WHEN TEMPTATION SHOWS UP DRESSED TO KILL
Patti (Mary Dolores) Auslandish
(a character from Laura's forthcoming novel BLOOD ENVY)
Detail from Connect the Dots, wall-size assemblage by Laura Cerwinske, 2006
A prominent friend of mine, an art gallery owner we’ll call Isabel, once told me a story that featured her father, a Venezuelan gentleman who was often photographed for the Latin society pages. "Whenever his portrait was being taken," she described, "he would turn both feet 90 degrees in the same direction. His face would be full to the camera, but his feet parallel, as in an Egyptian hieroglyph. He never gave a reason for this," she confessed.
As indelibly as that image remained in my mind, so too did another of Isabel’s stories, this one about a period of time, during the early Mitterand years, when she lived in Paris. Isabel was then married to a relatively penniless, but titled German, and together the two of them had parlayed his social standing into a profitable scenario involving antiques, national honors, ceremonial dinners, and much hand kissing and gossip. At one of these affairs, Isabel was introduced to the Prime Minister, who was then commencing upon the longest incumbency in modern French history. Mitterand was immediately enchanted by Isabel, who, even today in her seventies, is very beautiful, witty, and a woman of great sexual vitality. She often encountered the Prime Minister at occasions of social prominence, and at one of these, Mitterand proposed that Isabel join him for a "matinee." She quite well understood the implications of becoming his mistress.
"Of course I was flattered," she told me. "And I considered all that this liaison might bring to me. But in the end, I decided it was not congruent with my goals." Isabel did not expound on these goals, but this didn’t matter. It was the idea of choosing – or refusing -- an opportunity in alignment with a personal mission that impressed me, i.e. that she so well understood her desired trajectory.
That thought came to me recently in regard to an unexpected escapade I had with an Italian man considerably younger than myself and recently arrived in America. We met at a cafe in the nearby village I often visit seeking the urban stagecraft by which I provide myself the brief illusion that I am in Europe, preferably Italy or France. The Mediterranean-style stone architecture that defines this place, known to its residents as The Village, along with the luxurious shade of its magnificent allees, lends itself to the perpetual honing of my illusion.
I had just spent a good part of an afternoon in a phone conversation with Isabel that had left me dismayed and unsettled. She is about fifteen years older than I and unusually frank about sex for her generation. Several years ago and well into widowhood, she met a rather celebrated artist at a dinner party, we’ll call him Donald, a vigorous, divorced man in his early 50s who took an interest in her and who she soon began dating. They attend the theater, concerts, and exhibitions together and afterwards they go to an upscale downtown hotel and have sex. Isabel adores the arrangement. In fact, she is seeking such an arrangement in every one of the locations (Paris and San Francisco) where she has homes. The options for finding other men like Donald, however, are poor. She laments this furiously.
Isabel, who was an actress before marrying the titled, penniless German, is a superb raconteur. She’s always taken care of herself, has had excellent cosmetic work, and looks maybe 60. She is on the boards of cultural institutions in three cities and two continents, and she complains that there’s not one man at any of these institutions to go home with. The ones in good physical shape are gay and the rest are encumbered with trophy wives and young children. "What am I supposed to do about my libido!" Isabel laments. This is not a conversation I ever anticipated having with a mature social icon. "I was married for 35 years to an esteemed gentleman. I can hardly go out and rent a man! Or can I?" Isabel lives in dread of the day Donald tells her he’s found a steady girlfriend.
"What do you do about sex?" she finally asked me. I had been hoping the conversation would end before we got to this question.
"Please," I said. "I’m on so many antidepressants, I couldn’t even spell the word libido." It’s true. I was on a mission to defeat depression and regain my physical and psychological strength, whatever it required. Even though I had had considerable success as an artist (including a solo show at the Whitney), I was depleted from decades of emotional and physical strain – my daughter had taken her life at the age of 30; I’d broken my pelvis in a fall from a ladder while mounting a piece of art work; and then there were the repercussions from the long string of irredeemably narcissistic men I’d had relationships with over the years. In a pledge to resurrection, I had sworn I would indulge no romantic detours to my recovery. This resolution required fierce focus. Accordingly, I had taken to a life of solitude and considered myself a monk.
"Hmmm, maybe I should start taking Zoloft," Isabel mused, still focused on her libido. "This is what it’s come to!" I thought. "We've barely left the era of foot binding and now women have to drug themselves out of their sexuality. When will we ever be able to withstand our own power?"
Isabel’s dilemma so agitated me that I got up and drove into the Village where I could sit in my favorite cafe, have an excellent dark coffee with cognac, and bury myself in a good novel. It was Sunday and the downtown was nearly empty. I parked and headed up the sidewalk, replaying the conversation with Isabel in my mind. "Who am I kidding?" I admitted to myself. "I’m not peeved on Isabel’s account. This is about me! When was the last time a younger man seriously looked at me?" Maybe Zoloft was going to be my eternal future, I now worried.
I found my usual cafe closed. My frustration rose. I ambled further up the boulevard, passing a small Italian restaurant where a good looking waiter was laying out cutlery on a sidewalk table. "Come, I’ll serve you something wonderful," he beckoned with enthusiasm and in a thick Italian accent.
"Thanks, but I’m just looking for a good coffee and a place to read my book," I answered.
"As you wish," he smiled somewhat knowingly.
I walked on and then pivoted back. The Italian stood watching me. "How would you like your coffee?" he asked, pulling out a chair for me. His eyes reminded me of Picasso, black and intense, and they didn’t leave my gaze. He had the beaked nose and oval head of that dangerous French actor Jean Reno, and in profile he resembled the famous portrait of the Duke of Montefeltro by Piero della Francesca. I'd seen the original in Urbino. He snapped a linen napkin and spread it out before me. I was charmed by his courtliness. Then, too, there was the sleek olive skin, the Italian physicality, and the unabashed warmth. I knew I was in trouble.
Since it was still well before the dinner hour, Lorenzo, as he introduced himself, was free to chat me up. Naturally loquacious, he told me he’d arrived from Rome only the week before. He’d earned numerous certifications in the culinary, catering, and hospitality fields, traveled the world in search of gastronomic adventure, and was hoping this little job that had brought him here would lead to larger ones that called upon the full range of his talents and experience. He’d been married for 15 years to a television presenter, but she had left him for a rich businessman, the owner of a number of Rome’s most fashionable clubs. Despairing of the divorce and the dismal employment situation in Italy, he’d given up hope of a future there and come gladly here to the land of opportunity.
I appraised Lorenzo’s polished Euro hipster look, the shaved head and dark tan (already?), muscled shoulders, slim waist, fitted black jeans and t-shirt, careful jewelry. He was cultivated, intelligent, and totally engaging. I’m sure many locals mistook him for gay. But Lorenzo's refinement represented a mature cultivated woman’s dream -- he was a gay man in a straight man’s body. I was grateful I had a book with me, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to keep my eyes off him.
Years earlier, I had been romantically involved with the eminent quantum physicist Roger Skorne with whom I spent a great deal of time in Rome where he often taught and lectured. Because of his eminence I was able to use studio facilities at the Academia d’Arte where I also learned to speak passable Italian. Since then I’d had few occasions to practice the language, an avocation I adored. Conversing with Lorenzo in Italian was as much a treat as sipping at my cognac-laced coffee, which was strong, dark, and perfect. In fact, despite the haphazardness of my grammar, I was rather impressed with how much memory of the language I’d retained and how much fun I was having elongating the syllables (belliSSSSimo). My afternoon had unexpectedly turned magical: I was being charmed by an Italian and linguistically delighting myself.
On leaving the restaurant (reluctantly), I offered to give Lorenzo a tour of The Village on his day off. He was thrilled. Since arriving, he'd had no time to explore his new surroundings. We exchanged mobile numbers, and as I turned to walk away following the customary ciao, ciao peck on each cheek, Lorenzo wrapped his arms around me in a huge hug. I’d nearly forgotten the sensation of such warmth.
The irony of the encounter, following the conversation with Isabel as it did, was not lost on me. If things turned out as they could turn out, I could credit her with my good luck. After all, on the list of qualities I would want in a playmate, Lorenzo possessed an impressive number: European, deep cultural background (he’d been a professional dancer), age (he looked like he was in his mid 30s, but was actually 49), linguistic ability (in addition to English and Italian, he also spoke French), worldliness (he’d lived in the Far East, Middle East, and France), spiritual orientation (he practiced meditation and considered himself a seeker), a passion for dogs, and a love of nature. I had gleaned all of this during my 60-minute respite. When it came to discussing himself, Lorenzo did not hold back.
A few days later I arranged to meet friends at the restaurant for lunch. Lorenzo’s face exploded with happiness when he saw me, his first friend in America, walk through the door. His ebullience in serving our table charmed everyone. His discrete expertise, I recognized, was beyond anything anyone in this city would appreciate. Lorenzo was a prize catch out of water.
I knew in anticipation of our first rendezvous the following Sunday that I was entering into a landscape of pastoral turbulence, and that no better setting than the Village could have been cast. An 80-acre confection of Spanish, Italian, and French Renaissance-style architecture, The Village was actually America’s first planned development and a premiere example of The City Beautiful movement, an approach in urban landscape design that originated in the early 20th century. What looked as if it had been preserved for centuries was actually a brilliant, ready-made quasi-urban fantasy conceived by the visionary son of a potato farmer. As a boy -- Henry Almond was his name --read the Baedecker’s Guide to the Grand Tour and, on his drives through the vast miles of farmland on his way to market, he would dream of his own version of an historic place that never existed. Once he inherited the vast miles of land, he set to making his vision manifest. He called for indigenous stone to be mixed with plaster tinted in Mediterranean ochres and sienna for use on the houses, civic buildings, fountains, entrances, pools, courtyards, arches, promenades, and gardens walls of this dreamscape. He planted trees, quarried stone, cultivated fruits and flowers, trellised flowering vines, and had carved into pediments and monuments all the classical motifs he could fit. Within eighty years, the village looked and felt as if it had been preserved in its dappled glory for centuries.
I began Lorenzo’s tour of The Village with a walk through the historic park-front neighborhoods whose canopy of gnarly oaks are the envy of residential enclaves everywhere. I come here often for long walks with my dog Tula, seeking not simply the landscape’s unique glory, but the romance with which The Village was conceived, a stone and plaster fantasy created in a time and place populated by puritans and pioneers.
As Lorenzo and I strolled, I pointed out hidden details of beauty, hoping to convey a touch of Almond’s story, its romance and tragedy (he died broke, a victim of the Great Depression, ending his days working as the The Village’s postmaster). It was The Village’s scent of theater and architectural adventure that had captivated and sustained me after I returned from Rome, living outside its perimeters, but near enough that its visual vocabulary became part of my artistic tutelage. But my passion for hidden beauty was not to be shared with Lorenzo who was intent, rather, on lamenting his recent misery in Italy: All hope of economic progress was being hijacked by the absurd number of parliamentarians running and ruining the country; innovation had become impossible; there were fewer and fewer jobs. Suddenly, in mid-sentence, Lorenzo stopped our walk to regard a tall vine-covered house across the road. "Ah, so much like my mother’s house in Rome," he sighed. "Covered like that with roses. At all my homes, I have always grown roses. You see how much I love them." He unbuttoned his shirt to show me a tattoo of a rose vine climbing across his chest to his shoulder.
Aha. Poor listener. Rose lover, I noted, recognizing that the magic of the stagecraft by which The Village cast its appeal, the fantasy-Mediterranean conceit on which I relied for spiritual refreshment, would never be apparent or of interest to Lorenzo.
But then, over drinks at a nearby cafe, he recounted for me the story of the sprawling tree in Sherwood Forest to which he had made a pilgrimage. Not only had Robin Hood lived within this tree, but for centuries, whole villages had camped beneath it, its canopy so generous and its gnarled roots so huge and intertwined that it offered protection from the skies, the sheriff, and roving bandits. On his visit to the tree, Lorenzo had walked its perimeter solemnly, asking its blessings and thanking it for its centuries of shade and protection. Pausing to look up through the soaring architecture of ancient limbs, he was shocked to see new growth shooting toward the sun from the top most branches. This dinosaur of botanical wisdom was still growing.
I was impressed with the story and Lorenzo's passion for this work of nature. I was also impressed with other aspects of Lorenzo’s history: he’d been married for a substantial length of time, he had no use any longer for glamour and nightlife, and it was the wife who had stepped out on him, and not the other way around. These facts were promising in terms of Lorenzo’s potential, and it was making me nervous. Zoloft was no longer sufficiently suppressing my deeply-buried longings.
On one of our walks, I questioned Lorenzo about the origins of his passion for food, fully expecting the typical associations with childhood and his mother’s cooking. Oddly, it was something entirely different: He told me that as he was ending his dance career and during the last days of his wide travels, he had cast about seeking direction for the next phase of his life. While working for a French hotelier, he heard a story describing the last meal of the recently deceased Prime Minister Francois Mitterrand. This is the story: “In 1981 Mitterrand was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he hid from the French public for eleven years through false health reports. As his health began to leave him Mitterrand planed his last meal which included an illegal dish consisting of a thumb sized song bird. L'Ortolan, is a tiny bird long prized for it's fatty meat. Although the song bird is now protected across Europe at the time of Mitterrand's death the bird could still be netted and used for food. What made Mitterrand's dish illegal was the manner in which the bird was prepared. The bird is caught alive, and kept in a light-less box to disrupt it's feeding habits. For an entire month the bird gorges itself on figs, millet, and grapes, becoming too fat for flight. After the bird has swelled to four times its normal size, it is drowned alive in Armangac, the idea being that as it inhales the liquid it infuses the flavor in it's organs. Finally the bird is popped into the oven for 6 minutes and served. Even by French standards this is unusual cruelty, however the dish's illegal status hasn't stopped a cult from forming around it. Writer Michael Paternitti was served the dish by a Bordeaux chef who claimed it was his duty as a Frenchmen to cook the dish. Devotee's claim that they can taste the birds entire life as they chew it, the salty air of its Medditerranean migrations, the wheat of Morocco, the grapes of France. If it all sounds a little ridiculous it is, no doubt helped by the way in which the bird is eaten. A large napkin is placed over the diner's head and the dish, to create a fume hood which wafts the flavors up towards the nose, traditionally the napkin also hid the diner from God. Ideally the entire bird is placed in the mouth at once and chewed for a good 15 minutes, slowly breaking through the skin and into the Armagnac soaked organs. In the South of France, this is considered the highest of all dishes, and I have to admit it sounds like one of the strangest and most reflective dining experiences you can have. Sitting in a white tent, with tiny song bird under you, Paternitti likened it to being in a confessional. Mitterrand included the bird in a meal which included other French staples, such as oysters and Foie Gras. But he saved the bird for last, and after he had eaten his last bite he didn't eat another bite of food for ten days until he died.”
Lorenzo was so taken with Mitterand’s gustatory passion and haute eccentricity, that he determined then and there to devote himself to culinary exploration. Coincidently – or not – Isabel had once told me the same story.
Another subject of conversation into which Lorenzo and I delved was anatomy -- his knowledge based on his experience as a dancer (he had performed roles in La Bayadere, Romeo and Juliet, and was the red cape-wielding Escada in Don Quijote), mine based on years of figure drawing as well as the dance classes I’d taken during the years I was working in clay. Often, as we were walking and talking, Lorenzo would spring into the air to assume a gesture or pose in illustration of some dramatic point. He once demonstrated a 180 degree turn out I couldn't believe I was seeing on a man, hips to flexible that his feet were parallel to the viewer. Sometimes his enthusiasm was so antic and his gestures so exquisitely marionette-like, that I could easily imagine him a harlequin in the Commedia dell’arte. At other times, he would express himself with such poignance that I felt I was witnessing an apparition of Nijinsky meltingly dancing L’Apres-midi de Une Faun. Occasionally, in one of animated demonstrations, Lorenzo would grasp my hand to demonstrate a dance step, and the stirrings of desire I’d promised myself to resist would resurge. Lorenzo was dangerous. He could easily turn my innocent forays into The Village into a scene from a Fellini film. The voice in my head sang, "You know he’s a bad boy, however fascinating."
I began resorting to a technique of conscious detachment as a way to contain the building sexual tension. Instead of giving into the rapture his proximity promised, I observed, with each drive into The Village, precisely where in my body the tension was concentrated. Sometimes it was the obvious churning in the loins, or a knot between my legs, at other times it was an aching that bore into my shoulders as if I were carrying my desire like a cross.
Like most women over thirty (let alone 40, 50, and 60), the mirror had long since, if ever, been my friend. The toll of gravity and grief written in my face, if not immediately apparent, is easily readable by those who look intently. Of course most people, especially men, are not that interested, let alone intent. But as an artist, i.e., a person with highly exercised powers of observation, I am typically self-conscious, if not obsessed, with the way age has affected my looks. Curiously, during the time I was seeing Lorenzo, I looked better to myself than usual. I felt more relaxed in front of the mirror, less self-critical. Was this hormonal? Does a flush of estrogen affect the optic nerves? I wondered. Or was it the veil of illusion produced by the prospect of romance? Or simply the atmosphere, mysteriously energized, around that prospect? To approve of my appearance, even glancingly, was, if not ecstatic, at least a relief.
The only place where I had ever actually loved the mirror was when I was studying dance. To see myself in that completely physical, wholly expressive environment was the triumph of an unanticipated dream. I had begun taking dance classes in my thirties, during the years that I was working in clay, concentrating on the egg forms and begging bowls that would later comprise my exhibition at the Whitney. As a way to relieve the strain on my back and shoulders resulting from the long standing-and-bending-over postures of the work, I would break away to attend a dance class. The satisfaction I gained from these kinetic interludes was indescribable, even though I was years older than everyone there, including the teachers. I felt as immediately at home on the dance floor as I had when I first entered an art studio. Indeed, I thought, If I hadn’t been sent to a convent as a girl, and if I hadn’t run off with a cowboy and settled on 80 acres of pine forest and grown marijuana to pay for the land, and given birth to a daughter, and followed Roger Skorne to Rome, and become a presence in the art world, and returned to the land to write a memoir, then surely I would have been a dancer. Fate + free will = destiny.
In my days of concentrated work throwing clay on the wheel, leaving for the dance studio was a way to reposition my center, to extend my focus from my shoulders/arms/hands into the fullness of my body. Also, the atmosphere of the dance studio was familiar. Having spent eight years among at the convent of the Katerine Sisters, I was accustomed to discipline as well as to the fierce focus of a female atmosphere. And, since I was trained at the convent in the arts of embroidery, I was accustomed to the repetition of tiny, precise motions, albeit one with fingers, rather than feet.
Lorenzo’s physical poetry -- the articulated musculature, the dancer’s spine, the trained ability to compose and hold a pose -- evoked the desire for him to model for me. In addition, I also wanted him to tutor me in Italian. Our casual conversations, a linguistic stew of English, Italian, and a soupcon of French, whetted my appetite for the music of the language, and I had surprised myself with how much vocabulary I retained from my days in Rome. I’d even begun thinking in Italian. We were visiting The Village’s earliest church, built at the turn of the century with native cypress ceiling beams that had been hand-painted in Moorish patterns by artists brought here from southern Italy. While explaining this to Lorenzo in Italian, I forgot the word for ‘ceiling. "Soffito," he instructed me. "Soffito," I repeated. "No, sof fi to," he pronounced, emphasizing the "f" at the end of the first syllable and at the beginning of the second. I had slurred them together, as if there were only one "f". I pronounced the word again. "No, you’re not hearing it. Who taught you this Italian you speak?" he demanded. Wow, a linguistic perfectionist, I thought. Imagine what a dance partner he must be. For more than the drawing and the practice at speaking Italian, I wanted to dance with Lorenzo. I wanted to be held in his beautifully developed arms and be lead from glide to pivot to turn with glancing, responsive ease. I wanted his hand at the base of my spine directing with the slightest touch a change of direction, a shift of gravity. This would be the gift I'd prayed for, the way to repair my center, to regain the power lost in my decades of depletion.
I realized my hope for this was greater even than for the potential prospect of sex which, I knew, would inevitably present a serious threat to my focus, easily exploding, as it would, into dramas of desire. In the meantime, I figured, we could speak to each other not only in Italian, but also in the language of dance, and this would be the perfect segue to intimacy, if it were to be. Then, our lovemaking would be a pas de deux of physical and spiritual discovery.
Lorenzo smoked loose tobacco cigarettes (sometimes sprinkled with marijuana) which he rolled himself. Like many Italians, he carried his own tobacco and papers in a pouch (kept in a small carryall slung over his shoulder and holding his passport and money; it never left his side). As casually as you might order a coffee, Lorenzo could press his fingertips together, abracadabra, and have a perfectly rolled smoke poised between his lips. His deftness reminded me of that of my daughter’s father, Ruben, who, even with strong and ropy hands that were a topography of knotted veins, rolled his smokes with the same easy precision.
Reuben was a smiling, chisled-chinned, blue-eyed white boy who drove a ¾-ton pickup truck named Genuine Jade. He was the embodiment of all the chisled-chinned men who smelled of equine sweat and sawdust at the stables where my father worked and who, in my little girl mind, merged in identity with those cowboys of early television years who I watched night before I was sent to the convent, I worshipped them all: Rowdy Yates/Johnny Yuma/Sugarfoot/ Little Joe/The Rifleman/The Marlboro Man/Marshall Dillon. They were heroic and stolid – Clint Eastwood/Nick Adams/Will Hutchins/ Michael Landon/Chuck Connors /James Arness. They galloped across the screen in Rawhide/The Rebel/ Sugarfoot/ Bonanza/ Gunsmoke/The Lone Ranger. Yes, lone all right. They were definitely loners, these men of few words and fervent, if infrequent, radiance. They rode high in the saddle, their hats titled back on their foreheads and Bowey knives strapped to their thighs. Brooding, crooning, and sometimes grinning, they sang in voices as smooth as Roy Rogers and as gold as good whiskey. I was determined that one day I would ride out with them. So, when Ruben showed up at the convent delivering firewood, dressed to kill in his blue jean jacket and old Stetson hat and driving Genuine Jade, I allowed him to lure me into my dreams and take me away into a life of twilight on the trail.
But that was many lifetimes ago. Since that time I’d been the lover of, among others, academia’s golden boy Roger Skorne, dressed to kill in Armani, and a former priest who made Pope Julius in his papal best look like an amateur. Now, here I was with an Italian in Barishnikov’s body and with the charm of Marcello Mastroianni.
One rainy afternoon, while Lorenzo and I sat at a cafe, he talked on about himself, his beliefs, and his travels, as usual, and I distractedly listened. He was launched into a description of his emotional disintegration at the time of his divorce when I noticed his face had dissolved into a mask of tragedy. Not only had the wife’s betrayal befallen him, but equally painful was having to leave behind his beautiful house and dogs and his roses. From this suffering, he escalated into a rant about the injustices of the Italian legal system. While he poured five sugars into his espresso, he told me of how he’d nearly gone mad after the divorce and that his sister had taken him to a doctor. This doctor wanted to prescribe an antidepressant, or maybe even something stronger. "I rose from my chair and walked right out the door," Lorenzo recalled operatically, leaping from his chair to demonstrate his assertive departure from the doctor's office. I looked down at the five empty sugar packets and observed the force of Lorenzo’s defiance. I hadn’t encountered such psychological machismo since well, the former priest, Ruben, or Roger Skorne. The intensity of Lorenzo’s narcissism was beginning to dawn on me.
"There’s something else I want to tell you about," he continued, ordering another espresso. "You’re my only friend here. I trust you like no one else." The words clearly portended something significant. I continued staring at a cat on the sidewalk to avoid his heightening emotion. Lorenzo reached over to me and plucked at the neck of my shirt to draw my attention to his face. My self-observant self watched from the ethers as I slowly turned my head toward him, a gesture as self-possessed as his had been delicate.
"I tell you this story so you will understand how much I value loyalty," he began. "In Rome, my dearest friend since we are maybe eight years old came to me not long after my divorce. He is a doctor. With a wife and young children. And he had got himself into some very bad trouble. It’s a long story, very complicated. He came to me because he needed a fall guy, and he knew, after the divorce and everything I lost, I needed money. If I would take the fall for him, which would mean going to jail for six months, he would give me 75,000 euros."
Mind you, I was hearing this story in a mash of Italian and English. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was grasping the meaning of the word "fall" correctly or if Lorenzo was using some sort of colloquialism or slang that meant something else entirely. Surely he wasn’t telling me he’d been in prison.
"Even without the money, which I sorely needed, I would have done this for my friend. Like I say, we are like brothers. We are this loyal to each other." He held up two fingers twined.
For the first time, I couldn’t read Lorenzo’s face.
"I made the confession my friend needed, but something went wrong, and my friend was fingered. He told the authorities how I had had no part in anything, and that they must let me go. But they refused and sent me to prison. Not for six months, but for two-and-a-half years."
Lorenzo poured another five sugars into the second expresso. So the guy has a record, I thought, sitting in renewed fascination and reminded of a conversation I’d had years earlier with a psychiatrist friend who specialized in treating mania. She had been describing to me the recognition of her own unconscious desire to emulate her patients. “They’re beautiful, for the most part, especially when they’re manic. Actresses, models, anorexic, scrupulous and obsessive housewives, brilliant lawyers and physicians. They’re creative, fascinating, driven, laughing one moment, snarling the next, and their stories fly around my head. I sit listening to them, rooted to my chair and wanting to fly on their wings.”
But even from within the cloud of fascination, I heard the dance shoe drop. I recalled that the two essential qualities on my list of requisites for a steady companion were emotional and financial stability – and Lorenzo was bereft of both. There would be no moon bathing in each other’s arms, no gazing into the blackness of the Picasso-like eyes. No Tantric sex, resisting the orgasm through penetrating concentration upon each other’s breath to achieve release into greater consciousness. There, also, would be no nights of wild, unleashed fucking. I recalled Isabel mentioning that Donald had a taste for kinky sex. Did that mean with her or with other "friends"? God knows what Lorenzo had got up to in prison and what kind of encounters he would have had in Rome’s night clubs. I didn’t want to know.
I now clearly knew that I would not invest my heart, open my body, or make spillage of my time. Lorenzo was like heat lightening, the promising flash, the seductive rumble across the horizon that taunts the plants to release their oxygen in anticipation of rain. He was temptation without the promise of blessing, he was the refreshment that never quite arrived. I felt as if I had stepped through some sort of shamanic vapor and emerged self-possessed.
Lorenzo would go on to reinvent his life, I had no doubt. He had too much talent, intelligence, and charisma not to. He would also continue squandering kindness, opportunity, and other gifts his magnetism drew. Naturally, I was going to miss the perfume of romance, the provocation of curiosity, the frisson of anticipation driving toward a rendezvous, wondering what chameleon self of his I might be about to behold. But I had used my body as
a shamanic medium, and it no longer ached.
One evening not long afterward, I watched a movie called Assassination Tango. It was written and directed by Robert Duval whose character, a hit man, goes to Buenas Aires on a job and, while living next door to a tango bar, falls in love with the dance. His mastery of even the most rudimentary steps, which in tango are inherently narrative and passionate, changes his appreciation for life. Allowing himself to be cast into a sea of music and movement, the tango's beauty changes him as a man. The next day, I enrolled myself in a course of classes at a Fred Astaire ballroom school in The Village. It was located on the second floor of a building that overlooked The Village square and had floor-to-ceiling windows that made it a performance stage for the park below.
My instructor introduced himself as Lalo. He was a Latin-born oil executive who had taken early retirement to pursue a lifelong passion for dance. He had even spent a year dancing tango in the same ubiquitous dance bars of Buenas Aires where the Robert Duvall character had found his heart. He was as relaxed in manner as Lorenzo was intense. During the course of my bi-weekly lessons, Lalo and I quickly discovered mutual interests. We immediately began going out for a drink after class. He was familiar with my name from the world of art and was, in fact, himself an art collector. I soon had the privilege of seeing pieces from his collection at his house in The Village; the rest of the collection was installed at the apartment he kept in Buenas Aires. Lalo also spoke Italian (and French) as elegantly as his native Spanish.
Now my drives into the Village were filled with a far greater anticipation than I’d had for Lorenzo, suffused as I was with the certain expectancy of falling easily into rhythm in Lalo’s arms. His instruction – and even corrections – were as graceful as they were precise. With the subtlest depression of one finger at the base if my spine, he could change the angle of my torso and realign the distribution of my weight from the ball of my foot to the toe. I began to feel the resonance at my center that had been no more than a faint echo for decades. Lalo was no heat lightning. Impeccable in crisp linen, he might have been dressed to kill, but he was whole of heart and generous. By the third week of our dancing acquaintance, I was as hopelessly besotted with Lalo as I was aware that he, of course, was gay.