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    Gorgeous Italian men

    They’re an aesthetic experience, totally. So is a Trollope novel.
    Detail from Da Vinci's "Portrait of a Musician."

    Detail from Da Vinci's "Portrait of a Musician." Leonardo Da Vinci, via Wikipedia

    Flying home alone to resolve a household emergency after weeks of living in Rome, where my husband had a teaching gig, I sat beside two handsome Italian guys in their 40s, friends since boyhood. They had left wives and children behind for their annual trip to a part of the world neither had visited yet, and this year the destination was Seattle.

    As we talked, I rummaged through mental images of my home city for favorite places I could urge them to visit, but my mind's eye and taste buds were freshly charged with Roman experiences. What in Seattle could compare? Marco's daily route in Rome took him past spectacular fountains and statues. His best friend Giovanni, who lived in Florence, was surrounded by Renaissance palaces. Would the radiant austerity of Seattle U’s Chapel of St. Ignatius impress a visitor accustomed to St. Peter's or to Santa Maria Novella? The Seattle restaurants I love best are Italian; could they stand up to the excellent trattoria on almost every Roman or Florentine street corner? My beloved hometown, so rich in daily possibilities, suddenly seemed a little impoverished.

    It was a relief when Marco and Giovanni told me their vacation would be a 10-day hike in the Cascades along a route they had already plotted. Dropping my Domestic Rick Steves role I turned again to read my book, a nice long Anthony Trollope novel (aren't they all?).

    I mean, I tried to read my book. It was hard to focus. The person sitting beside me wasn't merely handsome. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. In profile Marco was the Platonic Idea of Beauty, and frontally his visage was so perfect I was chagrined to have faced it with the poor cave-bound Shadow that was my own. Why did this divinity work for a living when he should be showered 24/7 with Heaven's gold? How did his colleagues accomplish anything? I don't mean to say that he inspired romantic notions. He just looked like an angel.

    Like the speaker in Housman's poem about the finite number of seasons we're given to enjoy the “Loveliest of trees” in bloom (“Fifty springs are little room”), individuals of a certain age will travel miles hither and yon just to stand and gaze at examples of this world's astonishing natural beauty. The natural beauty I’m talking about was in the hither category — six inches away.

    After dinner my seatmates fell asleep. Ours was a bulkhead row, with a space in front of the seats that was wide enough to stand in. So I stood, turned to face the rear of the plane, held Can You Forgive Her? up in the glow of the ceiling lamp, and lowered the book just enough to be able to watch, over the top of it, the face of the sleeping angel in Seat B. After an hour or so, during which I sometimes remembered to sustain the charade by turning pages, I had finally gazed my fill and sat down again to read for real.

    At the arrival gate I retrieved my tote from the overhead bin, my novel still in hand, and saw a passenger farther back wink at me with what looked like a meaning glance at my seatmates. “Oops!” I said to myself. “Caught red-handed ... er, red-eyed!” Could I explain to the guy that secretly (ha!) watching my divine neighbor sleep was an aesthetic experience fitting Stephen Daedalus’s definition in Portrait of the Artist: static and impersonal, free of any desire to possess? Would the guy believe that I might feel pretty much the same while gazing at Housman’s trees?

    My winking nemesis gave me a conspiratorial grin as he leaned in my direction over the seat backs. I blushed with embarrassment at the joke he was about to make at my expense. And he said, with a knowing air of superior fellowship, “Isn't Trollope wonderful?

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    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    "I don't mean to say that he inspired romantic notions. He just looked like an angel."

    Please, Judy, we weren't born yesterday.

    I can only imagine how dolce my vita would be if I had distractingly good looks. Sigh.


    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    Obviously you haven't spent enough time around Greek men


    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 10:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    Ooh, Sean, nobody can sneak a hyperbole past YOU! But, you sigh for a vita of dolce old ladies watching you from behind their Victorian novels?


    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 11:36 a.m. Inappropriate

    Villanell -
    Sorry, my comment was ambiguous. I'm not questioning the hyperbole, just the well worded yet entirely implausible claim that this angel did not inspire "romantic notions". I'm guessing the author tactfully slipped that in for the benefit of a spouse.

    And, yes, I am sighing for a life of being helplessly adored by women of whatever age.


    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ah, Judy, you will soon forget these Italians and just think you have many volumes of the Pallisers to go. Also, if you knew your seatmates better you might discover that behind those facades lurked the bad habits of, say a George Vavasor!


    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    Please! "entirely implausible"? "tacfully slipped in for the benefit of a spouse"? "helplessly adored by women"? I am sighing for a Crosscut in which presumptuous adolescent mentalities don't try to spoil a fine story by dragging it down to their level.


    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    Lovely piece, Judy. I'm off to Italy in September ... will be on the lookout for gorgeous seatmates (yes, I'll be with my hubby, but it's nice to have a back-up).

    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    Villanell - I was aiming for a tone of lighthearted wistfulness. Oh well. Fortunately, nothing I can say could spoil this fine article, which I, too, greatly enjoyed.


    Posted Tue, Jan 5, 5:24 p.m. Inappropriate

    Suggestion: next time how about starting with the wistfulness and forget the lame Gotcha. Peace, Sean!


    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    Very interesting. I was always a bit suspicous of the prevailing thought that it was only men who were captured by this kind of thinking. There has been a few times in my life whne I was completly awe struck and tongue tied when presented by a beautiful person. (Yes it is a unisexual thing) Very often I have been disappointed when their intellectaul side seemed to have been stunted by our reaction to their beauty. Can you name many people who are both beautiful and thought provoking. Just of the bat, I think of Paul Newman and the sundance kid.

    Thankx Madrona


    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    Morro, thank you for writing, and especially for the insight that people's intellects can be "stunted by our reaction to their beauty." Maybe the phrase "drop-dead handsome" should refer to beauty's impact not just on other people but on the possessor's brain, because we awestruck observers have a tendency not to ask enough of the beauteous, to resist challenging and disagreeing with them, to cut them too much slack. Is this part of what happened to Palin during her campaign? But Marco - hmm-m, he's an attorney in Rome, so probably at least as smart as our new Mayor.

    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

    Morro - your comment reminds me of a study showing that people are surprisingly accurate at judging how good-looking a person is just by hearing his/her voice on the phone.

    I think without question, beautiful people internalize our reaction to them and reflect it back in their manner.


    Posted Mon, Jan 11, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

    A delightful article aboout the power of beauty. You know what came to my mind? How were you able to be so close to this man as he slept and not give in to the desire to touch something so beautiful? Didn't you want to touch his face, perhaps his cheek with the back of your hand? Are your eyes enough, when something so perfect is before you? Did Trollope do the job of forcing you merely to look?

    Well, you will never see him again, or get another chance to graze beauty with your finger tips, but there is lots of Trollope to occupy you. I recommend Dr. Thorne and The Small House at Allington. Also any book with Mrs. Proudy in it. He is the greatest of the Victorian novelists, but most people don't know it.


    Posted Mon, Jan 11, 2:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    Spike, do you desire to touch the Mona Lisa? Probably not, even if you could get near her. The silky marble of the Pieta' might be a different case, but it's also IN one, tourists behind you flashing their cameras all over the glass or talking to their Webcams ("We're at St. Peter's, and this here's Michelangelo's Pita!"). But I digress.

    To A your Q: Marco's a person, of course, not marble that wouldn't have felt imposed on by a stranger's touch. But anyway it was as I said an aesthetic experience, so intensely visual that touching never entered my mind. I hope we haven't entirely forgotten that constraints can open and free us into a more intense vitality than "just do it" manages to achieve.

    Yes to both your recs - old faves of mine. Have you read "The Prime Minister"? An eye-opener for anyone who thinks the quality of political media coverage has deteriorated over the past century or so.

    Posted Mon, Jan 11, 4:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    I think you are right about not wanting to touch the Mona Lisa, but I also think that when you see something that has a clear tactile beauty, you want to touch it (not that you do it, but the desire is there). When you see a beautiful silk, you want that feeling in your hands, or a beautiful statue, or even beautiful food. Anyway, I think human skin has that same subtle beauty that "wants" to be caressed, or touched. I am not saying that Marco would want that!

    Yes, I LOVE the Palliser novels, as well as the Barchester series. Did you ever get to see Susan Hampshire as Glencora? Anyway, one of my favorite author stories is when Trollope tells how The Last Chronicle of Barset was being serialized before he had finished it. He overheard two women in the train complain about the reappearance of Mrs. Proudy (one of my favorite Victorian characters). He was so upset that he went home, picked up his pen and gave her a fatal heart attack on the spot. Trollope said he deeply regretted the action, as he dearly loved the old harridan. It is funny to think about: "I'll show you, you ungrateful women!" Act in haste, repent at leisure.


    Posted Mon, Jan 11, 4:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    By the way, I had a friend who was the official editor of the Longfellow letters. As he neared retirement, I asked him how he was going to spend the retirement years. His answer? "I am going to read Trollope until I die."


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