We don’t make it a habit of guessing the vehicle maker for motorcycles. Our made-up game of guessing auto makers has been reserved for the 4-wheel variety. But here outside of Vatican City, the curves, glimmer, and engine roar of these beautiful machines beg for attention.
“Daddy, what’s that one?” asks my little travel partner, pointing at a particularly attractive red motorcycle.
“Nice, right? Looks like a Ducati, made here in Italy,” I reply.
“Why’s that?,” he questions as only a 5-year-old can ask.
I give him my best description of this particular Italian motorcycle. My embellishment includes sharp tonal shifts and wild hand motions to give it that extra zing. It must be quite over the top as I spot a pair of old Italian women staring at us quizzically from their chairs outside a shop as we pass.
After I’ve made an ass of myself, he looks up at me with a quick “Okay, cool.”
We keep our leisurely stroll going as I spot the red bike cresting over the hill and out of sight. I daydream about the Ducati driver now, clearly a female rider wearing tight enough leathers to allow my imagination to run wild.
Just as I’m in a haze of vivid imagery, I nearly trip over my son. He has a habit of walking right in front of my feet to signal his disdain at the amount of walking he’s been forced to endure. At this point, he’s gone less than a block on his own.
“Daddy, up!,” he whines. I conjure the strength to lessen my annoyed glare.
He’s now positioned himself strategically where I have to pay attention. If I keep walking, he’ll keep jumping in front of me, thus risking being knocked over. Or he’ll make a full stop, refuse to move, bend over slightly, drooping his mop top, complaining endlessly about being done with walking. We’ve played this game a hundred times already.
I’ve opted for adding the monkey on my shoulders.
It’s at this point I decide we need another game, so I suggest “Name That Tune.” Quite by accident, at a critical moment I discovered that not only does he love guessing the songs, he’s really quite good at it.
I start us off humming selections of Maroon 5 - and less than five notes in, he’s guessed it. We continue on like this making our way up the hill to Stazione San Pietro, humming and guessing as we walk, but - let’s be honest, I walk. And he rides. It becomes obvious that the current artist selection is way too easy for my shoulder companion and I decide to switch to The Beatles.
I choose one of my favorites. He has surprised me by singing this song in airports while we wait for connecting flights, it has made for some interesting and fun moments. My son is a performer who thrives on attention. I’m several notes into the song when I hear “All You Need is Love”, but the voice doesn’t come from the critter with his legs and feet dangling at my chest.
The voice sounds British, one of those accents I find incredibly alluring (thank you Liz Hurley). I glance to my left to see the voice belongs to the Ducati rider. My imagination didn’t properly fill in what stood before me, dark brown hair with mesmerizing blue eyes. Her olive skin is smooth and appears perfect save a few freckles, her chest just a bit more than a handful I’d guess and a perfect curve to her hips which are attached to legs that I can only guess are wonderful. I am now mesmerized, and my active imagination is thinking that she’s waited here for us, clearly wanting to play our fun city walking games. Of course, she is just fishing around the back of her pack for keys.
In this split moment, I’m torn between engaging her with conversation in English, or fumble along in Italian. I’ve waited too long, I blurt out, “Thanks, uhhh, I mean, grazie.”
She looks over at me and smiles, with a slightly mocking “You’re welcome, uhh, I mean, prego.” We’re both giggling a bit at this now.
Looking above my head, she says in perfectly poetic Italian “Che bello bambino!” My pint-size son giggles at this with his chord laugh, and now we’re conversing with the usual exchange of age, name, how long are you here, and more admiration of how cute and adorable my son is. After a few moments of talk, it’s clear my shoulders will take no more. I say “Ciao!,” and my son follows suit - to which she gives out a big smile as we walk on to the station steps. I’m about 20 paces from her now and glance over my right shoulder, catching her eyes, and I’m rewarded with another quick smile. Forward momentum has me drifting down the stairs and within seconds kicking myself for not sticking around longer. But what more was there to say?
My head swims with the fantasy of it all, and how I royally screwed up and missed the opportunity. The music box above me has moved on to other songs now and I’m pulled back to the present moment as we cross the station and up toward our rented flat. I join in and push the thoughts of what could have been behind me.
We’ve unloaded our stuff, kicked off our shoes, and settled in for the night. A local church, 200 meters from the apartment, greets us with bells at the local time. My son has grabbed the laptop and strategically placed it in a spot we discovered accidentally on our first night - no WIFi in the room, but I’ve successfully co-opted a neighbor who hadn’t properly secured his network. Free Internet.
I’ve been providing the meals for dinner and breakfast, shopping at the local Carrefour market. I’ve got three pots going, laptop is charging, the water heater in the bathroom just kicked on, and it feels a bit hot and stuffy. I grab the air conditioner remote and flip it on.
In the next sixty seconds, everything electrical in the house goes dark.
Food cooking on the electric stove, and the building has lost power. I saunter over to the laptop and realize that, the WiFi is still connected - so either I’ve tapped into another apartment building across the way, or I’ve killed power to the flat.
My phone has a local SIM, so I grab it and ring the landlord. She starts in about how many electrical items I have running, and says, “Ah, that’s it, then.” Too far away to come herself at least for an hour, she says she’ll ring her son and see if he’s around. A thought crosses her mind, and she says, “Go across the way, and see if the neighbor is home.” While still on the phone, I walk over, but there is no answer. We hang up, and she says she’ll call back shortly.
Great. Three pots going, and in danger of being soggy by the time I’ll have electricity again.
Just then I hear a door open and shut that sounds close, and decide to give the neighbor one more try. Ring, ring. I hear shuffling and a door opening. And I can’t believe who is standing in front of me in leathers, and a smile.
“Uhhh, hello again … Apparently we’re neighbors and.. well, my power went out, and the landlord said that you could…” I’m such a babbling idiot.
“I can reset the breaker for you, no problem. Whatever that is you’re cooking, it smells good,” she says as she struts off to where-ever they reset things.
I glance back in the apartment, my son is blissfully unaware and continues to blare YouTube videos from the hacked WiFi. A few minutes later, the house comes back to life. I leave the door open, go check on the food, and take in a bit of the red wine I poured earlier.
Soon enough the Ducati girl pops her head in “Va bene?”
“Si, si, grazie, grazie…” I respond, deftly now. ”Would you like a glass of wine? It’s the least I can do.”
“Niente! I will take that glass of wine, though.”
And just like that, we’re finding out a lot more about the mystery Ducati girl. Her name is Aria. She’s a native Italian from Genoa. And the accent was correctly placed as British, as she studied at a university in England. She’s in Rome assisting in restoring a church from the 15th century. Hearing her describe the detail and passion she feels for her work is refreshing.
Wine eventually turns into sharing dinner on our rented balcony. My son is the star of the evening. He keeps us all entertained until his eventual yawns and signs appear that sleep is imminent. I grab the wine bottle and pour the remaining two glasses for the adults, and usher the little one inside. Time for brushing teeth and changing into pajamas. In an act of selflessness my son doesn’t require a book reading for the evening, and after tucking in and a kiss on the forehead is drifting off to dreamland.
Closing the balcony doors, I peer over to find my company relaxing on a love seat in the corner. I saunter over in my usual swagger, and we clink glasses “Salute!”. A wave of anxiety rushes over me and I realize the moment is there to grab. So I reach in and kiss her. Refreshingly, I meet no resistance, and in fact she nearly attacks me. Our movements up until now have felt tense, and unsure, but we’ve soon developed a rhythm in our dance, feeling my lead, and her surrendering to the moment.
I’ve found myself lost in the moment, unaware of the time, and the noises of car doors and pedestrians walking along the streets below has broken our flow. Life jumps back into focus, and we shift out of unison. She’s grabbing for her keys now, and my mind has moved to ensuring my son is snoring.
Without many words, I kiss her forehead, and she is gone, and I’m attempting sleep inside, with more layers but less warmth.