Strangers in Sicily Chapter 5

Chapter 5 –  Changing Winds

me on a walk in the countryside outside of Piazza Armina that fall

*ROB*

    Carol’s last evening in Menfi, she went back to town to say her farewells to distant relatives. Nikki and I hiked and hitched to yet another local stretch of beach. The sky held jumbled clouds that echoed the rough surf. We talked as we drank wine and ate snacks.  We decided to brave the waves and waded into the warm, violent waters. Laughing and wrestling, we pushed each other under the roiling breakers.  As the sky darkened and clouds thickened, we re emerged from the sea and sat close to each other on the unfurled beach blanket. We talked some more, but with the dying of the light we began to get chilled. I knew I should put my arm around Nikki, in a gesture of friendly warmth, and see if that pretense led to a kiss. I could feel the tension and expectation building. Did she really want it too? Was I imagining it? Was I about to make a fool of myself? The breeze picked up. I sensed time was running out, but I wasn’t just chilly now. I was frozen. The possibility that she might find me sleazy and reject me was just too frightening. So instead, I let her think that I was a wimp. Crap.  

After it became undeniably cold, we both agreed we should be going. With a sigh I pulled on my t-shirt and jacket, and we shook off sand and packed up our bags. As we passed rows of overladen vines, I trudged back down the road with her.

For our last breakfast there, Nikki, Carol, and I ate more bread spread with Nutella; then we packed our things. Paying the last of our rent, we said our farewells to the family. It took so long I worried we’d miss our bus connection. There was only one bus scheduled that day, and my mood began to darken as Rosa rushed us into town. I really didn’t want to have to hitchhike halfway across the island to get to our next destination.  

Despite having read self-help books about the power of positive thinking, I couldn’t get the fear out of my mind.  And sure enough, we missed the bus by about fifteen minutes. I threw my heavy backpack on the ground and sat there, stewing.  I knew this probably didn’t look too attractive to the ladies, but I didn’t care.  Nikki and Carol began thumbing, and eventually we got a ride, out of the quiet village, to the next town where we could make bus connections and go our separate ways.  Carol gave us big hugs and stepped up into her bus heading to Piazza Armerina in the center of the island.  Nikki and I waited for another bus to take us in the opposite direction.

*CAROL*

Back in Piazza the wind had blown summer away – everyone was wearing blue jeans and jackets. Kids were sporting backpacks and going to school in the mornings. I rushed quickly to Giovanni’s house since I had to pee after my third long bus ride.  He gave me a big hug and, holding my hand, led me to the kitchen. I urged him to let me go because I really had to use the bathroom.  He laughed.

When I had finished, he said my Italian was worse. I explained that Rob, Nikki, and I had been hanging out like proper American tourists. I knew he’d be curious to meet Nikki. I wasn’t that jealous, but I found out that he was. Apparently, while I was gone, Massimo, the barista from Catania, had called a few times. Giovanni said he didn’t want to be my answering service for all my spasamantes, “suitors,” which used to mean men seeking marriage, but now referred to guys hoping to get laid.  I had to give my real amante, Giovanni, bad news – I had to take my medicine and abstain from sex for a whole month. All he said was “Che pecado.”  More Italian double meanings, it means a shame, but also a sin that we couldn’t sin. 

Are sins eventually punished? According to Aunt Jo’s stories, yes. Grandma Nettie was ashamed of her Sicilian roots, so most of our family stories came from her sister, Aunt Jo.  Jo was feisty and fought anyone who got in her way – Papa Nick once kicked her for insubordination. 

Aunt Jo told a story of her grandfather Gaspare’s sister, a seamstress who never married and lived alone in Sicily. This great- great-aunt was just doing her business, cooking and keeping warm beside the hearth, when a spark escaped and she caught on fire. She burned to death. Sad, but, in those days, everyone thought it was just one of those things that happened. You play with fire, you get burned.

Giovanni let my body heal, and we just fell asleep that first night.  We awoke to the sound of his apartment buzzer.  Veronika laughed when she walked in and found us both in our underwear.  She chatted a little, then she told us to meet her and Mick by hippie central, Bar Charlotte.  Before I’d met all these hippies of the hills, I had been more accustomed to Bar Bogart, where the Lions hung out. Its name alone seemed classier, and they even held weddings there.  Every group in town seemed to have their own plaza and their own bar.

Now we knew what Veronika had talked about with Mick during their Rosh Hashanah phone call.  This was a new year for them, a new beginning. She was going to let him come back.  Everything about this island was different from the morality plays inspired by America’s pilgrim heritage.  Mick left her with piles of Woodstick concert trash and three kids to take care of, and she took him back?  Not only that, he left with another woman and she let him come back?  AND she let the other woman stay at her house and travel with her?  None of it made sense to me. 

Mick was cute, with long brown dreadlocks, more attractive than most English guys.   But he still didn’t make a good impression on me. He was the fastest talker I’d ever met.  Conversing with him left me spinning and traveling millions of miles a minute. His Italian was perfect, and I could understand it much better than his English – a deep inner London, almost Cockney accent. And he’d use weird expressions like “taking a piss,” which seemed straightforward to me but meant something else to him.  His actions were as quick as his speech, making him seem spastic.  Mostly, though, I didn’t like him because he ignored me and just talked to Giovanni while holding his clingy three-year old daughter in his lap. He ignored her too, even now after his abandonment, when she needed him most.  

Across the bar, Annabella didn’t seem too happy with his return either.  Would she still be able to stay at their house?  Or maybe that was the last thing she wanted to do at that moment.

Giovanni got sucked into a deep conversation with Mick, probably a new political analysis he’d heard dictated by Berlusconi on the Rai TV. Giovanni couldn’t keep his eyes off that Italian version of jiggle TV. So I looked around for someone to talk to and found the newest hippie on the scene. Jean was another German but new to the valley.  Traveling through Italy in his 1970s Volkswagen van, he paid his way making trechina braids for girls’ hair and selling little bracelets at markets.

Since returning to town, I’d been staying at the same old place, Girasol.  So now I would get to enjoy even more time with Mick. He offered me a ride back from Bar Charlotte, which I grudgingly took.  His driving was as wild as he was, made worse by Veronika arguing with him the whole way.  He drove too quickly on the new rain moist mudslide of a road to their home.  With every point he made to win the argument with Veronika he flew up the mountainside of the non-existent curb of their homemade carved way to Girasol.

Their reunion didn’t seem to be such a happy one after all. I didn’t think I could survive staying there. It was depressing. Was this what all couples were doomed to?  Hating each other?

I remembered a relationship article I’d read which said that cars are one of the prime spots for couples to fight.  I thought that seemed silly, until I saw that, once we arrived at Girasol, they got along better. Maybe couples just need their space.  The fresh air of the countryside probably helped, too, after the depressing exhaust fumes and rattling of the dying car.

I helped them make lunch, wash dishes, gather wood and collect hazelnuts. Then Mick and Veronika practiced their juggling act by the broken-down circus van they had once traveled Europe in.  It was fascinating to watch the private show, both as entertainment and to see how close they seemed at that moment.  They both juggled the pins individually. Then Mick walked up behind Veronika, she passed the pins to him, and they juggled together as one. They kept passing pins to each other, moving back and forth and sideways while weaving their arms together.  Being the same height and both having dreadlocks, they looked like twins. It was incredible, especially knowing their romantic struggles. It was kinda sexy. 

I survived the nights with Mick in the house. It wasn’t so bad, since he usually fell fast asleep in a drunk or stoned state.  I tried to drift off first so I wouldn’t hear what was going on upstairs in the loft – Veronika and Mick had at least three months of make-up sex to catch up on.

Daytime was the hard part – he was awake and so was all of his energy. The next morning he wanted to make chutney, some English condiment that I’d never understood. The problem was that even if I tried to curry favor (ha ha) by helping him, he wouldn’t listen. I offered to mix the tomatoes through the strainer I had bought to make amazing Sicilian tomato sauce. But he whipped it out of my hands, jammed some tomatoes through, and broke it.  I had bought it at the final summer market, and planned to bring it home for many years of pasta making.  Now I might not be able to get one until the next harvest season, when we would be back stateside.  This high energy, young-woman-stealing incarnation of Hades was not winning me over as he had Veronika.

*ROB*

 When Carol left us for the tranquility of Piazza Armerina, Nikki and I headed to the Zingaro Nature Preserve.  According to Nikki’s travel brochures, scenic cliffs and hills stretched down to quiet seaside coves.  The government, in its wisdom, had planned to dynamite the hills to build a highway to Palermo in the 1970’s, but even in conservative Sicily the outcry from environmental groups had been enough to block the project. This led to the creation of the preserve. It seemed convenient for us, as the brochures mentioned a bus going all the way out there.  

The scene seemed promising enough as we arrived in the nearby town of San Vito lo Capo.  The city beach was bright white, and the unceasing sunlight cascaded over waving palm trees.  The bus schedule indicated we had some time to kill before catching our connection into the country, so we strolled along the quiet boardwalk and kicked at the hot sand.  We admired the picturesque red-roofed lighthouse in the distance. After a while, we decided we’d better head back to the bus stop. Despite the sea breeze and shade of the palms, it was hot and we were looking forward to a refreshing swim in an isolated grotto.  I checked the time table posted at the bus stop. My stomach dropped.  Why did everything have to be so difficult in Sicily?!  Apparently we had overlooked an asterisk in Nikki’s brochure that said the bus stopped running for the season on September 1st. I was fuming, but Nikki just laughed and took it in stride.  We got our thumbs out to hitch yet again.   

We tromped through dusty garbage on the roadside, wincing at the roar of passing motorcycles.  There were still a lot of locals heading to the beach, but none seemed to want to stop and pick us up.  After a mile or so we finally got a ride with a woman visiting from Luxembourg. Most Sicilians assumed Nikki and I were Germans – there were usually more Germans in Sicily than Americans. Sicilians had mixed feelings about this. They still held grudges against the Tedeschi for the fun they shared back in World War II. They’d never quite bought the idea that the German Army had come to “help” their Italian allies in 1943.  But our Luxembourgian friend eased our minds by offering us round-trip service.   

As we piled out of the car into the crunchy gravel parking lot, the park attendant warned us that most of the beaches were closed.  The African Scirocco winds, which peaked in autumn and spring, were high and causing rock slides and danger of fire.  Lovely.  Birds circled above us, probably buzzards. But as I gazed out over a low stone wall, the sea looked mythic and inspiring. I could envision Neptune and Triton down in the depths among the sea monsters. To the right of the beach path, the cliffs rose, splotchy brown and green with a sporadic cover of prickly pear cacti, ficchi di India or Indian figs. The red fruit was ripe and ready for the daring consumer. In Piazza, Artilio had reveled in telling the story of a clueless American GI he had met during the war. Supposedly the soldier, excited by the locals’ tales of the fruit’s deliciousness, popped a whole one into his mouth without noticing the spines.  Chomping down, he let out a cry that echoed across the valleys. Whether this was true, or perhaps just an age-old story  Sicilians told to belittle whoever was occupying their land at the moment, we couldn’t know.

Our path wound down the hill and split off toward different beaches. We went left to the closest cove, in which several people were sunning on blankets or splashing in the water.  The waves were surging, and I wasted no time jumping in and body surfing into the rolling pebbles.  Although I didn’t have     Our path wound down the hill and split off toward different beaches. We went left to the closest cove, in which several people were sunning on blankets or splashing in the water.  The waves were surging, and I wasted no time jumping in and body surfing into the rolling pebbles.  Although I didn’t have goggles, I peered around under the surface of the clear water and marveled at the white, blue, gray, and green stones rolling back and forth with each crash of a wave.  I dove deeper among the fallen boulders, until my ears threatened to pop.  I was amazed by the colors.  Used to swimming in the cloudy, sewage-and-fertilizer fueled algae blooms of the Chesapeake Bay, I was expecting the greens and browns I was familiar with.  The seaweed that grew off the rocks and sprouted from the bottom of the sea waved arms of orange, green, yellow, and red.  Surfacing and wiping the dripping hair from my face, I clung to a mussel-covered rock near the base of a cliff, and let the waves lift and drop me as I rested. I looked at Nikki, sunning herself back on the beach, as if she weren’t deliciously golden-brown already.  I admired the few other bikini-clad women, with their slick-haired, bronzed boyfriends. Glancing down at my pallid goose-bumped skin, I was glad my sunscreen appeared to be holding up.  

Having regained my equilibrium after the weightlessness of swimming, I was ready for more. I launched into a backstroke beyond the rocks. I floated on the swells, paddling in a mostly vain attempt to keep the wave crests from splashing up my nose.  The travel doctor we’d visited in DC, before the trip, had warned us about many things, while pumping us full of anti-hepatitis Gamma Globulin, which nearly made me faint. In particular, she worried about the filthy state of the Mediterranean.  But that seemed difficult to believe right now. I captured blissful moments when I was at one with the sea, a part of the earth’s living surface and sky. I felt the water cushioning me from the planet’s rock-heavy gravity yet providing a home amongst the tangible infinity of space. Deep, man. The cool of the water was a refreshing contrast to the sun’s heat on my face, as I watched the few tenuous clouds swirl and dissolve in the blue above.  

I began to feel sufficiently water-logged, and my stomach started to growl for food, pulling me down from my lofty imaginings. I gave in to my fears of drifting too far out and started paddling back toward shore.      

Shaking off and sitting down on the blanket next to Nikki, I rummaged through my pack for snacks. I let water drip off my hand onto the rounded rocks amongst the sand, amazed at how quickly it evaporated. After the sun had baked me dry, I diligently reapplied sunscreen. Nikki said she was probably ready to go soon, and it was close to time to meet our ride anyway.  We packed and brushed off sand, then headed back, through the rocks, to the parking lot. I looked back at the cliffs and boulders, foreboding now as shadows fell across them and crashing waves echoed more loudly from the grotto walls.  

We managed to get a ride all the way to the nearest city, Trapani. We found a hostel and collapsed for the night. The next day we slept late, then set out to explore. Nikki and I negotiated the cobbled streets with the help of our trusty tour books. Blue waves sprayed white foam as they slammed into the bleached walls of the city. We hugged the buildings of the market district warehouses and stalls, appreciating any slivers of shade in the bright afternoon heat.  We visited the city’s old churches and castles and checked out its most famous sight, the windmill-powered salt-drying flats. We decided to head back to the hostel to rest our feet and eat. On the way, we stopped to shop for some food and supplies. 

Then Nikki had a disillusioning realization.  She couldn’t find her wallet.  After frantically searching her pockets and pack, we hurried to our room and she rifled through everything else. After a lot of swearing and mentally retracing her steps, she figured she must have left it at the beach.  I felt bad for her but also for myself.  This seemed to take the wind out of the sails of our adventure and cast a pall over everything. She didn’t seem to be in the mood for seduction at this point. I suggested we try to get back out there, but she said, “Fuck, it’s not worth it.” She hadn’t lost her passport, but she’d lost most of her money. Rather than sit around in the growing gloom, I suggested she take a refreshing shower and see how she felt afterwards.  To take our minds off the screw-up, we decided to see what night life the city had to offer.     

Perhaps it was because it was a week night or because this  was a provincial Sicilian city, there wasn’t much going on. We walked and walked, but each bar we passed seemed to be more dead than the last. I’d really hoped to get us drunk to foster something further between us.  but I let Nikki’s mental clouds blind my brain as well. I started worrying about finances, and how was I ever going to have enough money to stay in Sicily for a year?  We stopped in one bar full of colorful, enticing bottles, and I asked how much some shots would cost. Instead of realizing I should treat Nikki and cheer her up, I grumpily concluded that it was too expensive. I suggested we find a store and buy something to take to the hotel instead.  After another long walk, we finally found an open market that sold alcohol.  Carefully considering the prices, I opened the yellow-lit glass door of the shop’s beer cooler and pulled out a liter bottle of beer. It was only 1,100 lira, less than a dollar, and I should have gotten more.  But it seemed big, and I figured we could share one.  I guess I learned that penny pinching is even less sexy than ass pinching. 

Back at the apparently empty hotel, we drank the bottle and talked, and I gave Nikki a back rub.  I still didn’t see explicit signs of interest, so after the massage I retreated to my own bed. We didn’t have enough beer to overcome my fears.  The room wasn’t very romantic, either, with dingy walls, hard beds, worn furniture, and broken tiles in the floor. We also had the company of a couple of flies I couldn’t seem to swat, despite chasing them around the room using my patented two-handed technique, designed to confound their compound eyes.  Nikki was tired and wanted to get ready for bed, and I headed down the hall to the shower. I fantasized about things going better between Nikki and me. Apparently, I took too long, the drain didn’t work well and water began to spill out into the hallway. I trudged back to the room, skin bright red from all that time under the hot water. I got as comfortable as I could in my bed, turned away from Nikki, and tried to sleep.

We made one more stop on our little journey, to see the ancient walls of the mountaintop town Erice.  I was nervous the whole time, partly because we’d arrived at the hostel during lock-out hours. Nikki convinced me to hide our packs out back, in some bushes, so we wouldn’t have to carry them around all day. I did so grudgingly, and my uncoolness didn’t  gain me any more points with her. I was also anxious because I was working up my courage to put some moves on her.  The hostel didn’t allow alcohol, so we had a couple of beers at a bar in town. Feeling sufficiently lubricated, I awkwardly told Nikki that I liked her.  I was crushed when she just shrugged and said, “Well, it’s probably just because you haven’t seen an English-speaking girl in a while.” I guess it could have been worse. At least I felt some relief that I’d tried and failed. We caught a ride back to the hostel and played cards. Finally we went off to our respective genders’ dorms to listen to fellow travelers snore and fart all night.   

So that was it. We agreed to abort the mission, packing up and heading back to Piazza Armerina and Carol.  Carol would be disappointed in my inability to travel without her, since she had encouraged us to see Sicily’s west coast and Palermo. And I cringed to think how thrilled Giovanni would be to meet Nikki. 

*CAROL*

Giovanni surprised me with news that Rob had called, saying he and Nikki were on their way.  I loaded up his car with a basket full of dirty laundry, and he drove me to town.  Had Giovanni become my mom?  Well not quite, as when I stripped down to wash every possible article of clothing, he took full advantage of my condition. As I got dressed the buzzer rang. 

I squeezed Nikki like a college roommate best friend I hadn’t seen in years.  I hugged Rob and whispered,  “Did you get any action?” I shouldn’t have been too surprised when he said no.

After the tour, Nikki and I sang country songs in Giovanni’s apartment. We put in her cassette of country hits, and we all danced. We taught Giovanni the two-step.  He looked goofy dancing again, but he enjoyed being a cowboy, the American icon.  

Giovanni freely touched me now since I had told him Rob already knew about us. We danced holding hands even if I still felt a bit uncomfortable around my “ex,” Rob.

We camped out at Giovanni’s. He naturally suggested that Nikki and I sleep in his room, with Rob on the couch in the kitchen. “Couch” was a generous term, as it was more of a wooden trunk with a blanket over it. Giovanni had a happy spring in his step now, with two exotic women around. Plus he liked feeling like one of the Americans, part of the land of his dreams. 

Grandpa Joe and Grandma Nettie also flouted our Sicilian heritage when they decided to elope.  Grandpa Joe was thrilled – they were married and could finally have sex. Grandma didn’t see things that way. They were not truly married unless it was in an official church ceremony. So two weeks later, they eloped  again, this time to a Catholic church instead of a justice of the peace.  They finally told her parents and were ready to start their new lives together. But Papa Nick would have no part of it. He demanded the marriage be annulled.  He gave Joe an earful of nasty comments, accusing him of making his daughter into a worthless slut and whore. Grandpa Joe stood his ground. “Never talk to my wife like that again.”  Then he took her away. He was not going to share her with anybody.  

Giovanni didn’t like sharing his American ladies either and decided to hide us away at his family’s country home. In Sicily everyone lives in apartments in town, but outside the city limits they lounge around in country homes all summer. They have long Sunday dinners, plant bountiful summer gardens, and harvest tomatoes. During the rest of the year, the country homes are used for illicit sex.

Giovanni was a TV addict – he normally stayed up to watch all the late late shows, and had an extensive collection of movies. Now, at the vacation house, there was no TV. Instead we relied on the magic in the Sicilian air. We acted out skits and played charades and other party games. I found it much more entertaining than any TV show I had ever seen.  

We had so much fun each night that we didn’t go to bed until Giovanni’s normal bedtime, around three in the morning.  Rob slept upstairs, and Nikki and I were in the double room downstairs. Across the dining area from us, Giovanni slept in the single room behind the kitchen.

The next few days were the same, relaxing and fun. They were filled with rough-housing games: water fights, wrestling, and chasing. We played card games and lounged around reading in the hammock. And since it was Italy, there was plenty of food.  Giovanni made his self proclaimed famous eggplant parmigiana, which took hours. As I helped him in the kitchen, Rob and Nikki took a walk.  So Giovanni and I made out next to the fridge.  Rob must have felt the sex in the air, because later that day he asked if I could sneak upstairs to be with him. It sounded like fun.  One lover to sneak around with downstairs and the other upstairs. This was the life.

But there was trouble in paradise. I still felt like a one-man-at-a-time woman, and didn’t want to risk making Giovanni feel jealous, so I never took Rob’s offer to sneak upstairs. Instead I got hurt and jealous.

It started with an innocent drinking game of “I never.”  Everyone was supposed to drink if the statement applied to them; the traditional college goal was to stay in control while getting everyone else drunk. We all asked sexual questions. Giovanni blew us out of the water with his experiences. We should have known – he was both older and Italian. I quickly found out it’s not a good game to play with your lovers. Rob loved it and was almost rolling on the floor at Giovanni’s matter-of-fact answers.    

“Where’s the strangest place you’ve masturbated?”

 “Ogniposto” (everywhere).  

Both Rob and Giovanni made disturbing revelations.  But the worst was when Giovanni said, “I’ve never slept with three lovers in one day,” and took a sip of beer. Either he didn’t understand the rules or didn’t care if he got a buzz too. 

I raised the ante by saying, “I’ve never slept with three lovers in one day during the past two months.” No one took a sip, except Giovanni. I soon ended the game. I was burning inside. I was just one of the crowd. Just another notch on his bedpost.

The next night I got another sucker punch. Giovanni said he had to go into town to talk to some people about work and would be back later that night. Since the house was only a mile out of town, Nikki and I took a walk and picked up some groceries. As we headed back to the house, I saw Giovanni’s car and waved.  I shouldn’t have looked, because next to him was a passenger. A woman. 

This was the second time I had seen the other woman. Or I should say, one of the other women. It was too much. I wanted to cry. Luckily, I had a girlfriend right next to me offering a shoulder to cry on.

We walked and talked and kept walking and talking.  As we strolled through the country neighborhood, we didn’t realize how late it had become, and we saw flashing lights. It was the carabinieri. We walked onto the grass to let them pass, but they didn’t. They stopped. They had stopped to arrest us.

“What are you doing here?”

“We are taking a walk.”

“Why?”

“Why?”  I turned to Nikki. “Should I tell them why? Is it their business? I’m upset, about a man.”

These Italian Carabinieri had no sense of humor. “Your passports.”

We didn’t have our passports. We were just out for a walk. I explained that we didn’t have them, and with inscrutable expressions, they agreed to follow us back to the country house.

We ran to the house and yelled at Giovanni and Rob to wake up and come out. It was two in the morning, and they were fast asleep. Giovanni came out to help us talk to the police. We showed them our passports. I was worried since my tourist visa was about to run out. Giovanni said we were just visiting and staying at his country house. They explained that a neighbor had called, after hearing voices so late at night, and assumed we were burglars. Maybe that’s why Italians only take their walks, “passagiatas,” around town, and only for an hour every evening. Any other walks are suspect. The carabinieri left satisfied that we weren’t going to steal anything from the vacant country houses.

We all joked about what would have happened if we were arrested. What was life like in a Sicilian jail?  Would the food still be good?

Rob and Nikki went to sleep. Giovanni leaned back onto me, on the couch, and I massaged his neck. He led me to his room but noticed I was cold. 

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not feeling good.  I know you were with another woman.”
“You have a right to feel this way.”  He seemed guilty and sad.

“I just want to feel special. Not used.”

“I told you, I’m a lupo solitario. A lone wolf.  I’m not normal. I like to have sex every day.”

I crawled into bed with Nikki and thrashed around, tossing and turning, for hours. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. As other pathetic people know, the only solution was to go to Giovanni and make everything right. I went to his room and nuzzled up to him. We slept together and woke up touching and exploring. It was leading up to the big bang when we heard one from the kitchen.

Rob had gotten up to fix himself breakfast. He was clattering around in the kitchen, and something inside me ripped open, tapping into a deep well of anger and frustration. Rob had ruined our moment. He was ruining everything. He was a deadweight. A pain. A bother. I was sick of it. I just wanted to run in there, even though I was naked, and tell him to shut up, let me and Giovanni fuck, and get the fuck out of my life. I didn’t know where the anger came from, but it was  boiling.  Luckily Giovanni literally held me down and helped me regain my calm, and then we concentrated on a way I could run back to my room and get dressed without Rob noticing.  I had the chance when he walked outside. I got dressed and joined him.

“Rob.” I ventured quietly.

“Good morning.”

“You woke me up. All that noise in the kitchen.”
“I was hungry.”

“I’m just tired of all this. I told you to find a place to live, and you’re still living with me. Still depending on me.”

Nikki walked outside, so we ended our argument.  As we ate breakfast it dawned on me – I was probably so depressed and moody because I was on antibiotics. That realization made me feel better.

When I stepped out for a walk, safely in the light of day, Nikki reported that Rob was walking around the house saying, “How could she hear me in the kitchen?” Our official bedroom was on the other side of the dining room. He was catching on to how I’d heard him so early in the morning. He was starting to figure out why I hadn’t joined him upstairs for a romp – I’d had other engagements.    

*ROB*

I was grateful to stay at Giovanni’s “country” home, so I could put off finding my own place. It was a fanciful two-story brick house with gothic arched windows and a castle-like crenelated roof.  I had bought some oil paints, canvases, and brushes, and I took the opportunity to work on some art. Nikki looked at the picture of an Italian cigarette pack I was painting, and her “Bravo, Rob!” made my heart soar. Maybe there was hope for my art, and my ability to impress women, after all!  

Giovanni and Carol stocked the tiny fridge in the miniscule kitchen, and Carol gave me the evil eye for not helping.  I knew I deserved it for being passive-aggressive, but I was angry at her for not putting out.          

Giovanni turned on the water, provided by a rickety old pump out back. On good days it filled the house with an annoying whirring sound, and whenever a peaceful quiet descended, we knew it was a bad day and the pump had quit. Giovanni gave me a manly tutorial on how to caress it just right to get it going again. I wondered why he, an electrician, had never bothered to replace the whole thing. Maybe it was Sicilian pessimism. But when he got to work in the kitchen, with his Italian bachelor skills, his talents shone. Giovanni created tremendous feasts.  

I was tormented, though, by the constant ache to be with Nikki. I had lingering hope that maybe I hadn’t screwed things up totally and there was still a chance.  It seemed rather dim.  Nikki had met one of Giovanni’s other bachelor brothers, Fabio, and she seemed smitten by him. She was certainly tolerating his advances. He was a fitness trainer, taller than me and with bigger biceps. Great.  

Carol and Giovanni were having issues, so at least I wasn’t the only one with a touch of misery. Carol still wouldn’t sleep with me. It took all my charm and newly-learned Italian move-making skills just to get her to kiss me a little.  I guess there was a reason Charlie Brown cartoons always felt too close to home for me to enjoy. I seemed to be a loveable loser. 

One early October day, Giovanni thought it would be nice to get us out of the emotional pressure cooker of his country house.  The weather was still holding, so we headed to Naxos and Taormina in his rattling old Subaru wagon.

*CAROL*

It was dusk as we strolled the old city streets of Taormina, still full of tourists. We were surprised that, in the crowds of Germans and Northern Italians, we saw people we knew, Mick and Veronika. It was a small island after all. We watched their juggling spectacle. I helped pass the hat so they could make some money. I was glad to finally feel somewhat helpful. The show was good. They threw pins to each other and juggled. Then they played with fire. Just like in their relationship.  

While we had been sitting on the beach earlier, I’d listened to the waves’ heartbeat and felt the eastern wind.  I thought the Earth was telling me it was time to have a baby. It seemed like the same strange force that had brought me to Sicily and to Giovanni’s door.  My fear of an STD ruining my fertility had forced my biological clock to clang.  

Aunt Kay had other ideas. She had sent a care package full of birth control, which we picked up in Catania on our way to the beach.  It was stuck in customs.  The officials opened it in front of us, and Nikki and I giggled as they pulled out bright orange prophylactics. We were sternly informed that perfectly good condoms were available in Italy, and no other imported pharmaceuticals were allowed. So we could not take the package or any of its contents with us. Aunt Kay had included some jewelry, could we take that?  No. There was a videotape of American TV, could we take that?  No. Does the Italian post office make any sense?  No.

                ROB

Nikki decided she’d had enough, and she should continue her travels around Europe. We didn’t have a big goodbye.  She spent most of her last couple of days with Fabio, while I gave in to the rash that’d been spreading on me ever since the agritourist hotel in Menfi. Was it from the mysteriously smelly water, or just anxiety?  I took a long scalding shower at Giovanni’s apartment, back in town, to silence the itch, but only succeeded in flooding his bathroom. Nikki, meanwhile, was downstairs in Fabio’s apartment. I hoped the water dripped on their heads. 

 *CAROL*

The next day, back at Giovanni’s town apartment, we packed up our belongings and dropped our bags in a pile on the floor.  Rob organized his stuff to move to Valle Perfetta. Nikki packed to return to Rome and finish her babysitting assignment. I got ready to live with Giovanni’s Danish friend, Ulla, who was married to a Roman named Carlo, and to help with their two sons, Samuele and Emiliano, aged ten and four. Just as the male sticker back fish I’d seen on a late night nature show makes a nest for his mate, Giovanni had arranged it all. Giovanni had found a place which still gave him access to me but was not too close to his Lupo Solitario lair.

The October morning when Rob was due to arrive at his new home, we walked Nikki to the bus stop. We hugged goodbye and promised to write. She tentatively planned to return during her next break.

As I walked in the misty blue-gray autumn air, leaving the bus that was stealing our Nikki away; I knew it was the end of another era in Sicily.  But I was here for a good reason, living in the land of my ancestors.  I pondered that as I walked by a short tan, wrinkled old Sicilian man in a dress jacket.  Typical Sicilian looking man on the island I had chosen to return since my Sicilians had chosen to leave. I spent the rest of the evening in the backstage theater booth where they needed a sound tech, with Giovanni’s hand on my leg.

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
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