It’s Saturday night and I’ve just left Rico’s sister’s 30th birthday party. Art studio. Bite-sized frittate, panini, focaccie. Frequent champagne top ups; a big pink-and-black polka dotted American-style birthday cake from an American bakery in Rome. I’m wearing a skirt and stilettos, which is dumb, because – something I didn’t know until this evening – stilettos make driving darn near impossible. But I have a plan; I’ll drive home in my stocking feet. I’ve seen hot Russian spies do it in movies, so it’ll obviously work for me. Said heels go clak clak clak down the wet pavement. There’s a Lucio Battisti cover band playing at a nearby club, and the dreamy strains of La Luce Dell’ Est follow me down the street.
My car is parked in front of a tea shop, and there are crowds of young people clogging the parking lot. Damp night, full white moon. I get into the car and shuffle off my stilettos. Check the mirrors, put my key in the ignition. Look behind me. I look again.
I see that some fool has blocked me.
It’s a Daffy Duck moment; spitting and shivering and ruffled feathers and this is despicable!!!!! I hate driving. I hate it. Why did I start driving again? Now I’m stuck here in this stupid parking lot in this stupid car with no way out. I have two options: do the hour’s walk home in stilettos or die right here in this car. And here I always thought my love for salt and raw flesh would get me in the end. Adieu, cruel world!
A tap on the window. I look up. It’s Nero and Luigi. Where did they come from? Who knows. Small towns work like this – it’s not for outsiders to ask why.
Nero says: Let us take care of this. We’re Italians. We deal with this crap all the time.
I say: Please be my guest. I open the drivers’ side door and remember, too late, that I took off my stilettos when I got into the car; my stocking feet are on display, which Nero thinks this is the living end. He nudges Luigi: Look, look, look, E’s not wearing any shoes. Madonna! They yuk it up some, and then Nero switches places with me. By now, Rico has shown up, too – also out of nowhere – which is weird because I just said goodnight to him not five minutes earlier as we left the party, and he took off in the opposite direction but is now, somehow, here in this parking lot. Again, not for the outsider to ask why. Why does the rain fall? Why is the sky blue? Small town, y’all. Small town magic.
A joke for you. How many Italian men does it take to get an American woman out of an impossible parking situation? Three. One to drive, one to yell directions, and one to break into the offending stranger’s car and put it in neutral to roll it out of the way. I stand there in my coat and stilettos under the soft orange street lights and marvel at them, marvel at the Italian farce that has become my drive home. And as I watch Luigi manipulating the stranger’s car, I have to wonder: who doesn’t lock their car doors when they leave? Then again, who blocks someone from getting out of a parking space? Rico is shouting: No no no, still too close! and Luigi is pushing the stranger’s car and Nero is trying to get his head around the automatic shift. It’s a horse and pony show. It’s madness. What a country.
Finally, the boys have done it. My car is free, and pointed towards the parking lot’s exit.
I tell Rico: What beautiful friends you have. You’re all amazing, thank you! I don’t know what I would have done if you guys didn’t show up.
No, no, they say. This happens all the time. And then: Eh, Nero nudges Rico and reaches out to pinch my cheek. When we got here, she wasn’t wearing any shoes.
I get back into the car. I take off the stilettos again and test the pedals. Much better. La Femme Pigeon. The Lucio Battisti cover band is now playing Ancora Tu – my favorite. I don’t question that either. Instead, I just wave goodbye at the boys and then I drive home along the boardwalk and under the stars.