Pittsburgh women are the most beautiful women in the world. I think it’s got to do with mongrel vitality — the ethnic mix, the Slavic cheekbones, the Celtic complexion, the Italian drama, but it’s also their vitality, the kind that is always prized in the shtetl, their honesty, their straightforwardness, an earthy connection to here and now that makes them stride down the sidewalk like that, just blowing everyone away. It’s not their perfection, but their sheer humanity. As Old Bunny Wilson wrote about one of his characters "Here, in Daisy, is the real vital Pittsburgh: frank, vulgar, humorous, human!" They may not be fashionable but they’re sharp, they seem to notice and inhale everything, and even as they hunger for life, eating Kielbasas and Klondikes, downing Peppermint Schnapps and Iron City Pilsner Beer, having a messy quick one on a coat covered bed at a party in Oakland or Natrona Heights, they understand and transcend their own appetites. These are people, after all, whose ancestors have come from all over the world to be able to work and to love here.
But wasn’t that me losing it about Pittsburgh again, losing my perspective in the reflections of these old memories? After all, I’d met the two most beautiful women I’d ever met in Pittsburgh — did that really mean that Virginia and Heather were two of the most beautiful women in the world? It’s possible, surely, to have a few of them in the same place, in art at least, goddesses sitting on a fence to be judged by a rustic shepherd.
Imagine how I felt when I recognized Virginia’s face in a Botticelli painting in the National Gallery, or Heather’s sly, stoned smile as she lay next to a narghile among Delacroix’s Women of Algiers in the Louvre. But was it such a good idea to turn away from the representation and look back at the thing itself? You could call it the Temptation of Perseus, couldn’t you – the impulse to glance from the polished shield to Medusa’s face — Medusa herself having begun as a world class beauty and ended up with snakes for hair and unmatched ability to get you stoned.
And weren’t there always three goddesses? Even though I only knew her half as well, Nancy, Miller’s one time girlfriend, surely qualified as at least "outstanding" on the national level of teen pulchritude, certified as such by no less an authority than Seventeen magazine, which had printed a breathtaking photograph of her long ago. But in the end Nancy had fallen, like our mutual friends George and Tommy, away from youthful brilliance and into the dark part of the picture, among the gallery of chiaroscuro faces I wasn’t sure I wanted to see.