Room With a View

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Essay for journal Little Joe No. 1, 201o

I studied German through most of high school, perhaps out of some imagined obligation to my heritage. So my first European tour in early 1990 began in Germany where I expected to feel a deep connection. Instead, that first German visit left me cold, both figuratively and literally (it was January). I was in the train station in Stuttgart, and saw that there was a train departing for Florence, and I impulsively hopped on. The next morning I woke up to my first day in Italy, stumbling past Santa Maria Novella in the warmth of the morning light, and falling instantly in love with everything I saw that day.

I later went back to study at the school of architecture in Venice from 1990-91, and in 1993 returned to live in a farmhouse in Tuscany, taking a year off to make art. The house overlooked Florence in the valley, and the Duomo was framed by a large picture window in the loggia. It is very easy to romanticize my time there. I had no obligations, and spent my days as I pleased. I occasionally rode my mo-ped into Florence to see friends and get art supplies, I took long walks through the local meadows, orchards and vineyards. I gathered seeds, plants, and other natural materials to integrate into the paintings I was making.

I first saw the 1985 film “A Room with a View” after returning from my first year in Italy. Every few years I watch it again.  It is witty, elegant, charming, and manages to summon up all of my naive romantic Italian fantasies. The novelist in the story, Eleanor Lavish (Judi Dench), speaks of youth being “…transfigured by Italy.”

At one time or another, doesn’t everyone dream of being Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) in that field of barley, swept away by George (Julian Sands)? But little brother Freddy (Rupert Graves) is the one that I had the crush on. I was especially charmed by his concertina duet with Lucy. I suspect that he secretly fancied George himself. Upon first meeting he invites him to “Come have a bathe” in their swimming hole. It is one of the rare moments in respectable contemporary western cinema with some full frontal male nudity!

As the group heads up to Fiesole, for the ignition of the youthful passion at the center of the story, we see the only other couple represented in the film. The very hot Italian carriage driver (another highlight) and his blonde Persephone demonstrate their affection and are scolded by the reverend, but it is merely a prelude for what is to come for George and Lucy in the meadow. Everyone in the world of the gay E.M. Forster’s story is single, and the potential coupling at it’s center represents both the gravest threat that some can imagine, and for others the greatest  hope.

– Fritz Haeg, 2009