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La Bella

Minor celebrities with declining (or, in some cases, indiscernible) reputations have long been using my home as their retirement plan.

There was the louche Polish count whose mismatching ears pointed to a lively past, the guy with the incredibly striped coat who had been the star attraction of dubious internet websites, and the one who ran the neighbourhood watch from his office in the middle of our street. There was Baxter, too, who was famous for being Baxter. But this story is not about them. This story is about Bella.

Undesirable circumstance forced Bella to assume another name for a while so that her reputation could remain untarnished. When the FCP people found her in a seedy Grahamstown location, far from her natural home and therefore somewhat disorentated, she mustered enough wits to preserve her dignity, and conceded to the angels who gave her shelter, Anthony and Lou, that her name was Puffy. This was because she huffed and she puffed a fair bit, but all three of them knew she couldn't blow anything down. Not really. She was just huffing and puffing to obscure the truth about her origins.

It was the paparazzi who gave her away. Bloody journalists! People with cameras camped outside the door, swarmed when I emerged, wanted to know where La Bella was, when she would be on screen again, and did she still have her kid leather boots flown in from top Milan designers. In an instant, I understood all: the way she hid under furniture whenever someone walked in; her distant, coy demeanour; her evasiveness when conversation turned to things European; the lick of cappuccino foam on her upper lip; the way her black velvet coat rolled around her neck; the haughty chin tilt to dismiss any biscuit bought in a supermarket . . . Bella was a film star! She had fans! And high standards! And she was an exile from the Italian Riviera, hiding out at my place until her next acting job.

While she waits for the unseemly interest in her waistline to recede, she brushes up the velvet pile of her coat which became dull from too many nights in the Checkers carpark. And I screen calls from the casting agents of black and white movies. They introduce themselves as Massimo or Guido, Provolone or Andante. But she speaks to no-one. She says, in her seldom-heard heavily accented English, I must decline all calls except for the one she awaits. There is only one film maker she is prepared to work with now and until he calls, I am to tell all the others she is busy.

And she is. Very busy. Being Bella. And practising her autograph.



Yoghurt Ice-Cream

Bella cautions that this dessert bears no resemblance to the gelato she is served on the Italian Riviera but, as Sophia Loren pointed out, it can be useful for staff to keep in the freezer in case extras turn up for lunch between takes.

Whip a cup of cream lightly.
Add a tim of condensed milk in a thin stream as you continue to whip.
Fold in two cups of fruit yoghurt.
Freeze in an airtight container.

- Gillian Rennie

Page updated on August 5, 2011