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Come Sono Amabile

Harold Lorin
New York, NY

In his letter home, Jay enclosed a small pottery star with an angel's face
which he called, 'tschotske minore,' distinct from 'tschotske maggiore',
which could be a garden sized statue of Saint Francis. He was careful with
the taxonomy of tschotske, distinguishing between 'tschotske minore
regionale,' 'tschotske maggiore exteriore.' His taxonomy was constantly
evolving. Sorting things out, Jay knew, was not something his species was
good at. It was not clear that DNA tests on tschotske would ever be much
Jay wrote that on his return to Lucignano, the old men who kept the
universe in order were still smoking and drinking coffee at the Piccolo
Mundo Café, before San Giusto gate, behind the park where the May Day
parades assembled. In yet another special election, sixty four percent of
voters, ninety two percent of whom were every Sunday at mass, had
picked a party with a hammer and a sickle on its logo. Margherite, the tall
daughter of the owners of Tavernetta was affianced to a young carpenter
from Monte St. Savino. The gas guns that go off against the birds early
every morning, which Jay called the "Guns of Lucignano," had stopped for
the season.
Jay had settled into Lucignano like a bird, il uccello, permanent despite
his cycles of departure. The practical girls at the Star Market gave him
words for, sheep cheese, tuna fish, soap, onions, mushrooms, and lettuce.
The plumber-gardener who wore his shirt open and was drunk every Friday
in the town, gave him words for faucet, toilet, rosemary, thyme, and olives.
The couple at the car repair beyond the park outside the gate of San Giusto
gave him words for carburetor, generator, clutch, starter that had been
part of the reconstruction of his ancient and faltering Lancia. Friends, some
of them women, gave him words for hoping, waiting, watching, and for the
things that were only Italian.
When Jay had bought the house, Mildred, his mother, had said, "there
are always Tomkins in Italy," as if they were an occupying force. They had
made the 19-century Grand Tours, had studied painting in Florence,
brought home some old pictures, and taught archaeology in Rome and
physics in Bologna. On the day Italy entered the War, there was a family
story, Uncle Taylor, the American Ambassador, and Count Ciano had
hugged each other and cried.
Come Sono Amabile
Jay was often in large villas with great ceilings, huge fireplaces, tree
lined walkways, and a wonderful smell of age and time. People came like
flickers of light through these houses, Principessi, Frenchmen, The English,
now Americans, old owners, new owners, no matter to the houses, there
was the same shouting and kissing, constipation and cooking, the same
miasma of feeling encrusting on the walls. Jay thought maybe the history
of a house was real, though the people in it weren't.
He met Virginia in her house above Siena, in the Black Rooster district,
in Greve, a region now fashionable enough for sentimental films. Kaufman,
who owned a Wooster Street gallery often honored with Art Magazine
reviews, had been asked to dinner with a 'friend' and had invited Jay, for
whom she had a variety of plans that summer.
"You are 'The Jay Gottlieb,' are you?" Virginia asked sipping a martini di
rossi on a terrace overlooking olive groves where vines were wrapped
around the trees.
"You are 'The Virginia Hastings,' are you?"
"So we start by asking intrusive questions, do we?"
"They are the only kind worth asking," Jay said.
They were accidentally alone, he in his beige linen jacket, she in her
sweet soft silk, her 'Church of England' skin tones, and her so very English
sounds and gestures. He felt himself in an Hogarth scenery with a
character from the a company of Players. When the others joined them he
felt they had intruded.
There were eight from the cadre of English and Americans who owned,
rented, or borrowed houses near Siena, or less toshy, as far south as the
Umbrian border. Media, fashion, gallery, writer people, known but not rich
poets, doomed to teaching in autumn. Virginia's crowd, by choice, was not
the Ultime Belle. It was serious, concerned, informed, respected, decent,
"The Assholes," is what she called them.
They ate in a large dining room with doors opened to a veranda lined
with great pots for fig trees. The smell of summer wondered to them
through these trees. Jay sat on her right, she said, "because his new book
'languished' at the bottom of the London Times best seller list." They drank
the Chianti of the house, whose structure she knew grape by grape (and
would recite when asked her head in the air and her eyes closed,
"sangiovese, of course, canaiolo, trebbiano, malvasia..."). They dipped
saltless bread in the estate's last years unfiltered dark green oil.
Pasta and tomatoes were kept in supply by an Anna Magnani older
woman the very image of Jay's father's image of an Italian matron. Each
time she brought a bowl she said something in Italian to Virginia who would
Come Sono Amabile
reply with an Italian equivalent of 'piss off.'
The art historian from Columbia, who sat on her left, glasses on a string
and hair in a Grundy bun looked with compassion at two ruined paintings
on the wall.
"What are they?" she asked Virginia.
"Thought to be Guido Reini. No one can know for sure, can they."
"You should have it looked at."
"I will not humiliate them with life support."
"That's an odd view," said the New York art critic still in the closet,
"they could be very valuable."
"I do not hear angels sing when an art critic says 'valuable," said
"Virginia thinks," the art historian told Jay, "we are a cabal that
conspires to invent markets and set prices."
"Full of mischief, I think, the notion of price for an object with no
inherent value."
She motioned the carafe of red be passed to her. She was already
showing, her cheeks slightly reddened, her voice a little more loud, the
effects of previous glasses.
"Do you need more, Virginia?" Kaufman asked.
"You are right on, I need more, can’t you see that?"
Kaufman blushed herself below her own blonde hair. Jay poured the
wine for Virginia.
"Fixing up old paintings like raising the bloody Mary Rose."
She knew the American company would not catch her reference to the
raising of an old British frigate sunk long ago.
"And the Last Supper?" asked Kaufman.
"An idea and centuries of mediocre painters dripping off a wet wall that
once, long ago, held a masterpiece."
Virginia had views and would eventually spill wine on a good dress, or,
smothering candles with her fingers splatter wax on the clothes of her
guests. But her art was very collectible, was attracting splendid prices, and
entering some really important collections.
"It's a nice idea beautiful things be allowed to die," said Jay.
"It's totally irresponsible," said Kaufman who, despite an amiable
nature and good views about sex, had done Doctoral work on 'Feminist
Meanings of Tuscan art in the Quattro cento.'
"It's all Moonbeams from the Greater Lunacy.' I say leave art criticism to
Jesse Helms whose eye is clear. Up the Republic," she said, turning to Jay,
raising her glass.
Jay raised his glass to her. The others did not respond.
Come Sono Amabile
"Right up," she completed.
She knew she was drunk, and scared again, or crazy, and she had
another of the moments it seemed impossible there was this house and
this moment or the chain of events that created it. She knew she was older
now than Raphael when he had painted 'La Muta," which she thought much
greater than 'La Jaconde.' But, on the other hand, where should she be?
With whom? She remembered again the large stone house at Oxford, but
she was tired and she felt no one would be there. She wanted desperately
to say out loud, mostly to Jay who she thought might have an answer, 'is
there a bloody point?"
"How is it decided," Jay asked, "that Raphael is immortal, Pintorecchio is
obscure, Della Bandini is entirely forgotten?"
"Who is Della Bandini?" the critic asked.
"Exactly." Jay said.
"It is something of a crap shoot," the art historian confessed.
"You have sense," Virginia said to Jay "for a Yankee Dog who likely
turns Jewish Princesses on with tales of Romantic Nights in Toscana."
"Yes, Jay exactly," Kaufman said, "you have the man to a T."
Manhattan Jewish .Princesses,” Jay said "have all slept with Italian
painters or actors in Bergamo or Spoletto the summer they were nineteen."
Virginia rang her bell for more pasta and drank more Chianti. If she was
in another place, with other people, or without them, would that be better?
She was sorry she had drank so much. She poured more wine. She saw
them only as forms, flat with lines in their faces that were brush strokes.
They were not in better shape than the Guido that came with the house in
a bad divorce.
No pasta came. Virginia went out. There were loud exchanges in Italian
in the kitchen. Something smashed. Her guests told Jay she was quite
admired inn London, Basle, and Milano. Kaufman was trying to get her to
New York. She knew everyone, (reverent lowering of heads,) even Lady
Mountbatten. She was a Marchesa. There were stories about that marriage.
"No one really knows where she comes from."
"She just fell out of the sky one day at Fiumicino."
"She is putting on a show. For you, perhaps," Kaufman suggested.
Jay excused himself, they told him where was the W.C. He went upstairs.
In her room, bed unmade, were shelves of books about Tuscany, English
country houses, and personae of the British Isles. Books by Trollope, Ford
Maddox Ford, Anthony Powell, Julian Barnes, Michael Frayn, and Jay
Gottlieb. There were CD discs of Schubert, Brahms, and Schumann.. In
many schoolgirl notebooks with lined paper her small writing told what she
had seen in Italy.
Come Sono Amabile
"The Parto in Venice," she wrote, "has a smile that asks, 'are you
believing this?'"
He pushed both fists into the enormous bed. It made a sound like a
cricket whistling for a lover. On the floor brown tiles intermixed with beige
tiles etched with an eagle holding in one claw a sword and in the other a
whip. A vaulted ceiling with musical angels overhung. Trumpets in one
arch, harp in another, and flute in a third, and in a fourth the singers.
He went through a wide hall to her studio, a great square room, tiled
plainly, with Pierro Della Francesca posters mounted on dry board. Her own
canvases leaned against each other unframed on the floor. They had red or
black lines over thick splatters over what often seemed to be a heart like
shape, ambiguous, in a background. A huge unfinished painting rested on
two easels, heavy and painterly in red and black and yellow. He was
surprised at the violence, but he thought he recognized its question. He
went downstairs.
"Here is our Yankee gangster. Where you casing the joint? Give me a
break, nothing is insured." Virginia said as he sat before new wine and
"I checked your bed."
"Remember it, you're not likely to see it again."
When they were leaving Virginia said to Jay, "Why don't you stay and
help me with the dishes?"
"I could do that," he said.
Kaufman was surprised and disappointed, but she was a good sort.
There was time for a million visions and revisions in the soft long summer
in the Tuscan hills, and if necessary there were both greater and lesser
roosting American writers.
When they had been some time in bed and exhausted, resting under
the gazes of the musician-angels in the vaulting, listening to Fleisher play
Schubert, earlier 'Il mio caro bambino' from Gianni Schichi, and a
Rachmaninoff Piano concerto, she asked,
"Will you be my friend?"
"What must I do," he asked.
"Pretend to believe what I need true of the world is true."
"That's what a friend signs up for."
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"Nothing one ever says," Virginia said, "about a relation is true."
"Then we can be characters in fiction," Jay said, " who shall we be?"
"All great loves are tragic," Virginia said, "that's how you know they are
great Romeo and Juliet?"
"Who are they," Jay asked, they sound like a British comedy team."
"Any two people is a comedy team," she said, "Tristan and Iseult,. Arthur
and Guinevere,. Burns and Allen."
She frowned, closed on herself. Then she brightened. She smiled and
touched his body and moved her leg across his. She said, "Don't try this at
home," and started laughing. He laughed too, and as he laughed what she
had said, at first inexplicable, became the wisest and funniest thing that he
had ever heard.
In the morning, the sun was bright on the hills and groves. Red roofed
manors nestled in the distance. She looked around her. The room was a bit
of a shrine, like where they kept the Magna Carta, kept as it was the day
she had won her divorce.
"I do love meaningless casual sex, although it is a frightful sin."
"All sex is causal," Jay said, "there are only meaningless relations."
"Am I not good at it," she asked, ignoring his objection, "comes with
"I think it is also a talent."
"Quanto sono amiable, tutte le sue opere." she said for the first time in
his hearing.
She painted naked, her hair pinned about her head in entanglements
sustained by plastic and metal clips and pins of Minnie Mouse and
butterflies. There were smears of red and black on her face and breasts
and stomach, and a great patch of brown on her thigh.
He sat on the floor, leaning against the wall opposite the canvas,
wearing a cotton robe with blazon and coronet whose actual history he was
avoiding and whose true history he was inventing. His eye traced an
unexplained narrow twisting beige stain. A noise came from somewhere in
the house. An old pipe complained. He looked up through the windows to
the tops of cedars and poplars and an irregular trace of clouds, which he
knew floated above a scene of olives and poplars and red roofed villas in
the hills.
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"You look like a tribal painted lady," he said.
"Berenson, crooked wonk, would call me primitive tactile art."
"I agree about the tactile part."
In the late July morning the room smelled of the latte they had
brought up from the kitchen. The near noon yellow light poured
over her, spilled onto the spattered tiles, reflected from the
sleeping soldiers in the poster of the Piero Della Francesca
‘Resurrection,’ rippled on a light green drop sheet on which was
pinned a note saying in both languages, 'Do Not Touch, Non
He noticed a painting, stacked against the wall, of a figure made of wire
covered with translucent paper, a head, breasts, hands coming from or
receding into the body, scroll like arcs around it. 'Eurydice,' she had told
him, 'the moment the asshole looked back."
She reached toward the enormous canvas with her left hand, stretching,
climbing a step on the stool, bringing a knife thick with paint against it,
making a great black arc across two red irregular ellipses. A slice of black
paint spattered on the floor. He thought the force of this motion could snap
her at her unnaturally thin waist. She stepped down and back from the
painting, shrugged, put down the palate and knife, took her cooling latte
from a small table and came to sit by Jay. Curling her legs around herself.
"They have the colors here, the red poppies, the green cedars. When I
came I thought nature had stolen them from the painters, before oils, Italy
lay unfinished like a new coloring book."
"Life imitates art."
"The reds are mercury sulfide, the yellows, arsenic. Heavy
"Art is alchemy," Jay said.
She smelled like soap and coffee, with a trace of rosemary
and roses. It was this smell that had captured him, but he thought
it her small breasts, her particular way of selecting what she
wanted in her world. She stretched her legs out on the tiles,
adjusting her body without moving her eyes.
"When is a painting is finished? With sex it's so clear when
you're through."
"It is only you, since Freud's lousy literary criticism, who thinks
sex is simple."
Virginia went to the table near the canvas, took a cigarette, lit
it, and scratched her hayloft of a hairdo. The Gauloise made the
room smell of Pernod, of baguettes, of coming and going, of a
world beyond the Tuscan hills without them. Of the possibility
of being in another place. Not necessarily together.
Come Sono Amabile
"Are there no Tuscan cigarettes?" Jay asked.
"Sure," she said, "Marlboro and Camels."
She walked across her painting, breathing out smoke which
rose in front of it, and which, from where Jay sat, gave it a kind
of animation, a vibrancy in the light and in the moment. Cosmic,
like a Pollock, but not like a Pollock. She put the cigarette out in
an ashtray on the table, turned her back on Jay, and looked at the
painting like a child looking up at a great wonder that had not yet
been explained.
It took him longer, he later thought, than it should have, to
realize she was shaking, and to hear the whispered gurgling of
her sobs. Her hands were clasped together, her body was tensed,
her shoulders forward, her feet seemingly dug into the floor. He
did not know if there was something to do for a painter sobbing
by her uncompleted painting. Mr. Qwfwg should not have made
that mark the conjured time, and as a consequence,
anticipation, uncertainty, recollection, and remorse.
She kneeled before the painting; she buried her face in her
"What am I doing?" she screamed, throwing her knife and
palette at the glass around The Parto.
He retrieved the objects she had thrown and brought them
back to her. She turned and clung and wept against him, her
indescribable hair below his chin, and the amazing texture of her
back under his palms. The paint on her rubbing off on his
borrowed robe. He kissed her, she returned the kiss. After more
kisses she calmed and turned away from him, once more looking
at her painting.
"I should destroy it,” she asked without looking around.
"Over my dead body."
"Not an obstacle."
"I wish I understood this bloody thing..."
"So you'll have words for it? Don't overvalue that."
"Tell it to the art critic of the Pink Times."
"The Financial Times has an art critic?"
"Did the Medicis commission paintings?"
She despised anyone, and there were now many, who took her
work seriously at all. Now, of course, (of course?) there was Jay
whom she did not despise.
"Painting cannot describe the world," she said.
The painting seemed so violent that morning, out of scale with
something human. Every work, he thought, is its own world. But
Come Sono Amabile
it is not the world we live in. Jay recalled Mr. Qwfyg caught in
creation, like being caught in an earthquake or tornado.
"Why do you think God did the world?" he asked Virginia.
"I guess you had to be there."
"And why did he try to end it?"
"We just got on his nerves," she said, "everything ends badly."
"Could a woman have made it?"
"Yes, but she wouldn't."
"How do you know?"
"I just know."
He ran his fingers into her straw hair. She did not feel she
was Eurydice. He kissed her again and she kissed him, and this
time it brought them to the floor. For the first time they made
love without the music, touched each other without the
interpretive encouragement of a Romantic composer or the
passion of a young girl begging her father to commit a felony so
she and her caro bambino could be comfortably together.
When they were finished, she crawled over to the Resurrection
and scraped off the paint that had come from the knife she'd
thrown. She crawled back to Jay.
"Order and Chaos," she said.
"Laurel and Hardy."
"Gilbert and Sullivan."
"Abbot and Costello."
They nestled in the Tuscan light, she still naked, he encased in
the robe that spread about him on the floor. The tiles felt cool on
her back, the high ceiling incalculably remote
"Your Jewish part is your best part," she said.
"Safe sex manuals, Jay said, "have perfect clarity and
"Which we don't do."
"We live in a world," Jay said, "of foundless hopes and baseless
"Not all fears are baseless,” Virginia said.
"Nor all hopes unfounded."
When they were dressed and the day would turn one way or
another, Jay asked.
"Can I lead you to lunch?"
"That would make 25.5 hours of consorting. A record."
"Not so. We did two days in Rome. People spend thirty years
together," Jay observed.
"Happens less now. Do you want to try? I'd have to build out."
Come Sono Amabile
"This place already has twenty rooms."
"Not near enough for domestic residence. I would need more for you,
writers are pains in the ass."
Their eyes locked into a channel across which they both sought out
codes and sequences they had not yet quite mastered not unlike the
stations that watch for intelligent signals coming far from earth.
"You are not good for anything," she said, "you don't till the land nor
"Come to lunch, we'll talk about marginal utility."
"You must help me pick grapes in September, and, if you are here, my
olives in November. You must be good for something."
She looked at him to see what happened to his eyes when she said,
"September," and "November."
"I am good for lunch in Siena, " Jay said, 'and pasta in La Torre in the
alley by Good Government where we will consider if Maggie Thatcher and
Ronald Reagan were an item."
"And their Special Power Positions," Virginia suggested.
She wore a white and pink striped suit she called her 'strawberry' suit
that made her seem almost adolescent. He thought it went with her straw
Just outside the door, on the terrace with the poplar trees and potted
figs they stopped and stood together. Both felt Time, despite that room,
despite that house, moved on around them. The days were now getting
shorter. All summers end.
They drove in her open red car down the torturous road to Siena,
through the black rooster world of hills and villas and distances. She drove,
when the road straightened for any time at all, at near 180 kilometers per
hour, but they were passed wherever a passing lane existed. The Italians
were in continuing communications with their lights. They were trying to
tell each other something. At a place where they could see into the valley,
she said,
"That bloody apple tree must have been near here. Italians took it down
for an olive grove. They knew it was only trouble."
"Cut down the Tree of Wisdom?" Jay said, "explains a lot."
"We live in an iron age," she said, "empty of faith, full of craft, treason,
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violence, envy, wicked lust, and labor."
"You could tell it that way. All history is mythic, like hearing a cousin tell
a family story and get it wrong."
Soon she would only be metaphors and words. Soon he would be lines
and colors. Time was an eddy, nothing was until it was remembered..
"God gave us loved ones, but no clue what to do with them," she said.
"What does it mean to miss someone?" Jay asked.
"Am I Sigmund bloody Freud?"
He tried to memorize each hill, so when he saw the Berkshires he would
know why they were different. He tried to memorize each house so he
could picture it in the sunlight of this moment. She in her scarf and
strawberry suit he knew he would remember. She put her hand on his
knee and squeezed it, a gesture he thought more tender than what she
had done before.
"If there is a 'we' in the spring, we will go to the pallio with only mules in
Torrida de Siena," she told Jay.
"The mules do not care for the racing, they throw off a rider and stop to
graze. But girls in their Montague dresses, and the Capulet boys twirling
flags, that is very brave.
And they had structured a possible future, created a spring, held a place
for brave boys and costumed girls and mules.
When they were near Siena, she took a wrong turning and they headed
for a gate they did not know, reading signs they did not recognize. She
"They've turned the boat around," she drove a little recklessly, Jay
thought, upsetting even the Italians, until they were inside somewhere,
looking for a parking that they did not find. She kept on driving through an
arch. They were then truly in the city, passing through the center in her
car, people looking at them, assuming something made it permissible for
them to be there. Only an American tourist waved and yelled. They
passed the Campo, Jay had a view of the steps through narrow alleys,
caught a glimpse of the clock across the square.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for parking."
"I thought you were driving through Siena."
"Don't be a jerk, you are not allowed to do that."
They exchanged smiles, the walkers parted for them in the early

At midnight, a day in late August, after she had calculated it was six
Come Sono Amabile
a.m. in Italy, Jay's mother called Italy, dialing three times until an operator
explained one must use zero in the area code for a call even from outside
the country.
A woman with an English voice said "ciao," and something else in
Italian. .
"What's wrong?" Jay asked, given the phone.
And the mother said what is always said to sons in early morning phone
calls overseas.
"Dad's had a stroke," she said, "they don't know what he hears."
She heard Jay, then the English voice, but could not understand what
they were saying.
"I'm coming," Jay said, "as soon as I can. "
"Oh that does suck," Virginia said when Jay told her.
He went upstairs to pack the two suiter. Virginia was at the door
when he came down. The morning light was thin and the air cool
and the scene had the hyper-reality of symbolist art. In the
distance Lucignano slept behind its walls.
"New York," she said, "Only had First Class. Going to cost you.
From la grande mela you are on your own."
She drove to Fiumicino in her red car, speeding as the day
brightened on the hills around them and trucks joined them on
the road and the hills of Tuscany receded.
At the airport they sat without speaking. Then she said,
"I'll see you again," she said.
He got out, came around, and kissed her through her opened
"Days may hang heavy between," he said and they kissed

It was dark when Jay arrived in Chatham, disheveled and tired,
uncertain of the day or time. The moon was up, a sliver, the tide was high
but it was a small tide; darkness was rising from the water. The night was
still. Lights shown from the windmill across the cove.
Jay felt the tension of a house unsure if an era was over, if there might
be new pictures, new linen, new medicines in the closets. He wondered if
change was hard for houses.
Come Sono Amabile
He thought he should call Virginia, but hesitated at so domestic a call.
She, who so often talked of distances and boundaries, did not require
domestic news from Chatham. She would so often say, "Don't get too
comfortable." At Lucignano she put nothing in his closets. "I can’t see you
all the time," she told him. But, if he did not call for a week she would be
angry, "fall off the earth, did you?" she would ask.
He unpacked and went across the hall to shower. In the warm water,
with his familiar shampoos, and no window to look through to medieval
walls, Tuscany washed a little bit away. It was near three a.m. in Greve
and Virginia would be asleep under her singing angels, her window shutters
open, the olive air flowing around her enormous bed and fragile body.
"What does it mean to miss someone?"
"Am I Sigmund Bloody Freud?" his image of her asked.
Jay was in Chatham a long time to watch his father sleep and
reconstruct his childhood with his mother, improving many incidents and
refining many conversations. Seasons had changed. Borders had changed.
Governments had changed. There had been Thanksgiving, and Christmas,
and another New Year. And Ground Hog day had bought the worst of news.
Times had changed. Virginia, he thought, must have changed. Jay
received the card with 'Sophia' in Chatham, on a cold March day, in the
mail forwarded by the Breton housekeeper from New York,.

Virginia Hastings
“Tutti le sue opere .
April 10-May 10
Opening reception 6:00pm

The morning of April 10 he flew to New York. The early spring day was
clear enough to see Manhattan as the plane came down. It was clean
looking and massive, like stalagmites rising from a cavern floor. In the taxi,
crossing the Queensboro Bridge, he showed Virginia, "the Chrysler, behind
the Empire State. In Gatsby, Fitzgerald said this is the best view of the
"Quanto sono amiable tutte le sue opere," he wished to hear her
saying of his city. He had had a moment in the airplane when he had
thought, 'love conquers all.' But immediately he thought that was stupid.
At six o'clock he took the 6 to Spring Street, passing the cafe of Dean
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and DeLuca, where he pretended to see Virginia under the white metal
ceiling. She was accessible, waiting, just a few footsteps away drinking a
double espresso.
The Kaufman Gallery, one of few remaining in SOHO, is in a Palladium
warehouse on Wooster with cast iron pillars as splendid as any palazzo in
Vicenza. He pressed a buzzer, a voice promised the elevator, and in a
fullness of time, it came. The gallery is small and high ceilinged, with
highly polished wooden floors, and a small, open office filled with art books
and catalogs of painters and previous exhibitions.
Jay walked into a huge square crowded room. He signed the guest book
and headed to the far end of the room where there was a bar and spread of
cheeses, raw vegetables, and dips. He took the list of paintings and prices
from another table. He narrowed his field of vision. Virginia's largest things
were hanging, among them Eurydice (already red dotted, sold for $25,000)
and the painting of the postcard, 'Sophia' for sale at $40,000.
He walked sideways, looking at other paintings, not looking around, not
listening for voices. There was a series of Untitled, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, dated
after their summer that were very dark, and increasingly chaotic, with
sharper and sharper lines, becoming straight and hard until they seemed
like pain, like inflamed synaptic pathways in a torment.
"Not surprised to see you," Kaufmann, approaching, said.
"I lusted for the Montepulciano d'Abruzzi," Jay said.
"Bad wine is a burden of a life in the arts," Kaufman said and kissed
him. She handed him the catalogue of the show. There was a picture of
Virginia smiling, her hair down and combed to satin in the back.
"Tovaloglio," he said quietly.
As he had said when she asked his favorite Italian word.
"Tovaloglio," he had told her.
"Napkin? You booby."
His favorite word because it filled his mouth. He said it silently again,
then a little more loudly, "tovaloglio," "tovaloglio," more loudly still, until
he was shouting the word, "tovaloglio,” his eyes closed, into the small
"Booby," she would say again if she had heard him.
"She'll be here soon enough to abuse us," Kaufman said. Pointing to
the catalogue she said,
"Who knows what's true," Kaufmann said, "Illegit granddaughter of a
British Royal, by a Russian Jewish intellectual? Many come to mind. They
are a feisty crew. Grandniece of Virginia and Vanessa? And did she really
drive the Marquis naked from the house with a pistol?"
Come Sono Amabile
"This will be some event, Kaufmann continued, The Hastings Maggiore.
A heavy breather. Spreads in the ‘Times,’ ‘New York Magazine,’ maybe a
thing in the ‘New Yorker.’ You didn't know?" Kaufman asked him.
"We have not been in touch."
"What an appropriate phrase," Kaufman laughed, departing.
"You see the prices? She'll be able to get Guido Reni from the grave to
fix those dying paintings. Tomorrow she is the whole Arts and Leisure
section of the ‘Times.’ Who ever said, 'art is just a market."
"I'm in for Sophia," he said.
She went to 'work the crowd.' He sat on a bronze bench near the
window, reading the catalog of the show. He read Virginia was born near
Rodmell, Sussex, in 1975 in the house where Virginia Woolf had died. She
was herself a Steffens. He would have preferred the half-Jewess.
The room was as close to entirely full as the Fire Commissioner would
allow. All kinds of people intermingled. Older couples in couture clothes
and high carat jewelry; elegant Afro-American models, slim and gracious;
scruffy painters in wrinkled old tweeds and baggy khaki. Jay rose and
walked through them for another look at the paintings. He walked around
the Untitleds, he saw fault lines under the sea, also themselves a universe,
a totalness, separate and apart from any others. He looked at his now red
dotted 'Sophia.' It pulsed at him without reference to Virginia, who often
took him by surprise, stopping him in a gesture, making her own moment,
then releasing him back into his time.
She was there. Framed in an opening in the density of people,
obscured, seen again, blocked again, surrounded by well-wishers. She
walked through a short interval of applause. Kaufmann came to her, and
they kissed each other's cheeks and walked together toward her office
behind. From the office, behind a wall, he heard,
"Virginia, please, the transaction is completed."
"I do not want him to have it."
"Well," Kaufman suggested, "we might make an appeal to the buyer, or
we can try to by it back, but as far as this gallery is concerned, a sale has
been completed."
"It is my bloody painting."
"I am sorry, Virginia, but for this purpose, it is ours."
Come Sono Amabile
The gallery owner spoke as gently as she could, more than might be
expected, to the upset painter.
Virginia came out of the office, quickly, her small fists clenched, wearing
a beige suit she had bought for this day, if not for this meeting, in Milan.
Her hair was shorter, cut and trim, Diana- like around her face, the Minnie
Mouse clip was left in Greve. Her waist seemed too narrow for her
biological life to pass through it. She saw him and moved toward him
with a speed and a force that he thought could break her. When she was
an arms length away she stopped. They stared at each other. People near
them backed away. There was a conical space around them, not unlike
the almost perceived figure in many of her paintings.
Virginia seemed about to speak or scream, she had the expression he
remembered when sometimes she would throw her palate at the glass of
The Parto, or the Resurrection, or troops fighting for the Holy Cross.
"I don't know what it is I'm doing," he expected her to say.
He could not bear it. He was taken, stopped, seized, he could not
look at her, he knew that if he did he would go crazy, although he did not
know whether that meant he would have a kind of seizure, or faint, or
scream. It took him too long, he later thought, than it should have, to
realize she was shaking, and to hear the whispered gurgle of her sobs.
Her hands were clasped together, her body was tensed, her shoulders
forward, her feet seemingly dug into the floor.
People were looking at them as they faced each other, just beyond
reach. Kaufman stood ready to intervene. A scruffy artist heading
determinedly toward more wine, understood not to pass between them.
After a time, he said to her,
"God gives us loved ones but does not say what to do with them."
“He'd be the last to know,” she said
It was voiceless, it was not clear she heard his whisper. He raised his
right arm toward her, but it did not respond. He did not know if there was
something he could do for her. There might be nothing to do for a painter
sobbing in the midst of her untitled paintings. She buried her face in her
hands. Jay managed to move toward her.
"Stay away." Then she said, "non toccare."
They were frozen, perhaps as in the very moment that Orpheus had
looked around. Love, Remorse, Nemesis, Cruelty, and Hope swirled above
Come Sono Amabile
them almost as visible allegorical figures. But then she laughed, not at first
an easy laugh, just something that enabled them to move. She stepped
forward and clung and wept against him, her indescribable hair below his
chin, the amazing texture of her body underneath his palms. He kissed
"Laurel and Hardy," he said.
"Olsen and Johnson."
"Hitler and Mussolini.
"The sad news is that Marguerite wants to divorce her carpenter and
move out of Monte Savino."
"I am really sorry to hear that," Jay said.
Once they talked the tableau became fluid, people moved around, the
scruffy painter passed behind them for his wine.
"We have still time," she said, "to go to the pallio in Torrida de Siena."
Kaufman said, "I had no idea."
She had a true tear, and many people, including the old rich couples
and the tall smooth faced models had both a tear and a smile as they
watched the couple, not childlike, but still young, hope legitimately about
them, the possibility they would be the first to get it right, not beyond
consideration, come to rest in each other's arms.
"Is the problem with the sale of the painting solved?" asked Kaufman?
Jay and Virginia stood amongst her works, in his city at the center of the
universe. Man's urban dream, citta de luce, Perhaps, he thought, the iron
age was over, that metals lived, as herbs did, and that they could surely be
transmuted, wished to be ennobled, turned to Gold, if not by the acids of
sloppers, then at least, for a moment, by the odd and unpredictable fluids
of the heart.
There was someone with a camera and a microphone, a coup for
Kaufman to have that interview here. Jay resigned himself to the
Montepulciano d'Abruzzi.
"So how do you feel about this success in New York?' the female
interviewer asked.
"Our duty to bring culture to the primitive world," replied Virginia.
"Could you explain how you feel about your paintings?"
Come Sono Amabile
"No, not likely to you."
There were a few pictures with no red dots. Jay guessed the price of
these had just substantially increased.
Virginia came back to Jay.
"Where are you sleeping," Jay asked.
"Is that a trick question?"
In the taxi home he pointed out the cast iron buildings and Union
Square and the Empire State Building, and when they came out of the
tunnel on Park Avenue, the tulips full in bloom.
In his bed, the window open slightly, the sound of a truck climbing
Carnegie Hill reached them, the bark of a dog, the cry of a child. Like a
setting for a scene from Thornton Wilder in the city. Everything seemed so
distant. She slipped into his arms. He felt her tremble.
"Why can't we just be happy and good," she whispers, "like the
"We will be," Jay said, "like the fairies."
When they were exhausted, she asked him,
"Do you think Adam ever just got tired of Eve?"
"No," Jay said, "because she had the bigger bite of the apple."
"What horrible things we do to each," she said, "don't we just want to be
"Yes," he said, after considering other responses, "we just want to be
Quanto sono amiable, tutte le sue opere." she said, touching his arm and
falling to sleep.

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