Even when she was sitting down, Mona was a moving picture. Her presence commanded attention. Mona was beautiful, had style and was intelligent. The last time I saw her was when she came to Rome for a post G8 anti-global demonstration. We marched together then had dinner at a trattoria in Piazza Farnese while talking and talking as we’d always done. But for some reason I can’t explain, the magical relationship we once had was swallowed up by nothingness. Now, more than 15 years later, I’ve learned that Mona died last summer of ovarian cancer. And the news has crushed me.
From the very start Mona and I had something in common–we were both foreign women living in a small provincial town in southern Tuscany. Born in Cairo, Mona grew up in London. She’d studied all over Europe, spoke four languages and had a doctorate in literature. Her love of literature made her good at description. Like the protagonist of a novel, Mona was glamorous and had the talent of making the world around her seem glamorous, too.
But beauty does not save you from pain.
Now that she’s gone, she’s always present because it seems, at this time of sorrow, I’m addicted to caressing memories of moments we shared.
Most every morning, after coffee, we’d call one another and she’d read our horoscopes.
During the summer Mona kept her perfumes in the refrigerator to make the fragrance last longer.
We both liked to laugh a lot. When I was in the hospital, she came to cheer me up. We laughed so hard that a nurse came in and said You don’t laugh in hospitals! and this just made us laugh even more.
I’d been invited to Francisco Smythe‘s exhibition in Rome. Before going, Mona invited me to her house for a brunch of salmon and spumante. She lent me her mustard colored cashmere coat for the occasion then drove me to the train station.
At my birthday party one year, a small group of friends came over to celebrate with me. We all danced wildly save for Mona who sat on the sofa smoking dressed in red like Paolina Bonaparte.
One morning I went to visit Mona. She answered the door elegantly dressed wearing a light colored tailleur so I asked where she was going. Nowhere, she replied, I’m just reading Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (the book that inspired Mick Jagger’s lyrics to Sympathy for the Devil).
Portraits in words.
I recently read that if, in our diaries, we write about people who have qualities we admire, we can, in some way, appropriate those qualities for ourselves. By recognizing what we like in others, we give ourselves something to strive for.
There are many qualities about Mona I’d like to have for myself. She was scintillating, intriguing, fascinating, original, sophisticated, au courant and so much fun to be with. Mona, like all of us, had fears, too. But when she walked on egg shells, she did so to crush them.
I’ve been hesitant about posting this. But not having the possibility of saying goodbye to Mona while she was still alive has left me with a feeling of emptiness. Writing about her may not change that but it will give me the chance to thank her for all the abracadabras she gave me.
Au Revoir Mona.