In Tiny Alleyways – Stories from Italy
When you visit a new country, you return with more stories than you can fit into a keepsake box – everything from the immense pleasure you felt walking down on a tiny alleyway to eating your first authentic margherita pizza in Naples.
This story series, In Tiny Alleyways, is a small representation of how Italy has affected all of us, how it’s swept us off of our feet and left us desperate to return.
This story in particular is about an Italian boyfriend that I had once upon a time and it will walk you through three separate occasions that were characteristic of our relationship.
“Chinky,” he said walking toward me, a mischievous smile on his face.
I rolled my eyes at the sound of the slur I had taught him. Even after I had explained that it wasn’t ‘politically correct’ to say something like that, he declared he would say it anyway because I had taught it to him and because a concept like ‘politically correct’ wasn’t a part of the Italian mentality.
“Hi,” I said, avoiding both the typical greeting ‘ciao’ and kissing him on both cheeks.
“You haven’t answered me all the day on your phone,” he said, raising his iPhone into the air.
“I need to ricaricare it.” I replied, using his typical excuse when he hadn’t answered me because his phone had no more money.
Viterbo, a small city two hours north of Rome in the Lazio region and my home for the next four months, was a clash between a medieval castle and Miley Cyrus inspired clothing shops (pre ‘We Can’t Stop’ and post Hannah Montana).
Bars, Italian-versions of cafes, dotted each side of the street and the only English that could be heard was from the American high school and college students, like myself, that had been able to study there since the start of the program over ten years ago.
The other language you could hear is a Viterbesian Italian, made up of slang with shortened words and an accent similar to Rome – full-bodied and rich.
In the past month, Viterbo had been kind to me with its plentiful supply of illy espresso, pizza a taglio, and supplì, a deep fried ball of risotto cradling a chunk of mozzarella.
The only department it had refused kindness in was its men.
The fact that my Italian then was mediocre and that their English was limited to romantic phrases gleaned from Hollywood wasn’t adding much to the equation either.
To be fair, I wasn’t looking for romance. (Although who really says this and means it when they move abroad to Italy?)
So when I met V outside of a bar on a Monday night, hands in pockets and leaning against a Fiat, I was surprised to feel a stir.
You know what I’m talking about. The eyes light up. The lower lip is bitten. The hair is flipped more than you realize. But above all, the conversation flows.
“My father works at university in Florida, so I go to America sometimes and visit with him. I find that I like America very much, but I like Italy better. How are you liking it?” He asked.
“I love it. I could eat pasta one hundred times a day. I also like the language very much. But not the men,” I laughed, “I’m not impressed with the men.”
He cocked his head and then nodded. “I am not impressed with the Italian girls. Especially, I do not trust in them. Lately I do not trust in any girl.”
I raised one eyebrow. “Why’s that?”
“My girlfriend – I find out one month ago – sleep with my best friend.”
When you think of an Italian romance, you might have images of a woman riding on the back of a Vespa while her scarf blows in the wind or an Italian looking into your eyes while calling you bellissima.
“Sei troppo testardo,” I said, looking up at him as we stood in Piazza San Pellegrino. You’re too stubborn, I had told him.
“Anche tu,” he replied glaring down at me. You too, he said.
My friends waited patiently, already accustomed to this happening on a weekly basis, while we finished arguing.
“I can’t stand you,” I said.
He laughed. “You are lying. You missed me.”
I breathed in deeply, hoping that my agreement didn’t show on my face. “Vaffanculo.”
He smiled. “Vaffanculo.”
This was the way of our relationship.
He told me that Mussolini, the leader of the Fascist regime in Italy, was just misunderstood.
This happened when we had our first and only conversation about politics.
“The world sees dictators as bad people, but I think they are some of the smartest men that ever lived. It is a mistake to say that they are bad.”
I leaned back and watched him roll cigarettes as he said this. He stuck one behind his ear for later and took out a lighter to smoke the other.
“But they did so many bad things to people just because they wanted power,” I replied.
“You don’t know that for sure. Mussolini was a man who wanted Italy to be at its finest. He wanted a perfect Italy.”
A few minutes passed before he spoke again.
“Think on it, Cher,” he said, “Think on it.”