It was not yet eight when we arrived at the land-of-the sky restaurant on a hot Rome evening in July. From the parking area we slipped-slid down a steep paved slope to the entrance. At the point the approach downslope ended stood an immense white Ferrari, which my friend from Paris interpreted as a sign of a quality restaurant. To our right, a sprawling stone, steel and glass structure with gaping window walls and white diaphanous curtains swirling in the breeze from the sea beyond the horizon. White and black. Black on white. Le Due Lune Restaurant. The Two Moons. Its position on the hill fit to perfection the quest for the Earth’s twin moon.
Though we had reservations, many tables were available. At that early hour in a city where dinner hour is quite late we had a wide choice. After we chose a table that enjoyed a pleasant sea breeze and a stunning view, a theatrical scene unfolded: on cue the head waiter-actor arrived to play his host role. First, he confronted us with a list of ‘specials from the chef’; then abandoned us to decide. Waiters have an innate actor’s instinct for timing, but also like actors they are morally uncertain and psychically unbalanced. The head waiter of The Two Moons wears the tan pancake make-up of one who is never in the sun. His attire is all black, topped by a black on black high collar. His hair is coal black. But he the actor is all smiles and intelligent talk exuding prescient qualities he might or might not possess. I watch him as he moves from table to table and have the impression that he follows a script in order to compensate for an uncertain internal void. He spreads his hands in an act of openness to all the diners’ desires … a true adviser and friend. And also like most waiters he so wants to be loved. When in fact they must all feel marginalized in their world.
It was an unlikely combination of events and circumstances that struck me. In fact, from the start the evening had seemed strange. Here on the hill I saw a different species of people from those of our world down below. Yet the others with me didn’t seem to see the same things in the same way. I found the people around us truly peculiar. Exuding a differing sexuality. A world of elsewhere. I thought that nothing here at The Two Moons was as it seemed. We could have been in Liechtenstein. The altitude and the panoramic spread below, the luxurious milieu, the automobiles, the passing parade of veritable character studies, the layout of the restaurant itself all together created mystery.
For instance: men tabled with other men. Few women. The men carefree in colored T-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, pastel high-necked Dolce Vita collars. Men exuding a sense of ease and power and fraternal affection one for the other; a tallish dark-haired woman with two Scandinavian children, the kids super blond, the older exceptionally tall, already at seventeen basketball material; the scarce women showily sexy but too tall, too dark or too blond; slick, super-friendly waiters and too few waitresses all dressed in ritual black, providing excellent and spurious service; a specious menu featuring sea foods and pastas, the wide spaces between tables in the wide spaces of the breeze-blown, moon-high Two Moons. Au debut, it all seemed so unfamiliar and distant. Mysterious, as I said. Something unidentifiable was in the air. Even though nothing of note had happened, I sensed that in many ways everything was changing.
Something skimmed my mind. Like fragments of last night’s dreams of people I once knew. Or didn’t know at all. They were the scariest people and things distant and of long ago. I felt the incipient atmosphere of perceptions—No! of one particular perception that I had once felt somewhere before but couldn’t pinpoint precisely and I kept trying to re-capture that moment. In the attempt I fell into a kind of dream state of mind. I felt or heard a tick and I was in it, that dreamscape. All’improviso I recalled that feeling of once when as a young man I ate the first real T-bone steak of my life in a big city in a booth in the tiny restaurant of the older brothers of the girl I was doing it with—well you know, doing real emotion-real perception-but-no-strings-attached stuff. It was my first awareness of a bifurcation in my life. The big city, the restaurant booth, the girl’s brothers who could beat me or feed me, the T-bone itself, the Miller’s Highlife ale, the separateness, the disconnectedness of their world. That world became my brief dream state, one that escapes easily and flies away.
But it was more, much more than that, that moment that proved to be so fugitive yet so binding:
I wanted to know.
I wanted to understand.
I wanted to be part of it.
The outside world, I found, can and sometimes does infringe on my internal world in unexpected, bewildering and painful ways. There is everywhere an unresolved mystery which I seem destined to search for all my life … consciously or most frequently unconsciously. It is that same thing everyone feels at times—that “it”—whose call we try to shush. But it remains. It engenders many of the turning points in our lived lives. There have been major turning points in my life, even one great swerve, but there is that one of the T-bone steak I had never again perceived, not until the magical evening at Le Due Lune, The Two Moons. That very same sensation is on the tip of my tongue now and I fear it will remain forever unidentified, unarticulated, like other disparate moments that never cohere. And this gap, this fixation, this urge to discover that missing thing in me, I fear, will torment me until pinpointed and resolved.
After unidentified hors d’oeuvres at about nine, the Parisian and I went out into the twilight for a smoke. Cars were now parked where no cars at all should be. Where the private downhill street ends right at the gaping entrance space waited two huge white Ferraris, two super Porsches, one over-sized BMW, together, over a million euros of automobile. From the cars alone I decide The Two Moons is mafia property.
I shrug, used to it. We gaze toward Rome where the first lights have begun twinkling in the arriving night. Thirty kilometers north of downtown on the highest hill I’d ever seen in the area, Le Due Lune offers the most sweeping view of the spectacular basin of Roma-Rome reaching from the Sabine mountains northeast of the three-thousand year old city itself to the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west. While from the hill we admired the mix of greenery and the fields of gold and the sun dipped behind the horizon beyond the sea, the faintly sketched outline of our moon moved across the horizon as if chasing the sun. It was perfect. Too perfect! Perfection implies imperfection. Implies flaws. And later the imperfection-confirmation arrived with the food itself. Flawed food. Showy food. Showy like the people, like the tan pancake faced head waiter, like the super cars and the moony location, and the dishes not up to par for finer palates.
The restaurant itself changed before my eyes. I watched. I watched the people. I watched the waiters in black. I viewed the great basin below us. And the descending moon-splashed night. I thought: Rachmaninov and Full moon and empty arms. And Moonglow and Moonlight Serenade, Luna Rossa and Luna d’Argento. Claire de Lune. I thought of the putative landing on the first moon and the urge to return; I thought of the quest for the second moon, planet Earth’s inhabitable twin, perhaps only a hop away. Or maybe just a chimera. Not there at all.
Again and again I rearranged my place setting and shifted the showy white and red glasses. With the others I oohed and aahed about the descending nightscape view and asked: “What if there really were a second moon? What if after all these millennia the second moon were to appear from the backside of our familiar old moon?”
My cynical Parisian friend snickered. “You mean what if only you believed you saw it, the twin moon? Or you imagined you saw it? The chimera? Another world?”
I aahed some more. “Well, with this panorama at your feet and the restaurant’s name in mind, you might imagine the second moon as did Jorge Borges’ in his story of the man who tried to recreate the world in a lecture and to his horror forgot the first moon. La luna.”
In defeat, the sensitive Parisian muttered to himself: “Ah hah! Well, it’s true what Einstein said that imagination is greater than knowledge. At least that.”
My daughter looked at me with moon-filled eyes. “At least you have plenty of the first.”
And I wondered again about the story of another planet Earth like ours and imagined its sudden appearance in the night sky and that it is inhabited by a civilization similar to ours. But different. That is something to mull over. Maybe the moon is more than the moon.
I watched. I watched the people. And I watched the skies as the darkness fell over us and our old moon appeared from the East. And then, in that mysterious moment, that magical moon moment that I had begun to hope would endure, HE arrived. HE was with a tall sexy woman. He was around two meters tall, all slim muscle strength, dark hair, high cheekbones, lips clamped, unsmiling eyes. Now I’m a journalist and I nearly leapt from my chair when I saw him: basketball player, football forward and killer under the net, the nemesis of goalies. Immediately, in two or three tiger-graceful steps, he moved to the center table occupied by the four neither young nor old casually dressed men I had been watching. He saluted all four, each individually. TOO cordially. He seemed inclined to embrace them. He didn’t. They stayed seated. They stayed cool. He was too tall for such embraces. Physically it couldn’t work. They didn’t fit. I saw that the gigantic scorer was especially reverential to the oldest, the one with gray hair and young face. I had thought Board of Directors or commission … or something more sinister like capo dei capi.
I watched. I watched, remembering the essence of the words about such matters by the historical-thriller-novelist James Ellroy: People mouth how they hate the Mob, Ellroy begins, meaning power and control. Then he makes his point: the Mob-hate thing serves to cover what the Mob actually does. In the final analysis, people end up thinking the Mob is too big to mess with, that it’s inevitable. It just is. Is what? I ask. Part of us, I answer myself.
But no, the answer was not there. This thing playing out here in The Two Moons was professionally legit. Sort of! This was mafia. Like half the restaurants of Rome, it was mafia-owned. This was a story to be covered. Now I’m not an investigative journalist. But I do write about corruption. This looked like corruption. But this is also more. More than a journalistic story. This is me. It is mine …or it was once mine. This concerns a specific sensation once perceived that I must retrieve. I must relive it. I cannot resist the call. It’s a bewitchment.
It is much too much to absorb all at once. Just too much. I have an uncanny feeling about it. Not so much as you do about a place you like or don’t like. There are such places. One or the other. This is a different construct. A place I don’t understand. The slip-sliding sideways down the descent, the James Bond-like super cars outside, the four men, the goalie killer under the goalposts, the second moon, the breath-robbing panorama, the waiters in ritual black. And the call to a past perception of something that may have never happened.
I know the moment will undo me. It will hound me. Haunt me. Maybe at evening’s end when homeward bound we descend from the hill of The Two Moons to the basin we had seen from above I might wonder if it really happened. Or if it was just my imagination after all.
And I think: yes, I will return here daytime. Light time. Just to see it in another perspective. To make it reality.
And then after some tension-filled minutes, something happened. I’m unsure what. It was shortly after ten when the youngest of the four at that table of power, the one dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and who never talked, again picked his nose, flipped dried snot to the floor, stood up, solemnly shook hands with the others, and left. He left alone. Soon after, the unmistakable Porsche purr purred as it backed up the hill, backed, turned around and faded away. In the very same moment the nose-picker was shaking hands, the killer whispered to his lady and the pancake-faced head waiter approached and nodded to the giant who toe-stepped toward the other table, met imperceptible nods, turned and glided swiftly in his tiger gait to the exit. Now, the sounds of a BMV suv, backwards up the hill, the turn-around and the fading, fading away. Getting into the rhythm I checked the time: less than three minutes separated the two departures. There was a nocturnal meeting in the air.
Soon after, I, my wife, daughter and the Parisien prepared to leave. As we walked up the steep hill we threw ourselves to the side as the horn-blasting BMW suv raced back down the steep hill to its place in the no-parking area. I was curious. I watched closely.
It was him. The marker of goals. The goal maker. The scorer. The killer.
I sit in the penumbra of the breakfast room. Thoughts rebound. I don’t want to ask stupid questions … and get unpleasant answers. I reduce the cast that counted at The Two Moons to three: the giant killer-scorer with the unsmiling face, the gray-haired man with the youngish face, the head waiter with the tan, pancaked face. All three question marks. What’s the truth here? According to Schopenhauer who should know, truth is first ridiculed, then violently opposed, but finally accepted as self-evident.
It’s quarter to twelve. I stare at the Landau abstract hanging on the wall behind the dining table, two meters high … killer-scorer tall. Sotheby’s wanted it. I zero in on the giraffe that only I and maybe the artist see in the work. Its long, long neck runs vertically through the lines and squares and angles and the myriad colors. Between the giraffe’s long head and the painted picture frame now hang two moons I had never before discerned, one ours, the second smaller, which anyone can see is livable and you want to go up there. At The Two Moons I had seen it too. I keep watching that second moon and wonder if I have a purpose in life. Clearly I’m still a little tipsy. Maybe I’m smashed … to have such thoughts. I stall … and stall some more. A mind click and I realize I’m forgetting something, the sequence of events. There’s something I missed. I am already on my way back. In fear, perforce. Or maybe just prudence. There is corrupt football in Rome, but there’s also organized crime. Mafia. Wife, daughter and friend would say mine is fatuous and banal and useless fear or prudence. My imagination again. But I feel fear. Fear is related to time and time is a master.
So it’s back to the hill of The Two Moons where I’ve willy-nilly become part of the scene. My position however is different this time: I am both narrator and author. Observer and recorder. I shouldn’t do this. But I do. I’m overstepping limits. Stepped into another scenario. I’m in confusing territory. I can make one thing happen … or another, its truer version … or its opposite. Or a variation of the reality of The Two Moons. To enter into the story or not to enter is the question. To do it or not to do it. I am not the head waiter—maybe just a little I am him—nor am I the killer-scorer. But I am the creator of both. I am OF them. They are OF me. They are my creations, my prisoners; I am free to do with them as I like. They are slaves; I am master. The question at this point is: What do I WANT to do with them … or to them? Or what will they choose to do?
In the night then I return to Le Due Lune. The parking lot at the top of the hill is empty. Down below in the no-parking area at the entrance two cars remain: one Porsche and the gargantuan Ferrari, king of the night, as if waiting for its second moon. I slip-slide down the slope. I find a safe observation position. I take out my journalistic binoculars. The Two Moons is empty. I zero in on the well-illuminated table of the four, now occupied by the gray-haired man with the young face and the head waiter, now dressed in a white T-shirt and a powder blue summer jacket. It’s cold here outside. The wind is strong. I feel exposed in the fixed moonbeams. I zoom in on the two at the table for four. I read lips. My hands are cold. I the journalist learned the art of lip-reading in a special course. It’s useful. I practice it on TV. Turn off the sound and read lips. The smooth smiling head waiter does the talking. I zoom in closer, still closer. I lip read him and understand that he is the boss. The four men are all shareholders in the “Moons”. They are also shareholders in a Serie A football club in Rome. Factual information: Football is rich. Football is corrupt. Fictive slant: Cosa Nostra is rich. Cosa Nostra is corrupt. Factual conclusion: The Two Moons is as corrupt and criminal as either.”
The boss wants to buy a top player from Manchester United. “Fuck’em. Fanculo. Fanculo. Fuck’em all. Teste di cazzo! Dick heads! We have to win something big this year. Cazzo! A top place in an international league championship. We need those international league premiums—twenty million just for placing. Cazzo! One premium, another new top player. Another top player, another premium.”
The boss lights a cigarette. “No, cazzo, no,” he answers the other whose back I see, “not all corrupt …” (I miss some words maybe spoken in some dialect while he gesticulates, a sour look on his face.). “Fanculo! Owners are one thing, majority shareholders another. We control a majority ... do what we want. Adesso, adesso. Now. Now I have to think … incomprehensible blah blah blah. “I think better in Parioli,” he says. “Drive home … (gesticulations covering mouth) will think better.”
He stands up. He hovers. In the powder blue jacket and without make-up the head waiter looks older. Looks meaner. Looks mad. Looks simply fed up.
“Fanculo, ci devo pensare.” Clear as the one moon overhead, he says it: “Okay, I have to think about it.”
What does it all mean? I wonder if the world seen through binoculars is the real world. If what I see through zeroed-in looking glass really happens. If the ten percent lost in the glass is the real part. Ask the specialists if that ten percent world really exists. I don’t know the answers. Nor do I know if lip-read words are real words. We are back to imagination and the Parisian’s Einstein.
The last guests have left. The cashier climbs the hill and disappears through the gate. Someone is closing the doors and windows of The Two Moons. I run up the hill, drive out the gate and park in the darkness on the street outside the complex. My car is dark. I slouch down. I want to see who is driving the mammoth Ferrari. The smooth chameleon, ex-pancaked face, ristorante-football proprietor, head waiter, Mafioso in his summer jacket doesn’t so much as glance at my old VW Golf. He drives down the hill—I had read on his lips—headed for Rome’s luxurious Monte Parioli.
I follow at a safe distance. Carefully down the hill, narrow curvy streets. Via Cassia Veientana toward Rome. Subito 170 ks—and more—high speed Ferraris, you don’t notice you’re flying. My old turbo flies too. Ten, twelve minutes. Exit on Ring Road. Should I even be doing this? Exit onto Via Flaminia. High nighttime speeds maintained. What can I see in Parioli? Apartments, a few single houses. Useless. I don’t need this. On the eight lanes of Corso di Francia, I get it. He’s the wrong target!... for now. He’s going home to wife and children. To a companion. I lip read that. I make a fast U-turn. Full of doubts . Back to Via Flaminia, back to the Ring Road and Cassia Veientana. Fatuous chase at 170 ks back to The Two Moons. Twelve minutes north at night; daytime, one hour plus. To do I don’t know what. Answers must be here. It’s all here at The Two Moons. I start to enter the restaurant complex, hesitate, turn around and again park in the total darkness on the street.
The purr of the second Porsche sounds. Its interior lights are still on. The gray-haired young-looking man. I wait until he turns the first curve, then follow, without headlights. As expected, downhill, enter Via Cassia Veientana. I stay far back. Porsche tail lights are BIG BIG BIG. I follow those lights to Trastevere. We park at Piazza Trilussa. Poets’ piazza. The bronze bust of the Rome dialect poet, Trilussa, before me. For some reason, Borges and Neruda are in my head. Gray hair enters a tavern. Five minutes later I follow. The first thing I see is a replica of their table at The Two Moons. The same FOUR men, almost interchangeable, plus the Scorer-Killer, their heads together, confabulating, conspiring, conniving, colluding. I keep my face turned. I sit in a discreet corner from where I can watch, lip read and with luck overhear. I drink a beer. “He’s got to go,” I hear, afraid to turn my head toward them. The killer is shoulder-to-shoulder with the man in the Hawaiian shirt whose life I’d feared for. Fanculo! I have to see. Warily I turn. Gray hair-young face says: “His problem is he’s afraid of losing also The Two Moons.”
The killer-scorer spreads his arms two meters wide like a goalie. “Fear’s the weak point, the killer of bad investors.”
“Michel, mon ami, he’s got to go … The Two Moons or not. Withdraw our financing and that paradise on the hill will sink into the oblivion of the River Lethe.”
The killer didn’t know Greek: “Who will even know it once existed? Without OUR football players and their families, without their banquets, without their victories celebrated there and their defeats mourned, what meaning will The Two Moons have left?”
Ordinary business talks. Deadly conspiracy. Little mystery.
I now know that The Two moons on the hill will turn out to be just an overrated restaurant with an extraordinary panorama at its feet and a mediocre kitchen in the back. And I will still be in the dark about the mysterious objective of life.