Date: 18th June 2020, Posted by mollie
I was reflecting the other night about all the conflict in the world and recalled something the great Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, reputed to be one Italy’s finest still-life painters, once said that there was beauty in opposition. It struck me as such a powerful and liberating attitude to live and love by. I used these sentiments in one of my romance stories, The Italian Billionaires Christmas Bride.
In 1915, Morandi joined the army but suffered a breakdown and was indefinitely discharged. He retreated from people, the world—their warmongering and their conflict—and sought solace in the beauty of inanimate objects. His paintings are revered for their tonal subtlety in depicting simple subjects, which were limited mainly to vases, bottles, bowls, flowers and landscapes.
I love the still, silent, metaphysical beauty of his work. I thought I’d share a scene, where my heroine confesses her own love for his work—and introduce the hero and heroine in opposition, but also shared joy:
Her comment was met with stony silence. Not a muscle in his hard, handsome face moved as she strode ahead. Max’s walk was purposeful with a controlled, yet impatient, strength to it as he led her through the villa. Clearly, he was in a hurry to be rid of her.
Issy slowed her pace deliberately, gasping audibly as she walked past walls lined with priceless artworks she’d only ever seen in borrowed books and on the Internet.
‘This place is like a museum. It’s immaculate,’ Issy said, as she followed him past a living room double the size of a luxury hotel lobby, opening out to a massive wrap-around deck with panoramic views of the sea. The vibrant turquoise hues of the ocean spreading below contrasted with the starkness of Max’s mood. ‘You must love coming here,’ she ventured.
‘I don’t have time for holidays,’ he said. ‘I have full-time staff to ensure it is available all year round for friends or family who may want to relax,’ his tone was flat as though the thought of chilling surrounded by so much beauty didn’t excite him one little bit.
His footsteps were silent on the smooth marble floor, contrasting with her sandals clacking noisily as she quickened her pace to keep up with him. Friends with benefits no doubt, Issy thought. She didn’t know a stitch about his love life but she didn’t have to be a NASA scientist to guess that a man as handsome and wealthy as Max would be inundated with beautiful women offering their services.
Suddenly she froze, her heart pounding, as they walked down a glass panelled hallway toward a painting as small as the Mona Lisa.
‘Oh, my gosh,’ Issy’s breathing raced as she stepped closer, her nose almost pressed against the canvas as she traced every ethereal brush stroke. ‘Is that a Morandi?’ she gasped, her voice a high-pitched whisper. To anyone else the painting would just be a collection of ordinary objects—bottles and jars standing stoically against a muted background, but in the hands of a master even the ordinary could be elevated to transcendent beauty—and equally as potent.
Max’s grave mood lifted as his eyes followed the source of her attraction. He touched his mouth, drawing attention to his sensuous lips as he nodded.
She gasped, mentally computing that a painting of this worth was beyond anything she would ever experience up close in her lifetime. Her heart hammered with equal measures of thrill and fear, as though at any moment a security guard would command her to step back beyond the rail, or escort her from the house, except there was no barrier rail. And for the next few days at least, this house of treasure would be her home.
Rummaging in her bag, she whipped out her camera ‘May I take a photo?’
His gaze narrowed as his dark, fierce eyes riveted to her. He nodded. ‘Paintings should be appreciated.’
She took several photos then turned to him. ‘Gosh, this is like being in an art museum. We’ll never see paintings like this in New Zealand, and there’s no way I’ll ever get to Europe, not on my wage.’ Startled by the strange glint in his eye, she threw her attention back to the painting again.
‘It’s true when they say his paintings can transport you. Like you could fold into them and escape reality,’ she said. Nothing she was feeling was even close to reality, she thought achingly aware of her energy pulsing in tiny quivers toward Max as she stood in front of him. Not a muscle in his body moved as he stood like concrete, his broad shoulders rigid, his posture stiff, yet she sensed he felt the magnetic energy pulse between them too.
It was as if Morandi had infused the bottles with an aura-like energy, which seeped from the painting blanketing them both.
Max stood like a sentry, slightly at a distance, behind her like the stoic blue-black bottle and the fine white vase in the painting, touching but not touching.
He turned to her, his normally cool blue eyes now a penetrating black. ‘Is beauty the bringing together of opposites to make one?’ he said.
His unexpected question threw her. Whether he was speaking of the white and black bottles in the painting, or of their own obvious differences she didn’t know, but she found herself wishing recklessly it was the latter.
‘Opposites attract,’ she ventured, her voice catching as she watched the sunlight glance off his waves of dark hair, then move across the surface of his face, tracing the muscular lines of his strong cheekbones, the indentations of his dimples, before settling on the black-silk-like fibre clinging to his powerful chest. ‘There must be a reason for that.’ She forced a laugh, noticing with alarm that it sounded more nervous than confident.
There was a reason why the energy sparked and cracked and hissed between them. A reason she would never, could never, explore. ‘I know Morandi believed finding beauty in opposition would create a happier world,’ she said, steering the conversation to safer ground.
‘You are well informed.’ His eyes glistened with vitality as though he was both surprised and impressed with her level of knowledge.
‘Actually, I studied art history at college, briefly,’ she said, softly. ‘Something my parents reluctantly indulged. I remember being captivated by Morandi’s work. He was one of Italy’s finest still-life painters, but I never in a zillion years thought I’d ever see the real thing.’
‘You said, briefly,’ he paused, inviting her to go on.
Issy hesitated, aware that he was asking all the questions, and once again she was hogging the ear time when really the roles should be reversed. But perhaps in the sharing of what appeared to be a mutual passion she might learn a little about him. It would be the only passion they could share, she thought, willing her throbbing pulse to slow.
‘I was at college, young and dependent on my parents, we needed money. Art wasn’t an indulgence we could afford.’ Issy’s chest felt tight as she relived a part of her childhood she preferred to forget. ‘There’s no money in art”, they told me. “Get a real job. Keep it as a hobby”, blah, blah, blah.’
She forced a smile as she looked at the painting, ‘It’s ironic when you realize how much money these artists earned when they followed their passion. But anyway, it was what it was. And I wanted to please them. So, as you know, I went and trained as a clinical psychologist.’ She shook her head and gave a humourless laugh. ‘I thought it might help me figure out my dysfunctional family.’
Max studied her intensely, the gleam in his eyes acknowledging her disillusionment. ‘Perhaps I should have studied psychology too,’ he said, a weariness in his tone that came not just from tiredness, but from life. ‘But now you’re an art therapist. It is difficult to remain true to yourself and your philosophy. I respect that.’
There he was complimenting her again. His tone was so earnest Issy felt herself blush. Being understood and appreciated felt too good. And too foreign. And that was the problem she thought helplessly. Talking like this was merging the personal and the professional together dangerously. Two forces in opposition like oil and water which a sane person, a professional person, knew would never mix.
Only she wasn’t sane, she acknowledged. Not anymore. Not with him being so kind. Not with those sexy dimples indenting as his lips curved into a kind smile. It was easier to keep her distance when he was aloof and remote.
She looked away, knowing she must dismiss his comment as politeness not interest in her for fear of wanting something that would never be hers.
Cultured people like Max were raised to be polite and she mustn’t let herself think he was in the slightest bit interested in who she was as a person. But he was a good listener, and as rare as it was for someone to focus on her for a change it felt nice. She could share how art made her feel, find out what moved him and still maintain a professional distance.
‘It’s incredible how a painting can affect you,’ she said. ‘It’s completely out of your control. My heart is racing, the hairs on my arms are tingling like crazy. I feel inspired and breathless, and light-headed,’ she said. It was the painting, not him, definitely not him that was creating all these crazy physical sensations, she thought, surprised by the powerful emotions cascading through her.
‘Can you believe, my eyes are pooling, like at any moment I might cry. You know, it’s almost like the feeling you have when you’re in love. Is that why you purchased this painting?’ she said.
His eyes focused on her with razor-like intensity, sending shivers racing up her spine.
‘Art is not about emotion. Art is about power.’ His head jerked backwards sharply.
‘Oh, yes,’ she said, pleased that on this point they agreed. ‘The power of art, as Picasso once said, to wash from the soul the dust of everyday life.’
His lips twisted in a wry smile. ‘You are a romantic Ms. Riley. It is very sweet. But also naïve. The power of art, Ms Riley, is about money. Possessing what others covet and can never afford.’
Issy felt blood roar through her chest as she looked at the imposing man standing beside her. ‘No! Art is about feeling.’
‘You know, I actually think you believe that nonsense,’ he interjected. Max stepped toward her, encroaching upon her physical space until they were both nearly touching like the bottles in the painting.
Issy stood her ground, lifting her chin toward him as he stood over her. Was he really so emotionally blocked that he could feel nothing? ‘What happened to make you so unfeeling, so hard, so cynical?’
‘Life, Miss Riley. Life.’
‘Don’t you believe in love?’
‘Love,’ he grimaced, staring at the cold blue bottle in the painting, ‘is a business construct manufactured by salesmen and marketers to manipulate people like you.’
‘Have you always been so cynical?’ Issy challenged. ‘Love is a feeling. Like art is a feeling,’ she shrugged. ‘It’s hard to describe in words, but you know it when you sense it. It’s a warm, fantastic, life-giving feeling. Like eating ice-cream in summer, only without the calories.’
‘A feeling,’ Max snorted. ‘Another vague, nebulous, overused concept. I love that dress. I love those shoes. I love that painting.’ He turned toward her, looking directly into her eyes as though laying down a challenge.
‘I love you.’ His words delivered with icy hard detachment splintered through the warm air. His shoulders straightened sharply, ‘See how easy it is to say?’
He sounded cold, far more bitter than she’d expected, but something about the way Max strode stiffly toward the edge of the deck and stood gazing out at the blue sea, a pensive frown on those beautiful dark brows, made her wonder if perhaps even he thought he’d gone too far.
‘Show me a love that lasts,’ he said, turning to her at last.
What could she say? She’d notched up her Guinness Book record of impermanent affairs of the heart, the cancelled wedding her most public failure. But she wouldn’t tell him that. Not yet. Not ever. She could barely bring herself to talk about it with anyone, let alone a client she hoped to impress with her togetherness.
‘So we agree on something,’ Max said, filling the silent vacuum, ‘I’ve never felt it, never found it, never fantasized about it and I never will. Feeling is a distraction I can’t afford.’
‘Who did that to you?’ She said, wondering how a man who seemed to have everything, had so little.
Max flinched, his jaw hardening in steely resolve. ‘I’m a realist.’
‘If you don’t have love,’ Issy pressed, ‘or at least the hope of love, what do you have?’ She stepped toward him, concern widening her eyes. ‘Max?’ she whispered, probing for his reply
‘Work. I have work. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll take you to your private bure. I’m sure you’ll find the peninsular villa to your liking. You won’t be disturbed. I only ask that you show me the same courtesy.’
Adrenaline spiked in her chest. He was banishing her. ‘But what about the session I have planned for today?’
Did you enjoy this excerpt? This story was written during a wonderful time in Fiji. I decided to set the story there. It seems like such a lifetime ago, especially now that travel to foreign shores seems so far away now.
But you can travel to paradise in your imagination when you read this beautiful “opposites attract” love story.
The idea for this story was sparked when I read about a very successful Italian fashion-tycoon who said, ‘My biggest regret is that I gave my life to my job.’ It struck me as very, very sad.
I wondered why he had chosen to live his life this way. Despite all his wealth, all his mansions around the world, and all the ‘fans’ who adored him for the identity he had carefully cultivated, he loved no one and no one loved him back for who he truly was.
Although he never said it outright, he’d thrown himself into his work following the death of his life partner. His work was pure escapism—protecting him from feeling the pain of loss again.
He’d originally trained as a medic but after experiencing the horrors of war, he sought refuge in a fantasy world.
As a child, he’d loved the glitz and glamour Hollywood offered. After a brief stint in the war where he witnessed the deaths of friends, he found an escape from the harshness of reality returning to the fantasy of Hollywood
I wondered what sort of woman would be able to touch this frozen man at the deepest level? Everything in his life was controlled measured, predictably precise. I wondered what if the darkness of the past, his unhealed wounds began to impact his work, stifling his creativity and threatening to destroy everything he had fought so hard to achieve?
I wondered what if, as part of his recovery, he was forced to spend time with a woman so opposite in every way to the order he imposed in his life? And what if this woman was a children’s art therapist? A woman unimpressed by the fame and fortune he’d amassed, but who believed strongly in the power of play, fun, and spontaneity—things he considered reckless.
What if this woman had the power to transform his life, and he hers—but they were both afraid. Hearts have been broken, love lost, trust betrayed. What if this woman had her own wounds? Don’t we all?
What would it take to make all the masks fall? To be vulnerable? To risk it all? What would it take, in spite of the fear, to believe you deserve, you want, you need to give love a second chance?
I hope you love this story as much as I loved writing it.
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