Don’t Want No Ugly Jesus


So Tizi has it in for Burt Bacharach. We’re driving down to Rimini this morning, where we’ll visit the Grand Hotel, have some lunch, then go to the newly restored Fulgor movie theater to buy tickets to see the newly restored version of  Fellini’s “Amarcord.” And we’re going to stock up on Jesuses at the Catholic shop today.

At the moment we’re sitting at one of the many stop lights between San Marino and Rimini. I tell her I have a song stuck in my head, “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

“Good God,” she says. “Why?”

“I thought of the song on our wedding anniversary,” I say.  That was yesterday.

“What bull,” she says.

It is, in fact, a total load of bull. The song came to mind when I was in the bathroom a few days ago, thinking hopefully about one of the challenges of international travel–the time change, the change in diet and schedule, eating lunch when you usually eat breakfast, eating dinner when you usually eat lunch, eating a lot, I mean a lot more than usual. It’s a thorough-going alteration of your input-output regimen. And that morning, well, signs were finally pointing in the right direction, in the output department. Sitting there, feeling optimistic, I sang, “We’ve only just begun.”

“Did Burt Bacharach write that?” she says now.

“Parts of the song sound like him,” I say. “There’s a really nice chord change at the bridge. Here–.” I sing it: “Sharing horizons that are new to us. Watching the signs along the way…”

“That’s “Burt-ish,” I tell her. Pleased with my coinage.

Thinking of the song, and then hearing it, really pisses her off. She begins to excoriate Burt Bacharach. Burt Bacharach! My wife can be a monster.  When I tell her that he wrote music, not lyrics, she says she doesn’t care. The song is sappy, it’s sentimental, it’s Burt Bacharach crap.

We ride along, alone in our thoughts. I start to hum, then stop, deciding to keep the Carpenters, and Burt, if it’s Burt, to myself.

“My ears have been ringing a lot,” I say. “Do you think there’s a correlation between air travel and tinnitus?”

“I need to buy at least three Jesuses this year,” she says.

A few minutes later I park our rental car, a car named Karl (no kidding), down by the beach, half a block from the hotel. It’s just Karl and a Mercedes, side by side. When I check the Mercedes dashboard, I can see the driver didn’t pay to park. I don’t either. This is living dangerously.


We’re here to look at rooms for a trip I’m planning a year from now. The hotel is legendary. It’s palatial. It’s art nouveau. High ceilings, arches, columns. A man wearing white gloves meets us at the door. I tell him we have an appointment, whereupon he shows us to the coffee bar. While we wait there he brings us first Claudio, then Wioleta, then Eleonora.

Claudio says, “You’ve been coming to Rimini 40 years and you’ve never been in the Grand Hotel?”

That’s right. We’ve never really needed a hotel, I say.  But if we did, it would be this one.

Wioleta shows us half a dozen rooms.  At the Grand Hotel, there are no regular rooms. The bargain room is called an executive room. Then come deluxe suites, very deluxe suites, and the extremely deluxe suite, named for Fellini, which has two baths, two bedrooms, and a spacious sitting room. On the wall outside the room is a photo portrait of Fellini, wearing a clown nose.


Back at the front desk I tell Eleonora we’ll need seven rooms, an assortment, a few executives, mostly suites.

And what sort of trip is this? she wonders.

Sights, I say. Roman ruins, hill towns, food and wine, probably some shopping. “We’ll be off the beaten path,” I tell her.

She promises to hold rooms for our dates. On the way out, white gloves gets to the door before us, holds it open. He remembers my name.

Next up, Tizi goes Jesus shopping.

“We’ve only just begun” is still playing in my mind.

At the next parking lot, over by the Tiberius bridge, we’re approached by a couple African men, as usual. Lots of begging in Italy. Gypsies, out-of-work types, also, judging by their clothes, the I-prefer-not-to-work type, most of whom appeal to you from a kneeling position, avoiding eye contact. Also very common, especially in parking lots, are the Africans.

The Africans work on their feet. Some of them show you where there are parking spots, then guide you into your spot. They want to be paid for that. Others just stand near the pay meter and ask for money. They call me “capo,” which Tizi hates.  “Do you have a coin, boss?” they say. I have no idea how they live–what they eat, where they sleep, where the Africans at the stoplights get those packets of kleenex they want to sell you. At the stoplights I hold up a hand and shake my head no. In the parking lot they’re right there in front of you. Young and middle-aged men. You never see women.

“Sell what you possess, and give alms.” Thus sayeth the scripture: (Luke 12:31).

Reserve hotel rooms, and give alms.

Crossing the bridge, I say to Tizi, “Okay if I don’t go in the Catholic shop?”


It’s actually called Semprini Arredi Sacri, sacred articles, right around the corner from Rimini’s cathedral. They have something for everyone. Would you like a life size statue of Padre Pio? A crucifix magnet? An Ave Maria key chain? A guardian angel nightlight? Some grappa from the local monastery? There’s also a full array of priest- and nun-wear and liturgical hardware, though I think you need a license to buy stuff like that.

And nativity stuff.  That’s Tizi’s bag.

“What about Francesco?” she says. He’s her go-to guy at Semprini, about forty, thin, a few days growth of beard, always smelling of cigarette smoke. I like him. But I can only take so much of that oppressive iconography. It’s how I picture purgatory.

I tell her I’ll go have a glass of wine at I Putti and wait for her there.

I Putti–meaning the angels–is our new wine bar. At 11:45 I have a glass of Sangiovese. After my second sip, Marco sets down a small pizza and a smaller prosciutto sandwich. I know man does not live by bread alone, but this bread and this wine get awfully close to holiness.


She’ll be a while, I tell Marco when he asks about Tizi. The Jesuses are for some nieces and nephews back home, the nativity sets Tizi equips them with. The problem is: they keep losing their Jesus.

While it’s just me I take out my phone and Google Burt. How about that? Burt Bacharach, I find, is still alive and kicking at 91. Married four times. His memoir is titled “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” That’s also a song. He wrote that, too? I love that song. I dig a little further. “Say a Little Prayer,” of course. Come to find out, he did not write “We’ve Only Just Begun.” On the sound system i Putti are playing American rock and roll.  They’ve probably never heard of Burt Bacharach or the Carpentieri.

The door clicks open and Tizi comes in. “Hey.” She looks crestfallen.

“Jesuses?” I say.

She shakes her head.  “They were busted.”


“Just ugly. Francesco says he’ll be getting more in.”

“Don’t want no ugly Jesus,” I say.

She picks up a tiny bite of pizza, pops it in her mouth, and shakes her head. Yes, it’s a low-level religious experience. Yes, sure, I say, try the wine. This is communion. We sit, satisfied, sanctified. I wait a few minutes.  Then, I have to tell her. I can’t help myself.

“It’s not Burt Bacharach who wrote that song,” I say. “It’s a guy named Paul Williams. Remember him? A little guy with glasses?”

“I don’t care,” she says.  “I still hate that song.”

“How about ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart?’ That’s a good song.”

“I don’t know it.”

“Burt Bacharach at his best.” I’m on a roll. I sing her the first few notes of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” The wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh, wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh, wuh, wuh. It’s cheerful, but I know I’m pushing it now.


“Good tune. Terrible lyrics.”

The day is still young.  We’ll have seafood risotto at Trattoria Marianna, then go to the theater for our tickets. We get the last two, up in the balcony. Good for making out, I tell her.

The next morning, lodged in my brain, will be the theme song from Amarcord, sweet and kind of seasick.  Every bit as sticky as that other song.

baby jesus



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