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The Bridge of Thighs: Naked and Voluptuous in Venice
Miss Manners with a Whip
Mia glanced down her shapely legs at her espresso kid leather t-straps with three-inch heels and wondered if they were the most practical choice for wandering through the streets of Venice. With delicate steps, she traversed the uneven stones of Campo Santa Margherita and made her way toward St. Mark’s Square. Because of the season, the corners were empty of gelaterias and a spindrift haze made the air glow with a luminous mist. And at night, the Rialto Bridge arched over cold dark water illuminated with wavering globes of reflected light. Everywhere she looked, Venice was a glittering feast.
Mia had come to Venice in January because she sought both solitude and romance. She sat apart from the others on the vaporetti, and she had begun walking in the early morning hours and the late dusk so as not to fall into conversation with other tourists or the ubiquitous fast-talking natives. She gazed at Byzantine mosaics luminous in the pale morning light and spoke only to the sleepy vendors who sold her cappucino. Looking at the Basilica of St. Mark’s, Mia felt as though she were looking through a glass of pale champagne, and in those comparatively lonely hours, Venice had all the mystery and silence she had imagined.
In a move that, had she been anyone else, would been construed as evidence of reckless excess, Mia had booked her room at the Hotel Danieli. Though Murano glass chandeliers and ceiling frescoes placed the hotel firmly at the top of the luxury hotel hierarchy, she knew she had been right to splurge. Had she settled for a quaint yet more economical hotel, she would not have had the experience of Hotel Danieli’s bewildering brilliance. Already, its exquisite decor had inextricably blended with the city in her mind, and she knew she would remember both as long as she lived. She had been dreaming of Venice for fifteen years and she had determined to savor its peerless flavor to the dregs.
And yet…in the Alps, from whence she had come, huge fires and stoves blasting heat made the cold a more jovial adversary to warmth. In Venice, she had found, fewer accommodations were made to combat the short winter season. She found the palaces drafty, the floors icy, and the grand chambers bare of plush fabrics and carpets. It seemed the only place Mia could get sufficiently warm was the cafes at night, and they were crowded to capacity. Often, shivering in the wind from the Grand Canal, she ducked in for a brief minute, but she was quickly driven out by noise and smoke. She had begun to think having a companion might be preferable to both walking alone and sleeping alone, but she had come away without seeking any such companion and no one had presented himself since she arrived.
Perhaps men were intimidated by her icy demeanor? Or her resemblance to the late Ava Gardner? Or did they simply sense her desire for solitude? She wasn’t certain. But she was certain that a hot cup of coffee was in order.
Out of genuine feeling, John Anders sighed on the Bridge of Sighs. Contino’s bridge over the Rio di Palazzo was erected in the year 1600 to connect the Doge’s prisons, or Prigioni, with the inquisitor’s rooms in the main palace. The name “Bridge of Sighs” was invented in the 19th Century, when Lord Byron helped to popularize the belief that the bridge’s name was inspired by the sighs of condemned prisoners as they were led through it to the executioner. In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built, and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals. However, when reality conflicts with the legend, print the legend.
John should have read more history and less economics. Had he done so, perhaps he would have appreciated the ebb and flow of financial markets more deeply. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been overweighted in tech. Perhaps he wouldn’t have watched his portfolio turn to smoking ashes in the cruel April of 2000. And perhaps his depression wouldn’t have been so deep, so long.
John had come to Venice alone. In the wake of Christmas, with its social pressures, its images of happiness, he wanted time to stroll the streets of Venice with his solitary steps echoing into the chilly night. With typical American diligence, he had checked the temperature online before leaving the hotel. It was 25 degrees F, with a 4 mph wind. Not brutally cold, but indisputably winter.
John found the darkness soothing. And the cold kept the tourists away. He found himself walking, lost in thought, hands jammed in the pockets of his black cashmere topcoat. He thought of Shelley’s “Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples.”
Venice — adrift on its marble flood — was what he needed. Perhaps he would be able to find in Venice some ember of hope. Some way to start anew. His finances were in ruins, but that was only by his etiler escort own standard. He was better off than many people, and the tsunamis in southern Asia had forced him to acknowledge that fact. After all, he still retained the financial ability to stay at the Danieli and not count the cost.
As he walked, and the harsh wind whipped his hair into disarray, he recalled that old movie about a last tango in Paris. Was his existential desperation akin to that? He lacked the emotional energy to ruminate upon the question. But, even in near despair, he clawed for optimism. Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and Benjamin Disraeli were all famous. History had taken much note of their abilities. Yet Pope, Swift, and Disraeli had speculated on stocks. And lost. Even monarch Newton — an immortal genius — had gambled on stocks. And lost.
Perhaps, as Mill suggested in Principles of Political Economy, the seeds of each boom were sown during the preceding crisis. And vice versa. John Anders knew that he had merely been swept into speculative mania like so many others before him. Rescued somewhat by this perspective, John paused while passing a shop window. He noticed a photo of a model wearing a cross-dyed lace merry widow. As he gazed, he felt a familiar surge of lust intrude upon his esthetic appreciation.
It was not just historical perspective which cured depression. Luxurious lingerie had the power to turn his thoughts toward more pleasant matters. Was it mere lust? Certainly, he had to confess to that. Did he have more than 21 orgasms per month merely to exceed the standard set by the NCI study to ward off prostate cancer? Yes. However, calculating a margin of safety, John elected to have more than that bare minimum. He had at least one per day, but only for medicinal purposes. More on weekends, but again for health reasons only.
Bare minimum? His own words remained in his mind. Yes, there were certain spots of bare skin when a cross-dyed lace merry widow was worn with a thong and stockings. John pondered the photograph. Had animal instinct begun to rescue him from situational depression? For some reason, John began to think of his own hotel room. If he met an attractive woman in Venice, would her gasps of passion echo given the high ceilings? On a humid summer night, would the sounds of passion float over the canal below?
These were his thoughts as he arrived at the Danieli, a masterfully restored 14th Century palace. It was just steps away from the Piazza San Marco and its Basilica. The Danieli was a gothic landmark lavishly appointed with pink marble and stained glass. Its glorious interior vistas were matched only by the panoramic views from La Terrazza Danieli, with its matchless angle on Santa Maria Della Salute.
In the lobby of the Danieli, with its soaring open space, John turned. Jet-lagged, he was not yet sleepy. Despite the darkness, despite the drizzle which had commenced, perhaps he would stroll to Florian’s, the celebrated cafe under the arcades of the Procuratie Nuove in St. Mark’s. Opened under the name Venezia Triofante, it was indeed a triumphant success. Soon, it became known as Florian’s, the most famous “botega da caffe” (coffee shop) of the 1720s.
Since its opening, Florian’s had been frequented by an illustrious clientele. Nobles, ambassadors, and merchants patronized it. Because it was then the only coffee shop to admit women, Casanova went there in quest of companions. John’s motive was simple. He wanted a clean, well-lighted place to sip a cup of hot coffee and contemplate his destiny.
As Mia sat at her small table, warming her hands on a coffee cup, she noticed a man writing energetically on a piece of yellow legal paper. His hair was windblown, and fell slightly over the collar of a black topcoat. Was it cashmere or lambswool? She glanced at his shoes. Black wingtips. Perhaps a local businessman? Or perhaps he followed the vanishing custom of dressing for first class on a flight? He had stopped writing and gone to place a telephone call. Thankfully, he hadn’t been one of those annoying people with a cell phone constantly in hand.
But what had he been writing? The Great American Novel? But perhaps he wasn’t even American? He didn’t seem sufficiently pale to be from the UK. Perhaps he was writing a billet-doux? She rose, took a few steps, and looked at it. It was in English. It read:
“…the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority…are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”
Then, she saw, he had also written: “Check source.” Not for nothing had Mia studied at the Institut halkalı escort fur Empirische Wirtschaftsforschung, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakutat, Universitat Zurich. Impishly, she picked up his pen and wrote “Keynes” on the paper.
She turned to slip away to her table, to return to her anonymous enjoyment of Venice, and bumped into him. In reflex, she reached out to steady herself and caught his arm. Cashmere, the genuine article. Unbeknownst to Mia, he had returned from the phone and watched, with no little amusement, as she perused his note. Her face, bronzed from alpine skiing, flushed red. She looked up, prepared to offer an apology, and saw his eyes crinkling. He was grinning.
She was relieved. Instead of a feeling like a show-off, she felt playful. This man was obviously not a stuffed shirt; he was (could it be?) a fun economist. No F. Scott Fitzgerald, draining talent and physical health with absinthe in a cafe. Nor was he Pound, wandering the narrow streets with dreams of literary fame and fascist sympathies or a widowed Browning seeking solace. This windblown tourist might quite possibly turn out to be a scholarly sybarite. In the carnival that was Venice, Mia had not expected to run across a kindred spirit, but she met his amused expression with a challenging gaze that simply enhanced her resemblance to a sultry Ava Gardner.
“Yes, it is certainly Keynes,” he said. “Though I wasn’t anticipating any particular response to my notes.” Spurred by mischief and whim, Mia lifted her chin and challenged him. “I’ll bet you don’t know with what literary group Keynes was associated.” “Bloomsbury,” he said calmly. “I can even name a member other than Virginia Woolf,” he added. “Lytton Strachey?” Mia knew she was right. She could think of two others, Clive Bell and Duncan Grant, but it occurred to her that she might not want to tip her hand. Anyway, she was more drawn to his cashmere-clad arm, which, she noticed, she was still clutching. She couldn’t help but notice that it led to some quite broad shoulders. He might have the soul of a scholar, but he had the body of a soccer player, and he seemed in no hurry to shake her off his arm. With his free one, he gathered up his papers and made room for her to sit down. She was delighted to comply.
Though both had made the journey to Venice seeking solitude, Mia and John found over their coffee that their sudden companionship seemed as gratifying as it was inevitable. By the time they had covered Keynes and the rest of the Bloomsbury Group, the cafe was deserted and the drizzle had stopped, but the caffeine had invigorated both and they decided to walk.
As they left the cafe, a haze bloomed on the darkness of the Venetian palaces, and the two wandered, crossing over bridges from which they could see empty gondolas, stripped of their cushions. The streets had a slightly melancholy air, and Mia suddenly longed for the brightness of the hotel. But to go back to her room would signal the end of John’s company and she was reluctant to give that up. When a cold wind swept over the bridge, she shivered. John moved closer, which made her shiver again, not from the cold, but from the powerfully sensuous impulse she felt. Heat emanated from him and she felt an irrestible urge to open his cashmere coat and wrap it around herself.
As soon as the thought entered her mind, she was unable to resist. Without considering the consequences, she stepped closer to him, facing him, so close that the icy plumes of their breath mingled in the air. Suddenly, she felt his warm breath against her neck, and his tongue on her earlobe, teasing. The contrast of the two sensations, the cold wind and his warm tongue, excited her, and she felt her nipples harden. As if the feel of his tongue on her earlobe wasn’t enough, he began to nibble, which had the result of making Mia press herself against him and run her gloved hands over his chest. As he pressed back, Mia caught her breath. The wintry weather had dictated bulky clothing, but she yearned for the feel of her bare skin against his. She thought of the many layers between them: wool, cashmere, and ultimately, the thin silk of her lace and mesh merrywidow, as she fantasized what might happen between them once they reached the well-appointed rooms of the hotel. Then she realized she was making out with a near-stranger on a Venetian bridge in a mood of wild abandon. Rather than repelling her with its incongruity, the situation struck her as perfect, just perfect.
While walking to Florian’s, John had been thinking that stock speculation was at first a sentiment, a taste, which passed then into a habit, and grew into a passion — a master passion which, like Aaron’s serpent, swallowed up and strengthened itself with other emotions. Speculation became at last more fierce than anger, more gnawing than jealousy, more absorbing than philosophy. But now, almost against his will, he found his lips innovia escort lowering to Mia’s neck, and suddenly he had no interest in the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Even in the cold air, John felt as if he were burning. When they had first met, she had unconsciously brushed back her hair and touched her neck. It was an innocent gesture, but for some unknown reason a salacious image flitted through his mind. Given the demands of social courtesy, he sought to shake the image, suppress thoughts of lubricious embraces, and enjoy a pleasant, unexpected conversation. But every rational thought was defeated by desire.
As they had talked in the restaurant, Mia had been alarmed as well. As he sipped coffee, suddenly she imagined his tongue teasing across her tummy. She had no idea as to the origin of such a bold, graphic notion. Perhaps it was the slow, gentle seduction of Venice. Perhaps she was caught in the spell of Venice in winter, helpless to resist.
She began to think of his chin, with just a hint of stubble from the long plane ride, reposing on her thigh. Flushed with the heat of the image, she hoped that he would not notice. And then she noticed his hand on the coffee cup. And wondered if he would gently caress her hip with that hand as she writhed to orgasm in the cowgirl position, her eyes narrowed in ecstasy.
Even in the cold, he could detect the soft, humid odor of the canal. And the perfume on her neck, akin to Chanel No. 5 He realized that he had backed against a stone wall. Dimly, he realized that he was kissing her neck. Then he bent down, swept aside her coat, and began kissing her left breast through her layers of clothing. Her cardigan was wool, but he was beyond such concerns. Her swollen left nipple could be discerned through the cardigan and John found himself kissing it, hearing her gasps.
What was the legal situation in Venice? John had no idea. But it wasn’t Paris and perhaps they could be arrested for improper behavior in public. Grasping for anything remotely resembling logic, John said: “My hotel?” Mia nodded assent. As they approached it, Mia smiled widely, realizing that it was the Danieli.
She found it easier not to talk. They had covered enough in the cafe for her to surmise she was not in the grips of a white slaver, nor did she think he was anyone she would not have come across in normal circles. Other than that, she wanted to know nothing more. No, she was not an adherent of Erica Jong’s Isadora Wing philosophy; nevertheless, the mystery of the evening held a certain allure, and she had no desire to destroy the enigma that was the well-dressed, passionate American. She simply wanted to remove his topcoat, unbutton his shirt, and see what transpired. Finally, someone would be in a position to appreciate the magnificent detail of her lingerie and the body it clad, if scantily. Whereas she indulged in the impulse to costume herself underneath as elaborately as one of Henry James’ heroines, she meant to fling off restraint as Isabel Archer or Kate Croy never had. Thoughts of Daisy Miller in Rome interrupted her pleasant fantasy, but she banished them sternly.
John was just as reticent as she. They arrived at the hotel, climbed the magnificent staircase, and entered his room in silence. It was a silence, however, that vibrated with the current of attraction between them. Once in the open doorway, he stood still, deliberately awaiting an indication of her disposition to come into the room. She did, closed the door, and began the unbuttoning she had pictured in her head all the way to the hotel. When his lips met hers, they were cool, but as soon as they parted her own and the kiss became deeper, the warmth and wetness started a hot pulsing that banished reason from her mind.
Mia was hardly aware of how they moved from the foyer to the bedroom, but moments later, there they were. She needed a moment to calm her roaring pulse, so she left him on a chair and escaped to his dressing room to collect herself. While she was there, she looked in the mirror and saw audacity and recklessness in her reflection. She decided to go with it. She was feeling adventurous, and she could only blame the espresso and Venice. Her scarf and gloves were in disarray, her dress already half-unbuttoned, so she set her deshabille to rights by removing both and exiting the dressing room.
She stood in the doorway. She was wearing a cross-dyed lace merrywidow not unlike the one in the photograph in the shop window below. He inhaled, eased off the chair, and began kissing the decorative banding at the top of the stockings. Then the tops of the stockings, where they turned to soft, tan thigh. She gasped, moving slightly, as John made a trail of kisses around the tops of her stockings.
She felt a bit unsteady on her Via Spigas as he began to kiss the firm, tan insides of her thighs above the stockings, but she balanced precariously. Then the sensations moved, as he kissed the outsides of her thighs above the stockings. He rubbed his lips lightly on the inside of her thighs, and his action sent another shiver straight up. But when he scraped the skin a bit harder with his chin, the sensation of roughness mixed with pleasure and transformed her into a creature of unmitigated craving. She wound her fingers through his hair and gripped hard.
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