I find myself chatting with Luca Dotti in an afternoon with spring just around the corner, leafing through his book “Audrey at Home” (Harper Collins). It’s the little things about normality that proudly fill the pages of this book. The story is punctuated by the recipes that the mother wrote down by hand and kept with love over the years. From the photos that tell the years spent in Rome between lunches at the mother-in-law’s house wearing masculine-cut coats that meet the moccasin, summers in Switzerland with large wicker baskets full of flowers, trips to Tuscany and Venice with thin striped swimsuits and straw hats.
When asked where his mum preferred to eat pasta with tomato sauce, her favorite dish for its extreme simplicity, the answer is at home. Home was where she could play the part of Audrey, herself, the one of the Italian mother and housewife. Among the places that can be called home, there are those of childhood, Great Britain and above all Netherlands, during the hard years of the Second World War, marked by hunger. The years that taught her to give importance to what really matters and the feeling of hope she felt in the moment of liberation.
Home was Hollywood of the Golden Age, that of the 50s, filming Sabrina, when her alarm rang at 4am so that she could review the lines and concentrate before starting to shoot. The years of her first rented house, a small apartment in Wilshire, alone in Los Angeles where she loved to return after shooting, put on comfortable clothes and cook. The years of the evenings that never came to an end without a plate of penne with vodka — legend has it the dish was invented in Hollywood by the special effects workers. A place where she will go back years later spending time with friends which remained so for a lifetime, like Connie Wald “Audrey considered our home in Beverly Hills her home away from home”.
In the late 1960s we would have found her in Rome, where she lived for twenty years, first in the center and then in via San Valentino in Parioli. A place which witnessed dinners based on gnocchi alla romana and the celebrations of Luca’s birthdays among cone-shaped hats and projections of My Fair Lady. Few were able to recognize that mother, very normal and extraordinary, in the character of Eliza Doolittle bringing the cake with candles to the table. Home was in the kitchen, where Giovanna, cook, driver, but above all faithful companion and integral part of the family, was in charge. Home was in the preparation of penne al ketchup (the Americanata) to be eaten strictly in front of Canzonissima and the ballets of Raffaella Carrà, of which she was a great fan.
Home was in Switzerland at the Paisible residence where you can have breakfast in bed with Madeleine and cherry jam, take care of your vegetable garden and wait with a certain regard for the dinner dedicated to cutlets. Here she improvised linguine with parsley pesto (not being able to find basil as the recipe requires) for Valentino Garavani and made them taste better than the original. Here she shared ice cream with lifelong friends. Here cherry tomatoes were put out to defrost on the windowsill for the next day’s sauce. Here the summer fragrance lingered into the cold months.
Home, regardless of where she was, for her was in all the little things that were part of her daily life and that made her extremely happy.
Audrey Hepburn Estate Collection
“I’ve never met Audrey Hepburn. To a group of journalists who asked me insistently about her, as a child I replied a bit annoyed, ‘You are wrong, I am Mrs. Dotti’s son.’”
To be a mother, she said goodbye to Hollywood that continued to send her offers and scripts for years. Surprised by the request to buy a Jaguar she responded: “And where do I put the shopping?”. In jeans and a flannel shirt she waited for Luca after school. Absent-mindedly taking color photos, smiling from behind the lens. Mother of every child she held in her arms and cared for during the humanitarian missions with Unicef.
Conscious beauty, never ostentatious. Beauty in the scarf placed softly on the head. Independent, free, unstoppable beauty. Beauty with license of lightness that never turns into superficiality.
“Not long ago, leaving me in front of my house, a taxi driver told me: ‘I know this place, years ago I took a beautiful lady here’. That lady was my mother, but with that strange grace that the Romans unexpectedly carry, he did not name her”.
(from the book “Audrey in Rome”)
You’re born Roman, you don’t become, there is always the exception to the rule and Audrey was just that. Not Roman by birth but in spirit, she was able to make herself loved by a city that grants few the honor of discovering and exploring it. The 1970s began with the partnership between Audrey and the city. For her, the greatest privilege was to be able to walk in peace like any other passerby, to be able to blend in with the Romans. Her Rome is in the Sunday lunches at Romolo alla Fornarina, in Trastevere. She had a tacit agreement with the city that let itself be discovered by her, as only Rome can do “without obligation”. Walks in Villa Borghese were essential, Rome was a friend and accomplice. Curious Rome sent its best paparazzi on missions. Rome accompanied her to the market and to da Nino restaurant in Via Borgognona. Her Rome is in the afternoons at Villa Balestra with the latest issue of Captain America under her arm and in the nickname “Mrs. Dotti” with which she was known in her neighborhood. Rome was fond of Audrey, the person it got to know, and not the Hollywood star – this was part of the city’s charm.
Watching Hollywood films, those with big sunglasses, silk gloves up to the elbow and crystal cups, you let yourself be lulled by that disenchanted and fascinating world. By the time the credits arrive we almost struggle to get back to our lives and normality seems opaque without 007 agents and crown jewels to be rescued. When you find yourself leafing through a book dedicated to someone who has interpreted, breathed, or animated those films, you expect to see serious poses, jewels and parties with waiters in impeccable tuxedos. Instead, alongside Mrs. Dotti the key protagonists are all those little things that know how to make us happy as individuals, nothing extraordinarily glamorous like in the movies. This secret can be chased by many, but can reveal itself to only a few.
Photos “Audrey at Home” (Harper Collins) – All rights reserved.