The Italian Lesson

By: Kim Medders, Navy Veteran, USDESEA Brat

 

Why do Italian women have so much charisma and charm?  It is a question I’ve pondered for many years.  In my travels all over the world, nowhere but the mere thought of Italy invokes my  passion for romance more.  Of course, there is the awe-inspiring seascapes and the ancient architecture, but the Italian woman is the most incredible attraction in the whole country.

 

What do I base this on?  Well, it all started 35 years ago at the train station in Livorno, Italy.  I had taken some leave from my ship and was pissed.  The Navy and I were currently at odds with each other because my ship was not in Livorno where I thought it would be.  This was extremely distressing, because the Navy usually insisted on sailors being on their ships when they sailed.  I had gone out to the Army base in Pisa and found out the good ol’ U.S.S. Raleigh had broken down and sailed on to Naples for repairs.  While no fault of my own, it was still extremely stressful that I had missed a movement.

Livorno, Italy

 

I was standing on the platform in my dress blues waiting for the train, when this vision appeared to me.  There, about 50 feet away was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen! She wore this flowered print dress that fluttered in the breeze, occasionally exposing some of the most wonderful olive colored thighs and legs imaginable.  Her waist and figure, was classical and voluptuous- not like these skinny, muscle-bound girls you see today.  And her face…ah, how exquisite was this face!  Her face was one you might see on a travel poster inviting tourists to come to Italy.  Quite casually, she looked up and in my direction.  She had seen me looking at her! I quickly dropped my gaze as I was somewhat embarrassed to be caught looking at her.  I was amazed, excited and scared as she turned and started to wander over in my direction.

 

Perhaps I should explain that at this point in my life I was a young 22 year old who had not had much experience with women.  I had dated basically one girl in high school and in my naivety, I still carried a torch for her.  Several weeks earlier she had written me to tell me she was getting married.   I hadn’t really hooked up with anyone since and I found most girls I thought were interesting and associated with the Navy, to be either mercenary or unattainable. With my love life nonexistent, this gorgeous woman’s movement towards me created a sense of panic and helpless. I also experienced the feeling I imagine hits every American sailor in a foreign land when they realize they have flirted with someone who is basically beyond your reach by virtue of the language barrier. It terrified and thrilled me that my glance was now precipitating an encounter with this dazzling woman.

 

I managed a crooked grin as she stood face to face with me and she responded with a glorious returning smile.  Her beautiful dark eyes danced as she began to speak Italian to me.   I knew very little Italian, and my handicap soon became evident to her as I said,   “Non solo italiano.”  She took my hand, and led me over to a nearby a bench on the platform and began to speak in English. Even her English syntax, one of a person new to the language, was endearing and beautiful to me, though my own language seemed ugly and cumbersome compared to the lilt and euphonic flow of her Italian voice.

 

She said she saw my American uniform and was learning to speak English.  She asked me where I was traveling to. I explained where I was going the reason for my trip. She nodded appreciatively and said that she was headed the same direction on the same train.  She asked me if I wanted to share a compartment so she could practice her English.  I of course responded, it would be my pleasure.  We introduced ourselves and the train soon arrived. As we boarded her dress blew up and caressed me in the face, allowing me another glimpse of her legs.  We found a compartment in second class where we could be alone and settled in.

 

Our conversation began.  Her name was Alicia and she was from Portofino, a coastal resort town.  She said a lot of American tourists visited there in the summer and in order to get a really good job, you needed to speak English well.  We chatted casually for most of the trip, though she tended to speak more to compensate for my relative muteness. The more she spoke the more I was convinced that Italian was the most beautiful spoken language in the world.  Finally, with a slight pout, Alicia asked me why I had been so quiet.

 

Panic struck, I blurted out, “Because you are the most beautiful woman I have ever spoken to.”  My heart seized at my uncharacteristic boldness. I had stepped way beyond my usual boundaries I used in female interaction and I feared she would be offended.   On the contrary, she smiled brilliantly and took my hands in hers.

 

“That is the most wonderful thing anyone has ever said to me.”  Alicia said.  She stepped across to my side of the compartment and sat down beside me.  Still smiling, she gave me a kiss.  And what a breathtaking kiss it was!  Not one of those “Ciao, bella” A double-cheek kisses you see in the movies, but a warm, full one on the lips.  “There!” she exclaimed.  “Now we will not to take it seriously anymore!”   After the initial shock wore off, the ice was broken and we sat side by side, holding hands and chatting as if we had known each other forever.

 

Our train pulled into her station and with sadness, we began our goodbyes.  Suddenly she said, “Why don’t you come with and let me show you my city?  You can catch the next train to Napoli.” I thought about her invitation for a hot minute.  On one hand, I still had one day left on my leave, but the Navy is unforgiving for those who are late in returning to their ships.  I said to myself, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” threw caution to the winds and got off the train with her.

 

I checked the train schedule before we left the station and there was another train leaving for Naples in four hours.   I don’t remember, but I believe the place was called Portofino.  It was very picturesque with its multicolored buildings and a lovely harbor filled with beautiful boats.  The seaside scenery was breathtaking, though I don’t remember there being much of a beach.  I asked Alicia about that and she said there was one in a nearby town that was well used.   As we walked around the town she explained that a lot of rich and famous people visit here.

 

As we walked, I noticed something that puzzled me.  All the women in this town seemed to be very well dressed.  I asked Alicia about it.  She said it would be out of character for an Italian woman to be otherwise.  “La Bella Figura, (beautiful figure)  we like to take pride in the way we look.  It is important how we present ourselves in other people’s eyes.”  She smiled.

 

Our wandering finally stopped in front of an old building.  Alicia asked me if I minded visiting her nonnie.  I asked her what a “nonnie” was, and she said that meant her grandmother.  We went up the stairs into a very nice apartment and I met a wonderful old lady.  Nonnie didn’t speak any English, but welcomed us with some cake she called a torta and some sort of lemon soda.  Alicia and her grandmother talked for about twenty minutes in Italian as I sat there with a goofy grin on my face, pretending to follow the conversation while I kept my mouth full of the cake.

 

“She liked you.” She said as we walked out of the building.  “Nonnie thought you were handsome in your uniform.  So do I.”  Alicia took my hand and we walked down the street.

 

My time was evaporating at this point.  I had about an hour before my train arrived.  She suggested we head back towards the station.  Along the way, I saw a little street side restaurant and suggested we eat.  We sat down and enjoyed several glasses of wine and some sort of pizza like bread that was delicious.   I paid the bill and we entered the “stazione” to wait for my train.  As we waited, her hand held in mine, a multitude of thoughts went through my mind the foremost one being how I could prolong this relationship with Alicia.  I asked her for her address and gave her mine and we promised to stay in touch with each other.  I was struck with an incredible sense of melancholy as my train pulled up to the platform.

 

Alicia kissed me tenderly and watched as I got on the train.  I settled in my seat and looked out the window at her.  As the train moved, she waved at me and turned to go.  I spent the rest of the trip to Naples mulling over the events of the day and marveling at my good luck in meeting such a wonderful girl.  I resolved that I would write her and, if possible, return to Portofino.

 

The bad luck of it all was my ship never returned to Italy.  We were placed on alert and we spent our remaining time sitting off the coast of Lebanon waiting for a war that never happened. As I fought off the boredom of life at sea, I thought of Alicia and my time with her.  What would have happened if I could have stayed longer?  What would we have named our children?  I did write her a letter or two, but when I received nothing back, I assumed that I should move on as she surely had.  Eventually we finished our Mediterranean cruise and returned to the United States.

 

The problem when visiting Italy seems to be that you fall in love with it and the people and feel you have to return.  I will never do this though.  In my travels along the rail line of life, I have discovered that Thomas Wolfe was absolutely right about being never able to go back.  This moment in time will never be the same.  I fear I will return to Portofino and find Alicia changed and as old and grandmotherly as her Nonnie.  This perfect memory of a moment in time would be destroyed forever. The lesson to be learned and passed on to the young is “Carpe diem”, seize the day.  Opportunities in life seldom come around twice. Make the most of your youth, because it too, will eventually have to catch the train and move on.

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