There’s a café tucked in a corner off Via della Pace. It has a literary feel to it, bohemian-like, with books on shelves, an eclectic array of velvet chairs and iron coffee tables. I often go there with my laptop because it is the only café in Rome, in all of Italy for that matter, where I have seen a laptop out. Plus, I like to imagine Imperfect Pairings on one of their shelves some day, right next to Dan Brown’s Inferno. LOL. Locals mostly, the place somehow manages to stay insulated from the pulse of a million gawking tourists.
I order a caffé americano per il tavolo, flip open my laptop, stare at a blank screen. At eleven in the morning the tables are mostly empty. Those who do step in go straight for the bar to down un caffé before heading off to work or wherever (one always wonders). Buon giorno!, salve!, ciao!, buona giornata, the bartenders are on a first name basis with everyone, including the dogs.
It’s not easy for me to write in Rome, against all romantic notions, against all poetic justice in the name of James, Goethe, Shelley, and Byron. The greats. Alas, these I am not. It’s hard to get into a rhythm, what with all the chaos, the ruins, the wine. But I’m settling in now, finally, after ten days. And, presently, this rather peaceful moment, the bar quiet, I’m starting to feel it. A vibe, I’m ready to write.
But write what? I am looking out the window contemplating this when a ragazze (girls) foursome enters, talking loudly, and in English, of all languages. Why is it always so grating to hear English spoken in a foreign country? At the most they are twenty, students of some kind, there is some Italian interspersed in their verse. I decipher that there is one Italian in the group, based on her thick accent.
There is plenty of room and yet they squeeze into the table next to mine; I have to move my chair so as to make room for the Italian girl’s shoulder. Ah but I am in Italy, I remind myself. It’s okay. This won’t disrupt my flow. These students are visitors too, after all; I am no better than they. We can share.
“He gave me five orgasms.”
I go still. Pretend to concentrate on my screen. It was an American girl who has spoken, and not in a discrete tone. She must think I’m Italian and don’t understand, because I am practically seated at their table and she seems not to care if I have heard.
“But how?” the Italian girl with the thick accent wants to know. She’s incredulous, probing and pushing the American girl to tell her how this can be, but the American girl remains evasive.
“Did he go down on you?”
I am really not trying to listen, to overhear. But it’s impossible not to. And now, of course, I am a little curious about the answer, too. “Tell me what he does!” The Italian won’t give up. “We do many things,” the American girl finally offers, if only to end the subject she started. I immediately think she has exaggerated the five orgasms. Then I admonish myself for doubting her. Because to doubt her makes me an old, shriveled up hag, which I am not. Anyway, why the hell am I being forced to wonder?
Please leave soon, I chant in my mind. My eyes are glued to my screen, on the one word I’ve written: Five. Does one survive five?
Their panini arrive. Panini? Who orders panini at eleven a.m.? I’ll wait it out. I beg myself not to leave, leaving always being my instinctive reaction to situations such as this. LEAVE! RUN! I assure myself that they can’t discuss orgasms and eat food at the same time. This theory is quickly proved wrong. Now the Italian is going on, dominating the conversation, this five-orgasm thing opening up a floodgate. She is going on about her own lover now. The sex is not going well, she implores, munching away. Very badly in fact, for she has had many lovers (how old is she?) and it was never once like this. She knows something is wrong with this boy, but does not know how to talk to him about it. At last, a pause, and I anticipate one of the other girls chiming in here, making a suggestion, offering some advice. Because this is, really, the question we all have: how does one discuss sex with his or her other? This Italian girl has hit the nail on the head. And yet, when I peek over, I see only blank, unsympathetic, expressionless faces from her counterparts. As if their only concern is when she will stop talking, as is mine, though now I feel sorry for the Italian girl. In fact, I feel sorry for all of them. Not for their disparate and unattached sex banter, but because there is no laughter. Nothing. Not once. I don’t even think they are friends.