unicorns

The cats and I were recently talking about Paul Newman. They were sitting on the back of my chair when I read an article about him in Vanity Fair and couldn’t help but comment on his good looks and, of course, the eyes.

I saw Paul Newman once, I told them. Tell us, they purred. I was in Venice with my ex-husband, only he wasn’t ex at the time. This was in the 1980s. We were sitting in the restaurant of our hotel, and I was looking down at my plate, and people were passing by on their way to their places, and I heard a woman whose voice sounded exactly like Joanne Woodward’s. I looked up, and there, passing in front of me, but several yards away, was the actress Joanne Woodward. My next thought was, if that’s Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman must be near. But I’d only looked up in time to catch the merest wisp of them, profiles across the room. And yes, he was following her.

I could hardly eat the rest of my dinner. I wasn’t in a place to see where they were seated, and it about killed me, but it was just as well. I wouldn’t have been able not to stare. Later we were out shopping on some charming narrow street with many shop windows, and we passed a couple staring in a window, and as we passed, I realized it was them. They wore sunglases and hurried from window to window, standing for a long time with their backs hunched to passing people. Of course, I stared like crazy keeping track of them, but eventually they disappeared into an alley. I was as excited as if I were watching a pair of unicorns. Poor unicorns. Now I know that only a few survive.

In the fast-paced, 24-hour news of today’s world, Paul Newman is probably more known for his sauce and popcorn than he is for his acting and piercing blue eyes, but I doubt that bothers him…or her. What a pair they were, talented, beautiful, living through losses that even glamour doesn’t disqualify you for, aging gracefully, she into ballet and sky diving, he into race car driving and charity. They haven’t used plastic surgery to take them into that long good night, but rather an interest in other things, a giving back of the largesse life heaped onto their plates. Time and chance and talent and beauty. They had it. Like Sara and Gerald Murphy a generation or two before them, they’ve walked in beauty like the night and survived the price demanded.

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