always wonder if this meeting will be your last.