After an uninterrupted spell of a winter month or two here in Venice—all footsteps in the evening mist, and quiet conversation about the best way to cook pheasant, and a Neapolitan card game called “seven and a half—what one notices on arriving in London is the way women move. First of all, it’s the speed. Within the most madamed, to say nothing of pompadoured, porcelain leafiness of Chelsea and Knightsbridge, one is suddenly startled by the ku-klux-klan of the gunlock, stopcock, and clockwork to-ing and fro-ing associated with the streets of Manhattan in the bull days when young clerks, who called themselves bankers, first began walking to work wearing running shoes while carrying their walking shoes with them.

Secondly, it’s the angle, hi the streets of Italian cities, in Venice as in Florence or Rome, women move with a hyperbolic serenity, with that stochastic smoothness which flows from the notion of an easily and pleasurably achieved moral aim. The overall impression is that of the graceful Brownian swarming one expects to find at the threshold of an Oriental gateway, whether what lies beyond the gate is a mere sultan’s bedchamber or some heavenly paradise. I quote from the Second Sura of the Glorious Qur’an, which a Syrian girl called Hala once gave me for my birthday on the charming and solemn condition that I always keep it on the topmost shelf of my bookcase;

To each is a goal

To which he turns;

Then strive together

Towards all that is good.

Wheresoever ye are,

God will direct you.

This really is the philosophical layout of a typical piazza in an Italian town, a theatrical souk studded with busy cafes and encrusted with somnolent shops, where the chorus of women swirls through the ranks of seated, or at least contemplative, men like a jewelled comb through a storybook beauty’s hair. God is a good director. His productions are interesting.

By contrast, even in the King’s Road, Chelsea’s perennial tourist seraglio with a reputation for charivari, incense, and idleness surviving from another era, one rarely catches a glimpse of anything other than the abrupt zig of the angular shoulder and the nervous zag of the plastic mannequin head. My point is that, to men, women represent life, and I’ve grown tired of looking at life that is all jagged shards, as though in a smashed rearview mirror of a badly parked builder’s van. I wonder if this means I’ve finally grown tired of London.

The fashionable cinema in the King’s Road is showing a new American film called Charlie’s Angels. Ordinarily, in the history of the imagination of the world, East or West, angels belong to God and are God’s, but in Hollywood they are Charlie’s. Accordingly, on the film’s posters, the actresses chosen for the part of angels appear to be angular, scrawny, hostile, wingless, and frozen in the abortive indelicacy of a martial-arts pose. Please imagine a painting in which a divine messenger might be required to make an appearance, such as the Annunciation, and judge what sort of Virgin, and what kind of God, would be consistent with the face and the demeanor of one of these creatures. As though to complete the bestial conceit, the actresses have been photographed and celebrated in the press upon being presented to the Prince of Wales, heir to the throne and defender of the faith. Charlie’s angels, get it?

The mass image is so radically and incontrovertibly a new departure in the history of the Eternal Feminine that an Italian magazine has run a cover story on the emerging global trend masterminded by Hollywood toward un fisico bestiale, a bestial physique. The accompanying cry of dissent, an anguished counterclaim that “a noi piacciono sempre morbide” (we Italians still like them soft), is supported by a huge photo-still of the superstar of the moment—Monica Bellucci tutta curve—all curves, now appearing in Giuseppe Tornatore’s film Maléna, a story of seduction set in Sicily that has been setting box-office records here. In the picture. Miss Bellucci is clad in the nostalgic and intricate armor of femininity that brings to mind the Raymond Chandler phrase “cute as lace pants.”

It is interesting to note that all the places where women have cast off womanhood down to the last, seventh veil, such as the United States, Germany, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, are famous for both the production and the proliferation of pornography. The places where women continue to exhibit the hyperbolic serenity of which I speak, such as France, Italy, and the rest of the Mediterranean countries verging on the Muslim world, are equally famous for the design and manufacture of women’s clothes, including lace pants, which is a much bigger industry than pornography. In other words, no sooner does the woman publicly declare herself free to become a judge, a priest, or a banker than publicly she is made to strip naked. Whereas—in the absence of such a vociferous declaration—while in fact being perfectly free to judge, pray, or bank as she wishes, the woman is a protected object of cultural veneration and a mainstay of the national economy.

I’m neither flirting with Islamic fundamentalism nor affecting the barroom habits of thought now called “male chauvinism.” I’m merely doing what I have done since coming to Italy, using the modern, changing London as a foil for my increasingly real life here. My friend Andriana M— is a Venetian in her 70’s, but in the foggy aftermath of a supper I gave for her, she found no fewer than three telephone numbers inside her handbag, all slipped in there by rather younger men who were so taken by her beauty, her charm, and her wit that they had forgotten that a liter of Russky Standart, even when chased down with pickled mushrooms, marinated herrings, and sturgeon caviar, divides into two with most remarkable consequences. My neighbor Donatella A— is only half a generation behind, yet so luminous is her face, so serene her movement, and so hypnotic her whole dynamic silhouette that it is not uncommon for men of almost any age to freeze, openmouthed, while watching her cross Campo S. Stefano in the company of a golden retriever. And Stella C—, a young mother, tragically widowed, vestal, with the face of a Cimabue Madonna, is somebody to whom I imagine an absolute stranger will one day propose, on bended knee, with a small bouquet of mainland daisies and a diamond rivière from Chatila of Old Bond Street and Rue du Rhône, in the middle of a crowded vaporetto during the lunchtime rush hour.

Such are the human types whose fascination I can never see waning, and the streets of London now strike me—as the streets of Manhattan did 20, and more than 20, years ago—as almost completely bereft of the life they represent. They are the actresses who have been auditioned by God, the director, and chosen to play the part of the angels in an action film without an opening sequence, whose final meaning is civilization. They are now being blacklisted, pushed out, and replaced by Charlie’s globally projected inventions, with the immediate prospect of barbarizing mankind more effectively than any religious fanaticism or political doctrine. For what all the artifacts of civilization—our basilicas and our railways stations, our iconic Madonnas and our reclining odalisques, our farthingales and our lace pants—ever had in common was that they made up a spectacle worth watching. Well, no more, says Hollywood. No more, repeats Madison Avenue. No more, echoes the King’s Road.

This is why the women’s movement is all wrong. Un fisico bestiale and a boring, boring director.