I awoke the next morning in the Grand Hotel in Rome refreshed and ready to go home. Then I remembered that I was going to smuggle those earrings through Customs. A bit of tension crept into my bones then. My Ixspa tennis bag was packed and after a cup of the delightful cappuccino from across the street, I checked out of the hotel and snagged a cab to the Leonardo da Vinci Airport.
Once there, I paid the cabbie and entered the airport. I had never been there during the day and it was a mob scene. I mean wall to wall people. And chaotic to boot. People were pushing and shoving so I held my carry on and shoulder bag as tight to my body as possible as I tried to locate check-in. Many men came up to me asking to allow me to let them help with my bag, etcetera. I allowed myself to be rude just to get the message across to all of them that I was not looking for help of any kind. After much pushing I was finally able to read a terminal sign as to where I had to go and then I had to push my way there. When I got close there were airport security/military men in uniforms with machine guns sort of guarding the perimeter of where I wanted to go. They were pushing people away with the muzzles of their guns. (Keep in mind that this was years before 9/11.) That was a bit scary. But, they lowered their guns to let me pass and it was less crowded beyond them.
I located my gate and got in line waiting for business class check-in. I was second in line and could hear the conversation ahead of me. The deep cultured voice projected as if theatrically trained and was instantly familiar. I knew who it was before I saw his face. When he was finished checking in, he turned and made a dramatic sweep with his arm and said, “It is you turn, my dear.” He offered a big smile and made eye contact.
He was dressed head to toe in a white linen suit and was accompanied by a sophisticated lady friend who acted like she has seen this show before. They strode away together.
My check-in went without a hitch. Then I proceeded to the Value Added Tax refund center. I had packed my bag with the Piero Guidi hand bag and wallet on top for this and for customs. I presented my sales receipts to the Tax agent and he refunded the tax I had paid when I bought the items in Rome by placing a credit on my credit card. Dr. D had brought the ties for Sean with him so that I could surprise Sean with them at Christmas. We would figure out who owed what to whom when we returned. Also, if Customs did want to see what I had declared all of it would be handy right on the top. The total of what I would be claiming was well under what was allowed per person before any duty needed to be paid, so I hoped no one would need to be going through my bag. Uh, now I was nervous again. Deep breaths. Better.
I thought about going to the Admiral’s Club, but I would have to fight my way through the chaotic masses again to get there. I preferred to wait closer to the boarding gate and shop at the little stores there. I was glad I did. Right away I spotted millefiore earrings. Just then I remembered friends back at work that I had not yet bought anything for. See, this is the way it happens. You see stuff you want to buy and think of someone to buy it for. I have always loved millefiore. Anything that is made of glass can be made with millefiore canes in it.
But, I bought a set of red and green earrings to match my friend Magdalena’s auburn hair. It is a good thing I did, because Magdalena, Terry and I were all pretty tight, and Magdalena could have been jealous that I brought something for Terry and not for her, even though Terry asked for the medal. Friendships can be complicated like that.
Finally, it was time to board. As usual, I was the first passenger on the plane. (Does that tell you anything about me?) First class was in the nose of the plane, and then there was the stewardess cabin, then business class, then economy. I had a window seat. A tall, middle aged beefy former military man took the seat next to me. He seemed amiable enough. The flight took off on schedule and we would be at JFK by 3 pm.
The in flight movie was Immortal Beloved. I had seen it and loved it. The military man had not. So upon my recommendation we watched it. The story is that Beethoven, played by Gary Oldman, was an abused child prone to ecstasy only when he wrote music such as his Ode to Joy. It was a very emotional movie and the military man even cried (though he tried to hide it). He thanked me for suggesting he watch the movie and said that he really enjoyed it.
Then, the cabin crew handed out the Customs forms for declaration of goods being brought into the US. My nerves started up again as I filled out the form from my receipts and determined that I owed zero dollars duty. I believe my hands began a fine nervous tremor. I felt like a criminal. What if I was discovered? What would I say? Would they arrest me? My mind just reeled with the awful possibilities.
Our landing gear dropped and I came back to reality. We landed safely at JFK and taxied to our jet way. I couldn’t wait to get off and face my fate. Everything and everybody seemed to be moving in slow motion. Not too many people got off the plane before me. I strode ahead at my New York speed with my Ixspa bag under my arm and there ‘he’ was again.
He was alone. So I strode up to him and said, “Hi. I know who you are, and I don’t was to bother you, but I wish you health and long life. I am a great fan.”
He smiled gently and replied, “Thank you my dear. You are too kind.”
I continued. “I have seen you in many movies and also had the pleasure recently of seeing you live in a play at the Yale Rep. I think it was a Eugene O’Neill play with Colleen Dewhurst. The title escapes me just now. But you were fabulous. You had such command of the stage, as if the part was written for you.”
“It must have been Moon for the Misbegotten.”
“Ah, yes. I believe it was. You were absolutely terrific in it. It was such a pleasure to see.”
“Again, my dear you are too kind.”
At this point we had reached kind of a dead end to the hall we were in. One could go right or left. I wasn’t sure where to go. So I asked, “Um, I’m not sure which way to go here.”
“Do you have bags to claim?”
“Well, then see those Customs Agents standing right over there?” He pointed at some men standing at tables not far from us.
“Well that is where you need to go my dear.”
“Thank you ever so much and it really was a pleasure meeting you.” We smiled at each other as we parted company. He stood his ground and waited for his lady friend while I walked over to meet my fate with the customs men.
They watched me as I approached giving me surlier looks with every step I took. When I got to them, one of them barked, “Who sent you here?”
I meekly replied, “Jason Robards did.” With that I turned and pointed to Mr. Robards who was still standing not far off from where I had left him.
The agents’ faces went blank and contritely they said, “Oh. Sorry. Right this way.” One grabbed my duty declaration and stamped it without a glance as they all but pushed me through customs in their haste to process me through. Next thing I knew, I was free and clear.
And that, gentle readers, is how Jason Robards helped me smuggle gold into the US.
I continued to exit the airport to meet my limo driver. I was the first passenger to get to the exit area. When I saw the man holding the sign with my name on it, I said, “You won’t believe who I just met on my flight!”
“Does he need a ride?”