I have new friends. I have new friends! It’s Saturday night and we have plans. We have plans. I have plans! We’re going to Gaeta for dinner and then dancing. We’re going to Gaeta for dinner and then dancing! Dinner! And! Dancing! It’s about to get real, y’all, and you don’t even know.
There are ten of us out for dinner – a small place; one woman to do all the cooking – and at least half of us go for the night’s special: fusilli with ricotta and a pesto of arugula and cherry tomatoes. We are seven Italians, one Hungarian, one French woman, and myself. Marcella, one of the Italians, asks me Have you found it easy to get adjusted here in Terracina? And, as if on cue, Katarina and Cecile answer for me: No. Giggles all around. But Marcella understands. I know, she says. I moved away for a little while, too, and when I came back all of my friends had gone. I joined gyms just to meet people but no one looked me in the eye. Here. In my own home town.
At the club we are joined by two more men – Mario and Pietro. Pietro is wearing a big purple scarf around his neck and Mario is dancing, something like between the Cabbage Patch and the Roger Rabbit. Untiss untiss untiss; untiss untiss untiss. The music is appalling – nonsense about Hello and Barbra Streisand beating a miserable tattoo through my skull. Untiss untiss untiss; untiss untiss untiss.But then Mario says: Listen, everyone. I want you to understand something. My ass? It’s amazing. It is my pride and joy. Ladies? Test it. Rate it. Squeezes commence and, around the board, we decide it’s a 6. Mario is devastated, but devastated. Stefano comforts him: Look, it’s not that bad. Just go to the gym more often. But Mario can’t be moved. A 6, he says. They gave me a 6. Shaking his head, disconsolate. I can’t believe it, he says. I just can’t believe it.
Rico doesn’t work at the perfume shop anymore; focusing now on the music.
Paolo has built a home cinema and his dog, Toto, is still as stupid as ever. I plot my revenge: I will take a video of him as he roots through the trash cans, post it on Facebook with the caption: WHOSE STRAY DOG IS THIS? and tag Paolo. So far I haven’t had my camera at the right moment and my revenge goes unexacted.
Flora is a horticulture nut – brings me kiwis and lemons and oranges and avocados from her trees; takes one look at my kumquat tree and says: Water it. It won’t last.
Nero drives a pink Fiat 500 with purple racing stripes running down the top. Katarina drives a white Vespa; always wears a hat.
Emilia walks and runs and calls my name through the ceiling: Ibia! Ibia! and I shout up: What???
Leone comes to the house, whistling, and he’s been promising to connect my gas to the heat for months now, yet each time he comes over he says: Ao. O. Anything you need, any time you want, call me. You call Leone. I’m the one. If he’s the one, then why can’t he connect my gas?
Katarina, Flora, and the DiVecchios are my guinea pigs for a number of culinary experiments: suppli, chocolate chip cookies, and, most recently, cupcakes. The cake is yellow and the frosting – or what passes for frosting – is chocolate. Because I don’t find sour cream here and I substitute water, the yellow cake explodes. Because I’m too impatient to wait for the butter to melt, my frosting has the texture of rubber. But they eat it, my guinea pigs. They say: Mmm. B-b-buono. And thanks to me, their entire concept of American baked goods is warped.
The days are sunny but cold; the sun glittering on the water as I drive up the boardwalk and suffer fits of road rage. The assclown backing up into traffic. The jerk who bumps into my fender to urge me forward. I mean. The hell. Katarina and Flora are endlessly amused when I swear in English and they try to repeat: Son of the bitch. Bitch the mamma. I say: No, no. Like this – and explode in American all over the dashboard. They say: Bitch of mamma. Son of bitch. I say: Okay. Yes. Let’s go with that.
Hikes in Sperlonga, with more of Katarina and Flora’s friends – musicians and electricians and a madman named PierTomasso who calls Katarina salamina and me Margherita. “Margherita” is the Italian version of “whatsername” and in Italy they sell a product called Hungarian Salami but, as Katarina says, there’s no such thing as Hungarian Salami in Hungary. That doesn’t matter to PierTomasso, who says the word simply to turn Katarina’s head.
Big fat cacti grow in the hills, as does rosemary, so it’s a beautifully-perfumed walk. We look down at the ruins of the Villa of Tiberius, down at the beach. The sun comes out and we peel off layers. Riccardo unzips the bottom half of his pantlegs and PierTomasso shouts: No!!!! How disgusting! You’re disgusting! Yuck! Oof! My eyes! I’m ruined! And when we have dinner at a seaside restaurant – plates of mussels and pickled sardines and chewy purple octopus – PierTomasso calls to the waiter: Hey. You. Are you dating that waitress over there or what? Hey, I’m talking to you. And then as we leave, he calls Katarina “salamina” again and she loses her temper, says Oh, fuck you, so he bends down and says: Yes. Yes. We’ll do it sheepherder style. I’ve not heard it called sheepherder style before so, in the car, I ask Katarina: Does that mean from behind? She says, Yes. I say: Interesting. We call it doggy style in English. She says: Yes, “interesting.” I ask: Is he always like that? She says: He is, and he’s even worse. I don’t know if you caught everything but he said… well, he said things that were even worse. And, later, I show my mother the pictures from that day, from the hike, and she says: Who’s that with the beard? I say: PierTomasso. And she says: What a good looking guy. Is he nice?
La Sagra della Salsiccia: Night 2. Half of Monte San Biagio and the crazies are out – that is, Katarina and Flora’s friends, Mario and Pietro. They’re in the front near the stage, where a traditional music band is playing. They bounce up and down; wave us over but we’re busy eating panini stuffed with broccoli rabe and coriander-laced Fondi-style sausage. It’s not to die for, as Flora and Katarina say, but to kill for – kill to live another day and eat more panini. Kiosks and kiosks of sausage all around, and wine is fifty cents a glass.
Full moon. Whiffs of weed percolating through the air. We start bouncing, too, and Mario grabs us by the shoulders; pulls us so we sway back and forth, back and forth. Pietro says: E, there’s no need to be so shy. You’ve touched Mario’s ass; we’re all family now. And so we are. We bounce around and Mario and Pietro disappear – have run back up to the front of the stage and the rest of us continue bouncing. But then, Mario’s running towards me like a bull and grabs me around the waist; hoists me like a club and now we’re both dancing at the front of the stage. The rest follow: tarantella and bouncing, tarantella and bouncing. Soon, we’re so heated up that we take off our coats – throw them in a corner. Sweat in the winter night.
We’re at the toy store and Katarina is looking for masks for her carnevale costume. I will be an angel. She will be a devil. We’ve convinced Flora to go as Eve and their friend PierCarlo is dangerously close to accepting the dare to go as Adam. There are children in the store, trying on carnevale costumes. A little boy, dressed up as a carabiniere, holds his arms out for his mother who says: Yes, you look very official. Do you want this one? Do you want to be a carabiniere? He nods his head, the brim of the uniform’s hat flopping over his face, and his father takes him to the front of the store, where the big mirror stands in a corner. And then Katarina finds her piece, too, she finds the one: a black and red mask full of feathers, fit for a Mephistopheles. She heads to the till to pay and I’m rooting around; note a pair of small red children’s rubber boots. They are just about big enough for my size 35s to fit into and I measure my feet against them. I say: Look, Kata. Look how cute these boots are. And the awesome thing is that kids’ shoes are always half the price of adult shoes! Are they ‘me’? Should I get them? Then, the father and the child come back; the child’s feet bare and the father’s face twisted in confusion. The boots belong to the child. I’ve been debating buying his kid’s boots. I say: I’m sorry! I thought they were for sale! And under her breath, in English, Katarina says: Let’s go. Let’s go now. But she’s laughing as we escape the store, can’t stop: Adventures in public with E! she says. Oh god. I can’t believe it. Oh god. And I tell her – Listen. I tell her: This is just a taste.