Who Was That Countess . . .

Jul 05

. . . at Harry’s Bar?
It was me. Well, sort of . .

Venice-Canal-2-14-11copyMy husband and I were staying in Venice in a swanky hotel, with a staff more than willing to satisfy our every whim.

Actually, I was pretty whimless, except for one thing: I wanted to go to the famous Harry’s Bar — and I wanted a good table. If you were banished to the back room, you might as well skip the whole thing.

In my mangled Italian, I conveyed this to the exceedingly cute desk clerk (In Italy, aren’t they all?). He nodded knowingly, made the reservation, and gave us a card with a note to the effect that Mr. & Mrs. Us were honored guests of the Bauer Hotel. This was code for: Give them a good table.

And so, that night, dressed in our one “good” traveling outfit: basic black with (real) pearls for me, blue blazer, grey pants and a tie from Ferragamo for him, we strolled to Harry’s Bar. Note: in Italy, you stroll, not walk.

A Countess Among the Eurotrash?

HarrysBarOutsideHarry’s Bar looks quiet on the outside, but inside, it was a zoo. The bar was loaded with assorted Eurotrash, including one young couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. While I was trying to figure out how to negotiate this scene, my husband, who isn’t impressed by these sorts of things, calmly handed the card from the hotel to the guy who looked like he was in charge, saying simply, “Prego.”

That did the trick.

We were shown to a tiny table across from the bar, probably the best in the house. But I, still a bit dazed and going into princess mode, noted that it was a very small table —which comment, rather than annoying the maitre d’ or whoever he was, made him take us more seriously. Who the hell was this picky little princess. Little did he know.

Is That Gore Vidal?

GoreVidalAfter being cajoled into accepting the great table and ordering the required Bellinis, I looked around and saw that all the tables were small, except for one in the corner with a group of sophisticated looking folks, one of whom bore a strong resemblance to the famous writer and curmudgeon, Gore Vidal.

Could it be Vidal? He lived in that part of Italy, he must eat dinner, and he, too, had a good table . . .

No. It’s Ken Auletta!

KenAulettaGoogled Looking more closely, this guy was much younger than Gore, and seemed, well, nicer. After a while, I figured out who he was: Ken Auletta, writer for the New Yorker and author of many bestselling books — most recently Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.

Meanwhile, I got distracted by the couple at the bar: he now had his hand down her jeans, and  . . .

. . . by the  elegant gentleman who sat down to our left. Obviously a regular, and probably a real prince with a  palazzo on the canal, he told the waiter, “I’ll have something light,” without looking at the menu. How cool is that. On the other hand, considering my grasp of the Italian language, he may have said, “Who the hell are these people you sat next to me?” I worried that he would be bothered by the groping going on in front of us, but my husband reminded me that the man was Italian and was undoubtedly enjoying it.

We, too, ordered light, although from the menu. A little salad and some risotto. We split an entrée, even though the portions were small, and shared dessert. The bill came to $400. Which is, to this day, the most expensive meal I’ve ever had — per bite.

It was worth every penny.

The Kid Gets in The Picture

We happened to be leaving at the same time as the Auletta party, and when we got outside, they were posing for a picture. Being the helpful little thing that I am, I asked Mr. A if he would like my husband to take the photo, but Ken, as I now like to call him, said no, they came with their own paparazzi (he was kidding), and that we should get in the picture (he wasn’t kidding).

StMarksNightThen we all walked, or strolled, to St Mark’s Piazza, which has to be the most beautiful outdoor living room on the planet, and on the way, the woman who turned out to be Ken’s agent asked me if I was the Countess De Something Or Other.

I didn’t really hear the name, having been shocked speechless by the  question — literally, because I knew that once I opened my mouth she’d know I was no Italian countess.

Miraculously, I managed to pull out something from deep within my would-be royal gut and without pausing, I said, “If you wish.

I Should Have Said . . . Exactly What I Said!

If you wish: so tantalizing, so vague, so not exactly a lie. For me, that answer wiped out all the “I should have saids” on countless, rather than countess, occasions. On several continents.

We all said goodbye at the Piazza, air kisses and all, and my husband and I returned to the hotel, having gone to the famous Harry’s Bar, having been made royalty by Ken Auletta’s agent,  and having been in a photo with him that must still exist somewhere in the universe. I only wish I knew the name of the royal personage I was mistaken for so I could look her up and see who I almost was.

But what the hell, you can’t have everything.
Even when you’re a countess.

Photo: Gondola in Venice by Lou Chisena

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