At the Raphaël
Text Carlo Mazzoni
A taxi driver asks me who used to sleep there. It’s true, the Raphaël is an iconic place for recent Italian political history – Eighties’ politics, in a lively and ambiguous capital, full of life and contradictions – but I’m not going back there, I don’t want to talk about that again.
I want to talk about the wisteria, the first I see in bloom this spring. It’s blossoming –lilac petals and branches only, the green leaves will appear soon, like intruders at first, then they will take over. It’s the prelude of the future that counts, not the memory of the past – here at the Raphaël.
We were coming back from a party – wearing a tuxedo, it was a Tuesday night. The image of Rome in the Eighties is renewed today in the film by Paolo Sorrentino – Piazza Navona and Largo Febo have nothing to do with the coins, they are about Isabella Ferrari in an apartment that echoes over the square. Rome is like the wisteria climbing up – not on a non-descript façade, but up the Raphaël’s façade. The plants are not pruned, they are infesting, like the beauty of Rome. The wisteria climbs up, the roots, the branches, the old ancient trunks, climb up one storey after the other, it’s a beautiful jungle encompassing an angular building, perched over a city rock, over a promontory with the tables arranged for the summer. Lavish, like a romantic era painting passionate, theatrical – yes, just like Rome. We go inside – it’s late for a Tuesday evening.
The interior design by Richard Meier. The shiny steel balustrades. The light-toned, soft wood rooms, like the benches in a Los Angeles church, or the seats on the deck of a yacht for a young Niarchos. The red velvet frame above the bed is like a swirl amidst the clean, modern lines. The angular rooms, four windows overlooking the street – the wisteria rests over them, fashioned as curtains – the wisteria keeps climbing.
In the early morning we go up to the sixth floor, and then out on the terrace. We take another flight of stairs from there. It’s still cold to have breakfast al fresco – a man is touching up the railings’ paint. Beyond the terrace, the wisteria is lurking, crawling up. The campanili – all around – San Pietro, Il Vittoriale, Castel Sant’Angelo. The wicked seagulls eating kittens, the terraces stretching out as new, suspended squares, the penthouses are euphemisms.
Rome is just like that, like the wisteria at the Raphaël: buried underneath an infesting accumulation of beauty, scents and flowers, protecting a soul made up of scintillating steel pipes, angular, stretching upwards – in a direction that, once again, I like to call future.