like a warm spring afternoon, with thernForum’s white marble bones showingrnthrough the open window like thernbleached skeleton of some nnlamentedrncasualt of social evolution, my mindrnkeeps turning back to Cortina, with allrnthat rude good health, sparkling withrnsnow and brimming v’ith mulled wine. Irnhave just come back, after two weeks ofrnpretending to ski alongside the Romansrnwho make this Alpine illage what it is: arnwintertime watering hole for those apparentl}-rnLuicomplicated individuals who believernthat social evolution is not somethingrnto worry about when one can driprnwith diamonds, swathe vourself in furs,rnand eat ‘eal cutlets with fresh artichokesrnin the bar of the Hotel de la Poste instead.rnIn short, modern Romans, not unlikerntheir ancient ancestors who sold prizedrnspecimens of hog outside my hotel window,rnlike to enjoy themselves. This theyrndo in Corhna.rnFrom the perspectixe of Venice,rnwhich is only an hour and a half awa’ hrncar, Cortina belongs to Rome die wav Aspenrnbelongs to New York, the City olrnLondon belongs to Wall Street, and artrnbelongs to the Muses. Venetians see thernplace as a playground of the great Romanrncdfone — c boor, bounder, lout, arriviste,rnand cad, a cross between Shakespeare’srnFalstaff and a New Russian, with a chromosomalrnadmixture of the F.ssex Manrnand a genetic pinch of the Bridge andrnTunnel. “God, those clow ns!” mv friendrnGioanni exclaims, with a smile bitter asrnwormwood. “You should watch themrneat. How they eat! Like marathon swimmers,rnface to the right. Ha-a-a-rgh! Thenrnface to the left. Ha-a-a-rgh! And thenrnyou sec them coming up for air.” His portravalrnis accurate, and in the aforementionedrnbar of the Poste, one can stillrnwatch live the orgiastic scenes I rememberrnwitnessing in places such as Al Moro,rnnot far from the Quirinalc, in the days beforernRome started to persecute its crooksrnas hpocriticallv as it had once persecutedrnits Christians.rnOutside the habitat he has colonized,rnsuch as Cortina in winter and the CostarnSmcralda in summer, the cafone sticksrnout like a sore thumb. A few months ago,rnI went to the Palafenicc—the temporarrnstructure atTronclietto meant to stand inrnfor Venice’s old Gran Teatro La Fenicernuntil all the monev’ for its reconstructionrnhas been stolen —to hear Angela Brownrnin Verdi’s Requiem:rnLibera me, Domine, de mortcrnaeterna,rnin die ilia tremenda,rncjnando caeli movendi sunt etrnterra . . .rnWhen the performance was over, andrnthe audience started leaving the theater,rnwe saw that Venice had flooded. Asrnthough conjured up by the music, aquarnaha had come in on cue, and gettingrnhome —at an’ rate without rubber bootsrnup to }’our ears—was out of the questionrnimtil the water receded. How long thisrnwould take —30 minutes or threernhours —was anyone’s guess. Standingrnnext to me in the crowd was a Romanrncouple, instanth recognizable b- thernHermes orange of his scarf and the purplernmink of her coat, who would surelyrnhac brought to an’ mind more sociallyrnrestive than mine the lush English expressionrn”pigs in clover.” And die sow—rnI mean, the woman—was furious. “Howrnlong is diis going to take?” she kept asking.rnAs I sa’, nobody knew the answer.rnFinally, as her exasperation reached a climax,rnshe shrieked with a fur’ surpassingrnthe Dies irae ve had just heard: “Somebody,rnplease call Rome!” As ou or 1rnmight have said, in slighdv different circumstances:rn”Switchboard, put mernthrough to Luhyankal”rnThis, then, is the ugly side of holidayingrnin Cortina, at least from the X’enetianrnpoint of view. But as the stor of myrnprincess and the frog witii whom she refusedrnto dance illustrates, the moralrnnexus behveen repulsive appearance andrncharming essence is knotted the Cordiusrnwa}’ even in cliildren’s fairy tales, hi realrnlife, one must r- to dig ever deeper, andrnwhen I go to Cortina, as I hae now donernfor about ten Christmases running, I gornwith die intention of watching the Romansrndo what they no longer can inrnRome, and of admiring them.rnConsider the dynamics of social interactionrn— ideallv, from the expensixe vantagernpoint of the open-air terrace of thernPoste, dr- martinis $15, olives includedrn—between old acc|uaintances. Theserncan really only be described with recoursernto a furrier’s specialist terminologv,rnand I know that iiobod}’ is going to belierne me, but if a 50-xear-old woman isrnw caring a three-cjuarter-length Canadianrnsable bv Ferre, then the friend she happensrnto bump into on the terrace will bernwearing a coat of die same fur and of thernsame lengdi. So if it’s chinchilla workedrnin asvmmctrical swirls, then chinchillarnworked in asmmetrical swids it’s goingrnto be — just have a drink, wait for a couplernof minutes, pop a green olive in yourrnmouth . . . Well, what’d I tell yon?rnThere’s her friend, coming round therncorner in white apres-ski boots withrnCHANEL on them. Chinchilla! Asymmetricalrnswirls!rn”Ciao cara, you always look wonderfulrnin that.” “Hello darling, and you in that.”rnCome to think of it, the people here don’trnhave friends; they have mirror reflections.rnThey don’t have thoughts and conversations;rnthey have furriers and jewelers.rnBut now, just before the second martini,rnis the time to ask: Is that bad? Is it reallyrnbetter to conform to the global rule of “bernyourself and “be what ‘ou want to be,”rnwhich, of course, has been promulgatedrnin order to ensure maximum homogeneit)’rnthe world over, a homogeneity of militantrnpseudoindividualism veiling allrnclasses and conditions of men with a denimrnpall, or is it better to rebel as the peoplernin this alpine oasis do, to Vwe like a cafonernamong the cafoiii, to be with ourrnown kind, to move in the company ofrnyour own ethical and aesthetic doubles,rnand feel no shame?rnrhe tremble at the thought of wearingrnfurs in Aspen. In New York, they bu’rnfiikc pearls from Kenneth Lane. Nobod’rnin St. Tropez remembers how a dry martinirnis mixed. Does this make their socialrntwins any less identical? Does it makerntheir lives less predictable, more introspective,rnmore snbtie? Do we really supposernthat the German woman in a nionrnparka with fake fur trim talking to herrnfriend in jeans and a sheepskin vest aboutrnthe political situation in the MiddlernF^ast—and not even once addressing herrnas “darling” —is any less of a fake bitch,rnand would have anv more interestingrnthings to say, than die splendid Romanrncafona now traversing the field of visionrnin front of my table? Waiter, I’ll have another.rnI want to toast the magnificentrnconformit’ of this stubborn microcosmrnof ours.rnAnd again I return to the story of mvrnfriend and her putative lover. Had thernworld’s greatest dancer possessed but thernsmallest share of the rebellious stubbornnessrnof these Romans in Cortina, hernwould hae taken her to tlie ballet instead.rnNatasha Bar)’shnikova! Now, thatrnhas a ring to it. I think I shall send her arnpostcard.rnAndrei Navrozov is Chronicles’rnEurofxan correspondent.rn42/CHRONICLESrnrnrn