Issue 189, Summer 2009
In 1987, when i was twenty-four, I lived in a Tribeca loft with my former college roommates, George and Pablo. One evening that February, Pablo brought three sisters whom I’ll call the Viscontis home for dinner, commencing what promised to be the most hopeful chapter of my life. He knew them from lazy summers at a beach resort in Tuscany. Their name adorned the family’s luxury-goods business in shops around the world, so the sisters were free to dress in linen and stay out late, but they were also warm and tactile, linking their arms in yours as they walked, or gravely adjusting your necktie. Alessandra was an affectionate referee between her siblings, who called her Switzerland; Tessa was brassy, often at the center of a storm; and Giovanna, the youngest, was a brunette with plum-colored lips that, when she spoke Italian—“Non parliamone più, lasciamo andare! ”—seemed to brush my inner ear. She walked in slow motion, bewildered by our local gravity, but her gestures were quick and sure: the glide of thumb over fingertips for a velvety texture; the little finger waggled for something untoward; the sideways chop of finality. She was only eighteen.
Our crush on them was immediate and collective, so after coursing in a larger group of a dozen friends to Area, Palladium, The World—the 1980s dance clubs of boundless possibility—we’d drive the Viscontis home to their parents’ apartment on Park Avenue, piled on laps with the top down in George’s VW Cabriolet, seeming to fly not through but above midtown’s gleaming canyons. On the straightaway up Park the twin sets of lights were runway lamps guiding us in. We’d stay over and wake late for espresso and the Times, the sisters smoking in white robes with their hair damp, the air thick with unsorted radiance.
At a midtown bar called Stephanie’s, over Sambucas, Alessandra and Giovanna murmured in Italian, discussing Giovanna’s boyfriend. What little I had gleaned about this Shaun from Pablo’s well-meant warnings was discouraging: a horse had kicked some of his teeth out, yet he had knit her a cable sweater, so he was sensitive, too. Alessandra came over and clasped my hand. “Hey softie,” she said. “Soft hands.”
“I know, Ali, doesn’t he?” Tessa said. Turning to me, she said, “You should let your hair grow out, be less of a spikyporcospino.” They liked to anatomize us, a game Giovanna didn’t enter into.
“Don’t you find us interesting, Tadeus?” Alessandra said. “You should write about us: the three faces of womanhood.”
“Chekhov got there first,” I said.
“You probably think we’re slobby American girls,” Giovanna said shyly.
I shook my head, blushing: wrong and wrong.