THIS WEEK IN NYC 
 
 
IN TRANSLATION: FICTION by Adriana Ichim
Excerpt from the novel
SUPERMODEL BETWEEN EASTERN AND WESTERN EUROPE

 

You learn how to love through               

Rome, 1979

I got off the plane and immediately felt dizzy because of the multitude of people; seemingly millions of hurrying people who knew exactly where they were going. I... well, I searched through the crowds for something or someone to help me get out of that place.

It was the month of May and I felt the clean air and smelled the distant sea. I saw a hand amidst the crowds fluttering over long blonde braids. What would I have done if she hadn't come?

"Hey, it's great that you came! This is Bruno, my boyfriend."

I shook hands with him silently while he was looking me over with a smiling and benevolent gaze; I used that time to look him over too. He was tall and distinguished but... kind of oldish.

I thought, "Wasn't she suffering? Hadn't I come here to comfort her?"

Mariana saw that I was taken aback and took me by the arm, whispering to me in a tone that wanted to be protective.

"I wanted to meet you properly. You know, someone stole my suitcase when I got to Rome and the person who was supposed to meet me didn't show up...I wanted all this to be different for you. Rome is beautiful, and I want you to see it under better conditions. Bruno came to take us with his car."

There was no sense in my saying anything. We would talk later, I told myself, but I had already begun to see that our thoughts were following different paths again, and again I tried hard to understand her, but couldn't...

I was stunned by the immensity of the traffic. It was impossible to go more that 20 — 30 km/hr. The trip, my nerves, and all the waiting had devastated me. l was so far from home that my stomach was all tied up in knots.

The main highway around Rome was immense, and if you didn't know the road well or you weren't attentive, you ran the risk of driving around utterly lost for hours on end. I lived through that experience then and still remember it.

Around sunset we finally made it to the Majestic Hotel at Via Veneto. It was something totally new to me, and I didn't know that this was the deluxe of the deluxe...I didn't know very much about Rome. The lights amazed me, the smells bewildered me... everything was dazzling and dizzying.

We situated ourselves in an elegant apartment that Bruno had reserved for us, I in one room and they in the other. The Majestic is an old and expensive hotel with large, spacious rooms, floors covered with thick carpeting on which you can walk barefoot (something I did immediately), and furniture made of solid wood. The beds in particular, covered with beige bedspreads, seemed imposing to me. We were met with an immense vase of freshly-picked flowers that spread their odor throughout the entrance hall. There was another in the hall on each floor, and yet another in each room. All were only fresh flowers — I know because I checked them all, stroking and smelling them.

I stopped at the wide-open window, amazed at the view outside... so, so different to me. An inclined street full of bars, tables on the sidewalk, streetlights, doormen who called to taxis from the doorways, men driving luxurious cars down the street casually and stopping now and then to watch the elegant people drinking an aperitif or a coffee! I jumped up quickly; I wanted to go out, to see it all with my own eyes, to touch things with my own hands, to be blinded by the light. I was so dazzled by it all that I decided that I wouldn't even discuss it with Mariana — in any case, I knew that we saw everything differently, and I thought that offering me some delight was her way of showing her delight.

And it's a good thing that I went out, because, until we reached Milan, I saw nothing but endless highways on which we drove at a speed that seemed to me, at least, insane. I slept nearly the whole way there.

At first, and especially after what I'd seen of Rome, Milan didn't please me at all. We got to Milan at 6:00 while there was still some light, but the weather was gloomy. The sky was oozing a combination of rain and fog, thus the city, mostly at the periphery, looked to me like Bucharest.

Mariana got upset when I told her that. "Milan is superb!” she said. “You just need to get to know it, and what do you know?"

She was right. I now love Milan. But then, she didn't even know what to tell me, much less how to explain anything to me.

Our problems began very rapidly; she didn't want to discuss anything about Antonio with me and she regressed into the past and became once again the closed-up little girl who suffered in silence. She would go to work and leave me home sleeping. Whenever I went out, I was scared; I kept hearing her warnings.

"Be careful. Don't go there because it’s dangerous. Don't do this... Don't do that..."

After I met Betty and Franco, I went out more often. Mariana wasn't very pleased that I'd go out with them in the evenings. She had basically nothing at home — in the refrigerator she maybe had two apples and some yogurt; she was accustomed to taking me out evenings with a variety of her acquaintances, and I was always bored out of my wits. She though that I liked going out to different restaurants all the time, and meeting as many people as possible. But they spoke too fast for me to follow them, and at a certain point, I just gave up trying to follow their conversations.

I once asked her why we had to go out to eat every evening. "What do you mean, why?... I do it for you, and we have to eat anyway, don't we? And maybe you'll meet someone for yourself..."

"WHAT? Do you really think that that's why I came here?"

No, but if... just if some man attracts you, why not take advantage of the opportunity? Not to mention that there's the fact that I don't have enough money to put you up forever or to send you around to visit Italy."

I didn't know how to behave around men — they intimidated me and it was easy to see that I wasn't used to going out in company. When I look back, I see myself as having been shy, scared, and quiet, always looking desperately for somewhere to hide whenever my cheeks were invaded by that damned blush of mine.

I don't like coffee except in the morning, and that evening, mostly because I was very tired, I got angry as hell when Mariana told me, "Get dressed up very pretty so we can go out to have a coffee in the city". The mere thought that I'd have to get ready and dance to her tune sent shivers up my spine. I was sure that it was another one of her whims like, "We have to eat anyway, don't we?" but at least she'd promised me that there wouldn't be many people and that there was a chance we could come to an understanding. She wanted to introduce me to her lawyer, who had helped her out in many problems (of course she hadn't told me about a single one of her problems; now that we weren't children any more, we both lived in separate worlds). I was so tired that could barely stand on my feet, so I put on my most comfortable dress, put on my makeup quickly, and threw myself into the car, swearing (as well as I know how) in my mind.

We arrived at the lawyer's office twenty minutes late, and I watched how Mariana changed during the ride from a sullen, boring person into someone exuberant and full of life. I didn't wonder at this at all — I'd come to know her.

I got out of her wreck of a Fiat I26 with some difficulty and one of my high heels got stuck in a ventilation grate in the sidewalk. I thought, "What kind of sign is this? It certainly can't be a good one! But let's not get upset!" While I was trying to get my heel out of that trap, I felt a hand supporting me and, grabbing my shoe, I stood up, but forgot to put my shoe back on. A tall man with a luminous face and blonde hair was looking at me and putting all his effort into keeping a serious air. We both broke out in laughter! I thought that he was a passer-by, but I saw that Mariana and the man standing next to her were both smiling.

"So, you've met! This is Gianni Lanzaro. He is just passing through Milan. I'm Stefano, Mariana's lawyer, and I've heard quite a lot about you."

I tried to shake hands with him but was still holding that shoe in my hand — now we all started laughing! All at once I no longer felt tired... men intimidated me, but Gianni had a way of making you feel comfortable. He was attentive and polite, and I felt his gaze fixed on me, but I walked with my eyes turned to the ground, searching for and avoiding any and all gratings in the sidewalk.

We walked to a restaurant that Stefano knew...in fact, he knew all the good restaurants in Milan, as I was to discover later. For the first time, I felt good with Marina's "friends". In the meantime, I had learned a bit more Italian, and Gianni made an effort to speak more slowly and repeated for me what the others said. He had a tension in his voice, as if he were waiting for something — I don't know what it may have been, as I didn't have the courage to look him in the eyes. I only snuck a glance at him now and then, and he continued to gaze at me with seeming wonderment, all the while paying attention to my reactions.

Stefano was a small fat man with a crazy sense of humor. I laughed all evening as I don't remember having laughed for a very long time. When we finished dinner I realized that I was sorry to be alone with Mariana again, and was happy when happy when they invited us to a piano bar. The atmosphere was pleasant, with dim lights and jazz music. We sat on couches that were much too comfortable for me, and we started talking closer and closer to each other in order to hear and be heard.

Gianni said, pronouncing his words very crisply in order to be understood, "I've traveled almost everywhere in the world, but I've never been to the Eastern European countries!"

"Have you had a particular reason for not going there, or is it just that you haven't gotten there?"

"Well, I've just now returned to Italy early because of the upcoming elections. You should know that I'm a firmly convinced liberal and a great enemy of the Communists' ideals. Nothing about the Communist countries has attracted me — until now." he said, smiling at me.

"Tell me... where have you come from so tanned in May?"

"From Thailand. I have some friends there, and it's absolutely beautiful. I could probably have stayed on, but a stupid accident hurried up my return. I fell off a horse and hurt my knees, and they still bother me pretty badly."

"I hadn't noticed that you had a problem... Does it still hurt?"

"Horribly! But I've tried hard not to let you see me limping; I was afraid that you'd run away if you saw me hobbling along."

I blushed and tried to change the subject.

"How are the Thai women? I've heard a lot about them... What are they like?"

"Ah, the women..." His laugh had something very personal about it – it was light and easy, and jolly at the same time. "What could possibly interest you about Thai women? They're, well, exactly as people say. They're efficient and obliging, and they're small with superb long, black, shining hair," Gianni was looking at me while I was listening to him, lost in my own world. "But, after a while," he said coming even closer to me, "after a while I was overcome by this crazy desire for a tall, beautiful woman who smelled of good perfume..."

He sighed and breathed in my perfume. I curled myself up into a little ball as much as I could, trying to make myself as small as possible, although that was impossible[RL1] . I felt myself overwhelmed by a pleasant sensation that I couldn't explain.

"Wouldn't you like to come with me? I'm going to Positano tomorrow... C'mon and come with me for the weekend if you don't have anything else scheduled..."

"No, she doesn't have anything else to do," responded Mariana (how could she have heard that with all the noise around us?), "and Positano is superb! I'd like to come too, but I have to work."

"Don't worry about that. You can come after you're done, and bring Stefano with you! Come on Saturday or Sunday... Why not? The house is immense."

I looked desperately at Mariana, but she was avoiding my eyes.

"No, I'm not going to go," I said, embarrassed.

"Why? It's not possible that you wouldn't love it. It's the most beautiful place in Italy and, in my opinion, one of the loveliest places in the world! The coastline there is unique!"

"No! No, I can't come!" I was trying to speak as quietly as possible, but he was getting dangerously close to me. "I don't even know you..."

He laughed heartily, after which I forced myself to turn around and try to look into his eyes...I didn't manage to do so, but he spoke to me in such a manner that nobody else could hear (and Mariana was straining her ears to death trying to figure out what we were talking about).

"Listen to me. I'm very glad to have met you because you have a certain something... I don't quite know what it is yet, but there's something in you that amazes and attracts me. I'd like to discover what that certain something is, but first, you need to know that I'm not the kind of man that seduces women everywhere he goes, and even if I were, Positano is teeming with women looking for an affair. I have a big house, and I'm inviting you to be my guest... is that clear?"

I looked at him quickly, scared and ashamed at my idiocy. How could I tell him that I was not a woman of the world, but that I had come from a "cage" and didn't know how to behave around men, whether they were friends or mere acquaintances? Under the pressure of his gaze, at the same time amused and tender, I wanted to climb into the soft couch and hide myself.

When we left he took my hand as my protector and the two couples separated: Mariana in Stefano's car, and Gianni and myself in his two-seater car. I didn't speak at all...I felt that I was burning all over and my mind was foggy. I fought with the pleasant feelings coursing through me and with the repentance within myself for not having the slightest feeling of guilt. I looked straight ahead, lost in my thoughts, and felt that, seeing as though we were getting close to home, I should say something, at least out of politeness, but I couldn't, and he respected my silence by keeping his. He stopped in front of my house, kissed my hand, and said to me in an imploring tone,

"I'd very, very much like you to come. I know for a fact that you'd like it!"

"I don't know...I can't decide right now. Please call me tomorrow before you leave. O.K.?"

"No, it’s not O.K. I hate telephones! Tell you what...I have some business to take care of tomorrow, but I have to leave no late than 5.00. I’ll stop by here — it's on the way in any case,” (that wasn't true) — “and if you've decided to, then come with me! If you've decided not to, I probably won't find anyone at home anyway... is that O.K. with you?"

It already seemed like an obligation to me; this was completely different than making a phone call during which I could eventually make up some excuse without having to look him in the face. I felt even worse than before. I don't know how I got upstairs, totally forgetting that Mariana was home and waiting for me — for the moment I had gotten her out of my mind.

“Are you out of your mind to refuse such an invitation? I had just told you that I don't have enough money to send you to such expensive places! Do you have any idea what you're losing out on? Do you know what that coast is like?"

"No, I don't know, but please don't yell at me... I’m tired, and, anyway, I'm the one who has to make this decision, no?"

I went back to bed without even a polite exchange between us, feeling her disapproval and wondering for the who-knows-how-many-eth time just why I had come here.

In the morning Mariana woke me up with a phone call. Her voice was cheerful, and I knew that something was up. "Look", she said, "if you don't want to go to the South, well, Bruno has called me to invite us to Lugano, where one of his friends lives. We'd leave Saturday morning and come back Sunday evening. What do you say?"

I propped myself up on my elbow to hear better, and made a decision that instant. "No, I can't. Gianni called me a bit earlier and I told him that I'd go to Positano."

"Oh, what a whimsical young lady you are, my dear...and here I am trying to organize your last weekend in Italy!" she said, upset, and slammed down the receiver.

Nothing I did or said was good enough for her, and maybe she was right...I hadn't been very pleasant company. I was going home to Bucharest in ten days...I missed my girls so much...I was very happy that Mariana had helped me to find a job, and I'd saved some money so I could get them something. I didn't have much, but with a little bit of running around I could find less expensive things. Had they grown up a bit? My girls were so well mannered and so good...I stayed in bed for a little bit longer, thinking of the gladness that I would make for my kids.

I started packing my bags and managed to finish at 4:30 — I had been punctual for the first time in my life! I waited in Mariana's hall sitting on a suitcase and looking around me. Her house was only half-famished[RL2] . She hadn't changed anything since Antonio had left, and the empty spaces stood as witnesses to an affair gone wrong and to her suffering. No, I didn't feel at all well in that house and could hardly wait to disappear, to not have to look at Mariana any more. I felt that she was trying again to make me feel guilty for all her unhappiness and her inability to do anything about it, and I simply wasn't in the mood to put up with all of that any more...I was no longer as naive as I had been as a child, when I'd felt guilty because I had "a father" and she didn't!

The ringing of the doorbell woke me from my musing... it was five minutes before five, and I smiled.

"It's Gianni Lanzaro. I thought I'd come a little bit early. You know, my job is selling houses, that is, managing to convince people, and who knows? Maybe I'll manage to convince you too. Will you open the door for me?"

"What are you going to do if I'm already convinced?" I answered, laughing.

"I'll come in anyway to take your baggage."

It was somewhat humid at that hour and it seemed as if l were catching a cold...I wasn't really on familiar territory, and I was, for all intents and purposes, throwing myself into something that scared me, no matter how much I didn't want to think about it.

"I don't much like being in the city either. It's torture for me to always be surrounded by super-civilization — there are too many people, there's too much noise, and it all puts me into a state of being high-strung and unhappy all the time."

It was as if he'd read my mind. What he said, in fact, expressed my state of mind at the time; so much so that I accepted him.

He was completely changed. He didn't try to get too close to me, he was friendly, and he wanted me to feel relaxed also.

We managed to get out of the city fairly quickly, and I confessed to him how happy I was that I'd decided to leave before having to see Mariana. That was a neutral subject to which we both attached ourselves happily.

"You two seem as different as the Sun and the Moon. What kind of sisters are you?"

"Well, we're not actually sisters. It's a long story, and a sad one... She suffered a lot as a child... her father left her mother and married my mother, who wanted him to adopt me. I was I6 years old before I knew that he wasn't my father and whether I was her sister, stepsister, or no relation to her. Being only a child, she made me the guilty party as far as the situation with her parents went. She couldn't get openly upset with the adults involved, so she took it all out on me!"

"And I can see that she still hasn't stopped! She doesn't behave much like a mature person."

I was stunned by the profoundness of his observation, seeing as though he had only been with the two of us for such a short time... As we chatted, my nervousness disappeared. I was relaxed, and I even managed to smile, realizing that I was starting to see Italy at last.

"So, what have you seen so far?"

"Oh, very little, really. I've worked a bit under the table. I've taken part in some collections of bridal gowns, I've made some small presentations in a few cities like Padua, Brescia, Bologna, Verona, and others around and about."

"That's it? You haven't seen anything!" He seemed revolted. "Italy is splendid... whenever I come back from some place that people say is beautiful, I realize that they don't even compare with the splendors here. You absolutely must see Florence, Rome... "

"I know...I'd have liked to, but...I'm only staying another week. I have to leaving Friday, so all that will have to wait for the next time, if there is a next time..."

We stopped at a gas station and my eyes were fixed on the reddened sky of sundown; this was the hour I loved the most. I set my reveries free, comprised by a sense of well-being. I nearly started purring like a cat and I jumped, scared, when Gianni knocked on the car window, holding some bottles of drinks in his hand.

"What do you want? Coca-Cola, mineral water or..."

Torn from my dreams, I looked him in the eyes and felt as if my whole body were gathering in my stomach.

"But you have green eyes!?!?" I babbled.

"We have a saying here: better late than never... it's all the better that you've finally seen me.”

He had no way to understand my stupor. He paid for the drinks and we left.

"I've made a decision for you", Gianni told me. "We'll stop in Florence. I've made some phone calls and, to my surprise, I've found a room at a hotel. We really shouldn't pass by that marvel without you seeing it."

It was impossible for me to utter a sound. Sanda's words kept sounding in my head — "A man of green..." Maybe the sensations I had been feeling somehow had a connection with Sanda's cards... I couldn't think of any other reason...

"What's wrong with you? Earlier it seemed to me that you had come out of that state of nervousness. Have I done something wrong? You don't want to go to Florence?"

"Uh, no... no, it's nothing like that. It's something from back home that I'll tell you all about later..."

"You promise? O.K., it's all right now! Now I'd like to talk a little bit about us. What do you say?"

"What do you mean?" I jumped up, scared.

"Look, I'll start. I was married, but now that I'm not, I like beautiful women and going on trips. My father died and left me several apartments that allow me to do whatever I want with my life, at least for the moment. See? General things like that... nothing more."

"Oh! That's what you meant! Well, here's how things stand with me: I'm married, I have two small, wonderful children, I came to Italy for two months, I'm leaving Friday, and l can't have an affair," I said in one breath and with a slight desperation in my voice.

“You can't because you don't want to, you can't because someone won't let you, or you can't because you're afraid?"

What had amazed me about him right from the beginning was the sincerity with which he spoke to me. Gianni was an open man who always played with his cards face- up, as if he wanted to say, "That's who I am and this is how I think".

"Yeah...I think that it's all of them at once..."

"Fine... Now let's try to take them up one at a time, even id it'll be a little hard for you", he said, smiling.

He was being just a bit sarcastic...Experience had taught him to think that he knew everything, and perhaps he did, in a way.

He drove a blue Lancia coupe that looked small from the outside, but was quite spacious for two people inside. The car fit him like a glove; it was as docile as a lover and raced along, eating up the highway.

We managed to reach Florence along with the last rays of the sun. The hotel was on the riverbank facing the Ponte Vecchio.

"I chose this one, firstly because it has a garage... otherwise it would have been pretty hard for us with all this baggage, and also, because it has a wonderful view. But we still have to hurry. I want to show you the Pome Vecchio while there is still a bit of light. You've GOT to see it!"

He told me everything with emotion in his voice, telling me about things one could see that were dear to him and that he missed. When could he have had time at the gas station to think about all this: the hotel, the garage, and the view?

I felt him looking at me while he was speaking to the reception clerk. "Please, I've reserved a room in the name of Gianni Lanzaro."

I looked at him angrily and realized that he had expected this reaction from me. This was a situation that I hadn't foreseen, although I should have. I felt distressed by contradictory emotions. I didn't know what to do...everything was so new to me, not to mention unexpected...

A porter carried our baggage and, when we were alone, Gianni closed the door and explained calmly, "Adriana, you transmit all the feelings you have to me, and that hasn't ever happened to me until now. Please calm down... Look, there are two beds. Nobody is going to jump on you, believe me!"

I went out onto the balcony without saying a word, feeling angry with myself because I didn't know how to behave and because all my mother's advice was still following me.

"Are you ready to let yourself be conquered by one of the most beautiful cities in the world?"

His voice was neutral... that voice of a "friend". I turned around smiling and with my mind made up not to think about anything except this ancient city which this man, whom I'd just met, was offering me merely for the love of sharing his joy in discovering its beauty.

Gianni dragged me after him into the small street and my breath was taken away when I saw how he was limping. I had forgotten!!!

"Don't worry about it... we'll make it anyway," I stopped him.

"No! You have no idea what it means to see Florence at sunset! You have no idea how the purple spreads itself over the houses... they are absolutely made for that color! I have to show you!"

And he showed me! We made it to our destination and stayed for the last fifteen minutes of light! How could I possibly explain such a miracle? You feel how the red light penetrates the houses and streets around you, how it lets itself be embraced and transformed into another nuance. And then a light breeze of clean air spreads itself everywhere at the same time as the fall of evening. The Ponie Vecchio is one of the famous bridges in Florence. It has been painted and sung about by great artists for all time. It is a place where merchants and craftsmen, unique in the world, have opened their jewelry shops, where street-salesmen spread out their small treasures of precious and semi-precious stones at their feet, a place at which not even the smallest, trivial detail is missing, combined so well with all the rest. And all around you, stones, old stones, worked piece by piece.

Gianni neither asked me anything nor said anything to me. He only looked at me and I could feel how he was enjoying my joy.

I moved slowly; I didn't have the courage to look too attentively...everything seemed so untouchable. I stopped in front of a street-salesman, got down on my knees, and put my hand on a necklace made of tiny, fragile shells, like tiny rosebuds. I also liked their colors: all possible nuances of mauve, from the brightest to the almost black darkest. I hadn't suspected that there existed anything so lovely!

Gianni took it from my hand and tenderly put it around my neck.I thanked him with my eyes, too moved to say anything. He paid for it and we left.

"And now let's go to Piazza Seniorei..."

I let myself be led by him without any hesitation, through this fairy-like world in which I felt that I was someone else, totally different from that Adriana from Bucharest, who was clouded by troubles. Now I was walking through a city full of light and of happy people who strolled along the sidewalk and the street, protecting themselves from the cars that also seemed to be taking a walk, making their way through the passers-by. Everything was different here: tremendous amounts of stores, bars one next to the other, and strings of pizzerias. Everything was a hustle and a bustle and I thought that everyone was on vacation. I didn't know then that, in Florence, it's always like that; the city is bubbling with life until late at night.

We got to an immense plaza surrounded by lit-up old buildings, and along the sides of the plaza, around the middle, restaurants and bars stretched themselves out. The tables and chairs in the middle of the street, with their colored umbrellas and their perfect cleanliness at any hour almost made me crazy.

“Do you want something? What do you say we have a snack? To tell you the truth, I'm a bit hungry", said Gianni, almost seeming to be excusing himself.

"I'm not hungry, but I wouldn't mind sitting down somewhere if it's possible..." "That's precisely what I was getting at. Look! There's a free table at this bar. I'll go and order us something. What would you like?"

I gazed at him gratefully and asked him to decide for me. I sat on a chair in which I felt like I was sheltering myself from the exhaustion caused by the heat, the lights, the colors, and the excess of life that a place like this gives you.

I sighed happily. Everything was in tandem; time didn't seem to be pressing, it was June, and evening cast a pleasant torpor over us. Youths were singing in the middle of the plaza accompanied by a guitar. Florence was there, and it had folded me into its arms.

I am absolutely certain that you can only feel something like that once in your life; only once in your life can you go, as I had, from a country in which everything was dark (mostly people's souls) and you are only once in your life in Florence for the first time! I went there many times afterwards...I still liked it, but I knew the city, it no longer gave me the sensitivity of a violin string, nor caused my heart to beat all the way up into my throat.

"And you think that you won't fall into my arms in this romantic atmosphere, amore mio?"

I hadn't felt his presence, although he'd been sitting next to me for a little bit, looking at me with moist eyes. I let myself be carried away by my instincts and hugged him around the neck.

"Oh, thank you! Thank you!"

“It is I who thank you, because you have shown me that there still are people who can be tenderly astonished by a stone, a light, or the wonders of Florence.”

We sat holding each other's hands, savoring the moment, while tears flowed down my cheeks. I was crying from joy...I couldn't keep it inside myself anymore.

I walked around the streets without feeling any tiredness, I caressed the statues with my eyes, stunned by their grandeur and perfection: l walked around and around in the middle of the plazas that appeared every few streets, and I noticed that it was getting late by noticing that there were fewer and fewer people about and by the visible effort that Gianni was making to keep on accompanying me. He kept smiling and patiently explained everything to me without complaining. We didn't eat anything that evening but some firoccia (a kind of hot sandwich) at the Piazza Seniorei, and we drank some water at a bar. On the way back to the hotel we passed by the Ponte Vecchio again... it was sleeping quietly.

I started to feel tired, but I didn't care. I was wondering how certain sensations can make two people who don't know each other feel close to each other... how they can make them seem like they were from the same world! I should probably have been mentally scolding myself, but I didn't feel the slightest bit of guilt. All of this was a gift from God, a gift I'd paid for my whole life. I'd been waiting for it a long time, starved for it, and now I was taking it with open arms.

I was with a man I didn't know well at all, in a city, a country, and a "world" that I barely knew at all! Only someone unconscious could have failed to be as happy as I was then!

When we got to our room I began to feel uncomfortable again. I took refuge in the bathroom! I'd never been in such a situation... on the other side of the door a man who wasn't Sandu was waiting for me, and he wasn't even my lover. But sleepiness made me practical; I put on my linen nightshirt (very sexy for me...years later I realized how exciting the provincialism of a "little Romanian girl" without lovers could be, and then I felt like laughing when I remembered what I thought was sexy then).

Gianni had gone out onto the balcony and, happily, I threw myself into bed, covering myself up to my neck with the sheet. I didn't notice when he came into the room, although I wasn't sleeping. I was excited, but I didn't desire him. I liked him; he was a very handsome man...the handsomest man I'd ever known. He was full of warmth towards me and I could see that everything he did depended strictly on my wishes. But I didn't want him, because I didn't know what to want...There were many, many things I didn't know or feel then. He sat on his bed, not far from mine, and stayed there unmoving in the dim light of the lamps. Through the open windows the ancient city pulsed less and less in the middle of the night. Then a quiet, an unnatural quiet, descended over us, interrupted only by our breathing.

I felt his hand on mine. He touched it lightly and pressed it gently. I felt myself wrapped in a sensation of warmth and of giving, and that's all I remember. The next morning I woke up in the caress of the sunlight dancing through the windows that I'd left wide open for fear that someone would steal the city from underneath me. I awoke next to Gianni, who was holding me in his arms, still asleep.

My heart started to beat crazily, letting me know that my body had done and felt things I wasn't aware of. I took it all as a sign; a sign that a rupture had occurred in my life...a painful rupture that I didn't want to get myself mixed up in and, perhaps because of that, I had covered up everything that had happened the previous night in forgetfulness, no matter whether it was good or bad. I didn't remember the slightest bit of what had happened either then or later on. All I know is that I'd awakened as another person and that I'd decided to live in the present with neither questions nor thoughts! How long would that last? Five days? Fine! Then I'd live five days minute by minute!

Gianni was very attentive and loving that morning...I remember that he'd stop every now and then to gaze at me as at some miracle; he was loving me with his gaze. I couldn't believe that all this was happening to me. I wasn't accustomed to being surrounded by love, and I realized that morning that I was 27 years old and finally I was being adored and loved outright by a man who was what I'd always dreamed of.

"Oh, if you only knew how you are shining! Please just let me look at you! Did you know that your eyes have turned green?" Gianni marveled.

"No, you're just imagining that l've never had green eyes... they've always been hazel," I answered, laughing.

"You don't believe me? Come with me!"

And he dragged me to the closest cosmetics store and sat me down in front of a mirror where he forced me, laughing, to look at myself. He was right. My eyes had indeed turned almost green, but they weren't quite like his. Mine were tinged with gold while his had the color of the sea...

"Yours are prettier," I heard myself saying. Then I blushed, remembering that we were, after all, in a store.

"You're the beautiful one! Come on!" he said, pulling me with some strength in his arms.

“Where are you taking me today? What are you going to show me?"

"We don't have too much time. We've got to hurry up and leave before the traffic gets bad. I'm going to take you to the Dom (the most important church in each city). Today is a major holy day...Saint Angelo. There has to be a procession there.”

And there was!

The Dorn plaza in Florence doesn't hold very many people. It’s much too small for its imposing church. Everything was bathed in sunlight, and the air was as fresh as it can only be in the first few days of June. We walked into that magnificent church holding each other's hands. I was ashamed that I didn't know anything about art, but in my mind, I thanked the artists who could give the world such treasures. Every little corner was painted, every window was stained glass; immense columns supported tremendous domes, in the midst of which priests were giving their gifts through soul- lifting services. A line of children dressed in white walked in front, followed by two lines of priests dressed in mauve, who held the huge candles aloft. It was a magnificent service, such as I don't remember ever having seen, either before or after.

Whenever I can't hold myself back from crying I feel that all the sufferings and cryings that are begging to get out are gathered within me. Gianni was two steps behind me looking at me dumbfounded, and I was grateful to him that he let me be alone with my sufferings and joys. I had some accounts within me from the past and for the future to settle!

On the highway, Gianni continued to describe to me the beauty of the Amalphatine Coast. Actually he didn't really describe it, but just kept telling me how much I was going to like it. I was in a magical state of beatitude, and kept myself there while Gianni forced his car to over 200 km/hr so that we could arrive at Positano as soon as possible.

I don't know if men have described their feelings as women have, or, for that matter, even if they feel them as profoundly as women do. I have no idea what Gianni was feeling then, but I do know what I was feeling. I shook myself awake from my daydreaming with a feeling of happiness, while Gianni drove at an insane speed on a highway full of flowers on both sides.

"Where are we? Are we there yet?"

"Almost. We're past Naples, and we still have a little way to go. I told you that this highway is beautiful... it's unique... full of flowers all year. Isn't it gorgeous?"

The road was narrow now, steeply cut into the mountainside. Down, way down, lay the sea; the illuminated coastline remained behind us and we went up... up to the top of the mountain (or at least that's how it seemed to me).

"Now close your eyes. Please! Close your eyes", Gianni told me when we finally stopped.

He took me by the hand and led me after him to a place where he turned me around and hugged me powerfully. "You can open you eyes now"!

We were next to a small statue of the Madonna, the protector of the city, and down at the foot of the mountain, Positano spread itself out like a snake. Later on, I was to name it "paradise." I could still see the blue of the sea in the evening light, and the mountain looked like a Christmas tree, decorated mostly at the bottom. All along the coastline, lights and cars slithered, making the spectacle more alive. I could see the bright colored lights of hotels and restaurants, and the lights of the port and those next to it, along with those from anchored boats, created another world on the water. From there, the lights went upwards along the mountainside, flickering farther and farther from each other_ these were the lights from houses scattered here and there on the slope.

"I can hardly wait to take you to see my friends. I can hardly wait to see them myself... I haven't seen them since last year."

"How long have you lived here?"

"I think it's been eight years already...yeah...two years with Paula and the rest alone. But I've never felt alone here!"

"And me? How are you going to introduce me? What will you say? Introduce me as nessuno...I want to be nessuno (nobody)."

"You know, you have a twisted mind! But, fine... have it your way, nessuno. Is that because you don't want someone in particular to know you were here?" He looked me straight in the face without smiling.

As soon as we entered the city people started stopping us constantly to greet Gianni, making him get out of his car, embracing him...it was like one huge family scattered from one end of the city to the other. Some greeted me and others ignored me. Yet he introduced me to a few of them, smiling. "She is nessuno!"

He was happy, he laughed, greeted people, talked to them, and would frequently turn around to me and give my hand a squeeze or kiss my cheek so that I wouldn't think that he was completely abandoning me. I was amused and was impressed by such a show of warmth...I had not, until then, seen real Italians at home.

"And now we'll go home," he said with a mysterious air

******

"What? We're not there yet?"

"No. We still have a little bit to go. My house is in an isolated and protected area. There's no reason for everyone to find it...I don't like uninvited guests."

I didn't know what to make of what he was saying, so I just kept my mouth shut and looked at the coastline and the sea. He stopped the car in a place from which no house could be seen. From somewhere in front of us a young man in a car raced towards us, who stopped with the two cars facing each other. Using maneuvers that I couldn't understand Gianni turned his car around and headed straight for the side of the mountain. It was the most incredible garage I've ever seen. I jumped out of the car and saw that the place was perfectly hidden by an arcade of flowers. You couldn't even begin to see it from the street.

A man came out to greet us. "Ah, Gianni, look how late you've come! Maria thought that you weren't going to get here."

"This is Giordano, my caretaker and my friend, and the young man is one of Bruno's boys. Giordano, this is Adriana."

I couldn't be nessuno for them!

"Come on! Come into the house! Don't worry, they'll get the baggage. You're in good hands now...you can see what care they take."

I followed him up a staircase that wound around under our feet, but I still didn't see any house. At the last moment the stairs turned down, and a door opened directly from the rock. I entered an immense living room with glass doors opening out onto a terrace overlooking the sea! I walked there slowly, holding on to the balustrade, to admire the view from every side of the terrace. Gianni stood leaning against the doorway, smoking, and with his eyes towards the stars.

"Was I right when I insisted that you come with me? Yes or no!"

"No! You didn't insist enough given the extreme beauty! It's truly splendid!"
"And you haven't seen it all yet!"

I followed him while he opened doors that led to who-knows-where, and I found myself in front of a staircase similar to the one that went down to the cellar. But this one was very beautiful, made of stone slabs, and as white as sea foam. Instead of a railing, it had a braided red cord. I descended ostentatiously, making plenty of noise so he could hear me, and, holding onto the cord, I made it to the other floor of the house. There were three bedrooms here, each with its own bathroom and its own exit to a communal terrace. It was as long as the upper one, but wider, and had chairs and beach blankets. Everything had been carefully prepared down to the tiniest detail, waiting for the master of the house.

We went back upstairs and l met Maria. We became friends immediately. She had come with Giordano to bring us a ton of food, and every bit as many questions about what else we might have wanted and exactly what we might need.

"I don't need anything except a shower and a good bed. I know that I have both, so we'll see each other tomorrow when I give you your gifts." Gianni calmed them, and led them out.

"You got rid of them kind of quickly. Those poor people were so happy to see you", I mentioned, looking out the window.

"That's true, but I know them. They would have stayed and chattered until the middle of the night. I have other plans."

I looked at him curiously and felt his hand his hand on my back, which immediately started shivering. I smiled and my lips approached his in a strong and very conscious kiss.

"I've felt all day that you've been avoiding my kisses...I didn't know what to think about it..."

“It's O.K. now. Hold me tight in your arms...I won't reject you any more."

He enfolded me in his arms and tenderly stroked my hair and my face, as you do with small children...

"Do you think you can wait for me to take a shower or are you going to fall asleep again?" he asked me, kissing me again.

Something inside me awoke...a wave of heat spread through my whole body, throwing me into a desperate kiss. It was as if I were afraid that this sensation of a short circuit would pass or that he would disappear.

"Back in two minutes," he said, reluctantly letting go. "If you wish, you can use the other shower. Everything you need is there..."

He was waiting for me on the terrace, smoking, with a glass of wine at the ready.

"D'you think we'll need two, or shall we stick to just this one? How I wish I could read your thoughts and your apprehensions... Are you hungry?"

"No, I hadn't thought of this..."

"Come, there's an extraordinary lemon cake waiting — the lemons came from our yard — at least let’s bring it in. If Maria sees it untouched tomorrow morning she'll think I'm ill."

With the cake, the glass and the bottle of wine, we entered a room that had a door wide open to a view of the sea

"Is this the room you meant for me?"

I was joking to dissipate my anxiety.

"No, the other one was. This is our room, mine and yours..." Gianni drew near and with broad smooth movements, caressed my back, my neck and my arms, until all the trembling melted away and a state of sweet abandon got hold of me. He laid me down on the bed between big, fluffy, soft pillows. He caressed all of my body with small kisses, as if understanding the struggle going on inside me. My arms clutched at him desperately; I was afraid he would let go of me, and I wanted to remain glued to his body wherein I could feel his blood throbbing. For me it was like making love for the first time. I had loved the father of my children, yet until now I had not realized what it was to vibrate and be one with a man within the same breath. The intensity of the feeling seemed to be the same for him, or maybe it was the despair that had pushed us both into the abyss where you forget about everything...

I opened my eyes and found his looking at me intently. His lips seemed thirsty to caress my face and my mouth, again and again...

"I suspected, I felt it would be like this," he whispered to me between kisses. "You didn't suspect, but I knew the very first time I touched you, when you were holding that shoe in your hand..."

"Oh, no", I tried to laugh. Was it so long ago?"

Only two evenings had elapsed since I had met him, and yet I had discovered so many things about myself, so many unknown wishes and longings...

His finger caressed me downwards, on my breasts, on my belly, and I felt I was melting away in the heat of my own body — I was intoxicated by new, dizzying sensations.

That night, I felt that, through him, I became one with the sky, the stars, the sea, and even the forces of the earth, which I had been ready to give up only two months ago. During the night, he took his arms from around me for only two minutes, long enough to pull the curtains closed. I didn't want to wake up for fear that oblivion would set in again, as it had the night before.

Everything was a caress, everything was love. Gianni had to show me, he had to give to me, to give to me as much as possible, and eventually to give himself to me, again and again...

So went our days. In the morning, we'd leave to visit the city, and then we'd go out to eat at some trattoria belonging to a friend or another. Everybody was glad to have us, and then they would putter around with other things in order to leave the two of us alone. Gianni would tell me what the dishes were like, what wines they'd go with.., We would come back home and sunbathe for a little while. He'd put lotion on me — I had never felt anybody's hands (my mother's or another man's) pamper me the way his did, with light caresses, anointing all of my body with sunscreen lotion, lest I should burn my skin.

We began to talk about us for real. I wasn't used to revealing myself in front of anybody. It was he, too, who taught me that!

"Why did you get divorced?" I asked him on one of those afternoons when we lay on the terrace, away from the world, above the sea.

"It was my own fault, I'm too selfish! Paula wanted more and I didn't. Our life as a couple was enough for me; we were in love, we were happy, and I didn't need anything else. You know, in eight years I never betrayed her. We were always walking hand in hand, and we were first and foremost friends. We shared everything until...something came undone — I don't know, she wanted kids, I didn't. I don't think I'd be a good father, or maybe, as she said, I'm afraid of the responsibility... She married a friend, about a year after the divorce. I like women who don't look back. I think she's happy. They have two children, and we see one another every once in a while... She tells me she'll never love anybody else the way she loved me. I feel the same way..."

He remained silent, smoking, with his eyes closed. I was looking at him, thinking that I too would have liked a man to love me and nothing but me... But would I have had children, if... No, the children were the best thing I had done in this world.

He was looking at me, waiting. I had learned the rule: he would tell a story, then it would be my turn. That was how he told me about his best friend, that was how I told him about my "friend" Delia...

"I loved Sandu the way you can love your first man, with all the dreams, the hopes, the self-denials...I didn't ask for anything in exchange. I had children and he didn't protest, although I don't think he wanted to have them. He used to say that it was up to the woman to make a decision, and I had made mine long ago I loved him as I don't think I'd ever be able to love again. I loved him with my mind. But there was a struggle between us, a struggle that I did not feel as such until the end, when it was much too late, when I was too tired, without a single drop of love left in me, exhausted and aged, without wishes and dreams, whereas he... He fought with his chimeras, with the world around him, with me — and he lost. The fighting, or maybe the failure changed him as well. He became almost quiet, without responsibilities, since I had shouldered those already. Still, he remained with an inheritance of life's tide: a wife and two kids. I don't know if he loved me, maybe... Anyway, never as I would have liked him to, never as much as I loved him. We weren't friends, we shared almost none of our thoughts; we lived as it were in parallel worlds. Now he has renounced all fighting, he avoids discussions, he's grown tired because of' his own problems, and I think that he, too, has grown old before his time. You know, the two of us never went to a restaurant together! We had long ago forgotten that we were still a couple. We met in bed only because we shared one."

I had spoken softly, staring fixedly at the island of Capri until it became a big white spot, and my eyes were stinging with tears.

He pulled me next to his chest and rocked me back and forth.

“This is your point of view, but you ought to listen to his too. Maybe you should speak to him the way you spoke to me just now. A relationship between two people is built by both of them, and not everything you hear the other saying represents the truth. I feel sorry for you since I understand what you must have gone through, but you must take into account that he is the father of your children and, however little else he may be doing, he is still playing his part as a father! It's very important, I'm sure of it I know, because I for one didn't do it. I'm incapable of it!"

"How would you know, since you've never tried?"

"I'm telling you, because I know myself! What you see now is my best side, and the circumstances are favorable. We're on vacation, our time is short, we give each other the best we have... I have no idea how you are in daily life, any more than you do... But I do know how l am: selfish, self-willed, trying to seize as much of life as I can, everything, if possible! It's my choice and I know it isn't necessarily the best one, only I'm honest and I admit it to myself— maybe I'll pay for it later, who knows... But now I'm fine the way I am. I wish you could understand me..."

"Oh! If only you know how well I do understand! Only I've never done things like this before — I've always paid first, and this is the first time that I've been taking what has been offered to me. Actually I'm quite surprised that I have been offered it. I know it's short-term, perhaps it's what I deserve, perhaps it has a different meaning, but in any case I have to thank you for many things. Especially for not telling me lies, for not helping me to delude myself, for taking everything the same way I do. I know, I am the one who made this rule. I told you I had a husband and two children, and that I would have to leave. But even I can't believe I'll be able to!"

"You will be, and I think you deserve to enjoy what you have been offered at the fullest. I did nothing special, and perhaps this is just what it takes to show you I appreciate you; perhaps it's the only way to make you understand that you need to see yourself, to seek yourself, and to discover yourself. It would be a pity to go on ignoring what you have been given, what lies within you! I think this is what I read in that scared look of yours that first evening."

That night he continued to help me discover myself, and he continued to be right. On the bed above the sea, he asked me to close my eyes, and I remained like this, listening to the waves, to the crickets' songs, to the whispers of faraway cities, secret voices I didn't even realize that I heard.

"What are you doing?" I asked him at last, thinking that he must have dozed off."I'm looking at you, and I see your skin trembling in the breeze. There is a sensuality about you that drives me insane... But l want you to be aware of it too... Don't open your eyes..."

With light touches, his fingers thrilled me as they climbed from the sole of my foot, skipping to my neck, then the curve of my arm. I felt my whole body starting, I was waiting for his caresses with my eyes closed, I was longing for them, and, with every touch, doubled in effect by surprise, Gianni carried me ever higher, on peaks I had never suspected existed.

"No, don't move just yet... "

Now his touches were flower petals, butterfly wings...His lips were playing with my already seething skin. Then there followed other sensations, always new ones, ever more intense and more troubling... Circles of fire; his tongue drew circles of fire, then paused and tasted the center or slipped away with rapid moves. My breathing became heavy, and I wanted to feel his skin under my hands. The desire was now fully conscious...I was anticipating his every gesture and awaiting it.

“It has never been like this," I murmured in amazement, without any strength left. "It is never the same, amore!"

And with only one caress, he reawakened my body... Late in the night he embraced me with all his might and whispered something I didn't understand.

"What did you say?"

Again the same whisper, deliberately uttered far from my ear, while his arms squeezed me forcefully. I shut up, scared by my own heartbeats. Finnan i! (Stay!) Could this be what he had said?

It was the only moment when I felt chilled by my fear, by his fear — he never said a word out loud, and I put both the word and the moment away from my mind. They were forbidden!!

The three days before Saturday went by like three instances. I lived as if bewitched. I had forgotten about everything and everyone when Mariana's call reminded me of the world outside of the mountain cabin.

“Is this possible, my dear? Couldn't you have at least called me to let me know you were all right, or dead, or whatever?"

Her irate voice spoke a lot more than the words themselves, and I was left without any, not knowing whether to answer her or not...I felt threatened by her and her world...I was afraid it would invade the magic realm that I wanted to share with him alone.

Gianni took the receiver from me, guessing, as always, when something wasn't going my way.

"Mariana, we're waiting for you over here! Yes, I've spoken with Stefano! No, the phone was out of order and it's still not a hundred percent working. Fm actually surprised you were able to get through... Adriana really wanted to call you, you know... We've been invited onto a yacht by a friend of mine. Yes, well, if you can't come... Anyway, we'll be leaving for about three days around the islands. What? Ah, the visa... We’ll go to Rome next week. Yes, we'll get it there, don't worry, I'll take care of it!"

When he put the phone down I gave a sigh of relief that he had spared me the chore of having to talk to her. Gianni was already dialing another number and I was waiting for him to tell me whom he was calling — he repeated almost the same white lie, in a different form: that we were leaving, that we would sail on a friend's yacht for I don't know how many days... He was talking to his sister, who had announced that she would come over to see him. When he finished the conversation, he pulled the telephone cord out of the jack and put the phone in the drawer. I felt a great relief and jumped into his arms.

"I don't want anybody to disturb us anymore," he told me as our embrace was becoming more and more desperate...

I didn't care how long it would last. He will think things, through... he said he would... It was the first time someone else decided for me. I know it was only for a short while, but I didn't care...

He would wake me up in the morning, so that we could run down the almost one hundred steps that separated the house from the sea, so that we could meet with his favorite fisherman, a wonderful old man with whom we chatted about politics, life, and the weather. After that, I was unable to climb back up, and we would walk to the first bar on the beach, where I'd have a cup of tea, he'd have a cup of coffee, and then Giordano would arrive with the car to save us.

"Tomorrow we should go to Capri to sea the Blue Grotto..." He was afraid I wouldn't have time to see everything. There were so many things to see and my departure was drawing near... "If we go to the embassy in Rome, how long of an extension on your visa can you get?"

"I don't know, fifteen days or a month, at most..."

Every day that passed, putting us closer to the moment when we would have to part, we were even more desperately in love. Everything became even more profound and more intense, because nothing was up to us!

We had become the perfect couple. Everybody knew us. I was Adriana, having become qualcuno (somebody), as Gianni used to say, laughing, and I couldn't believe that such a beautiful relationship between a man and a woman could really exist. We understood one another without words, amazingly. If we saw a beautiful woman, we'd pinch each other's butt or pull at each other's sleeve, whistling in admiration. Once I saw a superb male; I don't usually like beautiful men, but I noticed this one because he was really uncommonly handsome. By the time I had a chance to point him out to Gianni, though, I realized he was a homosexual! Gianni imitated the face I'd made for a week and poked fun at me relentlessly. ''She saw a handsome man at last and, not knowing he was gay, she was left dumbstrckl" How wonderful it is to be able to share everything with a person, to hide nothing from him, not even one's most intimate thoughts! I was very fastidious about taking care of myself, and one day I had put on my hair dye, when Gianni called me from the study in order to show me some slides from Thailand. We met half way, I looked at the slides, he kissed me on the nose, and said, ''Hurry up with that dye! I can't kiss you the way I'd like to." That moment I realized that many of the things that had seemed forbidden until now, even minor things like staying in front of a man with hair dye on, became natural to me with Gianni, because for him nothing mattered; I was myself regardless, and that was that.

We were supposed to go to Rome the next day. We decided to stay home and watch "the lights on the sea," as I liked to call them. Maria prepared our meal. (She was happy as a clam, always stuffing us with spaghetti, risotto and ice cream. I had started to gain weight, but the suntan lotion helped me conceal some of it.)[RL3] 

We were both lying in the hammock when Gianni asked, laughingly, "Would you like to smoke a spinelio? I still have a couple..."

"What's that?"

"Hashish. Hashish cigarettes, nothing dangerous! You don't need to make this face," he said jokingly, trying to calm me down.

"I told you I hate everything that has to do with alcohol or drugs... They've done so much harm in my life that I've never used them! Yet I've seen others falling prey to these addictions!"

"Precisely! You don't need to turn it into a drama; those were two accidents in your life that were independent of you Didn't you claim that you educate your children by teaching them not to judge things based on their appearances, but only from their own experiences? Amore, I'm not saying you'll be crazy about it, everyone has a different reaction, but you're with me and you can say you've done it, so you can judge after you have done it yourself. Isn't that right? Didn't you say that you judged by what you did and not by what you saw? If you don't want to, I won't insist, but have you any idea how it sharpens your senses, what it’s like to taste a juicy fruit or to make love afterwards? It's a grandiose sensation — you really must try it! Anyway, all I've got is two cigarettes. So...even if you were to like it, you couldn't get addicted! I don't have any others but these two!"

A little apprehensive, I let him begin the preparations that were making him a little bit impatient...

"You'll see, even the lights will cast beautiful shadows for us!"

He brought red wine with sugar and peaches, as he knew that I liked them, and got everything ready on the living room couch. Then he took me by the hand, ever so delighted, as if on the verge of showing me one of the marvels of this world. He lit the cigarette with the slow, smooth motions of a connoisseur.

I'd kept trying to start smoking — everybody around me smoked like furnaces, at home, at work — and I had developed the habit of puffing on menthols, which at least had an acceptable smell, but I never managed to inhale. Gianni went out almost every morning to buy cigarettes and papers. At first I would shout after him, "Get me some menthols, too!" He'd tweak his nose and buy me a pack. Once I asked him why he wasn't buying more than a pack a time, so he wouldn't have to go out every morning. He laughed and said that I didn't understand anything about mornings if I didn't go get the paper and some cigarettes... "They give you the certainty that the days are passing and that you are an important person, can't you see?" No, I couldn't. It was a typically Italian habit, which I unfortunately adopted myself, years later, at least as far as the newspaper went...

Seated comfortably on the couch, Gianni was enjoying the much-awaited cigarette with his eyes closed and his arm against my arm. Then he passed it to me, saying that was the custom: the sin was to be shared. Obedient, l took a puff and passed it back to him; calmly, he took his turn, returned the cigarette to me, and began to laugh lightly.

"What do you say about a peach now?"

I didn't understand the reason for his gaiety, but I ate the half of a peach he offered me with great ceremony. It was a bit too tart for the red wine.

Gianni made an effort and looked me over carefully, getting a little closer to me. "Let me see, how do you smoke?" he asked me, between peals of laughter.     

He seemed a bit tipsy to me, but I joined in the game.

"No, I don't believe it, every morning I go and buy menthols. Everybody laughs at me, but I still buy them every morning, and you are not even smoking! You're not inhaling!"

And he nearly fell off the couch with laughter. This can't be! He held the cigarette to my lips and told me to inhale, I listened to him, and the smoke went right to my stomach, making me cough uncontrollably.

"Ah, oh, the effect will be quicker now. I'm sorry, it's not my fault!"

Everything began spinning in front of my eyes. Gianni was now drawing near, now moving far away, in a slow rhythm. I said to myself, "No, it can't be having an effect so quickly,"...and I began to laugh...

"I forgot to tell you that its main effect is that it makes you laugh... and laugh."

My hearing was still functioning, though. I could still hear and understand.

"Amore, have a peach. Come on, drink a little bit of wine... It's sweet, you know."

I would have liked to sleep... Why was I so sleepy? All I wanted was to close my eyes and go to sleep... But why was I laughing? Gianni was laughing too, but still he asked me to try a reaction...a reaction... what the...?!? I felt arms pushing me, and I was on the terrace looking at the wonderful lights of Positano. I heard myself speaking Romanian and...swearing! Me…, swearing!! "Go to hell, I want to sleep, what do you want from me?"

"No, you have to react, you can't do this to me now! Come, take a few steps!"

I took some steps… I was ready to fall... I was floating, needing support... Finally, I nestled on the couch with an improvised pillow under my head and, smiling happily, I fell asleep, still laughing at the memory of what had happened!

In the morning, I woke up early, because there were no thick curtains in the living room to block the sun, as there were in the bedroom. This was Gianni's punishment! I laughed, remembering the scene when I spoke Romanian with him, and went barefoot down the Hollywood-style staircase, sneaking in lightly next to Gianni in the immense bed...

"I'm much better at making love when I'm awake, so I think you've had enough of this hashish business…" We were both laughing in each other's arms. "You know," I went on, "with me you won't need stimulants. I am full of... natural sparks that go off within me...Believe me..."

We never tried the hashish again and Gianni never mentioned it.

******

We set out for Rome early in the morning. The air was fresh, the sun had invaded the streets, and the world was slowly awakening. Positano is a city that goes to bed late at night. Now that I saw it early in the morning, I liked it Although I loved to sleep late, I liked the noises and the smells of the day's beginning on the sea shore...

"I called Lory. Lory is a friend of mine from Brazil. Now she's in Rome and I have to see her. I'm glad you'll get to know her too... She's quite a phenomenon!"

"But will there be time for everything?" An uncontrollable despair, which I tried to hide, seized me at the thought of the embassy, and the closer we got to the city, the more I felt cold sweat trickling down my body because of the nervousness dominating me...

"I see that you've really caught this syndrome called city stress. Even I, too, am starting to feel it, although we haven't even made it to the outskirts..."

All kinds of thought were eating at me. Suddenly, we were in the Parioli area, where all the embassies are located, and I had no idea how we'd gotten there. I had seen nothing of the city. What if they wouldn't extend my visa? I was trying to steady my nerves, but when I reached the embassy gate, I was shaking. This wasn't just about confronting the Romanian government, it was about confronting reality; a reality I had ignored until now. Now I had to have the courage to face it; I had to ask for fifteen more days of... of what? Of wellbeing, of advance payment, of something I might never have again: freedom... freedom as a person and as a woman.

Inside the embassy, panic set in for good: this was Romania, with its odors, with its people, who give you ugly, suspicious looks — as if to say that you looked too well for them. Why did I want to extend my stay, why had I come so late, just as my visa was about to expire? Would I return afterwards? For sure? They were all questions asked Communist-style, pinning you against the wall. I heard my own voice rising. "If I didn't want to go back, would I come here to give you 50000 lire for I5 days?" The Romanian consul showed up, a fat man in a drab suit, with a crumpled shirt, and picking his teeth with his fingernail! The confrontation between us was harsh and without words... just looks: he, prepared to humiliate me; I, set to stand up to him — and I didn't lower my eyes. "Just you try to say something!" He didn't! I was out of there inside of half an hour. They took their money and extended my visa by twenty days. I was so exhausted, that it took me some time to come back to the city that resounded with life, color, appetizing smells, and smiling faces.

"I'll take you to San Pietro and the Vatican, where the religions from all around the world are gathered. It's a magical place!" Gianni was trying to bring me back to earth, himself amazed that I had succeeded, and so fast.

"Oh, I 'd like to see the Sistine Chapel." Despite my lack of education, l had seen reproductions of Michelangelo's frescoes and read the story of the Chapel.

"As you wish. I haven't seen it since I was a child. But we won't have much time, as we're meeting Lory at 2:30."

Italy is full of wonders. There's no place that won't amaze you, that won't make you feel small... small and insignificant... but nowhere are you more insignificant than in San Pietro! Nowhere! Every corner of the San Pietro Cathedral is a small church unto itself, and its sheer immensity overwhelms you. You feel that it is alive. Light comes in through the windows of the dome, breathing life into the statues, and you feel like kissing the marble floor below your steps where numerous Popes are buried. You feel the presence of God in this temple, without anybody imposing it or preaching it to you! I was sorry we didn't have more time. (Now I draw strength from this sacred marvel every time I go back to Rome!) Anyway, I was happy I had managed to see it — but there was still the Sistine Chapel... We had to go around the Vatican's entire wall, and Gianni was growing impatient, though he wouldn't show it. We reached the entrance to the Vatican Museum and Gianni had the bright idea of telling me he would pick me up in half an hour! I went in and promptly got lost: artwork after artwork, and time was passing... Checking my watch, l started to waIk faster, my comfortable sandals making an appalling noise in the quiet of the Museum, but I had no choice... I asked how far it was to the Chapel... There were still two kilometers to go and I could not go back. My half an hour was almost gone, when finally, almost out of breath, I got to the Chapel and, like an American, I threw myself on the floor. I was overpowered! It was much, much more beautiful than I had imagined...I felt like crying! It was a sacrilege to see it as I did, at a trot, and how sorry I was that I couldn't stay more... I tried to find the quickest way out, when the loudspeaker announced that, "Miss Adriana Nemes is being awaited at the exit." As if I didn't know! The message was repeated, so I asked a soldier to help me, and after more than an hour, I came out, flattened by both emotion and fatigue...

The time of our meeting with Lory had come and gone. I said to myself, "Now is the time when we’ll know each other better. It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor!" I didn't look at Gianni, nor did he look at me... We got to Via Venetto, where Lory and her lover, Roberto, greeted us merrily and without any reproaches! They had no problem with our being late... nobody is punctual in Rome!

Lory was a plump woman, whose eyes and mouth seemed drawn by a fine brush on her suntanned skin. Her red hair, impeccably arranged, was cut at a right angle in a modern, youthful style. She was over fifty, and Roberto ten years older. The look in her big blue eyes was sincere and we accepted each other gladly, as if we had known one another all our lives.

"So... here you are. I could hardly wait to meet you. I don't claim to know everything about Gianni, but at least I'm sure of one thing... Gianni hasn't allowed anyone to come close to Positano, until now. Every time I asked him, he would answer, ‘For the moment, no.’ I guess you must be that moment![RL4] ”

We all laughed, and finally, I looked into Gianni's eyes. We were both a little embarrassed. His eyes asked for forgiveness... No neixi! [RL5] I slipped back into my place in the world where I was so comfortable, but where I was an intruder still. "A moment..."

"You must come to Bahia for the winter, Gianni. I’ve enlarged the hotel. You know, in the rear I'm building five more apartments... Since I have to enlarge mine, anyway..."

"So, you have a hotel in Bahia," I said, trying to imagine what having a hotel was

like.

"I have three hotels in Brazil, but I also have two grown sons. Paul lives at the hotel in Sao Paolo, Luis at the one in Bahia, and I live at the smallest, Casa Ramona, which is on the ocean. Oh, you really must come. It's wonderful!"

"Yes, you should have seen Lory pampering herself, with one of the boys who works for her, facing the ocean, the umbrella, the chaise longue, the champagne, and the shrimp

"And what's wrong with that? You used to like it yourself... To learn to pamper oneself, my dear, is an art! Nobody will pamper you unless you do it yourself'. I had a wonderful marriage that lasted thirty years. I had a wonderful man who loved me and whom I adored, but... I emigrated, I had children, I made money, there was always something to do, and I had no time for myself. Only after my husband's death, did I start to look after myself!" Lory looked at me proudly.

"You won't believe where Adriana is from," said Gianni cheerfully.

"No, l was wondering myself," said Roberto. "Slavic, I'd say, to judge by her pronunciation..."

"I'm Romanian..."

"What's it like in Romania, my dear? One doesn't hear too much about it... We've heard of Ceausescu, a real globe trotter, and of... Wait, what's her name? Asian, yes, Doctor Asian, I was thinking of taking that cure of hers myself... "

"I don't talk much about Romania, and even less about politics; firstly, because I don't understand it, and secondly and most importantly, because I hate politics. Besides, I don't think there's too much to say, anyway. What can one say to people who live in countries such as Italy? How could they understand? I'll tell you just one thing that might shock you, as it shocked me, but from a different angle; you have about four hundred different kinds of bread. I know this for a fact because I've asked...I grew up with two: white bread and black bread. Now they've made only one type of bread, which they call intermediary," and the bread is like its name—something in between... Yet the poor people are glad to have even this!"

A difficult silence fell and I didn't realize that I had said all this in a sad voice...

"You're not going back there, are you?" Lory said to me, warmly holding my arm.

"She has just extended her visa by twenty days. That's why we are in Rome," said Gianni, as if trying to apologize...

Lory turned to me and told me in a very serious tone, "I've known Gianni for many years and I've seen him with many women, but never as happy as today. It's almost as if he were afraid you might evaporate! All he does is look at you... And I see you, too. You can’t not see the halo of happiness that surrounds you both. What's going on? Why are you going back?"

"Oh, Lory, it's a long story, and it's best if we don't talk too much about it. I have a husband and two kids at home, so...I have to go back, don't you see? Now I've taken a path that is not mine. Gianni has changed me as a woman, he has revived me, has given to me enormously...But I can't stay!"

"Impossible, listen to me!"

"I came here because I was destined to do so. I had to follow my destiny... And the only reason I could go this way, feel as intensely as I did, do all that I did, and do it without questions and without regrets, is because I knew I had to go back. My place is not here!"

Everybody looked at me and all of a sudden I realized how truly I had spoken. I had had no choice! I realized that deep down inside me, I had always known I would go back, and that was why I was so sure now. There was no doubt about it...doubts come when there is the possibility of making a choice, among many other possibilities!

My friendship with Lory lasted years, and we wrote each other many letters – a correspondence that was filled with love and with, "What can I do for you?" It is so good to feel that somebody out there in the world, thousands of miles away, has a thought for you, and to be able to send her another thought!

That evening we went back to Positano, and I almost felt sorry we hadn't stayed more with my new friends. I was thinking nostalgically of them and I started in surprise, realizing that it was the first time I had accepted other people into our relationship. Back home, we spoke only of old familiar things; we were avoiding the painful topic, but it was there, having wormed its way between us, and I felt it. I had to decide when I would go... I had to get in touch with Mariana... Little by little, the other reality re-emerged.

As if unwilling to recognize it, Gianni suggested we go on a motorcycle tour of the coast the next day, so he could show me more places...

"By motorcycle?" That old fear, the accident, all came back to me.

"What, you don't like it? Or are you scared?"

No, he was right. It was another fear to be removed.

"It's alright... By motorcycle..."

"Make sure you take something to keep you warm! It could get chilly, especially on the way back."

"Come on, stop treating me as if I were a porcelain doll. I'm not that fragile, you know!"

On the way home I started to tremble with the cold and I chided myself for my stubborn disregard of Gianni's advice. I was completely frozen when we got home and nothing would help me recover, neither a hot shower nor tea. I ate some lemons from the garden quickly[RL6] , and swallowed some aspirin. I went directly to bed, and asked Gianni to pay no attention to me.

During the night I became feverish and I had awful nightmares. In one of them I saw my little girl, Suzana... She was calling to me from the bathroom...I woke up frightened and got out of bed slowly, drained of all strength, shaking... I wrapped a wet sheet around myself, took another aspirin, and moved to the next room, so as not to alarm Gianni.

Nevertheless, he was alarmed the next day when he found me lying there with a fever.

"I'm so sorry..."

"Don't be childish. Why would you apologize? You've caught a cold... I’ll bring the doctor and you'll get over it, I guarantee."

I slept all day, except for short periods when Gianni fed me lemons and assorted medicines. He didn't leave my side, but I knew he couldn't really help.

"I've decided I'm leaving tomorrow," I heard myself say, convinced that I had made this decision the previous night, when my daughter's cry had awakened me.

"What do you mean, tomorrow? You're not well, you're still feverish...You can't leave like this..."

"Yes, I can You don't know this side of me. I am stubborn! Please! We're leaving tomorrow!"

"You haven’t even given me time to get used to the idea."

"You see, maybe that's why it's better that I leave tomorrow."

We had nothing to say to each other anymore. I was weakened and my headache forced me to lie down, while the lemons had given me an awful heartburn. No! I didn't want it to end like this! But perhaps this was the only way to part: without thinking about it, and as quickly as possible.

Gianni was upset, but not with me. He was visibly sad, and every once in a while tried to get me to change my mind and set another date. But for me, the departure had become a matter of life and death.

I think he must have taken care of the packing. I was shaking like a leaf with chills and had to hold on to the walls in order to walk — no, I no longer wanted him to see me like this; a trip to Milan wouldn't kill me!

The drive to the Rome airport was short and mostly quiet, as each of us was slowly returning to our own world, despite all the reluctance we felt. I thought it over many times afterwards. I don't think that our parting would have been gentler if it had been decided upon and planned by the both of us. Gianni got my ticket and had my luggage sent on board, acting like a child[RL7] . I let him, happy that I didn't need to do anything else but concentrate on not letting him see how sick I was. And it was difficult—very difficult! On the escalator that went up to the exit for domestic flights, Gianni stopped me and took me in his arms; I was on one step and he was on the step below. When I came back in a few years' time, I remembered this moment and suffered more than when Gianni first took my head in his hands and told me, "Remember, I have learned this the hard way: when something beautiful happens to you, it will stay in your soul, and every time you remember that moment, your face will light up. Make it so that your face lights up whenever you think of me — from wherever I may be, I will send you my smile!"

I embraced him but I didn't cry. I just wanted him to leave. He didn't like partings and, as it turned out, neither did I — I hadn't had any until then... I struggled to get to the plane, but I hadn't realized that, in my condition, an hour of air conditioning was all I needed. I was thinking of Gianni, how shocked he had been when I told him I'd give him neither my home address nor my phone number; he didn't have Mariana's either. With my last drop of strength I had called her to let her know when I was arriving in Milan. I didn't even register what she'd said. Anyway, I don't think she was very happy!

"Why won't you give me your address? I'd like to send you news about myself and to find out what you're doing..."

"No, Gianni, there's no point! What we have experienced together can neither be repeated nor continued. News about you, when you will be somewhere else, with another woman…  News about me ,when I will be back to reality… Why? I have something that I will always carry with me: you and your "paradise" will remain unique for me... I won't forget you even when I'm eighty. Our lives are forever linked, and each one of us will carry the other's love in our souls forever, no matter how many others will go past... That's how it was meant to be!"

                                                                                                                                                                                   Adriana Ichim is a writer living between Italy and Romania.