The Playboy

Most babies seem to go through stages in how they interact with other humans: early on, they cling to parents and other familiar people, but are interested in strangers and don’t seem to imagine that anything in the world wants to hurt them. Then they become more cautious and reserved for a while.

Then there’s the flirty stage. Our daughter at age 15 months was out to charm the world, and she was very, very good at it. She knew full well how to deploy her big, brown eyes and rich, deep laugh. She could get adults who usually showed no interest in children to play with her for hours.

One such occasion was our going-away party when we were leaving New Haven (where Enrico had completed his PhD in mathematics at Yale) to move to Milan. Friends and colleagues came by for drinks, food, and talk.

One guest was a man who, while being a post-doctoral student in mathematics, also embodied the cliché Greek playboy – right down to wearing turtlenecks with jackets. He was (probably still is) smooth and handsome, and had boasted about his amorous conquests worldwide.

Ross, smiling and burbling, had him wrapped around her little finger. He sat on the floor and played with her, utterly entranced. At some point he seemed to realize that we were all watching him with deep amusement. He looked up from the floor.

“You’re going to have real trouble with this one someday,” he prophesied. Then, after a second: “Oh, not with me!”

Karma has had its revenge for his womanizing ways: he later became the father of three daughters.

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