Ezio opened the door, a scowl on his weathered face. He pointed to the sign on the door that said the hotel closed and locked the front doors at 11 pm. Even for students.
I shrugged and said “per favore?” Ezio’s scowl deepened, until he saw Patricia standing behind me, looking as sheepish as I felt.
“Eh. Patricia. Heh. Ok.” He pronounced her name pah-tree-tsi-ah and she loved that. I never could say it like that and after a while, she told me to stop trying. She smiled and stepped through the door. She told Ezio she was sorry and rushed off to her room. I turned to go off down the hall that led to my own room but Ezio stopped me.
He pointed to a stool near his in the kitchen and held out a glass of wine to me. Nodding, I took the glass and made my way over to the seat. “Grazie.” I said, and sipped at the wine.
“È una buona ragazza, no?” He asked, speaking in his slow, gruff Italian.
I took a second to translate in my head. “Si. Buona ragazza.” Yes. Good girl.
“Vostro girlfriend?” His pronunciation of girlfriend was almost a cliche, with an extra a after the l and the hint of an o after the d.
“No. Pero desidero.” I wasn’t sure if pero was actually an Italian word or if it was more Spanish slipping into my vocabulary but I knew the verb for ‘I want’, and, at any rate, Ezio seemed to understand.
He grunted again and refilled my glass. He was silent for a moment, watching the soccer highlights on the late night news. The Italian national team had just made it into the final and soccer fever was everywhere in Italy. Even the kitchen of a small hotel in central Italy. Maybe especially there.
“Il problema?” Ezio’s personal shortand for ‘What’s the problem?’
It was my turn to take a long drink of wine and pause for a moment. Eventually, I said, “Es mi girlfriend en America.” Spanish for “It’s my girlfriend in America,” but, again, he understood.
“Ciò è l’Italia.” This is Italy.
“Non ci è problema.”
“E il problema.” I said, trying to think of a way to explain what I meant, while Ezio just sat, patiently drinking his wine. After several minutes, I came up with a single word: “colpevole”. Guilty.
Ezio gave me a hard, penetrating look. “Siete colpevoli?” You are guilty?
I turned bright red and tried to explain through broken Italian and Spanish that no, I wasn’t guilty, but that I would feel guilty if anything happened with Patricia and if Patricia wanted to be with me badly enough she would call me when we were back home in America and we would figure things out from there, after I had talked to the girlfriend in question and after…whatever.
After an hour or so of broken conversation, dictionary consultations and the occasional frustrated curse, Ezio understood. He tipped the last of the wine into our glasses and raised his in salute. We clinked glasses and drank.
“It is a hard thing,” he said, in Italian, “to be strong in the face of temptation. And it is hard for an old man to stay up so late. Go to bed now and we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
I did as he said, and spent the next few nights staying up long after my classmates had gone to their rooms, sitting in the tiny kitchen, drinking wine with Ezio and talking about women, and how much trouble they are.
My last day in Italy, getting on the bus to head to Rome, and the airport, Ezio came out of the kitchen clutching a small bottle of wine and a small, handwritten note. He pressed them both into my hands, kissed me on both cheeks, in the Italian fashion and said, “Arrivederci il mio amico.”
On the bus, I looked at the note. It read: “Spero che siate abbastanza fortunati avere problemi con le donne per il resto della vostra vita.”
I translated it with my dictionary and the help of some of the other students on the plane. In English: I hope you are lucky enough to have problems with women for the rest of your life.
I laughed all the way home.
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