First the Handsome Stranger, Then the Dirty Dishes


St. Paul, Minnesota. -- I have decided I am not going to see the movie version of "The Bridges of Madison County."

Not just because it is an egregiously written book. There are plenty of egregiously written books around; purists sniff at this one just because it sold so dang many. I've never read the whole thing, just a magazine excerpt, but it struck me as the sort of thing Rod McKuen might do with prose if he had had a lot of caffeine.

No, I'm not going to see the movie version of "Bridges" because I don't think I can take another movie version of right-person, wrong-time passion. The last time I went to see a movie like that it was "The Age of Innocence." I had longed to see this adaptation of Edith Wharton's elegant novel, one of my favorites. The sets were luscious, the acting luminous. I loved it.

Afterward, I sat in my car and cried like a baby.

It was that final scene that did it -- if you haven't seen it yet, don't read any further -- when Daniel Day Lewis just sits there on a bench in Paris. Decades have passed since he lost his heart in a right-person, wrong-time romance. Now, the love of his life is upstairs in a nearby apartment building. Finally, they both are free to love each other and yet -- he doesn't go to her.

"Come on, man, get a move on!" I urged him from my movie seat, even though I had read the book several times. He didn't move.

That's the way of movie right-person, wrong-time romances. People just sit there and suffer. In real life, people get off the park bench and go upstairs. They plead, they argue, they compromise, they promise and they take a go at it.

L And they turn things into right-person, right-time romances.

I suppose that's why there are so few movies about committed relationships, unless you count the ones where one of the lovers is dying of a terminal illness. There's just not enough snap, crackle and pop in the day-to-day of a relationship to make for a sizzling screenplay.

According to one review of "Bridges," the big scene occurs when Francesca explains that her life of details -- her husband, her children, her home -- will prevent her from running off with the handsome stranger who has invaded her life for four days. I suspect the real reason she didn't leave had to do with the knowledge that even with the handsome stranger, life ultimately would revert to those workaday details.

Eventually, someone would have to do the laundry and take out the garbage. That's the problem with those handsome strangers; after you get to know them, you end up with their dirty dishes.

My husband and I keep house together and we differ on the details. I could walk on a floor so sticky that your feet struggle to make each step; for some reason, it's a messy kitchen counter that makes me feel unkempt. He sweeps maniacally -- well, by my standards, anyway -- but could live with months of mail on that stupid counter.

So when I swept the floor the other night, it was an act of marital fealty, one of those important details that add up.

I was ruminating about all this last weekend while I was in my car when I looked up to see a bright yellow sports car in the lane ahead of me. The words "Just Married" had been painted on the back windshield. As the car turned onto the highway exit ramp, I could just make out the large heart someone had drawn on the front windshield.

I wondered to myself how long it would be before that couple invested in a four-door sedan like mine. The sports car blended in with traffic and then I lost sight of it.

PD Katherine Lanpher is a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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