Saturday October 18, 2014
On Saturday, Mr Gotham and I got together with BooBoo Darlin’ and Lil Steph to check out the Pantheon and (perhaps more importantly) to seek out what was purported to be “the best coffee granita place” in all of Rome. We started off on foot on what seemed to be a simple-looking journey on the map, but after about half an hour of ending up in beautiful, but confusing similar-looking plazas, ended up taking a taxi to the Pantheon. It was majestic and still doesn’t seem real when I think back to being in it.
Next, was the legendary coffee granita place. A customer at the gourmet NYC restaurant where BooBoo Darlin’ works highly recommended the place to her as a ‘must go’ and we were lucky enough to get to experience it with her. The place, which you could tell was one of those landmarks that has been in business forever, was crowded with locals (actually many more locals than tourists) and had several counters designated for different refreshments. Once we found the granita counter, it became clear that we were about to taste heaven. Imagine the most rich, delicious, well-balanced espresso you can ever fathom served to you in soft, but frozen, slushy little shards of perfection and topped with fresh, silky, pillowy whipped cream made from cream that you actually saw being hand whipped in front of you while you waited.
If the trip just ended right here it would’ve been incredible! But I haven’t even touched on the most monumental, Roman Holiday-feeling, Fellini-esque part of the whole festival yet: The Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award Vintage Fiat Parade.
Don’t wipe your eyes. No need to clean your glasses. You read that right. Vintage Fiat Parade.
On the final performance night of the festival, performers (whether they performed on Friday or will be performing on Saturday), get to ride from The Yellow to Teatro Centrale in a long parade of honking vintage Fiat cars of various makes and colours, driven by a club of vintage Fiat collectors and enthusiasts. Performers, dressed for the red carpet and grouped mostly into twos and threes, are loaded into these fabulous little cars and driven through the streets of Rome (to the delight of onlookers) to the performance venue.
I had the pleasure of riding in a lovely coral orange Fiat with fellow New Yorker BooBoo Darlin’ and we stood up in our seats to stick our heads through the sun roof and wave and yell ‘buona sera’ to all we passed. In front of us was a convertible Fiat filled with performers, including Lil Steph, Midori Colada, and the night’s emcee, Vibrissa, whose feather headdresses waving in the wind made the scene even more celebratory.
The awe-inspiring, magical ride came to end in front of a crowd of revellers at the theatre, where you literally touch down on a red carpet as soon as your feet leave the car. We were met with cheers and camera flashes and then led over to pose with producer Albadoro Gala. I’ve had many a daydream in my life about being in one of those late 1950s or early 1960s Italian films where everyone is fabulous and posing for the paparazzi. Leave it to burlesque to make it come true.
One of my favourite sights (and pictures) of the Fiat fabulosity was of that tall, handsome, (and did I mention tall?) drink of water, Mr Gorgeous in his platforms standing by a vintage Fiat – like it was a little toy. And even more delicious: he rode with his legs and platform shoes hanging out the window.
Since I had performed the night prior, I got to enjoy the whole show this time. Another excellent touch that Albadoro made possible was a special, velvet-roped, ‘performers only’ section of the club that had seats and complimentary prosecco on ice where we could (mostly) sit and watch the show.
On both nights, the show’s first four or five acts were in a category called Newcomers, which was comprised of performers who were new to the festival who had also opted to compete for the title of ‘Porcapapessa’, which involves an incredibly stunning, rhinestoned Colosseum crown, a return performance at the following year’s Caput Mundi, and a performance spot in Sven Peterson’s Queen Calavera show in Hamburg, Germany. Two of the festival headliners, Bella Blue and Medianoche were judges (members of the International Jury) for this competition, along with Fez Wrecker. Mr Gorgeous was also a festival headliner but did not judge the Newcomer’s competition.
The other performers (me included) performed in a non-competitive category called The International Showcase, so to be clear, the ‘Burlesque Award’ portion of the festival name only applies to a portion of the performers in the festival.
Saturday night’s show was a luscious mix of mostly classic burlesque styles with feather fan dances, luxe costumes, and a surprising number of jazz age-inspired acts (more than I’ve seen in the US). An exception to the classic style was Bella Blue, who performed the fierce, modern number she did at BHoF in 2014, involving a full-face mask and matching full bodysuit. One thing that I really noticed (and very much appreciated) is that comedy seemed to be very well received by the audience. Not that it isn’t elsewhere, but I sensed an enhanced appreciation for it in Rome. And, being that I do an awful lot of comedic-oriented stuff in my burlesque acts, this fact was duly noted and made me happy.
The audience was also particularly enthusiastic and electric, giving off a vibe as if they had either newly discovered burlesque or were falling very deeply back in love with it. The positive energy in the theatre was palpable and contagious and just sort of lit everyone on fire.
While I wish I could name every single performer and a detailed description of their act as a shout out, I can’t possibly do so or else you’d be stuck reading this for the better part of a week!
I will say that the winner of the Porcapapessa title of the 2nd Annual Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award was BooBoo Darlin’, who did her ‘Sneezy Showgirl’ act involving a showgirl who is allergic to the flowers she is holding and who proceeds to do a wonderfully choreographed striptease to an ‘achoo’ cha cha song, complete with strategically placed Kleenex and even sequinned snot. Not only did this act deserve the title, but BooBoo has the perfect voluminous beehive hairdo on which to perch the rhinestoned colosseum crown. It was meant to be!
Following the show and the super fun curtain call at the end where all the performers from both nights take the stage for a final bow, there was a dance party with lots of fun fifties and sixties music. It was fun to see Albadoro smiling, dancing, looking so triumphant that the huge international festival that she had orchestrated down to the tee had been such a success. Mr. Gotham and I danced with the lovely Jolie Tease and her mom – taking turns doing the limbo to a vintage Calypso song.
And then, as I mentioned before, we returned to that pizza place to have the worst pizza in Rome with the funniest man and even snapped some pictures with him as he again sang, “I don’t care. I love you.”
Sunday October 19, 2014
The next day when I woke up, I had almost completely lost my voice. And when I could get a sound out of my mouth, I sounded like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters. Lil Steph, who had to catch a train later that day, joined Mr. Gotham and I for lunch in a super residential area of Rome that had lots of dressed up families dining after church. We chose a cafe with lots of dressy church-goers, figuring it would be a good bet – and it was. We enjoyed vegetable risotto and mozzarella and tomato salad and really yummy bread. The weather was warm and humid and still felt like summer in mid-October. I even got a bunch of mosquito bites on my ankles while sitting outside.
There was a party on the rooftop of The Yellow on that Sunday night, but by the evening, I had completely lost my voice and couldn’t imagine trying to socialise without being able to talk – so I didn’t go. I felt kind of bad about not attending, but I really wasn’t feeling that great. So I opted for some much-needed sleep instead.
Monday October 20, 2014
We were flying back to Dublin on Monday morning and, as she had during our whole stay, Albadoro made sure we were taken care of. She had arranged to have her husband, Matteo, pick us up in front of the hotel and take us to the train station (so we could get to the airport) and even texted his ETA when he was running five minutes late.
As I drank an espresso out front of the hotel, waiting for Matteo, all I could think was, ‘how soon can I come back to Rome?’ and ‘I wish I could do this festival every year!’
Matteo was a complete doll, driving us to the train station and absolutely insisting that he buy our train tickets to the airport even when we tried to put our own credit card in the machine.
Part of me is afraid that by writing this the Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award will get so inundated with applications and so popular that it will grow to thrice its size and that the detailed personal touches and the vintage Fiat parade will no longer be possible due to the sheer number of performers. But it won’t stop me from writing it.
I know. Some folks reading this might be thinking, ‘Golly gee, Grace Gotham, you sure seem to have only positive things to say about this festival. Was there anything you didn’t like?!’ But I can honestly say that there was nothing about this experience that I didn’t like – except that I lost my voice and that I had to leave Rome too soon. Oh – and that pizza I mentioned before. Ha!
Other than those things, it was magic. “I don’t care. I love you.”
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.