Randy took it badly, then took it upon himself to pillory Gore with some unnecessarily nasty reportage. I made it my own brief to explain to Randy that his behavior and critique were neither fair nor particularly professional. Between us, several noisy confrontations occurred, though to little effect. His Chronicle reporting continued to damage Gore's campaign and ultimately helped, I felt, diminish any small chance he might have had to win the nomination. I was again reminded of that confrontation when, last year, Gore included a piece of mine as a chapter, attributed of course, in his then-latest memoir, well-named "Point to Point Navigation."
It thus happened, however, that on a quiet, torrid Sunday afternoon in July 1982, I "happened" to be standing on the Piazza Garibaldi outside Naples' Centrale train station looking for a car to drive me up to Ravello. As we climbed the stony, scary Amalfi Drive switchbacks, my cab driver ascertained my destination as La Rondinaia. This knowledge caused him to shout out in great mirth "ah ha, you go to see Il Gorino!"
I learned that Ravellans liked to refer to the man they thought of as their very own celebrity American writer as what roughly translated into "the Great Gorino." The following year, in fact, Ravello made Vidal an honorary citizen. That week in July, I discovered a different Gore Vidal from the glossy, self-consciously measured Senatorial candidate I had covered.
Staying at the house that week were two guests, Kathleen Tynan, widow of the recently deceased theater critic, Kenneth Tynan, and New York Review of Books co-founder, Barbara Epstein. In the evening, Howard Auster, Gore's long-time companion, filled our glasses in La Rondinaia's vaulted book-lined study, while Gore asked us to fill him in on happenings in the "States. Unsurprisingly perhaps, one of the world's great talkers turned out to be a highly accomplished listener.
Rather than hold forth, Gore would sit quietly on a couch in the study, and insist we entertain him. This could be daunting. The room opened onto a deck beyond which was a heartbreaking view down the Amalfi coast. It was a stretch to keep your logical train on track while the smoldering Neapolitan sun extinguished itself over Capri.
One afternoon, Gore hired an ancient vaporetto and its nearly as-ancient skipper to transport us up the coast. The little yellow-canvas-canopied craft languidly putt-putted along, we swam, and dined on fruite de mer at a restaurant carved into a cliff on the Gulf of Salerno. Gore, who as a candidate hid his physique inside of exquisitely cut suits, was a good swimmer and led us into a fantastical, cobalt-dappled grotto etched out by the sea. When we returned, Gore noticed that Barbara Epstein was having trouble debarking and literally cradled her in his arms as he carried her ashore.
The nights were devoted to outdoor bistros on the plaza in Ravello, where the tomatoes were luscious and the local green wine viciously unfiltered. Seated at the table's head, Gore played every bit the seigneur, greeting the townspeople, dozens of whom would come by to pay their respects. It was hard not to reference his acting in the final scene of Federico Fellini's 1972 film, "Roma," which catches an effusive, earlier Gore seated in a cafe' along the Via Veneto. "What are you doing in Rome?" the off-camera voice of the filmmaker queries in English. To which Gore shouts back, "If the world is coming to an end, what better place to be than Roma?" The mornings in Ravello just felt like the end of the world, lost as they were to the hot-poker-to-the-forehead result of matching Il Gorino glass for glass of the deadly local brew.
Irrespective of hangover, Gore would descend the steps down the Ravello hillside for his daily sea swim. On the final day in Ravello, Gore walked me down to the sun-drenched piazza in front of the Positano cathedral. As I waited for my taxi, Gore spoke about his now-completed California campaign, my nascent career as a pundit, the fate of California and the ongoing wages of empire. About to depart, I posed a question that stilled puzzled me about the campaign. As an author, I asked him, did he mind that his writings had been fair game for the opposition. Il Gorino smiled a tight, regretful smile, and responded a little dreamily, "wouldn't that have been wonderful." Adeo, Il Gorino.
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