I came back from the Toronto Film Festival with the card on my mind. I called Chaz and invited her to attend the Lyric Opera, which I’d subscribed to a year earlier because Danny Newman, the Lyric’s press agent, had stood in my office door and said, “A man like you not going go the Lyric, you should be ashamed.” Chaz, who later told me she never expected to hear from me again, said, “Actually, I’m on the women’s board of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.” I said I loved the Symphony, but I had, cough, subscription seats at the Lyric for Monday night. The opera was “Tosca.” She said it was her favorite. “Does that scare you?” “No,” I said, “why should it?” At the time I knew nothing about “Tosca.”
We went to dinner afterwards at a restaurant in Greek Town. Something happened. She had a particular quality. She didn’t seem to be a “date” but an equal. She knew where she stood, and I found that attractive. I was going out to Los Angeles a few days later, and I asked her to come along. We formed a serious bond rather quickly. It was an understood thing. I was in love, I was serious, I was ready for my life to change. I had been on hold too long. She lived on the 82nd floor of the Hancock Center and started sending me daily e-mails, even after we’d seen each other earlier the same evening. Her love letters were poetic, idealistic and often passionate. I responded as a man and a lover. As a newspaperman, I observed she never, ever, made a copy-reading error. I saved every one of her letters along with my own, and have them encrypted on my computer, locked inside a file where I can’t reach them because the program and the operating system are now 20 years out of date. But they’re in there. I’m not about to entrust them to anyone at the Apple Genius Counter.
Our lives grew together. One day in May at the Cannes Film Festival we rented a car and drove over to San Remo in Italy to visit the grave of Edward Lear, and on the way back we stopped in Monte Carlo and in a cafe over coffee I proposed marriage. Why did I choose Monte Carlo, a place I have no desire to ever see again? I should have chosen London or Venice or for that matter Chicago. I wasn’t thinking in those terms. We were sitting there talking in a little cafe at the end of a happy day and I became overwhelmed with the desire to propose marriage. Chaz filled my mind. She excited me physically. She was funny. She made a reading of my life rather quickly, understood what I did and how I had to do it, and after I proposed marriage she resigned as a lawyer because I wanted her to travel more than she would otherwise be able to.
We had times together I will always remember. Right after our first Christmas together, we flew to Venice, where I promised Chaz it would be rainy, cold, deserted, and we would have it all to ourselves. That was how I’d first seen Venice in 1966, and it was the same. It was romantic, sleeping late in the Royal Danelli and then waking up and making love and looking out across the Grand Canal. The hotel was half empty, the rooms a fraction of the summer cost. The city was shrouded in mist and always haunting. Romance in the winter in Venice is intimate and private, almost hushed. One night we went to the Municipal Casino, carefully taking only as much money as we were ready to lose, and we lost it. In a little restaurant we had enough left for spaghetti with two plates, and then lacked even the fare for the canal waterbus. We walked the long way back through the night and cold, our arms around each other, figures appearing out of the fog, lights traced on the wet stones, pausing now and again to kiss and be solemn. It was one of those experiences that seals a marriage.