February 08, 2015
Barely in my twenties and after accomplishing what was considered "the impossible," I finally managed to get out of Russia with my baby girl in my arms. It was the two of us in a foreign land; no money, no friends and not knowing a word of Italian. After we arrived in Rome, I realized that maybe I had been a little too brave by taking her with me right away.
What am I going to do now? How will I be able to work?
So many questions emerged I hadn't thought of before. Optimistic as always, thank God, I found an elderly couple to watch my girl for almost nothing. They were sweethearts; Russian immigrants waiting for their visas to Israel, compassionate with my situation.
In search of a job, I took a 30-minute train from Ostia to Rome every morning, which dropped me off in the very center of the city: Piazza del Popolo. I was on a tight budget, and my little savings were running out by the minute.
That winter was ruthless and persistent. Sometimes I would allow myself a hot cappuccino and a cornetto (sweet croissant) as a treat, momentarily taking my mind off the difficult and mostly frustrating job hunt. On one particular morning, I decided to begin my day with a nice breakfast in a little but tempting cafe (Italians call it "bar") on that very same Piazza. The aroma of the most delicious coffee gave me vertigo as I walked in. It all felt nearly surreal for a moment. Am I actually in Rome? How was I so lucky to get here?
In anticipation of my cappuccino and custard cornetto, I placed myself in line and suddenly noticed a slight agitation among the whispering patrons. I wasn't able to understand them due to my lack of Italian, yet one word stood out: "Fellini." I looked around, searching. To my complete astonishment and fascination, it was indeed Federico Fellini himself having breakfast at a small table while reading a newspaper and writing something on a large yellow notepad.
I became paralized with a total feeling of awe but my reverie was soon interrupted by the barista asking for my order which I managed to place with a stutter. I scanned the cafe for a table where Fellini could possibly notice me, however, the place was packed and only a couple of seats were available.
All throughout my childhood I had a complex of having a big nose. Not that it was really big, but such was my perception of it. I spent hours in front of a mirror figuring out my best and worst angles for pictures and boys alike. I had it down to millimeters and it only took me a second to strike the right pose.
To my biggest disappointment both available seats would have made me face Fellini with my worst profile, unless I stared directly at him which I would never have done out of respect for good manners and his privacy. Insecure, I settled down into one of the chairs.
Fellini didn't seem to look at me once, nonetheless, I kept prolonging my cappuccino for what seemed like an eternity. My hopes to be noticed by him were slowly fading when out of the blue he lifted the yellow pad with a pencil sketch of my profile and the word "BELLA" (beautiful) written next to it. He smiled at me kindly. I smiled back, then pointed at myself and whispered "io?" (me?). He confirmed by nodding, which took my breath. My heartbeat sank into my feet. I don't remember how I got up and moved to Fellini's table, introducing myself. It was all a euphoric blur.
Directing had been my dream and fascination; Fellini, Tarkovsky and Bergman, my inspiration. And here I was, sharing a table with one of my idols. An abundant boost of adrenaline suddenly enriched my Italian vocabulary and I was able to have a wonderful and long conversation with the great Fellini. He asked me endless questions about my life in Moscow and wanted to know how I managed to escape.
I came to visit him at the cafe many times more and we became friends. Later, I shared with him how much his sketch had meant to my confidence. He laughed out loud, and I thought to myself: Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder!