This is not a finished product but it is copyrighted so please leave my rights to this alone. I feel I am really exposing myself here, so please in your commentary refrain from being judgmental (or mean).
“180 Chess Games at the Green Pub”
“Wanted in Rome”
The voyage of discovery is not
In seeking new landscapes
But in having new eyes.
She just left me sitting there. She said I was an ugly, loud American. She said she was embarrassed to be seen with me. There I sat on my first night in Rome. Alone.
Jennifer was a volatile little person. As I look back, I remember her big red face, sprinkled with spots from too much Italian sun; she was a veritable toad, croaking insults at me. She slammed her fists on the table, where we were about to be served dinner, threw her chair behind her and stomped off, with a trail of huff and sweat behind.
I sat there with a “mezzo litro” of vino with food already ordered; I wondered what I had said that had made her so angry with me.
That was not how I imagined my first trip to Italy. One travels to Italy and envisions charming ivy covered buildings, cobbled alleyways, lovely piazzas and the scent of basil and garlic permeating the air. I, just like any traveler to Italy imagined the atmosphere to be epiphanal and romantic. And if one is also traveling with a friend one also expects companionship. When Jennifer hopped off in a peeve, I was left with none of those notions. I just felt afraid and lost. I did not speak Italian and really had no idea where I was, no map, no sense of direction and no sweater either. I was just somewhere in Rome with the eminent chill of night encroaching.
The sun was beginning to set and I was equipped with only one comfort. Jennifer had to go straight back to the hotel because…. I HAD THE KEYS! There was a curfew at the pensione where we were staying and I grinned knowingly when I realized I could continue my evening in Rome without her.
I ate my pizza. Something about eating pizza in Italy is just a little better than eating it anywhere else. I embraced that feeling while I chewed, despite being completely alone. But I was also focused on my appearance. I looked all wrong by Italian standards. I simply did not have “la bella figura.” My blue cotton shirt was stained from 2 days of wear and now dribbled with tomato sauce too. I was wearing a black skirt, which had a hole in the hip and showed a corner of my underwear. My footwear was also lacking as I had on quintessential tourist shoes – flip-flops. Not to mention at this point I had mascara smeared down my cheeks and I had my dirty hair balled up on top of my head, which looked like a dead hamster. I felt no beauty inside or out yet I was in Rome.
I finished my pizza. (You know, I think I should share with you the exquisiteness of this pizza so you can get the full effect of how delicious it was: tiny thin crust, delicate and perfectly browned coupled with the perfect amount of pizza sauce and fresh garlic. The cheese on top was a combination of Mozzarella and Pecorino, so it had a little kick and I ordered it with spicy sausage on top. Oh it was melt in your mouth perfection – IF ONLY I HAD SOMEONE WITH WHICH TO SHARE IT!!! So with my pizza and my loneliness, I downed the rest of my wine, folded up my napkin neatly and placed it next to my empty plate. I looked down at my stomach, which, since coming to Europe had grown two sizes and took a contemplative deep breath. The waiter removed my plate and brought the bill, which I paid without considering the cost. I started to think about how I had just been wronged and I swear I could feel my blood boil. In my resignation to loneliness I decided to smoke a cigarette. I lit it, the first drag always the most coveted and enjoyable, gave me a bit of comfort as the smoke curled around my face. Well, maybe not comfort but it did cease my nicotine withdrawals and I felt calmer and less furious.
I got up from the table and began to walk. The pizzeria I had gone to was on a tiny street called Via Baccino – funny, “Baccino” means little kiss and I had just been slapped in the face. The irony of life kills me.
As I walked northbound with no idea where I was – a rose seller bombarded me. He was slimy and smarmie looking with a scent that was really more like dirty sock funk. He was also extremely short. He had greasy skin and black wiry hair on his head. He followed me for quite a while before having the audacity to sidle up beside me. As I walked I could feel his lecherous eyes and I could hear his lips smacking as though he was devising a plan to capture me and then roast me on a spit before devouring me. I was really scared at this point. And I looked down to study my inappropriate attire again, I felt naked. I cursed Jennifer over and over again, aloud. “That bitch, that bitch.” As I spoke the strange man put his hand on my shoulder. I could feel my heart beating faster and my upper lip curled with fear as it began to collect sweat beads. I began to panic and in an effort to stave off this freak, I cursed, spitting and shaking, screaming insanely. My plan backfired and the man with the roses became more predatory but I continued to walk.
It was completely dark outside and I had no idea where I was or where I should go. As I walked the fear I was having felt like a hand around my throat and I turned to the man in utter hatred and anger and swore at him in the only Italian I knew, “Che Katzo Fai?” In asking him, with a raised voice again, what the fuck he was doing it apparently scared him enough to make him back off. He gave up his slimy pursuit, walked away and tears began to stream down my face. I cried more out of anger than fear and then I began to walk at a voracious clip. Where I was going was anyone’s guess. I turned left and rounded a corner to another small alley.
Lights, music, laughter. I had found a haven and was desperate for a drink. I went in and sat at the bar. By this time it was 11:00 pm and people were out. I found a bit of comfort even though most everyone was Italian. I ordered a beer and sipped it. I lit a cigarette and as I did the man next to me asked if he could have one too. He was American. Thank God! My own kind. He smacked his hand on my shoulder and started to spring forth with a dramatic and passionate Shakespeare recitation. I think he was doing Henry V but the background noise of the bar was so loud, I couldn’t hear him. He told me to follow him outside. When he stood up, he was very tall. But not “ho-hum” tall, I mean he was really freakin’ tall. We went outside and he started his Shakespearean oration over again. When he was finished, I clapped and he bowed. I took out my little sticker camera and we started snapping away. Self portraits, which he insisted upon --where then I had proof of how really hideous I looked, especially next to this very tall, elegant, green eyed man.
I asked him his name.
“Will Gunn,” he said, eyes twinkling with intoxication from a little too much liquor. “But sometimes people call me Sir Will.”
I chuckled and fished in my head for something clever to say.
“Oh, how gallant.”
He just looked at me and blinked, expressionless. Obviously he thought me neither clever nor witty. I felt dumb and even uglier than I did before I had said anything; troll-ish.
I continued to listen to Shakespeare via Sir Will and eventually we ventured back inside the bar.
Once inside, I met a girl Will was there with named Stacey. Although she was a tad bit snooty she was very forthcoming with information about her life in Rome. She asked me how I liked the city and I said it was lovely. When I continued to tell about my travels in Italy, Will interjected, “You can easily live here on fifteen hundred dollars a month.” I shifted my gaze his way as I digested the information. I thought to myself, “huh, I could totally live in another country.”
While I mentally romanticized life in a foreign land, Will cracked out with more Shakespeare. When he finished I was ready to go. It wasn’t the Shakespeare that drove me out of the place. It was however, the nagging exhaustion headache. I was simply tired and ready for sleep.
I asked Will and Stacey if they had ever heard of Hotel Coronet. Will went to say something but instead looked down at the floor where I assumed he was thinking of how to give me directions.
As I waited for him to speak up again I studied him.
Lots of freckles, they peppered his nose and gave him a boyish/manly look. He had tiny perfect nose and a beautiful smile with straight white teeth. He had great hair too, nice smooth texture without any trace of balding or gray. It was floppy in front, which was endearing. He was well dressed too, a nice pair of khakis with a green-stripped Oxford shirt and a white undershirt and a cool pair of black shoes.
As my study of him drew to an end, he flipped his hair from his eyes and ran his fingers through it. He said he didn’t know where that specific pensione was. I thanked him anyway and left Will and Stacey with a “ciao” and their drinks.
I walked around Rome some more having no idea where the hell I was or how to get back to where I was staying and still furious with Jennifer. After a two-hour trek in the middle of Rome and in the middle of the night in flip-flops without a sweater, I finally found the pensione in which we were staying. I unlocked the huge ancient wood doors and slowly walked up the stairs to the floor I was housed on. Oh I could feel my head pounding with anger at my “friend.” I unlocked the door and walked into our charming room. It had great huge windows that looked onto a private garden. The garden was embellished with trellises and walls of geraniums and a huge square of grass and other flowers. Little benches sat facing a trickling fountain and the moon was so full that the entire courtyard shone. It was a truly romantic scene. But my feelings of romance and peace had been stolen by my utter rage.
My feet were black with Roman filth and with no care to be quiet I took a long shower. I climbed into bed wondering what the next day would bring my way.
Jennifer rose for the day before me. She clanked and noised around the place twittering with this bag and that shoe. I was obviously not asleep anymore. So I woke too. As she was walking out the door she squeezed some words out of her small, potato shaped mouth which was attached to her medium sized potato shaped body.
“Are you going to have breakfast with me and see this city or are you still pissed off?” I suppose I was in a forgiving mood because I wordlessly got up and dressed and away we went, together. But I was still very angry. What was my choice, though?
We walked up to Piazza Venezia (insert map of this part of city or picture of wedding cake here) and up again the full length of Via del Corso all the way to Piazza del Popolo. We sat next to the giant obelisk in the middle of the Piazza and noiselessly sunbathed. After fifteen minutes of rest I wanted to see more. So we climbed some stairs and found a view of St. Peter’s above Piazza del Popolo. After sighing at the view we found a grassy, shady spot to sit down. Jennifer and I were still not talking but as I lay back on the grass, I just didn’t care anymore. My anger sneaked away as I sipped at the magic of Rome. I was falling in love with this ethereal city. It had a spirit indefinable with words. I am sure as I lay there that day that there were gnomes and faeries about. I was part of them.
I sat up with a joy I had never experienced and watched Jennifer as she picked small lavender flowers. I had forgiven her but I would not forget how she abandoned me. We sat there still silent and soaked up our surroundings. It was a warm June day and there were Italians all around us. A family to our left was picnicking. Only Italians would enjoy the outdoors in Gucci or Prada, but I think the mother was actually in Chanel. They were a handsome family with a little girl in a stroller and a large spotted dog. They were laughing and chatting and I envied the ease of their life.
As I turned away from the family to pick some flowers, the dog trotted over to Jennifer and me. It flailed past me with a huge toothy grin and an accompanying floppy tongue to sniff out Jennifer. I apparently was not as interesting as she was. The dog sniffed and sniffed at Jen’s back. I just watched quizzically. I thought it unusual that a strange dog would bound, happily over to an unknown human. The dog sniffed and sniffed and sniffed and suddenly found just the right scent. The right scent enough for the dog to lift its leg and pee on Jennifer’s back. It was difficult to keep my laughter under wraps so I decided to throw all niceties away and burst into uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. Jen stood up screaming, half on the brink of tears, thrashing her arms around and jumping up and down. It seemed as though everything was going in slow motion. Her hair was bouncing as she did and her body was angry all over. The magic spell of peace and solace was broken then and I got up to go as she ran away in disbelief from the dirty Italian canine. I know this sounds crazy but that dog made me love Rome all the more. Payback’s a bitch, huh?
After the dog incident we made our way back to the pensione via Piazza Navona. Insert map of walk from piazza del popolo to pensione
It was high tourist season in Rome already despite it being only June. It was Jubilee year though and people from all over the world made the pilgrimage to see the pope. Once we finally arrived back in our room, I was glad to be away from the crowds on the streets. We made it our occupation to pack our bags and get ready for our departure from the Eternal City. We readied ourselves just in time for afternoon check out and hiked up Via Cavour to Stazione Termini. Jennifer and I exchanged false niceties and went our ways. She boarded a train headed for Florence and I boarded an express train for Fiumicino Airport. It signified the end of my European travel and as the train chugged and the Centro Storico became more distant, a tear rolled down my freckled cheek.
I missed the flight in Paris. I was armed only with a skirt, t-shirt and flip flops still. And unfortunately it was about 40 degrees. After a long and very cold evening in Paris, I made it back home to California.
“Boredom is not an end product, is
Comparatively rather an early stage in life and art.
You’ve got to go by or past or through boredom,
As through a filter, before the clear product emerges.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald -The Great Gatsby
I arrived back in the states after a whirlwind of a European adventure. I was armed with a dream of returning to Italy to live. But I was also hindered by an overwhelming sense of sudden boredom.
As I was finishing up with the customs officers, I spied my sister waiting for me at the corner of my eye. My thoughts of Italy and boredom left me as my excitement of seeing my sissy gave me good feelings. I was really excited to see her and was looking forward to telling her of my escapades.
I was dragging all around. My hair was disheveled, having not been washed in three days. It was a rats nest in back where my head was smashed against the airplane seat. My clothes were stained and stinky from days of wear. My feet were filthy as though I had been wearing no shoes for several weeks. My breath smelled like the bottom of a dirty fish tank and tasted equally as bad. My eyes were red and stingy and mascara was making me look as though someone had punched me. I had crusty, dried snot on either nostril and a headache from hell. I barely had enough energy to drag my luggage behind me. I looked like Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant. A mess.
I greeted Madison and made her laugh, “Maddie, Do you think I’ll get a date this way?” She gave me a chuckle and a big hug. It was nice to be on American soil. She went to get the car and I waited curbside for her to come back, exhausted and anticipating our arrival to the house.
Mad and I chatted for the two hours it took us to get home from San Francisco. I told her about Jennifer leaving me at the dinner table and the wonderful time I had with Stacey and will despite having to navigate Rome without Jen.
After I told Madison the story, her mouth dropped with shock and I thought she was gonna jump through the windshield from anger. She was pissed off to say the least that this girl would treat me so badly. I calmed her down however and told her about the rest of my trip.
I told her about the Boboli Gardens (photo) in Florence. (I want to get married there.) I told her about St. Germain and the Rue de Pantheon in Paris (photo). I Exclaimed about Ischia (photo) a beautiful little Mediterranean island off the coast of Naples. And I gushed for the duration of the drive about Rome. Maddie had already seen all the places I had just mentioned except Rome. It was so difficult to articulate the ethereal mysticism of Rome. I know that sounds really geeky to say, “the ethereal mysticism of Rome,” but I am not really sure how else to put it. To articulate exactly how the place made me feel seems impossible.
Listen, I was going to go on and on here about what I did when I came back from that trip to Europe but I simply cant be bothered and besides you would be so bored with it.
My life was plain old boring. Same car, same house, same job, no man…yadda, yadda, yadda. I worked for my Dad at his medical clinic, where he was head medical doctor. I was the manager and although I learned all about different drugs and practices there was something missing. I was still young but I felt trapped, caged and old. I saved money for two years while I worked for dad. Kept my eyes on the prize so to speak. My prize would be Rome and it took two years to finally realize the plan to move.
When September 11 happened, my entire plan was scrapped. I was eager to get to a new a country and try out a new life but my sense of patriotism was overwhelming. Instead of leaving for Rome in late September, I decided to postpone my trip until the New Year.
My grand dad called me and although we had had no previous relationship he clearly thought enough about me to call and ask that I stay in the country a bit longer. “Honey, Rome will not be going anywhere.” And he was right. He had been in WWII and was a pilot for the Navy. He participated in D Day and was honest about his experiences. “War sucks, kiddo.” I couldn’t believe my ears. This man was completely enamored by the sophistication of Europe and for him to ask me to stay in the states had to mean something. I wasn’t too swayed, however and my final decision did not come until I talked to Flan.
I had been best friends with the Flannery girls for as long as I could remember. Three Irish sisters: The oldest, Mary, a gorgeous, tall blonde; Bridget, the middle, A.K.A. Flan – a truncation of her last name which suited her long, ringletted hair and personality – an “I will take no shit” type of character; and the youngest, Kate, the nuttiest and most entertaining.
I stopped by Flan and Mary’s house one evening after work to get their input on the situation. “Should I stay or should I go now?” I mean the Clash had the question in one, really.
I walked in the front door and all three girls were planted in front of the telly with their elbows on their knees and their faces between their hands. All three of them had tears in their eyes. I was somber too and all of us together made a sorry sight. My sister arrived shortly after I did and all of us gathered in front of CNN.
We watched silently for a few hours. None of us even got up to use the loo. Until, finally, Flan broke the silence. She looked at me as she rose off the couch. She walked near me to get around the couch and put her hand on my shoulder. I looked up at her and she motioned for me to go outside with her. Her hair bounced behind her sleek frame and I followed.
We pulled her iron chairs out from under the matching table. Flan propped hers perfectly out of the setting sun. I just pulled mine far enough away from the table that my legs wouldn’t be crunched next to anything and plopped myself down and crossed my legs.
She lit a cigarette and offered me one. I pulled hard on the first drag and looked into the sky wondering about my countries future. Then Flan began to speak, meaningfully, “Brynn.”
She paused and took another drag from her cigarette. She put her hand gently on my knee, an unusual gesture from her, to say the very least. Bridget was not the warmest person in the world. We very seldom hugged each other or touched each other. Every now an again we gave the gratuitous hug. But she never offered up a gesture like her hand on my knee. This was a tender expression from her and because we nearly never touched each other, clearly, she meant to get my attention.
I drew from my tab too and looked at her, concealing my surprise at her physical stirring. I smiled at her.
“What, you nerd?” We frequently showed our affection to one another by calling each other nerd, jerk, bitch, asshole and the more abrasive, cunt. Seems odd that we would abuse each other with these expletives but it worked and we liked it. It’s how we knew we liked each other, it is what indicated to us that we were on the same page.
She smiled at me and still held her hand steady on my knee. Something was definitely up. I furrowed my brow and waited for her to say something.
“I know it is not my place to say this, Brynn, but I have been thinking about your move abroad.”
“Have you picked a date to come and visit me?”
She smiled and continued, “No, I haven’t been thinking of coming to visit you I have been thinking only about your leaving your home, your family and me.”
I blinked in disbelief at her and all the while her hand was still on my knee.
“I think you should hold off on your trip for a little while. I mean, B, you have got to think about it. Our country is having major problems right now. Do you really think it is wise to be in another country, so far from everyone you love, while we face war with the Middle East?”
To be honest, I couldn’t believe what she was saying. Actually I don’t think I even understood what she was saying. “What are you saying, Bridget?”
“Jesus, do I have to spell it out for you.” There was some real heat in her tone then.
“Obviously you do, because I don’t think you are supporting me in my decision to leave.”
“Brynn, please don’t go, at least not yet. Can you wait until the new year?”
She was really caring about my well being. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. We had been friends for 20 years. I sat back in my chair and stomped out my cigarette. She had at that moment removed her hand from my leg and I looked at her.
“Aw, Bridge, thanks for giving a shit. It’s funny you should mention it. Gramps called the other day to say the same thing.”
“He did? He never calls you.”
“I know, weird, huh?”
“What did you say to him when he asked you to stay home.”
“I told him the same thing I am going to tell you, I’ll think about it.”
“Tell me tomorrow if you decide to go or not.”
She was making a joke and it was cute. Her urgency for me to decide the biggest adventure of my life amused me. I said ok.
I did sleep on it. This was a decision I really had to think about. I didn’t want to be hasty about anything. I went back to the girls’ house the next night and while I was sitting on the patio with a fag in my mouth, I had an overwhelming feeling of doom and dread. We had still been watching CNN. And all of us felt quite desperate about the state of the country and the poor people who lost fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and grandparents. Even us all the way out here on the west coast felt the pain that our country felt. I think the whole “free” world must’ve felt some sort of grief. How could humanity not? The devil himself had just massacred 5,000 people in our country, without warning or seeable motivation.
As I sat there, I grew very cheerless and knew what my decision had to be.
The next few days were nearly unbearable for me. I had to get all kinds of things done before my leave date. The most important thing was to change my ticket so that I could leave in January instead of October like originally planned.
A dark cloud of disappointment was lingering above me. I was psyching myself out to get up in the sky after the tragedy. Now I was bracing myself to wait in my own country for 3 more months.
The travel agent, Angel, input her opinion about my postponement, she, too, agreed that I should wait until a more even social climate. She thought January was a good month to go because travel is at a minimum and I would get a prime seat on the plane. She definitely thought like a travel agent. I appreciated her wisdom in the industry.
The ticket change chore was complete. I hung my head in sorrow. I think I needed to put right the discontent of having to change the plans.
Ch. 4 “The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”
I called my sister straight away for some comfort.
My sister had always been my best support. Of course as close as we always had been, there were times that our relationship was equally volatile.
Madison had hair the color of honey and her skin matched. Her eyes would change color with whatever she was wearing. And her mind was so well developed that she sometimes thought faster than her words would come out and it made her seem inarticulate. If she slowed down, though, she would arrive at the most interesting and profound thoughts. She is someone who I frequently looked to for support and this postponement was as good a time as any to get some of her valuable guidance.
“Brynn, why do you sound so shitty?”
I couldn’t hold the tears back and as I sobbed I went through the story of changing my ticket.
“Maddie, I just changed my ticket and I feel completely sad.”
“Oh, Sissy, I am so sorry. But you must have faith that everything happens for a reason.”
“You could still go on your planned date. Why let these demons control your life and the way you want to live it, does that seem fair to you….”
I could tell she was getting on the soapbox. Sometimes when she started her spiel, she would bark on and on and on all about her opinion and how the rightness of he world had been wronged.
And she continued, “just go anyway, get back to the travel agency and get your ticket back.”
Her voice was elevating in tone. Higher and higher it went, it was killing me…and what I really needed from her at this point was nothing but support and her shouting was making drift off to a nice deserted tropical island in my mind.
I finally shouted back, “Oi, Maddie, you are upsetting me. I need you to be cool right now.”
There was no turning back now. I let her go on for a little while and then tried gently to shut her up.
“Maddie, I have to go.”
“Why? You wanted to talk a minute ago. What is the problem now? I am trying to help you. You called and wanted to talk so I am talking about your choice to not go on your trip until January.”
“Well, I am in heavy traffic on I-5.” I lied. I was actually in a copy shop.
“Oh, oh. Ok, I’ll see you at home later.”
Whew, barely made it out of there. I was going to scream.
I knew that once she got rolling it was a no win situation and she would just keep on going. She did have a point of course. Who wants to change their plans especially when the reason that one is changing one’s plans is because of the destruction of their country?
The World Trade Tragedy did not only ‘happen’ to New York it happened to everyone in the U.S.
I had settled with myself that I would run full force with patriotism instead of obsessing on the fact that my trip to Italy had been postponed. After all it was only postponed not cancelled. I waved a flag on my car and honked at everyone whom also attached a flag to his or her vehicle. I participated in every candle light vigil that I could and prayed for survivors in the wreckage. I focused on my country instead of on my adventure and myself. Through it all, however, I was still unresolved in regards to my delayed journey. It was time to pull out the big guns; Emotional support snippets from friends are sometimes the best support.
Jennifer was the next person to call. She had been living in Italy for three years and was home for the end of summer to take a break from the Latin lifestyle she had been so fortunate to have been living. She had been excited for me to move to Italy too, even though I was going to a completely different city. She had been living in Florence.
(I know, you must be shocked that I was still friends with her at this point…but come on, haven’t you ever stayed friends with someone after they have done something rotten to you? Besides, I pitied her; She had no friends, a father that had abandoned her and a stepfather who was a nasty, mean control freak.)
I dialed the phone frantically after I had cancelled the call to my sister. It was a hot summer day and nothing seemed to have been going right. I thought I could get a lift from Jen.
“Buon Giorno, Bella!” She answered her cell phone enthusiastically.
“Hi Cheech. How are you.” Cheecha was an endearing term that we called eachother. I must have sounded very somber as she asked me immediately what was wrong.
“I have changed my ticket to Italy and I have postponed my trip until January. I feel pretty miserable about it and I wanted to get some support from you. I just need someone to tell me that it was ok for me to lay off the trip for a bit. Tell me that it was an adventure and that the quest will still remain. Tell me that Rome would not go anywhere and that a few months wouldn’t make a difference. Tell me something that would make me feel anything other than discontent.”
Her tone of voice changed from the cartwheels that it first had to a slow and monotonous bark. The recipe of her response included a pinch of vinegar, a cup of unsweetened lemonade and a whole gallon of shit!
“Whatever, Brynn, I knew you didn’t have the guts to go.”
Oh my Gawd, I could barely contain myself. I was on the brink of tears before I had called her and now there was simply no brink left. I immediately started to weep.
“Jen, I just needed someone to tell me everything would work out and all I get from you is nastiness. I wanted to call you because I thought you would be able to give me some words of wisdom, instead you completely insult me.”
“Well, Brynn, that is not what I meant by that. That is your perception of what I said.”
“Jen, how can one misconstrue, ‘you didn’t have the guts to go’?”
“You misunderstood; I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”
I realized I hade a made a huge mistake in calling her or infact telling her anything at all. She didn’t make me feel better; she made me feel shoddier than I already had. She provided a little hole in my heart without actually using a bullet. She had already left me sitting at a table in a foreign country and I looked to her for assurance? What the hell was I thinking? Clearly, I wasn’t.
“Jen, I have to go.”
“Whatever, Brynn, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I know.” I lied.
I hung up without the usual niceties of departure from a telephone conversation and instead and impolitely I might add, clicked cancel on the mobile. Petty, I know.
I felt really shitty. I called someone else for help in a lift in spirit. I don’t know why. It wasn’t as if the decision was going to change, but I needed someone to tell me it would be alright and that it was the best decision even though I knew already. I am a Libra so making a decision can sometimes be challenging. I had struck out with my sister and Jennifer so I next phoned a long time friend, a girl with whom I had gone to high school.
Cassie answered on the first ring.
“Good Lord,” I squealed, ecstatic that she had answered the telephone.
She laughed at my zealous outburst. But what was so cool about her is that through the years we had continuously expressed things similarly. She understood why I was excited to hear her actually answer the phone.
“Hi B, whas happennin’ hotstuff?, heh, heh.”
I giggled and immediately knew she would cheer me up.
“Cass, I changed my ticket. I won’t be going to Rome until January. I called my sister to talk to her about staying and she just made me feel bad and then I called Jen because she has been living in Italy and both of those phone calls just totally sucked.”
I waited for her reply.
“B, first of all, why in the world would you call Jennifer and expect anything besides shit? Second, You know how Maddie gets and I guarantee that she wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings but she is sometimes not the one to get a comforting stroke out of. And lastly, no one is putting time lengths, stops and starts on your adventure but you.”
I thought about what she had said and she was right. I had been feeling pressure not from anyone but myself. Of course I wouldn’t get any goodness from anyone else. I myself was feeling rotten about this decision and that’s why I needed reinforcement from everyone else.
Cassie continued, “B, you don’t need to go now. What are a few months; more time with your friends and your family before you embark upon the expedition of a lifetime. Stay here and live it up. This extra time will give you more packing options and some time to think about what you are taking. This way you will be here through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years. How perfect!”
I smiled while I listened. She was right; this change did give me more time. What’s more, it gave me more money. And I was going to get a few chores done that I wouldn’t otherwise have the time to do.
“Oh, Cass, you are so cool, dude. In fact, in the words of your students you are ‘hella-cool.’ Ha, ha, ha. I feel so much better. I think this is the right decision. I was feeling totally anxious before I changed the flight. And I haven’t had peace about the change until now. Thank you so much, really.”
She laughed, “Hella! You’re right, I am hella cool. B, what are friends for, you know what you did was right. And does it really matter what anyone else says anyhow?”
No, it didn’t matter.
We continued to laugh in mock of our students using the colloquial, ‘hella.’ While we laughed, I felt as though a little angel had just touched my shoulder. I felt calm.
Ch. 5 Quote
I spent the next three months doing extraordinary things. I was already packed to go to Rome so I had no more preparations to complete. It was a time to make a little more money and to have some fun while anticipating my move to Europe. The newly acquired time left me free to do what I wanted.
My birthday came and I turned the dreaded 30. No longer in my twenties I was experiencing a sort of crisis. I am not sure what the exact confines of the crisis were but it was a general all around discomfort. What was the future for me?
Birthdays aren’t important to some people. It is something I can’t understand. Birthdays are as important as Christmas to me. It is the one-day out of the year that I (or whomever is having a birthday) am praised for simply being alive.
Dad sent me a huge bouquet of flowers. The biggest I have ever seen. He sent them to work so everyone could see them. Dad and I worked together. I managed his medical office and he was the head honcho doctor. The flowers made me feel important and I think they made him feel important too.
On the other hand, Mom forgot. She was always super mom, never forgetting anything! That had never happened before but it cut very deeply. My mother was always the lighthouse in the storm. No matter what, she was there for you. She was always the organized one; the one who gave reminders to everyone else so they didn’t forget others, whether she was reminding them of occasions, special trips or visitors. Mom was also a real life Florence Nightingale. My Dad’s mother had once broken her leg. Mom shipped her to our house, set up an infirmary for her and nursed her back to health. My mom had always been very giving. So how is it that she forgot my birthday? I still don’t understand it. And to this day she defends that she didn’t forget.
My sister took me out to dinner and Granny took me to a great Musical/Dance theater production called Contact. She gave me “Italy Money” too. And Flan forgot altogether, as well.
Mary called, “Happy Birthday, Brynn.”
“Thanks, Mare, what are you up to?”
“Well, I wanted to call to say Happy Birthday and also ask if you could come over for a little birthday celebration tomorrow night, I have a little present to ‘ask’ you.”
“Ask me? What do you mean?”
“Just make plans to be at my house at seven pm.”
“Mare, can you not tell me now?”
“No, wait unitl tomorrow night.”
“I’ll be there tomorrow night after work, okay?”
“Perfect! See you then.”
With my birthday finally over, I woke up the next morning feeling still 29 and made my way to work. I was very content as I had something to look forward to. Mary had intrigued me and I was curious for the entire day as to what she had in store for me.
After work, I made my way to her house. A path I had taken so frequently that I am quite sure my 13-year-old Honda could have made it to her house without my help.
I walked up the pathway to her charming little house and she greeted me excitedly at the door.
Mary was the only person in the world besides my dad that was allowed to call me that. I walked into the house and my nose reveled in the scent of the farmy dinner she had prepared for us. The aromas were rich and savory of salt and pepper and butter and rosemary. Delicious!
“The house smells great! What did you cook us for dinner?”
“I roasted a chicken and added some potatoes to the mix with some garlic and sage and butter. I steamed some asparagus and we are having a spinach salad.”
Geez, she had gone all out. And to top off all the other stuff she made a Spinach Salad (which I love) and an apple pie…from scratch. She did it up right.
I asked, “What warrants such a delightful meal, Mary?”
We had sat down to enjoy her creation and after she gingerly placed her napkin on her lap she opened the Merlot, poured us each a glass of wine and gave a little toast. “Here is to your birthday, Brynn.” I smiled and thanked her and we both sipped our wine. Then she picked up her wine glass again and said in a small voice, “I am going to Ireland, Brynn.”
I was so inflated with joy for her that I shrieked in happiness, “Yeaaaaaaaaaaay! When do you leave?”
I was so inflated with joy for her that I shrieked in happiness, “Yeaaaaaaaaaaay! When do you leave?”
“Well, I am not sure yet which is why I have asked you over tonight. (Anxiety crept up on me.) I want to ask you to come with me on the trip!”
Oh my goodness if it was socially acceptable to pee in ones pants because of excitement, I would have. The standby of jumping up and down screaming and yelling with glee would have to do!
I stood up from the table and went galloping around the kitchen. Then Mary stood up amd followed suit. We clasped hands like little schoolgirls and jumped together screaming and yelling and laughing and jumping some more. We must have been a funny sight.
When we finally calmed down, we sat back in our chairs and tried to remain nonplussed. To no avail I’m afraid because Mary cocked her head sideways and flashed me the most glittery smile I had ever seen on her and whispered loud enough for me to hear, “WE ARE GOING TO IRELAND!” We did go to Ireland and to this day it is still the best holiday I have ever had in my life. (But that’s another book.)
Upon arriving home after a brilliant time in Eire with Mary, it was time for me to start getting anxious. Surely, there was still a bit more time before I went to Rome. But there wasn’t. I was getting on my way in four days and the pressure was on to get packed and do all the little odds and ends.
It was Christmas time and my mother had planned a trip to San Francisco with Cassie and her mother. I mean, can you say nuts? I thought I was going to die. I had all this shit to do and she wanted me to go to San Francisco!? What?
Though frustrated, I went reluctantly on the little journey. We stayed at a great hotel and had a wonderful meal and then the illness hit me. I was so sick; I threw up in the gutter. On the way back from the restaurant, I had to actually sit on the curb with my head between my legs while I barfed and barfed and barfed. It was craziness and I could not believe what was going on. Fortunately, I had no choice but to ignore the thoughts in my head. I was completely focused on puking at the time.
My mom was so cool about it. She waited with me while the others continued their walk to the hotel. She stayed with me and rubbed my back. I felt like such a jerk. But what could I do. I mustered as much strength as possible and stood up while I allowed my head to hang, for fear that if I picked it up, I would go into motion sickness or something and eject whatever was left in my stomach.
We made it back, mom and me. We took the elevator up and half way up to our floor I thought it would have been a better idea to go up the stairs. Whatever, it was a lose/lose situation. I would have vomited just as easily on the stairs as I did in the elevator. It was hard work to step out of the lift and walk down the hall to our room. Upon walking into the room, I fell straight onto the bed, fully clothed. Mom brought me a glass of water and a wastebasket.
Everyone was preparing to see a one woman show starring Lilly Tomlin. I wanted to go see the show so badly but knew I had to stay. I waited until everyone was out of the room but just barely. Then I hauled myself out of bed to fly my butt to the bathroom so I could hurl again.
I missed the greatest show ever. When all the ladies came back, I was up and about a little bit. I asked them, my voice filled with gravel, “How was the show.” They were very sweet. They tried to shield my feelings from the truth by telling me that the show was horrible. Lilly Tomlin however had been on the top of my list since I was five and first saw her on Sesame Street. I knew the truth. I had missed a great show. Bummer. At least I was able to sit up though and that was a step in the right direction.
The next day, I spent in bed again at the hotel room. The other ladies went out shopping in San Francisco and I stayed to recuperate. I went over my list of things to take to Italy; seemed complete. The girls arrived back looking haggard and drained. We were al looking forward to getting home.
The drive home seemed longer than usual. I started to think a lot on the journey home. I thought of how my stomach still ached from the day before, how much I loved my family and friends and that maybe I would find true love in Italy.
After a fruitful weekend of sleep and stress, I was ready to leave my home country for “La Citta Eterna!” I had checked my list many more times than Santa does at Christmas and I think I had everything. My sister was excited for me to go too and came into my room to check my progress. Oh my sissy, what a cute little girl. She was a nice 5’4” with a sweet little butt and honey colored hair. Her little face was better than Barbie and she had this little pixie nose that everyone loved. I loved it too when she jumped on me the morning of my journey eastward. It was a comforting appearance and something I knew I would miss. I had started to think of my move to Italy as very permanent as though I would never see my sister or family again.
She asked me in her little fairy voice, “Are you excited?”
I thought for a moment, as there were many things I was thinking of but excitement was not one of them. I felt anxiety, terror, rashness, stupidity, trepidation, worry, unease and apprehension. Those are some devilish thoughts I think. And I felt gripped with a loss of control.
There was no other way to put it; I was scared.
Madison hugged me as a tear rolled down my cheek. She knew how I felt.
She jumped out of my bed and starting yelling a loud, booming laugh, “HAHAHAHA!” I must admit I was startled by the loudness and it made me sort of chuckle. My sis was delighted by my smile.
She pulled me out of bed by my arm as I wailed. I hopped upright finally and she trotted off to the bathroom. While she washed up, I readied myself for the same ritual. I first counted my bags. I had packed two enormous duffle bags with seasonal clothing. They covered winter (the season which I would be entering Italy), then spring and fall. I had hoped I brought enough, the reality however was that I was probably bringing to much. Whatever! One should always be prepared. In the famous Latin terms: Semper Paratus. But I sensed the over packing nevertheless.
My ominous black bags weighed about 75 pounds each. I couldn’t pick them up on my own. One must take everything when one moves abroad, right? I had the pictures of people from home. I had a CD player, plenty of underwear, going out clothes and staying in clothes, makeup, shampoo, hair dryers, all kinds of music, hair accessories, suntan lotion, facial moisturizer, nail polish and an assortment of other unnecessary items.
My sister had finished her ablutions and it was now my turn. I skulked into the bathroom, tail between my legs. The anxiety had started to get the better of me and I hadn’t even gotten on the plane yet!
Madison had seen me go into the bathroom with head hung low. “Brynn, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing Mad, I am just feeling a little anxious about my move to a new country.”
“Brynn, Look, you must look at this trip to Italy as a quest. Why else would you be going? It is a ll fine and good to want to learn the language but something is pulling you toward Italy and it’s not just the language.”
I thought about what she had said and she was right. I was going on a quest. She continued her little talk, “You must look at the trip as though you are with Frodo Baggins. He will guide you on a journey of a lifetime.”
I agreed with her but thought how in the world is she tying in the “Lord of the Rings” thing? She went on, “I mean, goodness sissy, look at Italy as Gandalf, trying to mold you and help you and guide you. The people that you meet there will either be for you or against you. If they are against you they are like the dark riders…remember to keep the ring safe.”
“Hm…,” I thought for a minute and finally retorted, “What is the ring?”
“It is your heart of course, your integrity, your destiny, your fate and future. It is your own ring. It won’t make you invisible but it will help you solve the puzzle that is in you making you run off to Italy in the first place.”
My sister, always the best with metaphors, convinced me to look at this adventure as just that, an adventure. It would be the trip of my life if only I kept that attitude in check. If I went to Italy being scared and timid and bitter, that’s what kind of trip I would have. If on the other hand, I kept myself mirthful, open and conscious I would experience something quite brilliant. Just as in the Lord of the Rings: While Frodo is always extremely cautious and frequently afraid; he goes to deliver the ring with hope and bravery in his heart. I vowed to do the same thing.
I picked my head up and moved my butt into the bathroom. I wished I was already on the plane and couldn’t wait to get there if for nothing else the anxiety of wanting to be there at that very moment. I wanted to skip the plane trip all together and just wanted to be on Italian soil.
I went into the bathroom, plans of teleporting myself to Italy, foiled. So my only other option was to shit shower and shave to be eventuating myself onto the airplane. And now I was armed. Armed with the thought of going on a true adventure, a quest as my sister put it. What, I wondered, was I actually questing for?
I washed with my favorite Lilac soap and practiced the very little Italian I knew while washing my curly brown hair. I was ready. The more cleansed I was the more excited I was getting; well, as excited as someone can get at 4am, anyway.
My sister and I loaded up the car with the two huge duffel bags, which were to be my life for the next who knows how long. Madison decided she should drive. We took my mother’s little white Honda and got promptly on the road, Southbound for San Francisco. By this time I was exhausted and getting cranky for lack of food. Maddie felt the same way and we were ready to slightly kill each other. We pulled off the freeway in a not so nice neighborhood and I was ready for my last American breakfast. I went gaga over food I was not sure when I would have again.
It was Denny’s the most famous of the American “greasy spoons.” My sister and I split a “Moons over My Hammie.” I also ordered some hash browns and a waffle with gobs of coffee and orange juice. My sis and I totally feasted on the greatest breakfast ever.
Satisfied we got back in the car. Oh, our attitude was so much nicer after the meal and I was rolling around in the passenger seat with an overstuffed stomachache. I lit up a cigarette and let the breeze from the air outside brush over my face as I looked down the winding road. I was trying to decide my path. SONG
A couple of hours passed. Madison decided to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge instead of the Bay Bridge. The Bay Bridge was our usual way to travel to San Francisco but we both decided that if I wasn’t going to see the bridge for a while or the city for that matter then I should experience the Beautiful Rusty Grandiose Bridge for what might be a long time to the next time I would see it. The sun was shining just right on it. It was cool, fall sun low in the sky and warm on the steel of the structure. The light made the sienna color look more inviting than any of the most picturesque postcards of the bridge I had seen. Of course one must account for romanticizing one’s home and favorite playground. The bridge was a destination for people from all over the world. Much like the Vatican I supposed. Madison and I listened to old time New Order and rolled the windows all the way down in the brisk air. We paid the toll for the 3 miles of nuts and bolts to speed over to one of the most famous cities in the world. PHOTOS
Winding through towering sky scrapers, pointing at Coit tower and speeding as fast as traffic would allow down Nob Hill, Maddie and I finally made it to the San Francisco International Airport.
I started to feel a bit choked up and to make me feel all the more dramatic; a Dixie Chicks song came on. "Wide Open Spaces" was causing me to blubber uncontrollably. My sister and I sang as loudly as possible and while we were belting our voices tunelessly, I cried. What if this was the last time we were to see each other? What if I were to die on the plane? What if I went away and just plain old never came back.
I went inside my head and thought, "I should be trying to figure out a career. I'm 30 years old for Christ sake." I continued to myself, "My peers are buying houses, having kids and making six figures a year." Then my thoughts became a downward spiral and instead of being happy to embark upon a journey of a lifetime, I felt like a loser. I expressed this to Maddie.
Ever the listening ear, she lovingly gave some advice. "Sissy, you are about to experience something none of your friends have done, neither of your parents have done and none of your peers have done save me. This will change your life." As she spoke, my tears dried and I breathed deeply and evenly to get my bearings together. She was right but I still had massive apprehensions.
We drove through the city, listening to the finest 80’s selections on the player. I still sat silently but with tears and my sister sort of just rubbed my shoulder a little bit while she steered.
Then something hit me. The proverbial light bulb went off in my head. I thought to myself – You are going to LIVE IN ITALY! I straightened myself in the passenger seat and pulled myself together. I wiped the tears away and sniffled to get my head properly clear. And so what if I died on the plane and the likelihood that I was never going to come back was farcical -- at least I was on my way to live in Italy! The future seemed bright or at the very least extremely adventurous -- learning to speak another language and learning another culture, meeting people and seeing beautiful art and architecture. What was there to cry about? I went through the self talk and started to think that my life was really charmed.
My sister cleared her throat. I asked her concernedly, “Are you feeling ok?” She looked over at me as we drove through the airport to the proper terminal. She just smiled and said, “It looks like you have changed your mind.” “What do you mean?” I was curious, because I certainly had not changed my mind about the move. “I haven’t.” She looked as though she concurred with her previous suggestion of mind changing. “No, I can tell that you have.” Now I started to get frustrated. “No Mad, I haven’t.” She continued and gave an impish laugh, “I mean about the way you feel about leaving.” Oh, whoa. She was so very right. I had changed my mind. My attitude was hopeful and joyous about what I was going to experience. But ten minutes prior I wasn’t. Funny thing about my sister; she has an old soul and it makes her wiser than most. She hit the nail on the head (cliché permission). I could not bear of thinking to do anything else now. My friends didn’t matter, my family -- only God and me.
We drove to the international terminal and parked the car. Thank goodness she had decided to go into the airport with me. We had arrived with plenty of time to sit have a coffee and chat a minute or two before saying our goodbyes. I checked in and checked my two huge bags through to Italy, even though I was first stopping to stay over night with my cousin, Ananya, in Amsterdam.
Madison and I laughed a lot while we passed along stories of the dog to each other. Everyone loves a terrier and we were no different. The little Jack Russell named Joe was so cute and he would be a comforting thought in times of loneliness. Madison told me before we got into the car to go to San Francisco that he whined at the prospect of our leaving the house so early. When she patted his head to say we would be back soon he shrugged seemingly satisfied with the answer and ran to the kitchen to get his bone and chew it in true exhibitionist style. I smirked in hearing this and was able to picture him ‘fwipping’ his tail as he jogged into the kitchen.
My flight number was called while several others were listed with it. I looked at my sis and she knew it was time for me to go. She looked at her watch, “right on time, Brynn.” I looked at my watch in response as if her watch and the announcement were not correct. Madison looked at me inquisitively and I responded, “I’m just double checking.” She giggled at me in a sisterly way and I knew that she was thinking I was a dork. We started to walk to the security check. The lady on the intercom stated my flight number again and now our moods became serious.
“Brynn, you will have the adventure of your life,” my sister said seriously emphasized. She smiled and touched my arm. I looked down at my little black boots and my mind wandered for a minute wondering whether they would be warm enough in Rome. I looked up holding back tears and gave her a wordless while loaded goodbye. I had no words to express my sentiments of trepidation, sadness, anxiety and ultimate curiosity and wonder too. She knew how I felt and gave me a big comforting hug. It soothed me enough to tell her that I loved her. I gathered my backpack and all the essentials I had with me. Madison walked me to the security line and hung out with me until the line started to move. She watched me until I was almost out of sight. I called her name as she stared at a passing funk rocker; when she turned to look at me I blew her a kiss and told her I would email her as soon as I found a computer café. She yelled back that she loved me too and the line moved forward again and my sister vanished.
I was buzzed through security after having to remove my watch, earrings, belt, boots and rhinestone barrette from my already unruly curly hair. I harrumphed my belongings back to their perspective places and trod on my way to the gate. I stopped in duty free shopping for a new bottle of Ralph Lauren perfume (just because I could) and found a seat when I finally made it to the gate. There was still a 15-minute delay before we were to begin to board the plane. I sat pensively, wringing my hands, while other passengers, milled around the waiting area. I feigned reading my book but to no avail. I was too distracted by the fact that I was about to get on an international flight bound for Italy. The loudspeaker blared again for pre-boarding and all passengers needing assistance were on their way. Other passengers lined up anxiously at the gate. I just sat and waited. It seemed senseless to stand for the next 20 minutes in an unmoving line if I were already preparing to be stationary and waiting for the next 14 hours on board the plane. My turn came to board and I loaded my body into an aisle seat.
I sat and waited on the plane, feeling crushed by my neighboring passenger; a 350 LB man. I knew the flight was going to be treacherous at the very best. The flight attendant came on the intercom and began the usual airplane niceties. “Exits here and there,” “emergencies and what to do in case of them” and all the “stay in your seats while the fasten seat belt sign is lighted,” hoopla was in full effect and it was almost time to taxi to the runway. Pronto! I was ready.
The flight was more uneventful than I could have imagined, even though I was sitting next to Jabba. I read a book by Wendy Holden (an English writer). It was funny and it passed the time nicely, plus the title was charming enough that when nosy people encountered the book they smirked quietly and turned away. That was good. They left me alone.
Now and again I would put the book on the little fold out T.V. tray. I would (with cocktail in hand – I drank several – a crappy Bloody Mary, piney Gin and Tonic and a little airplane sized bottle of really bad cheap wine) look out the window at nothing and contemplate the choice I had spent two years making. My mother had always reminded me that choices were everything in life and they could make or break your existence. I wondered which one this was – a maker or a breaker? I finished staring into nothing, looked down at whatever unbelievable bad drink I had in my hand, swirled it around in the glass and tried not to savor the current swallow too much. I picked my resumed my book and buried my snout deeply into it trying to forget that this move may be the checkmate or could be the alternative.
I felt a tickle on my face. I startled awake with drool running out of my mouth. I was embarrassed as I was clearly “catching flies.” The fortunate thing was, however, that it was doubtful anyone had caught me doing such a thing; I had fallen asleep in an empty row of unclaimed seats. I had awoken to the captain on the loud speaker informing us of our descent into Holland. My excitement increased upon our circle around Schipol as we waited our clearing for the touchdown. My cousin was to be there to pick me up and I was so looking forward to seeing her, plus, the longest leg of the journey was complete and I was in Europe.
The airplane taxied to the terminal and I started to feel claustrophobic. The flight was so long; all I could think about was a cocktail, a cigarette and some excellent company with Anna whom I had not seen in years. I came off the plane and she was at the gate waiting for me. I screamed and we ran toward each other. In her smart, Dutch way, she asked where I wanted to go for dinner.
I looked at her wild, short dark hair. I studied her impish little face that truly resembled my own and spent a short second envying her very stylish shoes and her crimson lips. I gave her a quick look up and down and said, “I want to go to the most stylish joint you can think of, Anna.” She smiled, grabbed my hand and while skipping us forward, asked in a very royal accent, “Can you take it?” “If they have excellent drinks and I can smoke in there – I guarantee it will be better than a spa treatment at this point.” She smiled, tilted her head and looked at me in a way that said…” hm, what an American thing to say.” I giggled to myself and she knew what it was in response to. We kept walking and reached the restaurant.
It was a chic place with illusional appointments around the room. Things like fire on the wall but not attached to anything (probably projected) and small coves in little bricks on the wall where candles were left safely burning. There was metal netting over the lights above us to give the place an absolute ambiance. The waiter arrived wordlessly putting and ashtray in front of both of us and gently in a very graceful Dutch way he set down two Grolsch beers and two small glasses.
I poured my beer and Anna poured hers, we sat quietly for a moment, I with a cigarette looking out the window. The smoke hung in front of the cold gray window as I gazed outside at the passersby. People on bicycles everywhere, dogs with their owners walking into grocery stores, people smoking hashish walking down the street and a wonderful canal lined with brick and cars. Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Anna turned to me and sprightly asked, “What are your thoughts at this moment in regards to moving to Italy?” I pontificated the query for a moment and wondered the same also. “Oh, I think I just want to just wing it and really try hard to learn the language. I hope I can find a job, a home and some friends.” She quaintly muffled a small laugh. “Brynn, these are the basics, you will have no problem with any of them. You must think bigger and see the future a bit.” Europeans are frequently know it alls. It is part of their charm for sure and they are the sort of people I have always admired. Their imperialistic history and socialist governments; their forward thinking morals and change the world attitudes; their knowledge of other world policies, government and geography is also quite refreshing and I always vowed to myself that I was going to live in Europe and marry a European. Europeans are charming people on the whole because they have poise about them that Americans simply do not have. Don’t get me wrong! I love my country – It’s the land of milk and honey, however, I would like to be surrounded by the elegance and cultures of Europe.
I started to fantasize then about finding a gorgeous Italian man with dark wavy hair, a savvy fashion style and blue eyes the color of the Mediterranean with English that he speaks turning up at the end of each sentence as he finishes each word with the sound of a vowel. Woah! Snap out of it! I totally started to drift off into fantasy world. My word…Shaking me and snapping her finger in front of my face Anna aroused my attention and I told her what I was thinking about. “Come back to the real world, Brynn.” I sniggered a half laugh at her meanwhile looking down and fumbling with a torn paper napkin said, “Oh, Anna, no kidding; I have to fantasize about a man because I have no prospects and wonder if I will ever have?” She laughed out loud at me and I tilted my head quizzically at her. While she continued to laugh she asked, “Do you honestly think that there is no man for you in this world? Brynn, I have no man either but I cannot foresee that I will be alone forever.” She was right. I was frequently fatalistic about the troubles I had with the opposite sex and she was in a similarly lonely situation.
We paid for lunch which was a Swedish meal, ironically, since we were in Holland. We had pickled herring and brown bread with some horseradish and boiled beet root; coupled with fine beer and followed by bad Dutch coffee.
We put our coats on and she decided to take me on a tour of the city. We walked the red light district. The prostitutes were much less shocking than I had predicted. And I learned that they have their own union called the “Red Thread.” Even hookers have working rights!
Night had begun to fall and we walked back to her flat in the heart of the city. Her teeny house, the ground floor of an ancient brick building was longer than it was wide. She had quintessential European Ikea style with a flare of quirk and camp that made it hers. I was immediately comfortable. I changed my clothes and washed my face which I had not done since getting on the plane. I had to clear away the film of germs covering my teeth as well as it felt as though I was wearing socks on each and every tooth. After washing up a bit, she suggested dinner and a bar. I was all for it. We ate a nice little meal at a famous pub in a park and drank some more beer. Then we walked to a nice little plaza and found a very modern bar with red squares on the wall and small hard, cold tables we sat as we drank and quietly contemplated the dark wet street outside. Sitting next to us were two buddies sharing a joint. I looked over at them distracted from the street staring by the cloud of smoke that interrupted my thoughts. The bigger one sitting directly next to me offered me a pull from the joint. Since he was obliging me I could not be rude and refuse it, of course. As I inhaled Anna, put a hand on my arm, “Easy, girl.” I looked at her while I held the “token cigarette” and laughed quietly inside. As if I knew what I was doing, I dragged on the small, white drug filled wrapper. She was right. It was far stronger than we could get at home. For goodness sake, it was legal in Holland.
Five minutes later, as the smoke and people filled the bar, everything became a blur, I was sorry I had encouraged unclear thoughts on myself. It served me right considering my haughty attitude toward my cousin whom was caringly warning me against smoking the “real stuff.” I sat and tried to just enjoy the high, cloudy feeling. Of course it was also coupled with some drink and that just made my lack of control that much worse. The two men that were sitting beside us were trying to have a talk with my cousin in Dutch. I loved hearing the language, but noticed slowly that they were trying to talk to me too. Oh, Jesus! They were speaking English, not Dutch, but my mind was so obliterated that I couldn’t follow the conversation. Fortunately, they realized my state of mind. They were accommodating by simply asking me periodically if I was alright. If I had been truthful they might have been frightened for me so I lied and said, “Yeah, I’m fine.” Anna, knowing me quite well was able to see through the bullshit. She put her cigarettes into her purse and grabbed my arm insinuating the time for an exit. I slowly turned to look at her by which point she had grabbed my bag for me, threw it over her shoulder with her own and guided me up out of the seat.
We headed back to Anna’s flat. The walk would do me good and as we started a quicker pace, I could feel my head start to clear and feet take over. We walked very quickly arm in arm for who knows how long but by the time we reached her front door, I was so “gone,” I could’ve continued for miles and not have even known it. Honestly, of what I can remember, I was at the very least enjoying myself and this drug provoked freedom was some relief from the stress that I had been enduring from the preceding weeks.
We walked through the door of her flat and were greeted by two sumptuous little black and white felines, Saskia and Piet. Anna raised her voice in the proper tones which all people use to talk to their pets and bent down to stroke them with a hello. I couldn’t be bothered and, to be fair, had I stooped to do the same I surely would have toppled over and would’ve been content to have slept on the floor. I was utterly pooped.
I weaved and swayed more than walked toward her tiny bathroom to wash up. I changed my clothes and crawled into her bed; her perfect, lovely bed. I laid there for a moment and tried to settle my breathing which had become heavy. What seemed like a minute later, the sun was up and my mouth felt as though the Sahara had moved into it. I sought out a glass of water and my pretty little cousin greeted me quietly but cheerfully too with a huge tumbler of water and a cup of coffee – strong and black.
Anna and I sat in her narrow as the width of a refrigerator kitchen at a very narrow table, drank loads of caffeine and chain smoked. It was a dank winter day out in Holland and her apartment was nicely heated. It felt like home. I was comfortable, warm and with family. So far, everything was coming up roses. She quickly turned her head toward me so her big brown curls swung furiously, “What do you want to do for your last day in Holland, Brynn?” I looked down at my cup of coffee which I held steady with both hands – actually, I am pretty sure that the coffee was keeping my hands steady. I met her eyes, “I would really like to visit either the Van Gogh Museum or the Ann Frank House.” She just smiled and by her smile, I knew she intended to take me to both.
We walked in the rain for hours, languishing in the fresh air and visiting the museums. We found a small café near her house which had a spiral staircase and a breathtaking view of the surrounding park area. We both ordered some Dutch beer and chatted. She assured me that my time in Italy would be marvelous and I unsurely nodded at her support. I looked at my watch and Anna asked, “Is it time?” I nodded in answer to her query. We left a little tip – the last use of the pretty Dutch Gilders before the Euro was to be adopted full time.
We continued our walk toward her little brick flat. She unlocked the door and told me she would start the car while I got my things. I grabbed the two huge bags and my carryon and locked the door behind me.
Struggling, I loaded up the two huge, wheeled duffle bags and got myself into the front seat.
The drive to the airport was uneventful and in fact, silent. We did not listen to the radio nor did we speak and I am quite certain looking back now that Anna thought that the best thing for me. She was right. I needed to be quiet with my thoughts and my fear.
We came to the airport and she did not park the car. Instead she gave me a curbside send off and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. A quick goodbye and a kiss on the cheek were better than the long drawn out goodbye we could’ve had. With the quickness of the goodbye it left neither me nor Anna the time to get teary eyed nor did it afford me the luxury of getting anxious. I wrestled the duffels out of the car and wheeled them into the airport. I looked behind me and it was like a slow motion portion of an old French movie – my head turned slowly, my eyes blinked slowly and I could feel my hair slowly tickle my cheek. Coupled with the airport music and the rushing of travelers from all over the world, I was aware of my heart beating in my chest.
I ran straight to the ticket counter –I use run loosely as anyone would find it difficult to “run” with 140 pounds of luggage and a carry on. So you know, I walked clumsily to the Alitalia counter and checked in. They asked me in very educated English the type of seat I required. I asked for an aisle seat. The aisle seat is like the throne of coach seating. If you are lucky enough to get an aisle seat by an exit you have your own little sovereignty, even – plenty of leg room, you never have to ask someone to move out so you can get up to use the john and on a really long flight you can use the aisleway to put stuff – it’s just prime seating, seriously.
The flight was harrowing to say the least if for nothing else the temperature of the plane. Those flying tin cans are either too cold or too hot. Why in the world is the temperature on an airplane always so inclement? It’s a joke. Anyway, the temperature on Flight 427 from Amsterdam, Holland to Rome, Italy was about 40 degrees. I wore many layers, had a big pea coat on and a hat for the three hours it took to get from Schipol to Fiumicino. The only saving grace was the cute Dutch flight attendant who was for some reason really curious about me and therefore really, really attentive, edging on obsequious.
Oh, the descent. Always, my most favorite part of any airplane journey; nothing quite like having all your internal organs in your throat. Good times. The tires hit the runway pavement with the usual frightening jerk. I smiled, knowing that just an hour or more and I would be in a city that I would soon be calling my new home. My first real experience with Italians was so great. They are the slowest, most inefficient people on the earth and it took us not only an hour to taxi to the terminal but then another thirty minutes to exit the plane.
Italians and going through customs at the airport is an oxymoron – Giant Shrimp. I mean I could have taken some serious drugs, guns or whatever into the country; they didn’t even look at my passport. Not that they were missing anything. The picture is simply atrocious. I can honestly say the worst picture ever taken of me. I look like an Oompa Loompa, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – all red face, oh geez, the description is just too ugly to immortalize on the written page. Use your imagination.
I slid through the gates and picked up the two titanic duffle bags which contained my life. I tripped over some Italians – this is when I learned that the culture does not recognize personal space the same way we, Americans do. I walked through a sky tunnel and into the airport Hilton. I wanted to treat myself and start new the next day after getting some rest. Maybe the Hilton was a little out of my league. Whatever. I checked in, tipped a guy to bring my bags to my room and asked if room service was available. Yup that’s right, room service. I figured if I am silly enough to pay he big bucks for a fancy hotel I will definitely be just as silly with food, so I got dinner sent to my room just like my bags. The food wasn’t worth mentioning but the novelty of room service was like a movie.
I lay in bed trying to study an Italian textbook my Nanna had given me before I left the states. Verb conjugation and mental incapacity for me seem to go hand in hand – much the same as mathematics and me. If it was p.c. to say I am a retard with numbers, I would say it. In my fancy hotel room trying to conjugate the verb “to sneeze” I realized I hadn’t talked to mom or dad yet. The nine hour difference made the ten o’clock hour in Italy just the right time to call home.
“Mom?” Delay in time (sound travels slowly).
“Hi, sweetie. I am so glad to hear from you. You made it safely?”
“Oh, yeah. They had great yogurt on the plane, mom. These Europeans do dairy products right!”
“That’s for sure. When your father and I were in Norway for our honeymoon….”
I drifted off having heard the honeymoon food and drink stories many many times over the past 29 years. Of course I was never opposed to hearing them, there is something magical about hearing of your parents adventures before you were even a twinkle; When they were young and unburdened by bills, mortgages, and kids.
But today, I was just relishing in my mammy’s voice. It would be the last time I would talk to her or either of my parents until I figured out where the goods were in the Eternal City. Goods like mobile phone stores, grocery stores, the train station and well at this point a place to live was a priority I suppose. Yes, a place to live – a nice place to start.
I asked the hotel concierge to call me a cab and she obliged, easily. The taxi came qickly,before I even had a chance to get myself together. The driver came in to get my bags. He was wearing high tech mirrored sun glasses, an Armani suit and had a small but visible mustache. He must have been all of twenty two, but looked impeccable and elegant; freaking Italians – nothing less than perfection even if one is a taxi driver.
It was a beautiful January day -- Briskly chilly but sun and blue sky as far as the eye could see. The cabbie and I walked out from under the Hilton awning. He had one bag slung over his shoulder and the other trailed behind him on the ground as he dragged it. All the while he had a cigarette clasped between his poignantly Italian lips. He hoisted one bag into the boot and then the other. While he did the heavy lifting I enjoyed the sight of him with a teeny bit of awe as he labored without breaking a sweat, dropping ash on himself or even removing the cigarette from his mouth. He rubbed his hands together, swung his arm up to his mouth in a ‘slow motion in a movie’ sort of way and took a drag from the cigarette that had formerly rested unmovingly in his mouth. He (still in slow motion) took the cigarette between his fingers, rested his hand at his side, put the other had in his pocket and leaned against the car, James Dean like. Then flashed me a huge, but coy grin and exclaimed,”Andiamo!”
I couldn’t help but smile back. This buck had unwittingly captured me or at the very least my imagination and at that moment I probably would have gone any where with him. I crammed myself in the back of the Mercedes which was my ride as lady like as possible and he asked me in the best English he could, “Where would you need to be, Signorina?”
I had made it. Shit.
I asked him to take me to a housing agency near the train station. He smiled knowingly, which was quite comforting. I mean he could have taken me to hell for all I knew. We got in the car, and wended our way through the city. I half looked at the city nad half looked at a free publication called Roman Life – an expatriate publication that helped with jobs, housing, transportation etc. The address of he agency was in it somewhere and I frantically looked.
I had been in touch with a woman named Alessandra who said she could possibly get me housing when I arrived in Italy. Possibly? Possibly better have been a definitely, I thought. I had wired her $1000 to find a place for me to live -- Possibly better have been definitely – definitely! After 20 minutes in the car with Guido, we came to a stop on a quiet but shabby street next to the train station. There was no formal capitalistic sign such as we have in the states indicating that there was a business where the cab driver was about to leave me but upon closer study of the giant, ancient door frame there were teeny brass buttons secured to a large brass sign telling the viewer where everyone and all business were in the building.
I had paid Guido, who unloaded my bags, tipped his hand to his head and bid a silent goodbye, still with a smoldering cig in his mouth. I hadn’t even rung the bell where the button was and he sped off with a trail of city street behind him.
I bit my bottom lip, looked closely at the brass button and slowly drew my finger to the target. I pressed hard and long, “Ello?” I hesitated and timidly replied to the voice. “Hi. I am Gwen, and I think Clelia is expecting me.” I had no response either positive or negative. I heard only a buzz from within the huge carved door. I assumed it meant to enter. I pushed hard against the door. It gave way and I was met by a 12 foot wide, white, marble staircase. I left my bags on the entry step and began to ascend the staircase. On the third floor my energy began to wane. Fortunately, it was exactly the floor that I needed to be on. I pushed a tiny interior door open and walked into a small brightly lit room with brochures and tourist info lining the walls. The woman behind the reception counter stuck a ‘wait one minute’ finger up at me while she chattered furiously, in Italian, on a headset.
When she was done, she asked me my name. She was a tiny Italian woman not young but not terribly old either. She had nearly black hair, straight and stringy, and a grey smile, that she shoved toward me as she greeted me. She introduced herself. “Io Clelia, como ti chiama?” Unnerved by the Italian language I started to struggle and sweat. I answered her in English. My name is Brynn. I have talked to you several times on the telephone. “Oh, Bryndalina!” I knew you were coming soon. What can I do for you? She asked in very good English.
I told her I needed a place to stay. She glistened with a bit of happiness the way people do upon a job well done. She said she had a place. Clelia, a small Italian woman with a limp rose from behind her well lit desk, to shake my hand and in true Italian style hug me.
“Brynn, I have found a very inexpensive, bijou flat for you. What is your budget?” I told her I could not spend more than $450 American dollars a month. On that note she ordered me to follow her. She took me to her car and asked me where my luggage was. It was still at the entry on the marble staircase. She scolded me for leaving it there claiming that I would be lucky if the Moroccans had not taken it. The slight Italian woman revved the engine of her tiny white European car, I got in hastily and she drove jerkily to the front of the building. I quickly got out, opened the huge door that an employee of Clelia’s propped open for us, I stuck my two huge rolling duffels on end and began to drag them. It was awkward to say the least. Clelia’s tiny frame got out of her car, limped over to where I had dropped the bags by the side of the cobbled road and tried to help me hoist them into her teeny car.
I looked at her quizzically, with a tilt to my head and a furrowed brow. She was doing nothing to help me; instead she was annoying me. I had a horrible attitude at this point. I mean, how could this little lady who was trying so hard to be helpful irritate me. She was struggling and struggling with my huge bags. It was almost like we were fighting over who got to schlep my crap and finally I snapped, “Clelia, let me do it!” She stopped grunting, looked up at me and in a heavy Italian accent said, “I am-uh only trying-uh to help-uh you.” I smiled at her feeling very sorry that I was mean. Bent down to my two huge bags, grabbed one picked it up and with as much force as possible and wedged into the very small boot of her very small car. I did the same with the next one.
Once everything was in the car, I slammed the trunk door and wedged myself next to my driver. She started the engine and in proper Roman style unsafely drove me to a place called Santa Maria Ai Monti. The road was very narrow, cobbled and lined with cars. The street was adjacent to a small and ancient piazza on which stood three very tall medieval towers. Clelia sped her small car down the street, which was really more an alley than a street. She came to a very jerky stop before slamming into an old man crossing the road. When she did she looked at me and said, smiling, “We are-uh here!” I looked to the right and saw a small art shop. I looked left and saw a huge wrought iron gate, but no apartment such as I was used to seeing back at home. She parked the car directly in the middle of the street and switched on the hazard lights. Meanwhile I struggled with my bags. One at a time I brought them beyond the huge gate where my driver was waiting as her tiny body propped open the gate. She moved her hand Vanna White style as she showed me the apartment building. It was a traditional Italian butter color. Absolutely gorgeous -- hanging on the face of the building which looked onto a courtyard hung un-flowered wisteria vines. There was a very narrow staircase that led to my new home. I considered the stairs which were unencumbered by the safety of a railing. I wondered how I would make the trek up to my apartment with my life, which weighed about 140 lbs at the moment.
I lifted the bags onto the first stair then climbed two stairs up from where the first bag lay. In all it took about 30 minutes to move my bags up the stairs. Once at the top, Clelia ascended the stairs too and climbed over my stuff. There was barely enough room on the landing for the both of us and the junk I brought with me lay on the stairs just before the landing.
From out of her pocket, Clelia grabbed the keys that were to be handed over to me. There dangled two huge skeleton keys. Unusual keys considering the modernity in design especially in Italy. Italians as in many other areas, simply never changed their key styles to a more updated not to mention smaller key (drawing of skeleton key). She stuck the bigger of the two keys into the door. There was no door handle on the front of the door. Clelia tugged at the door and we heard a metal against metal clanging sound as she turned the key. She pushed the door open and we entered a small, dark, hallway that had a definite echo. In it was a broom and small chair. There were two doors attached to the hallway. Behind one we could hear a barking dog. Behind the other was my new home. The other key was handed to me and my temporary friend said, “Try it.” I jammed the key in the door but it would not turn. At this point I was suffering from massive jetlag and was overjoyed by the thought of a bed. I was starting to grow frustrated that the door would not budge. I think I may have even been whimpering. When I began to grunt, Clelia grabbed the key from my hand. In a commanding and very Italian way she said, “Let me try”. It turned instantly for her of course and I was left standing there mouth agape and embarrassed as I watched this little, somewhat crippled lady, open the giant steel door with this archaic key. Clelia closed the door again and said, “Now you!” I stuck the key in and turned – nothing. As she watched me struggle she said, “Pull the door at you.” Trying to understand her, I pulled the door in a sharp jab toward my body using the huge pull in the middle of the door – Eureka! It worked. It was just a tricky door.
Clelia, turned and pat me on the shoulder smiling and in Italian she said, “Molto Bene.” I smiled at her and entered my new house. After I went in and dragged the gigantic bags with me, she closed the door while exiting with a quick, “Ciao, Americana.” I smiled and gave a half hearted wave as I said good-bye. Once Clelia left, I was overjoyed by the sight of the bed in this teeny room. I did not change or shower or brush or anything. I noted how cold this “monolocale” was while I crawled, still clothed, under the covers.
(Quote re: Exploration and/or Fear)
I slept for what seemed like four days. When I woke, it was dark outside and I wondered what time it was. I pulled the covers back – brrrr! Lept out of bed and ran into the miniature bathroom to pee. I flushed and stood in the door frame between the bathroom and the so-called kitchen. As I stood there contemplating turning on the light, I could see my breath as I exhaled. The place was freezing – quite literally. I turned the two burner gas stove on to get some heat flowing into the place. Flipped on the only light switch in the place; next to the door and while stumbling over my bags in the smallest studio in the world, so small that in falling over my bags I ran into the armoire which took up half the room.
As you walked into my house (I use house loosely; it was more like a closet) on the left next to the door there was a tiny café table with two chairs and an ashtray. Above the table was the light switch and directly next to the table was the big armoire that took up nearly a third of the space. Perpendicular to the armoire was the bed which took up the other two thirds of the room. But next to it was a charming little bedside table with a tiny lamp. Under the lamp, I placed my alarm clock and sat on the bed while I dragged the bags toward me. I unzipped both and immediately knew that I had brought too much shit with me. I mean do I really need a hairdryer and three curling irons and six types of hair products? No. By the time I unpacked everything, I had realized I could have left half the crap in California.
So I started to cleanse. I threw out everything I thought was frivolous. For instance, did I have to have a shot glass commemorating my brother’s graduation and did I really need a heating pad, heating blanket and hot water bottle? Doubtful. It all went out. Besides, who had room in the bijoux wardrobe in the smallest fucking room in the universe.
When I weeded through the crap, I began to put things away. I folded all my undies and put them in the little drawer. Hung up all the good stuff (not much of that – only had two hangars) and put my two pairs of shoes somewhere out of sight. I started to get my shit together and realized I was beginning to hear my stomach speaking. I hadn’t eaten since the night before when I had ordered room service to my hotel room.
I needed to cash some traveler’s checks to pay rent so I went exploring for a cambio and some nourishment.
I dressed in a big black wool coat that Flan dubbed, “Three Bags.” And under it I wore the basic jeans and big black boots. I grabbed the skeleton key and my purse off the little table and began my little exploration. My apartment was in a little part of the city called Monti. Rione Monti was the “red light district” in Rome years and years ago. The street, Santa Maria ai Monti, a skinny, cobbled street with a hidden restaurant – La Forchetta and two markets -- ran directly perpendicular to Santa Maria Maggiore and parallel to Via Cavour. It wasn’t the best neighborhood but who cared?
I walked south and just for kicks turned right down another dark little alley. In a city filled with shady places one doesn’t necessarily have a choice. The city of Rome as you may know is really a collection of hills so there were stairs leading to somewhere else all over the city. These stairs were steep and very wide. Flanking the stairs were broad, ancient, tall walls. They in their own right were as ominous as the darkness of the descent itself.
Once I reached the bottom of the stairs, I looked right and then left. The long, dark stairway had led me directly to Via Cavour – a major thoroughfare. I saw, northwards, in flashing, neon lights, “Cambio.” The sign chose the direction in which I needed to go.
The night was crisp but clear. I could see the breath that exited my lungs come faster as my pace quickened. I was approaching the back side of “Mary Major” which looked even the larger from the rear perspective. I reached the change facility and was greeted by a very handsome Italian man named Marco. I knew his name was Marco – it was on his nametag. I shyly greeted him back, “Salve.” In very broken Italian I tried to ask for a currency exchange. He looked at me and assured me that he spoke English. I smiled a nervous smile with shaky lips and gave him my cash. He took it and hurried around frantically while he spoke quickly and in breath while he looked at the money. Then he sat heavily in his little clerk’s chair. Looked at me with a very furrowed brow and sighed as he looked at the Euros he was about to give me. He looked back up, his Mediterranean features softening and said, “Eet eesa no safe to walk in the dark with so mucha money.” I looked at him as a shamed child would look at a parent who was chastising her. I could barely see him as I sheepishly stared through my eyelashes. And I replied timidly, “You are so right.” I took the cash which Marco counted out to me, turned on my heel and quickly made my way towards home. He was right. It was a stupid things to be roving around a foreign city after dark with $1200 in my bag. I took the cash home and put it in the bottom drawer of the stand up armoire.
I flipped on the little light next to the bed and blinked as I scanned the room for something to do. I assessed: I could read…naw, that’s an activity I like to reserve while in bed already, I could clean, I only just moved in a few hours prior…the place was already clean, or I could eat.
That’s it. I forgot to eat. Happiness! I threw my coat back on and began my traverse again. Instead of going down the big stairs to the big street, I went straight ahead. I could feel the medieval mist lift as I took each step toward a huge cobbled square. I passed rusty, old very tiny European cars and there wasn’t a soul around. I continued to walk until I was in the middle of a quiet intersection. At each corner of the square stood huge square towers, with tiny windows at the top of each. The structures had been there since barbarians had entered the city 700 years prior to my relocation.
As I strolled by the buildings, my mind imagined a Hun/Roman battle taking place between the towers. Then, I place myself at the scene: I step over bloodied bodies of soldiers from each adversary as they writhe in pain from battle wounds that would ultimately claim their lives. I picture the priests hauling each fatality off the field while living soldiers look on from the highest windows on each corner of the field. As the priests struggle with each body the battle continues around us and I hear the gnashing of weapons; Spear against spear and sword against shield. I see the red fringe of horse hair on the helmets of the Roman soldiers and the brutish, crude battle axes of the barbarians waging the battle. I blinked on the battlefield and found myself back on a modern Roman street still dominated by the stature of the watch towers.
I continued to walk and found myself on a dark little street called Via in Selci. I could tell it would be the utmost of Italian charm in the daytime hours but at nine o’clock at night it was just a creepy little alley. I kept on walking and made sure to be very cognizant of the click of my heels. I tuned my ears to each heel drop to make sure there was not another pair of feet behind me. Finally, I reached Via Cavour. The huge avenue intersected with the tiny, charming lane I had just come from, and in the middle of the intersection was a huge blue ‘M’ (drawing of metro sign) marking a metro entrance.
I crossed the demanding, strident street where cars still thundered by even at that late winter hour. I dodged motorini (photo) as I crossed and recognized the nonchalance with which Italians drove; I had only read about the driving treachery in storybooks or saw it in films.
I barely made it across the street with my limbs still attached. I kept a forward pace and came upon an internet café. I made a mental note of it and continued to walk. On the right side of my body there were more blue metro signs and a huge stair case going down to Via Urbana. (Photo of stairs for metro and view from above of Via Urbana). I descended the stairs while also trying to avoid the disrespect of Italians. Italians have no regard for “personal space.” I could feel my expression contort into something less than pleasant – my facial expression probably looked like I had just stepped in dog poo. When I arrived at the bottom of the stairs I was terribly disgruntled not to mention smelly; I had stepped in dog poo. I rubbed the bottom of my shoe against the stair I had just jumped off. Italians were running around me frantically trying to reach the metro. I removed the mess from my sole as best as I could, swung my coat around me in dramatic anger and continued my search for food. I found myself on a small cobbled street with a sandwich shop exclaiming “panini” on its sign – closed. I turned left with disappointment and walked more slowly while hanging my head.
I passed a raucous crowd housed in a charming pub and was jealous of all the conviviality exclaiming from the interior of the drinking hole. I tilted my head left and noticed the fine etching on the glass of the pub and the little hanging plants on either side of the huge wood door. I passed and as I did my curiosity of the place grew. It’s title – “Paddy’s”.
I realized as my pace quickened that the name of the street had changed from Via Urbana to Via Leonina. On this little lane, just past Paddy’s were a chocolatier, a design shop and low and behold a pizzeria, which was open, thank goodness. I thrust myself through the heavy door and peered through the glass case with my nose as close to the pizza as I could get without being gross. The Italian attendant looked at me and started spouting some Italian which at this point was still a foreign language to me. I smiled and nodded while spouting, “si, si.” I pointed to a piece of Rosemary and potato pizza slice. He shook his head in frustration and under his breath whispered, “Americana.” I didn’t care about the rudeness. In a huffy, frustrated tone he asked, “Mange Qui?” I shook my head no, I did not want to eat at the establishment. I was starving and could not wait until I could shove this little piece of heaven into my face – privately.
I paid the jerk, collected my change and took the hot piece of square pizza out into the dark little street. While I ate I ambled through the street and came to Via dei Serpenti (view shot). I picked my head off the pizza and wiped my mouth with a little paper square, as I wiped my mouth my face turned. Lit up in the distance was the grandiose form of the coliseum. I swear that angels began to sing and my skin shivered all over from excitement. I took the pizza away from my mouth and stopped to give the coliseum proper reverence. There stood the ancient structure – one of the facades that called me to Rome in the first place. The sight was truly breathtaking.
I finished my pizza and walked toward the Coliseum. It was time to venture back to the mini apartment I now called home. I walked and walked and walked for what seemed like hours. I turned and turned and walked and finally tired of the walking. It became laborious and was no longer an adventure. I just wanted to get back to my place. I found the towers, thank goodness, not to mention I was exhausted and could not wait to spend my first night in my new bed.
I threw off my clothes with no regard for where they landed. I hopped in bed and found myself scissor kicking furiously, trying to warm my feet up. I looked at the clock – 23:00 (11:00 pm). I tossed and turned and could not figure out why I could not sleep. I was exhausted. I was also freezing. I climbed out of bed and check the heater. It was on but did not really pump out enough heat to heat a thimble and since I lived in something the size of a walnut shell; clearly warmness was not in my fortune for the evening. I got back under the covers but tossed all night. The kind of tossing that gets your sheets all wrapped around you and your hair all sticky-uppie. I would have hoped that kind of movement would create some kind of friction, unfortunately, in the middle of January in the middle of Italy in the middle of Rome in the middle of Via Santa Maria Ai Monti, it was an absolute impossibility. The last time I looked at the clock, it was 6:00 am and there was a hint of light in the sky before I looked at the clock again – 8:30.
Nothing was open yet and I was in desperate need of a comforter of some sort. I walked to Clelia’s office to find out about a store in the areas that may have a comforter or a space heater I could buy.
I passed a language school on the way to the agency and made a mental note as to it’s location for future reference. When I arrived at the agency they weren’t open yet either so I sat on the cold, hard marble steps, put my head between clenched fists and rested my elbows on my knees as I sulked.
About forty five minutes later, Alessandra came to open the door. She was an assistant for Clelia and was pert and friendly. She asked me in her excellent but heavily accented English, what I was doing there. I told her I was looking for a comforter because my apartment was freezing cold and I was uncomfortable. As I said comforter, I saw the word hang above my head in a cartoon bubble, and knew immediately that she wouldn’t have any idea what I was saying. I looked at the word that hung in the air above my head and averted my view to Allesandra’s eyes. I was stopped before my view could reach her eyes, however by the huge, inquisitive crevice of confusion that stationed itself between her eyebrows. I looked at her and with grunts and hand gestures tried to clarify myself. I was tired and frustrated and decided to say thank you, turn on my heel and jet.
Crestfallen, I trotted down the wide marble staircase. Once I reached the street outside, I stood, breathing heavily, considering what I could do next to rectify the dilemma. As, I breathed and looked at my breath in the steam form as it exited my mouth, I picked up a foot and walked. I reached Termini and continued on. I was clearly in a horrible neighborhood; shady characters were skulking around everywhere. I looked to my left and thankfully, my eyes fell upon a store called MAS. I ran inside the store but found that it was not necessarily the kind of placer I wanted to be. Many shady characters lurked in the fluorescent crevices of the store.
The floor was dirty and the temperature was cold even inside. The lighting gave everyone inside the store a green pallor and there was a stink of sour milk in the air. I browsed slowly through the place careful not to touch anything unless I had to. Then like something divine, in the distant end of a vacant little hallway was a sign “coperte.” I had no idea what that meant but by the look of the strewn matter atop the table I deduced that “coperte” meant blankets. Thank goodness. Maybe I would not freeze anymore. I found a green down blanket and a yellow one too and scurried to the front of the too well lit check out line. The girl in charge of the checkouts was wearing something scathingly provocative as she chomped on her gum. Her hair was a greasy mess and she had three day old eyeliner melting down her cheeks. I put my purchase on the counter so she could scan them and she told me how much. I was still too new to Italian to understand and had to look at the register screen. Twelve Euro. Hm. I had exact change.
I took the blankets off the counter, grabbed the receipt and awkwardly began the journey back to my new home.
I arrived at my teeny house and immediately unrolled my blankets. I was cursing my breath each time steam exited my mouth with the disappointment of such freezing weather and a heater that did not work. I grunted and tugged at the comforter. I got it straight on the bed and decided it was time to get a telephonino – a cell phone.
“Where ever you go there you are.”
I swung “three bags full” over my body. I had grown fond of that coat as it was the only thing that kept my body temperature at an almost bearable degree. It was a black, curly, swing coat with a hemline like a circle skirt. The circle part of the coat was sort of like a blanket which was a fine preliminary to the very necessary bed resources I had just purchased. I was glad to put it back on me before I went out again.
I slammed the door shut behind me, which closed with a thud. I descended the stair case which led to and from my front door, ventured through the courtyard and went out the gate. I went left up the alley and took a short cut through a teensy medieval corridor next to Chiesa di Santa Pressede.
This little church was amazing. The feeling that I had while standing outside of it was ethereal. Like a spirit had surrounded me. Sounds like voodoo, sure but recall the history of Rome. The spirit thing shouldn’t be that difficult to believe. Unfortunately, it was too late to really explore Santa Pressede. It would have to wait until the following day.
I continued on my journey after a short pause outside the church. I went on my way to find a bigger street and find it I did. I could hear angels sing as I came to Via del Corso and the stately image of Santa Maria Maggiore – the secondary Papal seat – after St. Peter’s; a huge grandiosity of Catholicism. The exploration of that would also have to wait until some other time. I trudged on through a seedy part of town. The dodginess of the area abounded – carabinieri everywhere; people with dirty beaten faces walking, begging and yelling at one another. Cheap hotels, buzzing with neon advertising air conditioning and hourly rates. Dirty buildings littered with graffiti, traffic of torn up cars honking their horns aimlessly and motorini drivers arbitrarily yelling at the honking cars. I continued to walk still with a heaviness of the area I was in. My beautiful Rome had turned into any shady part of any huge city; dangerous. I picked up the pace and made it to Statzione Termini – the train station.
Eye Blu – the phone place was right in front of me and I was glad to have finally reached it. I walked in and caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the display glass. Woah! Hair in my face, make-up almost off except for smudges of blush where it didn’t belong and huge black circles of exhaustion under my eyes. Oh well. I needed a phone. It was a sure necessity. Even though it was getting dark, the train station was buzzing with activity. The Benetton Shop was still selling to savvy travelers. The café’s were still doing business and the La Perla lingerie store had a line of underwear purchases coming out the door. The atmosphere in the station was a loud bustle even though night was upon all of us.
The Italian telephone man was silkily skulking behind the official phone counter as though I wasn’t there. A little disappointing as we Americans are so focused on “customer service.” He simply pretended I was not there. I cleared my throat and did a few other little passive aggressive things to show my interest in buying a phone. He sat languidly on a director’s chair with his head propped on his balled up fist. Finally, he threw his greasy head back and asked me nonchalantly, “Prego?”
I smiled at him nervously, and pointed at a phone. He ran his fingers through his greasy hair and rolled his eyes. “Are-a you Americana oo Englaise?”
I responded, feeling smaller than usual, “American.” He moved his skinny body jerkily toward the display glass and jingled a set of keys from his pocket. He unlocked the display case and asked which one I wanted to look at. I pointed at the basic Nokia. He took it down for me. I looked at it (though I had no idea what I was looking at) and being a proper Italian man, snorted at me while he conspicuously checked his reflection in the display glass as I felt the contour of what might have been my new phone. Except for one thing, the shop boy, lets call him “Guido,” shook his hair dramatically at himself in the window after which he took the phone out of my hand, grinned fake-ly and said, “thank-a you,” we-a see you again-a.” I looked at him with a furrowed brow. I felt my eyebrows press together and knew he had lost my business. I whispered to myself louder than I had meant to, “Jerk.” He wiggled his precious hair again and sneered at me like the villain in a cartoon.
I was phoneless still and expected to be “in communicato” by now. But jerko- Guido made it clear that I was not welcome in his boss’ store. I left with an huff and sought out another phone store. I left termini and followed the proverbial yellow brick road. I was delirious now and didn’t care where I went. I found myself on Via Cavour near a few pizza places and thankfully there was a Tim Telephone store. I walked in and a young girl named Sophia greeted me. She was all smiles and spoke perfect English. “Can I help you?” she asked me. I smiled back and immediately knew I would buy a phone from her. She was friendly and kind. She had the usual dark hair that many Italian girls have and her charming, easy way was nice to be around. She pointed me toward a phone without me even having to tell her what I was looking for. She kindly reached to the tallest shelf and brought down the Nokia I was looking at at the other store. I looked it over quickly and decided that I wanted it. I nodded to her and smiled, while I reached for my wallet. She boxed up my new phone, entered the amount I owed on the cash register and she told me, in English the amount that I owed her. It was only 95 Euros in my estimation I thought that amount somewhat reasonable. She smiled and gave me the plastic Tim bag which temporarily housed my new communication device.
I walked back to my little house and was happy to have made it back safely as it was now dark and well past night.
I arrived at my door, stuck the key in it and pushed it open. I went in to my freezing cold house and after unwrapping the phone began to charge the battery. I was anticipating the use of the phone and fantasizing about all the people I could call…wait, I had no friends yet. I had a mini anxiety attack; I held my chest and sat on the bed and concentrated on the fact that I could see my breath. One negative thought to another cured me of any cheerfulness I might have been working on. It was then and there that I thought of the adage, “Where ever you go there you are.” I had never felt as alone as I had in that moment and I was more scared than I had ever been before even arriving in Italy.
I pushed my freakish thoughts to the back of my mind and began to un-make the bed. As I rumpled my new warmth, the thoughts of lonliness crept into the darkest corners of my mind.
As my thinking turned more and more sour, I crawled toward the pillows and jammed myself between the blankets. The warmth never came; only restlessness accompanied me. So for lack of the sandman’s visit, I began to pray; I prayed for friends and a job, too. I shivered for sometime after I had completed my prayers and finally, my dreams found me – fantasizing about the interior of Chiesa di Santa Pressede.
I woke up stupidly early in the morning. I had such a horrible night of sleep or lack thereof, that at 7 AM I was ready to get going. I had plans. The church down the street was beckoning me. I had to wait until a reasonable hour. I got up leisurely, took a shower, did my morning routine and hit a “caffe/bar.” I walked in to the caffe and the first thing I noticed was that I was not only the shortest person in there but also the only female. Come to think of it, I was the only person in there under fifty. I put my nose up to the bar (I was too short for the traditional “belly up to the bar).” In my best Italian, I asked politely for “un café, per favore.”
This place was both Baroque and provincial; so uncommon place for anything in this century. The walls were mirrored and pictured in gilded frames above the mirrors were famous local footballers. There were soccer scarves lining the wall with team names emblazoned on them. Behind the intricate, though tiny, polished wood bar there was a television. The picture barely came in and the static was nearly unbearable but the men in the bar watched feverishly, regardless of picture quality as they sucked on their cigarettes.
The barista handed me the change for the coffee and I sat down at the only empty table. One of the teams on the television scored and all the meni n the café boisterously barked negative comments disappointments and slurs directed at their own teams players. As I turned to look around two of the men had stood up and screamed while they threw wild gesticulations at the television. I was really enjoying the cultural experience of the scene. I smiled.
I spent an hour or so in the bar. I left my empty demi-tasse on the bar and quietly went out. I walked up the San Martino Ai Monti and noticed all the happenings of the morninin: shops opening, the butcher with his white apron in his hand as he prepared to put it on, a restaurant, inside, with a scene similar to the one I had just witnessed and as I strolled, on my left, Father Bertolini, was opening the huge carved wooden doors to my planned field trip event. I took in a breath of fresh Italian air and Mary Tyler Moore style I added a skip to my pace as I entered what will always be to me the prettiest church in the world.
As I walked into the church, it seemed small as it was tucked away in the dark street next to many apartments and stores the doors were twenty feet tall tucked behind iron gates that opened up onto the grey cobbled street. If you didn’t know it was there, you could miss it. It was only signified by the iron gates, the big door, and a little stoop above on the shadiest, tiniest street in Rome. I climbed the stairs to the main entrance and read the kiosk on the right side of the entrance. As I read the times of the services, I blessed myself with holy water that was offered in an exquisite marble bowl that was mounted on the wall.
I learned that in the 9th century Pope Paschal died and was buried in this church. Considering the modesty of the entrance you would never know the sanctity of the place; upon entering, though, I could swear I heard the angels singing. The tall ceiling caused an echo which was like a spirits whisper as though a non existent breeze was flowing though the building.
As I looked up, angels were rendered in bright colors and soft pastels on the ceilings, walls, columns, and even the floor. There was white scroll work on the white balustrades and marble of all kinds of different colors; deep rose, grey, white, and sage green. On the walls there were scrolls of gold and mosaics of Christ, Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, and other religious figures. The alter was magnificent. A guilded Christ hung at the far wall. Behind him on the wall was a caravagesque painting of angels descending from heaven to communicate with the humans in the portrait—fearful and wondering all at once. angels carved from marble danced as though they were not stone on the top of the alter each holding a lute and candles abounding within the edifice made the atmoshphere that much more decadent. At the very top of the ceiling were small windows letting in the most minuscule amount of natural light. Flanking the windows were black velvet curtains that were opulent even from the distance I was. This church, though little known, was one of the greatest places in the city I have seen so far. Of course however, I have not seen the coliseum yet.
I sat in a pew, said a little prayer (I am quite certain it was something to the effect that I needed friends and a job). Just before my departure at the North exit, I lit a candle to reinforce the prayer I had just said. I went out into the daylight, squinted my eyes and the sight of Santa Maria Maggiore exploded on the street when I came out of Chiesa Di Santa Prassede. I was starving.
The food here was, among gourmands, the best in the world. It was still early in the day and I was running on coffee. I walked and as I did, I edged closer to the train station. You can imagine, as is true often, the train station was in a very dangerous not to mention dodgy part of the city. I steered clear of termini and turned left after the secondary papal seat, “Mary Major” and continued to walk and walk and walk. As I traveled, the weather became more tolerable and I flung three bags over my shoulder still continuing to walk. I came upon an open “square” with plenty of traffic called Piazza Barbarini. In the middle of the open area was a fountain I recognized immediately as the Triton Fountain.
The sight of this fountain to me, as a person who appreciated art, was breathtaking. Bernini really outdid himself on Fontana del Tritone, although Bernini always outdid himself. It must’ve been around 10am but I was only guessing – I didn’t have enough sense to check my phone because it hadn’t rung. There was a McDonalds to my left as well as a movie theater which showed films in English (mental note). The golden arches had a magnetic pull and before I knew it I was inside McDonalds. I looked at the giant yellow American iconographic sign, took a deep breath and simultaneously wondered why, in a country with world famous cuisine, I found myself at McDonalds. I licked my lips at the thought of a Filet O’Fish combo meal. I was beginning to feel silly so I exited the building to go in search of sundries which were more Italian in nature.
I continued to walk and wended my way through cobbled streets and dark alleys for the sheer mystery and romance of it. I loved the colors of burnt umber, sienna, butter yellow and mustard on all the buildings. I loved the architectural embellishments that were on buildings, I loved the smell of the damp cobbles on which I imagined having taken place great battles. Where horse carriages would have wheeled their goods and slave girls would have walked to do their master chores. But the romance of it all was hindered by my deep need for food. I came to an area that seemed sort of familiar to me. On Via Urbana, there were a few restaurants, on in particular looked appealing called Vasi Ristorante but instead of stopping, my feet kept me moving. I think I felt it would be best to wait and go to a restaurant – wait until I had friends. I turned a sharp right on a bright but tiny street called Via Del Boschetto. It was lined with really clever merchants, like tea houses, Asian goods and lo and behold an alimentari (grocery). I approached the butcher counter and pointed on the glass to the meat and cheese I wanted, he was a kind younger man who sort of laughed and asked inquisitively, “American?”
In laughed shyly and nodded. In perfect, nearly unaccented English Paulo gave me some quick Italian lessons.
He began, “When you see some meat you want, you say, “posso avere piccolo di questo.”
I tried it out, and pointed to some spicy Soppresatta while I practiced my new phrase. I looked at him feeling hugely successful.
He laughed a hearty laugh, “nice-a, now you can speak Italian.”
We got to talking and it turned out that he had just returned to Italy from Arizona?! Why Arizona, I though? He was brought into a family business after having been married to an American woman. Paulo moved her with him to Italy. And they had been married for three years. I asked her how she was adjusting. Unfortunately, Paulo said it was a very difficult transition for her. I knew how she felt.
I grabbed my salami and cheese and a small loaf of bread and a Pelegrino. I smiled, waved, and told Paulo I would be back in.
I left the tiny shop, since the day had warmed up nicely; I found the nearest fountain/piazza to cop a squat in so I could enjoy my lunch. The piazza near the butcher shop seemed to choose me rather than me choosing it. It was well lit with a railing next to a small fountain which I could sit on. There were children playing soccer and pigeons abounding near a group of men smoking and laughing while they ate pastries. The cobbles had been warmed by the sun and I knew this was the place. I sat and ate as I reveled in the romance of living in Rome. (Picture of Piazza?)
After I ate my lunch, I stood up and walked near a tiny restaurant with colored umbrellas. Next to the tiny restaurant was a fruit and vegetable vendor with little oranges in baskets waiting to be purchased. They begged me to buy some and I asked the vendor for 1 kilo of “Clementini.” On my slow stroll home, I peeled a Clementine Orange and ate it. It almost seemed as though I was delighting in the taste of Rome at that moment; the sweet juice ran down my face and the pulp of the teeny orange got stuck in my teeth. I thought to myself that I could live on these – for the taste was the meat of Rome; the blood of Italy.
\Pa*nop"ti*con\, n. "...assuring a surveillance which is both global and individual." (From “panopticon2.blogspot.com”)
I stuck my key in the door to my little apartment (if you could call it that – more bijoux dwelling if you know what I mean). As I turned the key to go in and shoved hard on the door, I noticed the Wisteria buds had begun to come out on the huge vine at the top of the stairs above my apartment door. I could feel my expression smile and I walked into the apartment hallway which connected my apartment to Cinzia’s – my Italian neighbor; a lovely lesbian that made the culture I was encountering all the more enriched!
Cinzia was a very interesting lady. She lived in a place smaller than mine and she lived there with a futon that she folded up everyday. She also had a table that was screwed into the wall it was also folded so that it sat flush against the wall except when she was eating. And she housed herself there with a little dog named Beppo. Lately when I had arrived back at my little home she had stuck her big fluffy head out her door, the doggie barking behind her, smiling enthusiastically, saying, “Ciao, ciao!!!!” How could I not befriend such enthusiasm? Let’s face it; this far from home anyone this happy to see me was a welcome addition to my life.
Cinzia begged my audience as she cooked. What the hell else was I doing? Not much. The choices were to go home and try to figure out a mocha pot (Italian coffee brewer) and chain smoke or watch Cinzia whip up a feast for 6 in her teensy apartment. The choice was clear. As she beckoned me inside her one room house, she did so with a smile so warm it could make hunger disappear in a bear which had hibernated for the entire winter! I entered her space of 20 square feet and she pulled out a chair for me that was meant to sit under the kitchen table which was for now tucked neatly away against the wall. I sat.
Crossing my legs and throwing my purse on the nearby futon…too nearby for Cinzia to be comfortable, I watched as she took tomatoes, garlic, bread, cheese and olives from the fridge. She went to the cupboard, although “went” would suggest that she had to travel, a severe overstatement — more like “reached” – yes definitely more apropos in this case – and grabbed olive oil, red pepper flakes and an orange out of the small bowl of fruit on her mini counter.
As she whipped up a gourmand gastronomie, I calculated approximately how much she spent on the entire meal and came up with “4.” Yes. It’s true. Four dollars! She arranged mozzarella cheese, soppressatta and crusty bread on a wooden board. Then she took her oil cured black olives and put them into one of her own serving bowls as opposed to the yucky plastic container the little olives came in originally. To the olives she added red pepper flakes, the rind of the orange an the juice of the same. Then she sprinkled a finger bit of salt on top and passed me the bowl, shoving it under my nose. It was obvious though wordless that she wanted me to try one of the olives before her gusts arrived.
I am what one might call a foodie! I choose my friends largely based on whether they know what “Fume” or “Bouillabaisse” is. These olives were pure gourmand and yet nothing more than peasant food. They may as well have been Ambrosia from the Gods of ancient Rome. They were simply divine! The taste of the orange mixed with the red pepper was angry and charming all at once. It was love at first bite you might say. Cinzia stood in front of me with a small white apron tied around her waist, one hand on her hip and her little dog at her heel patiently waiting a response from the American newcomer having an orgasm over a friggin’ olive!
I looked up at Cinzia after swallowing and since I could not yet speak proper Italian, I cheered and jumped up from my seat. Cinzia grinned and Beppo jumped up in the air repeatedly like a circus dog. Then she got her Italian/English dictionary and from that came up with: “Gwen, you please stay dinner here.” How could I refuse? I smiled and nodded my acceptance. And she kissed me twice – once on each cheek. Five minutes later her guests arrived: Sophia, Mathilde, Isabella and Leelee arrived all at once and five minutes after them came Paula and her dog “Nut.” So in Cinzia’s tiny aapartment sat 7 grown women. I swear Cinzia’s apartment may as well have been a palace simply because I was so happy not to be alone. There was some merry making of course. Lot’s of laughter and all Italian style – which meant that I sort of sat there, loving the olives and grinning every time someone burst into clips of laughter.
The clock struck Midnight – cliché I know – and I wanted to go home…exhaustion started to set in, since I had spent the entire evening grinning and harkening to understand as much as I could even if by gesticulations alone; as I felt my head loll, I looked up and yelled out, “Ciao!” “Buona Notte, Amici!” and was quite impressed with myself for using the little Italian I knew. All the ladies languidly looked at me and though they were sad to see me leave guiltlessly let me say my goodbyes. As I stood I realized my lolling head and my new friends languid looks were not for any other reason than the fact that Cinzia had continued to fill my wine glass all night long. I had definitely over stayed my time there.
I walked into my little flat (no key required – I left my door open to make Cinzia’s place appear bigger) and closed the door behind me ready for bed. I kicked off my shoes, lay down on my bed and flipped on the telly. Imagine my surprise when I saw on t.v., speaking Italian (dubbed) a childhood friend, now an actor on a television series, looking back at me from television land. It was cute…like old Japanese films…my friends lips moving oddly differently from what words were coming out. I gave a giggle and the next thing I knew the sun began to wink at me.
I woke with the sun in my eyes and my pillow at my feet. My clothes were still on and an Italian morning show – comparable to Good Morning America – was yelling out to me. I sat up pulling the covers out from under my body and pulled my pants the rest of the way up. I went to pee, came back and fumbled with the mocha pot. I had it steadfast in my head that I would make a fine cup of espresso even though I secretly longed for the camel pee that is American coffee.
I had gotten beans at a teeny market the day before. They smelled wonderful and I was anticipating a reallyu fantastic cup of espresso. I filled the pot with water, filled the percolator with coffee and and tightened the seal. Then I waited. While the coffee was brewing on the stove, I did little things. I counted my money and re-folded some clothes….BANG. Shit! I turned around and the seal on the coffee pot had ruptured or something exploding coffee all over the room. I was panic stricken not from the mess but from the damn noise the little explosion made.
I hurriedly turned the stove off and tried to move the pot but when I touched it, the top separated from the bottom and I ended up spilling all the rest of the coffee everywhere and burnt my fingers as I grabbed the little moka pot.
I cleaned up the mess, bathed and dressed and went in search of a freaking cup of espresso. I found a little café that might have been quite touristy during the high season but as of the winter season was pleasantly empty allowing me to approach the counter without much effort. I ordered “un caffé,” paid my $.67 and found a seat in the cool sun outside. The view was spectacular! I was alone with a coffee, a coat and a pack of cigarettes looking at Santa Maria Maggiore – the true papal seat. I sunned myself while I drank and became introspective. I finished up my coffee and went home to artfully write in my journal.
Upon entering my little flat (bijou it was)…I found the journal got it out and feverishly began to write. After the basic introductions, I just did not know what to write. And realized I had no stories to put in it yet. So I closed its cover grabbed three bags and ran out the door again to find some adventures.
I was walking down Via Cavour and found myself waltzing into an internet café—quite popular in Europe. It was a nameless, non-descript sort of place on the outside…but once you got inside, it was crisp and white with little ashtrays next to each computer and an espresso corner with real porcelain cups and saucers and tiny metal demi spoons. There was good light in the place so you did not feel like you were in the usual computer cave and the ventilation was good too incase you did not want to choke on your neighbors second hand smoke.
I sat down at one of the computers and began to write to the homies. The first note to go out was to my cousin in the Netherlands. Since I had most recently left her she was at the forefront of my mind. Plus that kid had done so much by such a young age. She lived on a Green Peace boat, travelled the Cook Islands, spoke German (as well as English and Dutch), went to film school, knew movie stars and had a world of sophistication that I had not acquired yet. I told her how worried I was about my well being simply because of the newness of everything. She quickly and lovingly responded with the fact that I was a brave woman who would have the experience of a lifetime! Skeptically, I responded again to her, 'thanks for the support!"
I made my way home to my tiny flat -- more a closet. And lay on my bed contemplating the cold outside. Italy is lovely anytime of year but it is especially mysterious in the wintertime. For instance look at the film, "Roman Holiday," it definitely was not set in the wintertime. Since we see the spring and summer in films and read about it in books, the winter is simply out of reach and I sank into it fully and felt it in my bones. I hated Rome for a moment as I hated the cold of winter. My bones hurt, my feet hurt and my heart hurt for lack of friends and money and I froze every night – discomfort had become my middle name.
The following days came and went, came and went. About six weeks passed and I had seen a man around my neighborhood frequently who sort of slinked around. He wore glasses, a leather jacket with the collar turned up to his ears and very tight jeans. He clunked around as he slunk in cowboy boots, too. His hair was "long short" -- meaning it was short but all one length, to about his cheek, that he greased to the back of his head. I saw him quite frequently, I wondered if he was following me and he gave me a creepy feeling.
On a sunny morning, that promised spring, I went to a nearby cafe. I ordered a cafe latte and a cornetto (Italian for croissant). I took my drink and pastry to a table in front of a window, set all my goodies down, removed my coat and riffled in my bag for my popcorn treatise -- reads like eating popcorn -- some fluff that is funny, fun and predictable. I sat and read as I clutched my drink.
Ten minutes and an out loud giggle, I looked up from the book and realized a man sitting next to me with a smarmy grin -- black corner teeth and a shadow of hair on his greazy face. It was the slinky guy.
He invited himself to sit next to me. I nervously smiled as he encroached. How should I get out of this without appearing rude -- forget 'appearances' how was I going to remove myself without actually being rude. I was a visitor after all.
Upon a closer look, "slinky" was not, by my estimation an Italian, too slight, not stylish enough and awake far too early.
I took a sip of my coffee and tried to get my nose as deeply into my book as possible. But my unwelcome neighbor decided every time I went deeper into my seat and book that clearing his throat was a charming idea! I felt my brow furrow and my lip curl in a very unpleasant way. I contained myself and found the sentence in the book where I had left off -- and "slinky" cleared the frog from his throat again. He had at the end of this archaic and juvenille discourse decided to interact in an actual conversation with me. Unfortunately for him, he may not have approached me in the best spirits at the time.
He tapped me on the shoulder before speaking (polite). I responded by looking at him with crazy eyes (opened widely so he might feel threatened by the whites of my eyes -- I saw it on animal kingdom) while this threat may work in the animal kingdom it did not create any reaction except challenge in the slinky man who had just poked my shoulder. I braced myself while he prepared to speak. He offered his hand for me to shake, which, out of curiosity, I took. And while lingering on my hand too long, he said with a French accent, "I am vera vera pleased to meet you. My name eez Jacques." I smiled guiltily as I thought of how unfair I was in my judgements -- after all, he had a French accent and his name was Jacques!
I warmed slightly, and said, "Nice to meet you, I am Brynn." He frowned and told me my name was funny. As in odd. I, slightly offended, grabbed my hand out of his. He snorkled with a half laugh and leaned closer to me. I, in instinct, leaned away. But he kept coming! I thought he was being inappropriate until he grabbed something on my neck which he happened to say was a small spider. I was relieved to have the spider off me and to have the “slinky” out of my face. Besides I wasn’t sure he was so truthful about the spider anyway.
I noticed my curiosity about Jacques had not subsided and as I was inquiring in my own mind he burst out, "Have a dreenk weeth me!" I looked at him questioningly and said, "When?" Oh, I cursed myself -- why the hell did I act interested? He replied, "At seex thees eveneeng." He suddenly sounded like a B movie vampire and I was even more creeped out. I tried to stall, hem and haw and sputter out a "no" until I replied, "Okay!" WHAT WAS I SAYING?
He gave me directions to a small Irish pub, across Via Cavour on Via Leonina. Ironically, it was a place I had been interested in going to since I arrived in Rome months ago. I said, "Okay!" AGAIN?
He shook my hand for a second time, trying to be debonair but looking simply silly instead and said, "Enchante, unteel thees eveneeng." It was very difficult not to chuckle loudly, but my sensibilities said that would be rude. He turned away and the slick of his hair left a trail of grease behind. Why did I say, “ok?” He was totally not my type. He was short, skinny, greasy and French-ish. Though, I was not even sure he was actually French. Something was off in his accent. I shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself that maybe he would direct me to some friends. And to a man that was my type; tall, lean, handsome, freckled – not Italian.
I watched Jacques leave the bar and slink away with a cheesy, feigned swagger in a leather jacket that was three sizes too big and black jeans that were three sizes too small and three years out of date. I finished my coffee and had lost my appetite so I left the pastry there and was disappointed that I had spent money on something that had become so unappealing to me. I wrapped it in a napkin and put it gingerly in my backpack so as not to injure it.
I packed up my things threw my coat on and ventured toward the Tiber River. I wanted an adventure before my “date” this evening. I arrived at Tiber Island. It was quiet and charming with a few bars and a little church and a police station on it. I strolled around the tiny island and continued across the bridge. I had made it to the most charming part of Rome called Trastevere. Trastevere means across the Tiber. Suddenly I found I was in my own private little paradise. Since we were just starting to come out of winter there was not a tourist around. The only people there were Italians and they looked just a little more hip than other Romans. I made it to one of the oldest churches in Rome called Santa Maria in Trastevere and to the piazza attached when it started to drizzle rain. It was quite magical. The city seemed quiet, the piazza was empty of humans save for me. I found refuge in this huge church. I looked in every nook and cranny to scout out some magic. I love the prayer corners in Catholic churches. They are very magical to me; always a saint and many candles and prayers. In this particular church there was a statue of St. Francis with a little fence around it so people could not touch him. But it was a tiny shrine of prayers. People wrote their prayers on small pieces of paper and threw them to the saint behind the fence. Piles and piles of little paper draped down the statue so that it looked like the saint was wearing a wedding dress. I could hear all the cries of desperation and the giggles of joy and the sobriety of thanksgiving on those little papers. I wanted my voice to be a part of this piece of the world. I pleaded for friends and a job; ending the paper with a request for possibly a boyfriend and a drawn little wink. Folded up the paper and threw it behind the fence. It feathered through the air slowly and placed itself on the head of a marble lamb right between the ears. Nice.
I blew a kiss to the altar as I exited the church. Outside, the drops had stopped but it was cold and mucky outside. I was starving.
I found a tiny tucked away osteria, ordered some pizza and a beer – rebel. One of the greatest things about Rome is that although it is a huge cosmopolitan city, it also sometimes reflects the tiny villages that surround it. The restaurant was slow with only 3 other people in it. My beer came and I opened the journal to write. The beer gone, the pizza arrived and I wolfed it down from hunger. I asked for a new napkin and another beer. The signora at the pizzeria looked at me as though I had just committed a huge sin. With her hand on her full bosom she stepped back obviously shaken and with thick Italian asked me, “Un’aultra birra signorina?” I paused for a moment and realized she was judging me because I had asked for another alcoholic beverage. I was curious about her thoughts and did not understand why she would question my request. She brought the second sinful beer and I chugged it down very quickly while she stood with her hand on her hip watching me but trying to be discreet. As I set the empty bottle on the table she whisked it to her breast and huffed her breath at me in disgust as she ran away. I wrote feverishly in the journal of the exchange with the signora, the beer and the pizza and realized I was still hungry. I asked for her attention as as she came over to wipe off a nearby table where one of the three other guests were…now there were only two more besides me. She turned to me inquisitively, “Come?” she asked. I asked if they had any Suppli Di Riso. She again looked at me as though I was sinning and replied “Certo! Sono Romana!”
How could I know that Suppli was a Roman dish…well I did now. Suppli are little rice balls stuffed with cheese and sometimes anchovies (yuck) and then deep fried (yum). The order arrived at my table and I looked at them as they smoldered with steam. I brought the small plate to my nose as I would a fine glass of wine. I sniffed and they smelled simply divine. I stabbed one with a fork and brought it to my lips and hurriedly bit into this little jewel. It melted in my mouth as I burned my tongue. I spit it onto my plate as my mouth could not withstand the heat. After I looked up to escape the heat radiating from the plate, I noticed the same signora looking at me with what can only be described as a smirk. She was grinning at my discomfort.
I waited for her to turn around and stuck my tongue out at her. Very grown up. I finished my treats and was satisfied. I sat there for a little while and sort of gazed around the room. I had dirty, empty plates in front of me sort of growing stale infront of me. I sat back while the signora sort of danced her fluffy body around me at the empty tables, wiping them down again and again. And finally, I did that cliché throat clear. She looked at me and turned to jiggle back to the kitchen. She was quite the entertaining character but I was really starting to get irritated. I felt completely ignored. Then I knew I was being ignored as I had not seen the signora for what seems like an eternity. So, I began to hum and whistle “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles, usually reserved for the shower. It seemed like the best way to get the signora’s attention. After I finished the repetitive chorus, “we all live in a….fa, la, la, la…” still nothing. I felt a rage rise in my throat and I tried to sort out my feelings before really having to eat my feet. I decided the best way to handle this situation was to try to find her in the kitchen to where she had disappeared and ask her for the check or hand some cash her way.
I looked behind the curtain to where she would periodically disappear during my lunch. In the kitchen there were thousands of different kinds of bread, a huge cutting block where the current cut loaf was living and a huge serrated knife resting next to it surrounded by a variety of bread crumbs. But there was no signora. I began to call out, “Signora, signora. Still nothing, there was, in fact, no one. No chef, no cook, no one!
Frustrated and confused, I left a Twenty Euro bill on the table and left the restaurant knowing I would never return again. I walked in a tiny cobbled alley that flanked the restaurant. Standing there was the portly signora wearing and open coat with her apron slung over her shoulder. She had a cigarette hanging off her lip and was chattering quickly with cook who, clouded in a bellow of smoke, was sitting on an egg crate smiling at the air. I passed and she seemed not to even recognize me. I shrugged and kept on going.
Several shop fronts down the alley, I heard thundering footsteps approaching behind me. The hand of the chef spun me around by my shoulder and I felt my coat swing around my thighs the force was so great. He was barking Italian angrily in my face. I had at this point learned a basic enough Italian vocabulary to understand “pagare” as he shrieked frenetically at me. I believe he accused me of not paying. I was sort of outraged, not only because of his bad breath. I began having terrible visions of the inside of an Italian holding cell at the Carabinieri station. Just then, the signora stepped out of the back door yelling, “E GIUSTO, E GIUSTO!!” I knew “va bene” was something good, but I had no idea what “e giusto” was. All became clear as I saw her happily waving my 20 euro bill at the cook with an extended arm. The cook patted my shoulder as he looked into my fear stricken face, brushed my shoulder with his hand, apologetically and turned on his heal to go. I just stood there frozen, dumbfounded, blankly watching him go back to the signora’s osteria.
I shivered with the thoughts of the previous events. I became sleepy thinking about it and thought I should take a nap.
I wanted desperately to call someone. The air was brisk as I began my long walk back to Rione Monti where I hung my hat in my diminutive flat. I dug my little phone out of my backpack Sac bag and began pushing buttons. I think I liked to hear the buttons beep as I pushed them. The sun was low on the horizon as I continued walking and pushing. I stopped for a moment to take in the sights as I crossed the bridge over Isola Tiberina and looked at the little clock on the phone. If I was going to keep my date with “Slick” I needed to step it up a bit – so much for the nap. So much for sightseeing either; I would have to return another day to have a coffee at the tiny bar and see the little church on the island.
I crossed the road and began to run walk. My house from the island was a good two miles away, at least. I got back to my place with just enough time to take a quick shower and complete some ablutions before my date. I really wasn’t sure why I had agreed to this date except that I was lonely. Truth be told I thought this greazy guy was smarmy beyond anything and looking back it was most definitely not the brightest idea to go out with the Nigerian stranger. He was very prompt to my house and called my telephone. I could not remember ever giving him my number but apparently I had. In his thick French/Nigerian accent he hissed, “Hello, preetee lady!” I rolled my eyes at the other end of the telephone and responded with, “I will be right down.”
Descending the stairs of course I started to panic and debated whether I should go. I took a deep breath and plunged through the exterior door. The sight I saw next was so frightening, I almost turned around and went right back into my apartment. There was “Slick” in a red leather jacket. His hair was greased so tightly to his head I was surprised his eyes could close. And the black teeth he had early in the morning seemed blacker. The sight was embarrassingly frightening. This man was clearly not my type. But I had committed to going out with him and my parents raised me to keep commitments.
I looked at him as little as possible for fear of disrespectfully grinning. He looked hysterical and I was able to picture in my head the antics that went on in front of his mirror before he met me. I could almost see him clicking his teeth and shooting a gun emulating finger at himself all the while smiling with his rotten smile as he admired himself in his mirror. I begrudgingly walked quickly beside him and asked him where we were off to.
He spoke quietly as we walked. The only thing I could understand was “pub.” I thought it was rude to continue saying “what?” after each statement he made. So I just smiled and nodded each time he looked at me. We walked down the hill on Via in Selci and passed the ancient church and the coffee shop where he approached me in the morning. We crossed the street at the Cavour metro station and walked down the dirty, narrow stairs to Via Leonina (left) and Via Urbana (right). Jacques looked at me again but this time added his rotting teeth to the quotient with a smile. We approached a wooden door that looked anything but Roman. I was right in my assumptions, the sign hung outside the wooden door and read, “PADDY’S IRISH PUB.” Jacques led me into the tiny alcove where the door was set and swung the door open to let me through. I was excited to be at this place. I had been so curious about it for the several weeks I had been in Rome. Unfortunately, I was not terribly excited to be with the company I was keeping at the moment.
The atmosphere once inside the place was dark, dank, smelly and extremely lively. The bar was hopping mad with people and the bar maid, a lovely girl of mixed heritage and ringlets served patrons with a smile and some witty repartee. She was the life of the party and seemed the reason some folks were there at all. At her side was a relatively tall, lithe man with a charming face and a smart mouth. As Jacques, my dreaded date, led me to a suitable table; I gave a wry grin to the business at the bar and internally thought, “This is just the kind of place for me.” I love the atmosphere, the crowd, the bar tenders, the smoke inside, crack of the pool balls, the dingy leather on the seats, the multiple rooms. I really liked Paddy’s and felt like there was a belonging there that needed to be rooted out somehow.
As I daydreamed about the future I had with Paddy’s, Slick Yuckmouth furrowed his eyebrows so deep ridges appeared on his brown forehead. His scrunched up face wrinkled into his greasy hairline and he called my attention to him sharply with his affected accent. “Breen, have you been leestening to me?” I smiled, softly excusing my oversight and apologized. This mustn’t have done the trick however, because he seemed even bitterer than he was before he got my attention. I am, however, not the kind of girl to keep my mouth shut when confronted so I told Jaques to settle down. He gained composure of himself and winked a swarthy eye at me. He excused himself briefly to the bathroom.
Fine. I was happy to be alone. I could let my mind jump around the crowd and create fairytales about the folks I continued to stare at. I had just made up that the barman was a retired rockstar who had decided to expat himself to Italy in search of true love. Huh. I was truly entertained by these people. There was a flavor in Paddy’s that created its own time and place away from the rest of the world. It was like a movie set but it was transcendent of make believe; clearly, it was real life.
At the same moment I drew myself up from my fantasy, Jacques returned with some toilet paper with handwritten words on it. He handed it too me and I hesitated before taking it from him. It was written in a very beautiful hand all in French. But something occurred to me at that moment that removed all the would be romance from the writing. I had the thought that he may have written this while he was on the crapper.
So I asked, “Jacques, did you write this in the bathroom?” He smiled as though he thought himself the most gorgeous man in the world and licked his lips. After this little ritual he replied proudly, “Oui!” The image that rolled around my brain was killing me in several ways. Did Jacques wipe his bottom and then write the poem? Did he wash his hands before or after the writing of the poem or did he write it as he sat to poop? So many rank images flew through my over imaginative head. Just then as I began to think of the rest of the toilet paper now flushed, I gently set the poem paper down on the table. He picked it back up and shook it in my face. Oh my word, the only thing I could think of was fecal matter. It was killing me, I wretched quietly so as not to offend him. Unfortunately he was already offended because I had set the paper down and since I often wear my emotions clearly on my face, I am sure I did so with a lightly disgusted face. He had brought me this treasure that he was so utterly proud of. But I could not get past the imaginary view of his bare, shitty, bottom. So, pooping while writing me a poem, his rotting mouth and his greazy, smarmy appearance were the end of this little date.
He asked me with a pinched expression, “Are you feeneeshed wis you beer?” I looked at my full pint and picked up the glass to dramatically look more closely at it. I smiled at him and said, “Not yet.” With defeat he placed his head between his hands as I drank the beer. When the beer was half done, I exclaimed, “Let’s split, J!” He looked at me grinning as my obvious familiarity pleased him. He helped me put my jacket on and walked toward the door as I followed behind. In slow motion, the appearance of the events going on in the pub were like a little circus, complete with vibrant costumes, clever people, three rings, animals and dramatic rock and roll sounds. Paddy’s was a place I would have to visit again.
We left Paddy’s and walked toward my flat. Jacques walked slowly and I was silent as he chattered quietly about nothing. We approached the gate in front of the courtyard below the entrance to my room. In the dark the newly blooming wisteria looked cool and inviting. I looked up through the courtyard and searched for my door. I was planning a quick escape with a polite goodbye and a bounce up the steps to my door. Jacques had other plans.
“So, Breen, I weel call you tomorrow.” He crooned with pride.
I slighted a smile on my lips and coupled it with a shrug of my shoulders and a tiny, “heh.” I unlocked the gate and as I did he tried to pry himself inside the gate. I stopped him short but he flung his head between the open swinging gate panel. His tongue flailed toward me aggressively. As his mouth approached me with want, I squealed in horror, pulled my head back and crinkled my nose up. I tried as hard as I could to close the gate but he pressed the gate harder and harder against my body. I started to get louder and that did it. He backed off and I quickly slammed the gate and locked it behind me. I walked briskly through the courtyard and did not look behind me. I heard Jacques call to me in his best Romeo impression, “Goodnight, sweet lady! Sleep you well!” I rolled my eyes and continued forward to my door.
Safely inside my little home, I set my bag down on the tiny table in front of the television and turned it on. I walked over to the bathroom and washed my hands well. While I washed I heard the phone do a loud, “Beep, beep.” I dried my hands and flew to the phone. Who could it be? No one knew my number except the prince of smarm. I opened the message and there in real time digital was a message dripping with phoniness and greaze. “I weel call you tomorrow. You are so preety. I wan’t to hug you all the time.” I thought as I erased this message, “Yeah, sure you want to hug me, huh.”
I was glad the day had come to an end, after the fiasco at the trattoria and the Signora and a date with a nice but oozy dude in addition to the vibrancy of Paddy’s, it was my first really lively day. What would the following days bring?
I had been in Rome for long enough now that the money was running very tight. It was time to get a job. How? I racked my brain and decided to write in my journal. Sometimes while writing, a little blip of an idea would come to me and sometimes with tons of gratitude the idea I had would come to fruition.
I opened the journal and feverishly began to write down the events of the previous day. I wrote and wrote but no ideas on how to get a job. I packed up my journal grabbed my phone and went to the nearby bar. I thought some coffee would help me brainstorm. I effectively steered clear of the coffee shop where I met “Slick.”
Instead of going the usual way, I crossed Via Cavour and walked deliberately past Dooley’s. I looked in the window on the wooden door and saw the barstools full all the way down the length of the old wooden counter. I looked at my watch it was only about One O’Clock in the afternoon and people had full pints of beer in front of them. I supposed that was ok. Everyone in there was far from home and at some point, when the loneliness takes over one will turn to the drink to sooth the absence of others.
I continued to walk down Via Leonina and turned right on Via del Boschetto. On the left I came upon a little fountain and a Polish Catholic church. On the corner was a little cafe called Bar America. I walked in and checked it out. Through the tiny door stood a very charming Signora with a large bosom in a brown dress and a huge bouffant reddish brown hairstyle and thick black rimmed glasses. Her husband, a very short round gentleman with an impish smile stood behind the bar ready to brew me an espresso. She smiled at me and I replied, “Bon Giorno.” She was charmed by my effort and she replied slowly in Italian, “Come Stai?” I had no idea how to respond so I just shrugged and giggled nervously. She did the same and called to the chubby man behind the counter who I assumed was her husband. He placed an espresso on the counter and she came out from behind her register to stand with me at the bar. She pulled at the sleeve on my coat and dragged me to the pastry case to take a look at the “cornetti.” She pointed to the first pastries in the case. It was an entire row of delights with a cream center and a crusty, flaky dough surrounding the filled center -- clearly no butter. As she pointed she said, “Questi sono il mio favorito!” She completed her statement with a jolly laugh that made me smile. I think I understood that she was telling me that the first row of cream filled goodies was her favorite. I could get that much. I pointed at them and said, “Uno per favore.” She smiled and trotted behind the case and got one for me. The she pursed her lips at me as she held my hand out to pass me the goody and beckoned me to repeat. “Uno-di-questi-per favore.” She was teaching me how to say, “One of these, please.” I loved it – my first real Italian phrase.
The signora passed me through the front door of the shop with my Espresso and cornetto in hand. She set me up on a small table outside and the sun was on its way to shine. I was happy not to mention lucky to be living in an extremely romantic moment. Then to my surprise the Signora sat down with me. Her husband brought her the same thing I was having. He set down the tiny coffee cup and the plate with the pastry on it and pulled out the chair that sat across from the one that I had already seated myself on. Before the Signora sat she tapped the back of her chair and questioned, “Posso?” I was sure she had asked me if it is was ok if I joined her. So I nodded emphatically “Si!” My first friend in Rome was a “young” older lady at the Caffe/Bar America. In my poor Italian, I asked, “Tu nome?” She said as she patted my arm, “Signora Amereeca.” I smiled and she followed up, “Como ti chiama?” I sort of scratched my head and assumed she was asking me what my name was. Instead I told her where I was from because I had no idea what she had asked me, “di California,” I said. It was broken, uneducated and crude but it was met with a tiny, jovial little chuckle of the best kind. She was not mocking in her laugh, instead she thought me amiable I supposed. And that was it, she dubbed me “Bella California.” I laughed and approved of the new nickname.
The Signore waved at her after our exchange. He was asking her to come back into the store. But instead of beckoning her, palm up, he waved her toward him with small flicks of his fingers as though he was playing the piano. To be sure, I had no idea what he meant by the gesture. I quickly learned when she told me, “Ciao, Bella California” and got up to leave me. The sun was shining full force now but with the sun still low in the sky the weather was still winter brisk. I sipped the coffee from the demi tasse and looked at the rest of the pastry in front of me. It may have been the Signora’s favorite but it had a boozy flavor to it that was pretty unappealing this early in the morning to me. I left most of it on the little plate, turned my face to the sun for a moment and then rose from my chair to go for a walk. I popped inside Bar America to wave goodbye to the Singore and thank the Singora.I turned on my heel and walked toward the fountain in the little square.
The fountain was flanked by a green grocer, a charming corner restaurant and another bar which served gelato. Since I didn’t eat my original breakfast and have an insatiable sweet tooth, I decided to go in for an ice cream cone. There must’ve been 40 flavors in this buzzing little hub. Europeans think of marvelous flavors and being a foodie, my eyes and my stomach were aflutter with curiosity. There were thin tin tubs filled with an assortment of flavors which included Rose, pistachio, orange blossom water, green apple, cinnamon, Fior di Latte, honey, Stracciatella and still more. All the tins were pristinely filled to the brim, molded into a pretty peak and topped with whatever the flavor the tub held. On the hazelnut tin sat a cluster of hazelnuts. On top of the maple tin was a tiny bottle of maple syrup in the shape of a maple leaf. And on the cherry chocolate was a maraschino cherry and a mini chocolate bar. I was most inquisitive about the yogurt flavor and the honey. I have found that combination to be one of my favorites. There is almost nothing better than a cold cup of plain yogurt drizzled with honey. I was the only one in the store, and the young man behind the counter, stretched his nose over the glass and said, “Prego?” I looked up at him and smiled my sunniest smile. He stood there and grunted with raised eyebrows. I pointed at the yogurt flavored gelato and said “uno” then pointed at the honey (miele in Italian) and said, “uno,” again. In trying to order with my non existent Italian, he finally smiled and got me two scoops of the flavors I wanted. Then he spoke in his jovial tongue something I did not understand and added to my flavors a scoop of the Fior di Latte. I was so excited. He took my money and handed me my cone. I took it with a feeling of excitement and went out the door into the late winter sunshine.
I slowly walked down Via dei Serpenti, the grandeur of the colloseum infront of me. I met Via Baccino and headed right on it. I continued to walk marveling at the joyous emphasis of my taste buds. I licked and smacked and swirled feeling the sensuality of the gelato in my mouth all the while being dwarfed by the giant, ancient buildings that flanked me.
I got to the end of the street which ended behind Trajans Market. I wondered over a rail as I finished my sweet treat. I looked at the little booths and store fronts and looked upon the acre or so of the ancient shops. I imagined what it would have been like when this marketplace was alive and placed tiny imaginary people buzzing about in the picture. I turned to the garbage can to toss my tiny gelato spoon and the dirty napkin. And swirled around to head up a hill in front of me. As I huffed up the hill at a lazy pace, I began to contemplate language lessons. I could not conceive of continually grunting every time I needed something; especially not if I was going to live in Italy for any amount of time. I kept walking up the hill and eventually ran into Via Nazionale and a big church on the right hand side. I searched in my bag to see if the church was landmark. It was not a landmark per se, except for that everything in Rome was a landmark of sorts. The city is an outdoor museum. The church was actually a pontifical University called Thomas Aquinas University. I meandered around the city center until I ran into Via Del Corso. As I reached the street I saw the huge wedding cake like building called Monumento Vittorio Emmanuelle. Appearantly, it has been criticized heavily for its construction. I rather liked it however. It created an envelopment of the entire Piazza Vittorio and was such a huge white sight that it was clear it had an important meaning. It stacked itself in among Campidoglio and hid the Roman Forum which separated the city into little parts.
I was glad that I had left my coat at home because the almost spring sun was beginning to warm my body. I walked and walked while enjoying the city streets and feeling the penetration of the loneliness surrounding me. I crossed the busy Via Nazionale in favor of walking a more secluded path -- I found myself on the way to the park near the government buildings headed toward Fontana di Trevi. The day was fantastic, bright sun, not a cloud in the sky and springtime like new sheets on a bed. I could feel the spring in my step. Springtime in my hair, on my skin, in the spirit of the eternal city itself!
The Trevi Fountain was spectacular. I had seen it before certainly, this time I saw it with new eyes -- like the Primavera surrounding me. The crowd was immense surrounding this amazing edifice constructed by Bernini centuries ago. I found an open spot as near to the fountain as possible, dug around in my bag and pulled out my journal. I opened it to the next available page and began to write. I wrote about what I saw; American high school kids throwing coins into the romance that was before them, handsome Italian men waiting to meet their beautiful Italian women -- the men who waited for their women were dressed as though it were a freezing winter day -- full length wool coats perfectly tailored with wool scarves neatly knotted beneath their chins. Even the men in Italy subscribed to La Bella Figura.
As I sat, watching the world, I wrote. I wrote about sounds, scenes, scents, fashion and art. In the full throes of my writing, a man sat down next to me, just a little too close. I briefly looked up, gave a brief insincere smile and went back to my writing. As I began to write, I also moved over about an inch. When I did that, the man moved with me an inch. Under my breath, I said to myself, "The culture here does not appreciate personal space as much as we Americans do." The man next to me, smiled at me, patted me on the back and said, in nearly perfect English, "you are no longer in America."
I peered at him with a pinched brow and wondered how he heard my discreet whisper. I smiled as timely as possible, this time with more sincerity. However, I felt terribly uncomfortable with his hands still on my back. He introduced himself to me in Italian. "Sono Sandro” and extended his right hand for shaking. Before I took his hand, I took stock of his appearance. Sandro appeared to be much shorter than he let on, as well, he was quite bald. He cut his hair into a bowl type cut, the style was that of a monk. His denim was torn on the right knee, his tennis shoes were white as though he had polished them this morning. And he was wearing a blue windbreaker. He was also about 20 years older than I was.
I arched my back to remove myself from his invasion and looked behind me at where his hand was still resting. I grimaced at the fact that this strange man found it well within manners to touch a woman he did not know. Finally he removed his hand, scratched his head and asked if I wanted to get an espresso. While he asked, I noticed he had an enduring stutter. "Ddddo yyyyou wwwant to gggget a cccccoffee?" I felt adventurous but acted naïvely and replied yes to Stuttering Sandro.
I closed my journal, put it back in my bag and briskly stood up. Sandro was already five steps ahead of me. At the top of the stairs in front of the Trevi fountain he stopped turned and waited. Then we wound our way from Trevi to a little side street where Sandro said the best café in Rome was. I welcomed any "bests suggestions" from an actual Roman! He bought me a coffee, although I insisted on paying, then he gestured to a small table near a window. As we finished our expressos, he asked me with his stuttering lilt whether I had seen Michelangelo's masterpiece. I asked him, "Which one?" Sandro threw his head back and laughed. Though I was confused as to what he was laughing at. He replied in a stutter, "CCCampidoglio!" "Oh, I thought the Sisitine Chapel was the masterpiece that you are talking about." He laughed, stood and put his hand out for me to take hold of as he pulled me out of his chair.
I thought, what's the worst that can happen? So we wended our way through the Trevi neighborhood and crossed several tiny streets until we came upon Piazza Vittorio. I had no idea where we were. At this point I was glad this guy seemed to be a straight shooter -- even if he was 15 years my senior! The view from where we arrived was that of a bustling city and the huge Vittorio Emmanuelle Monument. It was a breathtaking image and Sandro continued to walk, crossing right through the biggest, busiest roundabout, possibly in the entire world. I felt very unsure and nervous. He picked up on that immediately.
Amongst the horns honking and the lights and cars and bustle with motorini whizzing by -- he narrowed his eyes and his lips curled as he looked at me beneath his stubby lashes. He grabbed my hand in a gesture that indicated we were something we were not. I violently whisked my hand from his but continued to walk next to him. He sneered and spat, "You American's are all the same!" He was yelling partly to combat the cacophony of Piazza Venezia but mostly out of anger. The fabled Italian temper smacked me right in the face and I was feeling more circumspect than I could have imagined. We continued to walk through Piazza San Marco and curved around down Via Teatro Marcello to the masterpiece stairs. Sandro turned and smiled an ingenuine smile; to be polite, I did the same and walked up the most stunning wide stairway, flanked by huge marble lions -- forged of marble and genius, called by Romans the Cordonata. Once at the top of the stairs, a piazza met us, bright even in the dusky light. Surrounded by government buildings that were built by argueably the greatest sculptor of all time. In the middle of the Piazza del Campidoglio stood a megolith statue in bronze depicting Marcus Aurelius.
Sandro was correct in his estimation, that this was indeed Michaelangelo's masterpiece. Walking through the piazza, I let my mind wander. The sun was waning and I thought I should probably make my way back to my flat soon. I drank the last of the sights -- columns, shining marble, the closeness of the Forum, the sheer grandiosity of everything and thanked Sandro.
"For wwwhat do you thank me?" He said with a neutral tone and facial expression. I answered, "For a wonderful afternoon; I learned so much." Sandro began to sneer but just as quickly he straightened the length of his small stature and said he wanted to show me something else. Sandro did not seem sinister but i did not trust him after his outburst in Piazza Venezia.
"Sandro, I must leave now." He looked at me, brow wrinkled in oncoming anger. I continued, " It is getting dark. I would like to get home before then." He replied, "Let me walk yyyyou home, " He paused then and emphasized, "For sssssafety."
I thanked him again and said, "No thank you, that won't be necessary." And at that Stuttering Sandro became a monster.
He bagan yelling quickly in Italian at me, and stepped a bit closer to me. In response I moved away. He continued to make his way closer as he shiffted into English and began shaking a volitile finger in my face. "I told you all you Americans are the same!" He rambled then, "Always sssso entitled, so ppproud (yeah, and you know Italians aren't proud at all!), so fffake!"
I thought better than to argue with him. But people were beginning to gawk at us, considering his violent hand gestures and raised voice. I smiled and thanked him again and turned to walk away. He grabbed my wrist. I looked first down at my wrist, painfully restrained and then at him. I ripped my wrist from his grasp and began to descend the Cordonata. I was running as fast as the stairs let me and continued to check behind me. Stuttering Sandro was following me!
I felt the beads of perspiration on my upper lip and nose. My heart beat like a hammer in my chest, and I continued to check behind me. Each time I did, I saw his balding head try to slyly duck around the corner or hide inside a doorway. I reduced my speed to a very fast walk and checked the street names written in concrete on the sides of the buildings. I had just come up via Leonina. I was at the intersection of Via del Boschetto and Via Leonina and was quickly approaching Dooley's Pub. The creep following had gained a few feet on me but as he hid in the shadow of a large truck, I darted into the bar. It was dark enough inside that peeping Tom rather Peeping Stuttering Sandro, in this case, could not see me through the window. I hopped up on a bar stool and got comfortable next to a fella whose head was resting on his crossed arms on top of the bar.
I sat and peered out the window for a good long while, to make sure my sly escape averted the Stuttering Sandro creature. When I felt like I was successful at escaping the lecherous villain, I turned my attention to the activities in the bar. Dooley's Pub was a pretty comfortable place, with plenty of tapped beers and sturdy stools. It was a big place too, with little nooks and crannies in which to hide and languish with some alcohol and solitude. The pub was filled with nothing but men. They were all handsome young men. And the barman with the same man that was there the other night when I foolishly went on a date with "SL I CK!"
They were playing a popular English game show. The very sexy barman came over and asked what he could get me. I ordered a glass of hard cider and arrived in seconds. I sipped as gingerly as possible to keep a close study of what was going on around me. In a whisper, I asked the kid next to me , "What game are you guys playing?"
I never thought I would be met with such a brusk answer. He lifted his head off his crossed arms for just enough time to spit out, "fuck off!" I leaned back in shock, but for some reason was charmed by his baby face and surly way, that these juxtapositions only intrigued me more.
I took another sip from my cider. The barman (at a commercial break) was waving a small piece of paper over his head, "Who wants art?" "Who wants Cactus Heart?" After no takers, I perked up in my seat, straightened my back and with great enthusiasm said, "I do!" The sex pot bartender sauntered to me laid it on the bar in front of me and casually walked away. I picked up the tiny picture, took the final sip of my cider, placed two euro on the bar and skipped from the tall stool where I was sitting. I looked out the window for any sign of Stuttering Sandro and when I deemed that the coast was clear, I ran up the ancient steps next to Dooley's to venture home.
At the top of the stairs, bombarded by traffic on Via Cavour but very relaxed in spite of the Italians driving, I pulled the tiny drawing from my bag. Without noticing the picture itself, I examined the signature in the lower corner. In a quintessential artistic nature the name sprawled was “Will Gunn.” I looked at the subject matter and my hand flew to my chest as my heart beat faster. I moved my hand to my face, wiping the sweat from my upper lip as I read and re-read the signature. Unmistakably, it said “Will Gunn.” I hopped in the air, whirled around and jangled back down the ancient stairs as fast as my feet would carry me. I stormed back into Dooley’s, out of breath and searched for Will Gunn at the other end of the bar. The place was quiet and dark, still save for the blare of “Count Down.” An answer was called an the shrill of screams echoed. I winced and looked for this elusive dude. I sat back at the bar and the “sexy as all hell” barman rock star walked over to me again.
“Weren’t you just in here?”
I smiled and shyly looked down, then it dawned on me that maybe this guy was friends with Will. In a fast and uncensored clip I asked, “Do you know where this guy went, Do you know who he is?” The barman gave a sideways smile which was followed by a mischievous laugh, “Who’s asking?”
Again, I began to rapid fire a response, “I think I met him two years ago on my maiden voyage to Italy, It was his idea I move here, He was really fun, tall, good…” With my verbosity came the barman’s hand to stop my over use of English. “Where do you think you met him?” “A bar.” Hotty McHotterton Bartender gave a little smile, “par.” Then he asked, “What was he like?” I smiled excitedly and exclaimed quickly, “He was very tall, attractive, Irish-ish and he was spouting Shakespeare’s Henry V!” With that the barman covered his mouth as a boisterous laugh escaped, “Aye, that sounds like our Will – He’s gone to the men’s room lass.”
I hopped up on a bar stool and ordered another glass of cider. The barman returned with an entire pint and a really gorgeous grin. “Here is a pint because around here we drink pints!” He set the glass down in front of me and introduced everybody. “I’m Callum, that’s Derek, that’s Fergus.” Fergus was the one who had earlier told me to “fuck off!” I took clear inventory of that very young man, with a funny name who’s mouth needed a good soaping. He crookedly smiled at me and I immediately recognized the impish charm in him.
Just then as Fergus and I exchanged understanding glances, as in a teen comedy, slow motion too, strode the most attractive man and in the background played one of those really good, though indescribable songs most often seen in film montages. I think it was “Save it for Later,” the original version by the English Beat. It was simply perfect imagery. As he walked towards the bar I tried to act as though I hadn’t a care in the world, my heart was so high in my throat that it might’ve come out my nose.
Collum sauntered to this gorgeous man and said, “This lady claims to know you. She described you spot on, for sure.”
The very sexy man twisted his brow line with intrigue and looked over at me. He waved and made his way closer to me. Smiling he said, “You say you know me?” And following his query, I recounted the evening two long years ago when I met him at a bar, the name of which I had since forgotten, where he recited Henry V to me and where I took excessive tiny Polaroid pictures of him.
He listened intently and when I was done spouting about this tiny but present memory in his mind, he smiled a sincere, clever grin and said, “the name of the bar you’re talking about is “Rockadile.” I laughed and immediately felt more at ease. He offered me his hand and exclaimed in a put on British accent, “Will Gunn, pleased to meet you!” I gave a coy giggle and blushed while he shook my hand and responded in the same put on accent, “Charmed to make your acquaintance my liege, I am called Brynn.”
He casually bought me a beer and called to the young man with the potty mouth, “Laughing Boy, come here. I want to introduce you to someone.” Fergus walked over and gave a curt handshake with a cute little smile. At which point, I unsheathed my small polaroid sticker camera, a rudimentary but magical little device with which to capture the most profound moments in ones life; this was one of those moments. I was with new friends - the barman, Laughing Boy and serendipitously, a gorgeous man who held a small but memorable place in my recollection. The boys were fascinated with the camera and I was wildly amused with their delight. They snapped and snapped and snapped tiny pictures as we drank and drank and drank large pints of hard cider. When they quieted for a moment from lack of food, Will turned to me and asked me if I wanted to join them for dinner. I hemmed and hawed. Instead of waiting for me to reply, he grabbed the sleeve of my jacket and said, "Yes, you do want to join us, it wasn't really a question, Brynn." His desire to have me present made me smirk and I left Dooley's with Collum, Fergus and Will. From that moment on, Dooley's became a place of refuge for me, my own little church, that had its own unique congregation. I knew I would be devout.
I followed behind the boys. The three of them walked with such fervor that it was a challenge for my short legs to carry on appropriately. I walked as quickly as possible and a few short steps we arrived at a restaurant. It looked run down. It had flower boxes and umbrellas outside that created a make shift patio. The wall behind the umbrellas and next to the entrance was painted a deep indigo that was sprawled with the requisite graffiti. There was no name on the building, the door or anywhere else that indicated the title of the place. We were led into a room that attached to the main dining room. There were obscure murals on each wall but you couldn't really make out specific images. It was a funky place with a great menu. I ordered Fettucine ai Zenzero, a glass of white wine and a basket of bread. While we waited for our food, we chatted in a lively manner. I asked what the restaurant was called. Collum, with eyebrows raised put his arm around me and said, "My dear, this is the great 'Suburra'." The antipasti arrived, a sweet spread of roasted peppers, tomatoes, olives, eggplant and marinated Cipollini Onions, with the arrival of the food, Collum leaned back in his chair and readied himself with a fork. I ate everything on the platter except the onions. I thought they might give me heart burn and bad breath, a wretched combination. Will, forked one of the onions and urged me to eat one. I denied him. He continued his gentle urging but suddenly became volatile. He covered his frustration with a smile and a joke.
Our main courses arrived and we leisurely finished dinner. The men who were my company were fun, clever, amicable and loquacious, all qualities I admire. After, what seemed like and unbearable amount of time in Italy, I finally felt as though I had friends. After dinner, Laughing Boy ordered a digestivo called "Strega." Strega in Italian is witch. And a witch it was. The stuff burned as it rolled down my throat and I could feel each drop sink into my stomach. It did not stay in my stomach for long though.
We left the restaurant full and warmed from the wine. As we made our way back to Dooley's, I felt the tatse of 'the witch' in the back of my throat and knew I would suffer from the reflux for the rest of the night.
Will took a joint from his pocket and lit it. He passed it to me and although I did not ordinarily partake in illicit drugs, I could not help accepting the offer. I puffed long and hard on the joint and my head began swimming from too much wine and smoke. With the joint still in my hands, Will exclaimed, "that's a big drag for such a little girl." His comment made me giggle hard for the duration of our walk back to the pub. Dooley's was a completely different place than it was when we left for dinner, now it was a hopping club, packed to the brim with people. Expats from England, Ireland, Scotland and Denmark were crowded in there. It was just as it had been when I first experienced the place with "Slick." The barmaid that was there was the same as before. A lovely, boisterous girl with black sweet ringlets and a mocha complexion was introduced to me as Clare. She smiled at me and in her raspy charming British accent, she asked if the boys were treating me well. I smiled back at her and said, "As best as can be expected I suppose." She laughed heartily and said, "I go on break in a minute, I'll join you." Just then Collum went to her and whispered in her ear. She threw her head back in delight and exclaimed, "Crikey!"
Will led us to a corner seat; Collum and Laughing Boy joined us. Will got up and asked me what I wanted to drink. I decided to get up with him. We walking into the main bar room and he beagan introducing me to everyone. I first met a young Irishman named Johnnie, a Brit named Alan and the owner of the bar, antoher Irishman named Mickey. Mickey shook my hand and gave a sly wink to Will.
It was the perfect moment to expose my tiny Polaroid sticker camera. This thing is the greatest photographic achievement ever...in my small photographic history that is. I'm sure it's a bit of an overstatement to say its the greatest achievement in photgraphy ever. But for crying out loud it was clandestine, clever, cruel, creative...ok the aliteration is becoming redundant and I digress. So anyway, the sticker camera went to town capturing, Will, Johnnie, Alan, Laughing Boy, Clare, and me. I pulled and tugged and we passed the pictures around the pub. During the photographic interlude involving the entire pub, I drank and drank and drank until Fergus passed the camera finally back to me saying it was out of film. I looked at it (with crossy, drunk eyes) and fumbled with the film compartment. I looked at him and slurred, "I'll gome and get s'more flm." He grinned and said, "How far away do you live?" I responded, pointing in the air unsteadily, "I live 'ere in Monti." With some concern, he said, "ok." I threw the camera in my bag and told him to tell Will I'd be back. I couldn't find Will so I thought I'd go and get the job done and return shortly with new film for the tiny camera. I stumbled out the door.
I made my way into the brisk air of the night and walked the few blocks it took me to get home. I walked in the door, threw the bag on the chair by the door and fell on the bed. My flat, as well remarked earlier, was the size of a pea. Face down I planted my body, coat, camera and all; thought about the pub for a moment and told myself to get up and get the new film cartridge. When I finally got up for the film cartridge, the clock read a quarter past eight...AM! My head was pounding. I put the moka pot to brew on the tiny stove. Then I drank a bottle of water I had gotten at the MAS store up the street. I turned the shower nozzle and stripped the previous nights clothes off. Jumped in the shower lathered up and began thinking about the night's events.
Laughing Boy was uber smart, friendly and would talk with anyone about anything, Collum was quietly sexy and the performer of the bunch but Will was urbane, handsome and funny. My thoughts carried me through daydreams while I showered.
I dried the hair, dressed and tried to maquillage as best as I possibly could. The stabs in my head would not subside. I took a couple pain pills and slung my bag over my shoulder. The breeze out side my window was warmer than it had been so I left the coat in my flat and walked the usual journey to Via Cavour. Down the hill I strode where the medieval towers loomed over the quiet square through Via in Selci where the Carabinieri would shriek to each other over a bull horn even though they were mere feet from each other. I walked happily though my feet were brisk with movement. I had to get the the internet cafe so I could look for a job. Several days before I had sent a message to Angels Employment Agency. I had emailed the owner about an "English Teacher" position. I had also spoken to a beautiful Russian woman who worked at the launderette on Cavour. I expressed my need for a job and she said she would forward my info to a friend.
I had not heard from the "Angel's Agency" but I had heard from Nataliya's friend. His name was Bruce and he "wanted to meet at my earliest convenience." He left his number at the salutation of his enquiry. In an effort to "do as the Roman's do," I called the number after I paid for my time on the computer. I ambled slowly down the road making my way through Monti. I walked up (need street name) as the line on the other end of my ear rang. Bruce answered pleasantly enough and I greeted him as cordially as possibly. He asked me to meet him at a small bar near the Aurelian wall in Monte Gianicolo. I asked him what time. Bruce responded, "How about now?" I was looking forward to seeing where this meeting would take me. I shakily agreed to meet him as soon as I could manage but I was all the way in Monte Esquilino and had to make my way across the city center and in fact, across the Tiber River.
It took me some time to get to our meeting place. I had to get on the Metro line B, get off at Piramide Cestia and then switch to a bus that took me up Via Marmorata. I felt quite successful using public transport and was pious about my abilities in the realm of maneuvering a cosmopolitan city. The bus dropped me at Via Glorioso and, for the duration of the journey to Via Garibaldi, I walked. I found the wee bar called Pane e Vino. Upon entering and assessing my monochromatic surroundings, I saw no-one present who looked like someone shelling out jobs. The door opened behind me and a huge moose of man smiled down on me. His name, he exclaimed, was Bruce. The signora waiting tables waved a couple menus at us and plopped them on a glass topped yellow and white checked table. Bruce ordered, "une litro di vino bianco." It was swell how it rolled of his tongue with such a command.
Bruce sat in the chair opposite me and motion for me to do the same. Before I was fully seated, he delineated his "tour" company. He was so verbose that I felt my eyes glazing over. He did not seem interested in who I was but in how "he" would be paying me. In this case the only monies I would be receiving from his employment were tips. Before I could respond, negotiate or most importantly, decline his convolution, the signora ran, careening out of the swinging kitchen door with a large glass bottle of white wine.
I wiggled in my seat to get comfortable. Bruce laced his fingers underneath his chin and widened his yellow eyes as he poured us both a glass of wine. I smiled coyly and continued,
"Bruce, thank you so much for meeting me today. I am, I think looking for a different opportunity."
He frowned dramatically while sputtering a begging response, "Brynn, this would be a great opportunity for you."
I smiled broadly and with sincerity. I gave a little "thanks again" and stood. He was clearly discouraged as he asked me to call him if I changed my mind. I nodded and skated to the exit. leaving Bruce and an entire bottle of wine at the table.
I wended my way past the Botanical Gardens and through Trastevere to Santa Maria in Trastevere. I walked into the Nave and looked at each chapel with admiration. I left the church and made my way uptown. I was in Rome so a quick trip of sightseeing was always in order.
It was a nice day for a long walk. I crossed the river over Tiber Island and through the Jewish Ghetto until I reached Largo di Torre Argentina. I traversed up Corso Vittorio Emanuelle until I reached the business of Piazza Venezia. I approached Trajan’s Column, passed the Imperial Forum and marched onto Via Tor de Conti behind Trajan’s Market’s. I found myself in the chasm of huge ancient buildings and delighting in the quietness of being finally off the busy streets. I walked up Via Baccina and turned on Via dei Serpenti to see the grandiose yet ominous view of the Coliseum with the fading daylight. I inhaled the city air dramatically in homage to EM Forester’s Eleanor Lavish namely Dame Judi Dench as her, and continued up Via Leonina. I came upon the magical place I had skipped out on the night before and ducked in. I traced my fingers over the “Dooley’s” sign and pulled the big wood door. I cautiously edged up to the bar upon entering and discreetly hopped up on a barstool. I was waiting for the “crikey” girl to head my way, so I could order a cider. The door to the pub creaked open, the angels began to sing and I saw a halo of light divine around the head of a tall drink of water, “Hey Brynn.” I wondered if Will could tell I was blushing.
“Hi Will. How’s it going?”
“Great. What happened to you last night?”
“I went home and laid down for a moment. The moment turned into the entire night…” a raucous laugh was expelled from his lungs. I could feel myself turn red in the face and my cheeks become hot like coals.
“Welcome, to Roma.” He said, frankly. “Una bella citta!” He laughed again quietly this time and tugging at my jacket sleeve said, “Walk with me.” I felt my cheeks burning again. Was this a date?
We walked closer toward the Coliseum.
“What a grand sight that is!” I exclaimed through the cacophony of the city traffic.
“Terrible atrocities happened in that place, Brynn.” He walked, eyes ahead very seriously. I knew the history of the building so (having an undergraduate degree in World History) I thought his relative condescension a little disrespectful. I let it roll off as “no big deal.” We rounded the corner and found ourselves on Via Cavour. There at the very edge of the building on the corner was an ATM machine (known to the English as ABT – automatic bank te
a job – free time, new apartment and language school finnegans, Fitness first festa de la donne, Eimear – and all the girls (girls nights, Villa Celimontagna, Brian…)