Pan Am Stewardess Meets Rock Star: My '60s Roman Holiday
The first time I saw Rome I was as a stewardess for Pan Am.
It was the mid-'60s, and British pop stars were invading the USA and Rome. We had a layover of one night in this romantic city known for its la dolce vita. As I walked down the aisle in economy, I noticed a handsome man with shoulder length ringlets. By his side was a cute, red-haired and fair-skinned Englishman.
Buzz had gone around the stewardesses that this adorable twosome was Peter and Gordon, British rockers, who had recently performed the hit, “A World Without Love.” This dynamic duo was part of the British Invasion in rock n’ roll and who worked with Paul McCartney who helped them to create their music.
Accidentally on purpose I dropped chicken cacciatore on Gordon’s lap.
“Scuz me, I’m sorry, “I said lying
“If you mean that, have dinner with me in Rome tonight?”
“Deal.” I said, as he rubbed his stained trousers and looked into my eyes.
“Where are you staying,” he asked.
“The Intercontinental. By the Spanish Steps,’ I said. “And you?”
“The Parco del Principi. Pick you up 8. Va Bene?
“Tutti va bene,” I said.
“I’m Gordon ... Could you jot your name on this napkin and I’ll cherish it forever.”
"Well, blimmy," I said to this hot English adorable air.
The plane had begun landing at Fumicinno, and so I returned to my seat. When I retrieved my luggage from baggage, I passed Peter and Gordon and waved, “Ciao.” I wasn’t sure who was cuter … Peter or Gordon. Whatever. I was young. Something told me I’d meet Peter again one day.
As our crew bus drove through the congested streets of Rome, I noticed the city smelled much like Paris except it had an earthier, more pungent aroma due to the type of petrol. It was a noisy city. Very noisy. Sounds of the claxons from the cabs and autobusses and motorbikes reverberated in my ears.
It was 10 a.m. and Romans were scurrying rapidly in the cobblestone streets and on the sidewalks. So busy. Much like the frenzy of N.Y. Where they were going, only their rendezvous knew? At 1 p.m. they all would take a siesta until 3 or 4 p/m/, while in the U.S. Americans worked.
The Intercontinental Hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps was freshly washed and scrubbed and had a hospital cleanliness to it. At 11 a.m. I scooted gently down between the perfectly pressed white sheets because I was afraid I would wrinkle them. While Italians were not known for their preoccupation with cleanliness, their hotels were.
I set my alarm to 7 p.m. for my date with Gordon.
When he arrived, I was blown away by his dashing good looks.
"It's early for Rome," he said. "How do you feel about grabbing some nouriture and then taking in a wee bit of dancing?”
"Bene," I said holding onto his elbow as we strolled on the cobblestones searching for a cab.
As he hailed one, to the driver he said," Piazza del Popolo."
"Grazia," the cabbie said as we zoomed off to a nearby outdoor cafe.
The Piazza del Popolo in the moonlight was exquisite. Twin churches stood on either side of the oval shaped square. Well-dressed women and men were milling about. Nobody hurried after 8 p.m.. unlike the hours before. Candles adorned the many tables.
Gordon waited for the maitre d' to seat us then pulled my chair out like a gentleman and said, “Is this suitable to the young lady?"
"It's lovely. I like the sound of your acoustic guitar. You know your song "I Go to Pieces" is one of my favorites.”
"You and many others, dearie, which helps me to pay for this splendid dinner."
He ordered veal piccata and veal chop for me, my favorite, and we began sharing pasta primavera for our appetizer. Al dente, of course.
"They’ve called us the Everly Brothers of the British Invasion, not particularly a comparison I cherish, mind you,” Gordon said sprinkling parmesan on his pasta.
"You harmonize beautifully."
"I'd rather look at you, my pet."
For a first date I was apprehensive about Gordon Waller's compliments, but thought, "Oh, well, it's the moonlight and vino roso."
"Just look at the obelisk," I said pointing to it.
"It commemorates the conquest of Egypt by the Augustus in 10 B.C.” Gordon said like a teacher. “Nothing escaped the Roman Empire.”
I was getting a history lesson with my cappuccino.
"Would you like to go dancing?" he asked.
"My legs need exercise," I said, smiling as I felt his hand caress my arm.
Again Gordon hailed a cab and told the driver, “Club 84,”
Within minutes we were walking into a small techno disco with the best sound I have ever heard. It surrounded my ears, heart and soul as Gordon held me tightly and we danced and danced under flashing strobe lights. What airline flight in the morning? I felt like Eliza Doolittle and could have danced all night.
When we returned to my hotel, Gordon held me and kissed me on the Spanish Steps.
I will never forget his kiss, and I never saw him again.
When I flew away from Rome the next morning, I thought about Gordon's charm. His wit. His long legs and long hair and how I didn't really know him at all.
But I had felt him.
In the mid '70s, when I moved to Hollywood, I ran into Peter Asher, now a record producer. We dated and reminisced about Gordon, who would die in 2009 at only 64 years of age.
Today whenever I think of Rome, I recall the sensitivity of Gordon Waller who held me in his arms as we danced the night away.