The more I think of man, the more I love the cows.
Our Singapore Airlines flight followed the kangaroo route. In Rome, we headed to the Umberto Hotel and rushed to bed after a shower. Being in Helen’s arms for twenty hours, I couldn’t last any longer. I shouldn’t tell you this but I even suggested the obvious during our long flight but all I got from her was, ‘I love you when you are that eager.’
As she talked, her almond shaped eyes sparkled and danced under her strait eyebrows.
Tall and slim she always wore fashionable clothes and expensive perfumes. Warm, well proportioned and sensuous she turned heads wherever we went.
There was no doubt she attracted men but Helen related to women too because she ran two boutiques that catered for the upwardly mobile femmes. Whenever we discussed feminist issues she was no dilettante. I loved Betty Friedan but didn’t think much of Greer. And that was exactly where she stood in the Feminist Movement. Without trying, I convinced her I knew the issues when I talked about Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary with passion. Everyone we knew thought we were soul mates.
From where I sat however, Helen was a past mistress in getting what she wanted by withholding sexual favours but more of this later.
In the morning we considered our options over coffee and croissants. I suggested Firenze and she wanted to go to Napoli. I couldn’t wait to see the home where Nicolo Michiavelli wrote The Prince but Helen wanted to see the city where Sophia Loren was born, so we headed to Napoli.
The driver of our tourist coach drove through the streets of Napoli but didn’t let us out. When I heard him say it wasn’t safe, I imagined the streets were full of pickpockets and assassins. In Pompeii I admired the frescos in the Villa of Mysteries but the cappuccino I had after the tour was vile. In my mind the barista of the café mixed ash with the coffee beans.
Back in Rome I was chirpy because we were one step closer to the City of my dreams. Helen however wanted to spend time in the Sistine Chapel. What is another short detour, I thought and you guessed it, I followed her.
In the Chapel tourists from many countries admired the paintings while I yawned. Bored to tears I kept on looking at my watch while everyone around me was on cloud nine.
Helen was gloomy on the way to our hotel. Was it because it was our last day in the Eternal City? In our hotel room she lashed out.
‘How can I love a man who is not moved by those exquisite paintings?’ She asked frowning. Fearing a sex embargo was imminent I knew I had to come up with a credible defence but couldn’t think of any. To gain time I reached for her hand but she recoiled with the speed of light as if I had leprosy. Her hasty withdrawal made me realize I was in a diabolical strife.
Judging by her mood I was looking at a week’s embargo; ten nights perhaps. Under normal circumstances, I would have tolerated an embargo lasting a week but there was nothing normal about what I was experiencing. Convinced the streets of Rome were full of assassins I needed her hugs. Add to this my cappuccino experience in Pompeii and you will understand the mess I was in.
I was going to tell her the icons I saw in the Japanese Christian Churches depicted god as a man who looked decidedly Japanese. A moment’s thought however convinced me to change tack. I quickly considered other explanations I dismissed before I arrived at what I thought might work.
‘God,’ I said using a soft voice ‘is not an old man with a long white beard. He is not Italian. He is not Japanese. He is not even a man. God is the force of survival against incredible odds.’ Hearing my confession she didn’t rush to my arms but dropped her shoulders. Sensing I was getting some traction, I continued.
‘God,’ I said with a firm voice, ‘is the elan vital for all evolution.’
Responding to her request, I clarified.
‘The vital force we see around us.’ I explained. ‘The triumph of life over decay and decomposition.’ When she reached for my hand, I decided to go for broke.
‘I found the paintings degrading,’ I proclaimed with confidence. ‘The paintings are insulting. We can’t think of god as an old Italian with a long white beard.’ Reassured she nodded. Turned around, headed to the bathroom, stripped and went under the shower. As she left the glass door of the cubical open, I joined her.
In the train to Firenze I had all the time in the world to revisit the Sistine Chapel incident because Helen was talking to Jenny, an American nun in our compartment.
In my reverie, I remembered the words of a bold man.
‘If we ask a cow to paint god, the cow will paint a cow.’
Was he right? Of course he wasn’t ’cause cows are not that arrogant. No other animal in the world is as conceited as man who thinks god looks like an Old Italian. If I had to choose between men and animals, I’ll live with the cows anytime.
Glancing at me, Helen asked, ‘What are you dreaming now?’ And turning to Jenny she confided, ‘that is the look I don’t trust.’
While I was trying to find the right words, Helen and Jenny were waiting for my answer.
‘I feel an affinity with the animals,’ I confessed.
‘Tell us something we don’t know,’ Helen announced sporting a wicked smile. I was ready to protest but Jenny intervened.
‘Saint Francis loved the animals too,’ she said in a matter of fact voice.
‘And mother earth,’ I added.