Il Maestro

In the early 80’s, I had the opportunity to open a traveling practice in Rome.  To kick it off, my contact set up a talk at the Centro Macrobiotico, one of the few New Age-y places in Rome at the time.  As I passed through the restaurant on the way to the lecture room, there was a large table of people with an older gentleman as the clear center of attention.  He got up and was introduced to me as Il Maestro.  A short, handsome man with Fellini-like horn rimmed glasses, he also had a very obvious wig.  So obvious that one thought, “Oh, look at that old man with a wig!”  If he had left his head bald, you might say, “What a striking looking man.”

Il Maestro, whoever he was, said in English that he was looking forward to my talk, and given that I was nervous about it – one of the first in which I was translated – I politely (I hoped) shined him on and went in to set up.  The talk went well, and I was handed a full schedule for the next few days.

I was busily learning the Italian for ‘Foot up and down’, and ‘Please lie on your back with your knees up.’  I knew, of course, none of the names, so was surprised when Il Maestro showed up for a session.  “I wonder if you can help me …” – but with a thick Italian accent: “Ai wander eefew hcan hyelp me …”

And with that, standing there, he slowly and deliberately put his foot, knee extended, out in front of his collar bone.  Immediately awake and humbled, I allowed as how he was way ahead of me, and I would do what I could.  And help him I did, actually – the first lesson I had that one does not have to be able to do everything the client can in order to help them.  ‘You can’t take a client somewhere you haven’t been yourself’ is a limiting shibboleth we could do without.

Il Maestro had begun his career as a balletomaine, and had met Ida Rolf while on tour in America.  They studied yoga together in Nyack, NY, with Pierre Bernard, the scoundrel saint of Tantric Yoga.  Apparently she worked on him, as he was, he said, waiting for a student of Ida Rolf to make it to Rome.

After his career in ballet, he had become adept at both yoga and Tai Chi, hence his handle Il Maestro.  He had many students in both disciplines, and continued in both despite his advanced age.  His tissue was that of a much younger man.  He was also one of the first people I identified as ‘autosexual’ – in love with himself.  These people – and few they are – are usually nominally gay, as they are looking for someone as close to themselves as they can get.  Often their self-obsession turns out, as in Il Maestro’s case – to serve others.

He wanted me to do the whole ten sessions of Rolfing, so month by month we progressed through, becoming closer as we went.  Once, when I complained about the rickety table I had to use, I caught him as I came back from lunch for his sessions, coming down the street to my office schlepping a large treatment table.  “Il Maestro,” I cried, “You should have taken a taxi.”  He grinned sheepishly – he had carried the table ten blocks just to prove he still could.

When we got to the head session, out came his false teeth for the intra-oral work, no problem, but I knew enough not to ask him to remove that awful wig so I could get at his scalp, and he never offered.  I simply and silently worked around it.  Sometimes, after the neck work, the wig was a little askew.  Although I never mentioned it, I had a look I would give him as we finished, and by the time he emerged from the door on the ground floor, it would be back in place.

He died, I heard, a few years later.  I never took a class from him, but he taught me a lot.


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