Italian Stories…

The song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds just came on over the speakers at the coffee shop where I’m writing. It seems out of place as most everyone else in town is pumping Christmas music into the air this season. I’m in the thick of writing about a woman on her way to Venice to see about a man. She’s speeding across September waves in a vaporetto, (a Venetian water taxi). The wind is twirling her hair and the butterflies of excitement in her stomach. She could have sat inside the covered part of the boat, but  she wanted to stand outside and feel the journey on her skin. She can still feel the phantom caresses of the man’s hand. There is a certain thrill as the distance between the two of them closes with each passing breath.

The whole jumbled mess of feelings crescendo as the boat slows and turns onto the main waterway that runs through Venice, The Grand Canal.

The song fits this moment. I remember my own longings to be more than I was, the blush of discovering life and love and the juvenile naivete of life I thought I had figured out and at the same time was so foreign add the cresendo of such simple lyrics “I said oh la, la la la la, don’t you, forget about me.”

Its perfect because I’m taking my character back to those days. She had forgotten about that life she once was so in touch with and in deep contact with a world outside of her own that was laden, for too long, with darkness. The darkness was shades of giving up on life and resigning to a magic-less existence.

But now, she found it again. And it was Italy that brought her back to life. The Tuscan country side that attached life saving paddles to her heart and shocked her back to the land of the living. It might be dramatic reading that alone as is it now, but trust me, 300 pages into the book, it’s pretty fucking dramatic and fun.

And yes, I’m aware that I am talking about Italy again. I have four books set in Italy. I have a history degree and worked my ass off studying the Italian language so I could communicate with my Italian nieces, and I’ve been lucky enough to really immerse myself in Florence over the years, so when all these elements meet up with the writer side of me, I write books set in Italy.

That being said, while I don’t have a chapter of said book I mentioned above for you to read just now, I do have a chapter of another book that always makes me happy.  It’s mostly about driving in Rome. One of my favorite memories of Rome is riding in a taxi with my grandma and when the driver would get too close to other cars, which was every other second, grandma would put her hands out to steady herself on the seat in front of her and and in her very New York way say, “Woah, whoa, whoa.” Each whoa growing more distressed.

My sister tried to sidetrack her, “Grandma, don’t focus on the traffic, look at something else…” just then she spied a truck with racks of dresses being wheeled down a ramp, “Like that. Look at the dresses.”

“Oh, those are nice. do you think they’re expensive?” She pondered for only a matter of seconds before a slamming of the breaks brought out another “Whoa!”

A chapter from The Italian Holiday by Nicole Sharp

We ascended out of the underground terminal and onto a busy Roman street. Once again, my legs stalled. Because, dear Lord, it was a busy street in Rome! I made it. To Italy.

The gray skies enhanced the Roman street. The slight drizzle of rain that kissed my skin was more greeting than deterrent. It wasn’t cold, not the kind of cold I just came from, snow for miles and a high of twenty degrees, Rome was a mild sixty degrees, a drizzle with a hint of humid. Still, the locals rushed around in winter coats and umbrellas while I felt sweltering in my sweater.

I took a deep breath and held back the urge to throw my arms wide in an attempt to embrace the whole city. The musky scent of Rome was intoxicating. I was lightheaded from it, of course that could be the lack of sleep, excitement and a need for real food. Still, it was Rome.

Lorenzo continued toward a taxi stand just ahead of us on the street. I thought he said he knew a place close by. I didn’t want to get too far away from the train station, “are we going far?”

“I promise, I’ll have you back in time to catch your train.” He opened the door of the small white cab. I crawled in and scooted over to the other side, only to realize, after he shut my door, that he meant to let himself in on the other side. I scooted back to where I began. The driver said something in Italian with a raised eyebrow. I just shrugged in reply. Lorenzo settled himself and instructed, “Caffe da Claudia, la piazza al vicino tazza d’ oro.”

His Italian was dreamy. Or I was really tired and this whole situation wasn’t out of the ordinary. Of course, “you know, this is how girls get themselves into trouble.” I voiced my concerns.

“Jumping into taxis in foreign lands with strange men?” He supplied.

I nodded, “That’s how most murder mysteries start.”

He took out his phone and held it out for me, “The restaurant is about a five minute taxi ride, and if you’d like, you’re welcome to do a background check on me. I’ll let you talk to my mom.”

I eyed the phone and thought about it and then just pointed toward his side of the taxi, “just stay over there.”

“Take the phone, just in case.” I took it and felt foolish but it was a comfortable lifeline. I had been on a plane with him for eight hours. I knew he was here to propose to his girlfriend. And the promise of an Italian meal in Rome was a siren song.

The driver pulled to the end of the road that exited the train station terminal and unceremoniously thrust his car into the whirlwind of Roman traffic. He honked and yelled at passing cars and kept his attention on the rear view mirror, talking to Lorenzo, when I really felt he should have been paying attention to the world in front of his car. I hugged my seat belt across my chest and pressed my right food into the invisible break I felt the driver should be using.

Roman traffic was a Disneyland ride. Thrills and excitement, only this was not for the sake of being an amusement park. Even though I’d been to Rome and Naples before; and Naples had their own madness when ti came to traffic, I had somehow forgotten what it was like. Cars appeared out of the ether beside us. There was no rhyme and reason to the lanes of traffic, the three white lines indicating lane distribution were merely suggestions. Any leftover space between cars was taken up by scooters sucking it in, squeezing their way through the ebb and flow of cars.

And it was an ocean of traffic, the way the strangely hysterical mass of honking cars swelled and rose together, twisting and turning this way and that, allowing some cars to peel off at intersections when needed. From afar, I’m sure the honking and screaming of the drivers could be heard as a dull roar of a wave readying itself to crash upon a shore.

When the driver’s questions had ceased and he slammed on the breaks and screamed through his closed window at a car next to us, Lorenzo asked, “so you’ve been to Rome before?”

I tugged on my seat belt again, an attempt to tighten it some more, “yeah, when I was a senior in High School I came to Europe with my Choir. We came to Rome then.”

“Ah.”

“We sang for the Pope.” I said, almost offhand because I couldn’t manage to look at Lorenzo, I felt my attention was needed on the world outside the front windshield, as if i could somehow will the driver to not have an accident.

“What?”

“We came to Europe and did several concerts and masses all over the place. Then, the end of the trip we came to Rome and had a private audience with the Pope. And we sang for him.” My voice went up as the driver slammed on his breaks and threw his hands up at the offending driver next to him.

“I’ve never had a private audience with Papa.” Lorenzo said, using the Italian nickname for the Pope, “I’ve only ever been to a blessing at St. Peter’s basilica.”

“Private audience turned out to be our choir, the Pope and five thousand of his closest friends.” I cringed and tensed all my muscles as the driver slammed on the breaks, yet again when another car cut him off. His hand slammed into the horn the same second his foot hit the break.

“So what kind of mischief did 18-year-old Olivia get into when she was in Rome?” Lorenzo asked.

I laughed and glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, “We were wild, my friends and I. We stayed in our rooms, obeyed curfew and thought we were the shit in our fanny packs when four of us broke away from the tour group in a castle in Germany, stood in the center of the concert room that was supposed to have the best acoustics and proceeded to sing one of our a capella renaissance songs.” I gasped as the driver swerved in front of a bus.

“Do you still sing?”

“Yes, at family reunions, in the car and karaoke.” Another scooter, thinking there was enough room between the bus and our taxi pressed itself next to us and slapped the side of the taxi in reply to the drivers slight swerve.

“Will you break into song now?” Lorenzo asked.

“Alone in the car. I sing when I’m alone in the car. I should have specified.”

He grunted a response.

“You said your parents were from southern Italy?” I asked, because the other option was to pay even closer attention to the driver who was now thinking he could change the dimensions of his damned car and squeeze between two cars at a stoplight.

“They moved to the states when I a kid. We would come back and visit.”

“Where did you grow up?”  Green light, and the taxi lurched into action.

“Chicago.”

I closed my eyes as the driver pulled around another bus and actually jumped the car onto the sidewalk. Two wheels on the sidewalk and the others on the street. People hit the car and screamed as we drove by.

“Did you tell him you were in a hurry?” I asked.

“No.”

The driver jumped off the curb and back onto the street in front of the bus he passed. In turn the bus honked and tried to kiss the taxis back bumper.

“Jesus Christ.” I yelled.

“Signora, per favore, ” The driver said, “il nome del signore.”

“What?” I asked Lorenzo.

“He would rather you not take the lord’s name in vain.” Lorenzo said.

“Oh, scusi.” I said and then muttered, “mother fucker.”

Early Roman Traffic

8 Comments

  • jewell justiniani-allen

    Oh my friend, I loved this! I love of course the mention of how much “untrouble” there was had for the18 year old selves in Rome?And that “private” audience with the Pope!! Such good memories. So how do we get the next chapter l? so cool how Olivia’s conversation with the guy was very much parallel to the weaved in and out of Rome traffic -now I want to know where they are going—both figuratively and literally??? I cant wait to see where Olivia is going!!

  • Tammy

    Remembering our trek through Rome in 2012 and experiencing every type of transportation available in one day. Seeing the Vatican at the end of the day was the best..so incredibly beautiful. Wonderful memories of Italy! Ciao, Tammy

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