Some People are Larger than Life, #1: Casanova | KATARINA WEST

Some People are Larger than Life, #1: Casanova

A professional seducer.

Some people are so striking and unforgettable that they are like truths unto themselves, which is why you can’t keep a Diary of Everything without writing about them.

Let’s take Casanovas, for example – those almond-eyed and glib Latin lovers, a breed of serial seducers you meet everywhere in Italy: on the street, in the bar, in the museum foyer, on the railway station platform number nine, just when you’re hauling your outrageously heavy suitcase onto the train.

I’ve always imagined that somewhere around Italy there must be a factory that produces nothing else but absolutely flawless and one-hundred-per-cent Italian skirt-chasers. You know, a little like the way they made those robots in Artificial Intelligence. One assembly line is churning out ordinary Everyday Casanovas, clumsy and sweet and somewhat pushy, programmed to woo chubby middle-aged women in Rimini; and another one is making acne-faced Teenage Casanovas, those carefree spirits who will go backpacking around the world and chat up girls wherever they go, even if they don’t speak a word of English. And then there is an assembly line for the best of the best, the crème de la crème of all playboys, the true pros who will get all the most beautiful women. And all the ready-made Casanovas are hanging lifeless like caterpillars inside a chrysalis, waiting for the factory personnel to insert into their brains all the standard phrases of daily flirting. Hi, what time is it? Sorry, do you know how to get –? Hey, how about a dinner? Don’t tell me, you’re an American? Ciao, sei bellissima!

The Casanova I know is one of the elite playboys. His divine girlfriends and larger-than-life liaisons have transcended all ordinary scales of measurement: they have become a myth, a splendid story of The Thousand and One Nights, which is endlessly repeated and re-chronicled whenever Casanova’s friends are talking about him. For everyone knows that already in liceo Casanova was dating the prettiest girl of the school.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

He’s one of those few men who you can honestly call beautiful. I mean, really poster-boy-beautiful; absolute flawlessness that looks almost anonymous. He resembles a black panther: green eyes, black hair and a profile chiselled in imitation of the statutes of antiquity. His good looks are so dazzling that in his company you’re bound to feel a tad clumsy. You’re bound to wonder what his life is like. When he is so beautiful.

Yes, who knows? Life can’t always be gorgeous women and dancing on roses. So maybe once on a rainy Saturday night when Casanova was in Berlin for business and walking back to his hotel, a group of drunken neo-Nazis encircled him and spat in his face and told him to go fuck his mother in Morocco? Or maybe once when he was having a drink in a bar, some lewd, potbellied sugar daddy sat next to him, touched his arm and said, I’ll buy the next one, son?

Everything is possible.

Of course, Casanova is vain, terribly vain. It’s that kind of male vanity that outside the borders of Italy is hard to understand. Still, whatever the occasion (an evening at the theatre, a hunting weekend at a friend’s house, a family wedding), he is always impeccably groomed and tastefully dressed, just as if he had stepped from the pages of a glossy magazine, or the cover of a Mills and Boon romance. What’s more, his vanity hasn’t got even a single trace of self-irony. He has never questioned his role as the George-Clooney-next-door – no, correct that, it has never even crossed his mind that it might be a role – and he would be mortally offended if someone told him that he was just a Casanova.

Unlike us, Casanova lives in the city. Obviously in an attic apartment. From his loft windows opens a breath-taking view over the church domes and historical palazzi, and in the living room hangs a huge painting depicting naked women in psychedelic colours. In the fridge however you will find nothing else but wilted cheese and a champagne bottle, which has been left there to chill for Casanova’s next kill. And so, as I study the painting, I can’t help wondering how she must feel, the next woman, when seated there on his white leather sofa, sipping champagne and looking at the jazzy Venuses?

What will the atmosphere be like? Will it be tense? Titillating? Awkward?

How will it all happen?

Actually, everything’s really simple, Casanova once told me. Seduction, like everything else in life, is a kind of test of strength – a mental football match if you will – in which the adversary’s apparent reluctance has to be demolished so that you can conquer her, and move her from that white leather sofa into the darkness of the bedroom. It’s warfare, and as such, it has many faces. There’s war of attrition, trench warfare and guerrilla warfare. There are attacks and cease-fires.

And in this war everything is admissible: there are no Geneva Conventions in Casanova’s world.  It is acceptable to shower your new woman in flowers and gifts and candlelit dinners and weekend breaks in little romantic country hotels. But it’s also all right to stop calling her if the situation bores you, or if another, more interesting, woman steps into the picture.

The best way to seduce a woman, Casanova says, is a surprise attack. Blitzkrieg: she must be conquered with the same arrogance and unexpectedness with which Hitler took Poland in 1939. Of course, on a first date you shouldn’t try more than a polite kiss on the cheek – do anything more, and the woman would only get offended. You dickhead, she’d think, you really think I am that cheap? But on the second date her alertness has dwindled. She’s relaxed and doesn’t know what to expect. And that is when Casanova strikes.

His tactics have worked so well that if Hitler had been able to achieve the same in his foreign policy, we’d all be talking German today.

But don’t think for a moment that Casanova is an incurable cynic. OK, he admits that when he was younger most of his thoughts – and relationships – revolved around sex. But still behind all this mad chasing and seducing there’s almost a foolishly naïve idea about women and love. And all these years Casanova has been looking for his ideal woman, and even though he hasn’t found her yet, he’s never stopped searching for her.

Casanova’s ideal woman is somewhere between Sophia Loren and Titian’s Venus of Urbino, and yes, she can cook as well, and loves Casanova not only for his handsome looks and Alfa Romeo convertible but also for his inner self. And it’s true, all Casanova’s girlfriends have been breath-taking creatures, from that Brazilian lingerie model to that Indian Brahmin princess – even if none of them has ever distinguished themselves in the kitchen, and only a few have been able to form complete sentences in Italian.

The problem isn’t that these girls wouldn’t have any potential. No, the problem is that Casanova isn’t able to live with any of them once the initial passion has started to fade away. And so on regular intervals he calls us, depressed, because it’s Saturday evening and the latest love affair has just ended and he has nowhere to go. That’s when he comes to eat with us and after the second glass of wine becomes all gloomy and philosophical.

‘It’s my mother,’ he says, staring at his glass. ‘It was always difficult with her. That’s why I love and hate women.’

It sounds convincing. But at the end of the day, is it, really? Because what Italian man wouldn’t have had a difficult mother-son relationship?

Or, come to think of it, what man wouldn’t have had a difficult mother-son relationship?

Then Casanova falls seriously in love. ‘This is it,’ he says on the phone, ’she’s the one, I know it.’ Five months pass and the woman leaves him, because everything is fair in love and war, or at least it was when it was Casanova making the rules. Once more he comes to dine with us, for he can’t go to his elderly mother, can he, and who else does he know – I mean, really know – in this world? For the first time Casanova is neither groomed nor tastefully dressed, and he doesn’t talk much, for this time, there isn’t much to say.

After dinner he walks to his car, but there is a problem, because his Alfa Romeo has got stuck in the mud of our country road, and there’s no way of pulling it out. As we fight with the mud and the car in a cold autumn drizzle, I happen to catch a glimpse of Casanova. All of a sudden I see him as an old man, dressed in worn pyjamas, all alone in his eerily silent attic apartment.

And that’s when I feel sincerely sorry for him.

 

 

 

Comments

:))))))))))))) I love the delicate tone of this very well written post and the ending is trenchant! The very first Italian I met was a customs officer on the Italian side of the Simplon Pass, as we drove to Firenze. He behaved in just this way, believing that the sprinkling of a few 'bella's and wide smiles whilst leaning nonchalantly into the car to ascertain from the proffered passports where the quarry might be sitting would melt resistance away! Hah! ;)

What a great story, Christina! I can picture it: the smile, the gestures, the tone of the voice. Yes, that definitely was Casanova in action!

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