Once upon a time….
An Italian woman living in England fell in love with an English man and they had a baby girl named Chiara. But Chiara’s father was a bad man, an abusive alcoholic. So Chiara’s mother took her away and they lived in Italy.
But then Chiara’s mother died, when Chiara was only sixteen. She had her little brother to take care of, and the State did nothing for them. They were penniless orphans with no hope in the world. They spent some time in a convent school, but that would not do.
So Chiara took her brother with her to Bali, to find their father. She found him, but he was still a bad man. They spent a year or two in an English boarding school in Bali. She was on drugs most of the time.
They came back to Italy. She finally had access to the money she inherited from her mother’s death and used it to put herself through art school. She bought a little house.
She fell in love with a man and went with him to India, because this was his dream. But he too was an addictive, abusive fellow, and a gambler. And he refused to work. Chiara got pregnant and gave birth to Mada in India (Mada means Mother in Hindi), which must merit an Extreme Parenting Scout Badge.
Her man took all her money. He took the little house too. She left India with Mada and put a restraining order on him.
Today Chiara lived in a fine old baroque flat in Torino which she had covered with art. She had painted trees and vines all over the bathroom, including the toilet, and paintings on the cupboards, and decorative friezes all over the hallway. Mada, now sixteen and slight as a pixie, had painted her own bedroom cobalt blue.
Chiara had a boyfriend. Chiara herself was mesmerizingly beautiful, she was smart, she was talented, she had vision and drive and grit and wisdom and experience and poetry and heart and I was half in love with her myself…so I was very curious to see this boyfriend of hers!
He was an erstwhile filmmaker and…a schlub.
I thought of Incredible Alessandra, beautiful, wise, stylish, kind, gracious, profound Alessandra, and her pair of blancmange boyfriends. ….They say water seeks its common level but when it comes to romance, over and over again I see women dating down. I don’t know why.
Back to Chiara.
She was an artist. Her work was earnest and she did it no matter what. She had just finished a turquoise painting that was a gift for a baby. A baby was walking through the woods, and the motto roughly translates as, “life is not about finding our way but making our way.” Now she was doing a series of drawings about recurring dreams she had had as a child. They were pencil on typing paper, just as I used to draw on the floor when I was a little girl.
She took me for a glass of wine at a pub and we sat outside and talked and as the evening light softened around her face, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. She had become herself, she was at peace with herself and with life, and I could see it in her. I could see her gritty past in her face and I could see her freedom and I loved her.
We were walking down the street and the world’s most attractive man saw her and welcomed us into a shopfront he was renovating and turning into a studio where he would throw salon events. I saw him looking at her, the way a man looks at a woman he desires, and I thought, “right on, Italy!” ….I was still recalibrating my understanding of the universe, setting it to Europe Mode, which is so different from America Mode. In Europe, the most smoking-hottest of men — like this luscious dish here — go for real women. This lesson needed some repetition after growing up in America, and I watched them flirt like mad and I wanted to cheer and throw peanuts, as finally, a heroine worth my respect got the guy! For Chiara is an incredible woman, not a girl. She has wrinkles and a smoker’s rasp and a teenaged daughter and a real body, and she was probably ten or more years older than this guy. And the desire for her I saw in his eyes was real, a luscious licking flame that devoured everything in its path.
We dropped by the art studio she shared with a bunch of twentysomething artists. She said she felt old around them but their young energy gave her a boost. I thought she was ridiculously cool. Some of the artists were around, and they were exactly as hip as you envision them. They offered me wine, they smoked, they talked intensely about Important Art Things. They printed books of their own earnest poetry and had performance nights in the space.
I was happy that Torino was a place where such studios could still happen.
Chiara told me the story of her life while making spinach risotto in the hand-painted kitchen. Mada and the boyfriend joined us around the table (covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth, because this was Italy) and we ate and I was dismayed to see the entire family smoking like chimneys.
Chiara made most of her money by drawing on her iPad at jazz clubs and projecting the drawings onto a screen while she drew. She drew whatever the music inspired her to draw. Sometimes the work was realistic and sometimes it was abstract. But it always had heart.
Every month she went into debt and every month magically something worked out and she made some money in the nick of time. She had been living that way for twenty years.
Sometimes she sold pieces. Sometimes she painted on people’s cabinets. She had recently come back from a long trip in France, painting a house for recovering addicts. She had left Mada at home with the boyfriend, and Mada was fine with this.
It is good for children to know that parents always came back.
Mada herself was a delicate sprite, part albino, with a white streak in her eyebrow, thin and small as a fairy. Her gritty urban look, multiple piercings, and boy-short hair only enhanced this impression. She was studying art history in college and had a boyfriend of her own. I could tell she was the next generation of Fabulous Women.
When the time comes, we will pass the torch on to her.