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Dirty Windows

March 3, 2010

Robert mused at how prolific was the beauty of nature as he stared out the windows of his small flat.  I guess it would be an apartment in this millenium.  There was a separate bedroom so it could not be described as a ‘studio’….all that realestate speak!  He hadn’t cleaned them since moving in over a month ago.  The shopping list needed to include window cleaner, at least it came in a spray on bottle.  How much clearer the outside images would become once he had wiped the grime from the windows.  Some genteel Italian music drifted through his flat, the only intrusion to a calm day that he had hoped to spend at home, alone, far from the madding crowd as it were.

The mellowness of the msic seemed a radical contrast to those scenes of Neapolitan slums that swiftly passed by the train windows, clean they were, as he travelled north to Rome.  Poverty has no geographical boundaries.  He was confronted with it daily in the inner city suburb he now lived.  Were cities becoming too populated? The human wreckage one often saw on the streets was a constant reminder of the economic malaise that had a firm grip on global society.

It was more comforting to continue the reverie of his last visit to Italy.  Even several years on, the myriad of Italian experiences were easily evoked by the music as he lifted his mug of tea to his dry lips.  The soothing kiss of Earl Grey tea!  Another addiction!  This love affair with all things Italian began over 40 years ago.

Tony was a big-boned boy who, even at ten years of age, wore his ancestral peasantry with pride.  Italian immigrants were not unusual in Melbourne in the 1950’s.  He and Robert became friends.  His fiery passion for life immediately drew Robert to him.  He too was an outsider, the only Italian boy in a large class and whom pedagogues of this millenium would label as a behavioural problem.  Multicultural was not a term used in the 50’s despite the huge migration to Australia from countries of the Mediterranean.

Robert could smell the distinctive aroma of the Italian salami that Tony brought to school, wrapped in newspaper, for his lunch.  Fusion food was to come much later.  And there was not an asian to be seen in the suburb where Robert lived.  He and his parents drove to a Chinese take away in 1955, the Wing Leung Cafe, in Glenferrie Road, Malvern.  There they offered their aluminium saucepan which would be filled with either Chop Suey or Fried Rice, an occassional exotic meal that Roberts mother would then heat up on the stove, the ubiquitous Kookaburra, all gas.  Robert’s own lunch appeared dull and boring in comparison, a jam or cheese sandwich, chaste, white bread.  But even the white bread that Tony brought to wrap the salami in was different.  And so the humble sandwich and the wide-eyed Tony Mayo, were the beginnings of a life long attraction to all things, people and places Italian for Robert.

Despite Robert’s limited knowledge of the Italian language, he was able to survive at a day to day level on the times he visited that country.  There were times when he longed for the luxury of a conversation where he could twist words and phrases with the dexterity of a nimble fingered lace maker.  But Robert was aware of other means of communicating, some of which came quite naturally to those of the Mediterranean clime.  Then there were always the english-speaking tourists with whom he could speak without the grind of searching for words as though thumbing frenetically through an Italian Phrase Book.

He lapsed for a short moment.  ‘Those bloody windows are so dirty!”

It was too early in the day for blurred vision.  It wasn’t long before the music of Italy distracted him again and propelled him back to the Stazione Termini in Rome.  His mind transported him once again.  The flocks of birds overhead in the Piazza performing aeronautical magic as they patterned the sky, soaring above Palazzi and sweeping from tree to tree.  Winter in Roma!  Overcoats, scarves, leeather boots and the warm glow of lights from within the bars and cafes that surrounded the station.  So often his head would turn with frightening speed to catch a glimpse of some handsome Roman whose profile may well have adorned the side of some ancient Roman coin.  These were living, breathing replicas of so many of those statues seen in the museums and ancient sites.  The calf and thigh muscles, the sensuously defined nape of the neck which met the olive skinned shoulder blades, the hard flesh of the taut stomach and the lines to the pectorals, all hidden beneath expensive garments that most likely were bought on the Via Condotti and then worn at some chic cafe on the Via Veneto.  Robert became more and more deeply immersed in his magnificent obsession, La Dolce Vita!

With his Catholic background, Robert saw endless reminders of the high profile the church had through the streets of Rome.  It was almost as though he ws in the psycho-sexual capital of his world.  He had always been amused by the incongruity of discovering Communist Party offices along side some ornate chapel or Basilica.  Priests in clerical garb mingled in the narrow streets with the rest of the Romans.

Dinner alone was always a treat.  He would find a small, inexpensive trattoria and find a table where the evenings teatro could be enjoyed with ease.  It was not uncommon for him to be at a table alone as it appeared the Italians themselves were accustomed to doing so.  Mostly men of course.  Probably some as deviant as Robert himself.  Naturally the food was important, the wine essential, but he really concentrated on the other goings and comings around him.  His observations were, that in Australia, people tended to dine with one or more others with few braving an evenings meal alone.  How that has now changed.

This night was to be different.  Someone was to join him at table.

‘Why do you like Italy?”  Robert felt vulnerable.  He knew his reasons but others never quite understood.  And now there was the typical L’uomo Moderno, an Italian asking him this question.

‘Why do you like coffee?” Robert replied.  It was clearly an unacceptable response on the part of  Robert.  He became self-conscious.  His body began to quiver.  He needed to appear calm.  He wanted some of that self-assured mediterranean masculinity to fill his veins.  He was convinced that the adulation of the Italian family for its young was an indelible stamp which contributed to the coolness with which Euprepio presented himself at Robert’s table.

They spoke in broken English and Italian for some time.  Chianti was stroking both the head and the heart and an ease lifted the two men into further intimacy.  For Robert this was the big 2 R’s, Romance and Roma!  Euprepio, a law student from Venice.  A Venetian in Rome, and an Australian in Romance.  Single men seldom live alone in Italy.  Hotels are particular about their guests entertaining the locals.  This was a dilemma for Robert.  Another glass of Chianti.  It was as though one was severed from the waist down.  Robert could only have half access to Euprepio.  Perhaps tables are put between people to maintain some inscrutable distance.  How cruel this was to both Robert and Euprepio.

Because he too was travelling, Euprepio had a room in a Pensione some twenty or more minutes walk from where they were now sitting, giddied about by the red grapes from the Chianti Valley.  Robert felt each nerve ending dancing on the edge of his skin.  His obsession was gaining momentum at an alarming rate.  This was an offer beyond refusal.  How could he not return to the Pensione with Euprepio.

Night had fallen and the Roman sky was dark.  They propped one another up as their overcoats intertwined, protecting them from the early morning cold of a European winter.  Now that the barrier of the restaurant table was removed, they became exceedingly generous in the awakening of the once severed parts.  It was unlike the sedate arm in arm stroll that so many Italian men comfortably wear.  It was, at times, both static and fluid.  Eye brow to eye brow.  Pupils lit by a Roman moon.  Lips softly moving, each exploring the fleshy contours of the other.  Moistened by the need to come even closer together.  The walk to the Pensione becme a dance of two, hungry for the flesh of the other.  Euprepio had assured Robert that there would be no difficulty in getting him past the porter as a friend who was without a room for the night.

Their voices were among the few sounds that chipped away at the icy silence of a city asleep in the early hours.  Insensitive to all except themselves.  Euprepio stopped and pointed to the sky.  His lips parted and his eyes smiled.

‘Do you know Anna Mangnani?”‘ he asked.  Robert had long been a fan of this tempestuous Italian diva who was said to have epitomised the very city through which they were walking. ‘Yes”‘ Robert answered joyously.

“When the soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was orbiting this globe he sent a message to earth” Euprepio announced.  Robert was puzzled by Eurprepio.  ‘What was the message Bello?”

There was a pause and then Euprepio continued, ” Gagarin said, I send greetings to the world , to the Cosmos, and to Anna Magnani…..!”  Robert immediately understood Euprepio.  They continued walking in silence for a while.

Both of them were leaving Rome in a day or two, Euprepio was headed south to visit relatives in Sicily.  Robert would continue north to Florence.  Yet now they headed in the same direction.  Robert began to wonder how much further it would be till they reached the Pensione.  He did not want to cut short this elation, but his body was in need of a bed, and to share that with Euprepio fuelled him to continue treading the erotic tight rope with this Venetian Prince.

Could this reverie continue despite the windows, still untouched by some domestic cleansing agent?

It was now 4.00 am.  Euprepio didnt have a key to the foyer of the Pensione.  He knocked confidently on the glass door.  Robert stood a few steps back as the door opened.  The exchange between the porter and Euprepio was beyond his capability to translate.   However, the bodily animation that so quickly identifies the language of mediterraneans was his only clue that things were not going too well.  ‘He will not allow you to come in” said Euprepio.  Robert ached.  There was no chance of negotiating with the porter.  Reality smacked him at the head, heart and loins.  There was not even a chance to say good-bye in a way that would sustain the mutual heights that had gripped them both over the last few hours.

A tentative brush on the shoulder was the most each could express while the porter, holding the door open for Euprepio, watched their every gesture.  It was as if the entire city of Rome had conspired to prevent their ever having the luxury of melding their flesh.

Robert consoled himself on that interminable walk back to his hotel with some words he had once read somewhere at some time….Love does not have to last forever, it can be as fleeting as the touch of a moth’s wing against a lamp shade….

On his return to  Australia he once received a poem from Euprepio.  He was unable to read it, the handwriting, the Italian.

Robert looked up at the dirty windows and muttered…”must go and shop for some window cleaner, maybe even check the  mail box’……..

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One Comment leave one →
  1. dyoll09 permalink*
    August 8, 2011 9:57 pm

    twas life…

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