As an American living in Italy, I suppose I thought about the prospect of meeting a handsome Italian man who would sweep me off my feet but I certainly wasn’t counting on that happening. I had seen Under the Tuscan Sun and read the book many years before. Those were things that happened in books and movies, not to me. Everything about the way my life had gone up to this point, particularly my romantic life, was telling me an Italian romance did not seem possible. And then I met Andrea.
Sweet, handsome Andrea. In my last post I described our first encounter. The first broken Italian/English conversation in the Irish Pub. The subsequent invitation and trip to Portofino on the Ligurian coast. Romance is always dulled by reality. This romance was no different. We left for Portofino after work on a Friday night. Andrea picked me up in his VW Bug, and we drove down through Genoa toward the Ligurian coast lined with s-curves. He took me up and up the windy coastal road to the sleepy sea-side town that was mostly boarded up and closed for the off-season. It was late October, and though the days were sunny and warm, the temperature dropped at night, leaving this black shimmering coastline for the natives and new romances like ours.
The moon shone on the water that night night giving everything that deep midnight-blue soaked glow. It would have taken a tough lot not to feel romantic that evening. All was perfect. So up we climbed in Andrea’s VW, until we hit a point where we could see sleepy Portofino below us. There were a few sailboats still tucked into their slips and lights on the u-shaped path around the cove showing the presence of no one. The palm trees glowed in the lights from below. We held hands, and commented now and then on how beautiful it was, eerie and beautiful all at once, as we drove up the and up the steep one lane road in the dark, getting closer and closer to the stars when Andrea pulled the car over. He let go of my hand. He got out of the car without saying a word, popping open the trunk. So up we climbed in Andrea’s VW, until we hit a point where we could see sleepy Portofino below us. There were a few sailboats still tucked into their slips and lights on the u-shaped path around the cove showing the presence of no one. The palm trees glowed in the lights from below. As he walked toward the back of the car, all I could think was here it comes – he’s going to get the ropes and shovel now. This is how I will die, in Portofino at the hands of a man I hardly know, the headlines will read “American Teacher Found Dead in the Hills Above Portofino”. My heart was pounding. I looked in the rear view mirror, and in the little space between the opening of the trunk and the top of the backseat, I could see he was holding the trunk up high with one hand and bent over at the waist. Was he digging my grave? With one hand? Getting an axe to chop me up in pieces? What’s wrong? So I opened the door in an attempt to get out, and he told me to stay in the car, but he sounded funny. Like, strange funny. Was he a werewolf?? Maybe that was it! I tend to get the strangest thoughts at the oddest moments and this was no different. I stayed in the car out of fear and because though he voice was odd, he had a serious commanding tone, so I suppose I was obeying him to some extent. When he return to the car, he was sweating and smelled of vomit. Turned out my handsome Italian – the same man I thought might chop me up and bury me in the hills of Portofino – was struck with a case of motion sickness from all the s-curves. I tried to comfort him, but he gently pushed my hand away saying we should go to our hotel in Rapallo. He apologized a few times on the way but was mostly quiet. I didn’t say much for the thirty minute drive. I was sorry for him, but feeling a little hurt that he pushed my hand away. He would’t let me comfort him and i was selfishly hurt by that. Under the circumstances, I tried to push that thought away, telling myself I was being ridiculous. Of course he doesn’t want to be touched he’s just been sick, I told myself. When we got to the hotel, we checked in, Andrea took a shower and felt much better. We went to bed quietly, as though we had a thousand times before, but it was our first night sleeping in the same bed and I was nervous. I was hoping for a night of romance, which was not to be. He didn’t hold me or say anything. We just went to sleep on each of our sides of the bed. It was painful for me. I cried silently. And then fell asleep.
I was up first. I went directly to the bathroom to shower and get myself dressed. When I emerged from the bathroom, ready for the day, he was still sleeping. I tidied up my side of the room, opened the balcony door and was met with a perfect view of the beach. It was early, before the shops opened and there were just one or two people walking in the street below. I could hear the early morning sounds I loved about Italy; the sound of rolling metal as shop owners opened their taparelli, old men greeting each other with “Buongiorno” or “Ciao”! I soaked it up, breathing in the air. And, that coupled with the smells of fresh cappuccino and just baked brioche wafting in the air… I was hungry. Not so unusual for me. I sat there on the balcony for a few minutes, simply absorbing it all. When I re-entered the room, he was in the shower. Knowing he was getting ready to have a day with me was a relief. It meant he was sick last night only and today was a new day.
We had our brioche and cappuccino up in Portofino, drove back down the coast and ate an amazing lunch of fritto di mare a variety of lightly fried fish, calamari, prawns, langostini and various other shellfish served with wedges of lemon and a bottle of white wine. We walked on the beach at La Spezia and kissed in the sand. Things were back to normal and I was feeling the magic of this very romantic day. The next day was just as lovely, and it being Sunday, there was an open market in Santa Margherita which we decided to stop into on our way back up to Milan. We stopped, looked around at a few things, and when I wasn’t looking He bought me a silver and turquoise bracelet to remember our weekend away. He gave it to me before we got in the car to leave. I still have it and think of him whenever I wear it.
* * *
That weekend away together was the real beginning of our relationship. I learned a lot that weekend without realizing it. I learned about him, and of course me. I remember feeling beautiful. Beautiful and feminine. I felt beautiful because Italy does that to women. The old men always gave me compliments on the way I was dressed, or my “beautiful smile”. The young ones always looked and smiled too. My favorite was when I would be walking down the street, with a friend or alone, and an older man would tip his hat and smile. Such old world congeniality. Very different from walking in the streets of New York where anonymity it king. We had quite a romance, Andrea and I . We were together much more frequently after out weekend in Portofino. He showed me secret places in Milan he like to go for drinks or aperativo. My friends really liked him because he was low-key and was able to make conversation with anyone without being arrogant or too opinionated. He was amused by me and the way I got along with my friends. On weekends we’s steal away on his Harley, into the vineyards of surrounding towns stopping for drinks. Once we had such a romantic day I remember the ride home on the Harley very clearly. We had been riding all day, stopping for drinks and lunch, then riding nonstop. The sun was going down and the sky was filled with ribbons of pink and orange. We were close to Milan, riding through some riso fields, when he suddenly pulled over and took off my helmet. He kissed me wildly and we embraced. He began pulling at my clothing and making love to me right there in the middle of the riso field. On the road just beyond the fields we could see cars passing, but they were not close enough to see us. We made love right there under God’s setting sun and for the first time, I truly felt loved and filled with passion. I remember while it was happening, thinking I am in Italy making love to the man of my dreams right here in a riso field. I live here. This is my life. This….. is my life and I am so happy.
And we really were. Until just a few months later. Andrea would tell me something that would change everything in our relationship and was more that I could really bare to hear. But for now, things were going well and we were happy. So very happy.