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Friday, March 14, 2003   |    Fiction

My Dinner with Bellucci and Bellow

by Bobby Rufferto

On a cold Sunday evening, I had the opportunity to dine with legendary writer Saul Bellow and Italian actress Monica Bellucci in New York City. We were to discuss their upcoming project, D’ora in Poi Dirò Solo la Verità, a performance art piece which will be touring the nation and Europe this spring.

After some false starts—Mr. Bellow cancelled our first dinner for an impromptu trip to Atlantic City (he says he lost thousands playing Let it Ride, thousands more at a strip club); Ms. Bellucci stood the two of us up for what was to be our second dinner attempt, because she was so enraptured in a bubble bath at her hotel, she completely lost track of time and emerged seven hours later, sparkling clean but having forgotten how to speak anything but French—we finally meet at the Daily Soup on 42nd Street, Mr. Bellow’s choice of restaurants. Mr. Bellow is dressed casually in slacks and a cardigan. Ms. Bellucci is, characteristically, naked but for two large hooped earrings. Her flawless English has returned.

Q: Tell us about your project.

S.B.: It is about the nakedness of the human soul, reflected in Bellucci’s lack of clothing.

M.B.: It’s cold in here.

S.B.: Yes, Bellucci. Your nipples each point at me like the cold, cold finger of the Reaper.

Q: And how exactly will you each contribute? Is Ms. Bellucci perf—

S.B.: Bellucci!

Q: Ah, sorry … Is Ms. Bell-oo-chi—

S.B.: No! Bellucci! Bellucci! Not Ms. Bellucci. Not Monica. She is simply Bellucci!

Q: I see. I’m sorry. Will Bellucci be acting scenes you’ve written, Mr. Bellow? How will this performance art work?

M.B.: I will dance. I will spin around. I will walk on my hands. Mr. Bellow will not be present. Rather, I will be accompanied by a tape cassette of his voice reading from his grocery shopping list, from his Verizon bill, from shoppers’ reviews of his novels.

S.B.: It is about the nakedness of the human soul, reflected in Bellucci’s lack of clothing.

Q: I see. You two seem to make an unusual pairing. How did you meet?

M.B.: We took a yoga class together. They positioned our little mats on the gym floor alphabetically. I sat right behind him.

S.B.: Bellucci speaks truth.

M.B.: Saulie can barely touch his toes. I can place the sole of my foot flat on my back. Watch.

[Ms. Bellucci rises and performs this feat, to the slack-jawed shock of all patrons of the Daily Soup. It is indeed an astounding display. She gracefully returns to the table and sips her lentil soup.]

Q: Mr. Bellow, your work carries an intense gravity; you’ve thus earned a reputation as a man of very dark and heavy stuff, yet you seem to be a rather light-hearted fellow. Tell us a joke.

S.B.: My first wife looked like Bardot.

M.B.: Brigette?

S.B.: No. Guy Lom.

M.B.: Ba-dum bum.

[Awkward pause on my part. The two artists smile at me. This was obviously some sort of rehearsed gag.]

Q: I don’t get it.

M.B.: Saulie’s wit is lost on most.

S.B.: Bellucci speaks truth.

Q: Mr. Bellow, what do you think of Ms. Bellucci’s films? Have you seen Brotherhood of the Wolf? Or either of her current films, Tears of the Sun, or Irréversible?

M.B.: Saulie doesn’t watch my movies.

S.B.: I do not watch cinema. Sometimes I watch the television. I have an old black-and-white set from the seventies. It still works, but the picture is fuzzy.

Q: So, you’ve never seen her perform? What made you decide to work with—

S.B.: Bellucci performs for me in private. She reënacts whole episodes of some of my favorite programs. You should see Bellucci do “Good Times.” Her impersonations are uncanny. She does an hysterical Florida.

Q: “Good Times”?

S.B.: Why do they no longer run that show on BET?

Q: Mr. Bellow, you watch BET?

S.B.: Not since they stopped airing “Good Times.” But, the network was the inspiration for my novel, Herzog.

Q: I see.

M.B.: Dyn-o-mite!

S.B.: Bellucci is very talented.

M.B.: Saulie flatters me.

S.B.: Nonsense.

Q: Bellucci, you will be appearing in the upcoming Matrix sequels—

M.B.: No, I will not.

Q: You … Yes, you… I’m sorry, The Matrix

M.B.: I did no such thing.

Q: I’ve seen you in the commercial. I was given a promotional poster, autographed by you.

M.B.: That is the work of voodoo trickery.

Q: Okay. I … Um. Well. Would you like to discuss …

M.B.: My nudity? European audiences are not as immature as Americans. Americans are so childish. And ignorant. And smelly. Oh wait: Did you say The Matrix?

Q: Yes

M.B.: Yes. Yes. I will be in The Matrix I will be in both sequels. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. I will also be in the first one.

Q: The first one?

M.B.: Yes. It is called the Matrix. Nothing more. Elegant in its simplicity.

Q: I’m afraid I don’t understand. I’ve seen The Matrix.

M.B.: I will be in that. But not Brotherhood of the Wolf.

S.B.: Bellucci. Truth. Speaking.

Q: How is this possible? I have the DVD. You’re not in that. They made it already. Years ago. What the hell are you talking about?

M.B.: God, do you know anything about the matrix at all? Not the film. The real thing. Do you? Americans. Ugh.

Q: Moving on. You’re both fluent in French—

M.B.: Cet entrevue américain est un chimpanzé.

S.B.: Pas aimez-vous bourrer un brie dans son derrière?

Q: O.K. Well.

M.B.: J’ai la puissance des dieux dans des mes seins.

S.B.: Vous parlez la vérité.

Q: Mr. Bellow, you are 87 years old. But you have a young daughter—

S.B.: Bellucci is not my daughter.

Q: No, no, I’m referring to your three-year-old, Naomi Rose. Tell us about her.

M.B.: She has her father’s wit and poignancy.

S.B.: I have sired dozens of children throughout the world. Many do not know they are my daughter. My seed is magical and transcendent. I need only to eye a woman up and down while she is ovulating, and she will become impregnated.

Q: That’s … remarkable.

M.B.: It is true.

S.B.: I grow tired of this interview. My soup is no more.

Q: Before we wrap, can you give us a tiny glimpse of the project?

M.B.: We do not do excerpts. We did not bring the tape recorder.

S.B.: Perhaps I can read from the menu.

M.B.: Will it work?

S.B.: If you dance truth. My words are mere background.

M.B.: You are godlike, Saulie.

S.B.: Chicken noodle. Minestrone. Cream of Mushroom.

[Ms. Bellucci leaps to her feet. She does a dizzying, frenetic dance, encorporating breadsticks and drinking straws from the nearby countertop. The staff and customers appear frightened, yet intrigued. A child cries. After a teasing minute, Ms. Bellucci returns to her seat.]

M.B.: That is all.

S.B.: Bellucci now carries my child. This interview is no more.

Bobby Rufferto once broke his jaw on a Jawbreaker. Although it hurt incredibly, he is one to appreciate irony. He has not sued the confectioners. Do you think he should? He's conflicted: on the one hand, it hurt like hell; on the other, he now has a flip-top head which allows him to save money by buying a cheap, generic toothbrush instead of the pricey Reach toothbrush. Also, as a result, he can now entertain party guests by fitting a whole Magic 8-Ball into his mouth and shaking his head for your fortune. While we're on the subject, he did not particularly enjoy the movie Jawbreaker, but he sure digs that Rose McGowen. Oooh, she's naughty. Mr. Rufferto lives in New York, works in New Jersey, and teaches tango lessons in Iowa.