Rather than learn the art of well-crafted sentences through a standard curriculum of books like The Jungle Book, the English department of my sleepy suburban school handed out copies of Life’s Little Instruction Book and Chicken Soup for the Soul to my 8th grade class. The thought must have been that learning secularized parables would be more beneficial for our intellectual growth.
Eventually, we were charged with the assignment of creating our own Life’s Little Instruction Book. We knew nothing of the real world and yet we were going to act as authorities on “how to live a happy and rewarding life.”
I recently found my flamboyantly illustrated attempt and was amused. “Don’t worry if you’re not the prettiest rose. We’re all beautiful in our own light” — my teacher found this little stroke of transcendental wisdom endearing. If I had to rewrite my 8th grade book of advice today, I might include that same instruction, though perhaps rewritten with less sentimentality, and add a few other insights I’ve picked up in the 13 years I’ve traveled since…
1. Invest in at least one Ina Garten cookbook
2. (Re)read Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”
His name was Simone Volpini and we met on a blistering August night in Paris.
I was dining in an over-sized bistro sandwiched between the tall, blond, brown-eyed Italian Simone and a handsome gay couple who had spent the day at the Musee D’Orsay. The couple and I quickly dove into conversation after one of the men compared my full pink cheeks and white skin to a Renoir — it was the only time I felt compelled to like and discuss Renoir. After they paid their check and bid me bonsoir, Simone asked me if I was American.
Simone was from Rome and was the only son of an Italian architect. He drove a white Vespa and was studying to take over his father’s business. He spoke little French and equally minimal English. I read Latin but spoke no Italian. We giggled through a conversation of muddled pig-romance-languages while we sipped our coffee. He called me his American Beauty and walked me out into the street to help me find a taxi. As I slipped into the car, he handed me a piece of paper.
“You will write me. Your letters will teach me English. I will teach you Italian, and then you will come stay with me in Rome.” A kiss on the cheek and we were both off into the Paris night.
Back home in the states, I wrote Simone a letter. His handwriting was atypical for an architect — messy and non-linear — and I could barely decipher the address. His letter was returned to sender.
Alas, I would not get to play the part of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.
It had been years since I had thought about the love letter exchanges that never were, but then a chat with a guy I’d met early last week reminded me why I found the idea of a pen-pal romance so appealing.
“You’re working very hard to get me to go out with you,” I typed in the text box of gchat after having received a handful of flirty texts and emails over the course of the week.
“There’s nothing hard about sending you a text message or an email. I sent them on my way to lunch.”
Clearly, he wasn’t a smooth operator, but Chad had made a very good point: sending a one-line message while you’re working on other things is not very hard.
In the age of texting and sexting, we’ve come to expect constant and instantaneous messages of love (or lust). On the one hand, there’s something extremely romantic about receiving, at any time of the day, a note that lets you know your beloved is thinking of you. On the other, one wonders if this communication blitz doesn’t lack of bit of sincerity. If it’s so easy to key in an “I think I’m in love w u” when you’re on the go, then do you really mean it? Texts don’t necessarily demonstrate commitment… sometimes I wonder if they might even be a sign of over-commitment.
Writing letters are hard. They require time and thought. They lack that benefit of instant on-screen editing and spell-check — your flaws are more evident. And it seems that sitting down with pen and paper is something we only do these days when we’re taking notes, that is, if we haven’t forsaken a legal pad in the name of an ipad. It was not so long ago that a letter, composed with pen and ink, was our primary means of communicating from afar. We’re out of the habit of letter writing.
Call me old-fashioned but “Ever thine, ever mine, ever ours” reads so much better when it’s scrawled on paper.
I kept the letter I wrote to Simone and every time I travel to Rome, I stuff it in my backpack. It wasn’t a love letter, but just in case I run into a tall blond architect riding around the Coliseum on a white Vespa, I’d like him to know I didn’t take the easy way out.
My Dear Readers, a few weeks ago, when I wrote about Richard Armitage, “Spooks,” William Blake tattoos, and my un-concealable nerdiness, I told you that I don’t have celebrity crushes, that “I can’t be bothered wasting my time fantasizing about the perfectly formed pectorals of some actor I’m never going to meet.”
Well, after some consideration and reflection on my younger years, I realized I lied to you all.
It’s true that Matt Damon’s marriage to Luciana Barroso ended my daydreams about wooing and wedding one of Hollywood’s leading men — I’ve come to accept that not everyone is a Katie Holmes (thankfully?). But such was not always the case…
I’m waving the white flag. I surrender. I confess. I wrote a love letter to Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
and to Jordan McKnight… even though I couldn’t even hum a single New Kids on the Block Song.
Once I moved out of my tween years, I went starry-eyed for Hugh Dancy and Hugh Grant while Russel Crow gave me palpitations (I always had a thing for fellas with an accent).
In early college, a friend and I would burn up study sessions planning how we would meet Ryan Gosling (hers) and Matt Damon (mine), win their affection, secure ourselves as Oscar dates, earn many-carat engagement rings, and live happily ever after. (Don’t judge too harshly… they were advanced calculus study sessions…we deserved the distraction.)
And then came December 9, 2005. Matt Damon got a Mrs. and I got a reality check. Now, rather than embodying the objects of my affections, hunky actors only typify my real-world “type.”
So if you know any “Richard Armitages” or “Gerard Butlers,” please, please send them my way.
We race through Mondays to Tuesdays, onto Wednesdays through Thursdays, from Fridays into Saturdays holding a venti, extra-shot, non-fat latte in one hand and a smartphone in the other. Ah, thank heavens for Sundays! For on Sundays, we get to meander through the day holding an iced mocha in one hand and our sweetheart’s hand in the other.
Me: I’d be happy if I found that guy too. But so far there’s been Mr. Going Nowhere, Mr. Been Nowhere, and Mr. I Don’t Know Where the Hell I am. If there’s to be any vacation home in my future, I’ll be the one making a down payment.