Rome, Monday morning, my last few hours in the European continent – I had my ticket for the Leonardo Da Vinci express, which would take me to the airport to board my plane back to Chicago. I stepped out on to the platform, and I inhaled the Italian air one last time. It took a minute for my Ray Bans to focus on the crowd of people waiting to board the twenty-minute train to the airport.
I boarded the train and dragged my suitcase through the narrow aisle while looking for an empty seat near a window. All the window seats were taken, and all suitcases had to be stored on the above compartments. I found a seat with a view and only one passenger sitting there. A gentleman in his mid forties helped me with my luggage. He had a small frame, wore dress pants and a plaid button up shirt; he had glasses and few gray hairs. With a smile, I accepted the help and said, “thank you.” It is that welcoming smile that always gets me into trouble.
He sat across from me and I experienced awkward silence. “Where are you headed?” He asked. After nothing but good experiences in Italy, I had become trusting.
“Chicago,” I said. “Where are you going?”
“England,” he said.
He was Canadian and a philosophy professor at a school in England. We talked about his latest philosophy paper and his young daughter back in Canada. The conversation was interesting and for twenty minutes he talked about philosophy, education, and Rome. At some point in the conversation he invited me to come visit him if I ever found myself in England. It was flattering to have the full attention of a man, even if he wasn’t Italian, and he wasn’t near my age. I didn’t consider taking his offer. I politely replied I had a boyfriend waiting for me, which I believed to be the only way to discourage such advances. He then went on to tell me about the advantages of dating older men with money. Some of the privileges included, traveling business class.
A few days prior, I flew into Rome from France. On the plane I sat next to a young man. He occupied the aisle seat – dark blonde curls, green eyes and tan skin – and I had the pleasure of flying next to him for two hours. Giving me a courteous smile while he stored his backpack in the above compartment. I saw the fine lines outlining his smile of someone in his mid-twenties, and a hint of a roman nose.
Sitting stiff on my seat, tense, wanting to pull out a mirror and make sure my mascara hadn’t smeared, or my hair didn’t have the shape of the pillow. I was so uncomfortable sitting next to a handsome man. The same way someone feels when he or she is in love. I read a book, wondering if he was looking at me. He dove into his book and I should have asked him what he was reading. But there was no point on bonding over literature if by the time he disembarked the plane, he would be lost in Rome. That was my first introduction to Italian men. I made them mysterious and sensual, capable of arising emotions in me without saying a word.
The modern and the antique collide, when a person can get Wi-Fi signal in places that could be a few hundred years old. The older buildings are splattered with signs of many years, chipped layers of multi-colored paint, patched cement, carvings on wooden doors and modern day graffiti, and still the architecture remains unchanged.
My hotel was located near Termini train station. A twenty-minute walk downhill took me through a wide avenue with buildings painted orange and coral, window shutters, roof shingles, and carved wooden doors. The walk took me straight to the Coliseum and Roman Forum.
Who wouldn’t fall in love with Rome, with the horizon shining its light over the Coliseum? Contemplating the thousand sunsets the Coliseum had seen. Feeling the late afternoon sunlight like a delicate hug on my shoulders, while standing over the ruins at the Roman Forum. There’s something romantic about standing in a place surrounded by history. The scenery made me wish I would have the courage to jump on a Vespa with a stranger and wander the city. Riding in the back of a Vespa with a man, my arms wrapped around his masculine torso, while he looked back at me and smiled.
After exploring the Roman ruins and almost using all the memory on my camera, I walked back to my hotel and got ready for dinner. Rome is the perfect place to have dinner alone, sitting outside, watching people walk by. The strip of restaurants surrounding my hotel had more options than an indecisive American could handle. With so many options available, the restaurant staff tried to lure customers in by showing them the menu. I settled for a small place that had a great pizza and wine combination. Sitting outside, sipping on my white wine, eating prosciutto with melon, while waiting for my pizza.
A waiter was across the street, just after the tram rail, short black hair, dark eyes and a charming smile. Luring customers into the restaurant using his good looks, and it worked. The place filled in within half-hour. I watched him curve his lip into a smile and this made female tourists melt. His body language displayed confidence, almost making it clear he wouldn’t get out of the way until he convinced them. Taking the last sip of wine and paying my bill, I left. Something told me I would be back the following night.
My second day in Italy took me on a day trip to Florence. I caught an early train that would take me to Florence in forty-five minutes. A handsome stranger excused himself and sat next to me, occupying the window seat. And I thought about all the girls who wished they got to sit next to a good-looking Italian on a train. There could have been so many opportunities for me to ask him questions about Florence, or get to know him in a forty-five minute ride. He looked like a piece of art, a white marble statue, carved by hand. He was very tall, light skin, caramel eyes, and short brown hair. He was wearing olive cargo pants, a t-shirt and carried a backpack. I read my book and tried not to fall asleep so he wouldn’t see me sleeping.
The way to fall in love with Florence, is to set foot in Florence. I bought a map of the city at the train station for one euro. The streets of Florence were calm, it was early in the morning, and all I had to do was follow the map. I was in desperate need for a cappuccino, so I followed the route outlined to the famous market. The smell of leather filled the air, with countless of street vendors of North-African descent selling leather bags, wallets, belts, and any other shape of leather.
Mercato Centrale Firenze, a big open spacious warehouse with high ceilings, tall windows and wide red doors. It might look like just a building from the outside, but stepping through the doors, I walked into a culinary wonderland. I drank a cappuccino at the bar, with a sweet chocolate filled pastry, replacing any other bar experiences. Walking through the market, I took in all the smells of fresh fish, fruits, oils, and spices. I bought wine, olive oil, and twelve year old vinegar. The smells of the fruit stands were sweet and overpowering. The best-looking figs, plump, ripe and round, and unlike an American supermarket, it’s not socially acceptable to buy just one. The lady said something to me in Italian when I asked how much for a fig.
I walked out of Mercato Centrale regretting all the bags I would be carrying with me the rest of the day. Making my way for Gelleria dell’Accademia, I wandered through the narrow streets of Florence as the post-renaissance buildings sheltered me from the sunlight. Expecting a flashy museum, surrounded by fountains and a large lawn, I got lost. The museum blended in with the rest of Florence, and it was inconspicuous and part of the city.
Michaelangelo’s statue of David was the reason I went to Florence. My heart pounded in the presence of the statue in the center of the room. I fought my way through the crowds, walked around the statue, and admired the carved marble work: the chiseled abs, the pop of veins and the defined muscles. The statue captured the essence of masculinity like no other piece of art I had ever seen. Even though marble is cold, I wondered if hugging David would feel any different with such realistic features. All of the men I had met in Italy came to mind and I wondered if any of them looked remotely like the statue of David.
Needless to say, Florence didn’t disappoint, the shell of the cannoli was crunchy, gelato rich in flavor, and coffee shops had Wi-Fi. Except for a cold slice of pizza, my day trip to Florence was perfection. On the afternoon train back to Rome, I didn’t sit next to any handsome strangers. Looking through the pictures I took of my day in Florence, I sat back and relaxed. I loved the few hours I spent exploring Santa Maria del Fiore, the gold shops on Ponte Vecchio, eating gelato while walking on the smaller secluded streets. Nothing like sitting by the window as the afternoon sun hit the train and being able to admire the Tuscan countryside, vineyards and beautiful mansions.
I went back to my hotel in Rome and unloaded the bags with all my Florence purchases. As I got ready for dinner, I washed my face and applied makeup and traced my lips with red lipstick. In the Early evening, the dinner rush hadn’t yet caught up. Walking along the sidewalk I looked at the menus of a few restaurants. Feeling a glare following me as I continued walking. When I looked up, I saw the waiter waiting for me to make eye contact. He had a menu ready, motioning me with his palm to come to him, and I felt myself blush. Nodding, and without thinking it, I walked his way.
He showed me the house specialties and the dinner specials, which included, appetizer, entre, and wine for fourteen euros. “What about dessert?” I asked.
I saw a smirk and a twinkle in his eyes because we both knew he got indirect advances from tourists all the time. “I can give you a good dessert later.” He escorted me to my seat. To my disappointment, someone else came to wait on me. Dinner consisted of pasta with salmon drenched in tomato sauce, followed by chicken and steamed vegetables. He had promised me dessert and I wanted to see my options, it seemed like the hook to another interaction with him.
He charmed other tourists and brought them to sit at the restaurant. The white tablecloths, candlelight, wine and the warm Italian night made it all seductive. Italians displayed sensuality in plain sight, in statues, paintings, the people, and it was difficult to ignore and it was placed in front of my face. I would go up to him and claim what was promised to me. I could imagine my girlfriends asking me for every detail and feeling jealous. My heart was raising, fluttering butterflies in my stomach, legs shaking.
My alarm went off at six in the morning in the warm hotel room – loud fan, bad lighting, and dated wallpaper. Sunday morning brought my last day in Rome, and an anticipated visit to the Vatican. The man at the front desk of my hotel said the bus was the best way to get there. After getting off the bus, I walked towards a wide cobblestone street that led to St. Peter’s Basilica. The early morning sun begun casting over the Basilica, and taking it all in took time, the square, the columns, official seating for outdoor events, and the angels guarding over all of it.
The line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica was short. Excited about entering a place I heard about my entire life. The architecture is unlike many I have seen, massive columns, high ceilings, marble floors, gold details, paintings portraying holiness and life-like marble statues of saints. Feeling elated and at peace, but I wasn’t looking for a moment of spirituality, or the assurance of my faith at that moment.
Confessions were taking place in several languages, and I passed through the German, Dutch, French, before going finding the English confessional. It had been about five years since the last time I went to confession. In an old fashion confessional, I confided in the priest. Telling him about my distance from the church, my sins, and the painful turbulent marriage, that had left me broken. Though, a bit worried about his reaction towards divorce. He told me God doesn’t like divorce and marriage is sacred, but love isn’t meant to hurt and destroy. When it hurts so much it is not true love, and God understands because love is meant to make you happy. I had never heard anyone talk about love in a way that was rational and magical. His voice understanding and comforting, and I felt a few tears rolling down my face. I wanted to write it down and keep his advice forever but I was a writer without a pen.
After confession, I stayed in the Vatican for a few more hours climbing up to the top and enjoying a view of the grounds. I waited for Pope Francis to step out to the window, and then I left. I explored the rest of Rome in a day, walking from the Vatican and stopping at every landmark to take pictures and eat gelato by the fountains. Fontana di Trevi was under construction and covered in scaffolding, so I didn’t toss my coin.
I looked forward to dinner after a day of sightseeing. The same routine of the previous night, I went back hoping to see my Italian waiter. He wasn’t there, and without him to lure tourists in, the restaurant was empty. I had dinner at a different restaurant and drank a couple glasses of red wine. I asked to see the dessert menu. The creamy mascarpone cheese, rich taste of espresso and rum, garnished with chocolate shavings, tiramisu was all I hoped for.