Genuflect by Gordy Grundy
September 2004; Issue No. 70
THE PERFECT (HUMAN) STORM
.......This is neither a confession nor an apology. It is a statement, like one might give to a vice detective, a probation officer or a Taliban mutawwa. It is a hard story to tell for I am still unsure how a simple act, such as a kiss, could have created such utter and complete devastation. A vacation was ruined, lifelong friendships are severed and a tight knit of merrymakers no longer exists. And I am to blame. After a month of reflection, I believe the massacre at Villa Bestia Nera was a natural phenomenon. All of the personal and psychological elements were in place for a spark to ignite the Perfect (Human) Storm.
.......I am a Libertine. I'd rather go to a Bacchanalia than to a Basilica. I am a lover, not a fighter. I'd rather dance than walk. I prefer indulgence to restraint. I am Pan.
......."On a recent morning not so long ago, my eyes opened before dawn. The sky outside was still the darkest blue, stars had not yet begun to fade and the crickets still sang.
.......I woke up suddenly and excitedly because life that morning was enchanted. I was in Tuscany. Travel gives one the heady thrill of invincibility. Discovery and freedom breed high spirits. I was still lost in the spell of drifting Roman nights under a wide full moon. Thoughts of the tall cowgirl from Marin or the curly haired Spaniard with the three-day stubble cockled my soul and warmed my heart. The day was about to dawn and I wanted to experience every second of it.
.......I carried an old wooden chair from the kitchen and placed it facing East in the middle of the wide front yard of the Villa Bestia Nera. The edge of the horizon began to pale, revealing a ridgeline of far away mountaintops. Clouds suddenly flared in pink and orange while the stars slowly melted away. Villas that dotted the landscape and tall cypress tress were revealed in deep purple. Roosters began to herald the great arrival.
.......The sun rose over the hills and valleys of my Tuscany. With every degree of the sun's rise, the light and my world changed. Canyons would appear and then vanish. Colors transformed. Every second brought a new revelation. The most loving of gods was giving me a spectacular show.
.......I am in awe of the sunrise. Everyday, it brings a fresh, clean palette. If you listen hard enough, you can even hear the movement of the earth and the revolution of the planets. I am humbled by the monumental grandeur and liberated by the sense of discovery that the new light brings.
.......During an intermission, I entered the kitchen and was surprised to see anyone, let alone Chloris at this early hour. Villa Bestia Nera was to be my home for a week, along with a group of sixteen others, all close friends who have socialized weekly over a decade. The night before had been a wild one; I didn't expect to see a soul.
.......Chloris, who rarely rises before ten, is an old comrade, a libertine and a lover of beauty. Excitedly, I told her all I had seen and what I had felt over the last ninety minutes. She accepted my invitation to view the second act. Faster than you can correctly spell Bacchus, we agreed that a little libation with the Blood Orange juice would enhance our appreciation of the performance.
.......Outdoors, my friend and I appreciated many moments as the sun heaved high. Hummingbirds, the size of a child's thumb, darted through the lavender. Orange-red poppies opened their petals. The male swallows, nesting in the eaves of the villa, ventured out and flew like acrobats while the females mothered the babies. A beautifully iridescent scarab lumbered through the patchy grass. A falcon drifted in lazy circles. The day made a spectacular debut and we all applauded.
.......As the temperature rose, Chloris and I retreated to the cooler climate of the ping-pong room with its wide couches, arched ceilings and bad contemporary art. There, I kissed Chloris in honor of the moment. It really wasn't kissing. We were makin' out, smoochin', laughing like a coupla teens. In this ugly world that we live in, there should be more of such action. It's a lovely thing, as lovely as Life should be.
.......The lips quickly unlocked when my old friend Mercury entered the room with a yelp. Mercury and I met in the Boy Scouts and have been friends ever since. Like the Roman god, he is cunning and wily in the arts of commerce. He doesn't have winged feet but he is light in the loafers. He is eloquent as all messengers should be. Mercury found something horrific in the (fully clothed) tableaux upon which he had stumbled. His cry of shock preceded a hasty retreat.
.......Chloris and I looked at each other and decided this was an excellent time for a dip in the pool. The quick change in location was motivated by fun as well as the slightest tinge of guilt. While our kiss had not broken any laws of morality or decency, nor bonds of friendship or matrimony, its revelation would be uncomfortable to the hostess Julie, the organizer of the trip with whom I had once been in a deeply felt and long termed relationship.
.......The crime was minor, silly even. Besides, who'd find out? Mercury and I were the oldest of friends. Both being male, I had the utmost confidence in the Vow of Silence, a rule that is as old as humanity itself. Men, especially men who are friends, do not rat each other out, especially not to a woman. It is the first law in the Battle Between the Sexes.
.......With no worries, the sun on high and a fresh pitcher of Blood Orange juice cocktails, Chloris and I ran to higher ground. The swimming pool at Villa Bestia Nera is filled with salt water which feels like silk against the skin. The chaise lounges offer pillows embroidered with fanciful designs, which position your head for the best possible view of the green valley and blue lake below. Lining the deck, Lavender and Scotch Broom share their heady perfume. Wasp-like butterflies with bright orange spots on black wings labor in the flowers and then land to rest on your tanned shoulder.
.......Chloris was first in the pool. Not having my suit with me and unwilling to hobble back to the Villa on my badly wounded foot, I dropped trou and swam naked.
.......Some of our fellow travelers arrived and made their camp.
.......It was a beautiful day.
.......When Julie marched up, Chloris was drifting lazily on an inflatable and I, as usual, was treading water. Julie saw something horrific, said something angry and stormed down the hill. Clearly, this was a place I did not want to go. Heck, maybe she was just uncomfortable with nudity. Who was I to offend? A man of discretion, I wasn't swimming the backstroke or doing the splits. God didn't push me out of the womb wearing a pair of surfer's shorts. Had I been in rural Pennsylvania at an Amish spa, I would have behaved differently. This was Tuscany.
.......Or could it be the messenger?
.......Snoozing on soft mats, shaded under an arbor twisted with wisteria, I didn't have a care in the world. Little did I know of the dark clouds that were forming. A confluence of currents had built a wave of monstrous proportions that was about to crash down upon the Villa Bestia Nera.
.......Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, must have sent a chilly gust over Chloris, for she rose up on her elbows and asked, "Are we in trouble?"
.......Throughout the afternoon and evening, the bonhomie stayed buoyant but a dark undercurrent had begun to stain the smiles and mute the laughter. Conversations were whispered rather than spoken. Looks were averted. The humor became sarcastic and pointed. I had no desire to guess what the rumor mill was adding up. I chose the bliss of ignorance.
.......The next day, the dynamic of the party began to lose focus and cohesion. As the group was following each other through Florence on our way to a fine lunch, everyone got lost and separated. We suddenly found ourselves in a pair or a trio, searching for the other. No one even knew where the restaurant was or what it was named. This confused and frantic search led to fevered accusations that some were trying to ditch the clan. Small habits were flaring into annoyances. Personality quirks were becoming harassment. A bull's-eye was being painted onto my forehead. "J'accuse!" lingered on many lips, waiting to be hurled. A storm was gathering and building offshore.
.......With gossip and innuendo as the group's guiding light, I wasn't exactly sure what I was most guilty of. Was it nudity? A cocktail? A kiss? With Mercury behaving imperiously, I chose Door Number Three. You always hurt the one you love; I took Julie aside and apologized for my rudeness and lack of discretion. (Actually, I should have apologized for Mercury's fucking lack of it.) Given the soured climate, I suggested that I vote myself off the island thereby removing the bad apple that was poisoning the barrel. It would have honestly alleviated the pressure and given it a name. She called me a coward and badly dramatic. (Frankly, I was quietly hoping to get the hell out of there. The heat was unbearable and I would have had more fun, alone, back in Rome where the wild ones roam.) The conversation ended when fury rendered Julie speechless.
.......A trip to the Uffizi Gallery was diplomatically tense. An exquisite tour of a private winery ended like flat champagne. Groups were forming and distances widening. Mercury and I, like Cain and Abel or Romulus and Remus, could not even exchange a false pleasantry. Julie, true to her sweet nature, was politely masking her hostility. Ostensibly in search of the perfect scarf, Chloris took off alone. In truth, she was merely escaping the heat of a cold shoulder; the other girls were giving her a united snub. Like laughing too hard at a bad joke, we were trying to make it all work.
.......The storm, that had been lingering out at sea while it generated its terror, hit the coast hard, grew in force and sped inland. Everyone on the trip ran out of their glass houses and started throwing rocks.
.......As I was busy grilling the evening meal, Mick and Don gleefully strong-armed me into the kitchen and then beat a hasty retreat. Julie pointed a finger at me. Chloris, teary eyed, was hanging her head low. In a flash, Mercury lit into me with the fury and righteousness of Torquemada. "HOW DARE YOU ACT LIKE THIS AT YOUR AGE!" His forefinger punched the air but it would have preferred my chest. His speech was bold, loud, shrill and short. Then he ran from the room. Had I a chance to rebut, I would have said, that I hope to act like this throughout my forties, sixties and eighties.
.......A long rolling earthquake hit the Villa Bestia Nera and did not stop. Everyone was affected and no one was left standing. The constant turmoil was excruciating and unbearable.
.......Big Reeves, looking like a B actor in a Sixties gladiator epic, got whacked in the eye with a piece of flying pasta. Hoping for an apology, he was ricocheted with an insult. Reeves spiraled into despair.
.......Versace, best remembered for fucking her best friend's husband, screamed that if I had any balls, I would make a statement to the entire group. Honor?! I replied that I had apologized to the only one that I had wronged.
.......Chloris broke down sobbing and couldn't stop crying. The other women had ostracized her. The pain broke through the steely resolve that she has had to maintain in the months after the death of her husband. Overwhelmed, she was finally able to grieve.
.......Brando, who has always been off-color and sexually minded, was admonished for being off-color and sexually minded. He sank into despair.
.......Drinking until she was reduced to a mumble, Lucinda started to scream and ran to her room. An hour later, she emerged with red lipstick smeared across her face.
.......Before stomping away, Mercury muscled Big Reeves and screamed at him for being tardy. Reeves, seething with anger, went looking for him.
.......Miriam decided to leave her boyfriend, abort her baby and move to a kibbutz.
.......Launching a surprise attack and retreat, Mercury trapped Brando in a corner and screamed at him for an irrational discourtesy. Seething, Brando had only a wall to punch.
.......A soft-spoken man of great wit, Charlie retreated so far into himself that he literally disappeared.
.......Mary, a sweet loving soul, curled her lip and spoke with derision for the very first time.
.......Mick and Don, like the few others who did not have a cathartic moment, looked at each other with wide eyes and slowly backed out of the closest door they could find.
.......Maybe it was Pan who haunted the Villa. Throughout the Ages, his devlish looks have caused irrational fears in humans, hence the term panic. Some say you shouldn't travel with friends. Maybe it was finally time for a storm in these particular lives.
.......Needless to say, I only painted one small watercolor on the trip. My poor output was not from a lack of inspiration but one of caution. Frankly, I was afraid someone would take the sharp end of the brush and stab it in my neck.
.......When you travel that far and spend that kind of dough on a vacation, there is a great urge and even an advocacy to say, "I had a swell time." The co-workers slap you on the back and ask, "How was (Italy) Italia?!" Lemme tell ya."
.......I don't bother to say that the vacation was like being trapped in the twisted metal of a burning car wreck while waiting for the Jaws of Life equipment to arrive from another state. The credit card bills have arrived and now it is time to pay for my swell time, literally and figuratively.
.......In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, I spent some time in front of 'Primavera', a masterpiece by Sandro Botticelli. While the painting speaks of many things, it is an allegory for Spring, rebirth and renewal. Lately, I think of it often.
.......GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist. His visual and literary work can be found at www.gordygrundy.com.