Bucket List Entry #1: Mille Miglia

I have alluded to my Bucket List before — those things I’d like to do before I kick the bucket — and I was going to put up the entire list, but that’s too much to digest in one gulp, I think. So rather than that, I’ll do one item at a time. Here’s the first.

From Wikipedia:

The Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) was an open-road endurance race which took place in Italy twenty-four times from 1927 to 1957 (thirteen before the war, eleven from 1947).
Like the older Targa Florio and later the Carrera Panamericana, the MM made Gran Turismo (Grand Touring) sports cars like Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes Benz and Porsche famous. The race brought out an estimated five million spectators.
From 1953 until 1957, the Mille Miglia was also a round of the World Sports Car Championship.
Since 1977, the “Mille Miglia” has been reborn as a regulated race for classic and vintage cars. Participation is limited to cars, produced no later than 1957, which had attended (or were registered) to the original race. The route (Brescia-Rome round trip) is similar to that of the original race, maintaining the point of departure / arrival in Viale Venezia in Brescia.

And here’s the course:

Remember that the course uses only public roads, and in the old days, it was one of the most dangerous races in the world… for spectators. (That’s why the actual race was suspended, by the way. Cars were getting so fast that they were becoming uncontrollable, and because people are stupid, they weren’t backing off from the cars whizzing past; they were trying to get closer to the track — with the inevitable results.) Nowadays, it’s more like a moving Concours D’Elegance, more’s the pity.

Now let me be perfectly clear: I don’t want anything to do with the race. What I do want to do is drive the circuit, but in a gentlemanly, leisurely fashion, with a companion in a small but quick car which can navigate some of the tiny, ultra-narrow village streets through which the course runs when it’s not barreling through the northern Italian countryside.

I also don’t care what vintage car I use, as long as it’s a convertible. It could be an actual Stirling Moss-type Mercedes 300 Gullwing in powder blue:

Lovely, except that the color is really gay. How gay?

Or the car could be modern, so that we don’t spend  a week or two marooned in some tiny dago village while the car’s getting fixed, with nothing to do but drink and… okay, let’s leave that part in abeyance for the moment, until we get to the discussion of Kim’s Partner.

So, a more modern conveyance, there’s the Fiat 124 Spider Lusso:

…which fits the bill best in terms of beauty and the ability to make it through some really narrow streets:

But enough about cars. Let’s talk about my companion. There are two options, male and female. Leaving aside the obvious attractions of a comely wench for the trip:

…I think I’d rather make the trip with a buddy than with a broad. Why? Let me count the reasons:

There aren’t many public restrooms along the Mille Miglia. This means I’d have to stop at several intervals along the way — i.e every time we saw a public WC — so that Milady would not be caught short in the middle of the countryside. Also, I’d probably want to stop often because romantic countryside plus miniskirt in the passenger seat… well, you get my drift, ’nuff said. Finally, most women are not capable of consuming large quantities of Italian plonk en route — something which cannot be said about any of my rowdy friends.

I’ll let you know if this part of my dream comes true.

 

A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever

I have a theory about men who are married to the same woman for a long time, and that theory is that she never changes (in his eyes) from the woman or girl he married.

I think the seed of this was planted when at age 20 or thereabouts, I met a man who’d married a beauty queen when he was 24 and she 19. At the time, they’d been married over fifty years, and I don’t know, but I’m certain that they’re both deceased by now.

He’d been a soldier in the British Army (he was a WWI veteran), was still a good-looking man and carried himself with that erect bearing that is unmistakably the look of a senior NCO — in his case, a sergeant-major. His wife had, as the saying goes, not aged well: she’d put on a lot of weight and her once-beautiful face was now moon-shaped. The only thing still beautiful was her hair, which was long, thick and grey, permanently worn in a plait down her back.

But he loved her; good grief, he loved her more than any man I’ve ever known to love a woman. One night, we were sitting in his living-room, both a little tipsy after dinner, when he suddenly said out of the blue, “You know what, boy? I know that _________ is old and overweight. But the only time I ever see that is when we go out and we’re with other people. When we’re at home all alone together, all I can see is the beauty queen I married back in 1922.”

I don’t think he’s alone in this, in fact, I think there are lots of men like him. The popular meme these days is that men divorce their wives as they get older, to “trade up” to a younger, more beautiful woman. That would certainly be true among the rich and famous set — because, let’s be honest, wealth and fame gives them the opportunity to do so, especially when those younger women throw themselves at their, ummm, feet.

But not every man is rich and famous, of course — let’s be honest and say that most men aren’t rich or famous — and among those men, and especially those men who have been married to the same woman for a long time, the very thought of “trading up” is not only ridiculous, but outrageous (i.e. likely to cause outrage). Men like my sergeant-major friend.

I’m going to illustrate the point by looking at a rich and famous man who hasn’t traded up, and has been married for sixteen years to his second wife (his first wife, to whom he’d also been married for about the same length of time, died of ovarian cancer). His name is Pierce Brosnan, and his wife’s name is Keeley. Here they are on their wedding day, in 2001 (they met in 1999):

Here they are today:

…and here they are at some red-carpet affair:

Whenever you see them together, they’re holding hands, or are walking arm-in-arm, or they’re kissing like damn teenagers.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that Pierce Brosnan could have “traded up” on more than one occasion. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he could have had his pick from, oooh, about half a million women all over the world, had that been his intention. Yet he’s still married to Keeley, and he obviously still only sees the woman he married.

In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, the full sentence written by John Keats is:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

As for me… well, I’m one of those men.

Way Too Daring

This wonderful picture is called “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, was painted in 1767, and it’s the Home picture on my cell phone (yeah, I finally got a Smartphone after only ten years with a flip phone… shuddup your laughing already).

It’s painted in one of my favorite styles, Rococo, and to my mind it is one of those little gems — yet another print I’d like to see on my wall. Here’s why I love it.

Basically, the story is simple: a young girl asks an older man (husband?) to push her on a garden swing. Unbeknown to the old guy, she has a young man (lover?) who’s lying hidden behind a flower bush, and who gets to watch her at play. Obviously she knows he’s there, because she tosses her shoe into the air towards him.

Here’s the fun part: remember that in those days, women wore long dresses and full petticoats — but no underwear. So the motion of the swing is causing the girl’s dress to fly up in the air, giving our young voyeur a straight look up into Madame’s Garden of Delight — and the little minx knows it. In its day, this would have been quite a scandalous piece of art.

It’s one of those playful yet sly little works which make Rococo art so enjoyable.

Of course, such “frivolous” art disappeared under the stern gaze of the Enlightenment establishment, who wanted art to “send a message” about the “nobility of man” and suchlike nonsense. Ugh. From that came the Academy (a.k.a. Academic art), which produced easily the most boring art ever created by man. I refuse to put up a typical painting of the genre, because it would quite spoil the mood created by Fragonard.

Enjoy.

An Unexpected Find

I was wandering along some tributary of Teh Intarwebz looking for something or other, when I came across a series of paintings of extraordinary beauty done by Russian-Israeli artist Leonid Afremov, and completely forgot what I’d been looking for. Here’s one that caught my eye first, called Heavy Rain:

Now, the thing about traditional Impressionism is that it was created at a time when light in cities was soft, made by gaslight and candlelight  — and needless to say, the en plein air trend of 19th-century Impressionism meant that most paintings were daytime scenes. Night, in the countryside, means darkness (unless you’re Van Gogh, of course, and see the stars as miniature suns). Cityscapes were mostly lit by the sun, and to those painters, the city sun was harsh (which is why there are so many Impressionist paintings of dusk, dawn or rainy scenes, where the light is softer). Here’s one by Edouard Cortès, to illustrate [sic] the point:

Édouard Leon Cortès Tutt’Art@

But Afremov is a modern Impressionist painter — he was born in 1955, which makes him a year younger than I — and the light he sees is harsher, brighter, more artificial: neon, light bulbs and florescent tubes, and he uses a palette knife rather than a brush to make the contrast even more pronounced. That doesn’t take away from his wonderful skill and expressiveness, of course; just look at his exquisite Promenade, and tell me it’s not evocative:

If you go to DeviantArt, you can see more.

I just love his work. If I could, I’d buy prints of almost everything he’s ever done and hang them on my walls.

And About Time, Too

Knife rights seem to be headed into Texas state law. I always wondered why carrying a knife would be streng verboten in Texas (can anyone say “Jim Bowie”, children?), while carrying a Glock with a 15-round magazine is somehow no problem for our lawmakers.

If you have the one, you gotta have the other — and lest we forget, long before guns were invented, a knife was a weapon, or as they called it in the olden days, an arm; and therefore a knife, any knife, falls neatly into the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” aegis.

I’m not sure how often I myself will actually carry a knife around if this bill becomes law — but it sure as hell would be nice to know that if I did, the cops wouldn’t have prima facie cause to toss my wrinkled old ass into jail. Besides, I have quite a few “Governor’s Barbecue” knives, as we call them in Texas, and I’d love to show them off on special occasions. Here are some of my favorites:

From the top: Puma White Hunter II; a Kershaw Skinner (currently on permanent loan to a friend for his African safaris); an Anza Skinner* made of file steel and my #1 favorite knife of all time, and a Kershaw Commando boot knife.

*Don’t bother looking for the Anza on their website; they stopped making this model in 1999.