It is June of this year and my seventeen year-old daughter Spank and I are in Rome for some major museum crashing. Fresh off the subway with a crappy, zoomed out map, our suitcases rumble on the cobblestones as we search for a tiny B and B. This is the first time it’s just the two of us so far away from home. It’s a little dirtier and hotter than Paris and London and the cars aren’t as fancy, but the colors are more saturated and everything moves in slo-mo.
As there are no signs advertising the place, we pass it up, come back, and stand at the address feeling like suckers with our pre-paid internet booking.
One of the building tenants lets us through the gigantic wooden doors as she goes through. We stand in the courtyard, still dumbfounded. The tennant has never heard of the place. Finally, I spot an intercom near a glass door and see the name of the place in a tiny slot in 10 point courier. Here we are from half-way around the world and this is my mark, a tiny piece of paper less than half a square inch in a courtyard behind colossal wooden doors. And I fucking find it.
After the buzzer, a deep voice says, “Fifth floor” then buzzes us into the foyer. Like every place in Rome, it has a marble corkscrew staircase, and this one, an add on cage-type elevator in the middle.
But it is broken. We carry our suitcases up five flights of stairs and finally get to the office, which is actually an apartment. We are slicked over with sweat from all the walking and stair climbing in this crushing heat wave. A little embarrassed. A six-foot brunette with impossibly long legs opens the door, looks us over from head to toe, then gestures for us to come in. She is the only person I have ever actually seen sashay. As we follow her into the apartment/office, she doesn’t bother to throw on any lights, but I notice her hair is teased up so high I can see through it. Her clingy, belted t-shirt dress barely covers her ass.
In the middle of her apartment, she welcomes us to sit across from her at a desk. Her accent is thick Italian, rhythmic, and spoken like the last waves of high tide. She manages to give us details about the city, where to go for breakfast, how to get tickets to skip the line at museums. I ask if there are places to avoid, especially at night, since Spank and I are two women, alone.
Her eyeballs are heavy, as if the pupils are made of lead while she struggles to keep her eyes level with mine, but she does. She flicks her wrist, flays her fingers, “Rome-uh… is safe-uh.”
She slides a piece of paper across the desk, “Call me-uh, when you-uh, wake up-uh, they need-uh, to fix-uh, air condition-uh.”
There is only a number on the paper, no name. I look back up at her and ask what I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to know, “What’s your name?”
Between that question mark and before she spoke, in my head, my own voice begs, please don’t say Paola, please don’t say Paola, because I’m going to develop a tic right here and give off the tiniest hint of a smile.
And as if she read my mind, the name slowly rolls off her tongue, like that eight ball you call in the right corner pocket, dropping in there with its last bit of momentum, “Paola.”
I don’t tic out on her, or look at Spank, I just write her name, concentrating hard because she’s watching. I had to make damn sure not to write “Paolo.”
Francesco-Francesca doesn’t cross my mind as she isn’t a Francesca sort of girl. No, she’s too angular, her chin too strongly chiseled, cheekbones a bit too sharp.
Then she takes us to the marble staircase with the elevator shaft in the middle. Asks us to wait up there with our luggage so she can “reset” the elevator. Roman staircases have the acoustics that make every footstep sound as if you are right next to it. So we hear her stilettos “tic-toc, toc-tik, toc-toc” like a broken clock, all the way down until they stop. Then the elevator cage closes, CLANG!
That’s when Spank and I look at each other and call it at the same time, “Thatsadude.”
And we are totally cool with that. If Rome is safe for her, it is safe for us.
I like searching for wireless network names while traveling, struck gold here, look down to the fourth one.
Speaking of fourth, don’t you love it when an artist breaks the fourth wall? Gives me chills. (this is part of Raphael’s School of Athens).