My book group is coming for a meeting, so I take some of the coats out of the downstairs closet to make room for their coats. And there is Franco’s beige windbreaker, dirty around the collar, frayed at the cuffs, stains down the front. Of all his clothes, it may be the thing I remember him wearing the most. I reach into the pocket and I find a small piece of paper. It is a movie theater stub dated November 6, 2008, and it is for the Mike Leigh movie Happy-Go-Lucky at the Kendall….
How does one get used to being a couple and then suddenly a non-couple? After my first marriage fell apart, I was a single mother for almost 25 years. During that time I went to tons of movies by myself and never had a second thought about it. It was a totally normal part of my life.
Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would meet the new love of my life in my later years and then become so naturally and immediately one-half of a couple. But from the moment it happened, Franco and I were inseparable. We went everywhere and did everything together for 13 years.
He’s been gone from my life for more than two years now, and I still cannot adjust to not being a couple anymore. How did I ever do it during those many years when I was single? And why can’t I do that now?…
A very brief remembrance of Gian Franco Romagnoli (as an open letter to Gwen Romagnoli)
I’ve just read your very touching article “Admit One.” In fact, I found myself so moved that I felt the need to offer this response.
I knew Franco for only a few years in the late fifties at WGBH, and not at all during his subsequent careers as chef and author. His memory, however, has never left me. My first position at the station was as a scenic carpenter. During that time Franco would, on occasion, visit the set shop and produce a wonderful piece of woodwork – such as a small cabinet of drawers – for his use. Seemingly always a bit the iconoclast, he never used plans or drawings, or even measured much of anything. This made his wonderful projects even more wonderful. But his workmanship was always precise, well executed and often ingenious. As I was just in my late teems at the time, this phenomenon was impressive to say the least. It was only decades later (and with Franco’s erstwhile and unintentional mentoring) that I found I could also build that way. And I can only imagine that he devised his cuisine as the same inventive pragmatist.
Some months later, when I had graduated to working the studio, I manned the microphone boom for some filming that Franco and Peter Hollander were doing on (if memory serves me) a science classroom series. Franco was very easy to work with, and I always enjoyed the somewhat irreverent and rather fun loving atmosphere he generated. I think I remember him as having the dream of directing feature films (we all did in those times). Now and again he would loudly exclaim “crrrrapiola,” emphatically rolling the R. I was never sure whether he was referring critically to the quality of his own work, or just to the rather boringly didactic product he was engaged in.
Nevertheless, I remember his warmth and humor fondly, and can very much empathize with your sense of loss.
Barring mutual catastrophe, I know that either my wife Kathy or I will be living through the passage you are grappling with. Though I started my working life in television, I’ve been a counselor for the past thirty years, and have tried my best to help those of my clients who had lost loved ones. More impressive though, Kathy has, for almost thirty years, been a hospice social worker. Her job is really ‘hands-on’ dealing with grief, and I’ve benefited greatly from her direct experience. I often think about what life would be like without her, and wonder about navigating that unique interregnum between loss and passing, At those times I imagine practicing what I’ve suggested to so many survivors – that being to keep talking (aloud and/or in silence) with he or she who’s gone, just as if they were there. Because, though their bodies are no longer with us, we can’t really prove that ‘they’ are not. Realistic or otherwise (and what is ‘reality’ but a view point), the human belief in a soul surviving death is, and has been, vastly more common than common skepticism. And the practice of defying the materialist paradigm by willfully and intimately continuing communication is often profoundly consoling. It turns out to be true for many that there is a sense of a ‘rightness’ in doing that. Often, too, folks discover that the communion seems, surprisingly, to be reciprocal.
That you miss him so, Franco must have been a wonderful partner.
With love, Don Hallock