Scribbles from Italy: The Thing About Sex; Standards of Measurement; Simplifications; No Oil…
July 26, 2021
THE THING ABOUT SEX: I think it’s fair to say that most of my friends on this platform have grey hair and a variety of other physical and mental characteristics that indicate they, like I, are well beyond their green years. Some of us are very old in years, some just old, some middle aged and maybe a few of the people who stop by here cling on to a claim of youth, vital youth.
Even the least observant among us will have paid — are paying — witness to what we must regard as inevitable changes to our own sex lives. We are ever-evolving, are we not?
Forget observing what is going on with others; the windows into their lives are translucent at best and offer only flickering insights into what may be going on with them. It’s personal for us, for them. Indeed, sex is such a fraught subject, so incredibly personal that it goes virtually unmentioned in these pages. A black hole into which we want to plunge, but don’t.
So, why bring it up?
There are those among us who remain determined to play sex out until it becomes an impossibility; others gave it up long ago or are in the process of letting go now. But therein lies the rub; the rub of love as Dylan Thomas so ticklingly put it. We are each at our own place in the cycle of life and, where sex is concerned, not inclined to discuss it.
Some have opted for celibacy. Others are celibate because they have not found a partner. In any case, they are left to their own devices, some of them literal.
When it comes to full-on sex, however, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango and not just in the Paris of perversion. If one partner is done, and the other isn’t, feelings that cover the gamut of human emotion flood the non-erogenous zone.
The deprived person may have a holy ability to accept his or her fate, but they might also, when their blood is boiling and sexual fulfillment is unavailing, feel a sharp and painful frustration. Some might have the capacity to shove those feelings down and leave that frustration unarticulated, but others might rend the heavens with their rage. Some of the in-between states are — and must be — acceptable otherwise couples may fracture beyond the point of redemption or even fitful compromise.
It is so fucking personal.
The solace of simple, asexual companionship, even if is only sometimes affectionate, may suffice, but it may also, when one of a couple is randy, sharpen the edge of keening desire. One might, in such circumstances, let one’s urges vaporize into higher concepts of love, or if not love, at least, endurance, or one might be driven into the masturbatory shadows and get their own hands dirty. It’s personal, ain’t it?
Men can call upon pharmaceutical encouragement, but that’s of little joy to a man if one’s “woman” wishes ill upon its inventors. One seeks, or at least hopes for, mutual delight, not merely to take advantage of an otherwise uninvolved, tolerant grantee of (dubious) relief.
Oh yes, it’s personal.
Nature has designed human men and women to become less physically attractive as we age. But, in darkness, even if darkness comes only when we close our eyes, the human touch remains as hot as it was when we were frothing, post-pubescents. We know now, in these our later years, that the titillations of hands on flesh, of the smells and tastes of sex, can be as inspiring of sexual desire in older age as they were in our flaming youth and our busy child-rearing and middle days.
But, not for all. For some there is discomfort, fear or disgust. It’s personal.
Nature, having given us bodies and minds that fill us with complex desires and the means of fulfillment, has also given us minds capable of the most illogical rationalizations and justifications. We want what we want and we don’t want what we don’t want. And in our sexual lives as in life generally we often — and sometimes always — find ourselves at cross-purposes with the man or woman with whom we are most intimate in all our doings. And it hurts. All the moreso because it is personal to our individual selves, the very sense of who we are.
Me? I am pushed on by the urges that erupted so many decades ago it is hard to fathom how much time has passed. I am happy to have them. Wouldn’t know what to do without them. Count on them. My silly manhood beats its chest. And I thank my good fortune that my wife is of like mind. And soul and body.
Like you, I don’t know when we will, in the course of our remaining life together, enjoy our last act of sex together. But, I already regret that the day is coming and I will regret the day my sexual urges will be gone. I want to want her, and her me, and it will only because our bodies fail us, that we will come to it. Simple, affectionate companionship at last.
Regret of loss? Yes. But, having got this far in life, I love my regrets. Those that have come before have taught me many lessons, and this one will too I have no doubt. And life should always be about learning should it not?
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July 29, 2021
STANDARDS OF MEASUREMENT: In a side chapel of the Duomo in Perugia, Umbria, you can take a knee in front of a sculpted, crucified Jesus. He is newly dead, head hung like a stone, body canted to one side, all the wracking pains he endured now unfelt. It is a very fine piece of work sculpted by a man whose name I don’t know. It is rendered in a light grey marble, and in the flickering light cast by votive candles, it glows just slightly. It never fails to move me, atheist that I am.
In its singularity it strikes me as a work as good as any done by Michelangelo. No doubt some expert in the field might throw a slew of well-wrought words to tell me how wrong I am, but I would not be convinced. I see what I see, and I am confident in my perceptions.
Lear is on the heath, spinning down to his tragic end. His companion, the Fool, suddenly disappears. What!? Othello, dagger in hand, rattles on endlessly — and tiresomely — over Desdemona’s prone body. His and Iago’s monologues and dialogues are overdone to the point of nonsense. Troilus and Cressida, turgid and complex, tells me that the playwright, Mr. Shakespeare, did not achieve what he set out to achieve.
Picasso spent many hot Spanish days in his atelier tossing off light, self-indulgent works. Not all masterpieces; some hardly even on the way, from an artist’s point of view, to the masterworks that would come later. Or not. He played some days, but today’s art market is such that each of these one-offs sells for big money.
Name your Master, stand back and look, listen, touch if you can. Instead of automatically conferring upon his or her output a reverence they would find risible, think of them in the act of creation, the struggle, and the multitudinous near-misses and more than a few failures upon whose heap a masterpiece or two throbs with unexpected beauty. Unexpected even to the artist, no doubt.
There are probably a few Jesuses, daVincis, Michelangelos, Mozarts and Picassos walking among us these days. We wouldn’t recognize them in human form. They work in our times, in the prevailing Zeitgeist, with our languages, idioms, concerns, sensibilities and shattered boundaries, with a crafstmanship and sometimes – but rarely – a transcendent artistry equal to their antecedents.
It is quite wrong – abusive of ourselves – to apply to the work of our contemporaries the mystical, mythical standards of dead artists.
July 29, 2021
SIMPLIFICATIONS: If you drive along the main roads that parallel the west-facing Appenines on whose slopes we currently reside, you will see patches of olive groves that tilt toward the edge of the forests further up. Above the tree line, the mountain tops are bald. Sheep and horses graze there except in winter when they are brought down to the valley to chew on the hay their owners harvested months earlier.
What you will not see from the main roads are the “sentieri” – the trails the local farmers use to access their groves and pastures. These run laterally along on the mountain sides hidden from the highways by trees that grow on their verges. Where horses used to plod pulling carts or iron-forged machines, tractors now chug.
The sentieri also connect the hamlets that are built on the slopes, and ultimately at further distance, the larger towns too. One comes to them through the backdoor, so to speak, encountering quotidian life caught in the moment – a man tending his “orto” (vegetable garden), a woman watering the pots of geraniums that hang under the windows of her house, kids playing on a swing. Dogs bark; cats slink about.
There are always greetings as we pass by, offered by them and by us – greetings that make a lovely music even though we are stranieri: “ciao”, “buongiorno”, “salve” or “tutto posto?”
We walk the sentieri, my wife and I, almost daily, in the morning, usually before the sun rises to its noontime apogee and begins to simmer the vapours that settled in the valley overnight.
The trail south leads us to a hamlet where Bruna and Gervaisio have built a fine twelve room hotel by a fast stream. We sit in the little park across the way while we drink the cappucini that Bruna made just for us. We chat if we feel a need to add our babble to the brook’s.
It gets hot fast these days, so we sweat the return walk, legs getting stronger every day because these trails follow the wrinkles of the hillsides and take us up and down as they will.
It is difficult for me to not think about the complexities of life on earth these days. I do not mind them pressing in. I am not here to escape them. But, at least here, the simplicities that constitute my current circumstances enlarge the context within which the bedevilments of human kind can be better comprehended – and sometimes understood.
July 31, 2021
NO OIL IN THE NON-MACHINE: In the garden, yesterday, under the shade of a holm oak, my son-in-law’s father, Aldo, said, “No. Non e normale”. Weather talk.
The lengthening string of very hot, dry days, the glowering sun, the dry breezes that murmur at sunrise and sunset, but hardly stir during the in-between hours — none of it normal here in Umbria. The long, wet, cold of Umbria’s last spring was presaged by a peculiar and difficult winter — neither a normal season.
I walk out into the olive groves stretching laterally on both sides of the house I now live in, and I discover they bear no fruit. Maybe it is just this location. Other places in Italy might be under the weight of an abundance. Maybe. Doubt it. It is more likely that the frantoi — the people who press oil out of olives — will be far less busy this year than last.
As I write, lightening flashes above the hills; thunder echoes in the high-piled clouds, shockwaves rattle the windows. A drenching rain falls. A normal thing, you’d think. But, this storm is sudden, and on this a Sunday morning, an unholy visitation that does not quench the thirst of the ground-level world below.
I have come from Vancouver to live here. That city dwells in a rain forest, where for 40 days and 40 nights no rain fell there either. Yesterday, friends tell me, a short rainfall pattered the ground. More is promised. Hundreds of fires have broken-out in the forests further north of the city. Strong men have been sent to stamp them out.
Everywhere else on planet earth — everywhere else — nature’s own irrefutable logic works out the proofs of humanity’s hubris, its miscalculations.
As I write, the darkness that accompanied the storm of just a few minutes ago has been relit. A hot southern wind rising in the Sahara pushes the clouds northward, leaving an empty, azure sky. All is quiet, but for the noise of a train making its way to Ancona from Rome. But, for a dog barking down below. Soon their sounds will be mingled with the clang of church bells.
The sun will make its way over the Appenines behind me and sit upon us all day. High temperature expected today: 30 C (86 F), only slightly less hot than yesterday. A sprinkle of rain is predicted for Thursday, otherwise, the baking will continue.
Italy without olive oil? How then to lubricate the beautiful organism of local life?
Vian Andrews’ “Scribbles from Italy” are posted on Dooney’s every two weeks.