Full of doubts, I left for Fabrizio's apartment. On one hand, as if backed by Buddhist masters, there was Carlo's discourse. He had always been faithful to Catherine, and his words had awakened in me a sense of guilt and responsibility -- I had wronged myself so many times not minding having sex with married, engaged or however committed men. I couldn't have cared less in the past! Or maybe more than a mistake, it was the transmission of the pain I had felt during my relationship with Angelo, when so many men had not bothered to have sex with him, giving him the chance to cheat on me... So why should I care? Even now, why should I actually care?
There was yet another transmission.
At the foundation of my small family there was a betrayal -- the long years, more than two decades, that Gaston de Montbelle had cheated his wife with my grandmother Celeste. A betrayal that had wounded Armand and even sentenced his mother to death. I was very aware of this tragedy as a ground for my birth.
And maybe because of the years living with Catherine as my sole parent, I felt I mirrored her more than I did Carlo. I had lately been much more into her free sexuality -- at that exact moment, she was living in Russia, having accepted a position to teach at the University of St. Petersburg, a city she had always loved, and where she lived with her current boyfriend, some guy my age, or even younger --, than I had adopted Carlo's monasticism. He had never touched another woman in his life that was not my mother... In that same manner, I had always been faithful to Angelo, though I had been fooled and cheated too many times. It was often hard to sort my differences or similarities with Carlo and Catherine, because I seemed to oscillate between both.
And when I got to Fabrizio's apartment, I was confused, totally indecisive, torn between different aspects of my life and personality.
I had come too swiftly, anxious and hurriedly, to find he had left the front door open.
"Fabrizio?" I voiced loud as I entered.
"Forgive me for not opening the door to you!" I heard him shouting from upstairs."I'm getting dressed."
"Do you want me to go up?" In an instant, I realized what my true desire was. I was trying to understand the other guy's codes... The apartment was a loft, without any partition, and in an instant I realized that none of the paintings on the walls was Richter's. The light was dim, a light that inspired intimacies. Did he purposely let me in and had stayed upstairs, naked in front of the painting, waiting for me? Would it be his fantasy? Or just mine?
"No!" Did he sound indignant, even a little angry, or was he being just emphatic? "I'm already coming down! Just a minute, please!"
Fabrizio's was a duplex apartment -- or maybe even a triplex -- at the top floors of one of the most luxurious buildings in town, signed by some superstar architect which I couldn't recall the name, offering a breathtaking view of the ocean, which seemed to pervade the whole ambient.
While waiting for Fabrizio, I slowed down and used the time to get used to the environment. Although extremely sober, very masculine, it was also a radical experience. Every object displayed shades of black or gray -- and since I had dressed in those same colors, I was feeling as if camouflaged. But since many of the surfaces were bright and reflective, there was a dim light lingering in a magical and mysterious atmosphere, creating a subtle and very sophisticated effect.
Clean was the word that came to mind -- almost as if someone had placed the furniture, a selection of the best in contemporary design, but had then forgotten -- or given up -- decorating it. Chairs by Marc Newson, Tom Dixon lights, a stunning, sculptural bench by Zaha Hadid -- his apartment was probably the most beautiful and luxurious one in contemporary style that I had ever visited.
And soon I also identified a superb painting by the French painter Pierre Soulages, and a flawless etching by Richard Serra -- but nowhere was the Richter to be seen. These three were among my favorite contemporary artists, and reference for my own work, though I was not abstract like them nor like my father -- another stunning convergence of tastes I had with Fabrizio Caprice?
It was the first time I was seeing Fabrizio since our parting at the airport in Samsara Heights, and his impossible beauty, that I sometimes thought to be the result of my memory clouded by desire, again impressed me.
If Fabrizio had once been wearing the Italian suit and a flawless pink shirt which valued his tanned skin, this time he had chosen a blue shirt that starlit his eyes, and along with the blue jeans, he made a dash of color against the neutral background of the apartment, while I myself blurred. He was even more beautiful than I remembered him.
I didn't expect a kiss upon arrival, but at least a hug... Fabrizio, however, shook my hand quickly, apologetically. Was he as nervous as I was? What were his intentions, I wondered.
"I'm sorry. When the doorman informed that you had arrived, I had just gotten out of the shower." He apologized, a bit too formally. "I thought I'd rather leave the front door open than keep you waiting. Forgive me for not having received you."
"No problem!" He was indeed being overly formal, as if shielding behind it. "I'm impressed... It's impossible not to be entertained with this view... All this ocean..." In fact, the view from his apartmet was so unique for delivering nothing but the vast ocean, without any other interference. "It is stunning!" Just like the owner, I thought, and suddenly I realized our unintentional color scheme... how I had dressed according to the apartment's palette, while he had dressed in the colors of the ocean.
"It was the main reason why I bought this apartment. Many times I come home, tired or stressed, and my concerns seem to dilute in this view, as if they were too tiny against that horizon so vast. The same way the sea pervades the apartment, it invades and cleanses my mind."
"The apartment is also very nice!" I had forgotten to mention the room decor, and by complimenting just the view I wasn't quite complimenting Fabrizio; the ambient being the actual demonstration of the owner's taste. "Quite... minimal."
"Minimal is also the style of music I like!" Fabrizio laughed. "You nailed it! Usually, people just think the apartment is too empty."
Each time Fabrizio finished his speech, an inconvenient hollow settled between us. I wondered if he was thinking about his fiancée, and her own remarks about the apartment. He seemed to be embarrassed by my presence. We were very close, and I could smell his skin refreshened by the shower as much as his perfume.
"Empty? No... Not at all! The landscape seems to fill it!" I had exclaimed. Stretching that conversation about the scenery seemed ridiculous to me, but our silence bothered me so much more.
"That's exactly why I ordered the architect a minimum of decor. I even gave him a minimal music podcast, so that he could understand my style. I didn't want the landscape to compete with a maze of little things. 'These tiny noises?', the architect had asked me, after hearing the music on the podcast, 'What are you trying to tell me with these noises?'" Fabrizio laughed again, each time relaxing a little bit more. "But the final result is satisfactory, I guess."
"They were 'tiny noises' like the ones that we are listening now?" I had noticed a very subtle electronic soundtrack, but I had not been able to identify any known reference.
"That's right. Alva Noto. He is a German musician, do you know him?" But I had never heard of him, and I could not reciprocate Fabrizio's enthusiasm. "And in a moment comes another album he recorded with Ryuichi Sakamoto."
We went on talking about music, although I had little familiarity with electronica. Fabrizio told me about several collaborations from Sakamoto -- from whom I loved various compositions -- with contemporary eletronic musicians, and then he reprogrammed the playlist so that I could listen to the artists he had mentioned -- Christian Fennesz, Autechre, Murcof and many others which I cannot even remember the name. From my part, all I remembered were some electronic remixes of Miles Davis -- jazz was my metier -- that Fabrizio seemed happy to discover.
That musical exchange was very enjoyable and stimulating, while we were accustoming ourselves again to each other's presence, and re-connecting. Music was another passion that would always bring us together.
Gradually, the uncomfortable feeling that had risen in me the moment I stepped into Fabrizio's apartment was taking shape and I got to name it -- misfit. Despite the camouflage I seemed to be using, I felt misplaced at Fabrizio's apartment, where everything was so brand new -- as far as I could recognize, all the pieces had been designed in the last decade, all of them in this century, all so contemporary...
And young. Fabrizio himself, without the suit, looked very young. He certainly had less than thirty years, maybe just a little more than twenty-five... And inside that apartment, so modern, I was the oldest thing.
Old, I felt old there. An antique, but nothing vintage.
"Do you mind if I stay barefoot?" Fabrizio asked suddenly, as if that was the reason for the discomfort between us.
"Of course not!" I had already noticed that detail, and I confess that I found it exciting, though not being any kind of fetish for me... It was just that he was so elegant and flawlessly dressed, that being barefoot kind of broke that formality that was settling between us... it was an almost erotic detail, too, almost as if he was stripping for me. You wish, I thought. "Is it your place shoes free?" Having been to a few retreats, I found it perfectly ok.
'No, of course not." He eyed me sideways, as if I had said the weirdest thing he had heard in a while. "I just didn't want to keep you waiting." And then changed subject. "What would you like to drink?" He asked, as he walked away. I noticed that he had avoided facing me, and I began to think that he regretted having invited me.
"Do you have sparkling water? Or some juice?" This was always an embarrassing moment for me, when I had to announce that I didn't drink any alcoholic beverage, not even socially. It was easier to come out as gay, which was cool, and people in a group would try to be nice and inclusive about it, than saying that I didn't drink liquor. People frequently thought it sounded a bit judgmental and moralistic on their choice, though it never was more than my own, private thing.
"I have champagne, whiskey... And people usually compliment my dry martini!" And as Fabrizio saw me looking embarrassed, he added kindly, "You really don't drink at all? Anything alcoholic?"
"No." I replied simply. I was feeling anguished, so I got up and went up to the bar, behind which Fabrizio seemed entrenched. Music won't be enough to bring us together, I thought, specially when I fancied old fashioned jazz songs, while he was into the latest in electronica.
"Then I'll get your juice from the kitchen... Do you mind if I drink?"
I thought it was really princely of him to ask me. "Of course not!" And as I had noticed that the annoyance between us had grown because of my request for water, I preferred to clarify it to him, "You know, my parents drink it all for me!" I tried to laugh, but it came out nervously and my remark sounded wistful.
"Gee, I'm sorry to hear that." Fabrizio approached me, and laid his hand on my shoulder.
"No, it's not that serious..." I felt so awkward for having brought that up. "It's not that they are alcoholic or something, at least not so far..." I laughed again, to soften my former statement. "I don't know, drinking is not associated with a joyous mood for me, at least not a joy that seems natural..." Why did I seem to be at a loss with Fabrizio, unable to sweet-talk him? Had sex been a battle, Vice City was a field covered with the bodies of hundreds of men that had fallen for me. I was stuttering. "Maybe something noisy, an exaggerated celebration... Fun, excitement... but not joy."
"How do you do to relax, if you don't drink?" Fabrizio's question dumbfounded me. My mind would never have followed that path.
"I go to the sauna..." I replied, laughing, but to realize it had been a cheap and ordinary remark. "No, actually I meditate... This relaxation provided by drinking seems to me more like a doping..." Was I really implying that Fabrizio would be doping himself by preparing himself a drink? I seemed out of my mind, yet I continued. "It is a blurring of sensations, more than true relaxation..."
"And what would that be, true relaxation?" Fabrizio challenged me.
I was so aware of his hand on my shoulder, as if it was burning me. His presence by my side was like fire. But actually I was burning inside, and the sensation was not bad, just uncomfortable -- from being so intense.
"Mental. True relaxation is not just physical, but mainly mental. When the mind is at peace, large, bright and clear. In this mental space one can truly relax, and unlike with the drinking, feel more alert, focused... illuminated."
"Well, I've never had this experience." He was not being disdainful, he just sounded doubtful. "Listening to good music, drinking a glass of wine while lying on the couch, that's what I call relaxing..." He again took a different path from what I had expected. "So, these things in the books that you gave me... they are serious for you? I thank you very much for both, especially for the explanatory text by the lama... I flipped through a few pages and it seemed very... ascetic. Do you practice like that?" Fabrizio seemed to have reserves that anyone could attend saunas, and maybe he was thinking of gay saunas, and also have a spiritual practice.
I could not have imagined that our conversation was moving toward a clash of opinions, nor that my postures in life could sound aggressive to him. But Fabrizio showed clearly he was being defensive, and somewhat politely dismissive.
"I don't..." I said, trying to soften our stances on the matter. "And yes, I do practice like that."
At my remark, he withdrew his hand from my shoulder. But at least he didn't turn away from me.
"How so? Is this some kind of mystical answer or riddle?" Fabrizio had tensed beside me, and I still could not have known how much he liked to engage in discussions and argumentation, how much he liked to feel intellectually challenged, and how much he despised all kinds of mysticism, as opposed to a rationalism that he cultivated with pride.
I would constitute an interesting antagonist for him as long as he did not come to despise my opinions completely. Shantideva, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and my other spiritual masters would have to back me up on that challenge, if I was to remain under Fabrizio's favors.
But something else concerned me. Was I the only one to feel the tension between us -- the overtly sexual energy that let little sparks fly when our hands brushed against one another? From his gaze in my direction, Fabrizio seemed to be judging me, and I could not know if my words made him more suspicious and resistant, or if it was my old fashioned appearance, which made me look so bland in that modern apartment, that was discouraging him to make any advances.
"I do practice... because I want to minimize my suffering. I want to have peace and live at peace with myself and with the largest number of people... beings, as I can. And I wish them all the same thing, a lasting peace." I paused, judging whether my answer hadn't been too technical. "And I don't..." I paused again, choosing the next words, "because in fact some of these practices can be very ascetic, as you say, and I have no intention of becoming religious... nor do I think that total enlightenment could be possible for me in this life... but small moments of letting go, of freedom and release, like short enlightenment flashes, these make me happy already!" As I observed Fabrizio listening to me with doubt stamped on his face, I amended, "I mean, I don't think that romantic love is purely a bad illusion... I cultivate the love for all beings, but that does not preclude my desire to find my only love, my perfect match..."
Fabrizio was silent, and I had the impression that he was trying to digest all my verbiage, and then pass on to his next attack or new challenge on me.
"It's Soulages, isn't it?" I asked, indicating the painting in front of us. It was a stunning painting entirely in black, dense with materiality yet shining with spirit, by the French contemporary master. Big enough to have costed a small fortune, I knew.
Fabrizio looked at me wryly, realizing that I had deliberately changed the subject.
"Yes!" Taken by surprise, he finally relaxed. "And you're the first person that comes to this apartment to mention Soulages... But after all, you are a visual artist yourself..." He grimaced, as if it were not more than my duty to know Pierre Soulages' works. It sounded like an accusation, and not a form of recognition.
"He is not that well known... but his work has changed my life, you know?" I had decided to make the conversation less intellectual and a bit more emotional, more personal. "Actually, it was when I saw an exhibition of Mark Rothko that I decided to change my life's career... At Vice's Contemporary Art Museum, do you remember it?"
"No, I don't. Maybe I was not living in Vice City yet, otherwise I should recall it... I would certainly have visited it. When was that?"
But I'd rather not mention the date, since in the 90s Fabrizio was only a child yet, and I didn't want to feel worse nor any older than I was already feeling.
"'It was such a magnificent exhibition, and I didn't want to leave after the first visit... I returned to the museum daily. I flipped at those vibrant colors that seemed so wildly free... They were a challenge to my own life, a but stuck at the moment. Next, and in contrast, there was an exhibition of Pierre Soulages, and I was even the more impressed, and truly touched... His black paintings were a revelation to me! I cannot explain exactly how..." I had noticed Fabrizio was much more interested in my Art circuit than my spiritual path. "I had always thought that emotions were intense, but his paintings thrilled me so much, however being minimal... I mean, like the music you enjoy. You don't need to have too many elements to awaken an intense emotion... Maybe it was exactly the opposite, and that caused an insight about my own emotions... Next, I wanted to write that way, just like both masters had painted. You know," After another burst of words, I was wondering how to again engage Fabrizio in the conversation, "at that time I was studying Journalism..."
"Journalism, Laurent?" I shivered, and nearly sighed when I heard Fabrizio pronounce my name with his sexy, deep voice, coming from the depths of his hairy, muscled chest that his opened shirt partially revealed. "I thought you had studied Visual Arts."
"I never have." I averted my eyes from his perfectly delineated nipples I had just discovered, pressing against the blue cloth. I was aware that he was letting me do all the talking. "Originally, I wanted to be a writer, inspired by my mother, Catherine Mortinné... Do you know her?" Fabrizio did not. "It doesn't matter. Actually, I left college before completing my last year for various circumstances." Of which the worst, and saddest, had been the end of my relationship with Angelo, which I did not intend to mention to Fabrizio. "And then I started painting... But I have never had lessons, unless a few informal instructions from my father during my childhood..."
Fabrizio snapped his fingers. "So, you are the son of Carlo D' Allegro! I was about to ask you..." He exclaimed, delighted . The fact that he had never heard about my mother, a famous author with several best-selling books published and translated into several languages, an ever growing sales success, but instead knew my father, who produced just so little (and exactly because of that, his work was highly valued) -- seemed to tell me a lot about Fabrizio's interests and taste, being not just refined but off the curve. "I would love to purchase one of your father's paintings, but at the moment he is one of the names that are under intense market speculation and I cannot afford him..." To demonstrate his frustration, he fiercely rubbed his neck, and I recalled how I had observed it at the airport, as I stood behind him. Hadn't I wished to bite that neck then? Maybe out of anger, but the bite would turn into a lick and then a kiss had I seen his face at the airport... Suddenly, I realized Fabrizio was still speaking, while I had been day-dreaming. "It's a shame that he produces so little! Is it true that he has many finished canvases in his atelier, but he won't release them because he seems to think they are not good enough?"
"You know the work of my father!" I was surprised indeed. "Well, after all you are an art collector..." I tried to reciprocate the accusation that Fabrizio had just made me, and he laughed. "In some months, I should visit my father at his home and atelier in the Apennines... If you want to come, too..." Carlo did not enjoy having visitors, but despite his nuisance I wanted to be kind and generous with Fabrizio, casting a bait that could bring us close again in the future.
"I'd love to! Oh, really, Laurent?" His voice was warmer than ever before that evening. "But I thought Carlo D'Allegro was a reclusive painter. How many years has it been since he last gave an interview? Not even over the internet! Do you think he would receive me?" Again, Fabrizio had approached me, perhaps feeling captivated, grateful, or simply being interested in paying my-father-the-great-painter a visit.
"Internet?" I laughed wholeheartedly. "My father does not even know what that is! Haha! You would not be just any visitor... you would be in my company, and since you love art, of course you can talk to him and visit his studio... as if it were by chance. I shall guarantee him that you are not an undercover journalist, but... my friend."
Finally, after that long conversation opening onto so many themes, and leaving them without a conclusion, my mindset was clear to myself. I wanted to have a relationship with Fabrizio. My interest in that man was not just sex, but for the first time in many, many years, it was also romantic. I foresaw a future for us.
But considering he had a fiancée, my only options then were to become his lover, or accept him as a one-night stand -- but what were actually his intentions toward me, if any?