Chapter 8-- Wherein the Poet Fights New Temptation...
E strano!...e strano!...in core
scolpiti ho quegli accenti!
Saria per me sventura un serio amore?
Che risolvi, o turbata anima mia?
How Strange! How Strange!
That voice has struck deep into my heart!
Would true love be so terrible?
What do you think, my troubled spirit?
Violetta, Sempre Libera, Act I, La Traviata, Guiseppe Verdi
It was three a.m. Why bother to sleep now, as if I could. I had tried a few minutes longer, to no avail. I sat up and put mentholated cream on the mustache burns left on my mouth and neck by Guiseppe's – Pepe's--fierce kisses.
We had gone over to the Juliet bronze near the balcony and touched her breast for good luck before our private “passagietta abrazo” – our walk together arm in arm through the emptying streets of Verona, past villas with peeling stucco covered in roses, stopping to sip more wine, falling into clinches in alcoves out of the scrutiny of the bicycling night patrol.
I had been jettisoned out of life as I had begun to acclimate to it, a virtual vagabond with two friends, nomadic and free for the first time in her life, by two hours with a total stranger. Yet, our hours together had me in chains of longing. I burned in the dark to see him again; I had dozed, now and then jerking awake when the cats beneath the bus chased each other.
Then, I froze. How could I undo what I had just done? I was terrified. I didn't want to be swept away. No more heartache. No more impossible love.
“Julia. Wake Up. We have to go. We have to leave
right now.” Verona
“What? Are you crazy? We just got here. Let me sleep.”
She groaned and burrowed into her sleeping bag.
“Listen. I'm going to get tied up with this guy. I mean, I am. And I think it would be best if we left now. “
“What if this is your one true love, your little big love,” she said, sleepily. “Wake up. This is
. This could be a dream come true.” Italy
“And,” I said. “It could be a nightmare. Truly. Please.”
“No.” She turned away, pulling the down bag over her head.
Caroline had heard all of this. “No, Jen. Stop scaring yourself and keeping us awake. Go to sleep.”
At daybreak, still in turmoil, I dressed and slipped out of the bus. I struck out on my own, heading for the first espresso bar I could find.
I turned down a cobbled street; it was quiet; the stones shone with absence, the early sun lighting the faces of the ancient villas of Old Verona, where the tan and rose stucco peeled away and the ancient frescoes told faint stories of conquest, the bare, time-devoured walls here and there revealing striations of brick made by hand centuries ago.
I wondered about the narrowness of the streets as I walked along, squinting into the early light. Perhaps nothing wider than a horse or ox-drawn cart had ever needed to travel them.
Suddenly I heard a bit of commotion at the end of the street. The shutters of the second story windows flew open and as I approached, dark haired women appeared on their balconies.
Then I heard it: a rich, familiar tenor voice, someone singing scales into the morning air.
My heart flew into my mouth. Surely not.
Around the corner, beaming, with a small entourage, came Luciano Pavarotti, grinning up at the women calling his name.
For a moment, about fifteen feet from me, he stood still, and took a ceremonious bow. Everyone laughed.
Then, a cappella, he burst into Le Donne E Mobile....singing about a third of the aria before he bowed again, grinning, and walked on, up to the street.
The women shouted, “Luciano,
bello, , bravo!” bello
Off in the distance sat the Arena di Verona and in two weeks Boheme would open there, Pavarotti as Rodolfo. I had noticed a poster and had a wistful moment, in my distraction. They were heading in that direction.
I grabbed an espresso and bolted it down; my heart began missing beats, but I ran back up the street, in my bell bottom jeans, my long hair flying behind me.
I slid the bus door open.
“You won't believe it. I just saw Pavarotti, I exclaimed.”
Caroline and Julia groaned in unison, and once again pulled the sleeping bags over their heads.
I was more elated than if Gabriel himself had appeared before me, and crestfallen that they could care less. I went off again, to the cafe on the piazza, wondering if our three companions would already be seated, sipping coffee.
There they were, waiting for us.
I shyly came up to the table and sat down.
Pepe's face broke into a smile. He leaned over and kissed me.
He touched the burns near my mouth. “Che cosa..”
I looked at Franco.
“Tell him his mustache....”.
The boys laughed, Franco translating. Pepe chuckled and leaned over and kissed my cheek.
Caroline and Julia emerged from the alley to the monastery. Everyone buongiorno'd everyone else.
Lucky stood. “Oggi, il Lago di Como, si? Perche no?“
My friends looked to me. I shrugged my shoulders.
Franco looked at us, and at Pepe and Lucky.
“We want... you to come swimming at
... in your bikinis,” he added. Lake Como
Julia looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders again.
“We have to leave today,” she said. “We talked last night and we are going to
I was stunned; they hadn't said a word.
After Franco translated this news, no one spoke. Pepe looked down at his empty coffee cup. I twisted my hair and squeezed his hand.
I reached in my pack for my Berlitz.
“Mi dispiace-- I'm sorry,” I said.
He straightened, with an air of resolve. “Non fa niente...”
I looked at Franco.
“He says, Don't worry about it....”
But I had seen his face, and he had seen mine.
The waiter brought us a dish of strawberries.
“Fragoli fresci,” Pepe said, picking one out of the dish, and putting it in my mouth.
“Oh, Jesus,” Caroline said. “We can leave you here, Jen.”
“No, no. It will be all right.”
All of us walked to the bus in the climbing sun. Julia took a picture of Lucky sitting in the bus drawing the curtain over his face. We all laughed.
Pepe pressed something into my hand.
I looked down and on a small piece of paper, there was his name and an address. I folded it and slid it into my bra.
“What will you do now,” I asked Franco.
He spoke briefly in Italian to the others.
“We finish our vacation, then we go to
Now my heart sank.
I looked at Guiseppe. He looked at me.
Then, he leaned over, and kissed me tenderly, on the cheek.
“Ciao, bella,” he said.
A huge lump in my throat, I climbed into the bus.
I couldn't bear to look back as we headed out of
. We veered onto the Autostrada. Verona
Caroline turned to me. “We think we might not have time to go to
,” she said. “But we want to have an island adventure. We want to go to an island and sunbathe, and do nothing, just for a few weeks. Corsica belongs to Greece and they say it's beautiful.” France
I didn't tell her that I had Pepe's address against my heart.
“Sure,” I said, absent-mindedly. “That sounds good.”
I could still smell his skin. I determined that I would take a sponge bath again, in my small corner of the bus, and put on clean clothes, perhaps give myself a spritz of the cologne Caroline had picked up when we stocked up, leaving
Perhaps it would help me to simply log the sequence of events that had befallen me, and close my journal and put it away.
Caroline handed me a brochure, written in French, with a photo of a boat on the front. On the side of the boat was written “Corsica Star.”
“We have to go to
, and put the bus in the hold of this ship. Then it's about four hours across the Mediterranean to Genoa Corsica.”
I settled back, pulling my sleeping bag over myself. I didn't want to be a wet blanket, to put salt on my friends' tails. I resolved to rest, to bear up, not look back.
We pulled into
in afternoon, and drove the bus into the hold of the ferry. The sun was going down over the water as we steamed out into the darkness. Genoa
We had a picnic on the deck, each of us pouring ourselves a very full cup of white wine from the pitcher brought to us.
I was enchanted by the sea, the incandescent tips of the waves at night, the water's deepness, like infinity itself; I stood at the stern of the boat, looking down at the wake. I unbound my hair and let it fly in the wind. If I thought of Pepe, I leached tears.
I wrote a postcard to my mother: “Hi Mom-- I'm actually heading out from
Genoa, where Columbus left for the .... hope all's well, don't worry. Love, Jen.” Americas
I planted my feet firmly on the deck and swayed to the rhythm of the tide, for the first time toasting to myself, and the courage with which I had boarded the World Airlines jet only two weeks ago-- a century ago, another world, another life, it seemed.
I looked out over the ocean, wondering if I would ever sleep again; I did not want to miss the emergence of the island out of the fog that swirled around us.
Our journey did not disappoint. At daybreak, I could make out the outline of mountains.
Caroline and Julia were again asleep, on benches under an awning against the cabin.
I stood over them, touching each of them gently.
“Land ho,” I said.
Foolishly, I imagined that a diminutive man with sideburns and a mustache would be standing on a dock in the port, waiting to take me into his arms.
Please note that I’ve archived the posts to the right of the blog. Chapter Nine goes up tomorrow- Hope you’re enjoying my odyssey! xxxJenne’