Chapter Nineteen – Wherein the Poet Explores
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore...”
On our third day in
I carried a small basket with a red-checkered napkin in it to protect my purchases. I wore a fresh pair of bell-bottom jeans, a pink knit shirt I bought in the market in Reggio. I brushed my hair and tied it back with one of the now worn elastic twist ties Julia gave me at the beginning of our journey.
The Turinese villas on either side of the cobbled street were ancient, delicate, walls a golden tan stucco over brick. Here and there the facade had peeled away. Golden and pale pink roses climbed sun-bleached trellises. Baskets of red geraniums gleamed from the balconies like a flush of hearts in an ongoing card game.
I had not been alone in days. I had been glued to my lover's side, hearing him say tenderly, each time I objected to walking at nearly a right angle wherever we had gone, "Va bene; e' cosi." "It's o.k. That's the way it is.." Read, we do it this way, in my country. I had managed to stop short of telling him that I at times I was in grueling pain.
He had kissed-kissed-kissed me every few feet on the street, sometimes grabbing me under the chin, insuring that I would develop a dewlap before I turned thirty.
On the bus in
, when he did this for the fortieth time-- make that the hundredth time in our weeks together-- we had toasted to each other at a bistro with a whole pitcher of cold white wine. Rome
As the bus lurched and swayed to the outskirts of Rome, people slumped over their newspapers at the end of a long day of work, he smiled at me, and grabbed the skin under my chin-- the sequence was grab, pinch, bite the lips, clinch, kiss, tongue half way down the throat and a smack on the lips for good measure.
Generally speaking I loved these kisses and returned them with abandon when we were alone; this time, I watched my arm and hand shoot up and slap him.
I was horrified. But he had laughed, taking my hand and kissing it, and the other Italians on the bus back to the palazzo where we were visiting his eldest sister had applauded. This was impromptu opera.
Now, distracted by a myriad of such memories, I remembered that I had an extra stop to make before I went to the market-- to a pharmacy, yet another farmacia-- the c being pronounced like ch, the word spoken with an accent on the next to the last syllable, with a song-like cadence. I had finally run out of birth control. I had squeezed the last spermatazoa-blasting glob of jelly out of the tube I brought to
Europe at the bottom of my duffel bag into my diaphragm.
Notwithstanding that on the nights of merriment and drinking with his family, when I held his newborn niece, Pepe had looked at me with that "I would love to get you pregnant right now" gleam in his eye, I had diligently tried to protect myself, soothing him when he was pinched by my device during our stratospheric lovemaking.
In the meantime I had run out of patience with peeing into gratings in the street behind listing plywood partitions. From the moment I got off the plane I had made concessions to how it is in
Europe, finding ways to stay clean. I had not asked my friends how they did it; despite our traveling together in our vacation-rigged VW bus, some things remained unspoken.
I was stuck with the practice of casual open-air elimination, but I decided to try to find another tube of gel, and to buy a discreet little “feminine hygiene” kit, like we had in the States. Just taking care of myself would offset the tension of being indelibly American and contemporary in a world embedded in antiquity.
In order to enter the pharmacy, with its scalloped, rounded awning, "Farmacia" written in large italic on it, I needed to steel myself for the stares I would get from the men entering and leaving. As I had learned in
Calabria, believing that it applied to most of , men went to the farmacia for their wives. The women could go to the market and to church. The rest of the time it was expected that they would stay indoors, cooking, as in making pasta from scratch, cleaning, suckling, changing and soothing babies, scrubbing the laundry in the sink and hanging it to dry on the balcony. It went without saying that one must be ready to succor one’s husband in a jackhammer clench far into the night when the bedside lamp was turned off. Italy
I braced myself, and went in. The pharmacy was dark and mysterious. There was no rhyme or reason to where things were. The aisles were narrow and small. Bottles and boxes of over the counter pills for various ailments were piled on top of each other on dusty shelves.
From the back, a young man with black-rimmed glasses and slicked back hair in a white coat approached. He looked stunned.
Where to start. Sign language was not an option; no rude gestures approximating the act of intercourse to provide a context for my request allowed.
"Ho bisogno contracepcion," I said: I need contraception, hoping that the word that may exist in some version in Spanish resonated with the pharmacist.
He looked at me as if I were the jealousy-crazed ghost in Lucia di Lammermoor, arising from the lake.
I followed him to the back of the store where there were rows of packaged condoms. I didn't trust these where Mr. Sempre Duro was concerned. I attempted to explain that I was looking for jelly for my diaphragm.
Perhaps I said, "I have cockroaches in my kitchen,” because after a long and thoughtful pause, he handed me a small box labeled "Tarot Cap."
In the states “Tarot Cap” was an insecticide. In my mind's eye I was placing little Tarot Cap ant hotels at the baseboards of my apartment in
. St. Paul
Lamentably, for only a few seconds I wondered about the impact upon my future fertility of putting an insecticide in my diaphragm-- if it were an insecticide. I tried to decipher the label. I caught words alluding to feminine hygiene, something resembling the word "spermacide." The Tarot Cap Corporation, wherever it was, possibly in
, had evidently expanded its product line. China
Now I had to summon all of my courage.
Douche was surely an acceptable word to utter in
Europe. I hoped for the best. I carefully attempted to state that I need to buy douching apparatus-- "bolsa di douche per favore..cosa feminina per lavare..." something feminine with which to wash..."-- my best shot.
Now he looked astounded. He took his glasses off and wiped them on his coat and put them back on.
"Signorina," he said "Quelli son soli per gli madri...."
Those things are for mothers.
I held my ground, folding my arms and looking him right in the eye. How do you know I'm not a mother?
He walked around the corner to another row of jumbled toiletries, and came back around with a shoe-box sized package with a cellophaned window.
I looked in the box.
There was the largest bulb syringe I had ever seen, with the longest and thickest nozzle imaginable.
Why was I surprised. The sanitary napkins in the Catholic enclave of
had been the size of saddle blankets because everyone was serially pregnant, either bleeding profusely or great with child. Calabria
, we had gone into a farmacia-- that is to say-- I had sent Pepe in for tampons. He was gone for over an hour and came out with a huge paper bag, exhausted, saying, "Jenni-- in Italia, tamponi non c'e." We don't have tampons in Calabria . Italy
Inside the bag had been a huge bag of cotton balls and a ten ft. roll of gauze bandaging. At that point, I had rolled my own.
Now my practical side again came to the fore. The syringe would double as a fire extinguisher if anything I cooked on our hot plate catches fire, I thought, plunking down my lire, watching him pack up my purchases into a plain brown paper bag. I brimmed with pride at my own courage and resourcefulness.
I went back into the day, heading back up the street to the market that had flowered under the windows of the dorm. We would leave in the morning for
, and I wanted to make a last lover's dinner. Verona
Prostitutes with wild hair and over-lipsticked mouths stood on the corners wearing miniskirts up past shoreline. A woman appeared in one of the balconies over the market, lugging a wicker basket filled to the brim with freshly washed laundry. She strung a clothesline between her shutters.
Then she burst into song, in a quavering contralto: "Chi non lavore non far’ amore..." He who doesn't work doesn't make love....
Other women came out onto their balconies with laundry. They laughed and called to each other in the midday sun.
I looked down at the long shadow I cast across the cobblestones. Suddenly there was a lump in my throat. I had come to
Europe to recover from a disaster with someone, and fate had given us each other. Within a few days, so simply and inevitably, time and circumstance would separate us, perhaps forever.
I turned away to the fruit piled high in the bins of the market. I laid my hands on ripe peaches, desperate to feel something substantial in my own hands. At the end of the cobbled street, a train station where the imperious train whistles, the foreshadowing and unwelcome aria of parting, pierced the air.
Chapter Twenty goes up tomorrow. Please use the sidebar links and drop down archive widget for previous chapters. xj