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.