I walked alone past black cabs and umbrella-covered people over wet, black cobblestones, in search of the British Museum and hot black tea. Double-deckers like red wheeled whales swam past my view. My mother walked ahead of my father while I trailed behind, peered around corners and wondered why they never held hands. That night we ordered a staid dinner in a small pub, where my father drank a frosted pint and wrestled with a bony hunk of lamb while my mother sat silent and stiff, and I, all eyes and ears and a notebook, drank in a traveling life.
Davide greeted us with cold shots of creamy yellow limoncello, the first kiss of Italy. He walked behind me to keep pickpockets away from my backpack. Wind flapped open porn magazines stacked in racks on all the street corner kiosks. Multicolored paper trash pockmarked the gutters. Wide avenues hemmed by tall stone buildings broadsided me with blurred memories of Nevsky Prospect, the Palace Embankment, but no one spoke Russian here, no artist offered to draw my face. As the rise and fall of voices appassionato coursed into my musician ears, we boarded a long train and departed south for Catania.
I have no memory of where I slept or where I awoke, nor eating or drinking there. From the inside, the house was spacious and full of light, with heavy, hanging iron lamps and pale stone walls. It felt old and empty to me, but I liked the quiet and the high seat on the hill, with the strong wind. I stood outside in the breeze, looked down the slope from where the house stood perched and watched the endless blue sea as the surf crashed shoreward again and again. My only thought: “So this is where my brother lives.”
The village coruscated against the sky like bubbles in black champagne and gave form to the invisible coastline, innumerable white stars dotting a monochrome, pointillist landscape. Cliffside, we gazed seaward. In a garish boutique, I bought a black miniskirt and a leopard print top, swearing I would find a place to wear it. In the car, we downed petite bottles of Sangiovese and drank in the fragrance of the night. Like spelunkers into a hole, we sank into the discoteca and only emerged hours later, our heartbeats still pulsing the rhythms of electronica and trance, our hands fumbling for home.
2 thoughts on “Flashback Quattrocento”
These tiny episodes are like sweet grapes dappled with cold water… eagerly devoured, and only swelling one’s appetite.
Thank you, Matthew. My first journey to Italy, like that to Russia, opened my world in a fundamental way. I was never the same thereafter.
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