Things That Might Have Been: Cy Twombly Edition

Did I ever tell you about the time I didn't go to Cy Twombly's flat in Rome? No? So this is how it goes.

Once I lived for a year in Rome, and each day in the morning I would walk a few miles through the city center, going whichever direction seemed most appealing. I'd usually buy some roasted hazelnuts along the way or whatever was in season.

For most of the daylight hours, Romans open the large doors to their interior courtyards, many of which are jewel boxes of unimagined richness.

Most you could wander into without harassment, gaze upon sarcophagi-cum-fountains, stroke rare ferns and catch oblique, glancing views of magnificent rooms high above on the piano nobile, windows thrown open and revealing a bit of fresco, gilding, tapestry,

Some were not so easy (Palazzo Taverna comes to mind, several others on Via Giulia), and required some negotiations with mostly good-natured gatekeepers.

My Italiano was abysmal, but I knew one line quite well: "Scusi, posso vedere il cortile? Sono un studente di architettura," (flaws are all over this, but it means something like, "Excuse me, is it possible to see the courtyard? I'm a student of architecure.") and typically the gatekeepers were more than accommodating. I smiled a lot, and sometimes, left a tip.

One day I encountered a palazzo with a courtyard of such beauty that I was quite moved. The gatekeeper was also quite proud of it, and guided me through the space, chattering on in deeply accented Italian that completely mystified me, plucking an orange from a tree, peeling and eating it as we walked over the perfectly raked gravel.

Later, I spoke with the director of the program where I studied about the experience, and she asked where it was -- she knew immediately the palazzo I had described. "That's where the Twombly's live. Why don't you talk to [random other acquaintance who writes for Art Forum who I didn't know well at all] about visiting? She's great friends with Alessandro."

Of course I did no such thing. For some reason it was no problem asking someone who I'd never met to see their courtyard, but I could not muster such forwardness with the random art critic, and I have kicked myself ever since.

All images stolen from here and here.


Daniel-Halifax said...

What an amazing story! The courtyards are always like hidden surprises. In Milan often times if you wander in one you'll find yourself in the headquarters of Etro, Versace or Marni. You can see the difference of the cities.

katiekentucky said...

Ah, what might have been! Cy Twombly is one of my favorites. According to string theory, there are parallel universes layered over one another, where every possible thing which ever may have happened, has happened-- so take comfort in the mathematics and assume that you did indeed go, and that you and Cy ended up becoming best buds!
I love reading your entries-- I think they're simultaneously inspiring and comforting, in a strange way.

Jenny Woolf said...

A slightly dreamlike air to this post. Nice.

Reggie Darling said...

What a delicious post this is. I almost felt as if I were there, treading in your footsteps. Ah, the "almost was" and "might have been" experiences we so carelessly didn't pursue at other times in our lives. I have more than I can even remember, I was such a callow youth. Reggie


As a young woman, I would rather have died than ask to see inside the home....now, at 67, I would not give it a second thought. There are some advantages to age after all.

danish said...

did you see this



Anonymous said...


Nick Heywood said...

Yup, that's what I wrote.

Anonymous said...

You make me want to open up a history book and study more about room.

-Zane of ontario honey

El said...

This was a very lovely story... in just a few words. It entranced me. I found a line that fits so nicely in my next novel... um,... Thank you?

Truly, your writing is good... and your thievery of photos equally good.

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