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The Other Woman

October 21, 2013
First posted 12/5/11



Rick said it best in Casablanca: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine.” Like Ilsa, my femme fatale had no idea I was here when she flew into town.


I read about her arrival in the newspaper. Titian’s La Bella had arrived in town for an exhibit at the Portland Art Museum; her smiling face filled an entire page. I hadn’t seen her in years, but she’d fluttered through my thoughts too many times to count. She’d aged well over the years, not that it mattered; I’d always had a thing for older women. Still, no expense had been spared keeping her preternaturally in her prime, no easy task since she was over four hundred years old.


I’d met her back when I was a boy and had immediately fallen in love with her. She wasn’t capable of seeing me as I was back then, a dreamy kid with ridiculous dreams, but it didn’t matter because I was invisible to her. She was accustomed to being adored, worshipped by hordes of enchanted young men queuing up for hours just to catch a glimpse of her. I was no different from other red-blooded males who felt something stir inside while gazing at her perfect features. For me, La Bella was the clapper striking the bell of my burgeoning sexuality.


      Titian's La Bella 1536?



Art historians have never been able to discover her identity. Titian, nicknamed The Prince of Painters, was Venice’s most celebrated artist and La Bella resembled other women in his oeuvre. It’s possible she was an ideal, a female composite, yet there was something ineffably real about the quality of her skin. Her creator was a master at creating the illusion of palpitating flesh, and certain depictions of her still make me blush. She first came to me hidden in a copy of Reader’s Digest when I was twelve, like Cleopatra in her rug. She was posed as Venus—Venus of Urbino to be precise—and she took my young breath away. She was the first naked woman I ever saw. In my imagination she was immortal.


Years ago I went to visit her in her mansion in Italy, to pay homage to her charm, sophistication and beauty, but I was like a mote of dust dancing in the air. She paid me no heed. I stood before her at the Pitti Palace in Florence and studied her sumptuous dress, imagined it slipping from her pale shoulders to expose the ivory and rosy pinkness that, over the years, had seared itself into my memory.


“I still love you,” I mumbled at her picture in the newspaper.


Mrs. Chatterbox, her nose buried in another section of the paper, was seated on the far end of the couch. She must’ve thought I was talking to her. “I love you, too,” she said.


But my wife’s next sentence was proof she’d been reading my mind more closely than the newspaper. “When are you going to see her?”


“What are you talking about?” I asked.


“The painting by Titian that’s on loan to the Portland Art Museum, La Bella—it’s one of your favorites, isn’t it?”


So she’d already read the article about La Bella’s visit to Portland, seen the photograph in the paper. “It’s true that I’m an admirer of Titian.”


“Quite the understatement, if you ask me. You’ve flown to Britain, Italy and Spain to see Titian’s work.”


No point denying it.


She refolded her section of the paper, rose from the couch and left the room. A few minutes later she returned and pressed something into my hand. A ticket. “Titian’s La Bella goes on exhibit this Monday. I was going to put this ticket in your Christmas stocking but I doubt you can wait that long.”


“I think you’re being a bit melodramatic.”


“Am I?”


I changed the subject. “Only one ticket? Aren’t you going with me?”


“No. I think you two should be alone.”


I fondled the ticket long after Mrs. Chatterbox had gone. La Bella’s face was on the ticket, her four hundred year old gaze beckoning me like a siren to the rocks. I told myself I wasn’t going to the exhibit, I could resist seeing her, but I was lying to myself. Of course I’d go.


Mrs. Chatterbox had made it possible, not by providing a ticket but by removing the danger I’d confronted so long ago. La Bella was dangerous, as were most mythological monsters. She could promise love but could never deliver on that promise. To be locked in her imaginary embrace could be an eternal straight-jacket.


Now I had a siren of my own, a woman adept at delivering more than promises. I would reflect one last time at the altar of my faded youth before turning forever to the flesh and bone lover capable of beckoning me home to safety.




Is Titian's Venus of Urbino really La Bella?



I don’t post on Tuesdays but tomorrow is Mrs. Chatterbox’s birthday and I wouldn’t want to pass on an opportunity to wish the love of my life an early Happy Birthday.



She's quite a babe. It's good Mrs. C is so understanding about it. She's quite a catch. Happy birthday to her!
By: PT Dilloway on October 21, 2013
What an amazing and understanding wife you have! You DO have quite a woman! She's a keeper for sure, and happy birthday to her! For me, I am grateful that this stunning object of your lifelong heart's desire is not a stick thin, bony wisp of a thing. This gal is gorgeous!
By: Carrie on October 21, 2013
how wonderful that your wife (waving a Happy Birthday wave) is as wonderful in your real life as your Bella is in your mind. And also how dear that you have held onto your lust for Bella all these years. Far too many folks let go of those objects of affection because they think they have to "grown up" and be adults. I'm telling you....there is no future in being an adult. HOnest. Really. Good for you. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on October 21, 2013
Mrs. C. is a great wife, and I hope she has a terrific birthday. And about Venus- they certainly weren't very toned back then, were they? Funny how ideals of beauty change over time. Still a magnificent work~
By: Shelly on October 21, 2013
Quite a woman! WOW! And La Bella is pretty cool, too. :) Happy Birthday a day early to your Mrs. C. S
By: Scott Cody Park on October 21, 2013
Happy birthday Mrs. C! You are a paragon among women :)
By: The Bug on October 21, 2013
without art, our world would be all the more ugly for the lack of it.
By: Michael Offutt on October 21, 2013
Mrs C. as she is your real 'La Bella'.
By: Daniel LaFrance on October 21, 2013
oh, mrs. c is a true wonder... she knows you so well. what a gift...
By: TexWisGirl on October 21, 2013
Many happy returns of the day to Mrs. C! And i agree, she is the real love of your life.
By: mimi on October 21, 2013
As far as my figure goes, I was obviously born several centuries too late--HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MRS. C!!
By: fishducky on October 21, 2013
I'm struck by how naturally rosey La Bella's cheeks are. I'm developing a crush too. Happy Birthday, Mrs. C! xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on October 21, 2013
Ah, she has post-menopausal belly fat just like me. Willy Dunne Wooters says my tummy is sexy. Happy Birthday, Mrs. C! Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on October 21, 2013
What a lovely tribute to Mrs C....she's a keeper ! And so are you! Happy Birthday Mrs C!!!
By: Kathe W. on October 21, 2013
You kept us in suspense for this one. Happy birthday to Mrs Chatterbox.
By: red on October 21, 2013
I think your post today is one of the best love letters I've ever read. Happy birthday to Mrs. Chatterbox!
By: Pixel Peeper on October 21, 2013
I think your post today is one of the best love letters I've ever read. Happy birthday to Mrs. Chatterbox!
By: Pixel Peeper on October 21, 2013
Stephen -- I took an art class in college which as I remember gave me ample opportunity to catch up on my sleep as soon as the prof. turned out the lights to show the slides. Your art lessons are much more interesting, inspiring and educational.
By: tom sightings on October 21, 2013
What a lovely gift from Mrs. C. I can only hope you give her more that two pretzels. You know what I mean. Others will think I'm some kind of weirdo. Actually, I think this post today will be the best gift ever.
By: Val on October 21, 2013
Happy Birthday to Mrs C, and many more! What a lovely tribute to her!
By: jenny_o on October 21, 2013
Fascinating how a piece of art can talk to a person in its own suble way. Very happy birthday to Mrs C.
By: John on October 22, 2013
I think that was so sweet of your wife to embrace your love of Tittan's work. So often we dismiss the interests of our family members as it's "their thing" not ours. So you had your passion for art even as a really young boy. I know that you had a talent for it (you have mentioned it in previous posts) but sometimes talents don't necessarily become interests until later.
By: Cheryl P. on October 22, 2013
Hotter than the Mona Lisa. Wouldn't be able to draw THAT on an Etch-A-Sketch. Believe me, I tried. Drawing boobs on one of those things is nearly impossible.
By: Al Penwasser on October 22, 2013
I do believe your wife deserves an awesome birthday present for being such a good woman. What a great story. I'm not much of an expert on art but these are two beauties. Makes me proud to be a BBW. Happy Birthday Mrs. C.
By: Bouncin Barb on October 22, 2013
Mrs. Chatterbox here. Thanks everyone for the great birthday wishes. I've had a wonderful sixty-first birthday. Take care.
By: Mrs. Chatterbox on October 22, 2013
I hope Mrs Chatterbox had a wonderful birthday. La Bella isn't my type but then I'm not sure who is. :D
By: LL COOL JOE on October 23, 2013
Infatuation can be a dangerous thing. But I agree, there is something about that picture that stirs the loins.
By: Bryan Jones on October 25, 2013

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