A Twinkle in My Eye

by George Gauthier

Chapter 3


I was returning home from a long workout at my gym when I stopped off for a light meal to tide me over till supper which for me comes later in the day than with most folks. Like many Europeans I habitually dine at eight, so two hours later than the six p.m. common in this country.

Now it had been a while since I had ordered deep dish pizza. I don't care much for what usually passes for pizza in the US. Whether you order from one of the chains or buy a slice at a take out place, what you get is Neapolitan pizza with its characteristic thin crust, which is often eaten held in the fingers and folded in half. Some folks will eat a slice while walking down the street, something I never do. In my view peripatetic eating is acceptable only for ice cream on a stick or in a cone, cotton candy, a candy bar but not for much else.

Chicago style deep dish pizza is cooked in the pan and not directly on hot bricks like most thick crust Italian pizza, but you eat both with knife and fork just as in Italy. Few Americans realize that which is why, just a few years ago, New Yorkers were mildly disconcerted to find out that their Mayor Bill de Blasio had eaten pizza with knife and fork. To me that was only normal as it is for my boyfriend Paolo and his family, but then they are from Torino in Northern Italy.

Now to get deep dish pizza I had to go out of my way, so I went by Enrico's and ordered a Pizza Quattro Stagioni which means Four Seasons. Each quarter of the pizza has its characteristic topping: artichokes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and ham or prosciutto, representing the four seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn and fall in that order. Not much dairy in a pizza but you do get adequate amounts of three other food groups: grains, vegetables, and meat. I started with a small salad and complemented the main dish with two glasses of a full-bodied red wine. All in all it was a healthful meal. (I would argue that a glass of wine counts as a single serving of fruit.)

Ideally pizza should be cooked in a wood burning brick oven at a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Gas fired ovens at home cannot get that hot which is why they cannot do a proper job with what you bring back from take-and-bake pizzerias.

Pizza as we know it today has not been around for very long, only from the nineteenth century. The dish was introduced to America by immigrants from the Campania, the region around Naples, when the first pizzeria in New York opened in 1905.

One good thing I can say about Neapolitan pizza is the artistic way the dough is flattened by being tossed and whirled in the air, a performance art really and one which involves great dexterity. I enjoy watching a pizzaiolo whirling a crust into shape, and even more so if he is one of the dark haired slender Neapolitan boys whom I find so devilishly attractive.

I have fond memories of one such Neapolitan boy whom I met and fell in love with during the Italian Renaissance, a time when Naples was one of the greatest cities in Europe.

Bay of Naples

In the sixteenth century, in search of peace and stability I had moved my operations to Naples, which was securely in Spanish hands after the ouster of the French. Under their rule, the city, already the fourth largest city in Europe would grow so much that by the middle of the century only Paris would be larger. Naples was well placed for trade with the Orient and then on to Pisa and Genoa. It was part of the realm of Aragon, now united with Castile as the Kingdom of Spain. Its maritime empire stretched from eastern Spain, to the Balearics, Sardinia, Sicily, and the southern half of the peninsula. Of the major Italian islands, only Corsica was not in their hands. Corsica was ruled by Genoa.

In Naples, the Renaissance was ushered in under the patronage of Alfonso I who conquered Naples in 1443. Like a true prince of the Renaissance he favored men of letters whose works would preserve his reputation for posterity, men like the poet Jacopo Sannazaro and the humanist scholar Angelo Poliziano and his panegyrist Panormita Also a builder he founded the Academy of Naples and added a magnificent triumphal arch to the main gate of Castel Nuovo, the formidable fortress that is still the signature architectural symbol of the city.

I did not worry that the Spanish authorities might look too closely at my lifestyle. The Spanish Inquisition simply did not operate in Naples. Indeed popular opposition ensured it never would be introduced to terrorize noble and peasant alike. So my investments flourished and I had time for leisure and a boyfriend.

"If we stay in this hot spring any longer Alessandro we will turn into prunes. Why don't we climb out for a while."

My lover Andrea Orsini and I were bathing in one of the hot springs in the Phlegrean Fields northwest of Naples, famous as a resort area since antiquity. Taking the waters was supposed to be good for what ailed you. My friend was really talking about himself. My own skin did not dry out so readily as his. Still I had to think of him too, a fine looking lad of nineteen with olive skin and hair so black it looked blue.

"Come on," I called out. "Let's cool off in the sea."

Suiting actions to words, I stepped out of the hot spring, walked across the rocks then plunged into the waters of the Bay of Naples. Mount Vesuvius loomed on the horizon. It had been dormant for three centuries its slopes covered with gardens and vineyards just like before the great eruption of 79 AD. Shrubbery grew even inside the crater.

After some initial horsing around, we began swimming in earnest. I love to swim back and forth, to prove my mastery of the watery element. Sometimes I just floated with my head back and chest up legs slanting down, the only way my body will float without moving. I am too slender and too muscular to float easily, though even a little sculling will let me keep my limbs at the surface. The exercise also improved my strength and stamina for whatever emergencies might eventually arise. That day I swam for nearly an hour.

Andrea stayed in half as long. His small body was arguably skinny rather than just wiry, and his boney frame floated worse than mine. He wasn't much shorter than I, though I was more muscular. Still he was a good swimmer as long as he stayed in motion. While his black mane and olive skin were typical of a southern Italian, I rather fancied he looked liked a lovely mer-boy, a native creature of the sea come to visit the surface world and grace it with his beauty. Besides a taut hairless physique he had long wavy hair, a straight nose, large brown eyes, and fine white teeth. Even when he was doing something entirely innocent, he had a mischievous look about him, but his infractions were minor ones, practical jokes really. A charming boy indeed.

He was already swimming toward shore when I surfaced dived and swam underwater to came up beneath him, tweaking his dangling manhood then darting away. He was just too tired to give chase. I eventually swam to the beach where I stretched out on my back next to him in the sun and sighed my contentment.

"Life is good my young friend. I am content."

"You always call me your 'young friend', Sandro, as if, at twenty-three, you were so much the senior. In reality, you look no older than I do. We are both too small and pretty to look our ages. Neither of us looks a day even eighteen. And we run around naked so much -- just like the younger boys do -- always plunging into the sea or working in the gardens naked, supposedly so we don't get our clothes dirty. And then there is all that time we spend wrestling and running along the beach which is more like the gamboling of naked boys than the preoccupations of young men."

"Yes, well the chief preoccupations of young men are first with girls and then with work. Neither of us cares for girls, and I am comfortably rich. Not that either of us is lazy or idle. We just don't have to put up with the long hours and drudgery of a normal existence much less an impoverished one."

"Not any more, Sandro, thanks to you. And now that you have taught me to read, write, and figure, I could always find a good job as a clerk for the church or the royal chancellory."

"Do not worry that I will tire of you soon, Andrea. You are positively scrumptious and so delightfully uninhibited in the way you have gone along with casual nudity. Some boys would have balked at giving up their body hair to the razor, little though there was, but you like the way it made you even more naked than before, your manly parts more prominent on your slim frame. Anyway, even if we go our separate ways, I will do right by you."

Indeed I always have done the right thing by my lovers over the centuries. I despise those who take advantage of a youth's poverty and desperation, don't prepare him to support himself, then callously discard a boy when he grows too old to be pleasing. Anyway, with care and healthful habits and good genes, pretty boys can look good into their thirties. As to the more masculine sort who are the second kind of male who turns me on, well I have had lovers who grew into their forties or even beyond.

I lay there resting, taking in the smell of the sea. Though some thought that a sour smell, I had always found it intoxicating. I know the pair of us looked utterly alluring, two boys lying on the sand, one blond, one dark, both small, naked, and glabrous. Our physiques were trim and taut. With our eyes closed as we dozed our delicate features suggested a pair of angels though it was rare in art to see those heavenly messengers depicted nude and equipped with well-formed genitalia. After a while Andrea sat up and kissed me, tasting rather saltier than usual but still sweet as only a nineteen year old boy can be.

I had taken him into my home three years earlier. We had actually met when I went for a swim from the beach fronting my seaside villa. That was the way we liked best to spend time with each other, totally naked and outdoors in the sun whether on the beach, in the gardens, or on the terrace. He had a green thumb and enjoyed tending to plants as much as I did. Having been raised on a farm which supplied Naples with fresh produce, he had the skills and knowledge I needed in a gardener, which is how I initially put him to work. I won't support idlers, not even pretty ones. Not that his duties were onerous to him. He particularly liked the chance to work with ornamentals.

We often would work side by side kneeling on the ground, brown cheeks resting on bare feet, lithe torsos bent over, ribs and spinal bumps prominent as, smudged with dirt and trowels in hand, we worked at our humble tasks while the sun warmed our bare butts. I love to feel the heat of the sun kissing my ass. It is a pleasant tactile reminder of public nudity, of being naked outdoors in the sun where anyone might see my trim body in its entirety, even its most intimate parts. I guess that appeals to the exhibitionist in me.

Sometimes we boys threw clods of earth at each other as in a snowball fight only we were all hot and sweaty and naked instead of cold and bundled up. A little more dirt was no bother to us naked as we were anyway -- nothing a quick scrub in the shower would not take care of. As for getting smudged and dirty in the first place, this was no ordinary dirt. This was topsoil, black earth, a volcanic soil that was perfect for growing things. Top soil is clean dirt and has a pleasant fresh smell to it.

Sometimes we engaged in sex right there in the garden. What could be more natural, more like a primeval fertility rite, than to lie naked belly down in the earth, legs spread wide, and offer yourself to a male, to submit while he plowed your ass and planted his seed in you. With Andrea pumping away at my rump, my own rigid cock would dig into the earth, plowing it, preparing a furrow for my spurting seed. For a while we would lie together, breathing heavily, pasted together with sweat and soil. Andrea would touch the chevron of my ribs in that affectionate way he had, a gentle petting and an acknowledgment of the good ride I have given him. Even after he shot into me, his teenaged cock stayed hard. In the afterglow, I liked him to keep it there for a while, as we lay locked together, the entire length of our now languid bodies in contact.

As we got back our second wind he might start in again entirely or get to work preparing me to mount him, nipping the back of my neck or tonguing my ear. Then it was time for me to get out from under and address his croup. He liked to kneel and bend over to put his head in his arms, bracing his rump high off the ground, allowing either of us to reach under and play with his turgid member. Outdoor sex in the garden brought the two of us together like nothing else. No hiding away indoors as if in shame. We were lovers and we were proud of it. Afterwards, we helped each other bathe, to scrub the earth from back and rump, providing yet another reason for our hands to explore each other's trim bodies everywhere.

"Do you think the mountain will explode again as in Roman times?" Andrea asked about Vesuvius. The legend of the catastrophic eruption lived on even after the volcano became quiescent at the end of the 13th century.

"Not in your lifetime I would wager."

"That means yours either." he pointed out, completely wrong of course.

I lived to see the mountain awaken again in 1631 and eight times during the eighteenth century. Although I had missed the original big eruption I did see its devastation at first hand. In 81 AD, I had traveled from Rome to see the devastation, visiting the sites of both Pompeii and the more upscale city of Herculaneum where I had stayed for a month only a few years before. I could hardly credit the changes. Everything I had known was buried under ash or solidified mud.

I talked with survivors who described a dark cloud suspended for a day above the mountain, held up by the force and heat of the eruption. As the eruption paused, the column of dust and ash and rocks and hot poisonous gases lost its support and collapsed, pulled down by its own weight. The roiling cloud fell to the ground and charged down the slopes at a speed far faster than a human could run. The burning roiling cloud, what today we call a pyroclastic flow, smashed into the doomed cities, blasting buildings flat, setting everything on fire, poisoning and suffocating the inhabitants human and animal alike and burying everything under a layer reaching twenty meters thick (60 ft). Had the winds been different the pyroclastic flow could have destroyed Naples, the city the Greeks first settled and called simply Neapolis for New City.

What I couldn't tell Andrea was that the Phlegrean Fields occupied the caldera of a super-volcano -- one orders of magnitude larger than Vesuvius. Hephaestus had confirmed what had only been a guess on my part my part. He revealed that one of the more recent eruptions had produced the valuable pozzolanic ash which, when mixed with lime, was the binder agent for Roman concrete. Building with bricks or quarried stone blocks was about piling one atop another. With concrete the Romans could build with poured stone which took the shape of the wooden forms which held it in place till the concrete hardened.

Andrea and I liked to sail the Bay of Naples, whether to visit the Phlegrean Fields or to visit the scenic islands like Ischia and Capri. I kept a small sailboat at the dock of my seaside villa, a pleasure craft not one of my trading ships. It was fully decked but small enough for us to handle alone though I sometimes took along a crew of one or two so we would not have to work the boat.

The island of Capri features the remains of the palace which the emperor Tiberius constructed on the highest promontory as well as the famous Blue Grotto, the sea cave that was once his private swimming pool. Now it was ours. On our frequent visits, we were careful to throw the boatmen a coin so they would not bother us for bypassing their monopoly. My own vessel simply got close enough to the low entrance for us to swim inside.

It was wonderful the way the light from outside refracted through the water and into the cave. As swimmers we could take as long as we liked swimming or floating or horsing around and we did not crowd others. There was even a shelf we could hike our butts onto and simply enjoy the experience.

As for the usual sort of visitors, they got the titillation of gazing on another form of beauty: two young male nudes, two of the sexiest boys they were ever likely to see entirely naked either alive or depicted in the art of the High Renaissance. Occasionally an aficionado of male beauty would invite us to climb aboard his row boat giving him a close up look at our physiques as we rowed out of the cave into full sunlight.

I must admit, that show off that I am, I relished these opportunities. Refracted sunlight made the beads of water on my golden skin glisten like tiny diamonds. Andrea made much of being cooed at or petted, shameless scamp that he was. I cannot think where he got it from. He had been such an innocent lad when we first met.

My boat also took us to picnics at isolated spots on the islands or the promontories that enclosed the bay or even to isolated rocks. I liked the challenge of climbing cliffs without equipment, relying just on my natural human endowments. We felt like naughty children clambering naked over the boulders, exploring nooks and crannies, and collecting bird's eggs for supper.

Not that we were hungry right then. The kitchen always provided a fine basket of delicacies for my picnics. Many is the time we sat in the sun leaning back against the rocks, letting the heat soak into our bones, talking of our hopes and dreams, eating and drinking, though always in moderation, with the boat standing nearby beached or anchored just off shore. It was very sensuous and comfortable to look out over the Bay of Naples with a full belly, muscles a bit sore from our exertions, a glass of wine at hand, a lovely boy at your side.

Lookout posts at high points on the islands and promontories around the bay safeguarded us against slave raids by the Barbary pirates also known as Saracens. Whether with a cannon shot or by ringing a bell, they could warned seafarers in time to make for safe harbor. Coastal dwellers might take shelter in forts. Many of today's lighthouses on the Italian coastline originated in such lookout posts. I once walked out to one of them at Portofino on the Italian Riviera. The trip was memorable for the sudden storm which swept ashore and left me and my companions soaked, shivering, and battered by hail.

Idyll's End

And so passed fourteen years of an almost idyllic existence. I was prosperous and happy. I had helped my lover Andrea grow into a literate and well educated young man just short of thirty. That is when the differences in our ages came between us. It was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the fiction that I was young man a few years older than he, in my mid thirties by then, when I still looked like a boy in his late teens especially when I was asleep with all my defenses down and my usual subterfuges useless.

I can seldom stay for even twenty years with one identity or in one place since I do not age as others do. True, through theatrical tricks I can give the impression of getting older over the years, even without makeup. I change my style of clothing, from the casual dress of a youth to the flashy dress of a young man and then the more sober raiment of a maturing man. I speak differently too, first with the shaky unsure voice of a youth, then the confident voice of a young man full of himself, later in the more cautious and thoughtful speech of a man in his thirties.

I changed my hair styles too, from that of a tousled twink to the carefully groomed locks of a young man, to the shorter and more sober cut of a man no longer in his twenties. If I had any kind of beard at all, I might have grown first a mustache and then a full beard, though I really do not like facial hair. Andrea himself did affect a thin mustache in his mid twenties but he spared me the sight of the scraggly beard which would have been the best he could ever have managed. He remained slim and pretty even at thirty, but he no longer looked like a boy. I did.

My subterfuges can be effective for only so long. There is little point in relying on makeup except for very short term disguise. I spend far too much time in the nude exercising, sweating and swimming, cleaning my body in shower or bath to rely on such trickery as false crows' feet put on with ink or powders to make the hair turn grey at the temples. In my sleep my relaxed body looks especially youthful and vulnerable, as my lovers could plainly see.

It was time to move on and assume a new identity. I had decided that I could not trust Andrea with my secret. Not that he did not love me, but he was an incessant chatterbox and occasionally unintentionally indiscreet. Also his love might easily turn to resentment or even hatred if he realized that he would grow older every year eventually becoming grey haired and infirm while I stayed young, untouched by time. Few relationships can stand that sort of tension and jealousy. I have told my secret to very few and to lovers less often than to trusted friends.

So I secretly contrived to transfer my wealth to a 'cousin' in Venice, faked my own death at sea, and left Naples in disguise. My will provided handsomely for Andrea who, anyway, was already in business for himself as a wholesaler and distributor of fresh produce. The line of business was my suggestion, as was the initial investment, but the hard work and keen mercantile instincts were all his. I hated doing that to a fine man like Andrea, but I simply could not take the chance that he would keep my secret, so I could not take him with me when I started a new life in Venice. The saddest thing about never growing older is that you must eventually lose everyone you ever loved or befriended. Gods know many of them were more worthy of my gift than I.

Decades later I paid a visit to Rome to see the last stages of the construction of the dome of St. Peter's then nearing completion. At the entrance to the Vatican, I ran into Andrea Orsini, or rather he into me. He brushed aside my excuses for the uncanny resemblance I bore to the lover of his youth. He knew me for who I was, having recognized me instantly from behind just by my walk and build, then from my voice and speech mannerisms, even before I turned to look at who stood behind me.

He persuaded me that at his advanced age, my secret, whatever it might be, was safe. No one would believe a fantastic story from a doddering old man about an immortal youth. They would dismiss it as so much wishful thinking. I finally admitted the truth and explained why I was so afraid of being found out, that I would be tortured for the secret of immortality. Once men of power got a glimpse at immortality made flesh, they would insist that only obstinacy kept me silent even though nothing I said would ever convince them that I was the immortal of legend, Ganymede, cupbearer and beloved of Zeus.

With the wisdom that age brings, Andrea admitted that I had been right about him. With his talkative ways he very likely would have let something slip. Also, while it was one thing for him, at the end of his own long life, to accept my eternal youth, he might not have handled it so philosophically as a young man, feeling his own youth slip away bit by bit while I stayed forever young.

He told me that his life had been a rewarding one full of accomplishment and friendship and the satisfaction of his curiosity. I had helped him to get off to a good start and awakened him to the realm of books and ideas, for which he was grateful. Now, at the close of his life, his simple faith sustained him in the hope of eternal life to come and of seeing me again one day in Heaven. He was sure that whatever my doubts and lack of faith, I had earned my way into Heaven by good works. He assured me that my Olympians were really angels who took the guise of pagan gods because, growing up so many centuries before Christ, I could never have understood the Christian message.

I was so glad we had met again and that I had finally spoken the truth to him. I had loved him so very much back in Naples. So I was happy to confide in him and to spin my tales of adventure in both the New World and the Old. Maybe as a young man he could not have been trusted with my secret, but he was a worthy man in every other way. It meant so much to him that I was his Sandro returned one last time to see him off before he died. I stayed on in Rome for some weeks, visiting him daily, reminiscing, speculating on what the future held with a whole New World to explore. In the end I saw him buried at the cemetery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. He was eighty seven years old.

Only recently could I write about these things, choosing, out of caution, to cast them as fiction, a series of fanciful tales of an immortal youth written under a pseudonym. My secret is safe for no one in these days of modern science will believe it. In this tale, everything except the names is real. The events described really did happen just as I have written.

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