Yes, I saw Him at the Venice Film Festival on September 8th, 2001. It was Saturday. My story, however, begins some time before. Almost one year before.
I have a friend, Edelweiss. She is a great fan of Matthew McConaughey. In a certain way we got closer and became friends because of our common passion for movie stars. In August 2000 she said to me that Mc and J would be in Venice for the Film Festival. If they would come on the same days? would we go too? Ok, I said. She found out they would be there on the same day. Well, I let her organize the whole trip. She arranged everything. She prepared also a little packet for Mc and so did I, for J of course. Who knows? We were travelling by train from Rome to Venice as she said: “You know? I heard J wouldn’t come? Sorry?” It’s ok, doesn’t matter. We will have fun. And after all I kept hoping it was only a rumor, a false piece of news. He will come. I was sure. I kept waiting and hoping all the time during the two days we spent at the Festival. How can I explain?? I felt Him in the air all around me. By a sudden chance just three days before we left I had seen in a very small cinema in Rome, Los Angeles Without A Map. I had felt a bit like the young hero. He spoke with a Dead Man poster. Sometimes I did the same at home with another photo. On that train I understood what the meaning of the movie was for me in that very moment: the only places where I would see or meet J was still my dreams and my fantasy for now. I brought to Venice a T-shirt I had made with J’s self-portrait printed on the front side. I wore it during our two days at the Film Festival. “If He won’t be here, His portrait will.” Only a few months after I read in an Italian magazine that Bardem had done the same with a photo of Reynaldo Arenas printed on the T-shirt he was wearing at Before Night Falls premiere in Ven-ice. The two days we spent at the Festival were special. We met a very young and kind journalist, she helped us, she told us all she knew about people landing to be interviewed or leaving the hotels and at what time. That way we discovered when we would see Mc and where and in which hotel he stayed. In the meanwhile there were people asking about J everywhere around us, young people and older and I was impressed how many they were. Will He come, will He not? We knew all about His past stay at the Festival: the party for The Man Who Cried, His hotel? but He didn’t come. They said He was on a set, I think it was From Hell. He couldn’t come, but everywhere I could feel His absence, wider than anyone else’s absence. And then? we were just waiting for Mc outside the Excelsior, the hotel where all the interviews took place, when suddenly I saw a very attractive tall guy coming out. I recognized him; I had seen him some months before in a TV-movie. I shouted his name and ran to him. I asked if I might take a photo of him and when I held out my hand to thank him he caught it, bowed over me and kissed me on my cheek. In the afternoon I read the program of the Festival more carefully and I learned why the guy was there. He played one of the main characters in Before Night Falls, one of the two competing movies J was playing in. How strange? J wasn’t there, but in a certain way I thought I couldn’t come closer to Him even if He would have come. I saw how strictly Mc and Bon Jovi and all the other stars were controlled and followed by bodyguards. They were like in a armored safe. Would I really like to see J like that? I considered all that and it seemed to me a little inhuman to come there and look at Him as if He was a kind of monument or something like that. We went to Mc’s hotel. We were lucky, they let us reach the hall from the delivery entrance and she left her packet for him. We saw where the receptionist put it. The key wasn’t there. Mc was in his room. She left her packet. I still had mine when I went home. She was very excited and tired in the same time. I was too. We had awaken very early in the morning just to be there. We sat then on a bench and we looked at the sea. The sun was setting, the light was so soft, the silence was complete. I saw a young man coming towards the hotel, he had such a gentle and lovely face, I thought he was one of them. Something in his way of walking let me think that. He brought a paper bag with Prada written on it. He seemed to be shy; he was walking without giving a glance all around him, low eyes, as if he didn’t want to be recognized. He was not alone, but they didn’t speak to each other. They were just walking and I thought for sure that the other one was a bodyguard. I kept looking at them without moving or speaking till they disappeared into the hotel entrance. A week or two after I saw in Rome Before Night Falls and I recognized the guy. He was the French actor Olivier Martines. I felt as if I had been into that movie too. Like J. This very night we went to the U-571 premiere. When we entered the cinema Mc was entering too, walking down a narrow passage through the crowd. We were almost two meter far from him. In some moments nearer and if we had stretched out our hands we had touched him? but we couldn’t. Plenty of bodyguards were controlling everything and everyone. We couldn’t even take some photos because we where so close to him. We just looked at him passing by and smiling to no one. We were speechless. Really, would I be strong enough to bear to see J like that?
At the end of July 2001 I was spending some days with Edelweiss at her home. A friend of her called and said: “Girls… don’t you know? Depp will be in Venice?” She started searching in the net if Mc would be there too. I left her and I was walking down a narrow street in Rome carrying my suitcase, when I saw him again, the tall guy I had met outside the Excelsior. “O my God, o my God?”, I could only repeat. Andrea Di Stefano was coming out from a travel agency. He also recognized me, I think. We had met once again some months before, always in Rome, always in a narrow street near my office. In that occasion I had asked him for an autograph. He was always the same kind guy I remembered from Venice, so kind that I almost forgot how handsome he is. The first thing I asked him was if he would go in Venice again. He said no, but he added: “If you go, have fun!” Thanks. I’ll have. I would do my best to make his wish come true. But some days after we learned that 13 Conversations About A Thing, the movie with Mc and Turturro competing at the Festival, and From Hell would be presented in different days. So we couldn’t go together. It would last too long and cost us a lot. I had to find another companion for the days of J’s supposed stay in Venice. I asked my friend Lilly and arranged the whole thing. I booked the hotel and the train. Every two days I was searching for information at official Film Festival web site. At the end of August Edelweiss called me and said: “I still don’t know if Mc will come or not, but I’ll go in two days. I’m so sorry, they said on the radio J won’t come?” What? Once again? You see? If J comes to Italy I have to go and see. But now? Anyhow I wasn’t sad at first. Two days after I was angry and a little disappointed. I had all arranged. I didn’t let myself get discouraged. I was going to spend some wonderful days in Venice, in this very strange town, built on a fish shaped island whose veins are its many canals, and its other islands, such as San Michele, where the cemetery is, the Giudecca, where Cipriani Hotel is, the hotel where Edelweiss and I had left that packet the year before, and the Lido, a long and narrow island that seems to protect Venice from the sea and where the Film Festival takes place every year. This strange town without bus or subway; if you want to visit it you must walk and walk or take the steamboat and when you land you feel as if you are still on board, the ground seems to move under your feet. This very strange town whose map I had been studying for two weeks in order to find the right hotel for me and Lilly. O God? He won’t come! But? Di Stefano had said: “Have fun!” I would have.
We got to Venice on September 6th. I had planned to see Jude Law, who was expected that night for the A.I. premiere. At the last minute he said he wouldn’t come. I decided to make the best of a bad bargain. I accompanied my friend through the town and I nearly forgot the Festival. She is a passionate photographer and brought a very heavy bag and a very big camera. The year before I had been at the Lido only and I hadn’t seen anything of the town. This time I saw the gondolas and the monuments. The whole town was made of art, beauty and tourists and I understood why they say: “Save Venice.” I had heard that this town is a lasting paradox: usually a lagoon doesn’t last so long. Either it becomes a piece of land or the sea floods it. This town is a kind of lasting miracle and a kind of trap for tourists, with its many souvenirs stores, confectioners, its many restaurants and pizzerias and ice cream parlors. But this very town is able to surprise you with its sudden silences. You just need to leave the main street and enter one of these narrow ways leading to nowhere, ending on a canal where the gondolas glide without a sound. If a gondolier is singing or explaining something to the tourists it usually happens on the main canals. Not here. So it’s not so strange that while I was in Venice I heard nothing about the Film Festival, as if it was taking place in Hong Kong or in Honolulu, not at the Lido. I just watched the final news on TV at night, as if I was home 600 km far from there. On September 7th morning we separated. We wanted to see different parts of the town. We should meet for lunch at 1.30pm in a restaurant. We were just having a typical Venetian lunch as she got a message on the phone from her boyfriend: “Depp is at the Lido.” Oh, I thought, he’s joking. What a bad joke? Anyhow I tried to find out something, but really Venice seemed not to be interested in what was happening at the Lido. The tourist office in Piazza San Marco, where I had got some information about the Festival the day before, was closed. We had no radio. When we came back to the hotel we turned the TV on and I found out the guy in Rome was not joking. J was in Venice. He had been at the Lido to be interviewed. O Christ! That night I saw one of these interviews on TV. He talked with His very voice with subtitles. I looked at Him and I didn’t understand anything. He is here! And I was walking like a stupid tourist the whole day. My friend got very angry with me. She said I should have been informed. I was informed. I had connected to Internet just the day before we left: He shouldn’t have come. It looked as if it was my fault that He had come. I was so disappointed as she was. Perhaps more. Why didn’t she understand? I thought: “Now we have to organize for tomorrow.” I tried not to think of anything else.
The next morning we woke up very early. We took the boat and went to the Lido. We had some breakfast. It was still very early. We bought some newspapers. We read He was at Cipriani, the hotel on Giudecca Island where Mc had stayed the year before. But newspapers don’t always say the truth. They are a little superficial, sometimes. So I tried to enter the hotel Des Bains, where J should have had to stay the year before. I just had a look at the reception and what I saw let me breathless. I knew it was the hotel where Thomas Mann had set his tale Death in Venice and Luchino Visconti had filmed the movie version. I asked if Mr. Depp was there. I just wanted to leave the packet I had prepared for Him. Although what I had learned before leaving I had still kept a little faith and prepared a new packet for Him, much smaller than the one I had planned at first. I also brought my T-shirt with His portrait printed on, but this time I left it in my suitcase. The polite elegant employee let me repeat the name. He wanted me to spell it. He checked up in his PC. No, there’s no one called like that. Thanks. I pretended to be more sure and resolute than I was, as if it was usual for me to enter such wonderful places, places where you need a lot of money to lodge in. Ok. Then we went to the Excelsior. Similar scene, different elegant uniforms. J didn’t stay there. They said He had been there the day before for the interview. He did just one? Really? Very strange? They said they didn’t know if He would come again. My friend was still very angry with me. She said we had to go to His hotel. I didn’t dare to propose it myself. I knew how far the hotel was. She didn’t know. Then it happened something that made us lose some precious time. The girl at the boat ticket window thought she had to explain me carefully why I had to buy just the tickets I wanted to buy. My friend changed color. Her face took on a very unusual red shade. I tried to keep being calm. I was struck by the way the girl could speak about nothing. At the end I was so nervous that I bought more tickets than we had needed, if only we had been a little more experienced in Venetian boats. At last we reached the hotel. Same way as the year before, same bench. Not the same silence. I tried to go into the hall. A guard asked me what I was looking for. I was very simple; I said him the same as I said in the other hotels. O, what a mistake! At first he said that J didn’t stay there. I pretended once more to be very resolute. I insisted I knew He was there. When I said: “I don’t understand why you are making so many difficulties? Last year you let me enter!” he replied: “Who let you enter? Tell me the name!” I looked at him a little ironic. I hoped he understood how stupid his question was. As if I could know all the people working in that hotel only for entering it once? He said he couldn’t me let in. I had to wait till his colleague would come and ask him. O God, I just want to go in the hall and leave this packet. It’s just a letter with a request for an autograph. I had some strange thoughts in my mind when I saw the two maids entering the door. My friend was a little far, but she noticed my strange glance. My patience was going to give up. I would be the most headstrong. I had came up to there; He was in the hotel, somewhere over or around me. I couldn’t go away now. Another guard went out of a room. A taller and finer one. I explained again as calm as I could and I added: “What if I had sent it by express mail?” “Great – he said – send it!” He was so fine and tall, but I think I looked at him as if I would soon lose my temper. He went into the room, he came out again and said: “He has gone to the Lido right now.” Calm, be calm? “I don’t want to see Him – I was lying unashamed and, after all, I thought they were just trying to get rid of me – I only want to leave this packet!” The tall guy took it and said: “I will try to give it to the receptionist for you. I don’t make you any promise. It depends on him.” He put his coat on and disappeared through the narrow passage that leads to the reception. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Now I only had to trust him, to hope the receptionist would be so kind as the guard was, to hope that He too? I remembered what Marta, the Spanish girl who had met Him in Toledo during the filming of The Ninth Gate, had written. I knew how gentle He had been. I had much to hope. Would my faith be strong enough?
We came back to the Lido. We had lost a lot of time on the Giudecca. When we reached the little terrace opposite the Excelsior there was a little crowd. I asked what had happened or what was going to happen, the usual question in such an occasion, and two girls said to us: “He is come! We saw Him.” “Who?” “Johnny Depp!” “When?” “More or less twenty minutes ago. Maybe ten.” I didn’t look at Lilly’s face. He was into the Excelsior to be interviewed again. The guard told me the truth then? I can trust him. I must. I have no other possibility now. He was inside. But I felt as if He was miles and miles away from there, from that terrace where we were going to spend the next six or seven hours. The front of the Excelsior faces on the road, but the stars usually enter from under, they land from the taxi-boats on a little wharf on the other side of the road and people can look down at them. We stayed there till He came out. To be more exact: she stayed there without moving, with her camera ready and the powerful zoom on. I went once into the hotel. I left everything to her, entered and asked about the toilet. I wanted to investigate. It was 1.00pm and if He was having His lunch I thought we could go and have some lunch too. Right opposite the toilet I notice the room for the interviews. They were changing the lights or the posters’ disposition. I don’t know. I tried to have a look. I didn’t see Him. I tried to behave as natural as I could. I didn’t want people to realize I was just a fan, an unauthorized one. They might lose all their politeness or make some trouble. Who knows?? The first guard at Cipriani hotel was not very kind with me. I know he was only doing his job. But in that moment I wasn’t able to think like that. I could only think of my packet. Two young women were sitting on a bench near the toilet. They seemed to be waiting for something. I asked them what was happening in the front room as if I was not interested at all. “The interview with Johnny Depp.” “Really? – I said and I pretended to know more than they knew – But? I heard He’s having His lunch at the hotel restaurant?” “That’s impossible! He’s going to be interviewed. We have to interview Him?” “Ah, maybe I misunderstood?” I went to the toilet and then out. I told all to my friend. After a while someone came out under the terrace and showed to the taxi-drivers waiting there an open hand, as to say: “Five” or “At five”. My friend said: “I’ll stay here till He comes out.” We spent the time talking with a lot of people passing by there. They stayed for a while and then went away to dine or to see some movie. We stayed. I couldn’t leave her alone. She couldn’t get angrier than she already was. She kept saying: “If we go away and He comes out right then? We missed Him yesterday. We missed Him this morning. I don’t want to miss Him again. He must come out. I’ll wait for Him? I’ll catch Him? I’ll take my photos!” So we stayed. Someone told us that the day before leaving the press conference, just while we were eating our typical Venetian food, He had signed almost forty autographs. I preferred not to look into Lilly’s eyes. We watched the boats coming and going away. We made some suppositions about which boat He would take to leave. All of a sudden there was a little bustle on the road. We alerted our senses. A woman said there was Roger Smith. Such a lovely actor, she said. I didn’t know him and we were not interested in find out who he was and how lovely he was. We couldn’t leave our position. Nothing could distract our attention. People kept landing. Journalists. Starlets. Photographers. Some famous Italian personalities arrived. Some went away. From time to time I thought I really didn’t envy Him at that moment. We were waiting for Him, we were tired, but He wasn’t either having fun. All that time giving interviews, always listening to the same questions, always repeating the same answers. We hadn’t had any lunch, but I knew He hadn’t had any lunch too. It was five o’ clock and nothing happened. I ate some biscuits I had in my bag and drank some fruit juice. Lilly kept watching the wharf. When the light began to get dimmer she began to complaint about the light. The black dressed elegant tall bodyguards were coming and going. They talked with the taxi-drivers. They laughed. We spied all those signs. I was growing in nervousness. My hands began to tremble. Suddenly He came out. No wind. No flash. He just came out. We saw Him from above. My friend said: “I go down and I beat Him. Is that the way to get dressed?” She looked a little longer to Him and said: “O God! He walks like my boyfriend does!” He had that famous old Panama all the newspaper in Venice had talked about. Black pants with braces hanging on His hips. Black shirt. A large dark kefiah on His shoulders. I was surprised how delicate He seemed to be. It was as if He was trying to hide Himself. I don’t know how to explain? He had the grace of a dancer. He seemed not to move through the air, He glided and the air seemed to shift aside to let Him pass, as if they didn’t want to disturb each other. He was not very physical, at least in the way Mc had been the year before. He was the star there and He wasn’t playing the star. Or He was playing it in a very personal way. I was speechless. The year before I had been shouting all the time from that terrace Mc’s name so that he would turn to my camera. Now I couldn’t bring myself to take some photos. I wanted to do. I looked at Him into the camera and I saw Him bigger, but I felt as if I really didn’t see Him. I just saw His image through the lenses. He got near the little partition for the photographers. We had watched them; our cameras were bigger and more powerful than theirs were. For sure they were there just to see Him. Friends or relatives of someone working in the hotel or for the TV. He signed some autographs. I tried not to think of my poor letter waiting for Him at His hotel. Then He went on board. He waved. We had guessed which boat He would go on. We were in the right place. The boat turned. He sat on the back. We could see Him very well although He was rather far. He smiled, waved His hat and we looked at Him vanishing in the distance. Lilly said He waved to us. It all lasted five or ten minutes. We had been waiting for hours and now all took place so quick. Had I really seen Him? Lilly confirmed it to me. When I would be home I should have the photos to see and realize that all was true. But now? I was beside myself. Was I disap-pointed? No, I don’t think. It was all exactly as I had imagined it would be. Perhaps I hoped something more, but I knew it would all go as it went. It was six o’clock. At half past nine He would came back for the premiere. We had only a few hours to eat something, to go to the toilet and to find a convenient place by the partition. At 7.30pm we had chosen our point of observation. She prepared her camera, with zoom and flash. I had mine, simpler than hers. She had given it to me the year before, just for my first Venetian trip. I had used it then to take some photos of Mc, the same that Edelweiss had sent to the Mc’s fan site. It was the Festival closing night. We saw people coming for the awarding of prices. Loudspeakers filled the air with music. I recognized some of the songs and the voice of Tracy Chapman. Her words found their way through my brain: “Give me one reason to stay here?” I thought of J. I was tired. Lilly was tired. J was our reason to stay there. We had had to chose if we wanted to see From Hell at nine o’clock in a different cinema or Him walking on the platform outside the Palazzo del Cinema at half past nine. The showing had to be public, but this very morning we came to know it was only for invited ones. They began to enter; some of them were dressed like circus artists. Some were welcomed with hisses. No wind. No flash. Suddenly they came. He walked first holding Vanessa’s hand in His hand, as if He needed this contact to go till the end of the platform where the photographers were waiting for them aligned like a firing squad. Dressed and combed very similar: black coat, black pants and put up hair, the only difference between Him and her was that she was smiling much more than He was. Lilly looked into her zoom and said: “How beautiful He is! And how nervous and strained. I can see it by the way He clenches His jaw.” He stopped and turned to the photographers and I thought how patient and respectful for other people’s work He was. She kept smiling gently and seemed to be looking at us. I knew there were Graham and Holm and the Hugues brothers too, but I’m sorry, I had eyes only for the two of them. I tried to take some photos. I had no flash. I hoped the light would be enough and my hand steady. Then He turned to the crowd behind the partition and smiled. I think He was not at ease, He had to do what He was doing. It really seemed as if He would like to be everywhere but there, as if would prefer to be working on any set, on a mountain, in the desert, on a boat, wherever but there. This feeling I had made me understand the depth of His sense of responsibility. They entered the cinema. We went home. Disappointed? No, I knew I couldn’t have more than that. I was just a little sad. I almost felt a little guilty for I had come there to see Him as if He was a monument and not a human being. A human being shouldn’t stay under the light like this so that people can see him and take photos, as if he is such a fantastic monster or an animal, a strange thing to be shown. I can understand one loses his temper if he’s always regarded like that. Especially when he’s very young.
The next morning we left Venice and went to Trentino, a very peaceful mountain region south of Austria. We spent a day with some friends of hers. I made some strange dreams. I had no time to think about the last two days. I confused the day life with the dream. I felt I was missing something. If I was aware of what it was, I didn’t confess it to myself. I should have faith in the human kindness and sincerity. I knew that when I would be home I would begin to wait again, like on that terrace. Hoping. Despairing.
On Monday night I was home. On Thursday I went to work. When I came back I asked my mother as usual if we had got mail. She said a little absent-minded: “It’s on your bed.” I recognized at once the yellow envelope I had put into the packet with my address written on it. It was perfectly closed with a tape. I called Lilly. I opened the letter on the phone with her. My heart was beating loud, my hands trembling a little. I recognized His writing; I knew it from the February 2000 issue of French magazine Studio. It seemed as if He had used the same pen. If I look at the photos in that article I can imagine Him writing to me with a different hat. I held that piece of paper in my hands. My fingerprints were on it, confused with His. I thought once again: “I couldn’t get closer to Him?” I read the letter to Lilly without understanding anything, so excited I was. I owed it her for all we had got through together. Once we had been almost near to quarrel. I called Edelweiss too and one or two other friends. No more. Not everyone is so open minded to accept all your weaknesses. I felt I would like to tell it to the whole world and at the same time I wanted to keep it for me as a secret, as a precious thing, as the most precious gift I could have from Him. I realized how good the world could be. There was a chain of kind people under that letter. And He? He didn’t know I would tell the whole story. I didn’t know myself. I have been wondering long if I had to do it or not. I just told what I saw with my eyes and my heart. His answer was something out of the lights of the show, almost private, it touched me very much, for in that very tiring and busy days He was so kind to find a while for me. He had written only a few words, but every word was saying to me: “I read your letter.” He paid attention to me, He treated me respectfully, He treated me as a human being. Who am I? Just a little drop in the ocean of His admirers, the faint echo of a step following Him on His “very strange road”? Thank You.