Belissimo

It had been a long flight and Anna was very glad to see the lights of Milan. She trudged wearily through customs, found her way outside and took a Taxi to the Via Felice Casati. It was raining hard but despite that, and her fatigue, she stood outside for a while, just to drink in the city. It had been so long.

Anna checked into her hotel and fell into bed. The rain against the window was soothing and gave her pleasant dreams. She was here. She’d made it.

She awoke to brilliant sunshine - the rained had stopped. The air was heavy with coffee but instead of taking a hotel breakfast she dressed quickly and went out looking for an interesting café. The streets were full of life, noise, people, traffic, and she realized she'd forgotten just what a different pace of life it was in European cities. It made New York City seem positively quiet, and yet at the same time there was a peace here that was tangible.

People watching was a great past-time and she enjoyed herself  just taking it all in until she could justify her seat no longer, paid her check and continued walking. The next task was to buy some maps. She took these back to her hotel room and spread them out on the bed. Her plan was to head south first, follow the coast, more or less, and just follow her nose. It didn't matter how long it took, or where she ended up, just so long as she found him. Then, at last she could please both her parents and herself.

Anna had recently turned 32. Her father had been driving her crazy for some years prior to that as she was the only unmarried girl in the family. Once she hit 30 the entire family seemed to have taken it upon themselves to play matchmaker, and she'd endured countless surprise supper guests, none of whom appealed to her in the least. She'd found dates for herself too, but they were always wrong for different reasons. At least, her father had observed, she'd finally accepted that she would only be happy with a boy from a solid Italian family because those with different backgrounds to her had such an alien outlook on life it was never going to amount to anything. At the same time Italian boys in NYC just weren't what she wanted, and she had decided to go home, go to Italy, to look for a husband. And she wasn't going back until she found one.

Her bags were packed and she checked out. There was a train station just a few blocks away but she opted to take the much farther journey to the bus terminal. It was partly a test, to see if she could carry her bags that far. If not, something had to go. She wasn't even halfway there when she realized her mistake. All around her was a sea of backpacks. Why had she not listened to her brother, who had told her to take his? She made a mental note to buy one at the next opportunity. But not now. Now she just needed to rest, so she stopped at a store, bought a bottle of water, and found the nearest seat. The street was full of handsome men, and several really caught her eye. Why did they look so different, so much more appealing than the guys she was used to? They seemed less edgy, more real.

She forced herself to walk on and found the bus terminal. Now to have the courage to follow her plan. She bought a ticket for the next bus in any vaguely southerly direction, and found herself rushing to board the Pavia bus, which was just leaving. It was almost full. She worked her way carefully to the back, bracing for the jolts as the driver pulled away, and was almost thrown into the only remaining seat, where she found herself sitting next to a young guy, who greeted her politely and went back to his book. He looked too old to be a student, and it just reinforced her idea that Italian men in Italy were more intelligent and deeper that their American counterparts. He looked intelligent, she thought, because he wore glasses. She liked that idea, and added it to her mental list of acceptable attributes for her intended.

This idea was still in her mind as she arrived in Pavia, and set out to find a store that sold backpacks. So when she was greeted in the store by a handsome clerk in glasses she smiled to herself and took in the view. It occurred to her that more men here wore glasses, and she would have no difficulty in selecting one of them. She had a good long look at this prospect. Wouldn't it be funny, she thought, if she found her man this quickly, but them reminded herself that store clerk was NOT on her list of acceptable professions. Still, he was great eye candy, and when she told him to discard her other bags and saw his smile she felt quite taken with him. But no, she had to find a man with good prospects. Onward.

Anna took an immediate liking to Pavia. It was old and cut in two by a river like cities ought to be. Plus it had the most delightful bridge to cross, a covered medieval bridge, lovingly rebuilt after war damage in the 1940's. She left her backpack in a cheap hotel that turned out to be not so cheap - everything was costing far more than she'd reckoned on - and took a walk around the center of the city. Constantly distracted by the architecture she reminded herself firmly what she was here for, and that she trusted fate would bring him to her. Of course she had to be in the right place, and she didn't know where that was, but she wasn't about to hang out in bars. No, she wanted a man with some depth. Someone who shared her interests. With that in mind she decided to start her quest in a museum, but that would have to wait until tomorrow. Hunger came upon her and she found a small trattoria, and ordered the chef's special. This was part of her plan, to try the local food, try something new every day. She found herself eating vitello tonnato, the dish she'd always been slightly afraid of. But it was excellent, and quite unlike her aunt's version. Halfway through her meal a new waiter arrived, seemingly late for work, as a few whispered angry words were exchanged - he was apparently often late - and he immediately came to see if she wanted dessert. Hearing her American accent he complimented her on her Italian, and asked what she was doing in Pavia. That was a difficult question to answer a stranger, especially one this good-looking. So she lied.

"I'm just touring around really, backpacking. I only arrived yesterday, and jumped on the first bus out of Milan this morning."

"Wise choice," he answered "the further from Milan the better."

"Oh but I love it," she said quickly "but I'm heading south really, trying to take in all the cultural stuff."

"Then you need to go to Napoli, you know that?"

"Napoli? Why?"

"Because it's the most beautiful city in the world. It has all the culture you can dream of, and far more sunshine than Pavia!"

"You know it well?"

"It's my home. Well... it was...." he looked rather sad, so she didn't pursue it. But she didn't want to end the conversation either, so she ordered dessert, which she actually had no room for, just to talk to him again. As he went to get her order she slapped herself firmly on the forehead, NO WAITERS! Not even one this handsome. A rich dessert she couldn't face arrived, along with amaretti. She asked him about museums in Pavia.

"Yes, there are several, some at the University."

"You're a student there?"

"I was. Some time ago. Then, very briefly, I was on the faculty. We parted company." He smiled, but she felt it was with some regret. Not just a waiter then, a professor! Well, an ex-professor anyway. Wow.

She picked at her food. It took her an hour but finally she got it all down. He was cleaning up by then, but he smiled every time he checked on her. Eventually though, she had to leave, although she found herself quite reluctant to do so, and she almost asked him something when she paid her check. As it happened, he read her mind.

"I could show you around the city tomorrow if you like."

Anna thought she would like that very much, and that it would do no harm to get a guided tour from someone who knew the place, so they arranged to meet outside her hotel early the next morning.

When she got up the evening seemed a million miles away and she was slightly annoyed with herself for not finding out more about him first. But it was too late to worry about that now, she was running late and hurried down the stairs and through the lobby...running straight past him. He called her back with a "WOAH!". No wonder she hadn't recognized him, he looked quite different out of his waiter's uniform, his hair, which had been tied back in a short ponytail the night before was now loose, and he was wearing glasses. She felt her heart skip a beat. He was a dream. She smiled widely, involuntarily, repressing an actual giggle, and said she was ready. She wasn't sure what for.

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Belissimo – Part Two

His name was Angelo. They walked through the quiet streets together and he immediately began to give the tour he had promised, talking animatedly about the city he had obviously grown to love, and seemed to know everything about. Church bells rang out and they shared the streets for a while with the local population. Finding a place to stop and have lunch he turned to her and asked if she liked Pavia. Despite having been exploring Pavia and hearing its story for the past four hours she was actually oblivious to it, so when she replied "absolutely beautiful" her mind was not on the architecture.

It occurred then to Anna that her original plan to visit the museum had been in order to find men there. And here she was sitting opposite a very suitable man, and she had no desire to go anywhere near the museum. She also realized that she now had a problem with her itinerary. No, she had a problem with her whole plan. She hadn't thought it through. In order to get to know Angelo she would have to stay in Pavia longer. Perhaps he read her mind.

"When are you leaving Pavia, Anna?"

"I was going to go tomorrow......"

"Tomorrow? Oh......we should get going then....." and he started to get up.

"I could stay a little longer...." she said quickly.

He smiled broadly and sat back down. Say what you're thinking, she willed him. But his thoughts were his own. She felt very inadequate and resigned herself to an afternoon in the museum.

To her delight he made it fun. It was obviously a place he knew well and when they'd seen most of its displays he showed her around the University itself. They sat on the grass exhausted from walking.

"What will you do tomorrow Anna?"

That was what she wanted to hear. He'd been so friendly and courteous, but now he was showing at least a little interest in her. She was beginning to wonder if he ever would.

"I don't know" she said honestly "I was going to be heading south, but there's really no hurry."

"But you can't stay here forever."

No, she thought, I can't. What did she think she was going to do? She suddenly felt very foolish. She wasn't even sure if he was any more than friendly. It occurred to her that he might have shown this much interest in order to find out if American girls were "easy". She knew they had a reputation in Italy, however unfair that might be. It wasn't that unusual, after all, for tourists to have one-night-stands with the locals, and think of it as a souvenir. What she needed to do was test the waters.

"I suppose I ought to keep to my itinerary" she said, looking at him for some sign of opposition, but to her dismay, he said nothing. Now she was disappointed, as she had really enjoyed his company, but did she know him? Of course not. This was ridiculous. Was he interested or not?

He walked her back to her hotel and they talked all the way. She couldn't find a single thing she disliked about him, and yet there was something missing. What a shame, she thought to herself. At least she had had the courage to ask him to stand in some of her photos. So, after they'd said a polite goodbye, she went up to her room and burst into tears. At that moment she just wanted to go home. This was not how it was supposed to go at all.

Anna got up before dawn the next morning and marched to the train station.

"When is the next train please?"

"Where to?"

"Anywhere, I'd like a ticket for the next train anywhere."

Within 15 minutes she was safely aboard the train to Genoa. She slept the whole way.

In Pavia dawn broke and the manager of her hotel found her key, cash, and a note apologizing for not checking out properly. He was then accosted by a young man demanding to know where she'd gone.

Genoa was breezy and soothing. She found her way to the harbor and watched the seabirds. There were boats leaving for Sardinia and she was briefly tempted, but something kept her back. Eventually she found a one-hour photo store and took her film in. She wandered around that whole hour trying to decide whether to destroy the photos that Angelo was in and be done with it. Or whether she could be mature about it and have happy memories of their day together. It was only ONE DAY.

Standing in the store she couldn't help herself from having a quick look through. They were good photos. Blue skies, wonderful architecture, and that handsome dark bespectacled man. A young store clerk saw her photos, and maybe saw her smile.

"Your boyfriend?" she asked grinning.

"I wish" said Anna, shocked at her own words. Then she sighed, tucked the photos safely away and left the store.

She spent the night in Genoa and took a leisurely breakfast the next morning. Decision time. Where to now. The train schedule she'd picked up offered several afternoon departures for Pisa. She took the longer "stopping" train as she had nothing else to do. She was in half a mind to return to Pavia, but stuck firm. The view from the train on the journey was exquisite, with the sea appearing every so often out of the right-side window, and the mountains stretching up to the left. Finally they drew inland and pulled into Pisa station just as it was getting dark. She decided to get a taxi, but as she reached the parking lot she was startled to see Angelo waiting for her.

"How the.....??????"

He laughed and said he was a good detective.

"But even I didn't know where I was going."

"I know. But you had your head screwed on tighter than I did. I let you go. I'm an idiot."

"Were you on that train?"

"No, I was on the earlier one."

"So, you read minds?"

"Not really, but I can read a train schedule, and you left yours behind in Genova." He handed it to her.

He explained how he'd had a sleepless night after their day together in Pavia, got up at dawn to go to her hotel and tell her he didn't want her to go, but was already too late. He'd stopped people on the streets asking if they'd seen her, and he'd traced her as far as the train station. The ticket clerk remembered the pretty American had gone to Genoa, and, knowing she was on foot, he just started with the hotels closest to the station there, until he found hers. It had taken him all morning. Finally he found where she had been staying, only to find he was too late again, but in her vacated room was the abandoned schedule. So he rushed to the station, got on the next train for Pisa, and this time he was ahead of her, because he'd chosen the next train, the express.

"And I was wondering if you were interested in me," said Anna "I guess I know the answer"

"I had to take a chance Anna, I've never met anyone who had such an impact on me before. I just hoped you wouldn't be angry at me following you. We hardly know each other, but there's only one way to learn. Would you object to me tagging along for some more of your tour?"

They looked at each other for a long time. She was absolutely smitten by his looks. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but he had a charm she'd never encountered before.

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