L’invito di Catherine

Catherine’s invitation

The message had taken Catherine entirely by surprise. Waking at dawn for her usual jog, she found the text waiting for her for a few hours. An email, in the gallery’s inbox. Then the text is too laconic and informal for a work contact.

“I'll be in town for a few days, I’d like to see you again.”

A simple sentence, made her think of some friend passing through.

The name confirmed her mistake. Antonio S. Those familiar letters, waiting politely three lines under the invitation. Antonio. She had met many Anthonys, Tonys, and even Antoine. Through work, among friends, or by chance. But Antonio, that Antonio, was something so distant she had forgotten he ever existed. Antonio; Antonio S. The sequence opened the door to a room she hadn't entered in many years, and Catherine wasn't sure she wanted to go back.

The cold air hardened her face as her pace picked up rhythm along the park paths. A light stretch and she took up her usual stride: slow at the beginning, to awaken the body; more sustained after a few rounds, as the sun altered the city’s features.

Returning to London, running had become a necessity. The relief she needed to regain control over her life. Three times a week. An annoyance she didn't like at all; a treatment whose benefits she felt. Over time, it had formed a habit she didn't want to give up. She hadn’t done so after getting married, nor after opening her gallery. After the separation, it was every morning’s commitment, rain or snow notwithstanding.

The sun was merciless on her northern girl’s skin. Three days were enough for her to realize her Italian wasn't adequate to make herself understood in a pharmacy, despite conversations with her grandfather. She solved it with a Panama hat which – while confirming her tourist air – at least matched the elegance of the white Bermuda shorts, revealing her slender knees, swaying with every step. The origins of the Renaissance and maternal had convinced her that her studies in History deserved a Tuscan period.

Catherine had waited for her friend in front of the Duomo, awaiting the Palio’s start. The crowd streaming towards Piazza del Campo had made her give up and she decided to enter the church.

Among the artworks, her gaze stopped on a young man who, charcoal in hand, was copying the three graces on a small sketch pad. Showing her the drawing and smiling at her was a moment. The work left much to be desired. The smile, sunny and sincere, did not.

Antonio was visiting like Catherine. Florentine, an architecture student, had never been to Siena. "Montaperti is still a fresh defeat." Catherine was amused by the fact that a battle from eight centuries ago was still alive in the history of the two cities.

"It's alive in the traditions. And in the art that represents it." He had pronounced, silent about the pride of the two cities.

Showing her the Porta del Cielo and the view of the city from above, thanks to an employee of the fabric’s indulgence, did the rest. Catherine would have followed him anywhere. Even after Antonio had revealed that, probably, her friend had waited for her for a long time in front of the baptistery, on the other side of the Duomo. Tourists usually get lost this way.
The following months were short but intense. Made of missed intercity trains at the last minute, makeshift rooms from friends of friends, and conversations staring at the ceiling. Antonio easily talked to her about beauty. About architecture as a tribute to nature. When his thoughts wandered, he quoted some genius from the past, often creatively.

“I could switch to art history and stay here.” Catherine had suggested a few months after Valentine's Day. The enthusiasm had foundered in the time it took Antonio to respond. She would stay. For him, it was time to go. His life would be in Tuscany, yes. But after some foreign experience. Tuscany was the world's centre, of this he was sure, but the periphery had to be seen too. They joked about it until it stopped amusing them. In the end, it was Catherine who first returned home.

“We have a vernissage in two days. The address is on the website, come if you want.” Responding had cost her a journey through images she believed forgotten, but it would stop all others incoming. Perhaps.
The figure Antonio had spotted in the crowd was the slender silhouette of a memory as distant as youth. An elegant woman, with grey, well-kept hair, dressed in white. White the shirt, whose bronze buttons echoed the necklace left visible by a wide collar. White the soft trousers, whose pleats ran straight and sure along the legs. Over the years, he had imagined how he would see her again. He wondered what time would do to her and how he might find her changed. What he was seeing was the natural evolution of the girl he had loved. And Antonio was aware of it. More original than any idea he had; truer than any image he retained. Catherine.

Standing next to a Nativity, Catherine noticed the man watching her with eyes from another age. She excused herself gracefully and approached, with a confidence she didn't think she had. The sun of Tuscany shone in the gold of the paintings and Antonio's eyes.

“Hi Catherine,” he said after a seemingly infinite moment. “I missed the train.”