In the mid-fifties, when I returned to New York after serving in the Korean War, my first job was doing publicity for an Italian aircraft company called Piaggio. After the Second World War, during which this company had been making aircraft engines, they sought to use their expertise by producing another similar product... and some bright person downsized one of their engines and put it on a scooter frame. Thus was born the Vespa (Wasp) motor scooter. My job was to call attention to this new, noisy mode of transportation (Lambretta came later). So I hired lots of pretty models to ride Vespas all over the city... a fun task which ended a year later after one too many accidents. (My partner broke his leg when his Vespa skidded in the rain on Lexington Avenue.) But this was the beginning of my love for all vehicles Italian, a passion which continues to this day. When I heard that the city of Beverly Hills was holding a Concours d'Elegance on Father's Day at Rodeo Drive, and it would feature "The Art of Italian Motoring," I cleared my day to spend it there. La Dolce Vita indeed.
Fiat was the Honored Marque, and they debuted the new Fiat 500 as well as the 500 Cabriolet. More than 125 automobiles, motorcycles and designers were seen along the three-block stretch, and I almost got my fill of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia and Maserati. Well, actually, I could never get my fill of Ferrari, and I spent an hour sitting in and walking around the newly introduced Ferrari California, a stunning street-friendly vehicle.
I had recently attended a luncheon sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, so when I ran into the commissioner and the consul-general, we had a chance to chat about the event. They told me that this was the 150th anniversary of the unification of the Italian states into a federal entity. (I joked about ending up after a century and a half with Berlusconi, but it kind of fell flat.) By then I had spotted the line of new Ducati motorcycles, another passion of mine, and I straddled the beautiful beast and reminisced about the old Indian cycle I had at NYU eons ago. I revisited the current Vespa, a purring model of elegance compared to the first.
Did I ever mention that I think the city of Venice is the single most romantic spot in the entire world (apart from my Beverly Hills apartment, of course.) And here was an authentic 38-foot Venetian gondola lifted directly from the canals of that city. (A faux-gondolier wearing the striped shirt and straw boater hat was lounging beside it. Fortunately he did not sing "O Sole Mio," which would have been a bit much.) I was told that it had been imported by a Beverly Hills husband as a birthday gift for his wife. A small placard on the boat said it had been manufactured at a shipyard on the island of Giudecca (where the film festival takes place) in 1985. Where once there were 10,00 gondolas plying the canals in the 17th and 18th centuries, now there are only 400 remaining, virtually all of them hired by tourists.
I then marveled at the sight of a 1967 275 GTB Ferrari balanced on four Italian tea cups from Richard Ginori. At the intersection of Rodeo and Dayton, there was an example of the ancient Italian art of Infiorata, painting with flower petals. And I ended my day with an Italian meatball sandwich from the Great Balls on Tires food truck. Heavenly.
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