Ginevra Elkann: About Whom I Knew Nothing . . .
Photo by Simon Watson
Rob Haskell, in his Jamesian-titled "Portrait of a Lady" (New York Times Style Magazine, February 14, 2014), goes even more literarily allusive with his opening lines:
In his novel "The Baron in the Trees," Italo Calvino writes of a young Ligurian aristocrat who, fed up with the world around him, climbs a tree and decides never to come down. It's tempting to imagine that a similar feeling urged Ginevra Elkann, the eldest granddaughter of Gianni and Marella Agnelli, into the fifth floor of a limestone palazzo among the treetops at the edge of the Villa Borghese gardens. This bright aerie affords views of the jewels of Rome: the Villa Borghese, the Villa Medici and the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, but best of all a long and uninterrupted line of the city's famous pini parasole, the umbrella pine trees whose leafy tufts hang over the ruins like a ribbon of low clouds.But . . . while I appreciate the stacked literary allusions, I find myself asking, "Why?" Meaning why is it "tempting to imagine that a similar feeling urged Ginevra Elkann . . . into the fifth floor of a limestone palazzo among the treetops at the edge of the Villa Borghese gardens"? Okay, I get that the Agnelli family has suffered more than its share of tragedy, but Ms. Elkann has not retreated from the world:
Elkann has been busy indeed, with myriad film projects and as the president of the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, the Renzo Piano-designed museum in Turin built around her grandparents' trove of masterpieces from Canaletto to Matisse.This is hardly the role of world renunciation! Is Haskell, then, guilty of stretching to reach more than he can grasp? Maybe not entirely. He forced me to grasp at what he meant, that retreat from worldly affairs is always relative to one's responsibility in the world, a point that spurred me to suspend disbelief and identify with the partial withdrawal of a lady from some worldly entanglements, even though this Jewish-Orthodox-Catholic aristocratic woman is more entangled in the world than I am.
A worthwhile exercise of the imagination . . . and I also learned a few things writing this.