My friend Lisa, Professor of Romance Languages and ever the romantic, convinced herself that the handsome, faintly melancholy Spanish waiter at her favorite restaurant was bearing up bravely under the weight of a secret tragedy. She telephoned me with the news.
"The manager told me his last name is Hidalgo. He's probably from a family that came down in the world. Wait till you see him, Kate. Such poise. His posture is a thing of beauty--dignified, proud--but his manner is tinged with a kind of--how to put it--delicacy."
Here we go again, Lisa as Lady Chatterley. Handsome, young immigrant speakers of Romance languages, always a decade her junior, were not safe with Lisa. To begin with, she invested them with qualities they did not possess, or if they did, they were apparent to no one else.
Lisa invariably asked them to dinner at her apartment, inviting me as a sort of chaperone, to reassure them, I suppose, that her intentions were honorable.
I recalled, with chagrin, the Cuban car salesman, who had a melodious voice that did nothing to enrich his monologues about world government, stock market swindles, and the dangers of derivatives. Lisa tactfully taught him to engage in non-threatening dialogues with an expression of interest.
The French travel agent was without a doubt a daintier feeder than the Italian baker (whose table manners Lisa had improved considerably), but the Frenchman was much more complacent about his charms than he had a right to be. I said none of this to Lisa, only suggested that her lousy Latin lovers had not contributed in any way to her peace of mind and that she might be looking in the wrong places for love.
"No, no, no. I'm through with love. I realize now that it's never been about love. It's a different impulse altogether. I think it's embedded in our psyches, yet we usually manage to suppress it because it's so often misunderstood."
"You lost me at 'different impulse,' Lisa."
"Consider 'My Fair Lady.'
"The musical? The movie? Okay. I'm considering it. Considering them."
"Remember the last act: the professor of speech and his Cockney pupil marry--but that didn't happen in Shaw's original stage play, which was about two other things."
Lisa cleared her throat and fell silent.
I played along. "Don't keep me in suspense."
"Shaw was a socialist all his life, and he never missed a chance to lecture the ruling class, so he has Professor Higgins transform a poor Cockney flower girl into a lady of fashion through the simple expedient of giving her diction lessons."
"Is that what you were doing with the lousy Latin lovers?"
"I was teaching them to speak acceptable American English, if that's what you mean."
"But they weren't willing to let it go at that?"
Lisa ignored my question and continued. "Shaw called his play 'Pygmalion.' Do you see what I'm getting at?"
In a snippy summary, Lisa informed me that in the Greek legend, Pygmalion sculpted a woman in ivory and fell in love with the statue he had created.
"In the Greek legend," I protested, "Aphrodite brought the statue to life and Pygmalion married it. Married her. It looks like Shaw's adapters had the original legend or--or whatever it is--more deeply embedded in their psyches than Shaw did."
Not missing a beat, Lisa said, "But Shaw saw through the ending. He saw it as a sop to the groundlings. The heart of the legend is that artists create so they can fall in love with their creations."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, " I said, "but you're implying that you have plans to sculpt and polish your new protégé without bedding him."
"Yes. It's an experiment. The drama of parting takes too much out of me. I'll keep you posted."
Lisa did keep me posted. I was never invited to dinner as a chaperone, but I kept hearing about how quick, lively, and appreciative Enrique Hidalgo was. Lisa confessed that the charming things he did and said sometimes made her almost melt with tenderness, but she was determined not to succumb this time. He was not going to seduce her. Like Professor Higgins, she would send her creation into the world and walk away.
It didn't work, of course. Enrique was deeply offended when Lisa rejected his amorous advances, and the drama of parting was more intense than ever: "You do not wish to make love with me because you think I am beneath you, because I am not your social equal."
"He thought you were Lady Chatterley?"
"I don't know what he thought. I tried hard to be a good Professor Higgins, but I must have missed something."
"If you don't mind my explaining Lisa to Lisa," I said, "with the exception of Enrique, you were never Professor Higgins. For the whole crew of lousy Latin lovers, you were Aphrodite."