Strangely, with George gone, things begin to get better. Alex comes out of his shell, and we discover that we have a shared sense of humour. I am still homesick, but it’s not quite so overwhelming. Sadness does have a season, and mine, at this point, begins to pass.
When I have been in Italy about a week, I decide to go into town. I need to go to the chemist and it’s a nice day, so I walk in. I wear (and this has a strong bearing on the story) a white linen shift dress, sleeveless, although not strappy, sitting fractionally above the knee, with bare legs and a pair of sandals. Nothing shocking about this in the UK. However, here (I now realise), women don’t show bare skin apart from on their arms. I therefore attract rather a lot of attention. I hear several cars hooting as they go past me, but (in my unassuming English fashion) don’t realise that they are, in fact, hooting at me.
In a narrow street on the way home, a motorbike toots his horn just behind me. Now, remember that I have lost my sunglasses. I am about to discover just why Italians wear them at all times of the day and night. It is to avoid eye contact, because eye contact is an invitation to conversation. As the motorbike hoots, I move to the side of the road, and glance at the rider as he passes. Mistake no.1. 20 yards up the street he pulls up in front of me, takes off his helmet and starts to say something. I assume that he’s asking directions or something (oh! the naivete!), and start to stammer out the one phrase of which I’m totally sure in Italian: ‘non parlo Italiano!’ This is mistake no.2. I’ve now spoken to him, which gives him the absolute right to ask me out. Of course! Why would it mean anything else? No matter that I speak about 10 words of Italian and he speaks absolutely no English – we should ABSOLUTELY go out! Tonight! Yes! And let’s go for a ride on the motorbike! I’ll take you for a drive! Give me your phone number! This, of course, all in Italian and (from my side) violent blushing and stammering as I try to tell him that I’m about to meet my friend and I really MUST GO. I’m being FAR too polite, I have since discovered. The only way to get rid of unwelcome advances from an Italian man is to cut him dead. The more you talk, the more convinced he is that you’re falling for him. Eventually, I agree to meet him the next day for a coffee, in order to get rid of him. I never thought I’d be the girl that stands someone up for a date – but needs must when the devil drives …
I thought that would be the end of it. However, he then absolutely INSISTED on taking me home. No matter that it’s a 5 minute walk up the road: he will not be happy until I’ve got on the bike. I make terrified faces. He promises, ‘piano! piano!’ I start to walk away – he follows. Once again, my innate English politeness backs me into a corner, and I climb onto the back of the bike. I’m wearing completely unsuitable clothes, I have no helmet, and I’m terrified that I’m going to fall off the back, but we make it back to my flat safely. As I climb off the bike, I notice my Italian flatmate and a couple of his friends (who, it turns out, are Carabinieri (policemen) – oops) are just arriving home. They stare, agog. I blush violently. Valerio (for that is motorbike man’s name) says, ‘amici?’ Hoping aginst hope that this means ‘friends’ rather than ‘we’re now engaged – come meet my mother’, I nod. He kisses both cheeks and climbs back on the bike, waving goodbye. ‘A domani!’
I go back into the flat, giggling slightly hysterically. Alex is there and I relate the story. Italian Flatmate then appears from his room. ‘Kate! You – motorbike?!’ Er – yeah. I blush and giggle. The carabinieri are in fits of laughter, saying something about no helmet and (I think) being mad, although they might have been threatening to arrest me for breaking the law, thinking about it. Ah well. Sharing a flat with a lawyer (for that is Italian Flatmate’s profession) could have its advantages in cases such as this. Ahem.
Just to be on the safe side, however, I buy sunglasses the very next morning.
Photo by ale2000 on flickr